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Campbell Macpherson: Thinking outside the kennel

For a lesson in bringing customers onside, look at RSA Canada’s Pets Plus Us initiative


Stick with me on this one. At first glance it may look like I am going to talk to you about pet insurance. I am not. I am going to talk about how just another boring old dullsville insurance company threw away its actuarially-tinted glasses, got to know their customers and began an exciting and profitable transformation of their entire business. OK … by piloting it with pet insurance.

In 2011 RSA Canada chief executive Rowan Saunders attended What If’s annual Top Dog tour. What If is a brilliant innovation consultancy headquartered out of London which has helped many hundreds of market leaders and future market leaders embrace innovation and make a difference to their customers and shareholders alike – across a wide range of industries from airlines to pharmaceuticals, from supermarkets to banks. Their Top Dog tour is a global tour of some of the world’s best innovators. Call them. Get on it.

Back to the story. Saunders was inspired by the ways that companies like Cisco and Google test, separate, and incubate game-changing innovation, and he wanted to see if this was possible in the risk-averse, no-need-to-make-a-decision-as-I-have-a-whopping-final-salary-pension world of insurance. (My words, not Saunders’). So he tapped What If to help RSA conceive, incubate, and launch a disruptive business in pet insurance and nurture it as an “internal start-up.” Pet insurance in Canada had a dismal 1 per cent household penetration compared to 30 per cent in the UK. It was an ideal choice for a pilot. RSA’s goal was not only to grow market penetration, but also to build an internal innovation lab for RSA Canada, with lessons cascading down across the rest of the organisation and igniting a larger culture of relentless innovation.

The project was kicked off by identifying barriers that had prevented pet insurance from growing in the past, looking to break the rules of the current category when it came to the coverage model, pricing, customer experience, positioning, distribution, and more. The joint team realised that pet ownership brings great joy but also great burdens, and that pet insurance often just adds to these responsibilities. This piece of insight led to the idea of evolving the traditional insurance policy into a membership; one that would bring pet owners into a community, thereby alleviating the burden of pet ownership with knowledge, expertise, and support.

So, ‘Pets Plus Us’ was born, providing much more value beyond insurance – from a 24/7 pet phone hotline, to advice and tools from pet experts, to pet-specific rewards and discounts. This holistic proposition resonated with both pet owners and veterinarians as invaluable. Why? Because it tapped into the customer’s genuine needs and concerns. Pet owners didn’t just want to insure their pet in case of illness or emergency, they want advice on caring for and looking after their beloved animals.

Insurance is an inherently negative purchase – a wager that something bad will happen. The folks at RSA seemed to turn this opinion on its head. Don’t just bet that something bad will happen to Fido – join a community that may make this unfortunate event less likely. Everybody wins.

Just imagine how this could translate into the larger world of financial services… if the likes of Fidelity or Old Mutual stopped merely trying to flog people pension products or annuities and instead built a genuine “post-working-life” service and community that actually helped people manage the last 30-plus years of their life … they would clean up! Sorry, I am back now. I must have wandered off and started day-dreaming. Back to reality.

Armed with what appeared to be a sound strategy based on genuine customer insight, a new brand positioning and set of key concepts, RSA and What If developed a launch plan detailing how this internal start-up would share assets and resources with the broader RSA Canada business and create ground-level momentum throughout the company.

They worked together to envision the type of business Pets Plus Us would be and the type of leaders it would foster. They developed an inspiring mission and vision, a set of values and behaviors to lay the groundwork for a unique culture, and a framework to make innovation scalable and repeatable across the business. What If also worked with the executive team at RSA and 20 new staff members at Pets Plus Us, ensuring this new approach to innovation would continue to sustain and inspire the entire organisation.

And the result? Pets Plus Us launched in March 2013, offering a unique service for millions of pet owners in Canada. They recently won the Canadian Kennel Club business from the 12-year incumbent, doubling monthly sales. Having witnessed their colleagues’ success, other divisions of RSA are now developing their own plans to embrace innovation to power their future growth.

Who said pet insurance was boring?

Campbell Macpherson is managing director of Campbell Macpherson & Associates



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