A glimpse into the work of an InsurTech company CTO
Today, we would like to introduce ELEMENT’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Henning Groß. Henning joined ELEMENT in January 2017, when we turned our innovative concept into a reality and then a fully licensed insurance company.
We are proud of our journey and the tremendous progress achieved with Henning’s support and expertise. In the following pages, we invite you to take a look at his work at the heart of our company.
E: How did you find your way to ELEMENT and what is your professional background?
To be honest, I didn’t look for ELEMENT – instead, ELEMENT found me. I was unexpectedly approached with the opportunity to join a brand-new insurance technology company with ambitions to become the digital insurance product factory. Not too bad, you may think, but I actually stood still for a moment and thought to myself…insurance?! Yet upon further reflection about the technology and product potential, and given my previous market expertise, it made total sense… So, I said yes.
Previously, I was responsible for Axel Springer’s premium content platform – including the paywalls of major publications. I was also part of Upday’s founding team, and as such I was involved in product discovery and the ramp-up of the organization until the app went live.
“Early on, I realized that insurance needs more than just digitalization or innovation – it also needs new, unique ideas and approaches. Therefore, we must offer bespoke, personalized, adaptable products if ELEMENT is to succeed.”
All in all, I bring the necessary mix of skills and expertise to this role. At the same time, I am happy to be part of a company with so many opportunities for further professional growth, and I therefore look forward to a new set of exciting professional challenges at ELEMENT.
E: Can you tell us a bit about your responsibilities?
Simply said, I am responsible for all things IT within the company. But, of course, my job is more complex than that and includes things such as:
- Being the technology expert on the ELEMENT management board, as well as the voice of product and development. This includes activities related to how we want to shape the product, what technology we use, and the strategy and product roadmap we should adopt.
- Acting as the “bigger picture”, the go-to person for different teams. The point is having a holistic understanding of the sales and business strategy, aligning product and technology activities, and constantly incorporating feedback into the development of our product roadmap. As CTO, I make sure that our product and development teams hit the numbers in daily operations and are prepared for tomorrow’s opportunities.
- Apart from shaping our products around our current partner’s needs, I am one of the key drivers for strategic research and development (R&D).
- Identifying innovative ideas worthy of follow-up and investment.
- Representing ELEMENT as a tech company and as a key player in the InsurTech market vis-à-vis investors, partners, the public, and the press.
- Providing clear guidance and aligning the tech department with the company’s broader vision. In turn, this task also involves acting reliably and consistently, as well as communicating clearly.
- Being a good leader, which to me means empowering, developing, and energizing people.
“In practice, this all results in an environment that helps nurture our culture of healthy, motivated people, efficient delivery, and high quality.“
- Oversight over inventory and acquisition of IT equipment, tools, and user support. I manage our IT budget and make sure to get the most “bang for the buck”.
- Implementation of IT compliance, which is crucial in the insurance sector. As CTO, I focus on issues such as data privacy, IT security, and other IT compliance issues at all levels (client and office, tools, infrastructure).
E: What do you enjoy most about working at ELEMENT?
I really enjoy the speed and agility of a start-up that, at the same time, offers me the opportunity to work towards the development of something substantial.” What we do has proven relevance for the insurance industry. This work is not least made possible thanks to solid funding from day one. As a result, ELEMENT has reached an above-average level of organizational maturity, despite its young age.
We also take hiring seriously. Regardless of your specific job and position within ELEMENT, you will always find motivated, highly professional people working collaboratively as a team towards the things we want to achieve.
ELEMENT does not follow a rigid corporate structure, either. We value flexibility and dynamism and are always ready for change and adaptation. The diversity of culture and background is key to our success. This and much more makes working at ELEMENT unique.
E: Tell us a bit about the tech team – what does it look like and how is it set up?
Currently, the team consists of 30 people, which is half the total ELEMENT staff.
A fast-growing company like ELEMENT calls for open, frank cooperation. We enable and nurture self-managed teams – quite successfully, I must say. Consequently, our colleagues are encouraged to speak up and offer their own ideas on how we can best move forward.
Going forward, and as ELEMENT matures further, the tech team will likely expand and devote specific effort to issues like operational excellence, our modular insurance product factory, data analysis, and automation. In this context, I will likely zero in on proprietary product development.
“We want to evolve into a world where we have teams which focus on developing proprietary deep core software solutions, while another team is focusing on deep data analysis, while yet another team focuses on integration existing best in class software solutions.”
E: ELEMENT currently operates four teach teams in two different cities. Do you find it challenging to manage teams in different locations? How would you describe the team dynamics and spirit at ELEMENT?
As you point out, we currently have two tech teams in Lübeck and two in Berlin. I travel every week to each location to ensure that I can directly and personally engage with my coworkers. To be honest, I don’t find managing smaller teams in different locations a lot harder than managing a larger team in one single location. In the end, it comes down to reducing dependencies between teams and increasing autonomy wherever possible. Some areas, of course, will still necessarily require cooperation; in such cases, you bring the teams together and facilitate a joint strategy to achieve the desired outcome.
“A key success factor is to treat every location, team, and individual equally. Everyone gets the same attention, guidance, and goals.”
E: What would you say is the most interesting part of your job?
It is always about the people! In this context, I find it interesting to strike the right balance in my management position. On the one hand, I have to be as close as possible to my staff and provide good-quality oversight and guidance. On the other hand, I have to facilitate a culture of self-management and individual leadership. Successful managers need to constantly refine their emotional intelligence and expand their tools and techniques. This is not only because no two teams are the same, but also because individuals need management different styles at different times.
E: One last question – do you have any advice for tech talents? Why should they join ELEMENT?
- First, we have strong ambitions to grow beyond Germany and establish ELEMENT as a technology leader. Exciting opportunities for driven tech individuals are around the corner!
- Second, you will learn a lot as part of a diverse team with a healthy, dynamic, and outcome-oriented culture.
- Third, you will experience a flexible and effective professional development environment that steers clear of academic discussions and dogma-driven behavior.
- Fourth, you will work with tools that get the job done instead of a resume-driven-technology-zoo (but you still will check a few boxes on your list, I promise).
- Not least, you get to know the part of my job I enjoy the most: being an ethical and good person while ensuring that we can find the best tools to guarantee ELEMENT’s success.
“You will join a healthy engineering culture in a challenging domain. And an organization at a healthy stage that will undergo more growth and solve more challenges creatively involving you.”
Help us rethink insurance today! Be part of a company on an upward trajectory and with a mission to implement creative, innovative solutions in a challenging sector.
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