From connected cars to data-led Insurtech: The journey of AXA Singapore’s Celine Le Cotonnec
By Zafar Anjum April 24, 2017
- Le Cotonnec handles business intelligence, big data/analytics, and innovation
- Singapore is the place to launch small-scale innovative projects that can be further deployed in Asean
WE IN Asia often complain about the small number of female IT leaders we have. Thankfully, this is slowly changing and part of the reason is the mobility of global IT leaders who like to work in Asia.
A recent addition to the pool of female IT leaders in our part of the world is Celine Le Cotonnec (pic), chief data officer (CDO) of AXA Insurance, who recently moved from China to Singapore. A French national, Le Cotonnec brings more than 12 years of work experience in China and Taiwan.
Prior to AXA, she was head of China connected services, digital marketing & mobility at car manufacturer, PSA Peugeot Citroen. Her mission was to define an innovative user experience while developing new business models on connected cars data, working closely with external partners from disruptive startups to tech majors.
Le Cotonnec speaks fluent Chinese and graduated with an Executive MBA from the European Institute of Purchasing Management in Shanghai.
As the CDO of AXA Singapore, Le Cotonnec handles business intelligence, big data/analytics, and innovation. She leads the teams on data management, transformation and reporting as well as runs big data projects and sets up partnerships with startups, fintech institutions, and major tech companies.
How and why did you move from France to China?
Since I was young, I have always been passionate about Chinese culture, language and history. I started learning Mandarin when I was 14-years-old. I visited China for the first time when I was 16-years-old, and this was also when I made myself the promise that I would come and live in China one day. It was only natural for me to seize the opportunity to move to China when it came along.
I went to China as an exchange student in the Guangzhou Sun Yat-sen University. Upon graduation, I found a job in sales and marketing with a Chinese SME that manufactured mining equipment for Europe. Two years later, I was approached by the Trade Commission of the French Consulate in Shanghai to work in the department of automotive and new technology.
How was your experience working in China in the space of connected cars?
China is an amazing market to work in. In 2009, China was the first worldwide automobile market. Their operation model was very specific – they only operated through joint-ventures, and one could only partner with Chinese original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The Chinese consumers are also very different compared to the consumers in the US and Europe. The average consumer in Europe is 55-years-old, but the average consumer in China is only 35-years-old.
The expectations regarding connectivity and car entertainment are very different. To add on, the China digital ecosystem is unique as the platforms Chinese consumers use are different from the rest of the world. For social networking purposes, we use platforms such as Wechat instead of Facebook or Whatsapp. To listen to music, we use QQMusic. To look for directions and places, we would use Baidu map instead of Google map. Instead of using Uber to book a taxi, we used Didi.
When I was working in China, all the connected services in cars had to be adapted according to the tastes and preferences of the Chinese customer. In addition, the cars also had to be suited to the digital environment.
In 2014, the Chinese government released the Internet + policy to give Chinese companies a boost in entering the digital economy, and also to help push for the development of connected cars in China. Today, around 10% to 15% of the cars produced in China are connected. However, recent announcements forecast a higher rate of connectivity by 2020.
Research has been going on with regards to connected cars for a few years now. How real have they become?
For some people, there is confusion between connected cars and autonomous cars. Connected cars have been around since early 2010. The pioneer was General Motors with their set of services called ‘On Star’. At first, the cars were connected so that they could provide emergency call services. For instance, in the event of an accident where the driver could be unconscious, the car would then be able to call out for help. The car would also be able to provide similar services in the case of a break down.
After some time, OEM realised that the connectivity box in the car could be used to connect to services. It was then that they were able to introduce new services in cars, such as web radios, in-car WIFI, and provide real-time traffic information. Connected services were no longer limited to emergency calls.
In markets such as the US or China, connectivity is now a must-have feature for most cars produced in these markets. However, the reality for OEMs is that selling connected cars is a complicated matter. For each of the markets where car manufacturers are deploying their connected cars, they will have to ensure that the cars are connected to an IT infrastructure, which will have to be further localised in the market where it is sold. To date, based on a market size like Singapore, only premium manufacturers can afford to deploy such IT infrastructure.
Autonomous cars on the other hand, are still in the research phase. Despite the fact that tests in real condition are carried out everywhere around the world, it will be some time before we see autonomous cars on the road. Whether this happens in 10, 20 or 25 years, it is difficult to say now. Technology aside, there are also numerous aspects which will have to be overcome before autonomous cars become a reality. This includes regulation, company liability and insurance.
Now that you have joined AXA as chief data officer, how is the field of insurance different from that of connected cars?
In my previous position, my job then was to define new business models based on the data received from connected cars. We would create in-car applications to enhance driver experience.
Through interactions with startups, and by participating in various conferences, the topic of insurance popped up quite frequently. One thing I noticed about companies which were engaged in the development of self-driving cars and automated driver-assistance system technologies was that they were constantly lobbying for the support of the insurance industry. They kept reiterating that a few years from now, their technologies would reduce the number of accidents, improve the loss ratio of motor insurance, and that in turn would result in a reduction of insurance premiums.
Furthermore, I noticed that many Internet of Things startups also had business models which were interlinked with insurance.
When I was asked to take the CDO position within AXA Singapore, I saw an opportunity to gain a better understanding of how the data from connected cars can help an insurance company assess their risk profile, as well as better understand the real value of connected cars.
In the years to come, not only will our cars be connected, but everything around us as well. It is said that by 2020, 30 billion objects would be connected. The questions which remain are: what is the real value of the data collected from those billions of objects? How can we use them to develop on-demand and usage-based insurance? This would be an interesting challenge.
How important is data governance for an insurance company?
Data governance is of paramount importance. Singapore has one of the most advanced data privacy systems in Asia. In addition, insurance companies are also accountable to the financial regulatory authority, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, to ensure that confidential client data is granted appropriate protection. AXA is committed to ensuring the protection of our clients’ personal data; we continue to refine our work flows to ensure that the personal data of our clients are protected and that they are utilised for purposes pertinent to the conduct of our business.
How are business intelligence (BI) and data analytics going to help AXA's customers? Can you share some interesting examples with us?
Similar to any company today, analytics is at the core of decision-making for our management. In Singapore, a Digital Hive has been set-up in order to monitor in real-time the comments of our customers on social media and ensure a quick response to any of their concerns. I believe that the more you know about your customers, the more you are able to serve them better, understand what their needs are and offer them the most suitable products through their life journey.
At AXA, we have the ambition to adapt our business model from payer to partner. This means accelerating business innovation to meet our customers’ rapidly evolving needs in the digital world and developing further in areas such as prevention and care.
Our ultimate goal is to empower people to live a better life. A concrete example would be an AXA customer who would buy single trip travel insurance every time he flies out of Singapore with his family. Thanks to analytics, we would know it would make more sense for him to switch to an annual travel insurance plan, so perhaps during a promotion period we could offer him the possibility of making some savings for himself and his family.
Are you also looking at AI to be implemented at AXA? If yes, why?
Of course, AI technology could help our agents to better serve our customers whether it is to support them in the selection of a product at the time of subscription or to support efficiency during the processing of a claim. In the field of prevention and assistance, chatbots are an effective way to interact instantaneously when our customers raise a question.
Cognitive technologies are transforming the way we interact with our customers, and helping us to simplify and improve our customer experience. In France, AXA has already deployed Discovery, an app built with the support of Apple and IBM, which aims to facilitate the activities of AXA agents by providing customers with a “Financial Selfie”.
How are you adjusting to Singapore after spending 12 years in China? What do you like about this region?
Singapore is an incredible market today, unique in Asia. I’m impressed by the initiatives launched by the Singaporean government in the field of Smart City, Insurtech, Fintech and mobility. I had heard about the Smart Nation initiative before coming to Singapore. I now can see how actively the various government bodies are strongly supportive of start-ups and innovation.
There is not a week passing by where I do not attend workshops with players from various industries to share about innovation in Singapore. I believe that Singapore is definitely the right place to launch small-scale innovative projects that can be further deployed in the Asean region.
I also appreciate the multi-cultural environment of Singapore which is a great asset of the country. I sometimes miss my weekly lunch comprising Shanghainese ‘Xiaolongbao’, but still have the chance to go to Lau Pa Sat or Chinatown to enjoy good Chinese food, whenever I crave for it.
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