Until employees of major life insurance companies work together with other industries to create new businesses that solve social issues

The trends of the times and the market environment are changing, and major corporations are also taking on the challenge of creating new values. Even if they try to start a new business, however, they may still be limited to updating their existing businesses, and many enterprises face a dilemma that does not create breakthroughs in the short run.
I spoke to Sumitomo Life in 2018 when I launched the Digital Innovation Laboratory, which collaborates with companies in other industries to create new businesses that are not tied to the framework. Based in Singapore, the company is conducting a trial for the creation of a new TomoWork for the employment of people with disabilities.
I spoke with Mr. Makijin Hunda, the proponent of the project, how we have succeeded in making new efforts that do not depend on existing concepts.


Think not as an “insurance company employee” but as an “Ichi consumer”
Targeting “Collective Impact” by Involving Different Stakeholders
Middle-class challenges change the company’s culture
Key points

Makito Momota
He joined Sumitomo Life in 1999 As the Deputy General Manager, Information Systems Dept. and New Business Planning Dept. He was responsible for divisions such as services, retail, and product development; and involved in many cross-divisional projects. He was engaged in new business development and open innovation efforts from April 2018, and launched “TomoWork,” an initiative to create a new model for employment of people with disabilities using digital, in Singapore in September 2019. He has co-authored the book “Next Generation Project to Learn from the Facilitation-type Business Reform Story”, which summarizes the knowledge of the business reform project.

Think not as an “insurance company employee” but as an “Ichi consumer”

Mr. Momota has worked in his career in the Customer Support and Marketing Divisions, and participated as a member in the Digital Innovation Laboratory (hereinafter referred to as the “Laboratory”) that was launched internally in 2018.
Why did Sumitomo Life set up a lab in the first place? Mr. Penta told me about the time it was founded.

Momota: “In the world, DX waves are coming. If we do not expand into new areas or seek ways to provide value, we will no longer be supported by the world … I think the management team was aware of this issue. When I first talked to a supervisor when I launched a laboratory and I told them that I would like to improve the customer experience in the insurance area, I was told that ‘What I expect from the laboratory is a lot bigger.’ He was told that he wanted to create a new business with digital capabilities rather than simply updating existing operations and life insurance. He wanted to think from scratch about what social issues life insurance companies could solve.
What was needed was not the employee of a life insurance company, but the viewpoint of Ichibana consumers. When challenges are addressed only within the framework of the insurance business, the idea of how to enhance the contents of insurance products and how to speed up payments tends to be viewed alone. It is very important in itself, but getting out of that frame is difficult. Sustainable innovation (improvement of existing businesses) is sometimes weeded out by disruptive innovation; therefore, it requires ideas that go beyond existing concepts. Now, consumers’ expectations for life insurance are changing rapidly. For example, life insurance has been deepening in the fields of traditional mortality insurance, medical insurance, and disability insurance. In the last 100 years, however, there has been a growing interest in extending healthy life expectancy.
The laboratory was launched based on the idea that we should go outside the company and think as it would be difficult to understand the feelings of the world’s air and challenges if we think only in an organization in which human resources are fixed.
When we look at society, there are a variety of challenges, such as dementia, nursing care, the employment of people with disabilities, and the reduction of the burden on the medical industry. “First of all, I wanted to turn my attention to these issues.”

“Go out of the company.” There was another intention in the term, besides grasping the needs of society.

Momota: “It is not realistic to solve social issues by only one company in the present era.” Rather, it is important to consider what kind of involvement we can make in the ecosystem that surrounds social issues.
That is why collaboration with other industries was the primary focus of the lab. Exactly in 2018, we entered into a partnership contract with Discovery and Softbank in South Africa, and launched a health-promotion-type insurance initiative called the “Sumitomo Life Vitality.” This opportunity has enabled us to create social value in collaboration with a variety of companies.”

Mr. Momota, who has been in his career as an “employee of a life insurance company,” says he has learned much from his collaboration with other companies.

Momota: “If you are working on a new business with a different industry, you will not have a good idea of it from the past. In addition, many startups and overseas companies have completely different business cultures, including speed and thinking. For this reason, you need to simplify the budget approval process, streamline the report line, and change the work process. Instead of outsourcing a part of the business, you are working together as a community that creates a single business. It is a sense that you are changing your mindset. It is noteworthy that you are going to do so. It is Fail fast, Learn faster. I think it is a major change that we have started to work with a sense of speed without fear of failure.”

Targeting “Collective Impact” by Involving Different Stakeholders

This is done from the perspective of “employees of life insurance companies” to “people of everyday life.” Considering a business that has not been an extension of the insurance business to date, the newly born initiative was for the employment of people with disabilities in Singapore. Hunda explains why people with disabilities have come to focus on this area and the relationship between employment and digitization.

Momota: “For the employment of people with disabilities, digitization has two aspects.” One is the risk that today’s work will be changed digitally. Private-sector companies are required to employ at least 2.3% of all employees with disabilities, as defined by law. However, much of the work within that framework is a routine task. For example, sorting and scanning applications, and mailing. However, I think that many of these operations are likely to be replaced by digital in the future.
It may be made possible by digital. For example, if remote work progresses, wheelchairs will no longer need to ride a full train and commute. In addition, digitization is increasing the number of jobs that can fully demonstrate the potential of people with disabilities. For example, there are many people with hearing impairments who are strong in textbook communications such as Slack. Developmental disabilities are better suited for programming because of their greater concentration and quality of repetitive work. Some of the people with development disabilities are active in the world. This way, beyond the mere achievement of the statutory employment rate, persons with disabilities are able to earn a satisfactory salary with high value-added skills, thereby contributing to the growth of the company. We wanted to create businesses and services that could contribute to this.”

This project, named “TomoWork,” was launched in Singapore in 2018. A total of 30 persons with disabilities participated in the two trials in the same fiscal year, and a total of human resources recruited by well-known foreign companies were also produced. The move is now accelerating.

Momota: “We were aware of the idea of collective impact, which expands the scope of influence not only by Sumitomo Life but also by involving various companies, governments, and educational institutions.” For example, educational institutions provide special-needs education for people with disabilities to advance into society, but they find it difficult to find a job. Companies also want to recruit people with disabilities, but have not been able to recruit and train them as they think. The government also gives subsidies, but does not reach a fundamental solution. As a result, companies discontinue recruitment when the government’s grant deadline is over, and the funds also provide the scholarship necessary for education, but the support is stopped after graduation. These are examples of research in Southeast Asia, but in every country there are such structural problems with respect to the employment of people with disabilities.
In this context, what we will do is sweat in the middle of those parties. By enhancing the skills of people with disabilities, we are closing the gap and making the ecosystem work. “They agreed with such efforts, and now in Singapore, more than 20 companies, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, are supporting TomoWork.”

A TomoWork that achieved results in a short period of time since its launch in 2018. Behind the rapid growth was the incorporation of different Singapore cultures, the company said.

Momota: “Singapore is an innovation state.” We are ranked first for the second consecutive year in our global competitiveness ranking. I felt that both the speed of decision-making and the enthusiasm for innovation and digital literacy are completely different from those of Japan. Many young people who are now around 20 years old also use Python, understand digital marketing, and handle big data. Does it have high basic literacy?
In addition, when we launched an event to prevent the isolation of people with disabilities due to the COVID-19 tragedy, an active minister in charge of social welfare policy sent us a message. I felt this was due to the high awareness of issues in Singapore and the light footwork. Currently, I am participating in The Valuable 500, an international initiative to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which is the birthplace of this initiative, is scheduled to be held in Singapore in 2021. We also introduced The Valuable 500 to companies that are collaborating in Singapore. ”

The ecosystem surrounding the employment of people with disabilities is becoming more active in Singapore. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is a TomoWork at the heart of this. The business culture also varies. Why was Sumitomo Life able to reach this point by leaping into unknown areas? Ms. Momota says.

Momota: “At any cost, I created a network with the amount of activity and expanded my circle. When I got off to Singapore, my own personal network was zero. I was able to develop one by one together with an NPO who coordinated the program. I might also have talked to various people using co-working space actively, introduced people who are engaged in social activities, and participated in events. I cannot speak English fluently, but I think that acting by myself anyway leads to my current activities.”

Middle-class challenges change the company’s culture

Launch of new businesses that are not an extension of existing businesses. If there is a mindset necessary to drive this challenge, what is it? I asked Mr. Momota.

Momota: “The most important thing is that the transformation leader will not give up. In the case of TomoWork, it would have been finished if I gave up. Starting from scratch is all about things you will not know until you try; therefore, it is quite fluid to see what the results are after a few years, isn’t it? When we first launched this business in 2018, we were not able to imagine anyone, including me, that we would be able to create such an impact.
The logic of a common large company may be that it often spent time raising the probability of success on a desk anyway, and that nothing was eventually born. If we think it is meaningful to societies, we will try to do it with ‘Fail fast, Learn faster.’ If you fail, you should learn from it and tune it. I think it will change whether or not we will succeed by repeating this process.”

In addition, he says the importance of the organization is also important to make use of this stance.
“It may be common for large corporations to define requirements firmly and proceed with projects in the waterfall format, but in the case of new businesses with high uncertainty, it should be more effective to proceed first in the agile format. At that time, it will be difficult to do so without the awareness of managers, middle-class employees, and front-line staff. We may not be able to move forward without recognizing the need to replace ‘management OS’ from the existing businesses.”
Finally, he received a message from someone who wanted to start a new business in the company.

Momota: “First of all, I think it is important for the middle class to show a stance that they are not afraid of failure. Risks are inherent in new businesses. There are many cases in which we cannot eventually launch a product because we have only taken our attention to it. But, what is important is to learn from it while accepting failure as a precondition. I believe that the middle class, including myself, holds the key to whether or not we can create a culture within the organization that says, ‘Even if we fail, we can learn.’
Do not forget the prospect of the existing business that is generating the company’s capital. I think that there are cases in which failures are not allowed in reality in large-scale existing businesses. It is important for us to understand that our culture differs from that of our new businesses, and to make use of our imagination that we are protecting what we need to protect. “It would be nice if we could challenge ourselves after understanding that there are two cultures, rather than which is the correct answer.”

※A global network organization established at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (the Davos Conference) held in January 2019. Based on the idea that inclusive business creates an inclusive society, about 470 major companies around the world currently endorse it.

Key points

・Sumitomo Life established the Digital Innovation Laboratory in 2018 and aims to create new businesses with the power of digital
・To solve social issues, it is important to have a relationship within the ecosystem that surrounds social issues.
・When working with startups and foreign companies, they are aware of “Fail fast, Learn faster”
・TomoWork has a collective impact that expands its scope by involving a variety of companies, governments, and educational institutions.
・Whether or not it is possible to create a culture within the organization that says, “Even if you fail, you can learn is important.”