Zurich Doubles Down on DevOps, Provides Indemnity against Disruption

New customer-centric apps helped them cut costs and tap into new markets.


  • Zurich Insurance, a 146-year-old insurance company, turns to agile development and low-code to execute on its three strategic goals: customer centricity, simplification, and innovation
  • The DevOps Team at Zurich is partially staffed with former Business Analysts – developers with a keen awareness of business requirements, but little to no traditional coding expertise
  • By embracing strong product ownership from the business to ensure first-time-right solutions, and by using low-code to develop their solutions, Zurich is realizing multiple million pounds of business value per year from its app portfolio

Global insurance provider, Zurich, recently found itself in a complicated situation: managing digital disruption while increasing market share and strengthening its position. For a company of over 6,000 UK employees serving over 4 million UK customers, this was the business equivalent of turning an aircraft carrier.

Zurich needed to move faster and with more agility to build software solutions that drove their business forward and, ultimately, helped their customers. So they developed a digital transformation strategy that focused on three areas: innovation, simplification, and customer focus. Zurich looked to its IT department and DevOps to help execute this strategy.

Barrington Clarke, DevOps Lead, stepped up to the task. Charged with assembling the organization’s first DevOps team, Clarke selected his team with people united under one common passion. “We like fixing things,” says Clarke. “We like fixing things in the business, and we like fixing the technical challenges.”

Clarke assembled his new team — including John Quayle, Data Integration Specialist; Leonardo Scricca, Business Engineer; and James Foster, Business Engineer — and immediately set out to address an urgent issue. They aimed to increase the efficiency of a Zurich application that helps provide customers protection against loss incurred by acts of terrorism.

Damage and loss from acts of terror can be catastrophic and a costly risk to insure. To mitigate risk, Zurich partners with Pool Re, a reinsurer whose sole purpose is to help insurance companies provide terrorism coverage. Pool Re is a public-private partnership scheme supported by Her Majesty’s Treasury which assumes a substantial portion of the risk that these policies carry.

The relationship between Zurich and Pool Re is an essential one because terrorism coverage is a necessity for Zurich’s customers. For Zurich, this aspect of the business is worth millions of pounds in gross written premiums, represents about two-thirds (roughly 20,000) of Zurich’s policies, and it consists of tens of thousands of transactions across millions of properties and risks. To maintain the relationship with Pool Re, Zurich needs to comply with Pool Re’s underwriting manual that tells them what premiums to charge, discounts and adjustments they can apply to premiums, and when they must send data and in which format.

The DevOps team’s inaugural task was to get a working knowledge of the legacy application that managed the terrorism underwriting process. They brought in Senior Product Underwriter, Alex Tong, to better understand the app’s users. The group then set out to modernize the legacy application in order to improve data integrity and the user experience for Zurich’s underwriters.

Evaluating peril

Nearly 700 underwriters used the legacy policy administration application to calculate premiums and capture customer data. There were urgent operational and financial needs to update this application. Underwriters were spending too much time on data entry — days’ worth of time used up to enter and re-enter data. If a policy needed to be re-written, it would take hours to delete and re-write the affected data. Workarounds by underwriters seeking to efficiently update policies threatened the data integrity of a system already fraught with accuracy issues. Complicating its maintainability, the system sat on an out-of-date 2002 SQL Server build.

Clarke’s DevOps team knew they needed to address the process issues and shore up data entry, validation, and integrity. Pool Re required data be sent every quarter and for that data to be accurate. If Zurich were unable to deliver data or delivered wrong data to Pool Re, business could be lost. “Although it’s an ancillary system in the underwriting process, it’s a really important one,” emphasizes Tong. “If things go wrong in the system, then they go very wrong.” Indemnity against terrorism loss is vital to Zurich’s business and its customers. As Tong puts it, “It’s not an option for Zurich to say, ‘We can’t provide it.’”

Resolving the application’s issues wasn’t the only hurdle the new DevOps team had to overcome. There was a cultural change that needed to occur, too. Up until this project, Zurich’s IT team had been primarily building applications using Waterfall methodology. While working well in the past, Waterfall didn’t align with Zurich’s new strategy for creating customer-focused software at speed. They needed to implement Agile methodology and collaborate across IT, across departments, and with users quickly and frequently.

For the application to properly calculate premiums and discounts and speak to other systems, it would need to connect to Zurich’s Salesforce instance, AWS, Google Maps, a local SQL server database, and other web services and APIs. This required in-depth technical knowledge and significant IT resources. With an in-house developer scarcity, this was an issue.

Barrington Clarke
Barrington Clarke

To transform the company and execute on Zurich’s strategy, the DevOps team began investigating, seeking out a low-code platform that allowed them to easily implement Agile, quickly gather feedback and requirements from domain experts, and integrate services.

They turned to Mendix. In his evaluation, Clarke was looking for a platform that provided them with continuous integration and continuous delivery, but he also sought expertise in running such a methodology, interpreting Zurich’s IT environment, and building a DevOps team. Mendix offered the technology that Zurich required, but also provided consultancy, support and face-to-face engagement that they desired, without worrying about commercials and contracts. Zurich’s desire to build customer-facing applications and products, Clarke says, required responsiveness to the market, to market changes, and to customer changes. “We were looking for a platform in order to deliver on that for our customers, and Mendix provided that solution in a box.”

Making adjustments

In the Mendix Platform, Clarke and his team found a low-code development platform that enabled them to do what they do best: fix things. They replaced the legacy system and built the Terrorism Data Capture (TDC) application. “We’ve managed to engineer out all that manual clarification, checking, data re-entry in our new Mendix application,” says Clarke.

Automating the manual underwriting processes brought significant savings in time for the team. That improvement over the user experience is what Tong believes is the greatest value of the TDC application. With Mendix’s feedback widget, Clarke and his team could easily solicit and gather feedback from Tong, establishing the workflows and UI of the TDC application. Through this collaboration, they created a new system that eliminates the need for workarounds, manages information centrally, and generates accurate reports. Modifications to processes and the elimination of workarounds, Tong says, will save not just hours’ but days’ worth of time for underwriters, giving them more time for quoting and building business.

Time to value accelerated. The team built the app in 12 weeks with the Mendix Platform’s model-driven development and rapid prototyping capabilities. Had this app been re-platformed under the Waterfall methodology, Zurich wouldn’t have seen a direct impact for a year or more.

The TDC application stands as an operational and technological coup for the company and has created operational efficiencies. Per app, per year, Clarke estimates, Zurich will save a minimum of between £50,000 to £100,000 in operational costs. “We’ve been able to deliver applications in a disciplined way, controlling cost, controlling time scales,” says Clarke. He estimates that Zurich will make a significant, multi-million-Pound increase in business through digitization and new platforms.

Beyond the numbers

Clarke’s team immediately recognized the intangible values Mendix brought to Zurich and the benefits that low-code development and Agile methodology brought on both professional and personal levels. For James Foster, a benefit was the confidence that Mendix instilled in him and his co-workers. John Quayle cited the impressive speed that Mendix offered with capabilities like built-in sprint management and the integrated feedback widget. Leonardo Scricca valued the opportunities created by using Mendix’s built-in connectors and integrations. Without having to focus on the hard coding and programming fundamentals, there were opportunities for the team to learn new skills and solve more business problems.

Building out the product offering

The time saved on building the TDC application with Mendix has opened opportunities to create new apps, improve on other Zurich systems, and solve business problems faster. Using Mendix’s Agile-supporting tools, Zurich’s DevOps team created customer-facing systems where they could gather feedback from domain experts and make changes much faster than before. Scricca knows this first-hand: “The main value we’ve added is the efficiency and the speed we have to deliver change.”

The pocket of culture change that his team created stands out to Clarke. Mendix Platform has enabled Zurich to be a company of innovation in the insurance space. “From idea to workable product that you can demonstrate to a customer in a fortnight, is unheard of. And we can do that,” states Clarke. The DevOps team was empowered to break down walls between business units and collaborate closely with business representatives, analysts, and developers to work toward a common goal. For Darren West, Head of IT for Zurich UK, the value of Mendix was evident from the onset. “The real benefit was going to be coming from close collaboration between IT, the business, and our partners.”

Darren West
Darren West

With Mendix, Zurich can stay true to their strategy of innovation, simplification, and consistently putting the customer at the heart of what they do. Building with Mendix “drove business process,” Clarke says. “It also gave us lots of opportunities to learn how to do it much better next time. We’ve delivered an application in a very short space of time, at very low cost to the business that we will support and maintain with the underwriting community moving forward. It’s a real success for this DevOps team, but it’s a real success for this wider directive as well.”

Insuring the future

Changing the way Zurich develops apps, enhancing and building upon their app portfolio is just the beginning. Due to some data connectivity requirements, TDC is still deployed on premises. But Mendix offers a variety of deployment options. In the future, the team at Zurich intends to simplify their landscape, taking the apps that have remained on premises and redeploying them to the Mendix Cloud.

West recognizes the important work Clarke’s team of trailblazers did with the aid of Mendix’s tools. He couldn’t be prouder. “It has been a joint collaboration. The team have been willing to take risks. They’ve tried new things, they’ve gone into territories that we weren’t used to going into.”