Allianz Digital Accelerator: from an exotic species to routine part of day-to-day business

Medienfabrik (Media Factory) Munich. The producers of Grand Theft Auto 5 have their German offices here as do Promotors Group Munich, an agency that organizes concerts for such artistic greats as Shakira, Green Day and Lord of the Dance. On the enormous nameplate out front, you’ll notice that one of the other companies housed in the Medienfabrik belongs to the Allianz Group: Allianz Digital Accelerator. This is where a lot of apps, websites and new business models are being created to bring Allianz into the digital age. Managing Director of Allianz Digital Accelerator Sebastian Sieglerschmidt talks about his freedom to act, Miles and More for safe driving, and the next big thing on the Internet.

 

Allianz.com: What compelled the managing director of a fast-moving, digital company like Rocket Internet to move to a company like Allianz?

 
Sebastian Sieglerschmidt: Basically it was just about changing companies. I’m doing the same thing here as I was doing for start-ups – bringing a company into the digital future. There is a lot of opportunity for this in the finance industry, which – from the customer’s point of view – seems to be stuck in the last century. One day, wouldn t it be nice if a computer was able to understand my financial requirements? If, based on my specifications and on my behalf, it would invest in the funds or shares that earn me the most interest at that point in time or pay my bills when they are due? Our goal is clear: we want to reinvent financial services.
 

Internet pioneers like you thrive best when they are given free reign. Does Allianz give you much breathing room?

 
They give me as much as I need! That was a crucial point for me from the get go. I wanted maximum freedom to put my ideas into action. Without it, Digital Accelerator would not make any sense.
 

What’s the hottest project you’re working on right now?

 
That would be the Milebox. It’s a kind of “Miles and More” program for safe driving. The driver has an app on his mobile phone that measures how quickly he is accelerating and how abruptly he brakes. The app then determines whether the user was driving in-town more or on the highway. Once that’s done, a smart algorithm calculates how well he drove. If the user was driving safely, he can choose a bonus reward.
 

Are you seeing any tangible results?

 
A few. For instance, visitors to seaswien.at can get quick and uncomplicated advice on insurance. All they have to do is enter three bits of information: age, marital status and zip code. Using this information, the Viennese website is able to make an offer for anything from accident insurance to pensions. It then gives a brief overview of the available policies and prices.
 

In five years, when you look back at the time you have spent at Digital Accelerator, what would you like to be the headline?

 
The headline would be “Milebox makes 100 million euros a year in additional premium income for Allianz.” But what it really boils down to is whether we are still considered to be an “exotic species” or just a normal part of day-to-day business. That’s the point I’d like to make.
 

What was the most painful project to give up on?

 
It was a portal for Smart Homes. That really hurt. We had set up a community, collected a lot of topical information and had even started to attract a fair number of visitors. Plain and simple, there wasn’t anything else like it on the Internet. But, in the end, it didn’t work out.
 

What was the business idea behind the portal? Was it supposed to be a kind of content marketing platform for liability insurance?

 
In a word, yes! But we wanted to take it a step further. We wanted to raise interest among the manufacturers of Smart Home devices so that we could offer packages that included both equipment and insurance. But our work wasn’t wasted – not by any stretch of the imagination. Allianz France is now working together with Nest [Editor's note: Nest is a subsidiary of Google that sells networked, intelligent thermostats and fire alarms.]
Sebastian Sieglerschmidt, Managing Director of Allianz Digital Accelerator: “Booms on the Internet come in waves. Once the first wave, e-commerce, slowly starts to subside, it will be time to look for the next big thing.”
Sebastian Sieglerschmidt, Managing Director of Allianz Digital Accelerator: “Booms on the Internet come in waves. Once the first wave, e-commerce, slowly starts to subside, it will be time to look for the next big thing.”

Critics might say that tacking an accelerator onto a major corporate structure would never work. How would you respond?

 
I wouldn’t. It doesn’t work. The risk of choosing the wrong partner is far too high. This is called an adverse selection. Young, successful entrepreneurs don’t need much help to get up and running. Its founders are confident about their ideas and would never be willing to sell shares for a quick buck or for some good piece of advice. On the other hand, when a start-up starts to flounder and its founders begin to realize they can’t take their ideas any further, they’re happy to give shares away. Despite it being part of our company name, we are not a conventional start-up accelerator. I think of us more as a research and development team for the Allianz Group.
 

Back to the work itself, don't you need a particularly high level of tolerance to frustration to work for a company that churns out new ideas 24/7? And without any guarantee that they will ever be implemented?

 
No. If you’re a scientist searching through the jungle for a plant that contains a cure, then your job is to look for it. Even if it means you have to collect 1000 leaves just to make one batch of medicine. You can’t just burst out into tears if you have to hunt for each and every one of the other 999 leaves.

Text/Interview: Andreas Klein
An accelerator is a program that gives start-ups a fixed framework of support such as financing, staff and infrastructure. Some accelerator programs provide this service free-of-charge. Others are given shares in the company.

Allianz Digital Accelerator GmbH is not a traditional accelerator per se, but rather a development unit within the Allianz Group. It is in charge of organizing a kind of matching process, bringing together external ideas and creators with Allianz entities on a variety of markets. Provided both sides agree, projects can be implemented. This means that there is no fixed framework of support.

As with all content published on this site, these statements are subject to our Forward Looking Statement disclaimer:

 

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Petra Krüll
Allianz SE
Phone +49.89.3800-2628
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