Disruption case study: Stephen Bowler

Stephen Bowler - Associate Director (Internal Audit), BGL Group

BGL Group has two main types of business: IDO, which provides digital platforms and contact centres for life, motor and home insurance products; an online price comparison site in the UK (comparethemarket.com) and another in France (LesFurets.com). Disruption affects each differently.

When the UK locked down last year, our contact centre staff had to switch to remote working. Within two weeks, we had set them all up with the necessary software and this changed our confidence and our expectations about what we could achieve. If someone had asked us to scope this project, we would have expected it to take 12-18 months. So, we learned that we could do more than we thought we could – but this rapid response comes at the cost of having to accept, document and monitor the added risks it creates. These then have to be managed afterwards.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we are now questioning how we work and what we do with our space in the future. We have no intention of maintaining completely remote working, but we don’t expect everybody to return to offices full time. We need to think about how we can work more flexibly and use our space to best advantage. We must also manage the risks associated with bringing people back into offices and the implications of changing work patterns on the work environment.

Comparethemarket.com doesn’t have contact centres and it was easier to move staff to remote working. The main issues here were economic – for example, with the travel market effectively coming to a complete stop customers stopped buying travel insurance overnight.

This made the group think more widely about our product lines and what we offer. We were already looking at how we could provide more of an “ecospace”, where customers could find information as well as products. The way we engage with providers and customers will change and we need to be able to adapt. For example, over the past year consumers have become more online-savvy and we need to think about how this affects what we offer and how customers view us.

Internally, we’ve increased our wellbeing provisions for staff massively. We’ve put in place infrastructure, and we offer external support. If people only return to the office part time, how will it affect social interaction? How do we make people feel engaged and cared for? What do we want the organisation to be and to look like in future?

When it comes to future sources of disruption, we’re always looking ahead. We know that the insurance industry must change to meet market developments – for example, the growth of the Internet of Things and autonomous machines. Consumers may buy fewer cars because budgets are tight, or they’re working from home, or leasing becomes the norm for electric vehicles.

Similarly, a disruptor could enter the market and completely change the model. We track data and consumer trends, but it is sometimes more important to be agile than to improve efficiency. Could we be that disruptor? Could we change the way people think?

Internal audit also learnt important lessons in the pandemic. When lockdown began we swapped many of the audits on our plan for short, sharp assurance opinions with more emphasis on enquiry of key stakeholders, walkthroughs and observations as opposed to substantive testing. We still raised issues if necessary, but we focused on what the company was doing – and what it had stopped doing – in areas such as cyber security, credit risk and liquidity risk. After three months we went back to producing rated opinions and following our audit plan, but it taught us that we could turn around these short, focused pieces of work quickly and we plan to do more in future.

It also taught us the value of stakeholder engagement and communication. We found we could meet auditees more often and feedback findings more regularly using Teams.

And it proved that no one is isolated from what happens elsewhere. Internal audit needs to step back more often and ask: what else is out there? Nothing should be off the table – geopolitical and ESG issues and international economics and politics – how could they impact us? Internal audit needs to kick the tyres frequently and demonstrate that we think broadly about the widest causes of market disruption.


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