Aviva’s first lady speaks about her digital vision for the Norwich-based insurer

Aviva UK chief operating officer Linsdey Rix. Photo : Steve Adams

Aviva UK chief operating officer Linsdey Rix. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

With a view across the city rooftops and the old marble hall of Norwich Union below, the new chief operating officer for Aviva seems comfortably positioned between past and future.

After more than 15 years in London's banking world, Norfolk-born Lindsey Rix's return coincides with an era of change for the insurance giant and its customers.

The 34-year-old wants to drive digital advances for the firm's general (motor and home) insurance policy, which is a world away from her former role as managing director of wealth management at Santander but one with very similar challenges, she said.

'I'm leading our transformation programme, which is especially about improvements to our business from a technology and digital perspective.

'I think a combination of the challenges which the market has been in, the ever-changing technological environment and the consumer power that brings, means we need to think very differently about how we take our business forward.'

Ms Rix said understanding customers is a fast-paced game, as expectations about what kind of service companies offer, and who sets the agenda, are rapidly changing.

'For large organisations historically, some of the relationship power with customers has been the other way round,' she said. 'Whereas now there is very much a drive that asks customers: 'How do you want to do business with us?''

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Central to this power shift has been an ever-increasing range of digital options which have allowed customers to pick and choose their method of interaction with corporations, said Ms Rix.

'We've really seen it in the insurance industry with the digital agenda,' she explained. 'Our customers want to interact with us via technology, via phones, via text – everything.'

As head of the transformation team, it is Ms Rix's job to keep Aviva ahead of not only changes in technology but competition in the sector, working with a team of 10 to filter change down through departments in the UK and Ireland.

In the wider financial services sector, keeping abreast of technological opportunity is no mean feat – just last week Barclays announced that customers could make payments to one another using Twitter by using a special app.

Elsewhere, RBS has been fined £56m for an 'unacceptable computer failure' leaving customers unable to access their accounts, a blip which has seen the bank invest hundreds of millions of pounds improving their systems.

Meanwhile, the network of increasingly smart communications devices, dubbed 'the internet of things', has been said to allow customers to access information and services without direct human involvement.

'Fast payment technologies are one of our key focuses,' said Ms Rix. 'My team is here to make sure we govern transformation correctly, spend our money wisely, and make it the customer's choice for what they want.'

Aviva calls this its 'digital first' approach, an umbrella strategy which has seen it build 2,000 followers on its Twitter support service, and to develop several apps including one which can monitor car driver behaviour and 'reward' safer styles of motoring.

Ms Rix's role is not her first foray into new territory, having led on wealth management in Santander at a time when the financial services sector was being rocked by the 2008 crash.

'I set up Santander's corporate business for London and the south east at a difficult time,' she said. 'A lot of banks in 2009 were navel-gazing, so thinking about growing something almost from scratch at the time was a great opportunity.'

The other key area the Eaton-born businesswoman would like to explore is Norfolk's own economy, an intention she announced recently by joining the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board.

Does this show a commitment to helping bed Aviva back down into the community where it was founded? Most definitely, said Ms Rix.

'This office in Norwich is our largest in the UK, in the world in fact, and we've made a commitment here to the local economy,' she said. 'I've been impressed as well by how much staff here want to give back too, and it's important we do that.'

The return to Norfolk was prompted by a desire for a more family-friendly lifestyle for her husband and two young children, Ms Rix said, and it completes her journey to London and back in her father's footsteps.

A Barclays banker himself, Ms Rix joined him after a music degree at Kings College London to begin her career through the bank's graduate scheme.

What do you think about the changing face of insurance? Contact business writer Jess Staufenberg on 01603-772531, email jessica.staufenberg@archant.co.uk or tweet @StaufenbergJ.