The Innovation Ecosystem | KPMG | GLOBAL

The Innovation Ecosystem: Academia accelerates innovation for Financial Services Industry

The Innovation Ecosystem

How is a leading Asia-Pacific insurance company working on delivering consumer-centric solutions that will make insurance more accessible while better managing issues around rising healthcare costs and improving patient outcomes? It begins with a partnership with academia to further its innovation journey.


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AIA Group’s partnership with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has led to the creation of EDGE LAB, an innovation center that will deliver consumer-centric solutions and find ways to help the life insurance sector adapt to changing technologies, customer expectations and needs in the digital world.

“We are committed to driving social and economic development across the region and in doing so, making a positive difference to people’s lives,” Mark Tucker, Group Chief Executive and President of AIA Group, said at the time of the launch. “The EDGE LAB will help us continue to identify new ways to engage with our customers and deliver them with the most value in the context of their health and financial well-being.”

Inject insights and innovation into your organization

Financial services companies have had a long history of collaborating with academia. These partnerships are more critical now than ever before as the pace of digitalization accelerates. Academic institutions provide access to professors, PhDs, data scientists, students, research centers and facilities, helping financial institutions identify emerging industry trends and generate new insights that can translate into new concepts for the organization and its customers.

In the case of the AIA-NTU partnership, the collaboration will bring NTU’s expertise and resources in computer engineering, design, business and medicine in-house, enabling the insurer to leverage technology, big data and analytics to make life insurance more accessible, enable its customers to better manage their healthcare costs, and improve patient outcomes.

Academia also offer a breeding ground where ideas can be tested and industry issues explored through challenger questions, sector fora and conferences. An example of this would be the 2016 Digital Money Symposium Hosted by Citi and Imperial College London, which examined money flows in the real economy and the implications for security, technology, regulation and financial services.

Plus, an organization’s presence on campus brings with it benefits that support brand awareness and, importantly, recruitment as the battle for top talent intensifies.

With such benefits, we are seeing more companies establish a physical presence on campus. AIA-NTU’s EDGE LAB is housed within NTU’s innovation center. Leveraging the on-campus presence allows AIA to work side-by-side with faculty and students and work on taking technology from the university’s labs to the marketplace.

Success is structured around mutually beneficial objectives

Through EDGE LAB, AIA can capture insights to create holistic solutions for its current and future customers. For NTU, the partnership can allow the university to further advance its healthcare research and contribute to the rise of digital health, a key focus of the joint lab.

The balance of these benefits is a result of identifying the topics most important to your overall business goals. Equally important, however, is to consider the trends impacting your customers and their customers. From here, you can select the right institutions that specialize in those subject areas and offer the unique resources and capabilities your organization needs.

The nature of the relationships with an academic institution will vary

Quick moving environments, for example, may call for loose collaborations while partnerships requiring deeper investments will demand a joint venture strategy. Identifying the right engagement model for you will involve considering the desired outcomes of the partnership, relative contributions from each party, the upside and downside of the various partnering options, the key challenges to overcome, and what happens upon dissolution of the partnership, among other factors.

Identify what the partnership needs to succeed

Capturing the insights and innovations needed from your academic alliance will hinge on putting in place the right internal governance framework that takes into account ways to increase efficiency and reduce complexity. This can be important as corporate motivations can sometimes diverge from the priorities of academics. Therefore, you’ll want to provide the resources and capabilities needed to manage, maintain and scale the partnership to maximize benefits and synergies across the business as the partnership is operationalized.

Academia can offer financial institutions incredibly rich and multi-faceted symbiotic partnerships. Beyond insights and research that will drive breakthrough innovations for customers and operational performance, agile partnerships have also helped capture opportunities for marketing, branding, technology and talent acquisition.

Questions to consider

  1. What research topics are most important to your customers and clients?
  2. What are the wider opportunities beyond research that these collaborations could bring?
  3. What academic institutions would be viable partners for your business?
  4. What are the right frameworks to maximize benefits and synergies between your business and your academic partner?

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