About Dr. Robin Kiera
Robin Kiera has worked in several management positions and insurance and finance. Kierra is a renowned insurance and InsureTech expert. He regularly speaks at technology conferences around the world, is a keynote or panelist. He's a number one InsureTech influence in Germany and belongs to the top 10 tech influencers worldwide. He is also the author of Digital Scout and Block.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Robin Kiera today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team. Before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner to 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work.
We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month. Welcome, Robin. We’re thrilled to have you.
Thank you very much for having an insurance and finance model on board. I'm really appreciating that.
Oh, well, it’s our pleasure Robin.
So Robin, tell us a little about your journey so far, what led you to this amazing place that you're right now at?
So, I'm actually a recovering insurance sales agent. So I sold insurance in the street of Hamburg for quite some time. I went through several junior managerial positions in insurance finance then I went to start-ups when it wasn’t cool to work for startups. My boss said that, since you rightly asked me, into which department are you changing? I’m like, no I’m not changing. I’m leaving. And he was like, totally in, in disbelief.
And I even did not tell him that I went to a start-up because he would have probably called company doctor and checked me on mental, mental illness. And that we went, I went to the start, a start-up which exploded from 0 to 1200 people. We build products that make billions in revenue. I did not have any shares of the company which was sold for 700 million euros.
So I still need to work, and I also went to the finance industry to a private bank and led the digital and product development there and also again built a, build an app that made a billion in assets and information. Again no shares. So that's my story. But, what is it you're discovering? So at some point, I was really annoyed by old white men in insurance and finance and especially in insurance a few years ago, totally neglecting what's going on in with the Internet, change of customer behavior.
I mean, they were c-suites out there that said, we're never going to do an app because we don't believe in the phone and everybody laughs going to that agent so totally delusional and I was the guy on stage saying, I'm calling out the elephant in the room. Why? Because you know I built these other two apps. Of course, it's part of a great team, but nevertheless...
I thought, you know, if I never get a job in this industry, I don't care. I will find something, but I need to really speak about these topics because you're risking hundreds thousands of jobs by not facing the new reality actually.
...And since I came from ministry to be an activist. So what happened was at some point, I found out that I was discovering as a blog and exploded 10,000 of followers, millions of views each month, unbelievable YouTube all over the place. And, we had, we had all the team members that really support all of that. So it's not only me.
And at some point insurance and banks came to me and said, Robin, well maybe we did not laugh about everything you said on stage but come, please help us and out of that, we have now projected that insurers and banks, where we try to help them, with digital strategy, digital products, or what we call attention hacking. So we’re now a small company but funnily enough, the blog came out of the company and not the blog out of the company, how it's normally done.
"The company came out of the blog and not the blog out of the company, how it's normally done."
So yeah, that's our story. And we are about 20 people and yeah, trying to help insurers and banks and insurance, but also other industries the best we can.
Wow, that's wonderful and too bad you did not have the shares, but I think that's okay, you’re at a good place right now.
That’s what my employer says too.
And you talked about something called ‘Attention Hacking’. Can you tell us what exactly is that?
Yeah. So what is the idea is, back in the days you just produced sort of marketing material, and you would just throw it out there. But what happened over the last years is that the attention of humans changed and we know, okay, the end consumer and the B2C market that has changed.
But funnily enough, a lot of people think human research employees did not change or B2B decision-makers, that they are somehow still reading white papers of 500 pages and books and all of that. But that's not true.
They’re also hanging around on Instagram or TikTok or Linkedin. And we, we have been exploring on these platforms and also in a super small niche, which is insurance and finance professionals, which is, nobody comes home and says, "Oh, honey, let's look at our insurance honey" or, "Honey, let's look at our account bank statement." Nobody does this. And still, you can grow in the niches and what we show was that, is that
You need to check the attention of your target group. You need to look, where is the attention of your target group? What, where are they? What kind of content are they consuming and where?
Great story, How not to do it is, for example, the new, the new commercial The Allianz, they have, they hired the super celebrity Usain Bolt. Unbelievable role model, unbelievable body, and achievements he has, no doubt about it. But what they did, they do, they made a commercial that was running around all the time in the initialed Allianz logo.
It has nothing to do with this. It doesn't deliver any value to the customer. No, it doesn't help me in my life, so I don't know, go through the financial crisis. It's just nice pictures and the logo. This is an old school. You can burn a lot of money with that. That’s totally fine, you can get a lot of KPIs with that because there’s a whole industry out there, it still produces boring content that doesn't help anybody and make a lot of money.
That's okay but our approach is where is the attention and to deliver value. So what we all would have advised Allianz to do and not spending 10 million euros on that, is producing that one video than producing 5000 videos and I really mean this 5000 videos and to target different target groups and to deliver value, not only say 'look how Usain Bolt is running', but 'how do you symbol an old manager’s money?' 'What kind of insurance does he have?'
Or maybe not ask you a symbol but a person like me or some other regular person, what do families do in these situations and then go on the channels people watch. I mean, we have TV stations here. Nobody is watching anymore. Their demographic situation is a disaster, they're 60 plus 70 plus. Okay, if you want to target that group, go for TV. But most people are watching not at all, Netflix and YouTube and that's something we say, they need to go.
You need to look where is the attention of your customer and then massively go after it.
As a deer hunter, you know, it's like a hunter who was in the woods. He doesn't just stare where the deer was last year. He goes looks where the deer is and then gets a deer. That's how we should do in sales, but a lot of people are still doing it like, 15-20 years ago.
Absolutely. I think you're right. We need to catch the fish and we need to find where that pole of fish is, where is that pond which has a lot of fish. And, targeting the right audience becomes very important. Just like the Usain Bolt example, it does not make sense to have Usain Bolt running for some insurance company.
And one more thing.
It's not only to go to the pond and use the bait for the fish, but actually to create a situation where the fish comes to you.
That's what Attention Hacking does. You're so much constantly on the radar of your target group, that can be employees, that can be B2B decision-makers, can be B2C customers. You're constantly on their mind, so in their moment of need, they think about you as a solution. And that's the difference.
And then, because you’re massively out there with content pieces that don't cost you 10 million apiece, but maybe 1000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000 better, then they come to you.
Why? What was the magic in this situation is, before you need, you have a target group of a 1,000,000 customs or 10,000 B2B decision-makers in an industry, you need to go from door to door to door to door. And the 27 for us people, nobody wanted to answer to you that it’d cost you a lot of energy.
What Attention Hacking does, you work these 10,000 people in there, maybe 24 people that have a budget, that wants to buy the stuff what you have, and then because I know you, they come to you in the moment of their need, so instead of pushing into the market hard core, they come to you. It takes some time, takes about 9-12 months until you achieve this, that it's a luxury situation.
I mean, I was an insurance sales agent, I had a phone number lists. I called people. Nobody wanted to see me. Nobody likes this insurance guy on their couch when they come home from work and would turn around just into them.
Nobody wants that. But it's super hard, I would have given probably my hand if I would have had a magic solution where the clients are actually calling me. And that's what Attention Hacking does. And we have proof of that. And we are doing it ourselves.
Right, so it's just not about going to the fish pond, but even attracting the fish and for them to have your brand embedded in their mind so they come to you, if they have a problem,
Is that exactly why you're also on TikTok? What's the strategy behind that?
Well, first of all, I’ve heard the first time about TikTok, I was reacting like everybody else. I was saying, Oh, that’s only for young people. This is stupid. And I was like, Robin, you’re talking to all these decision-makers, always telling they should react to that like YouTube and LinkedIn and all of that.
And now you're wrecking the same way to this new thing. And that's something I saw media saying, it's dangerous. It's bad. The same stuff they said about Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube like 20, 10-15 years ago. So I was like, Okay, I need to test it. I need to have my own opinion.
And then we made our first videos and I saw what kind of large organic reach you can get. I mean, our first videos had like 100,000, 200,00 views. Unbelievable. And so I tried it out over, I think two or three months really intensely, we got a 1,000,000 views, 100, 000, I think 80,000 or 70,000 likes, which is unbelievable.
And we talked only about boring insurance topics or some funny stuff. You know, it's nothing. I mean, I'm not a Russian model, you know. I'm not a sportsperson. I'm not funny. So it's really like boring content but we still got a lot of reaches and yeah.
I wanted to have a personal opinion about it before I say it's something good for my clients or not, and that's the reason why we're on TikTok.
That's very interesting.
And do you think the same thing would work for any other industry? Like we’re a tech company, would that work for us, too?
I think so too, I would test it. I have a client who was a super niche insurer and targets people 50 plus, 40 plus. And they tested a TikTok, and they discovered that their target group was on there and they reached their target group for a fraction of the price they would need to invest in Facebook and other things you know, so they can really, really reach the target group there for a fraction of the price.
And you can win against the competitors. How? When you reach your clients or your leads way cheaper than your competitor does.
Then you can mess more and then you can roll more at a lower price. I mean, it's a no brainer.
Wow, that's very interesting. I don't think a lot of people have really explored that yet. It's really to be seen to have experimented.
And how has the insurance and finance industry been responding to the current situation?
Well, I think they're very positive things, to start with. If you would have told me, the insurance industry and finance industry would be able to transition within days into a fully remote situation and no, not a single institution breaking down, I would have said that's not possible, I would have said half of them would be not capable of doing it. But they were.
So I would say, 90% at least, their transition was painful but possible. And they're working. What tells me that the insurance and finance industry is way more capable of doing change, but obviously it needs a pandemic to achieve it.
So we’ve seen that. We have seen insurers and banks, for example suspending payments on loans, on mortgages around the world. We’ve seen insurers around the world reducing premium by themselves, but only a few. So a large part is waiting. Why? I mean now we're not driving so many cars. We’re at home. What does it mean? Fewer car accidents? That means we're home, less burglaries, fewer home insurance cases.
So probably a lot of lines of business will make a lot of money out of this because the level of risk reduces but our premiums stay high, and only a few insurers actually lower the premium for their clients. So that's the situation there.
And I'm curious how that's going to play out. And another big topic is Business Interruption Policies, which is a super niche product. But now a lot of businesses are interrupted, but these policies were never made for pandemics. But actually, for I don't know, you have your business burned down or you have a technical problem at your business. Machine burned down or there’s a damage, and you need to close for five days.
That's what it was actually meant for, so now a lot of people say, I have this insurance, but the insurers say, It's excluded or it's wishy-washy. It's probably not included, and some have it included and they can face severe economic consequences.
Right. Yeah. Absolutely and I think the consequence is something, the implications are something that we'll have to keep testing out as time goes by. And because of the outbreak, a lot of dynamics have really changed.
So what do you think is the single most important thing that has changed and will stay like that even after the pandemic is over?
I hope I can only express my hope. So I really hope that we keep our confidence that we as nations around the world and industries around the world can face such a dramatic situation and really,
We can adapt to it, we can go further even more, we can uphold our businesses at least for those who were allowed to do so.
And, and I think we should really, really take this and not go back and then the young person comes and says we need to go do TikTok and then the old senior VP, just returning from the home office says, okay. All of this is okay now, but you know this TikTok thing and this other new technology, we've never done it. All our customers are not there. We should not do it and have the old stupid arguments we had before. No, we should have now a different mindset.
And the mindset of, we can do it. We can do the impossible. So why let's not do it, and why, why not conquer the world? So we reacted now to a crisis that if we would adopt the same strategies and the energy and the positivity to actually growing, I think a lot of industries could achieve growth unthinkable before and I really hope that this positivity, that we turn this negative situation into a positive one”.
Absolutely. And I think you've mentioned a very beautiful quote by Mark Twain, "20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do and by the ones you did." And that truly makes a lot of sense when you think about it. And I think that's also your inspiration before experimenting and discovering new things, which is amazing. It really is.
Okay, So I was just trying to understand your opinion on what is termed as the future of work.
So do you think that you've already kind of moved to the future? And we are already in a very different environment and it's going to stay like this or will the definition again keep changing? What do you think?
Well, if I would know it, I don't have a glass bulb and see the future, but I think what we have seen is the acceleration of the new work, the new normal.
I mean, a few weeks ago in a large organization, it was not possible to work from home. People were actually commuting 1.5 hours to the workplace in London, in Berlin and Hamburg and Sao Paulo, all around the world. And I think that we will have a discussion about that. I think a lot of people will not return permanently to the headquarters. This is a positive thing.
But on the other hand, is do these organizations have the culture to sustain this? I mean
If you have a super strong hierarchical, toxical, political culture in your company, you cannot let people work from home because they hate us as a company and they do whatever they want. So that's a big problem. But if you have a great company culture and you actually power out your people and all of that, then you can have a super efficient maker company everybody works at home, no problem.
They're disinterested we’re 20 people but nobody calls, nobody here works in Hamburg, they’re all over the world. And, they're super great, doing crazy things. You know. I just came, jumped off a call with Raul, which is our CEO, and he sits in the Philippines and he does an amazing job there but doesn’t tell him. And other people there, too.
So that's the immediate thing I would take away from ‘The future work’. I would really love to see more flexibility of that, and I would laugh, actually, to see a debate. What role does work have in the life of all of us? Because work is important.
That actually work should lead to like liberation and not only sustain your family for the month or for the next month or for the year but it should actually lead to your personal rise to achieving your goals, whatever your goals are.
And I think we have not have had this discussion. What is the goal of everybody? What is your goal? What is my goal? How can we achieve it? How can a company help a person to achieve his financial, or family financial goals?
And I really like, there are different people out there that cover financial topics Dave Ramsey, maybe this famous book in Germany called ‘Big Five for Life’. Do you really think, it's not about the company doing, getting something from the employee? That's the point but it’s more, how can companies help employees to achieve their goals and become the eagles of them to achieve their goals?
And I really would like to see, this today. I see small, super small starts of that, another hand we will have mass unemployment sooner things around the globe. Maybe we will see everybody fighting for our next day. We’ll see, I don't know.
I think, but everyone will think, I think we will see more remote working. I think we will see more remote working across borders. I think we will see certain jobs be under pressure because they get replaced by better people from somewhere else. And, I think we will see mass unemployment, which probably will slow down this effect. But it is the genie is out of the box. What do you think?
I think that's true because you just never know. A situation like this can happen again. And then we will not have any excuse to, not remote work because we've been through it, though it's going to adopt it, beforehand rather than jump into it.
And they have no clue what to do again. So, I think it will have to be adopted.
And in your career lifetime, have you seen, so when I think of finance and insurance, I think of a lot of files and cabinets filled with files, I can’t think of remote working. Now, has that changed in your lifetime? Have people adopted that style?
Well, some have, you have some players that out of individual reasons over the last years have been modernizing. We have seen smaller and midsize insurers and banks doing great jobs and sometimes they’re full of, especially in Central Europe. There are very long, weird names, very old dates in it, but they have super modern and for them, it was just a matter of minutes to switch to that.
But you also have insurers that did not do their job and banks, but especially insurers, which now have problems. And maybe it's not, the client doesn't see, if a policy comes eight weeks late or six weeks late or two weeks, I think all of that is horrible.
So the client maybe doesn't feel it, but I'm more worried about that. The regulator at some point says, we cannot give somebody a license who is not capable of going more fully and it’s like being sportive if you've not done any sport for 10, 20, 30 years and you’re like overweight, watching Netflix on the couch all day, then somebody tells you, comes in and says, Well, now it's time to run the marathon.
Oh, yeah, if somebody has been training a lot and, and doing that and being very modest and humble about it, and “who's going to make the race? Of course, the person has been preparing as training, who has accomplished the skills, capabilities”, so we have those people in the place, but you also have those who have not done anything or the person that has not been training back bot to Jersey, like open a lab in Berlin, visited San Francisco and with no ties a week and feel very innovative, but it did not change anything at their company.
So I think .....
Warren Buffett said, if the tide goes out, you see who has been swimming naked. I think this is also true for digital transformation in the terms of finance industry today.
Yeah, absolutely makes sense. I think in a lot of countries, including India, a lot of people are still reluctant to use technology for their work. And you are a technology enthusiast.
And I'd like to ask you how important of a role will AI, automation, integrated platforms make in the inclusive workplace of the future?
I think it's important, I think subject matter experts that type in unstructured data into structured data which was just printed out of a system that put structured data into unstructured data and now they're putting unstructured data into structured data and all of these things.
I think we dispel this already. It's like a zombie task. They already did that. They will be replaced. It's just a question of time, and I think that everybody, employees should ask themselves, not to say, "Oh, I'm not going to do it or they’ll replace me, they’ll put me out of work."
Think about how can you provide value to your company, to your economy and what could you learn today, to be relevant tomorrow?
And, and if you stay there, you don't want to learn anything. You don't wanna have new skills. You’re just defending because you're very good at typing in this data and where to click. And all the shortcuts and all of that. You'll be really out of a job in a very short period of time. We should be very honest about that. So what I think about AI and platforms, That's the future.
And it's already the future in other industries. I mean, look at e-commerce. Look at other industries where they're doing, look at the big-data analysis, customer analysis. Look at Google, Facebook, and then all of this is a reality already. Other Chinese companies, it's reality. We just need to get our act together. And we can decide, we need to build our own capabilities.
This is the same for Europe as for India. I mean, because sooner or later, the customer wants these tools. So people don't want to pay with cash anymore, maybe some super old people or some people in our age-group that feel fancy and they feel critical and all of that, but you had also people that were against the trains, people that were against electricity. And you had these same discussions. I mean, I missed out on the trains, you have the same discussions for the last 200 years against technology.
They were people saying the train should never, never go faster than 30 kilometers per hour because you will be brain dead afterward. I mean you have the same people, but I'm always trying to. The sad is these people slow down advancement.
They don't render it, they will slow it down. And this cost economy and the people a lot of money, a lot of opportunities. And families a lot of opportunities, and when people go in the marketplace and say these stupid things, they never have to bear the consequences, and that's what I'm really mad about.
But we should not listen to them, ignored. And of course, we need to be cautious because technology is dangerous and really think about all of these things that it is not a single argument has ever stopped the technological advancement. If it saved the customer or the people time or made it more efficient.
Absolutely. Technology can really be an enabler, and I think that we just need to change mindsets because I think that risk, I don't know what it is, it's a generational gap or just a mindset problem.
Do you think that millennials and the Gen-Z, they're much more open to this and they call out things more easily?
Well, it's too hard to talk about, old age group and put them into two pockets. That's totally unfair, and probably I'm going to be super unfair. But I have found, since we also hire people in, from these age groups, what I found to be very unfair and prejudice is if we didn't want to talk about that is maybe we can.
What I found sometimes is, yes, they are sometimes more inclined to use certain technology but also very intolerant to people who did it a different way. Or in my opinion, sometimes super fixed opinions about certain things, also about politics, about whatever. And
I'm missing the, let's hear what the other person has to say, or the willingness to say maybe I'm wrong and maybe there's some facts out there.
How can I get more facts to have an opinion that is based on facts and not just on feelings and emotions and whatever I think? Again, “that’s unfair and probably a lot of smart people in this age group hardworking out there, but I find that they're less tolerant and less open actually”.
I agree with you Robin, I really do. I think it is the mindset and also, they’re just too uptight. And they're not open to trying out new things. And that's why they slow down technological advancements as well.
That makes a lot of sense. Absolutely.
Do you think, do you also, what's your opinion about the gig economy? Is there a lot of prevalence of the gig economy in the insurance and finance industries?
What we see, the insurance and banks that are using consultants a lot. I mean, that's our business model, too. And they don’t use the typical gig economy, like the one data scientists, small insurers and banks and retail Banks and financial planners are doing that. It depends on their size but they use a lot of help from outside, but mostly the same hub they had over the last 30 years. So the people that put him in the situation, they are currently in.
So what I'm saying is guys look out there for people that actually have solved these problems and not made you these problems. And majorly I see the rise of the gig economy, yes, but maybe, as an interesting cultural note here in Germany, some perceive as an opportunity but like, you’re not really fit, you’re not an employee anymore, you don’t get benefits anymore. But you know...
People get fired all the time and, and lose their jobs and there’s a fake idea of the security of a real job.
And so I see a rise here. But I think different countries have a different statuses that currently all over the world.
Yes, yes, I agree with you. And you've also co-authored a book called ‘The Insurtech book’, right?
Can you kind of, tell us what are the best practices in this industry? And how should people be reacting to the pandemic right now? Some precautions that they should take?
Yeah, So we have seen insurers and banks that both, and insurers so you have also the agents out there which are independent entrepreneurs. We have seen different types of them.
You have one group that's now in the garden doing garden work or watching Netflix and you have another group. And I have a lot of friends who are agents and brokers and, bankers that work in there, that's alright. I mean, it's a bank holiday currently here, and we're here, and I know a lot of others who are also here, they are actually thinking about first of all, how safe the company is, then how to help the clients?
You know, how can they help that client when there’s a restaurant that is closed, and what can they do for them? And even if they're just there and they're calling an estimate to do this already and motivate them to carry on and do something and maybe change the business model and go list it, an ad where you can order that food and then delivered, all of these things.
So you have these two dramatic, different things. One that is, thinking it's some sort of vacation and others that are really like training and pushing and moving.
And you see this also with companies, some c-suits that are now like enjoying at their home office, and you have some c-suits that are, trying to hit the ground running when it starts again. And I think we would be surprised about
Small, some small insurers and banks that come out of this as super strong and others, their decay would just continue.
Yeah, that’s true.
One more thing, if you’re not in that industry, I think there are two groups you have in every industry. And if you’re out there and you don't know what to do, you're either, you’re scared, you’re an employee, you lost your job or you're about to lose your job. You're afraid to lose your job or you have a company you don't know.
You have suffered a lot of its, you lost a lot of revenue, I think it's super important. If you really want to come getting strong out of this. I mean, it's okay to have a pity party. I had a pity party for myself. I felt very sorry and all for myself, I had a lot of that, but it's limited. And then out, massive action goes out there and, and, and try to develop new products that are, you know, new pricing models for your companies.
I had, you know, the subscription of software, and they sent me, if you know, pay advance we will give you 50% off. I was like, yeah, okay, why not? So they have the cash then to, save the company, and I have a little bit of an advantage, and you need to really think outside the box or when you’re an employee think about, how can I create much value for my company as possible, so when the big cuts come, I'm not on that list because I did a lot for that company.
And to really be active. Don't forget, you know, also physical health and wellness, and that is something I'm really bad at. I should do more sports. And family is also I think super important to take some time for that. But really be conscious and be on the one side and don’t watch Netflix and Disney plus all the time. I think that's set up for disaster.
I absolutely agree because now is the time that you can actually utilize this time to make yourself better. You can upscale, get some more knowledge, increase your knowledge database. And you could just become so much better and I think. Some organizations are really doing that.
But some of them are just sleeping on this opportunity, and they're gonna suffer big time. That makes sense. And, yes, health and wellbeing and mental balance. All of this has to also be taken care of and thank you so much for that advice.
And is there anything else? Any other important sound bites that you'd like to share?
One more thing. I would really encourage everybody to go out there. Look for podcasts and blogs like this, try new things out. Try to learn, try to educate, do this also with your partner together. Really think about yourself, but also as a family where you wanna be in a few years, what do you, what do you need to do now to achieve that, and don't forget one thing, Empires are, are born in times of this, in times of crisis.
"Empires are born in times of crisis."
...and even you don't need to, want to be an empire, maybe, just, flourish for you and your family and, or as an individual but it's now, the time to act and seize opportunities.
Absolutely, you can have maybe one tiny pity party, but then you need to kind of get to work, and you can really plan a lot. And, it’s a very nice way to kind of put it that way, you need to really emphasize planning with your family to understand where you want to go next and with your career, there are so many things that you can actually do right now. It makes a lot of sense.
Thank you so much for that advice. And, I had a wonderful time with you, Robin. Loved the conversation, very engaging, you’re a fun person, very high energy. I loved it. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much for having me. Have a great day.
You too. Buh-bye. Take care.
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October 25, 2021
A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together
October 25, 2021
This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all