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Interview with Zia Zaman - MetLife

April 17th, 2016 | Hong Kong

Sia Partners had the pleasure to meet with Zia Zaman, Senior Vice President at MetLife and Chief Executive Officer of LumenLab, MetLife’s Innovation Centre since July 2014. The initiative was spearheaded by Chris Townsend, President of MetLife Asia, to drive a culture of innovation at MetLife coupled with an emphasis on disruption.

Sia Partners (S.P.): What is the purpose of the MetLife Innovation Centre, LumenLab?

Zia Zaman (Z.Z.): Within the insurance industry, I would identify three levels of innovation across a maturity model:

  • The first one would be to be able to seek innovation within the boundaries of your company’s current business model.
  • The second step would be to identify “bets to differentiate” within that business model.
  • The last stage would be to go beyond the core business, sometimes called disruptive innovation. 


LumenLab primarily focuses on the last level. We look to better understand our customer’s problem by shedding some new light on it and together with our customer data insights, we aim to rewrite MetLife’s role in people’s lives.

S.P.: How do you spot innovation opportunities at LumenLab?

Z.Z.: We conduct deep interviews with customers, to understand their issues in health, aging and wealth. For example, today more and more customers feel health is less about healthcare but rather more about prevention. After collecting these customers’ insights, we seek to create a tailored solution. We may look at new technologies, other business models or industries. But we always start with the customers: the process IS all about the customer.

S.P.: Why has LumenLab been built in Asia?

Z.Z.: There are a number of reasons why Asia is compelling. Firstly, the “Asiafication” of global demand is gathering pace. What this fundamentally means is that the demand curve of all industries is bending towards Asia. Companies built products for Western Europe and the Americas, with Asian needs being a secondary consideration. Secondly, when you consider the fact that Asia is expected to account for approximately half of the insurance industry’s growth in the next decade, it is a natural choice. And finally, since 2010-2011, we have seen more innovation in Asia, for Asia.  Singapore has consistently ranked as one of the world’s most innovative nations and continues to position itself as the 'go to' destination as a global innovation and entrepreneurship hub which made the choice simple.

S.P.: In which part of the innovation funnel are you involved in?

Z.Z.: Every one of them, as every step is important. Personally, I do not believe that ideation is the crucial part of innovation. We define innovation as part exploration and part experimentation. On the latter, there is a traditional misperception on innovation: most people believe they can fully understand all customer insights by using elaborate analytical tools. Our approach is radically different: we deploy solutions fast, which allows us to get quick and numerous insights from customers.

Another major differentiating factor in LumenLab is our people; almost all our staff come from outside of the insurance industry, therefore they are not biased by traditional insurance business reflexes and can truly think out of the box. That is the same reason why LumenLab is distinct from the business.

S.P.: How do you tailor your initiatives to the local Asian markets?

Z.Z.: We partner with our countries across our Asian footprint. We enlist innovators to work with us from the local business, we call them “astronauts”. They often have to leave their day job in order to fully commit to LumenLab as entrepreneurs.

S.P.: Would you say you need to know the core business of insurance to innovate in the industry?

Z.Z.: I don't think so. However, you need to know the core customer need. Start-ups are good at innovating to create solutions without a clear understanding of the core business problem. Large incumbents also innovate; but they need to be way more customer centric, in fact half of the innovation in the world is coming from large corporations.

S.P.: How do you work with organizations that are potentially less agile, such as universities, governments or regulators?

Z.Z.: LumenLab does work with all of these institutions, and I do think that, at least in Singapore, they are extremely agile organizations. We push each other to innovate. For example, we work with universities on how they can change their curriculum – I provided coaching to the National University of Singapore Business School on how to promote innovation in their courses for instance. We also interact frequently, even brainstorm, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore; we have a strong public-private partnership in place.

S.P.: Have you seen a change in the way people look at innovation in MetLife since LumenLab started?

Z.Z.: There has been a real mindset shift with the people we interact with in MetLife. They have developed skills about new ways of growing, new toolkits, and new ways of thinking. This mindset shift is an indirect yet important output of LumenLab. We believe that businesses improve their performance as they exhibit the behaviours of curiosity, expansivity, experimentality, velocity, and bravery.

S.P.: What are your main challenges at LumenLab currently?

Z.Z.: Choosing which ideas to prioritise! While we have a great number of customer insights, it is often challenging to select the ideas we should develop. It’s a good problem to have.

We also want to work on velocity, meaning how we can learn more quickly from customers. The challenge comes down to how to get more market data through more customer interaction. Lastly, we are always looking for more external partners who want to co-create with us to bring real tangible solutions to market across Asia that have an impact on people’s lives across health, wealth, and ageing. 


Sia Partners


Copyright © 2016 Sia Partners. Any use of this material without specific permission of Sia Partners is strictly prohibited.

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