Mark Lusted: Managing Director & Founder, Dock9: Innovation for the incumbent

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Digital innovation agency Dock9 has a mission to help incumbents be as agile and innovative as the best start-ups in customer engagement and digital with clients from Lloyd’s brokers to global insurers, such as Arch and Assurant.

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Managing Director and Founder Mark Lusted joins Matthew to discuss what insurtech has taught insurers about digital engagement.


  • Creating "knock out" user engagement
  • Getting senior management attention when it comes to user testing 
  • Designing portals and websites for brokers
  • The rise of chatbots during Covid-19

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Innovation for the incumbent - Episode 95 highlights

You worked as a web designer and in marketing for private clients before launching Dock9 in 2008. What gave you the motivation to start your own business?

2008 was an interesting time in the markets and I was actually let go from a company because I was a non-fee owner. I used that as an opportunity to build on some private work I’d been doing building websites and to start Dock9. 

After spending four years post-university cutting my teeth in the commercial world, it was time to focus on financial companies and helping them to build digital products. The early 2010s was quite a boom time in digital despite the financial crisis. 

What range of services does Dock9 offer? 

We're a digital innovation agency that works in the financial services sector and we build websites, portals, chatbots and APIs. Our mission is to help incumbent players to innovate, adapt and hit back at the start-ups. 

Many people see the start-up world as great fun and innovative, but Dock9 has lined up with incumbent companies. Why did you make that decision? 

There are opportunities out there for incumbents. There’s often a lot of hype around start-ups, but their ideas don’t always come to fruition. 

It's the incumbents that absorb the lessons from the start-ups and leverage their advantages. They have actual customers, lots of knowledge and we spotted an opportunity to help incumbents that have the advantages but aren’t leveraging them. 

That might be because they're not working in the right way internally, or not leveraging new technology. Our role is to help those incumbents adopt new ways of working, new technology, innovate and prevail. 

There was a lot of investment in insurtech and hope for change five years ago. Has the industry delivered on that promise or has it moved slower than you expected? 

I’ve been to many events over the last five years where innovative start-ups were promising to change the world of insurance, be the Uber of insurance and disrupt the market. As well as investment, there were also broader technology trends happening and driving that momentum. The rise of connected devices, the maturity of mobile, the barriers for entry to AI becoming a lot lower.  

Looking at the industry today, there hasn’t been a fundamental change in the user experience for most customers. We’ve seen the most traction in the market where incumbents and insurtechs have partnered, particularly in areas like claims. 360Globalnet has done some great work using technology to speed up the claims process.

On the whole, those start-ups that promised to reinvent the customer experience and disrupt the market have failed on that metric. 

What are the reasons for that? And what have incumbents learned from those start-ups? 

I use the Gartner Hype Cycle in my presentations, which conveys that when new technology becomes available, there's typically a lot of bold predictions that the world's going to change. 

There's a lot of investment in start-ups and we arrive pretty rapidly at what’s called the peak of inflated expectations. Then, when that change doesn't happen, people start to write off the technology as a fad.

It's only really when people are less excited that real innovation happens. Typically, it's incumbents who take the lessons and utilise the technology to help them operationally in the real world.

Most people would agree that the expectations were too high, but clearly, Dock9 has been successful. Can you give some examples of clients that have moved forward in terms of digital engagement? 

One of the big plus points from the insurtech revolution is that it created competitive pressure on incumbents and pushed them to innovate. We've worked with small and medium-sized Lloyd's brokers, up to global players like Arch and Assurant. 

Last year, we helped Arch deliver one of their first broker portals for a corporate travel insurance product. It’s producing great results and is a good example of a large incumbent adopting new ways of working to deliver real-world results.

For those familiar with the London market, all transactions have to be done through brokers. What guidance do you give to companies creating a portal for brokers instead of consumers?

There’s a lot of background work going on in the London market around electronic placing of data to get more efficiency between broker to broker, and broker to insurer. If a company is delivering a broker portal, the approach shouldn’t be different from services aimed at customers, policyholders and prospects. 

A lot of Dock9’s work applies the same principles of user design experience. There is an idea, research with users, and a prototype of the idea. We go to a lab and test with those users, which delivers a much better user experience and enables our clients to innovate. 

We’ve found that when brokers test a portal, they expect the level of customer experience they get in the B2C world. Traditionally, there’s been the view that brokers will just put up with it. The market is now focusing more on delivering that B2C level of experience, which can be a differentiator in an increasingly crowded market. 

What happens when you do user testing in the lab? How does the process work? 

Everyone has their views and biases around how websites should work, but user testing allows us to test ideas with real people. Often, we find what users say they do and what they actually do is quite different. User testing offers a scientific, neutral way of validating their experience.

There are two rooms in the lab. The viewing room for us and the client, and the testing room for the user and a facilitator. Typically, we have six users come in for an hour and the facilitator sets them a task on a portal or website. The facilitator’s role is to be quiet and let the user carry out the task. When they get stuck, the facilitator asks questions to find out why. 

We always recommend getting senior management into the viewing room to watch. Seeing actual customers, be they brokers or policyholders, using digital platforms and sometimes not having a great experience can be a real eye-opener and build momentum for change.

Prototyping is another important part of UX design. How has new technology helped improve the design process? 

The old way of building websites would involve a company going through a fairly arduous process of documenting the requirements, then finding someone to build the product. Once the product is finished, the company might realise that it doesn't do what they wanted, or what their users need. 

Now there are tools available to rapidly prototype ideas in an afternoon or a couple of days, then test them in the lab. Companies can experiment and validate user journeys before a line of code is written. That's radically different to how a lot of insurers still work to this day.

Does Dock9 build prototypes? Or do you produce the initial designs and then work with third parties on the build?

With Arch we did the research, design and the build, then worked with their internal team to do some systems integration. For other clients, we've researched at the beginning and then supported their internal team with the build. 

Often our first engagement is to do an audit to research and benchmark where the client’s experience is. Some clients ask us to take that on and help them design a new experience, but often they take that research and intel and run with it. 

There’s still a balance between mobile and computers. Some customers want to use an app but there’s a limit to what they can process on their phone. What are the trends around customers buying insurance through a computer versus buying through a mobile device? 

It varies by line of business. Certain lines, a motor trade combined policy, for example, have a large number of questions compared to a travel insurance policy. 

Typically, the B2C space is overwhelmingly on mobile, but we see the opposite in the B2B space. Companies are largely still using desktop applications to drive business through broker portals. 

Chatbots are becoming increasingly popular in financial services. Why is that and what operational benefits do they provide?

There was a lot of hype around chatbots five years ago. Allowing users to get answers from AI led to conversations in the mortgage space about no longer needing a broker and everything is automated. 

That didn't happen. Like other technologies, people were writing it off as a fad. However, over the last 18 months, we have moved from proof of concept projects to clients using chatbots in real life and delivering results.

We've worked with mortgage lenders, and we're working with a top 10 bank at the moment, on utilising chatbot technology to automate and answer simple queries. That frees up human agents to have more high-value conversations. 

Everybody has gone digital in the last four months. Is this the moment for chatbots to deliver on their promise? 
We've seen some big names like TSB and Nationwide rapidly deliver chatbots to help them with unprecedented levels of enquiries for things like payment holidays. Chatbots are highly scalable, don’t get sick and can deal with an almost unlimited number of concurrent conversations. 

The technology’s mature enough to deliver real value operationally. Companies who dip their toe in the water are seeing the benefits. The second a company launches a chatbot they get real-time data about what customers want. That data provides understanding about users that can benefit other parts of their business.  

Does it require a lot of thought in the back end to identify where AI should switch over to a human? 

We can utilise technology that’s already available to do that pretty quickly. Chatbots use a subset of AI called natural language processing, and they can be built in days or weeks now by leveraging Microsoft and Google's technology. 

A company can use that AI framework to understand the intent of its users. Our role is to design flows for answering those intents. Companies can add lead scoring to that process and proactively pass users to a human agent if they are a high-value lead.

Voice has been hailed as another great new solution. Is that the case or is the market not quite there yet? 

It's been a similar vein to chatbots, where there was a lot of hype. We have seen some quite gimmicky things launched by banks with Alexa, where customers could ask what their current balance was for example.

These aren't really game-changers though. We haven't seen use cases in financial services cutting through into the real world yet.

Dock9 has a broad range of clients. Which of your case studies gives a good representation of the work that you do? 

A good example would be Protect Your Bubble and Assurant. We won Protect Your Bubble as a client about four years ago and they came to us with a brief to transform and deliver a better user experience for their customers. They are one of the biggest gadget insurers around and it was the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Assurant, which is the parent company. 

Assurant is a large, multi-billion turnover, global insurer and we've been working with their team in a very agile way. They're a great example of a company that's embraced agile working and adopted a process of continuous improvement and development. That's one of the relationships we're most proud of when it comes to making a difference in the incumbent insurance space. 

Dock9 is a corporate member of InsTech London. What was the motivation for joining our community?

I've been coming to InsTech London events since the very early meetings. The atmosphere is great, and I've made some great connections. Dock9 has won clients off the networking I've done at your events. 

InsTech London is probably one of the most honest and open forums. It cuts through the chaff and gets to the point. Matthew and Robin have facilitated some really interesting discussions at those events. 

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