Alpina’s journey to consolidate applications to establish digital optimization

Alpina’s journey to consolidate applications to establish digital optimization

Alpina achieves IT synergy and fuels growth with NetRom

Increasingly, insurance is becoming a low-interest commodity product for many consumers. Customer expectations don’t come into play until people need to deal with their insurance firm: expectations include flawless claim handling, easy processes, and good service. If an insurance company or intermediary can offer the ultimate customer experience and operate in the most lean and mean way possible, they’ll be well ahead of the competition.

Lean and mean

Operating in a ‘lean and mean’ way is easier said than done. Often, intermediaries and insurers need to deal with complex IT and outdated processes and products. New market entrants don’t have those legacy systems. Sometimes, newcomers focus entirely on a specific sub-market, such as home contents insurance or car insurance, which allows them to operate extremely efficiently. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the top ten trends and challenges for ‘traditional’ insurers and intermediaries invariably include topics such as ‘digitization of internal processes’ (often also referred to as optimization and automation) and ‘cost management’. 

Scale is key 

The costs of management and operation keep increasing over time as a result of increasingly stringent security and compliance requirements. Economies of scale are, therefore, essential in maintaining healthy business operations. This trend is playing out at all industry levels, affecting insurance companies as well as proxy companies and intermediaries. From the perspective of insurance firms, outsourcing operational activities can lead to cost savings and efficient business operations. One example is the power of attorney model. In this case, the insurance provider focuses primarily on its role as a risk bearer. The proxy partners, or proxy companies, are fully committed to effectively and efficiently organizing customer contact and streamlining risk underwriting processes and claims handling. They mainly focus on digitization and automation as ways of reducing their costs. 

Alpina Group

These are the challenges Alpina Group is facing. Alpina is one of the largest proxy and advisory companies in the Netherlands. They put customers first and mediate to find the most suitable financial products for entrepreneurs and consumers. On behalf of almost all insurers, the Alpina proxy company is mandated for acceptance of risks, and the entire operational course of affairs throughout the entire insurance policy life cycle, including claims. Alpina Group came about as the result of a merger between Voogd en Voogd and Heilbron. Originally, Voogd en Voogd was mainly active in private and business non-life insurance. Heilbron – itself the result of several acquisitions – was active in more complex products such as mortgages, life insurance, and healthcare. Heilbron was also active in the business market. Both companies merged in June 2021. 

We wanted to build up the collaboration step by step and work together in mixed teams. On these points, we immediately gelled with NetRom.

Jelle Tigchelaar, Software Delivery Lead at Alpina Group 

Integration: the common thread on the IT calendar 

In a merger of this magnitude, stability of service provision is priority number one, immediately followed by rationalization of the IT landscape. If you superimpose the architecture of Heilbron and Voogd en Voogd, there are many similarities, but also many differences. “Keeping all the parts up and running in this fragmented landscape is too costly” to achieve effective and efficient business operations, says Jelle Tigchelaar, Software Delivery Lead at Alpina Group. As a result, application integration and consolidation are key objectives, as is gradual migration to Azure. ‘Rationalize where possible, make a distinction where necessary’ is the golden rule. 

An important fact is that all affiliated Voogd & Voogd and Heilbron advisors have easy access to the various product lines both organizations have available. “Our IT specialists focus on innovation because only by becoming even more efficient we can better serve our customers.”

Flexible scaling with specific knowledge and skills 

At the same time, other challenges exist. Such as an ambitious development calendar. This includes, for example, converting and migrating the existing on-premise legacy platform – from Delphi based on monolithic architecture – to the modern ATLAS platform, entirely based on microservices in the cloud. Furthermore, Alpina plans to develop new functionality so that the platform offers a seamless experience throughout the customer journey. All primary parts of the service (from premium calculation, underwriting, financial processes, and claims handling) are unlocked by APIs and provided with the application of AI in certain areas. 

Why nearshoring?

As not all ongoing projects are equal in size and scope, and the availability of IT specialists is limited, Alpina needs flexible development capacity. To this end, Alpina initially went in search of talent from abroad. “We are looking for high-caliber developers. The choice is limited in other countries, too. What’s more, compliance and security are key topics on the development roadmap.”

In addition to economies of scale, speed of innovation is an important factor Alpina needs to consider. “Based on previous experiences, we initially started looking at nearshoring for innovation-related projects. You then end up with a concise list of leading providers,” says Tigchelaar. “When meeting various parties, we paid particular attention to the extent to which the service provider was genuinely interested in cooperation. For example, we wanted to build up the collaboration step by step and work together in mixed teams. On these points, we immediately matched with NetRom.” 

Alpina’s approach 

For a pilot, Alpina selected three teams, to which NetRom added its developers. Tigchelaar explains that language was a point of attention when Alpina recruited talent from abroad. “In the pilot with NetRom, we chose teams that already had English-speaking team members on board. On the other hand, our jargon is full of Dutch terms that have multiple different or identical meanings. Together with the teams, we decided not to translate these terms into English. Instead, we work with a list.” 

Scaling up happened fast. “NetRom’s business philosophy is ‘You always need more than one developer’. They aim to achieve redundancy and initiate exchange. That’s why a second developer has been added to each team. In practice, this is a scalable solution that offers sufficient flexibility for the challenges Alpina faces.” 

First impression

Soon after the start of the collaboration with NetRom, Tigchelaar was impressed by the caliber of the developers, he explains. “Their quality is not only apparent in code skills: NetRom has selected developers with domain knowledge from the financial world. They quickly became familiar with the subject matter and came up with critical comments: ‘I would do this differently’. NetRom has a good eye for employees’ intellectual competencies. In addition, it is clearly noticeable that employees are intensively coached on behavior, professionalism, and skills. There is a great deal of investment in development. Every now and then, developers are unavailable for a day.” 

Alpina’s teams are also learning a great deal at a rapid pace. Tigchelaar offers some examples: “The approach to projects, ways of organizing QA or how to get software classified through your test procedures. We are inspired by NetRom. They are not afraid to share knowledge with, in addition to ‘delivering’ developers. Experience flows both ways. You’re not alone.” 

About Alpina Group

Alpina Group is one of the largest financial advisory firms in the Netherlands. The company employs almost 2.000 people and has more than 65 branches in the Netherlands and Belgium. Alpina offers a wide range of specialisms: advice, non-life, life and health insurance, mortgage advice, financial planning, valuation and purchase and sale of real estate, income and pension matters, occupational health and safety services, and risk management. Through the innovative platform, internal and external advisors (some 3000) can choose from numerous non-life, life, and health insurance policies from more than twenty major insurers for their customers. (Inter)national insurers can turn to Alpina Group for outsourcing business processes. The company’s international ambitions are supported by investor Five Arrows Principal Investments, the private equity arm of Rothschild & Co’s Merchant Banking.

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