(Image source: Guidewire Software.)
Gore Mutual Insurance Company (Cambridge, Ontario) takes pride in the 180-year history that makes it the oldest mutual P&C company in Canada, but as the world changed around it, the company had to reflect soberly on its future strategy. Speaking at Guidewire’s Connections user group and partner event in Las Vegas in November 4-6, 2021, on the stage and directly with Insurance Innovation Reporter, Andy Taylor, the company’s CEO told the story of how Gore Mutual adopted its Next Horizon vision to turn the regional P&C insurer into a national contender.
“We had to have a very candid conversation,” Taylor recalled. “We were seeing large-scale insurers and exponential change in our industry; we said to ourselves, ‘We have a proud history and are financially strong, but we are not a high-performing company.’”
Gore Mutual had a history of taking an incremental approach to change, and prior to beginning Next Horizon. The company’s traditional “slow and steady” approach had taken it from $100 million in premium to $475 million—but it had taken 20 years to do so. While continuing to enjoy growth and profitability, Taylor noted that it would have taken Gore another 20 years to become a billon-dollar company.
“That led us to the decision to take a pause and start to think differently about strategic transformation,” he said. “We had to leave behind this incremental improvement and embrace radical, accelerated transformation. If we had been renovating our house one room per year, we now saw the need to bulldoze the house.”
Gore Mutual is now about two years into Next Horizon and has already seen significant success, according to Taylor. It’s first major milestone was the launch of the insurer’s personal auto product on Guidewire’s InsuranceSuite in the cloud. And whereas the carrier had spent 10 years on a previous legacy system replacement failure, the personal auto implementation in the cloud was completed within 18 months.
Among other advances within Next Horizon to date, Taylor also cited a new personal lines operating model, a new contact center, and claims transformation that has resulted in $20 million in savings. He noted that Gore has added 200 people as part of an effort to recruit top talent from around the industry. “These people are supercharging our transformation, and we’re seeing incredible results,” he said.
Becoming a Billion-Dollar Company
Gore Mutual plans to grow its business by $200 million within the three-year period since Next Horizon’s 2019 launch, and it has set a target to achieve $1 billion within five years. “We would have achieved this goal by 2040 at the pace we had been moving,” he remarked.
Among the principles guiding Gore Mutual’s transformation journey are to “Change when you don’t need to, from a position of strength,” Taylor related. Another is to look further out on the horizon.
“Instead of the next two or three years, we resolved to look to the next decade—‘What will the world look like in 2030?’ we asked ourselves,” Taylor said. “As a Canadian, you’ll forgive me for quoting Wayne Gretzky: ‘Skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been’—I think that’s a great way to articulate our mindset within Next Horizon.”
Next Horizon required Gore Mutual’s leadership to consider three major trends while thinking about reinventing its business, from a standpoint of both threat and opportunity.
The first was one of consolidation in insurance distribution. Gore had sold through independent agents, which were essentially small family businesses. The challenge was that these were being bought up by large regional and national brokerages. “Distribution was transforming to a new model that we weren’t relevant to,” Taylor explained. “We were neither a high-performing nor a scale insurer.”
Canada’s large insurers were merging to create even larger ones, with the top ten representing about 10 percent of the industry. To compete, Gore Mutual needed to be an attractive alternative that could operate at scale.
The second trend Taylor alluded to was technology transformation. “We weren’t near to providing the omnichannel experiences brokers and customers expect,” he said. “We decided to replace everything within a three-year period.”
“I’m serious,” he stressed, explaining how Next Horizon effectively dictated a move to the most modern cloud-based option.
The third trend was customer expectations. “Consumers are changing the way they behave with regard to the relationships they have with the products and services they purchase,” Taylor commented. “We were creating experiences but not ones that were positive.”
Reflecting on the impact of these trends led to Gore Mutuals’s leadership to think about its perennial purpose as a mutual insurer, Taylor said. “Combining purpose with a high performance business model will enable us to create experiences.”
Purpose-Driven, Digitally led, National Insurer
With what he calls 100 percent alignment with the company’s board of directors and with associates all the way down to the front lines, Taylor says Gore launched Next Horizon as a 10-year vision for an company that was a “purpose driven, digitally led, national insurer.”
With the combination of traditional purpose and high performance, Taylor said he believed that Gore Mutual could do something unique. “We didn’t want to become a not-for-profit or charitable entity; we wanted to compete with the largest insurers,” he said.
Being purpose-driven is less a departure than a reassertion of Gore’s mutual mission to “be good and do good. The point, Taylor said, is “the impact we have in the communities where we live and work.”
Taylor defined “digitally led” as involving the redesigning of all its operating models to make them scalable and high-performing. That involves replacing all the insurer’s technology, which is currently being driven by aggressively accelerated investment during a two-year period. “This now gives us a platform to scale our business and start thinking about becoming a national insurer,” he said. “We put equivalent of a decade of capital investment into two years. It’s a huge commitment, and we’re running seven points higher in expense ratio than normally.”
Achieving the goals of Next Horizon not only requires a massive infusion of new talent to the organization itself, but also the involvement of trusted partners, Taylor related. “What we did in this exercise was to go out in the world and find the best partners who have actually done this before and let them bring leading thought to do this at a pace we’ve never undertaken before,” he elaborated.
Among highlights from the successes so far on the transformation journey, Taylor cited the achievement of 100 percent connectivity to broker/agent systems. “Everything was manual, and ow they can work seamlessly within their systems and integrate with ours,” he said. “We’re only a few months in and already hitting 80 percent straight-through processing. It’s an incredible change. We’re hitting 30-second responses to billing inquiries.”
Taylor also referred to an important “psychological milestone” of opening a new office on Bay Street in Toronto’s financial district. “One reason for that is to send a very strong message: we have accelerated our investment during the pandemic,” Taylor explained. “The other is to attract more talent.”
Timing is Everything
Ironically, the pandemic turned out to be a positive for the Next Horizon journey, Taylor noted to Insurance Innovation Reporter. “We were totally internally focused, spending all day on video calls,” he explained. “We added all these people but we knew exactly what we needed to do. Everybody had nothing to do but buckle down on this transformation, and the virtual element forced by the pandemic helped focus people and also gave us greater access to remote talent.”
Another irony was how Gore Mutual’s “slow-and-steady” approach also turned out to be fortuitous for the timing of Next Horizon. Taylor explained by reviewing major achievements within Next Horizon to date: the July launch of personal auto on Insurance Suite in the cloud; the creation of a national contact center; the July launch of a new technology platform and operating model; and the direct connectivity to agency management systems.
“If we had tried to do this five years ago, we would have failed,” Taylor commented. “Ironically being so far behind might have done us a favor since by the time we undertook Next Horizon, there were new platforms in the cloud for us to go to.”