by Tanzeel Akhtar

RSA COO Darren McKenzie on digital transformation, data management and vendor partnerships

Sep 23, 2016
Financial Services IndustryIT Leadership

RSA Insurance Group’s formation involves life-changing history. It was during the Great Fire of London that RSA founder Charles Posey, an entrepreneur who had witnessed firsthand the devastation and destruction, was inspired to introduce the concept of insurance.

Fast forward three centuries and protecting people’s assets has made RSA – a merger between Royal Insurance and Sun Alliance in 1996 – a FTSE 100 insurer. RSA has around 13,500 employees across its businesses and in 2015 net written premiums were £6.8 billion. Darren McKenzie joined the organisation in July 2015, accepting the new Chief Operating Officer role for the UK and Western Europe reporting to Steve Lewis, CEO of RSA UK and Western Europe.

“We are an organisation with a lot of history,” McKenzie says. “We have 300 years of heritage which on one side is hugely beneficial so a great brand with strong relationships and a lot of trust in the marketplace. There is a lot of history and a legacy.”

McKenzie explains while new entrants in the market can move in a more agile fashion, what RSA is able to do is take on something which is rich and more data-driven.

Based in Germany and speaking to CIO UK from the RSA headquarters at 20 Fenchurch Street in London, better known as the Walkie-Talkie, McKenzie explains he is responsible for leading the transformation of RSA’s operational, IT and procurement.

The passion in his voice is clear as McKenzie explains how at early stage he was intrigued by technology. “My historical background has always been IT. I was given a computer when I was nine years old and that is when I started writing computer games. I fell in love with technology. It’s always interested me – what technology can do.” he says.

Reminiscing, McKenzie added: “Back in the day when we first started with technology it was very different than it is now. Back then there wasn’t this big gap between what the user wanted and what technology can do.”

Having held the position of IT director at Egg, the UK internet bank, McKenzie is proud to have been part of the early team which helped to build systems capable of supporting high numbers of concurrent user transactions for Egg, a company that first hatched from the Prudential’s banking arm.

“I’ve been through all sorts of different areas from computer operations networks focused around IT operations and I had the pleasure working for Egg which was a startup which first launched in the UK and was a huge success,” he said.

“What Egg taught me was you can achieve anything you want to achieve. It was a huge area to invest in. I wanted to make much more of a difference with IT so I went straight into leadership and management and started to bring all that knowledge that I had into making decisions how are we going to do things as opposed to being a CIO that had not really ever touched technology or used it.”

From CIO to COO

Prior to his appointment McKenzie was CIO for Santander in Germany where he was responsible for the integration and migration of millions of customers to new systems and processes. Previous experiences include working as CIO for Alliance and Leicester where, following the acquisition by Santander, he implemented Santander’s IT operating model.

Looking back at his time with the latter he believes it was a period of creativity and problem solving.

“I had the pleasure of working at Alliance and Leicester for a couple of years. It was the fifth largest bank so it didn’t have money to throw at every single problem. I had to find creative ways to get around problems and that was interesting. I had to find very clever and interesting ways of taking on IT topics whether they are agility, speed to market of getting things right,” he said.

Technology evolution

McKenzie admits there are challenges ahead as technology evolves rapidly and customers’ expectations of the service they receive are changing too. He explains comparisons of service are now drawn from every sector, ranging from retail right through to finance, and in order to meet customer needs, companies require robust, intuitive and flexible systems and processes. He explains RSA has made good progress in achieving this.

“Meaningful information at your fingertips is absolutely critical for customers; what product holdings they have and so on. All that information has to be presented absolutely relevantly for every single customer transaction that we have,” he said.

He cites banking as an environment where customers are becoming increasingly demanding, making it critical to make sure that information is shown accurately – it needs to be high quality and at the fingertips of the customer.

Data operating models

McKenzie stresses the importance of data organisation in the modern business world, and explains the need for a robust operating model. This caters for every element of data services, whether that is simple reporting or predictive analytics. Indeed, in May 2016 RSA appointed Gillian Tomlinson as its Chief Data Officer for the UK and Western Europe, reporting to COO McKenzie.

McKenzie said: “We are creating ways of working that maximise our use of modern technologies to allow our business to gain greater insights from data; the secret to success is to embed great data practices into the fabric of the organisation.

“This isn’t about central control, it is about a sustainable model that has shared capability, highly agile processes and is service orientated.”

RSA vendor partnerships

McKenzie also outlined some of RSA’s vendor partnerships, with the insurer extending its agreement with Accenture in February 2016 as RSA’s supplier for business process outsourcing in insurance services, with the agreement in place until 2021. Accenture provides the RSA UK with back-office administration and customer support services across its sales, service, claims and finance operations, supporting both direct customer and intermediated businesses. Accenture is also charged to identify additional opportunities for standardisation, automation and cross-training to help RSA deliver a superior customer-focused operation.

Another recent deal includes a new seven-year partnership with Wipro which is to deliver its IT infrastructure requirements across the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Wipro provides RSA’s IT infrastructure needs across UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.