All About AXA Lab

AXA is a well-known holding company for a collection of international insurance and financial services firms, including AXA US. AXA has 102 million clients in 56 countries around the world. It is the number one global insurance brand according to Interbrand. AXA is headquartered in Paris.

Frederic Tardy joined AXA as Group Chief Marketing & Distribution Officer in 2013 with responsibility for driving the Group’s initiatives on digital transformation, brand, distribution, strategic marketing and customer segmentation. He was previously at BNP Paribas, where he was most recently CEO of Atelier US.

Fred is the prime mover behind an initiative called AXA Lab. AXA has charged this Lab, launched at the end of October of 2013, with four missions:

  • Connect AXA with leading companies in the technology industry that have the potential to become business partners for the company’s global marketing and distribution teams;
  • Detect emerging trends that can be leveraged for the benefit of our clients, as well as identify start-ups and new talents;
  • Foster the digital culture within the Group, by developing new training to be organized in Silicon Valley;
  • Launch pilot digital initiatives before any rollout in other countries.

Now that it is just past its one-year anniversary, I thought it would be an opportune time to check in with Fred for an update.

Q.   Frederic, you are responsible for driving AXA Group’s “digital transformation.” What does this mean and why is it important?

A.   We live in a connected world and so do our clients. Digital technology gives us the opportunity to be at their side, at the heart of their daily lives, to serve them even better. AXA is transforming itself to address their reality.

That is because the digital transformation is one of our strategic priorities at AXA. We’ve allocated €800 million to this over the 2013-2015 period for investing in technology that enables us do our job better, grow our business and become the insurance leader in digital and multi-access to better serve our customers.

It’s up to our customers to choose how they want to interact with us, according to their needs. In agencies, by phone, on websites or on social networks, there will always be someone to talk to customers wherever they would like to be in touch. AXA wants to be digital and close to its customers.

Q.   What role does AXA Lab play in this?

A.   We know that the disruption in the insurance business is at the very beginning but we know that it will happen. That is why we decided to set up the AXA Lab, for the following reasons.

First, to connect AXA with global players in the digital age, that is the big actors in Silicon Valley – 80% of the world’s top 100 most innovative companies are in the Silicon Valley. In that way we can see how they see the future. When Google launches the Google car – a driverless car – that does not mean the end of car insurance. It just means that car insurance will evolve perhaps to cyber security.

Secondly, because we want to detect the latest trends. That is why having people in Silicon Valley and San Francisco matters, so that they can be in touch with the tech companies, the universities, attend conferences… In 2014, the AXA Lab has attended more than 10 tech conferences, has initiated contacts with more than 150 startups, tech companies, innovation hubs, …

Thirdly, because we need to develop training and culture. It is indeed impossible to transform a company if you do not train people. We decided to do that by setting up corporate open online training courses. The AXA Lab has also the objective to welcome employees working on specific projects, attending training sessions here – last year, we welcomed more than 200 people.

Lastly, to pilot and launch new initiatives, as we need to design concrete things through pilots. We currently have a few pilots going on.

Q.   Which trends have been of particular interest to AXA Lab in year one?

A.  We are working in the insurance industry but we have an extensive vision of it: house, car, connected health are indeed a part of the emerging trends we keep on our radars.

Q.   Are you aligning Lab efforts with AXA’s business strategies or is what AXA Lab does more like basic research?

A.   The AXA Lab is totally part of our digital acceleration strategy, which is of the main priority of the Group – that is why we invest €800 million over 3 years.

Q.   How, specifically, is the Lab working to foster a culture of innovation within AXA?

A.   As we are a global leader and we want to be the digital leader, innovation is indeed key, that is why we need to train our people and change our culture. The AXA Lab has been instrumental in the design and the setting up of corporate open online training courses.

Q.   Can you tell us about some of the pilot programs AXA Lab has under way?

A.   We currently have 3 marketing pilots under way, but it is still early days to talk about them.

Q.   AXA Lab is located in San Francisco because you wanted proximity to Silicon Valley. Do you risk missing out on interesting ideas being developed elsewhere? Is AXA Lab an idea that will be applied to other markets?

A.   Silicon Valley is a microcosm where we can observe the innovative ways of financial products consumption (mobile phones, tablets, etc…). It does not mean that we are not working with other startups from other countries – we are already working with many French startups as an example.

Q.   Does AXA have a mechanism for investing in the trends and companies identified by AXA Lab?

A.   The AXA Lab does not invest in companies – but we have created the AXA Seed Factory, a seed fund specialized in digital services related to insurance and banking businesses. The fund operates as a holding to help experienced entrepreneurs launch new disruptive idea and also acts as a business incubator that co-invests with Business Angels or Venture Capital Funds in innovative start-ups that have strong synergies between them and helps them unite their resources.

Recently, the AXA Seed Factory has for instance invested in FLYR, an Airfare Prediction and Optimization Technology Company, and Particeep, a software editor that allows crowdfunding actors to create their own white label investment portal.

Q.   How many people work at AXA Lab today?

A.   We would be 3 in few weeks and expect to be 5 in the near future.

Q.   Why is there no web site for AXA Lab?

 A.   But we have a Twitter account!

Q.   What are some of the other components of your plan for the digital transformation of AXA? (Your in-house Digital Agency, etc.)

A.   The AXA Group’s digital transformation is driven by many initiatives and projects worldwide, such as the AXA Lab.

We have also created an internal Digital Agency, because as we are accelerating our efforts, we need to design specific mobile app guidelines. For example, we designed the AXA Drive app that we tested in 3 countries. We are now deploying it in almost 20 countries. We also try to be disruptive. AXA was the first company to have its own domain name: .axa. We can now use “.axa” and we are the first insurance company to do that. We deploy that globally to ensure that in each country we have the best mobile site on the website.

We also want to foster a culture of innovation through our Start-in program. This is a crowdsourcing platform that has launched 2 major challenges last year: one on mobile and one on data. We have opened this platform to any entity, and have more than 10,000 participants from 40 countries submitting more than 350 ideas. At the end of the process, we had 4 pilots leading to the creation of prototypes. That is a very good way of demonstrating that we walk the talk, allowing our people in the entities to participate in our innovation.

We have also made strategic partnerships in 2014 with Facebook or LinkedIn among others.

Q.   What can you tell us about AXA’s partnerships with Facebook and with LinkedIn?

A.   The objectives of the strategic partnerships with Facebook and LinkedIn are to train the AXA teams in the use of those social networks platforms and to collaborate more closely with those companies to have access to their innovations as soon as possible on the 3 main dimensions: Human Resources & Employment, Marketing & Communication and Sales in the digital, social and mobile sphere.

Q.   AXA is a French company, of course, headquartered in Paris. What do you think of the innovation scene in France?

A.   I think we are in an innovative world and the scene in France has nothing to be ashamed about. You only need to look at the Las Vegas CES 2015 the important presence of the French start-ups

Q.   Can Paris compete with London, Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley when it comes to financial services innovation and FinTech?

A.   We are very proud of our French roots, and we believe that France has a deep pool of talented people. We have many creative and innovative young people creating start-ups. The French team was the most important European one at the CES in Las Vegas this year, with more than 120 companies being there.

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