Sompo—Japan’s traditional insurance provider—is transforming into a global force for innovation, advanced technology, health and well-being.
A changing world creates both risks and opportunities. As we enter what’s being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, advanced technologies, unprecedented innovations and globalization are unleashing a period of disruption that’s altering our work, our lives and the planet.
This week, business and political leaders will gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where they will witness a world in two camps: one that is resisting these seismic changes, and one that is embracing transformation and the potential to design and build a safer, healthier, more just and more sustainable planet.
One company that is choosing to embrace that change is Sompo. Established in 1888 as Japan’s first fire-insurance company, Sompo has always understood risks and opportunities. From its earliest days, the firm began branching out into other forms of insurance, and by the mid–20th century it was expanding across the world. In recent years, Sompo Group has grown into a $34 billion conglomerate, employing more than 80,000 people in 30 countries on six continents. From its foundation of property and casualty insurance, Sompo has steadily invested in, acquired and founded life insurance, nursing care and health care, and other businesses in Japan and overseas.
Striving for new frontiers is in Sompo’s DNA. Under president and group chief executive officer Kengo Sakurada, the company has embarked on a transformation that is changing the very nature of its enterprise. “My goal is to hear people say, ‘Sompo used to be an insurance company,’” Sakurada says. To achieve that goal, he is leading Sompo into new areas, such as health care, digital research and development, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI). Sakurada says he sees the firm as providing a “theme park of services for the security, health and well-being of our customers by working to resolve social issues through our business operations.”
One of the ways Sompo is striving to realize this vision is through the establishment of the Sompo Digital Lab. Since 2016, the company has launched labs in Tokyo, Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. Collectively, the labs identify innovative start-ups and partner with them to generate new products and services for a digitally-savvy generation.
“Sompo is taking a broader innovation approach,” says Babson College professor Thomas Davenport, a leading expert on data-driven management and an adviser to Sompo Digital Lab. “The goal for each lab is to work with AI and other technologies that can help to transform Sompo’s businesses for the digital era,” he says. The labs are contributing to the development of on-demand insurance, smart homes and devices for digital health and senior care.
But the labs are not concerned with technology for its own sake. Sompo views technology as a means to solve business challenges and create rewarding customer experiences. The labs stay focused on the benefits of technology to people—whether families, freewheeling millennials or elderly individuals in need of care. From these three Digital Lab locations, Sompo is taking innovation global.
The firm has expanded and acquired insurance companies in Europe and the Americas and has reorganized to integrate and align all of its commercial insurance businesses outside of Japan into a common and highly effective platform, Sompo International, to best serve its customers.
When the reorganization is completed in 2020 to include the company’s consumer businesses, Sompo will be well on its way “to fulfill our vision to build the first truly global integrated insurance and reinsurance business,” Sakurada says.
Sompo’s integrated global platform is where expertise and new solutions are shared across countries and continents. One prime example is Sompo’s direct impact on an industry essential to our survival: the food and agriculture industry. “AgriSompo,” launched in November 2017, currently provides agricultural insurance and reinsurance across Asia, Europe and the Americas, with plans to expand further.
Farming is a risky livelihood, and Sompo’s policies protect farmers from large financial losses when droughts, floods or other disasters strike. Sompo is also developing and implementing technical solutions that help farmers manage the potential impacts of extreme weather, often linked to ongoing climate disruption.
Another industry essential to our survival is caregiving. Three years ago, when Sompo recognized the severe shortage of qualified caregivers in Japan’s nursing care industry, the company began deploying AI, robotics and other new approaches to augment the work of caregivers and deliver quality patient care. Sompo is also using its resources to mitigate dementia, which affects about 50 million people globally, a number that will double in the next 20 years.
In Japan, the company launched its “Sompo Dementia Support Program” to undertake cross-group initiatives that realize the goal of “a society that strives to prevent dementia and enables people, even if diagnosed with dementia, to continue living with dignity as individuals.” For patients and their families, Sompo provides insurance products and care services and is engaged in research, raising awareness and creating an ecosystem of support and services.
Caring for our elders involves recognizing the importance of experience, as well as celebrating and supporting the activities and people that hold us together as a global community. The Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art in Tokyo embodies this vision, featuring works by Gauguin, Cézanne and Van Gogh on display. They serve as a reminder that no matter how much we transform the world, companies must never lose sight of their social purpose and what it means to be human.