September 21, 2016

London’s painfully hip East End, with its trendy bars, tattoo parlours, and seedy strip clubs, is an unlikely location for one the UK’s leading insurers to set up shop.

But Aviva, whose history dates back to the 1600s, has opened a “Digital Garage” in the edgy inner city district of Hoxton as it seeks to give a technical edge to its pension products.

From a converted warehouse in Hoxton Square, part of London’s so-called “Silicon Roundabout” district, a new breed of tech-savvy, tieless and flip-flop wearing insurance executives are crafting products designed for a new generation of savers.

Aviva’s chief executive, Mark Wilson, is known to abandon his tie and don jeans when he’s in the Garage, where visitors are issued with festival-style wristbands for security, and there is an office dog.

The disruption to old ways is present in the personnel behind the products. Actuaries — the traditional kings of the insurance world who drove product design — have been displaced by IT, fintech and even behavioural experts who are now all drawn into product design discussions. Staff have joined Aviva’s team from search group Google and Razorfish, the digital marketing company, not just other insurers.

It is a sharp switch in direction for the Norwich-based company that once hired ageing US shock rocker Alice Cooper and supermodel Elle “the Body” McPherson for an advertising campaign.

But it is also a switch for the young fintech professionals. Now working in the less edgy world of insurance, they see opportunities to fix pensions with technology.

“There is a massive behavioural problem that we are tyring to crack and that is that people are not saving enough,” says James Buchanan, head of digital strategy.

“Products could play a role in fixing it. If we don’t crack this problem then the country is kind of screwed.”

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