Digital transformation and the pursuit of customer centricity: Lessons from the frontline – Interview with Martijn Gribnau of Genworth Financial


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Martijn's orange jacket
Martijn’s orange jacket

Today’s interview is with Martijn Gribnau, Chief Transformation Officer, at Genworth Financial, an S&P 400 insurance company that is focused on providing long term care insurance, life insurance, annuity retirement solutions and more. I spoke to Martijn at Pegaworld, Pegasystems’ customer event in Las Vegas in early June, where we talked about digital transformation, the pursuit of simplicity, customer centricity and leadership behaviour. This is the first of three interviews that I conducted at Pegaworld (like last year) so look out for the other two coming up in the next few weeks.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Should you be considering using blockchain for your customer loyalty program? – Interview with Jessica Groopman and Jeremiah Owyang – and is number 268 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Martijn:

  • Check out the video of Martijn’s talk at Pegaworld “The Customer Holds the Remote Control. Get Used to It” that he delivered with Saul Van Beurden, Managing Director of Global Technology at JPMorgan Chase.
  • In the end the most important people are your frontline employees, the ones who are dealing with customers day in, day out.
  • If you look ahead technology and ageing are the biggest megatrends.
  • The ageing population, particularly baby boomers, control most of the assets and most of the disposable income – around 75 percent of assets and disposable income. Yet, only around 5 percent of marketing spend is actually targeted at that group.
  • Companies like Unilever and Procter and Gamble are leading the way and adapting to this trend, particularly when you notice how they starting to make razors that are customised to the needs of this demographic.
  • In 2030, twenty five percent of the world population will be over 65.
  • Every day 10,000 people retire in the U.S. By 2030, 77% of the people will be over the age of 65.
  • Genworth are really passionate about addressing the ageing problem not only through insurance products but also through services they can offer that will allow people to have better care and stay in their homes for longer.
  • Martijn has lead and has been through a couple of significant transformation programmes (ING, IPSoft… etc).
  • It was in ING, in the Internet Competence Centre, where Martijn believes he was really trained to think ‘end consumer’.
  • It is easy to be passionate about the customer but if you just talk about it then nothing happens.
  • Ask yourself some questions: When was the last time you talked to a customer? Solved a customer’s problem? Listened to an employee solving a customers problem?
  • If you don’t ingrain that sort of behaviour into your organization, in terms of your culture, and you really drive that then nothing will happen.
  • Your metrics should be focused on either Net Promoter Score (NPS) or SQM and they should make up, at least, 25 percent of your reward system.
  • To be truly customer centric, you have to have a customer board i.e. a customer advisory council.
  • Martijn spends a third of his time with his own employees and another third just walking around to get a better understanding of the business.
  • If you really are customer centric then you should be testing everybody who comes into the business on how they handle a customer case.
  • Making things simple is the most common and complex concept.
  • In the end if you really want to go digital and undertake a digital transformation you need to simplify your product.
  • Check out Siegel & Gale’s Simplicity Index, where they track all sorts of different brands for their perceived simplicity.
  • The leading simplicity brands have outperformed their peers by around 300 percent over the last 10 years.
  • To make things concrete, Martijn tells stories and uses examples. One time, he printed out everything that they sent to the customer and took it along (a pile of paper) to a meeting to show people how ‘simple’ their process really was.
  • When dealing with complex and long term care products it is not just the policy holder that you need to pay attention to it is also the care-giver/family members.
  • Innovation is also frequently overrated. The real challenge is to get the basics right and execute.
  • Innovation often works best when working within constraints i.e. make things simple. Or, tell me why this process that currently takes 30 days can’t be done in 30mins?
  • In this regard, you have to be stubborn to be able to drive the right sort of results.
  • When Martijn starts in an organization he always starts as an intern so he gets to see all of the primary processes.
  • People also tell you how things are really happening.
  • That way you get a better idea of what is doable.
  • The thing to be careful about though is not to deny all of the good work that has been done in the past.
  • When it comes to transformation, we can often move too fast with technology and we need to be willing to throttle back so we can match the pace of all of the different elements, particularly people.
  • Martijn’s guiding principles for digital transformation: Simplification, re-organisation and then underpin with new technology.
  • However, if you don’t have a point of view about where you want to go then you won’t succeed.
  • Start small with a very small pilot so that you can start learning and build that capability.
  • Martijn’s best advice for entrepreneurs and leaders in their quest to become more customer centric…..Understand what your customers go through yourself i.e. if you work in a bank, then open a bank account to experience what it is like to be a customer.

About Martijn

Martijn Gribnau_GenworthMartijn Gribnau, Chief Transformation Officer, at Genworth Financial, an S&P 400 insurance company that is focused on providing long term care insurance, life insurance, annuity retirement solutions and more.

Two paradoxes guide Martijn Gribnau’s work: “Those who think the sky is the limit have no imagination” and “A strategy without execution is a hallucination”. He is Dutch, direct, dyslexic and disrupting, bringing his boundless energy to champion the value of innovation across a range of industries. While his career has spanned banking, insurance and technology, he is currently serving as Chief Operations Officer for the U.S. Life Division of Genworth Financial. Martijn brought his skill and experience in leading business transformations through technology, innovation and change management to Genworth in 2015, when he took on the role of Chief Transformation Officer.

Prior to joining Genworth, Martijn applied his innovative mindset to roles including: Chief Change Officer at IPsoft, where he helped to bring their AI offering to the market; Global Head of Distribution for ING and Chief Executive Officer of ING Insurance in Hungary and Bulgaria, where he transformed the salesforce and process; and Executive Vice President of the Dutch ING Banking Board, where he set up and ran its internet competence center. As CEO of the Dutch Healthcare, Life and Small Pension business he was responsible for turning around that business.

Martijn holds an MBA in Management and Organization from Groningen University in the Netherlands.

Check out Genworth Financial, say Hi to them on Twitter @Genworth and connect with Martijn on LinkedIn here.

Many thanks go to Pega for asking me along to Pegaworld 🙂

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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