The Asia InsurTech Podcast spoke with Vipul Sud, the head of insurance at Azentio Software, about the importance of identifying the underlying business objective and how Azentio is consolidating the fragmented InsurTech platform market globally. The company has acquired essential tech capabilities to be one of the leading software providers in the financial services industry and in addition is working with strong partners to be able to provide holistic, state of the art tech solutions to their clients.
Find the transcript of our conversation below:
Michael Waitze 0:00
Okay, we are on. Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. We are excited to be joined by Vipul Sud, the head of insurance at Azentio Software. Vipul, how are you doing today by the way? It’s great to have you on the show.
Vipul Sud 0:22
Thanks, Michael. Thanks for the kind introduction and name.
Michael Waitze 0:27
After all that, right, still got it wrong.
Vipul Sud 0:29
It’s that soothing, it gets to you.
Michael Waitze 0:34
Oh, I like the pun there soothing. You could say Suding. Very, very well done. So before we jump in, what do you think is the biggest trend in insurance and InsurTech? And let’s just say in all of Asia?
Vipul Sud 0:48
I think it’s getting back to basics. I wouldn’t have said this three years back. I would say it now. And that’s a COVID induced trend, if I may say, right, because see what people and I’m sure you’ve been there, Michael, you’ve seen this? What happened in 2003, 2019? I can say, you heard everybody has a Chief Customer Experience Officer. Why did that happen? Because customer experience became everything. COVID kind of made a stop coming to the office, which meant you couldn’t really touch your machines that easily the way you were. At least that’s my that’s my sense that most of the insurance did see insurance companies or insurance stakeholders did see that that’s the limitation that was actually limiting them to grow. So before, so everyone’s got the plot right on the digital part. Then there’s a part on on the core side, where did that go? So people had started to live happily with legacy. And I feel that trend now would be to have a true digital insurance, no matter whether you are 30 years in industry, or you are fresh as last month.
Michael Waitze 2:02
Do you think there has to be a reevaluation, though about what this digital and I’ll say digital transformation, I’ll complete that thought. But do you think there has to be a reevaluation of what that means? In other words back up and go to the basics and say, wait a second, what are we trying to accomplish anyway? If you don’t I mean,
Vipul Sud 2:20
Absolutely, Michael. In fact, that’s one of the conversations that happened to me when I started working. So maybe, maybe I can tell you how I started off because it somehow relate to why I say it’s getting back to basics. See, I was probably seven years old when I touched the first keyboard. Okay. And since then, probably name a language I might have coded in. But I think what, what got me to work with my first job was in an insurance company. You know why? While I didn’t have the option to go to an IT company. Because I programmed a lot, made a lot of programs, but I never knew how did it work. The best program I could write was, when in my college where we wrote something that would switch on the fan through an SMS. You know why? Because you were lazy enough to get up from the bed and switch it on. Come to think of it. All we wanted was the ease, the ease, or the comfort to do things very worth, you know, it kind of was easy for us. And I wanted to see whether technology does that to business or not frankly, that that’s that’s why I chose to work with an insurance company, and not to the tech company to start with, because from day one, I remember the first sentence my reporting manager told me was, can you please get the report from the core system? And I probably just went for two hours from one desk to the other saying hi to everyone came back to my boss and said I couldn’t find it. Because frankly, I really did not know what to do with that report. But when you come to think of it, it was about what does that report mean? My question was back to my that time manager was what do you want to do with that report? And he gave me an answer was I want to find out are the commissions leaking anywhere. And that got me thinking? All right. Now, this is something interesting. There are commissions involved here. I want to see what it is. And that kind of got me curious on how insurance works. Okay, and how connected it was to human lives. Come to think of it think about Michael selling an insurance saying you want to die, so just buy. Think about it, would you? It’s the sales. That’s the you know, that’s the industry we are talking about. And that got impacted when COVID happened. And imagine if you were not able to reach your insurance company in that time. How would that be? You have all the tools, bells and whistles, go to your mobile app, press claim, do everything but the code doesn’t respond. What do you do then you reach out to frantically to your agent you reach out to your known person whom you bought from he says, I’m sorry, that’s the best you’ll hear. So I think it’s about realizing the impact of insurance and how it effects the end human life involved their. Insurance to me happened like that it’s it’s natural to understand insurance, it’s not something I would take a degree on. It’s a natural life concept that one would understand. And I think applying technology to it only makes it more efficient. And having access on your thumb is great. But it has to be the end to end.
Michael Waitze 5:30
Are you an engineer by training?
Vipul Sud 5:33
I am an influence in areas.
Michael Waitze 5:36
The way particularly an electronic engineer looks at something is different, I think than the way others look at something. And I love this idea of asking your boss, even if I can get you the report. Can we back up for a second and tell me what do you want to do with it? Because that’s more important than just get anybody can get it for you. Right? My little sister can go get it for you. But what do you want to do with it? Because then I can actually work with something. Yeah. It’s a gigantic difference.
Vipul Sud 6:08
See I always say the why, it’s always important to understand why, if I were to pick anything, and because I spent so much time in insurance, you know, more than a decade and a half at Majesco, which was previously Mastek, help them set up the business across Asia Pacific, what it would work like, but, you know, the thing that worked for me, and I feel was understanding the business importance of executing an ID project. Unless that wasn’t clear, I don’t think either parties would reach to a success. I don’t think this the success is having zero defects. I think I still have that paper that came from one of the agents when we went live back in my first project that it’s on a tissue paper, it’s on a tissue. The entire team has framed it, we circulate that frame within six months, within each one of us, we were 14 members at that time. It basically said you saved our lives, because that agent could see his commission on a screen. The importance, it’s the business impact. And what it meant was, that agent became more efficient. And you know, and many relate this to and talking about one aspect, but there are aspects such as, when I was with the operations, for example, I was working very closely with the COOs and their operations office, I could see virtual tears of managing operations, because there is one company which is growing aggressively has too many levers join us coming in. And every time an email or phone is coming in, this person is leaving, this person is joining. And it’s a frantic place for an operations person. Because if I relate to the part of, you know, group policies, for example, which is, I would say one of the most most employee engagement spending tools available to a corporate, it’s extremely critical how these benefits are known to the employees, and how well or efficiently can they be managed. Because it was never about what’s the tech platform that supports I think what’s important is, as the end person who’s insured or the corporate, I would see I want to give my employees a healthy lifestyle. The same message is read by the insurance company, they want health rider along with life. And the same message is read by the by the tech company, they want a group platform. See from where we started as a business requirement, it became a tech requirement. But I think it has to be the other way around.
Michael Waitze 8:36
I want to tell you where I learned this as well, just so you can have some context. So when I was at Morgan Stanley in Tokyo, I did P&L reporting. And every morning, we’d get a report like this thick, you can’t see it. But what is that like a foot and a half thick. And we’d flip through it and then take those numbers and input it into a system into lotus 123, which is probably before your time, but then Excel after that. And I thought, if this is being printed out on a dot matrix printer, it must exist in a system somewhere. I didn’t know what an API was. But I had this concept in my head. If I could just get to that data without this paper and drop it into the spreadsheet. I could be way more efficient. So before I started doing this, the P&L is used to get reported to the traders at trade date plus one plus about a few hours. So that’s like five or six o’clock in the afternoon after that day’s trading closed. And the previous day’s trading close. It was late. They didn’t know their positions for sure. They didn’t know their P&L for sure was late. And I just want to get back to this concept. Right. So what I did was I worked with the IT department at the time they created some API’s. I used Excel programs in Visual Basic to pull that data in and what used to get to them at four o’clock in the afternoon was now on their desks at seven o’clock in the morning. And they thought it was magic but again It gets back to this idea of how can you use that magic to change the life and the business life of somebody right from they didn’t know how I did it and they didn’t care. But the same way that just to get back to your idea, this idea of, we have this technology to make it more efficient. But at the end of the day, the provision of the things that the companies want, like the Group Policy, is driven by an efficient use of technology is all that anybody cares about. They don’t care if it’s written in Java or Ruby on Rails, they don’t care about any of that. All they care at the end of the day, is that their employees are getting that coverage. Is that fair?
Vipul Sud 10:39
Very fair, Michael, I think you hit the nail on the top. That’s that’s exactly how we interpret business. If you’ve asked me, I’ve always interpreted IT business as the impact, what’s the impact? What’s the value that what would make the customer pay me for, you know, what’s the impact of business customer centricity that comes there, but I think it’s important for for insurance as a business, as I said, is one is natural. It’s not rocket science. And I think this the more we break it down into simpler terms, the easier it has to translate to technology as well. And, you know, one of the things that he must have heard off late as the is the revolution of InsurTechs.
Michael Waitze 11:25
Which I talk about this every single day, but go ahead, because I want to cover this with you as well. Go ahead.
Vipul Sud 11:30
Yeah. Because see, there is a difference in InsurTech, and an InsurTech provider. I provide insurance technology that you can use, and InsurTech is providing the actual business platform to sell an insurance policy there. That business is selling insurance not selling platforms. InsurTech and like the likes of Igloo or you name Qoala, you know, many of them, I’m sure. But the fact is, what we do is our technology. We do power we would power in InsurTech, do. We because we our expertise is bringing domain prowess to tech.
Michael Waitze 12:13
So this is the big question for me, right? Yeah. And let’s go back 20 years, you have big insurance companies, you have big banks, investment banks, whatever you want. But let’s talk about insurance, right? They have their own IT departments, you worked in them. But now what’s happening is you’re disambiguating the provision of technology into the business because this scale, and the scope of the technology is becoming so complex, and so hard to manage. It’s like walking into a machine room where there’s one server and a bunch of connections, you know, 25 years ago, and now just putting everything in the cloud, because it’s just too complicated for me to manage on my own. So now you’re you’re like I said, you’re disambiguating the provision of the technology along the entire stack. Yeah, at different points in places in the business. And the insurance companies just like every other company, you’re just saying, Okay, fine, I give you do the tech for me. But here’s where the, here’s where the rubber hits the road for me. And what I think about is, if you’re an InsurTech company, right. There has to be this consolidating move, because most InsurTechs, and I say this to them as well, are building products in anticipation of acquisition as opposed to platforms in anticipation of proliferation. Is that fair? Like, do I have this right? You think and do you see more consolidation in this space?
Vipul Sud 13:39
Yeah, definitely, you know, coming from the chair I sit in as Azentio, for example, it’s, it was born in acquisitions. Okay. Think about it. We started with 3i Infotech product IP acquisition to start with, went on to take in Candela Labs, and then later Beyontec, with a singular vision of being a regional leader across Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific. Because we thought that’s what you just said, the market is too fragmented, and everybody came up with platforms. And when it comes to commitment to the industry, or investment into the technology for the long term, not many said division that that far, it’s about, let’s leave it to the next six months and come back for the next six months again. But does an insurance policy or a life insurance policy work that way? Do you get life insurance for tomorrow? Now you take for lifetime? Should I think like that, of course, I should think like because I provide that insurance technology. So just as a policy would cover you for the risks that they anticipate for the rest of your life. We anticipate the lifecycle of an insurance company, and make sure that our software’s will be powered by tech that is future proof.
Michael Waitze 14:57
But if that’s the case, right, I want to talk about this idea of building through acquisition, right? Because that was the question that I asked you initially. So if the idea for Azentio from the beginning was we may not have all the bits and pieces, but we can acquire them as a strategy. When you go to your clients and say, we don’t have that yet, but we’ve just acquired it, how does it feel to them when they see you? Like, again, consolidating this fragmentation in the market? And sort of acquiring a little bit more leverage on the platform side, as you take more and more products in? How does it look to them just strategically, but also from an integration standpoint, where you try to tell them? Yeah, don’t worry about it Candela, great company, Yeah. I mean, really great company. Right? And Beyontec, as well, how do we then combine them in a way that seamless to our clients? So they don’t see any drop off? Right? Because integration can be hard sometimes? No?
Vipul Sud 15:53
Yes, Michael, I think, if I may, just think about, you see, assume there are 10 blocks, rectangular blocks of different colors. And each four blocks of one company and four assets in them. We acquired three of them four with one, four of one, two with one, or all of them in a straight line, what do you see? Different color blocks? 10 different color blocks put together?
Michael Waitze 16:21
No, I mean, you shouldn’t you should see a gigantic platform, actually business. It’s getting bigger and stronger and more robust if you do it. Right. Right. But there are challenges to that. Go ahead.
Vipul Sud 16:28
Yes. So we want those different colors, to change into mercury. And then you can take out drops of mercury, put them out, but you when you bring them together, it becomes a creative, right? It becomes a creative, they’re together, they’re stronger, and you can and it’s equally modular to pick them out as well. So what we have undertaken as an exercise right now is to bring those platform as one, the acquisition that we did, brought in some great assets. Okay, and who asked me the first objective was to get a market to be there in the market and say we have over 200 plus insurers that we service. And that’s do we know our business? And and if I ever started doing it from ground up, do you think I’ve like 200 clients tomorrow? I would have spent a lifetime there. So that was objective one. Second was get something proven as a tech. And that objective was reached with the three acquisition method, we brought in some tech, which was being used by companies and not obsolete. It was something which was new. And that kind of gave us that map of tech and domain together. And there are a few pieces still missing. I don’t want to leave too many messages here. But yeah.
Michael Waitze 17:40
It’s okay. I worked in I worked in the investment banking business for a while I don’t need the hints.
Vipul Sud 17:44
Yeah. So we will continue to but what’s important is what what the going back to your question how to insurer see when we come to them. I think what matters is when you acquired you leave it alone only continue to invest, we are our strategies, or strategies to invest into these products. And make sure that they they reach the state that they should be reaching basis, the customer commitments, and our and our roadmaps that we have committed as well. And I think that’s where majority of our work lies as well. It’s about would we bring this together well we are bringing it together.
Michael Waitze 18:20
Yeah. I want to talk I want to get a little bit technical with you. Because I’m curious about your opinion on this. I was introduced to something called the MACH Alliance, MACH. I’ll tell you what it stands for in a second. Or if you maybe you already know. Okay. But for people that don’t know, right, so Microservices, API first, Cloud native and Headless. And I’m curious if this is something that you think about, when you’re thinking about your because look, a CTO is not necessarily a guy or a gal. And I’m not saying you’re the CTO, but you can think like one as well, right? It’s not a guy or gal who’s in their programming and telling people wait, don’t use that use this and whatever. It’s creating this vision may be the wrong word, but this overall architecture, about how software is going to interact, not just internally, but externally as well. So when you think about, from your engineering standpoint, how these things going to work together, is this theory of MACH something that you consider when you’re doing that?
Vipul Sud 19:14
Yes, Michael, see, the end goal would be to have the MACH as the architecture to be with. But let’s again, let me go back to being I think sticking to fundamentals here. It’s great to have platform to be on the MACH side of things. It’s great and we are aiming to be there those investments have been made, it’s not going to happen and if anyone from is going to tell you is going to happen tomorrow. It’s not It’s gonna take time. I think the thought process is right. And I think a true a true MACH will be achieved if you understand the domain better because then you know exactly what you want to give to the industry what’s required. Maybe if I say it the other way around. If I’m an insurance company, and I want to execute my I won’t say execute but if I want to run my insurance business I frankly don’t want to get get policy from Azentio. I want to know, here are the details from the customer that we have. And we issue the policy to them at the earliest. And if I can provide you that kind of platform, and provide that as a service to you, I don’t think it would matter if I’m on MACH or not.
Michael Waitze 20:23
Is it easier? Do you think about the ease of use for you and ease of maintenance for you as a software company?
Vipul Sud 20:30
Yes, it because it’s a proven see the platform, we would recommend today’s platforms that have been used by multiple insurance companies. The main thing, I think what’s really important is that you’re not on dinosaur tech. You need to be on a tech that’s flexible. I don’t want to be on a green screen.
Michael Waitze 20:50
So it’s like a flashing cursor.
Vipul Sud 20:52
Yeah, yes. That that’s a scary part. But if I’m, I think I wonder where I would go from today is am I cloud-able? From cloud-able journey from cloud-able to cloud. I think that’s those big steps that you would take from a product side. Right. But currently, if I were to service my platform, as a purely SAAS platform, I can do that very well, with the architecture that we carry today as well. But I’m more more concentrating on am I able to give the same message the insurer wants to give to their customer of providing a healthier lifestyle, kind of thing. You know, do I have that, you know, ecosystem within my own systems and the ability to have handshakes, aka API’s. And other people in the industry that can help the help to engage the employees even more.
Michael Waitze 21:42
When you look at sort of these acquisitions that you’ve made, right? You said four blocks of blue and three blocks of green or whatever colors, you say, you put them in order, and you’re thinking, okay, there was some expected synergies, I expected this to happen because I now have this and this. And if I put them together, I know like one plus one is now going to be four. Right? It’s not just going to be two. Are there unexpected synergies? Do you know what I mean? Where you get these pieces together? And you think, Wait a second, I didn’t know that was gonna happen. Do you know what I mean?
Vipul Sud 22:09
Yes, Michael, I think they were known synergies and unknown synergy.
Michael Waitze 22:13
Yeah. That’s what I’m looking for. Like, what are these unknown? I’m so curious about this.
Vipul Sud 22:17
Let me start from the known to the unknown. I think it will then make sense also, because one of the key drivers for at least one common synergy, which was there is the ability to work with same group across multiple countries, what that meant for us, all the platforms we took over, all of them had the ability to work as centralized and decentralized platform at the same time. Which means that if I have a process set up in Hong Kong, and I want to as a group, I want to replicate the same process in Thailand, I have the choice of replicating the process, or adding my ones and twos to it. And we done this for more than I would say, a huge client deal of Azentio is actually reasonable client deal. And this synergy was what was obvious, right? What what came as more of a surprise, because see, we, for acquisitions done on basis, the virtual handshakes, right? Imagine how deep can you go in a tech if you’re doing something online? You know, how deep would he get? You wouldn’t? Right? You would know it by experience when you start working on the software. But the more we got in the depth of it and start scratching the surface of our software’s which are there and all on modern tech, the good part it uses Java, it uses, you know, the DBS are agnostic to quite a few of them. What was important, what came out was the pedigree of how the software’s are maintained, it was common. Finally, it’s surprising at the same time, but what was good as that we knew exactly where we had done what for which customer. And, and when you go to that kind of scale, and you’re able to correlate that back to your base platform, trust me, it’s not something very common that you will see. It’s not something that is common. Therefore, when I go back to the go to the next customer, I can actually tell them that I’m bringing that experience of 200 plus customers to you, because that’s how powerful it is. And I’ve worked in software before and I know, you know, what are the nuances of versions, etc. But surprisingly, that’s that’s a huge challenge that was overcome very early. That’s the good part about you know what we’ve done,
Michael Waitze 24:37
So you hinted earlier about gaps. I don’t want to spend so much time talking about that per se. But it means then that when you look at filling those gaps you you also want to fill those gaps with software. Now that you know now that you’ve seen some of these sort of unexpected synergies, right, these serendipitous things that oh, now I see the way that works together. Now when you go out and do another acquisition, you can actually think a little bit kind of lower down the stack. And think, as long as it looks like this and is built on similar frameworks, it’s going to be so much easier to integrate it in even, even if the functionality at the higher level is better for something else. Right. And presuming that neither one of these are dinosaur tech, but that the thought process behind the development of the technology looks similar to this. Because to get all the way back again, to these group policies, and the idea that it’s really for the business and to make the business easier, that that’s only going to work now, or it’ll work better for sure. If the philosophy behind the development is the same or close so that when you go dig in dig deep, as you mentioned, then that integration becomes easier. No?
Vipul Sud 25:48
Yes, I think it’s it’s like, from partners to prospects. Let me call it that ways. I would want to look at partners who can work and create that marketplace that Azentio wants to create, we need not acquire everything, players who are in a similar space. They have strengths and weaknesses, we have a strengths and weaknesses. But what’s important is what it that the insurance, I’ll give an example as well, two examples, at least an example where a customer says, I want a UX, which is unique. I want a UX that wows. Should I go and acquire a new UX company, I’ll think through it, I wouldn’t easily write because can I nurture a UX person in an ID company? I will leave the creativity somewhere to be nurtured. And that works best if left out and more as partners. But think about it if I were to use, for example, currently, our AI ML capabilities are not in house, but we do work with the, you know, partners who bring that capability and is specializing in insurance. Now you see the relation between the two? And, and how it can help. And imagine if something has worked for one sector of financial services, insurance, how easy it would be to work across the rest of Azentio, which is also banking and any ERP, right? So that capability is not meant for just one part of insurance, Azentio, it’s like, it’s an enterprise wide capability that can be built as well. So we see this, and certain, when you say gaps, there are gaps, which are as techs, and then there are gaps, which which look more like functional gaps that you also see, right. So we are we are open to those kinds of specialized partnerships, where I need not reinvent the wheel, if somebody has done that, and that’s the beauty of the architecture that we are currently in by default or modular that we can actually plug in play a partner for a particular service even today, for that I don’t need to get a MACH architecture, we can still do it, because the way the systems were designed, and again, I said, at the stage of which we acquired all the platforms that already become modular, they have not broken them down to micro services, to say the least. But apart from Canada, which still has, which has a cloud native platform cloud flow, that works that ways, but the others had already broken down the modules. So today, if I if I get a specialized underwriting engine, which has done very well in some geography, and I want to make, you know, you know, I want to make an entry with a bang, I would want to partner with such a player and bring them into our ecosystem so that we bring in that combined strength to my next customer. So we have such a creative partnerships. Okay, that helps us to understand better, we understand the customer better.
Michael Waitze 28:42
When you look back on the entirety of your career in the software business. And think about that first experience you had with your boss saying, Get me that report. And then you look at the technology that you’re working with today. Does it excite you? Just from a what’s a possible standpoint? Do you know what I mean?
Vipul Sud 29:06
I tell you, I still feel like an infant when I when I enter a meeting frankly, with the with the customer specially it still is that same excitement that oh, this is a new color of the wall to you know, this is a new, that excitement, I think still remains. But what’s I think what’s sometimes gives me peace is the fact that at least majority of the conversations, I have the business context of what we’re getting into. That always excites me. I think that’s it’s a fear as well to to enter a meeting without knowing the business context of what’s the exact objective of what they’re trying to get from from us. So it’s important to relate to it big time. I think it’s never about implementation of IT software, no way. It’s about meeting business objectives. And if those are not being met through my software, trust me, I’ll become a partner that not a partner with a vendor that raises invoices. but not a real partner who can actually be partner for growth. I think I think that’s that remains there.
Michael Waitze 30:04
I think that is a great way to end this conversation. That was really awesome. Vipul Sud. See I got it this time, the head of insurance at Azentio Software. Thank you so much for doing this with me today. I really appreciate it.
Vipul Sud 30:17
Thanks, Michael. Pleasure. Likewise,