by Mark Chillingworth

CIO Profile: LV=’s Richard Warner is first among equals

Sep 24, 201210 mins
CareersFinancial Services IndustryIT Leadership

Before you even meet Richard Warner, CIO of insurance group LV= your attention is drawn to the clarity in communications in his emails.

At the foot of the email is not only a signature, but a very definite mission statement about his and his department’s role. Interestingly, both he and his department wear the moniker ‘CIO’.

The LV= group is 170 years old and can trace its history to its founding as a burial service in the late 1800s under the name Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society.

Today, with its lime green heart logo and funky name, LV= is better known for life and general insurance products.

“It has become an attractive challenger brand in the last five years,” says Warner. And in those five years it has grown from 1500 UK staff to 5000 mostly at its two main sites in Bournemouth and Croydon.

On the day we met Warner, other members of the insurance services community were not celebrating as their businesses and workforces contracted.

But, LV= remains buoyant and Warner says the company only grows at a manageable pace. There have been some acquisitions, car specialist Frizzel for example, but much of the growth for the mutual company has been organic.

Some CIOs with experience of the mutual business model have expressed frustration that expansion and new projects can be slow when compared to the world of the plc. But Warner doesn’t find that the case at LV=.

“Being mutual gives you more flexibility to look at the values and the medium- and long-term plans for the organisation.

“One of the risks of being mutual is there is less pressure, so we create the pressure. The C-level here is all new, which balances against any inertia and we have all come from big transformational companies,” he says.

“We are not a growth-for-growth’s-sake agenda; we are looking for sustainable growth. We will be as big as we need to be as a company.”

With business growth, especially in the insurance world, comes an increase in staff and scale.

“You get more growth in the number of claims and the support you offer to a larger customer base,” Warner explains.

If your job can define you, that is certainly the case for Warner. His CIO department at LV= has the neat mission statement “Change, Innovation, Operations” and is responsible for not only technology, but also procurement and operational essentials like the very buildings LV= operates from.

“The function was formed when I came in. We wanted to create an identity that was broad and not just about IT. As a department we are tasked with providing the capabilities to enable growth. We saw the name change as an opportunity to refresh and rebrand,” he explains.

“We have done a lot of restructuring around what is the logical flow of activities and making the right teams.”

The team now consists of strategy, change delivery, solution delivery, service delivery, sourcing & facilities; information security, planning performance functions.

“Desktops, buildings, contracts, the business couldn’t operate without them,” he says.

“Previously there was a lot of overlap in IT sourcing, so now we have an IT supplier management team,” he says of the leaner, more effective setup.

Picture the difference Once the department formed itself, Warner got the teams to create an internal video of a day in the life of the CIO department demonstrating all the services it enables at the organisation.

A second video showed a day in the life of LV= without a CIO department, essentially chaos. Reception to the two videos was good he says.

Warner’s department is divided across the firm’s two main sites and supports the 21 different sites LV= has across the country.

He has been recruiting heavily recently, and finds that the Bournemouth location has real recruitment benefits thanks to the town’s great work/life balance when compared to London, and Warner admits they make the most of that opportunity, but says it’s important the right people want to work for LV=, and not just those who want to be by the sun, sea and sand.

Returning to the transformation theme, Warner says: “We provide the infrastructure for change, we are making change happen.”

Warner adds that the new name has helped, especially with all important communications across the organisation.

“In the last year the level of dialogue and the volume of it has been really good and mutually supportive,” he explains.

“For me that communication is all about confidence and pride. If the support teams talk of them and the business that creates a customer/supplier relationship that is not good. The relationship needs to be peer-to-peer.”

Warner believes the need for a peer-to-peer relationship is essential for a business to succeed.

He is clearly passionate about technology in the sense of what technology can enable an organisation to achieve, but also because the pace of change keeps accelerating and it is technology that pushes that  acceleration.

“In the world of the CIO, a lot of what we try to do is change,” he says.

“If you look across the business all units have some form of change agenda taking place and the CIO department’s role is to be mutually supportive to ensure there is a lot of trust and support going on. The trick is to make sure we carry each other along and talk a lot.

“I spend a lot of my time with the two business unit leaders talking about what they are comfortable with and where change can help them,” he adds.

Warner has created a Fast Track team that challenge business problems that are on the minds of the LV= C-suite.

“They are trying different ways to solve these problems quickly.”

Warner says this approach not only benefits the C-suite but is tied in very closely with the needs of the customers.

Throughout the interview Warner talks of the pride and ambition of LV= to be a “big small company”.

By this, he means that LV= wants its customers to feel they get the individual attention and care associated with small companies, but that it still wants to grow sustainably.

“So often you need a different way of working because technology and business models are a changing landscape,” he says.

“In IT we used to be about rationalisation, now there are so many different ways to solve a problem so the sourcing model is changing.

“Five to 10 years ago it was ERP and an ERP implementation had to fit as much of the business footprint as possible. Now a technology purchase is about a certain footprint and requirement at the right price. For the CIO and department it is now about how we plug all the best-in-class tools together into the back end of the organisation.”

The conversation reverts back to Warner’s recruitment and staffing needs. “The key thing for us is we are investing in our architects and design skills. I believe any organisation needs to own and retain these skills.”

Warner is not against outsourcing, although LV= is not a big user.

“When we need the right skills lets partner with specialists in those fields,” says Warner.

A number of big technology projects have been undertaken since he joined the company, including a new telecommunications system from Avaya integrated by Azzurri, a Guidewire claims management system and the company is moving over to Windows 7 from XP. In one of the few service partner deals, Atos tends the mainframe back end to the organisation as an outsource service.

“We are technology-agnostic and always select the right tool for the right job and our scale means we have a bit of everything. Where we can see opportunities for technology consolidation we will take it. The priority for me is an infrastructure catch-up so that it is fit for purpose. We are virtualising the environment at the moment.”

Warner has also transformed the way his department works with the suppliers.

“We have regular touch points with all of them. There is a repository of contracts, notes from meetings, surveys and we have used this repository to change the relationship with our suppliers.

“We are heavily dependent on our suppliers and know their motivations. We like to think we are more willing to be innovative and that is attractive for them. We want suppliers that want to work with us and I want more than my fare share of their minds; that is important to us.”

Warner only reveals that the IT budget is below the industry average for general insurance and that he is keeping a lid on costs. His team consists of 550 direct employees.

“Looking ahead, data analytics and the evolution of e-commerce using tools to analyse the customer journey will become a priority for me.

“Bring your own device (BYOD) has made some progress here with many of the executives using iPads. For some parts of the business BYOD is good, but it is unlikely to happen in the call centre.”

Of greater interest to the CIO is mobile usage by customers. Analysis by LV= of access and conversion to customer is seeing an increase in hits to their sites by mobile devices, but conversion tends to take place on the desktop PC. Warner is also interested in how customer data will change, especially in terms of customers owning and using data sets that pre-populate sites from financial service providers. He believes this may increase mobile penetration and change the interaction and competition between insurance firms.

Career change

Warner joined LV= in January 2011 after a 21-year career with consultants Accenture. “I had been thinking about a CIO role for a few years. I was enjoying Accenture, but fancied the challenge of doing what I’d been preaching,” he says with a wry smile. “I thought I’d better do it in my mid-40s too.

“LV= had the right blend of role. Looking after sourcing and procurement, property and group level change.” Warner reports to CEO Michael Rogers and sits on the executive committee and the board of the general insurance business.

“I am involved in conversations about the business strategy and that was really interesting to me,” he says of the switch from consulting.

Warner adds that the breadth of his experience with Accenture was invaluable.

“Accenture gave me a lot of the background skills that are helping me in this role. The big thing at Accenture was understanding the engagement with the stakeholders and how critical that is. Also I learnt what good looks like, especially as you see other vertical markets and cultures. Although I am in financial services, a lot of the issues we are tackling are very similar in other markets, and always, no matter the market the most important ingredient is the people.

“The best engagements I had with Accenture were where there was a good team that was well aligned with the business and knew what they were doing and were very robust with each other.

“So here we celebrate what we are good at and we are relentless with those things we are not so good at.”

With a young family and a strong corporate culture that supports a work/life balance, Warner is putting his heart into the role; recent business performance suggests so is everyone at LV=.