Achmea Australia embraces digital to keep farmers farming

Emma Thomas, CEO of Achmea Australia, discusses the importance of meeting the changing needs of Australian agribusiness through a digital transformation

Achmea Australia is committed to helping agribusinesses protect their livelihoods and business continuity. It understands the power of embracing digital innovation to reach new heights, without compromising on the value of face-to-face service to deliver on its purpose of keeping farmers farming.

The insurer is part of the wider Achmea Group, which began 200 years ago in the Netherlands with 39 farmers cooperating together to collect money in a glass jar, to compensate each other in the event of a haystack fire. From there, the Achmea Group became a global insurance brand. With 14,500 employees in the Netherlands and 2,500 internationally, the Achmea Group supports the lives of 13 million people in six countries. Through its brands, the Achmea Group has supported the Netherlands in becoming the world’s second largest agricultural exporter

Emma Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Achmea Australia. Passionate about accelerating its sustainable business growth, Emma says through cherishing Achmea’s co-operative heritage, Achmea Australia has ensured that helping agribusinesses and supporting their communities continues to be at the heart of its strategy. “We distinguish ourselves in the market through our history; our social responsibility is paramount,” she explains. “We are a direct insurer, which means agribusinesses can partner directly with us, the insurer for their farm insurance, as opposed to purchasing insurance products through a broker or another third party. Through this direct relationship, we offer Australian agribusinesses an insurance product that is built on 200 years’ expertise, whilst providing local on-farm service. Our purpose is to keep farmers farming; we exist to protect the continuity of farming businesses and the livelihood of farmers – as we have been since 1811.”

Achmea Australia has made a long-term investment in its digital transformation, with its digital initiatives translating into increased agility and speed for the entire organisation. As the world confronts the challenges of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Achmea Australia’s digital strategy enabled the company to move quickly to transition employees from its office buildings and to work from their homes. “Through the integration of technology into all areas of the business, we have built capacity for crisis resiliency. This meant that we were in good shape to accommodate this shift to remote working, whilst continuing to manage service delivery without service disruptions to our clients. COVID-19 has changed the way we work, and it has underscored the business continuity mandate. With secure and flexible cloud solutions, we can continue to service our clients from anywhere – and at any time.”

Having grown up on her family’s farm in the Otago region of New Zealand, Emma has built a comprehensive understanding and passion for agriculture that she combines with more than 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry. “As a child, when I wasn’t at school, I was on my grandparents’ merino sheep farm. Later I moved with my husband to a small farm on the Kapiti Coast, where we brought up our children,” she says. “We lived on our farm while I held several senior roles spanning from finance to sales at a large rural insurer in New Zealand.”

In 2017, Emma moved to Sydney to begin her role as CEO of Achmea Australia, and instantly felt her personal purpose aligned with the company’s values. “I am passionate about continuing Achmea’s co-operative principles,” she says. “I come to work each day and proudly support a sector and country that helps feed not only the nation but the world.” Emma believes that her personal family history is a major driving factor in how she lives her life today. “I have a love for the land. This is where my personal values were shaped to appreciate the satisfaction of seeing the results of hard work and appropriately balancing opportunity and sustainable risk management,” she affirms.

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We distinguish ourselves in the market through our history; our social responsibility is paramount

Emma Thomas | Emma Thomas, CEO, Achmea Australia

Achmea Australia has experienced rapid growth over the past few years. Having begun in Australia in 2013 with just two executives and a couple of laptops, it is now achieving double-digit year-on-year growth. “Over the last three years, we have embarked on a journey of digital transformation, our startup culture has evolved into a disrupter in the agricultural insurance industry,” says Emma. “Since joining Achmea Australia, I have led the team to double the size of the business based on employee numbers and turnover. Achmea Australia has been a finalist in the Australian Direct Insurer of the Year for 2018 and 2019 (by the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance), and last year we were rated five stars for our claims service by LMI ClaimsComparison.”

With digital transformation playing an increasingly prominent role across all industries, Emma says technology is a core part of Achmea Australia’s growth strategy. “We have planned ahead to ensure a strong technology foundation for our future. It was important for us to differentiate ourselves in the competitive insurance industry and speed-to-market and enhancing service delivery were critical business drivers for us.

“What we look for in a strategic partnership is an alignment of cultural values, in which each partner has a clear role to play. As an insurer with co-operative values, we take a long-term approach, choosing to partner with Guidewire Software, Inc based on a shared understanding of strategic needs and priorities for innovation. They have provided us with a state-of-the art, intuitive, cloud-based policy administration and underwriting system. Achmea Australia and Guidewire Software, Inc both share a passion for enabling the growth of their clients, meaning we seek to understand their needs and determine how to best serve them. Partnering with first-class technology service providers, including Guidewire Software, Inc. has not only given us a competitive edge, it has also enabled us to differentiate ourselves and grow by adapting to the changing needs of our clients. This, in turn, has enabled us to employ more people in regional Australia, focus on mutually beneficial partnerships with agricultural associations and help to realise our vision of protecting and enhancing agricultural communities.”

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Despite the considerable growth and focus on digital transformation, Emma affirms that its people remain the lifeblood of the organisation. “Along with a cloud-based telephony system, the successful deployment of our cloud-based policy administration and underwriting solution has allowed us to focus on developing our people, so that they in turn can concentrate on delivering the best service possible to our clients.”

“In a time of accelerating change, I am inspired by the positive mindset of our people and how we are working together with our partners to actively think outside the box, present innovative ideas and business adaptation,” she continues. “We are working together in challenging times, and by adapting and embracing digital opportunities, I am confident we will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever.”

Emma believes that Achmea Australia is not just an insurer, but also a disrupter that delivers a farm insurance product to meet the evolving needs of Australian agribusinesses. “Instead of only providing an insurance solution, our focus on both digital optimisation and on-farm service has enabled us to service our clients, both now and into the future. Through our direct approach, we discuss with our clients how they can proactively prevent the types of losses we have seen in our 200 years of international experience and local rural knowledge, and what impacts to consider should they need to rebuild after a loss,” she says. “We talk to our clients about what risks they can prevent without insurance, and then for the remaining risks, our clients have the ability to tailor our cover so they can insure what they want and how they want it. Through our direct distribution model, we can meet face-to-face with our clients to discuss the needs and requirements unique to their farm.”

Emma believes Achmea Australia’s proactive and innovative approach gives the insurer an edge over competitors in the industry. “We are continually looking for ways we can stay ahead of the market. We research methodologies and invest in tools and expertise so we can help our clients by providing insight and solutions,” explains Emma. “As an insurer, we are looking at offering services that help our clients to limit climate-related damage on the one hand (adaptation) and on the other support them in reducing their carbon footprint (mitigation). We must work together on a healthier, safer and more future-proof society. At Achmea Australia, we do this in a committed, customer-driven and results-oriented way and it doesn’t get much more important than our core company values. One of these is “we aim for solutions” which is all about innovation and looking outside the box for a solution that is a win-win for both our clients and the Achmea Group.”

Sharing information and ideas, particularly during these difficult economic times, can help to transform businesses, elevate performance and deliver value according to Emma. Achmea Australia values its partnerships and affirms that in collaboration with its partners, the insurer is continuously seeking innovative solutions that strengthen its business proposition as much as possible. “To meet today’s global challenges, partnerships are more important than ever. Integrated offerings are gaining in popularity through the effective use of data,” she explains. “How we remain relevant as a partner to our clients, true to our purpose whilst agile in solving the new problems that our clients face, will ensure Achmea Australia continues to strive as a business. We cherish our cooperative principles that we can achieve more by working together for a sustainable future.”

From August 2019 to January 2020, Australia experienced an unprecedented bushfire emergency which burned more than 18 million hectares of land and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Tragically, 34 people lost their lives and up to one billion native animals were lost.

Achmea Australia’s people witnessed first-hand the devastation caused in communities across the country. “The destruction caused by the catastrophic bushfires has served to remind us of the essential nature of food security, reinforcing the value of the agriculture sector and the importance of insurance for continuity of supply,” explains Emma. “Our insurance platform enables our people to focus on what we do best: stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our clients to rebuild livelihoods and get farms back up and running again when something unexpected happens.

“It is being recognised that Achmea Australia’s focus on both digital optimisation and on-farm service is truly something special. We understand the power of technology to reach new heights, which has allowed us to respond to the challenges arising from COVID-19, without compromising on the value of face-to-face service to keep farmers farming.”

With the future in mind, Emma has a clear idea of how her organisation can continue to grow over the next few years and help agribusinesses do what they do best. “The digitalisation of agriculture is seen as the next (fourth) agricultural revolution, it is trust, transparency and relevance that will keep farmers farming,” she says. “Through this revolution, we will continue to walk side-by-side with our clients and communities, using our international expertise and local knowledge to aim for solutions to emerging problems. I am passionate about accelerating our sustainable business growth as a direct insurer.”

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