US insurance giant Aflac to create 150 jobs with new technology centre in Belfast

L-R: Keith Farley, managing director of Aflac Northern Ireland, Alastair Hamilton, chief executive, Invest NI and Virgil Miller, chief operating officer of Aflac US

US insurance giant Aflac has announced plans to open a new technology centre in Belfast, creating 150 jobs over the next five years.

The Georgia-headquartered company, which employs 11,000 globally, specialises in covering the additional costs incurred by people undergoing medical treatment. Its 50 million customers are principally based in the US and Japan.

Aflac plan to open a global IT and cyber-security innovation centre as part of a multi-million pound investment in Belfast. Invest NI, who have offered the company around £1 million toward the move, have said the 150 jobs could eventually generate £7m in wages, with an average salary of around £45,000 a year.

The company currently has just four staff based in flexible workspace at River House in Belfast's High Street, but the Irish News can reveal that Aflac is close to signing up for 11,000 sq ft of office space in the city centre.

Virgil Miller, chief operating officer of Aflac US, said yesterday that the new location could eventually help the insurance group scale up beyond 150 staff in Northern Ireland.

“We're actually looking for a location that can have not only 150 people, but more scale, just for the future.”

He revealed that Invest NI initially approached Aflac in 2016. The chief operating officer said the uncertainty surrounding Brexit prompted the insurance giant to take a step back and analyse the economic and political climate. He said Aflac considered 15 different cities in total.

“Certainly we were aware of the talks around Brexit and everything else and it cost us to do a little more due diligence,” said Mr Miller.

“We've been working on this since December 2016 just to make sure. We took a step back and said, with or without Brexit, will that cause us to change our decision, and we found the answer is no.

“The talent that's here, our strategy to go out and seek people that can help our innovation, software development, cyber-security, the uncertainty, we're not worried about it.

“We're confident in the people here in Northern Ireland and we're confident our strategy is the right one and we're committed to this area.”

That confidence prompted the company's new managing director in Northern Ireland to relocate his entire family to the north four months ago.

Keith Farley moved to Belfast with his wife and two children in June.

“Invest NI initially reached out to us in Columbus, Georgia to let us know what was going on here," he said. "We made a trip over here in 2016 and started the process then. We expanded our search to many cities globally, but we weren't sure which city would fit us best.”

He said Aflac eventually settled on Belfast after a number of visits.

“There were three things we liked about Belfast. We see it as a city that's really known for adaptability, reinvention and resilience.

“This town continues to reinvent itself and adapt for whatever the world needs, and for us to set up a technology operation, what better place to go than a place where people are always learning new things and rising to the occasion.”

Aflac has joined a list of US tech firms to announce significant recruitment plans for Belfast. Since December 2018, Contrast Security, Dynamic Signal, Signifyd and Imperva have announced plans to create around 600 software jobs in the city.

Mr Farley said Aflac was not deterred by the competition for talent.

“We feel that all ships rise with the tide and so there are plenty of companies that have seen what Belfast has to offer, and are looking for the same kind of things we are looking for.

“What we feel though that having a place where there is an ecosystem of fintech and cybersecurity, is a good place to be.”

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