Roman Bryl discusses his experiences of working in the insurance industry


The early days

I’ve been in insurance for almost 20 years now. Like most people, I fell into this industry. I left university with a degree in Experimental Psychology and a load of student debt. So I needed a job. Any job. I went to the local temp agency and filled out an application form. Under ‘interests’ I listed travel.  So the agency hooked me up with a job in a travel insurance claims department! Not quite what I had in mind…

One unhappy caller after the next. It was a character-building experience to say the least! From there, I moved around and did various roles within underwriting, pricing and account management for a couple of different companies, but always in a B2B environment. I was an insurance suit in the city for 10 years, and very removed from the end customer. I used to think that adding exclusions to a policy was a good thing because it saved us money.

And then everything changed

Approximately 10 years ago, I joined a relatively young organisation which positioned itself as an ‘e-commerce’ company whose product happened to be insurance rather than an insurance company that sold insurance online. The culture of the organisation was entirely different to what I was used to.

For a start, nobody wore a suit. Going to work in jeans and trainers felt quite liberating, and definitely more comfortable than a suit and tie. I was surrounded by IT folk, creative content writers, online marketers, UX and visual designers. There were daily stand-ups and stories, and post-it notes all over the place – it was a whole new world to me.

Customers first

The biggest difference was the focus on customers. I was brought in to develop the company’s new travel insurance product and website. I was helped by the insight team to start the process. We needed to understand different customers’ problems, needs and requirements as well as looking at what competitors were doing. It occurred to me that, back then, most product development in the travel insurance industry was driven by underwriters (I used to be one of them) without really considering the customer.

So, we designed a few versions of simplified products and, wait for it, asked customers what they thought of them before we launched them! Amazing!

Usability sessions

There was an internal debate over whether or not a ‘build-your-own’ modular component type proposition would work better than a tiered package offering (bronze, silver, gold). We built wireframes of both and took them into usability sessions to see which one worked best.

Usability testing was new to me and it literally blew my mind! The first usability session that I went to was my insurance ‘eureka’ moment. Sitting behind a two-way mirror watching people try to interact with a product/design that I thought was perfect changed the way I thought about product development forever.

Having previously been a ‘suit’ for 10 years, I kind of assumed everyone thought like me and at least knew what an ‘excess’ was. They don’t!  The biggest lesson I learned at the time, and which has stayed with me ever since, is that when it comes to insurance, you need to keep everything as simple as possible. It’s as simple as that!

Agile working

We landed on a product design and customer journey after a number of rounds of user testing, feedback and design iterations. Then we went into development to deliver a front and back office quote and buy, mid-term amendment (MTA), and renewal functionality for a new product in under 5 months. This was only possible because the company employed agile methodologies. We used a version called DSDM Attern which is suitable for large-scale delivery.

I managed a dedicated team of 3-4 developers, 2-3 testers, a UX designer, a visual designer, a business analyst, a project manager and representatives from the key business areas involved including finance, marketing and claims.

User stories

User stories were prioritised using MoSCoW (60% must / 20% should / 20% could) and task sizes were estimated using planning poker. New requirements were brought in as we went along – agile allows you to do that.

Some could and should have stories were de-scoped in order to achieve delivery deadlines. Undelivered user stories were moved into future sprints (or timeboxes), and re-prioritised depending on customer/business benefit and changes in circumstances.

User-centred design

All in all, my first user-centred design project delivered using agile methodologies was a great success and it changed my approach to work forever! Working software over documentation and continuous iterative development, taking customer feedback into every stage of the product lifecycle is the way forward.

After getting a flavour for agile ways of working, I joined RSA Digital wanting to do more. Here we use variants of Scrum and Kanban, depending on the project. I’m surrounded by talented visual and UX designers, digital content writers, analysts, developers and testers and our mission is to ‘make insurance human’. And we’re pleased to see that the thirst for agile is starting to spread to other parts of the business too, so we’re getting there, one sprint at a time.

Roman Bryl is Senior Product Manager at RSA Digital.