Member Profile: Aflac NI

Name: Keith Farley

Role: Managing Director, Aflac Northern Ireland

Q: What is your business?

Aflac Northern Ireland is a dynamic and exciting digital start-up, focusing on the development of innovative software and intelligent cyber security solutions for our US-based parent company, Aflac. A Fortune 500 company, Aflac provides supplementary health insurance for over 50 million people worldwide and is a leader in its field with almost 12,000 global employees.

In our fast-growing cyber security and technology innovation centre in Belfast, we provide exciting career opportunities to create the digital solutions that ensure our customers around the world are supported when they need it most.

We chose Belfast not only because of its culture, energy and resilience, but because of its people. Their passion, ideas and commitment to succeed in a region which enjoys a strong ecosystem of companies and universities was compelling—and we are proud to be building a world-class local team to support our global ambitions right here in Northern Ireland.

Q: How did you get into this business?

As the lives of our customers have changed, with the movement of many more day-to-day services and products online, it was important for Aflac to find a technology expansion location with strong talent and a culture of innovation so we could develop the digital solutions to meet their needs and aspirations.

So, in 2016, Aflac embarked on its journey of finding a location for a new global cyber security and technology innovation centre capable of meeting the needs of our 50 million customers worldwide. After considering 15 other potential locations, we decided to settle here in Belfast.

But it isn’t just Belfast’s reputation as an emerging hub for tech, with a strong local pipeline of talent, that attracted Aflac to this wee corner of the world. After all, lots of places carry these credentials in Europe and beyond. There’s something special about Belfast.

Once the world’s leader in linen production, ropemaking, and shipbuilding to a new reputation for world-class filmmaking and cyber security; Belfast has a proven ability to adapt to the needs of the world. That adaptability and re-invention really struck a chord with us in terms of the type of organisation we wanted to build and the place we wanted to build it.

Q: How many and what type of people do you employ?

We recruited our first employee back in July 2019 and we’ve been steadily building a solid local team ever since. We want a full team of 150 specialising in cyber security and information technology by next year, and we’re well on target. In fact, we’re already approaching our 100th employee milestone which is remarkable given that we’ve achieved most of that throughout the pandemic.

Perhaps our success in this area is because we do things differently. We are passionate about creating a workplace that attracts great minds, in a supportive and friendly environment, and a culture that encourages people to be themselves.

We are building a culture that empowers people to be at their creative best, to problem solve and to reach their own potential. We invest heavily in training and development and foster an environment which encourages innovation and rewards and recognises individual and collective success.

Of course, we do serious work, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. People’s working lives can and should be enjoyable every day.

Whether a team member has two years of industry experience or twenty, what matters to us is that the people we recruit share our passion for what we do. Our team is full of people who have worked in tech and cyber security their whole lives and who want a fresh challenge and a different working environment. However, we also have people who are in their early-stage tech careers and are keen to learn and advance their skills in a local, but globally-focused organisation.

Q: How has business been for you over the past few years?

Building an entirely new start-up company, with all that entails – from fitting out a new office to recruiting, managing and supporting, all during a global pandemic – is not without its challenges. However, we’re problem-solvers and we’re committed to what we do. Our priority has been to make sure our developing team felt safe, supported and at all times engaged so that together we thrived.

As the economy begins to open up, and restrictions are gradually eased, we’re hugely excited to be welcoming the newest members of team to our new, spacious and state-of-the-art offices at Belfast’s City Quays and avail of the amazing collaborative and creative benefits that will bring.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we’ve enjoyed a successful year, exceeded our recruitment targets and our team has delivered exceptional work throughout which is already adding significant value to the wider Aflac family and our millions of customers in the United
States and Japan.

Q: What needs to change in Belfast/NI to allow you (and others) to do better business?

Belfast is clearly emerging as a thriving hub for foreign direct investment in the tech and creative industries. However, it’s important we remember that it’s the whole package that attracts talented people to want to live and work here. Yes, skills and talent, connectivity and professional office space and services are vitally important, but so are things like the retail, leisure and hospitality offering, green spaces, the availability of high quality, affordable accommodation and the cost of living.

In a competitive recruitment market, talented people are making decisions based on their quality of life. And wherever talented people go, aspiring businesses will follow.

In that sense, everything is interconnected, and Belfast must continue to focus on ensuring it’s always got the package right.

So as this region begins to recover from the pandemic, it’s important that we recognise the interdependency among all these factors when we think about how to continue to attract talented people and companies to base themselves here.

Q: Have you any exciting plans for your business over the next 12 months?

We’re still busily building our team, so recruiting and onboarding talented, passionate people will be a major priority for us over the coming year. However, now that we’re approaching two years at home here in Belfast, we’re also starting to look at how we can contribute and give back to our industry and to the wider community here.

Belfast has quickly become an important part of Aflac’s global story and we hope to play a part in Belfast’s story in return. We’re immensely proud of our achievements so far – and we’re only getting started.