Eric Marcoux, Vice President of IT Business Solutions at La Capitale, speaks with us about La Capitale’s innovation and growth strategies.
Avenue Code: Tell us about your educational and career journeys. How did you get to where you are today?
Eric Marcoux: I’ve been working in IT since 1997. I started at two consulting companies, LGS and Fujitsu Canada. In these roles, I was exposed to various clients, systems, technologies, products, and markets. I also had the opportunity to work in the US, which gave me great insight into how business works in different geographies. As an account manager, I helped Fujitsu’s Montréal office develop a new IT consulting practice area. Plus, during my career, I had the opportunity to travel and present often on different subjects. Now presentations are not only not hard for me, but they’re very fun!
After this, I worked at Université Laval for almost five years. Working as a manager in education is very different from consulting! The IT environment at universities is very impressive and I was able to participate and gain experience in several research and development projects.
I subsequently joined La Capitale in 2012 as Senior Director of Architecture. When La Capitale merged its Architecture and Business Solutions areas, I was named Vice President of IT Business Solutions covering IT architecture, all the development and innovation.
Each business experience has taught me a lot. As a consultant, I learned about architecture and development. At the University, I learned a lot about management and R&D. At La Capitale, I’ve brought all of these skills together. I particularly enjoy presenting La Capitale’s solutions, not as a company trying to sell products, but as a showcase of innovation and talent. I love sharing knowledge and always hope that my presentations will help someone in the room who is trying to accomplish similar goals.
AC: La Capitale is experiencing striking growth. It’s become one of the top ten companies in Quebec in terms of revenue and assets. What is it that you are doing differently that allows you to so effectively compete with veteran insurance and financial companies?
EM: All of the presidents at La Capitale, even before I joined the team, have had one goal in common - to be an innovative company. 25 years ago, we were one of the first companies worldwide to offer IP phones to all of our agents, so we’ve always been known as forward-thinking. That mindset is shared by all of our leaders - we’re always trying to improve ourselves in terms of marketing, sales, services, customer experience, etc.
Customer experience is extremely important in our industry because it’s the biggest differentiator between competitors. The processes behind life insurance, group insurance, auto insurance, home insurance, etc. is very similar company to company, so the way to set yourself apart is through the customer experience you provide. At La Capitale, we’re always thinking about how to quickly give our customers detailed information when they need it, whether they contact us by phone, in person, or online.
AC: Who are your biggest competitors?
EM: We compete with newer companies that are operating 100% on the web. This wasn’t our model in the past, but now we have a presence both in person and online to attract more customers. We also compete with mature companies that have investments we don’t. And of course, we need to be extremely creative to compete with fintechs and companies like Amazon, which now offers insurance products.
Evolving and competing is a challenge every day, but it’s also who we are as a company. Our goal is to be successful, and we’re convinced that we can achieve this goal at the end of the day even against fierce competitors. We always find ways to attain our goals, and we’re confident that the new colleagues we’re joining with will further this mindset and mission.
AC: What are the unique challenges and opportunities for you as VP of IT Business Solutions?
EM: The insurance industry is highly competitive, so we at La Capitale always have the mindset that we need to constantly reinvent ourselves. Primarily, this comes through technological innovation. Without IT, a business simply cannot achieve much today, so IT is integral to business strategy. Companies should evolve as IT evolves. Personally, I’m very passionate about this!
AC: What do you do to stay abreast of innovations in tools and technologies?
EM: I have many strategies: I read the news, as well as books by industry leaders like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, etc. I try to stay up-to-date on management trends as well as technology trends. I ask my employees and managers to always keep an eye on what’s going on in the marketplace and share their findings with me so that I can utilize their individual areas of deep expertise. La Capitale also works with investment fund organizations like WhiteStar, Portag3 and Luge, and I schedule regular meetings with these contacts to keep myself informed on emerging technologies.
Beyond this, I present at several industry events, primarily in Montréal and Quebec city. Volunteering my time as a speaker gives me opportunities to listen to presentations and network with creative companies.
It may be surprising, but I also love YouTube! My teenagers were watching videos, so I decided to watch videos focused on IT trends. There are so many real-life learning scenarios centered on big players like Facebook, Spotify, Tesla, etc.
AC: In the insurance industry, I’m sure you deal with a lot of data. How do you harness the power of data?
EM: The data we get is mostly from the policies we manage. When we need to generate a quote for a car or life policy, we ask some questions, and the information we receive becomes our data. Sometimes we use specific data to create a model for a better plan, but we’re very concerned about our clients’ privacy. The data we’re handling involves people, so we choose to be very careful about the information we keep and utilize.
When we do fraud detection in group insurance, for example, we carry out image recognition behind the scenes. This is a new way to acquire data, but according to our policies, we do not correlate the acquired data with a specific person, and we do not keep certain information about our clients.
AC: We are in the era of machine learning and AI. How mature are AI tools in the context of insurance and the financial industry, and what is the impact?
EM: There are a lot of possibilities we can achieve with AI, from machine learning to deep learning algorithms and image, voice, and text recognition. In all of these areas, AI as a tool is very mature. Combining these technologies also creates several opportunities for process automation. In the insurance industry, we’re using AI for image recognition and NLP.
At La Capitale, we prepare information and use AI to automate simple tasks so that our employees can focus on more complex tasks. We use it to ease quoting processes for our customers over the web and on the phone with our agents, and we also deliver fast web service for them to provide autonomy in some service areas.
All the individual tools and components are quite mature, but the real challenge is finding expertise to implement solutions advantageously. We have partners who help with this. Of course, I’m not talking about some super-robot agent with human service capabilities - we’re not there. But we are at the stage where the technology itself is mature and ready to be utilized if we can implement it creatively.
AC: What was your biggest “Aha!” moment in the last 6 months as it relates to strategy/management?
EM: Technology is always changing, and I used to go too micro with details, trying to understand everything. For a while, I didn’t even realize I was doing this. Now, however, I focus on the big picture and trust my managers and employees to find ways to attain goals. I’m more of a servant leader. As the VP, I tell my team of managers, “Here’s the goal: how can I help you achieve it?” instead of saying “Do it this way.” I use this strategy with my employees too. This is more motivating for my managers and for all of our employees.
AC: Thanks for your insight into management strategies in the insurance and financial sectors, Eric! We look forward to keeping up with La Capitale as it continues to innovate and automate.
Anna Vander Wall
Anna Vander Wall is a freelance senior editor and writer in the tech industry and beyond. She particularly enjoys collaborating with Avenue Code’s talented Snippets contributors and whitepaper authors.