“If you want to be relevant, you have to change”

In the thick of an ever-evolving technological revolution, Aflac’s Virgil Miller says the only thing a company can do to be constant is change

It was a quote from former General Electric executive Jack Welch that helped influence Virgil Miller on the way that Aflac provided insurance coverage to its customers.

Virgil Miller, Aflac

“He said, ‘If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near,’” says Miller, EVP and COO of Aflac US and president of Aflac Group. “If you want to be relevant, you have to change. When you consider the speed at which technology is moving, it’s not a matter of if, but it’s a matter of when and whether you are acting fast enough. We have to act, and we’re going to be deliberate about it.”

Internal change is more than just the topic du jour at Aflac, the national insurance giant that sells voluntary insurance. It’s at the heart of an effort that multiple business owners worked with the executive team to bring its connection with customers and clientele right to their fingertips and away from the onerous paperwork of yesterday.

“Now, you can go online, submit the product and benefit you’re looking for, and we’ll turn around and create a benefits package for you with the rates, all the necessary information, and the ability to interface with us immediately,” Miller explains.

That overhaul to the way the company works includes an enterprise proposal system, as well as an online invoice tool and the buy-in of the more than 3,400 employees that Miller oversees. The fact that this process has taken years to accomplish isn’t necessarily surprising, but Miller says the customer’s appetite for more information that’s quick and easily accessible has to keep the project ongoing to keep up with technology.

“We worked with several industry experts, went through journey mapping, looked at each of our constituents, interfaced with our employers, and interfaced with those that sell Aflac,” he says. “Adoption has been great, and those who have used the new system love it. But they also want new features. So, you may want to move on to another part of the journey map or touch points, but you still have to have the resources that continue to advance the capability of what you originally rolled out.”

That journey mapping helped Miller and those at Aflac create a reliable road map not only of where they need to take their technology but also what their customers will expect as one day changes to the next. Being able to maintain pace with a quickly changing environment is an accomplishment in itself. But Aflac also has to ensure that the countless points of data that go into the company’s system—both from its customers and its own systems—remain safe.

Beyond working with security experts to ensure the company’s data and the customer’s data is protected, Miller points out that the system upgrade prompted Aflac to be more considerate about the data it gathered from its customers.

“We try to let the business owners help drive requirements,” he explains. “You don’t just collect data for the sake of having it. We meet with all the business units and constituents to learn the business cases they need with the data, or how they plan to leverage it. What does it mean to the company? What does it mean to the customer? We learn what is really needed as opposed to being intrusive to the customer.”

Aside from assuaging the concerns of customers as data moves from paper to the cloud, Miller says the technological upgrades also mean providing reassurance to Aflac’s own employees. In a tale that’s now almost cliché considering Aflac’s use of the term “robotics” in its digital upgrades, employees at the company were understandably concerned about losing their jobs to AI.

“Employees will ask, ‘Am I still going to be relevant?’” Miller says. “So, we began to share that vision of what the future will look like, what new jobs will look like, and what new skill sets will be relevant. We partner with colleges and local providers to develop that new course curriculum and invest money to have our employees sign up for the courses.”

Now, instead of Aflac advertising how the company is turning increasingly digital, the message it puts out to employees states: “In the future, we’re going to need someone skilled to develop and build these systems, or provide audits around the work to ensure the robotic work is done correctly.”

“We advertise increasing skills to help employees get their new skills ready,” Miller says. “People get excited around that.”

And that communication is key to being at the head of a major national company. Miller recalls starting his journey at Aflac in the customer service division before working his way up to his current role. While he now oversees three different customer budgets, multiple teams, and massive infrastructure upgrades, Miller says it’s important to remain accessible to all his teams and individual employees.

“My favorite part of the job is ensuring that the people that work in my organization collaborate not only in terms of building teamwork, but also building that future state,” he says. “I love seeing people grow in their careers. I wouldn’t be doing anything else. This is what I was put here to do.”

Given the stakes of Aflac’s undertaking—that is, remain relevant or fade away—Miller needs a large team collaborating to accomplish that feat and keep Aflac in the good stead of the millions of customers it helps cover.

“Every single one of our jobs will change at some point,” Miller says. “One of the first things someone asked me when I took on a leadership role was whether Aflac would consider moving into an agile world. At the time, not a lot of people knew what that meant. Nowadays, that’s not even a question. We live in an agile world. Now, it’s a matter of keeping up.”

Photo: Oz Roberts

EXL congratulates Virgil Miller of Aflac and thanks him for the continued partnership and role in jointly winning the AECUS Insurance RPA award. Virgil is a true leader and champion of transformation strategies. He has created a culture of innovation and accountability to meet Aflac’s goals for excellent, low-cost customer service.