EP 300 – Sam Fromson and Stephen Barnham – YuLife and Dai-ichi Life – The Biggest Heart and Seeing Above the Trees

by | Nov 1, 2023

The Asia Tech Podcast was joined by ⁠Sam Fromson⁠, the co-founder and COO of ⁠YuLife⁠, and ⁠Stephen Barnham⁠, the Global Chief Digital and Information Officer at ⁠Dai-ichi Life Holdings⁠. Sam and Stephen discussed their partnership and the innovative approach they are taking to reimagine the insurance industry. YuLife is on a mission to inspire people to live their best lives everyday. As a 120-year-old life insurance company dominant in Japan, Dai-ichi Life is looking for new growth opportunities to become a leading global insurer.

Some of the topics that Sam and Stephen discussed in detail:

  • How YuLife is reimagining the insurance industry by focusing on wellbeing
  • Building lifelong partnerships with their customers
  • Gamification as a tool for engagement
  • The challenges of entering new markets and the massive opportunity in Japan
  • The importance of win-win partnerships and how Dai-ichi Life is the perfect example of this
  • Balancing urgency and long-term vision

Some other titles we considered for this episode, but ultimately rejected:

 
  1. Building Long-Term Partnerships: The Mutual Benefits of YuLife and Dai-ichi Life
  2. The Role of Gamification in Customer Engagement
  3. Gamifying Insurance: Finding Growth in New Business Models
  4. Taking a Long-Term View: Balancing Urgency and Strategic Planning
Read the best-effort transcript

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

00:00:00:00 – 00:00:16:12
Michael Waitze
Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today, we have two smiling guys. We are joined by Sam Fromson, a Co-Founder and the Chief Operating Officer at YuLife, and Stephen Barnham, the Global Chief Digital and Information Officer at Dai-ichi Life Holdings.

00:00:16:14 – 00:00:26:08
Michael Waitze
Gentlemen, thank you so much for doing this today. How are you two doing?

00:00:22
Stephen Barnham
Great, it’s really fantastic to be here, Michael.

Sam Fromson
We’re doing absolutely wonderfully and it’s a pleasure to be live with you, guys.

00:00:26:10 – 00:02:00:14
Michael Waitze
It is a pleasure to have you, both. Stephen, I want to start with you. From a Dai-ichi Life perspective and a Stephen Barnham perspective, maybe you can just outline the philosophy around the relationship in the investment with YuLife.

Stephen Barnham
Sure. So, we are a 120-year-old life insurance company, dominant in one of the world’s most mature insurance markets, which is Japan. And we are looking forward to the future. In over the next 10 years or so, we would like to be a global leading insurer. And so, we need to find growth. And in our domestic market, where we are dominant, it’s a little tougher to find growth. And so, one of the areas that we seek is looking at new business models. And as we look and explore our industry, and think about those new business models, we start to look at earlier stage companies who are reimagining our industry. And so, we have an innovation lab here in London. And it was through that relationship that we met the wonderful founders from YuLife. And YuLife are actively reimagining our industry. They are rethinking the new business models. And we think, through our relationship with YuLife, it will help us to find that growth to becoming a leading global insurer. So it really provides kind of part of the missing part of our strategy, the growth part of our strategy.

00:02:00:16 – 00:02:15:06
Michael Waitze
Stephen, that’s fascinating. Sam, can you just talk to me, as well, from your perspective is how you are reimagining insurance? What is YuLife and what are you guys doing differently?

Sam Fromson
Thanks for asking. That’s a great question. Insurance is one of the biggest industries in the world. And yeah, I’m preaching to the choir, here. You, guys, are the InsurTech Podcast of Asia, you know this inside and out. Insurance is a multi-trillion-dollar industry and at the same time, for consumers across the world, there’s low-levels of trust. People rarely, if ever, engage with insurance as a value-added in their daily life. And, at the same time, is that also it’s such an acute wellbeing crisis going on across the world. And that was true before Covid, that was true, you know, five, six, seven, eight years ago, when we were started thinking about this business.

Michael Waitze
Right.

Sam Fromson
But now, more acutely than ever, people feel that need for improving, you know, for being healthy and well, on a daily basis. And insurers are so well placed to do that.

Michael Waitze
Yeah.

Sam Fromson
If you could help someone live a longer, happier, healthier life, it’s good for them as an individual, it’s good for their community, for their company, for their family, and ultimate, it’s good for their insurer, because they are lower risk. And really, that’s what we set out to do, is to use insurance as a vehicle to improve people’s lives.

00:03:09:18 – 00:04:49:07
Michael Waitze
That’s awesome.

Stephen Barnham
If I could just add to that?

Sam Fromson
Please.

Stephen Barnham
Yeah, part of our thought process is we want to be lifelong partners with our customers. And through our relationship with YuLife, we think that just supports that.

Sam Fromson
And it was amazing. I remember sitting down, that first meeting, in that massive boardroom in the (inaudible – 00:03:29) with 29 people in the room. And then, you know, the Dai-ichi team, the Dai-ichi execs started speaking. And I really felt such a deep alignment, in terms of the mission. Happens to be, we’ve been, you know, going about it in different ways, and maybe with a different sizes of the team, and different stages of our business, but that alignment of goals and alignment of mission felt incredibly strong, when we began our relationship, 18 months ago. And still feels that way now.

Stephen Barnham
Yeah, yeah. I have to say, I’ve worked with a number of wellbeing companies, I’ve been involved in digital health, or however you want to refer to it, and what I feel is really special from the minute I met all of the founding team from YuLife, but also the experience that you’ve built for the customer. It’s just so attractive, it’s appealing, it’s a place you wanna keep going back to because it’s encouraging you to do things you love doing. And I’ve been using the app for just over 6 months, and it’s really compelling, and I look forward to using it and I look forward to engaging with it. And I thought, wow, if we can replicate that with our customers! So many life insurers have struggled with engagement with their customers. And, as Sam just put it so well, also encouraging them to lead healthier, longer lives, as well. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? And that’s really, I think, part of the key to our partnership.

00:04:50:14 – 00:05:11:10
Michael Waitze
I want to ask Sam another question, as well. As you’re building this relationship, right, with an aligned insurer in Japan, after building this business outside of Japan for a long period of time, in what ways do you have to think differently about the business model that you have or just the way that you engage with customers?
You should talk a little bit about the gamification and the engagement, because that’s a big part of this, right? We talk about it a lot in our shows. How do you get companies to be engaged with their customers? So talk about that and then talk about how Japan’s different.

Sam Fromson
For sure. So look, just start off, what does YuLife actually do on a daily basis? You purchase YuLife as a company and all of your employees then download the YuLife app. And that’s really the portal into your entire insurance experience. It’s not just a wellbeing app, it’s not just an insurance app, it’s not the brings together and that unified experience. You get rewards for building everyday healthy habits. For walking, for mindfulness, for meditation, for exercise classes, you name it. And those link back to your insurance policies. The more insurance policies you have, the more you’re saving into your pension, the better protected you and your family are, the more rewards you can earn on a daily basis. You can set your beneficiaries, etcetera, it really brings together that integrated experience between insurance and wellbeing.
We, thankfully, you know, be testing this, and learning, and building, and reaching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. And, I think London’s an absolutely incredible city to test something like this because, you know, London is probably one of the most intensely multicultural places in the world. We do have users from every demographic. You know, just by dint of the fact that London is a city that, you know, you meet 10 people, maybe one of them was born in London. Right? So that has definitely given us a testing ground for working with people of different backgrounds and different ethnicities, and different cultural backdrops.
Our team, as well. You know, we’ve got Asian, and Indian, and, you know, people from all over the world who have really fed into the design philosophy. So I think, from the offset, we’ve been thinking about this from a global basis without boxing ourselves into one cultural mindset.
That said, of course, going into any new market is difficult, and challenging, and you can’t underestimate the nuances that are required. And that’s why we’ve been thinking very carefully about our Japan launch, going live with a — Today, which is very exciting. I know this is not gonna be shown live, but we are incredibly excited to be going live with our test cohort of users in the Dai-ichi headquarters.

Stephen Barnham
That’s right.

Sam Fromson
In Japan.

Stephen Barnham
Very exciting.

Sam Fromson
And we’ll be running that for a few months and really learning the cultural variances. We’ve obviously worked with careful translation efforts, was the first step. That’s just the baseline. Really experiencing how Japanese consumers use and interact with the technology. Our initial two-month pilot with Innovation Lab in London, I think that, fortunately, was incredibly successful and we learnt a lot about the, you know, the types of nudge notifications that are acceptable across different cultures and the types of, you know, incentives that might really get somebody to take that first step on the wellbeing journey. And we’re coming at it with such enthusiasm and passion, and a dedication to really learning and making this fit for an incredibly important market.

00:08:16
Michael Waitze
How will you lean — and Stephen, maybe you can answer this, too, but how will you two work together? Maybe lean on the experiences and even all the people that work inside YuLife in Japan, to get a better understanding about what those nuances really are, and then how the product may or may not need to get adjusted to adapt to that?

00:08:33
Stephen Barnham
Yeah. So, that’s a great question, Michael. And when I first looked at the experience that YuLife is offering, I was struck by a couple of things. The first thing is how simple it is and how easy it is to navigate around the app. And within minutes, you get it. You absolutely understand how to use it. Is the first thing. The second thing, and you may think this is trivial, but coming from a Japan perspective, I think, Michael, you’ll appreciate this. I thought it was really, really cute. Now, people may dismiss this. And if you know Japanese, cute means kawaii. And this concept of cuteness in Japan is so critical to the customer experience. And so I thought between the simplicity of the environment and this cuteness factor, I thought, wow, this is it.
Because us, insurers, have been spending so much time trying to crack this customer experience. We’ve laboured over complicated apps that are just packed full of complicated functions, that are very difficult to navigate through. And I’d navigated through this app in a few minutes. So, it’s great! So that was that initial impression that I got, oh, this can work in Japan. So then, I took it to Japan and almost any meeting that I talk about innovation, I’d say, you know about our partner, YuLife. They say, oh, yeah, I’ve heard about that. Can I just demo something to you? And I demo it. They say, oh, my god, that doesn’t look like an insurance app, that looks like a game. And I want it!

Michael Waitze
Awesome.

Stephen Barnham
It was those kinds of responses. And it was a small cohort and I go around and just test it and see what were the first words that came in the people’s mouths. And they would say, oh, my god, that’s so cute. And this is very unique to Japan. So, in terms of what needs it to change yes, we’ve done the translations. But the look and feel has already, I think, from the short testing that we’ve done, had a very positive response. And that’s where I thought, yeah, this can work. And this can really help us in our journey to find growth and reimagine our industry.

00:10:56
Sam Fromson
And you spoke about something that I think is so dear to our hearts. If you try and take from a customer, they feel it instantly.

00:11:03
Michael Waitze
Yeah.

Sam Fromson
And I love insurers, and I love working with insurers, but often they’re coming from a mindset of, okay, this is what I need to get from the customer in order to underwrite them, in order to look after them. And maybe with the customer’s long-term best interests at heart but in the short-term, it feels like a taking experience. And you feel that.
And our fundamental philosophy is to give more than you take in every interaction, for the customer to feel a joy of interacting with you. And that technology that’s underpinned by joy, that’s underpinned by a desire, underpinned by feeling over function is what’s always set to the heart of our design philosophy, at the heart of our commercial philosophy.
Working with partners, we’ve never said, we’re gonna build everything end-to-end ourselves, own it all, dominate the world as a standalone entity. We’ve always sought to work with great partners and we’ve built that basis in the UK, and it’s exciting to do that in Japan, now.

00:11:59
Stephen Barnham
Yeah.

00:11:57
Michael Waitze
I love this idea of giving first. We do it in our businesses, as well. I think about it all the time. I never ask for anything in a first meeting, ever.
I’m always trying to give something first. I spend a lot of time — and I’m curious for both of you, because you’re both sides of the table here. I’m curious how both of you look at this idea of not just the customer experience, right, but there’s another side of this, and that’s the partner experience. When you work with your partners, like what kind of philosophies you have when you’re working with partners, as well? And as you build out those partnerships in Japan, what’s the philosophy and how to build out great partnerships? Because that PX, that partnership experience, really matters.

00:12:31
Stephen Barnham
Yeah. So, I think it’s gotta be a win-win relationship. We are very long-term in our view and we think that developing a product and an opportunity, like YuLife in Japan, is going to take a little bit of time. But we’re very patient. And so, I would say characterize our relationship with our key, strategic partners as long-term and has to be a win-win environment.

00:13:05
Sam Fromson
I mean, that’s really deeply aligns with what we’re — you know, the blessing of being a private company is that we’re thinking about what we wanna build for the long-term. And we are committed to that vision of using insurance as a force for good, of changing an industry, of creating something that improves the lives of millions of people. And if you wanna do that for the really long-term, you can’t think, okay, what am I gonna — you’ve got to be rapid in your thinking and quick in your iterations, and moving at pace but all whilst keeping a long-term vision in mind, and not getting distracted by the day-to-day rubbish that clutters your desk. A nice, clean desk which I quite like. But, you know, not cluttering your desk. And keeping that long-term mission in mind and finding great partners. We’ve got, you know, the balance sheet, the capital. The ability to really work for the long-time is essential.

00:13:55
Stephen Barnham
Yeah, yeah. And I think there’s another thing around synergy, as well. I think the energy, the new ways of working and even how the YuLife team think is very unique and different for us. And if you add that to, yes, our balance sheet, but also add it to the incredible customer-base we have. We have some of the Japan’s major corporations as our customers. And I think, when you bring the two together, Dai-ichi and YuLife, I think the result is just going to be explosive.

00:14:30
Sam Fromson
We’re really excited for that. One thing that speaks the heart to, cause the customer relationships are ones that are built on long-term trust, and I think many (inaudible – 00:14:39) startups and, oh, you know, got incredible peers in the industry and people are doing wonderful things, it’s quite hard when you’re looking after someone’s life, looking after their health, to build that trust, initially, because people are nervous of working with a new company. And we’ve always found, working with our partners that we do in the UK, working with Dai-ichi in Japan, please, god, is that, you know, that you have a basis of trust to work from. And if a customer is saying, well, I know that you’re gonna be around in 5, 10, 20 years to pay claims, then I’m excited for the other things you can do for my life. And then I’m excited –
That gets you over the threshold, which then allows you to really make that long-term impact. Because you’ve crossed that initial hurdle of, okay, I’m willing to do business with you.

00:15:24
Michael Waitze
I wanna talk a little bit about gamification, if you don’t mind. Maybe you can give a couple of specific –

00:15:29
Sam Fromson
My favourite topic.

00:15:29
Michael Waitze
— examples. Yeah. And why you actually thought this was a good way to go for the engagement lane? And then, I wanna ask you something, when you’re done doing that, about another step in the gamification process. But go ahead, just walk me through how it works and why it’s so engaging?

00:15:42
Sam Fromson
Happy to. Look, there’s myriad different games that we all play in life. Sometimes we know they’re games, sometimes we don’t. You can think that maybe starting a career in a big industry it’s a game, right. How do you progress to it, how do you take the appraisals, how do you make sure you build alliances? Gaming isn’t just limited to teenagers sitting with a hood over their head, in a darkened room anymore. And we really appreciate the games of everyday part of life. And our philosophy of games has been to make it something joyful and accessible. You got super complicated games that appeal to a niche audience. But the games that’ve got most widespread appeal are the ones where the mechanics are accessible to anyone, and where it’s something that’s fun and joyful to engage with.
What’s the most successful wellbeing game of the last decade? Do you know what that might be? The most successful wellbeing game of the last decade?
00:16:32
Michael Waitze
The most successful wellbeing game of the last decade? No idea.
00:16:37
Sam Fromson
Take a guess?

00:16:38
Stephen Barnham
Not Brick break?

00:16:40
Sam Fromson
Pokémon GO. Most successful wellbeing game of the last decade, getting people walking to catch Pokémon.

00:16:46
Michael Waitze
Yeah, fair enough.

00:16:46
Sam Fromson
The breath of usage that that got, the impact that had on people’s daily habits far outstripped any other wellbeing game that has been created. And that’s about taking a mechanism, it’s not overtly about wellbeing.

00:17:00
Stephen Barnham
Yeah.

00:17:00
Michael Waitze
Yeah, no, actually yeah.

00:17:02
Sam Fromson
In any way. And ditto, the YuLife experience. We’ve built in a way that we’ve got a currency of wellbeing called YuCoin. And you earn YuCoin for building everyday healthy habits. Things that you might be doing anyway. We might provoke you to do them a bit more. Be that just a walk to the tube station in the morning, or to the metro, or the subway in the morning. Be that winding down with, instead of, you know, scrolling TikTok on your phone, to 5-10 minutes of meditation in the evening, so that you can get a good night sleep.
And then, once you’ve built that kind of extrinsic motivation of those, Okay, I’m seeing I’m earning YuCoin for doing these things. Amazing. We can then bring you deeper into the experience and take you on challenges, and you can earn extra YuCoin for pushing your step count that bit higher or for walking faster over a 10-minute walk. Or by doing a fitness class, be it, you know, like a Hiit session at home. Or doing brain training with our YuDoku, Sudoku that we’ve built in the app, that people do every single day. And it’s about taking somebody who’s, you know, on their wellbeing journey and making it easy and delightful for them to push that bit further and to make a consistent habit out of it.

00:18:09
Michael Waitze
So, a lot of people are wearing Apple Watches and Fitbits, and stuff like that. Do you integrate with those things, as well?

00:18:14
Sam Fromson
Of course. So, we integrate with any device that can collect your wellbeing data, be it just the, you know, the pedometer on your phone, Google Fit, Apple Healthkit. Through to your Garmin, through to your, exactly, Apple Watch, whatever it might be.

00:18:25
Stephen Barnham
Apple Watch. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think, what I really love about it is they have a leaderboard, yeah, which can be, I suppose, split by company, if it’s a small-ish SME or by department. And you can challenge each other. So, you can challenge walking, who’s gonna walk the most in the day. And it’s a great way, actually, to build teams. And especially, when your teams are not all in the same place, and when some are working from home, and it’s fun. And you can send messages separately to each other. Oh, you’re walking more than me. And yeah, it incentivizes you to walk more but it also brings teams together around a fun topic. So, I found that really fun.

00:19:13
Sam Fromson
Really got it, then. And then, why does anyone care about YuCoin in the first place? Cause you can wager a YuCoin, right. So it’s also got another letter, as well. YuCoin doesn’t just live in the app. That then correlates to the real world. You can cash in your YuCoin to do good, to plant trees, to clean the oceans, to donate meals to charity, or you can cash in your YuCoin for self-care things. Be that Amazon vouchers or trainers from Nike, or whatever it might be. And so that YuCoin correlates to something that really gives you value every day in your life.

00:19:44
Michael Waitze
There are so many questions. Is the YuCoin then part of an affiliate program somewhere else? How does it work, mechanically? I’m really curious about this? So, I earn this YuCoin –

00:19:52
Sam Fromson
YuCoin lives – Yeah.

00:19:54
Michael Waitze
So, I earn this YuCoin. Right? It’s sitting on my phone, probably in a wallet, inside of the app. Right? Fair enough. But if I wanna turn it into something like an Amazon gift card, what’s the relationship with Amazon that has to exist, to be able to get that done? Or is that not necessary?

00:20:09
Sam Fromson
So, we own all of those relationships. Right? So, we run our own networks of rewards partners and so we’ve got an exchange system where you can cash in your YuCoin and seamlessly get Amazon gift cards straight into your Amazon account. Or you can, you know, we’ve got bespoke relationships so you can get 40% off your garment device. What we’ve tried to stay away from at the moment is incremental benefits, things that give you like 1% here, 2% there. We want YuCoin to mean something that actually makes a difference. And getting something back that gives you that real feedback of loop, oh, yeah, I really got something out of that, amazing, it made a difference to my day.

00:20:49
Stephen Barnham
What I also love is there’s a hierarchical mechanism. So, you can go up through the forest levels, and the ocean levels. And then, when you look at your colleague, that they’re like ocean level 32 and I’m forest level 41, so then, that incentivises me to go up for another short stroll or ride a bike.

00:21:09
Sam Fromson
We’ve built a whole law around the development in the app, as well. Moving through each seven levels you unlock a chest, and every 49 levels you can enter into a new world. And then you progress through the four worlds, and then that takes you to a whole new dimension, after you’ve unlocked those, and at each stage there’s more things, more richness to unlock within the experience. Don’t wanna give away all the Easter eggs that hide in, for the people who are yet to engage.

00:21:32
Michael Waitze
I really wanna talk about this gamification a little bit more. Because Stephen mentioned this thing about team building, about company building, about department building. I think it’s super cool. In my head, it automatically gets even bigger and I think, maybe once a year, there’s like YuLife Olympics. Do you know what I mean? Where people that aren’t from the same company — I’m not kidding, though. Where people that aren’t from the same company but are in the same industry, in the same vertical, all those people get together and compete with each other. So, it’s not just inside one company but it’s like API to all the companies that are there, and then they get to compete, as well. And it would be neat –

00:22:05
Sam Fromson
I love it.

00:22:05
Michael Waitze
— I think, if you had like a physical challenge where everybody that was on it, the Top 10 people, it would give them incentive to like, do more. And then, at the end of the year, they go to the YuLife Olympics and, who knows, like win a trip to the Bahamas or something like that. That seems kind of cool.

00:22:17
Sam Fromson
I love it. We did run a digital version of that last summer, actually. We ran the YuLife Olympics for companies competing against each other.

00:22:24
Michael Waitze
I love it.

00:22:25
Sam Fromson
And we ran digital versions. We didn’t yet create a physical manifestation of that, so maybe on the rooftop of Dai-ichi’s headquarters in Tokyo we could do that. But we ran a digital version of that, where companies can compete in teams and, you know, different companies had different targets set. And that was something that really, you know, brought together businesses from different industries.

00:22:48
Stephen Barnham
Yeah, I think that’s a fantastic idea. Yeah.

00:22:50
Michael Waitze
I got a lot more of these.

00:22:48
Stephen Barnham
Across industry groupings, we can do within our organization, across departments, in a friendly way, competing with each other.

00:23:00
Sam Fromson
Tokyo Olympics 2026.

00:23:00
Michael Waitze
(crosstalk – 00:23:00) department, would be super cool. Right? Okay, let me ask you this.

00:23:06
Stephen Barnham
YuOlympics.

00:23:07
Sam Fromson
Exactly.

00:23:08
Michael Waitze
YuOlympics. So, Stephen brought this up earlier, as well. This whole idea of kawaii cannot be like overestimated, you cannot exaggerate this enough. It’s really important.

00:23:17
Sam Fromson
Yeah.

00:23:18
Michael Waitze
And in the context — I know you have your own gamification team and clearly they’re doing something right, but have you considered, at any level, collaborating with like — cause Japanese game companies, like you said, are pretty amazing.
00:23:30
Sam Fromson
Yeah, some of the best in the world.

00:23:31
Michael Waitze
Do you think you could collaborate with them to, not just on providing them the wellness benefits and stuff like that, but even from a development partnership to help build gaming style stuff for the YuLife app?

00:23:41
Sam Fromson
Certainly something fascinating to consider. And, you know, as we’re beginning this journey into the Japan ecosystem, I know that you, guys, have got very close and deep relationships with some of those big gaming houses, it’d be a pleasure to explore.

00:23:52
Stephen Barnham
Yeah, yeah. It’s something we haven’t considered but what I love about this relationship is, everybody has such an open mind. And so, really what we’re going to do together and what we’re going to explore is really unlimited.

00:24:07
Michael Waitze
I just want to say, from my perspective, I’ve known Stephen for 30 years, okay. And we both come from a corporate background. No, but I think it’s really important to point this out. And I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. It doesn’t seem straight, cause we both worked at Morgan Stanley together, and Stephen then had a banking and a very long and very great insurance career. But it doesn’t seem strange to me at all to have the two of you sitting in the same room. I do feel like there’s a real meeting of the minds, but it shouldn’t be this easy.
I mean that. Stephen said earlier that Dai-ichi Life is an old company, 120 something years old. YuLife is what? 5 years old? I don’t know the exact number.

00:24:43
Sam Fromson
You know, we’re coming up to, I think, seventh birthday, actually.

00:24:45
Michael Waitze
Seventh birthday. Happy birthday!

00:24:45
Stephen Barnham
Wow.

00:24:47
Sam Fromson
Yeah. Like this month.

00:24:47
Michael Waitze
But do you know what that means? I really get a sense that there’s all this chatter in the industry and on podcasts everywhere, where like big insurance companies don’t know how to deal with startups and startups don’t know how to deal with big insurance companies. And I think the two of you have just blown that out of the water, today.

00:25:01
Sam Fromson
From the very first time we met with Dai-ichi, I have felt a quite different experience to working with other insurance. And I must admit, I’m not gonna pretend like, when I first got a phone call saying, do you wanna meet with Dai-ichi Life, and I did a bit of quick googling, and I saw, you know, 120 years old, one of the largest insurers in Asia, I thought, okay, it’ll be a nice meeting but the likelihood is it’ll be just that, it’ll be just a meeting. I didn’t really expect it to be the beginning of a long-term partnership. But from the first interactions, the thing I really have felt that’s really characterized our relationship is one of real mutual respect and understanding, and an awareness of our respective strengths and differences. And a real willingness to work with those and to enhance those rather than — And again, you know, every insurer got its own dynamics, and not to throw shade on anybody, but some have a bit more of a command-and-control approach, let’s say. Certain insurers, who remain nameless, that we’ve spoken with in the past, have said, yes, we can work with you but these will be the terms, and we know best and it’s gonna be in this way, and you’re gonna do it like we say. Because we’ve been around for X numbers of years, and have this balance sheet, and you’re gonna do it as we want it. And that’s, you know, that doesn’t feel the type of people that we wanna build long-term, constructive relationships with.

00:26:18
Stephen Barnham
Yeah. I’ve recently joined Dai-ichi. I’m now in my seventh month. And I think, the fact that they have invited me to join their leadership team – Yes, I’ve lived and worked in Japan a long time and I have experience in the Japan market, but to have a non-Japanese at such a senior level, I feel really privileged. And I think this is indicative of the kind of a forward-looking thinking that the Dai-ichi leadership has. And that’s one of the reasons why we are able to so positively progress this relationship. I think there is something different going on in the Dai-ichi leadership team.
And we realise that we need to do something to reimagine our industry. We’ve had a great run up to now, but what has got us here is not gonna get us there, as we look forward to the next 10 years. So, I’d like to think that we have a very open mind. And the possibilities that we have with YuLife is just immense and, yeah, we’ll continue to keep that open mind.

00:27:21
Michael Waitze
Stephen, I wanna ask you about this, too. You did mention, without mentioning the number of years, how long you’ve lived and worked in Japan. I mean, the cat was out of the bag when I said that I’ve known you for 30 years. So, I apologize for that in advance.

00:27:34
Sam Fromson
Yeah, exactly. He said it was 30 years.

00:26:34
Stephen Barnham
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

00:27:36
Michael Waitze
It’s already out there. But I do want to say this, as well. It gives you a unique perspective on what does and doesn’t work in a Japanese market that’s not static, is dynamic, has changed over the years. Maybe not changed as much as people would like, but has changed. Can you talk maybe about, just when you think about this market expansion for YuLife, just a few things that may be slightly challenging? I don’t even want the solutions to it, but just things that make the market different and they’re slightly challenging that. Because you’ve been there for so long, you feel like you have a unique perspective on.

00:26:34
Stephen Barnham
Sure. So, I touch a little bit on some things which some people may think are frivolous, in terms of the customer experience. Clearly, getting that customer experience spot on is critical. And I feel, we have. And we’re in the middle of testing that. But I think there’s also something to be said about trust with the customer. And building that trust with the customer is takes time, it just simply takes time. And you can look at any number of examples with this. Whether — and some people say, much of the Japanese financing industry was late to the whole digital transformation gig.
However, once they got that, then it was like, it started to move ahead and accelerate so quickly. And I think, similar to where we’re going to be taking our relationship with YuLife, it’s almost like a snowball. You got to get that, push it up to the top of the hill and once you get it — and that requires a lot of us partnering together, working as a team, and it’s going to be tough, there’s no doubt about that. But I’m confident that we can do that together, as a team. As I mentioned, using the synergies that I talked about earlier, to get that snowball to the top of the hill. But then, after that, that accelerative effect, that’s what we wanna get. And you can see on so many other things, adoption of digital etc. across the market.
But it’s that initial effort. And we’re in that, we’re in that phase right now, just getting up the hill. And yeah, there’s gonna be some difficulties there, no doubt.

00:29:47
Sam Fromson
And you spoke about the relative lack of digital penetration or immaturity, so to speak, of the tech ecosystem or the starter ecosystem in Japan. And that was the point that really resonated with me. Japan is the third largest top three, you know, of economies in the world, definitely of insurance markets in the world. But, you know, the number of insurance startups in London, you know, plus or minus about 2,000 insurance startups in London, plus or minus 100 in Japan? I don’t know if that sounds about right? Those are the numbers I saw on a piece of research. So, on the one hand, that’s, you know, gosh, there’s a lot of barriers to overcome. And we’ve really got to work hard together to change it. But it really, also to me (inaudible – 00:30:26) a massive opportunity. Because, if we can, together, get in on that party at the earliest stages of the development of a shorter ecosystem, I really believe we can create something transformative.

00:30:38
Stephen Barnham
Yeah, absolutely.

00:30:40
Michael Waitze
I want to make a point that both of you have said, but I want to make it explicitly now. And then I want to ask you, why? You both use this term, long-term, so many times. And it appears to me, and Sam hinted at this earlier in the conversation, without saying it explicitly, that most startups are in a hurry. Right? They’re in a hurry. They feel like they’re running out of time and maybe they are, to be fair.
How have you been able to take such a long-term view? And I think you have to have that from the beginning. You can’t start, like YuLife, on a — you know what I mean? You said seven years. So, 2016. And think, oh, my god, we really have to rush now!
It has to be from the beginning. How hard was it for you to take that long-term view and why did you decide to do that, when most other people around you were just rushing?

00:31:24
Sam Fromson
There’s a difference between urgency and short-termism.

00:31:29
Michael Waitze
Absolutely.

00:31:30
Sam Fromson
Right? And so, I hope, and I believe, that our team has maintained a sense of urgency and a real desire and drive to achieve with a counterbalance of a long-term philosophy. And that’s crooked dynamic and that — you’ve pointed this, the heart of something, which really sits quite, maybe to the dynamics of our founding team, as well.
You know, Sammy, who’s our CEO, my co-founder, is someone who has always had this deep long-term belief and vision for changing the insurance industry. And that’s come from his background and that’s his philosophy, his personality, as well. He’s a big thinker and is not somebody who’s about just, what are the tactical moved on the next two days? He’s thinking about the big picture of the next 2 to 20 years. And that kind of counterbalances with others in the team who are very on it with, okay, great, how do we translate that into a series of short-, medium-term tactical steps?
And so, I think holding that dynamic — it hasn’t been easy and there’s been times when we really, you know, fought that tension out in a meeting, or in a boardroom. Or thinking about how we hire, how we invest, which regions we invest in, which partnerships we invest in. And though those things are in a natural, healthy conflict, I think almost every day of our lives running this business, and if it were otherwise, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now.

00:32:56
Michael Waitze
Yeah, I love that word, agency.

00:32:58
Sam Fromson
Maintaining that tension is essential. Right? If you let it swing to one side or the other, you fall apart. And there’s nothing wrong with that friction and that tension. In fact, it’s an incredibly healthy dynamic.

00:33:12
Stephen Barnham
I agree with everything Sam just said. I could just add to that. So, we have this sense of urgency. How do we do that within a massive, 120 year old, life insurance company? We set up a separate team to manage through the whole YuLife project. And they’re taking out their day-to-day, and they’re focused on the success of YuLife in Japan.
And we’ve got some fantastic individuals in that team, who are working really closely with the YuLife team. In fact, it’s all just one team. And that’s the speed element of it.
The long-term element of it, I think Sam touched on it earlier. Our customers want to feel that we’re gonna be around in 10, 20, 30 years’ time. To be there for them. It’s a fundamental part of our strategy, to be a lifelong partner for our customer. So that’s the longer term element and how we balance the two out.
We feel we have some time. We set ourselves some pretty large goals, that we’re gonna be achieving over the next three and seven years, as we become a leading global insurer. So, we have some time but we need that sense of urgency. And I think we’re working out how to get that balance right.

00:34:36
Michael Waitze
Sounds great.

00:34:36
Sam Fromson
We could do urgency all day long. That’s okay?

00:34:39
Stephen Barnham
Yeah.

00:34:40
Michael Waitze
But I love this topic and this is why I bring it up a lot, right, because the difference between a sense of urgency, which means we really care about this, we definitely want to get this thing done, and hurrying, and rushing, which could lead to accidents, it’s just a really nuanced thing. And I just wanted to bring it up, because I felt like it was important to you. One last thing and then I’ll let you, guys, go. What’s the deal with the giraffe? Like, what’s the deal?

00:34:36
Sam Fromson
Giraffes go everywhere that we go. The YuLife mascot, YuLife emblem, is Yugi, the giraffe. And giraffes, actually, are fascinating animals. They have the largest heart of any land animal. And, fundamentally, it’s (inaudible – 00:35:18) insurance is about heart, it’s about love, it’s about caring for people. And so, having Yugi, the giraffe, as emblematic of what we’re building, seeing above the trees, having perspective, resonated very, very deeply with us, setting out this business, thinking, what do we want to represent in the market? What do we want to mean to our customers? And the giraffe, the largest heart of any land animal perspective, seeing above the trees, really felt (inaudible – 00:35:44) to who we are, what we wanted to build.

00:35:46
Stephen Barnham
Yeah.

00:35:47
Michael Waitze
That’s the perfect way to end. Sam Fromson, a Co-Founder and the Chief Operating Officer at YuLife, and Stephen Barnham, Global Chief Digital and Information Officer at Dai-ichi Life Holdings. You, guys, that was awesome. Thank you so much for doing that.

00:36:00
Sam Fromson
Michael, thank you so much.

00:36:00
Stephen Barnham
Thank you so much.

00:36:01
Sam Fromson
Stephen, thank you.

00:36:02
Stephen Barnham
Thank you. Thanks, Sam.

00:36:02
Sam Fromson
Okay. Cheers, guys. Have a great day.

00:36:04
Stephen Barnham
Alright. Great.

 

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