Christophe Antone drives the digital transformation at MDS

With an eclectic career history in insurance and new technologies, MDS Group’s new digital director, Christophe Antone, is bringing his enthusiasm for digital projects to Portugal’s leading broker.

Christophe Antone drives the digital transformation at MDS
He firmly believes that as we approach the much‑heralded era of digital disruption, the adage ‘High‑Tech, High‑Touch’ will gain even more value. In his opinion, the fact that ‘machines’ can potentially replace or modify certain parts of our supply chain reinforces the necessity of business expertise, collaboration and innovation. He is convinced that the more we resort to using complex systems for certain functions, the greater the need for human intervention to be at the core of the process.

Passion – a driving force

Christophe enjoys discussing when he first started in insurance, over 20 years ago now, and how much he enjoys the distribution area. Having obtained a diploma in marketing from a business school, he began his career in 1993 as a general agent with AXA Assurances in France.

While working with this highly‑respected insurer he learned the ropes and perfected his sales methods. When the Internet first appeared in France he had a ‘Eureka’ moment, which he likes to compare to those truly important occasions in life when you look back years later, you know exactly where you were when they happened. "I can describe exactly where I was and the exhilaration I felt when I saw a search engine for the very first time in my life and realised how it could benefit the insurance business.”

Since then, his passion for the web continues. Despite having no specialist programming knowledge, in 1995 he developed France’s first online insurance website. "At the time, we were the only ones, which may seem unbelievable today.” His recollection of those early days is one of amusement: "The first time we received a quote request form by e‑mail, you would have thought we’d discovered America!” Eager to share his knowledge, he wrote a book aimed at colleagues and peers called "Agents, courtiers, comment vendre sur Internet?” (How to sell on the Internet for agents and brokers), which was published by Editions l’Argus de l’Assurance in 1997. A user’s guide for a profession that was discovering the media and its potential. "I was in demand for years to speak on Internet strategies at conferences attended by professionals who were discovering this new distribution channel.”
Over the years and in a bid to keep ahead of the competition, Christophe used specialist companies to manage the increasingly complex projects: "In the early days of the Internet I could do just about everything myself. Today however, designing, promoting and maintaining a professional website requires a combination of many specialist skills.” For one of his projects, Christophe worked with Capgemini, a leading French consulting and technology company, who offered him a position with its consultancy teams supporting companies in the finance sector. "It was a very intense time and I was doing a lot of computer‑related work. Fortunately, my wife, who is also a broker, took care of the operational side of our agency... I was now doing more in IT development and project management than insurance. The idea of working with one of Europe’s ‘big five’ in the insurance sector seemed an obvious next step and a challenge.” 

A new perspective 

Christophe reminisces about his years as a consultant in the early 2000s: "When I joined Capgemini, I was able to see things from a completely new perspective and discover a wide range of companies, strategies, organisations and information systems. This was a hugely valuable time for me in terms of acquiring knowledge around methodology, organisation and project management.”

At the time, Christophe specialised in customer relationship management solutions, providing support for major insurance companies in their customer transformation projects, call centres, back office and distribution networks. "I remember that when it was time to explain to the agent networks that their company had decided to install a new collaborative solution, nobody wanted to go. I was the one always sent into the fray on the pretext that I was fluent in ‘general agent lingo’ and would manage to survive!”

‘MDS Lab’ is a space for fully exploring innovative ideas. From the original idea to deployment by way of benchmarking and proof of concept, we have a tool at our disposal that will allow us to exploit the opportunities afforded by the digital age.

Christophe continues: "What is interesting about the arrival of technological change, as we have today with digital, is that by shifting the boundaries and creating opportunities and risks, this evolution forces us to question ourselves about the meaning of things. In other words, if we have new tools and new digital powers, what are we going to use them for? To what end? What are the fundamental principles that will help us use these new capabilities conscientiously?”

In 2006, still fired by his passion for writing, Christophe’s second work "Organiser le CRM dans l’assurance” (Organising CRM in insurance), was published by Editions L’Argus de l’assurance. As he explains: "For me, the process of writing is inextricably linked to action. We are terribly fond of pigeonholing people but I am both a field man and a broker who needs to get actively involved; I also need to manipulate concepts, play around with ideas and explore. When I have the time, writing is a good way of doing this”.

The business bug

After several years as a CRM consultant for Capgemini, Christophe reignited his passion for business by launching his own freelance strategic insurance consultancy. Alongside this, he and his wife founded a new French broker specialising in affinity solutions. "At the beginning of the 2010s, the social side of the web was growing in importance – many online insurers were still trying to create decent, but classic, websites, at a time when the famous web 2.0 was already churning out all sorts of new uses marketing and approaches.”

Christophe says a common thread running through his various projects is his passion for the way technology can change practices and cause models to evolve, "especially the ones we believed were written in stone”, he quips. "My interest in the new technologies has absolutely nothing to do with their make‑up but, rather with the opportunities for change they bring to our business. For me, they are nothing more than a means to serve a variety of ends: strengthening the broker’s role, creating new services, freeing‑uptime that can be put to good use by our staff, improving relationships with customers and partners etc. These are the true advantages of the technological avalanche we find ourselves within.”

Portugal, merging ideas with digital

In addition to his consultancy firm, Christophe and family moved to southern Portugal in 2014 to set up a branch of his French broker with the aim of offering insurance solutions to French‑speaking expats. At the time he met with the MDS team, who were developing a similar initiative. Christophe looks back on his first meeting with José Manuel Fonseca, Jacqueline Legrand, Ricardo Pinto dos Santos and Carlos Bianchi de Aguiar: "It was in Porto and we were immediately connected. Our business models, which at the time were competitors, turned out to be very complementary and we quickly decided to combine our efforts and, especially our ideas, to secure a position of leadership in the expat market.

Over the following months, we also discussed aspects of our strategy and the direction the Group was taking. "The fact I was both broker and fluent in ‘techno‑lingo’ gave us the idea for a digital division that would allow us to coordinate the many already ongoing projects and formalise our thinking.” Having ideas and plans is very dear to Christophe’s heart and he explains why: "In the context of current technological growth, having a future strategy is essential for informed decision‑making. We are not ‘digital’ because it’s fashionable but, rather, because we think that certain strategic directions produce, or will produce, shared benefits for our staff, customers and partners.” With the recent creation of ‘MDS Lab’, the digital director hopes to involve the entire Group in the innovation process: "The ‘MDS Lab’ is a space for fully exploring innovative ideas. From the original idea to deployment by way of benchmarking and proof of concept, we have a tool at our disposal that will allow us to exploit the opportunities afforded by the digital age.”

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