News and Views: Data and the Small Carrier, Customer Experience in the C-Suite, and Cyber-Risk Scoring

Novarica’s team comments on recent insurance and technology news

GuideOne’s CEO says their exit from personal lines was driven in part by an inability to keep up with the data demands.

Jeff Goldberg

Novarica Comment by Jeff Goldberg, VP of Research and Consulting: “GuideOne’s CEO attributed their decision to exit personal auto, in part, to trouble keeping up with big data needs. Any insurer with a small book of business understands the difficulty in trying to use that limited data set to extract the same kind of insight compared to large competitors. Some utilize third-party data providers who aggregate larger sets of contributory databases across many insurers, allowing participants to position against those Tier 1’s. But access to the broader data doesn’t translate into the right skills for big data insight. Novarica often refers to data technology as an arms race: as long as your competitors aren’t doing it, you don’t have to do it either. But as soon as someone else adopts a new approach to make better pricing/underwriting decisions, you need to follow or else face adverse selection. Big data technology hasn’t always been common enough to cause these problems. But now, especially in personal lines auto, big data and big data tech is becoming so prevalent that insurers feel the pain if they ignore it. It’s another example of insurers needing to “Adapt or Decline.”

 USAA has named a chief technology and digital officer (CTDO), a newly created position responsible for information technology, digital strategy & operations, and experience design.

Chuck Ruzicka

Novarica Comment by Chuck Ruzicka, VP of Research and Consulting: “The USAA, which has been a leader in technology and innovator in the insurance industry, made a significant statement today by appointing a C-level executive with an explicit mandate to oversee and improve their overall customer experience. This ‘voice of the customer’ has long been lacking in the C-suite, and while other companies in other industries have started to bring that voice into the room, insurers are only now beginning to do so. The USAA, at least, is clearly banking on the idea that offering a world-class customer experience will enable them to thrive in an increasingly challenging marketplace.” Novarica will be publishing a report on best practices in User Experience later this month.

A new startup is grading Fortune 500 companies on cyber risk “credit scores” 

Mitch Wein

Novarica Comment by Mitch Wein, VP of Research and Consulting: ”UpGuard’s Cyberrisk score factors in public, web accessible reviews of a company’s IT environment (strong ciphers, using up-to-date software, using valid certificate authorities, applying phishing protections, etc.) to create a FICO like score.  This score can then be used by an underwriter to help price cyber risk.  The problem of how to price cyber risk is very real, in part because of the very recent emergence of demand for this type of coverage and the lack of loss history over time and because third parties can introduce cyber risk into the company requesting the coverage.  The problem is that this type of score, while a good preliminary indicator, is that it over-simplifies the issue.  Human behavior is a primary cause of security risk (putting a thumb drive into a computer, clicking a phishing link on an email, letting someone come into the office that they don’t know).  This score will not be able to factor this in.”

Less than 4 months before many firms are going live with the new DOL regulations, more than half of advisors surveyed are unaware of their firms’ plans for compliance

Rob McIsaac

Novarica Comment by Rob McIsaac, SVP of Research and Consulting: “As we approach the 4th quarter of 2016, the efforts to prepare for the implementation of the DOL Fiduciary Rule changes are clearly accelerated across the value chain. While the “real” effective date for key elements of the rules isn’t until April of next year, there is a growing consensus that distributors and manufacturers both anticipate having key changes implemented by the end of 2016 to avoid a “split year” scenario that will be difficult to manage. However, many producers are still unclear on what this brave new world will mean for them. Most importantly, there’s a lack of clarity on how certain things like the Best Interest Contract Exemption will be implemented and how their sales practices will be altered by the changes.

While the study is interesting, it doesn’t address demographic differences in the distributor force. With the average agent age now 59, understanding how the more mature producers react may be a key to future state planning. It’s plausible that older producers will simply turn attention to other product sets to simplify their own business models if the changes appear to be overly daunting. Carriers may find this yet another example of an area where the need to think bi-modally in order to maximize their chances of success.

Effective communication, support mechanisms, and a focus on being “easy to do business with” will  be critical for carriers hoping to preserve product shelf space with key distribution partners. We fully expect the pace of activity to sharply accelerate as carriers recognize there’s little more than four months left before their ’go live’ date.“ More from Novarica on the DOL ruling.


Divisional CIOs: A Guide to Serving Two Masters

Chuck Ruzicka

Often standardization of common services or platforms does not yield improvements in functionality or capabilities in the short term. Divisional CIOs need to balance the corporate oversight desire for centralization of services and standardization with their business unit needs to improve agility and capabilities. Failing to do both can cost them their jobs. So how do successful CIOs navigate these often conflicting priorities?

  • Build business cases aligned with business unit strategies – Providing a cost benefit to justify an initiative is important. However, creating linkage to key business strategies takes it one step further. This helps functional leaders advocate the initiative within their own corporate governance structure.
  • Chose battles wisely – All CIOS need to be strategic in their sourcing strategies. This same thought applies to the service offerings available from corporate organizations. If corporate can provide competitive service at competitive prices, why not migrate to these service models? It is important to understand what items are non-negotiable. One of the worst ways to start a new relationship is to raise issues already resolved by prior management that have previously been a sore point.
  • Articulate needs in terms of service – By stating requirements in terms of service levels, the dialogue moves from a turf issue to a discussion of capabilities and needs. This goes a long way towards insuring that the needs of a business unit are understood and met.
  • Measure services provided – Centralized service groups need objective feedback on their performance. Divisional CIOS have a fiduciary responsibility to hold service provides accountable. Anecdotal evidence is not adequate. Put the proper measure in place.
  • Understand cost allocations – Expect and demand transparency. If a CIO doesn’t know how and what a business unit is being charged, a realistic understanding of the perceived value of IT is not possible. No one likes surprises.
  • Over-communicate – Working from a plan is better than reacting to needs as they arise. The best way to engage Corporate to meet needs is by reviewing the application portfolio plan with Corporate CIOs, indicating where gaps in services exist and where the most compelling needs are from a business unit perspective. Making sure that a business unit understands the plan, the service levels, the capabilities that are currently provided and how needs are addressed is also critical. Divisional presidents can partner to drive approval of divisional initiatives.

  • When in doubt, don’t do what people want you to do; do what you think is right for your business unit. Divisional CIOS must provide leadership and leverage their intimate knowledge of their business units needs with their knowledge of technologies and vendor capabilities.

    To discuss this topic further, please email Chuck Ruzicka at

    Related Reports:

  • CIO Checklist: Multi-Divisional IT Strategy
  • Centralized and Federated IT Models
  • CIO Best Practices for Effective Board Communication

    Frank Petersmark

    While studying for my PhD in history I came across hundreds of examples of good and bad leadership. The one thing all good leaders had in common was their ability to clearly communicate and get people to take action. Each of these leaders had their own unique styles. For example, John Kennedy and Winston Churchill would use words, Napoleon and Henry VIII would use actions and Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi would use silence.

    So what does all of this have to do with how CIOs and their boards of directors communicate with each other?

    One of the differences between more successful and less successful CIOs is their ability to communicate effectively with their boards. Being able to communicate effectively with your board will help make securing organizational support for IT initiatives, such as funding and resource commitments much easier, as well as achieving the strategic goals of IT, which, if aligned properly will benefit the entire organization.

    Developing a common communications approach is a critical part of the CIO function. The checklist below is a great place to start for board meetings, presentations and for an IT leader’s overall communications with their board members.

    • Speak their language, not IT’s
    • Keep things simple
    • ABC – Always Be Contextual
    • Talk about organizational benefits derived, not technology functionality and capabilities
    • Present options, but clear about which one is best and why
    • Don’t hide the risks
    • Paint a picture of what the organization looks like after the effort
    • Recap and ask for support, and if necessary, sponsorship
    • Return with progress reports – good, bad, and ugly

    On Thursday, September 24th at 2 p.m. (ET) I will get into more detail and provide additional insights into the best practices above. This 30 minute webinar will be open to all insurance CIOs and IT executives. To secure your spot, visit:

    I would also like to invite Novarica clients who haven’t downloaded my new CIO Checklist Report: Best Practices in Board Communications for CIOs to download it today at:

    Talent Quest: A Whole New IT Ballgame?

    Rob McIsaac

    Innovation and transformative thinking are more than just buzz phrases for insurance carrier IT organizations. In an effort to avoid their own Kodak (or Blockbuster) moments, CIO’s and their teams are increasingly focused on how technology can be leveraged to create real and meaningful differentiation for their carriers. It is both a valued undertaking and a legitimate concern if they fail. With many aspects of insurance now highly commoditized and new competitive threats emerging, just getting better at “the same old thing” won’t be good enough going forward. In fact, that may be a pathway to the proverbial “death by a thousand cuts”.

    As a result, a rigorous governance and prioritization process becomes an early requirement for this new order of things. Can anyone deliver power better than the local public utility? Or email better than a legitimate cloud provider like Google or Microsoft? In both cases the answer is “no”, although hobbyist interest will persist.

    For the future, real value will come in areas such as Analytics (turning data into actionable information) and mobility, to name but two of a long list of high priority events. For carriers that persist in Majoring in Minors, the future may represent a very tough row.

    As the new priorities take hold, however, a new challenge will emerge: how to find and retain the best talent. The initial quest is critical of course. If you can’t find them, retention will take care of itself.

    A critical new paradigm to consider is that carriers may need to take on a more proactive role in finding talent much earlier than was once considered “normal” in career management parlance. For example, for research scientists, the path to success historically went through research universities that were able to secure funding from large Federal agencies such as the NIH and NASA. Increasingly, however, the best path forward is through private industry where capital pools may provide a more stable and less political engine for keeping the research (and the patent machine) humming.

    Uber’s recent move to hire a notable swath of the robotics lab away from Carnegie-Mellon University is a high profile example of the urgency some employers now approach the market for key human resources. At NC State University, students coming through graduate programs in Analytics are hired well before graduation. The competition is tough for people who have the right skill and drive and for employers waiting until after the commencement music ends, there may well be slim pickings. These are not phenomenon reserved just to the RTP or other “Silicon Valley Like” areas either. Getting into action early is crucial to both getting the right talent and moving organizational culture in the right direction.

    MassMutual’s decision to set up an operation close to the UMass campus is a great industry example of a carrier moving aggressively to get the right skills cornered early and bring top talent in before they get siphoned off in another direction or to another industry. MetLife moving to RTP has put their IT group in close proximity to three major research universities that can provide a talent infusion of significant proportions.

    We’ve seen this before, of course. For many professional sports teams, the talent pool they look to is younger than a generation ago … and as business enterprises they have benefitted. For carrier IT organizations considering the best way to move forward the watchword may well be “Get in the Game”.

    Dealing with the COBOL Brain Drain

    Rob McIsaac

    As Baby Boomer COBOL programmers increasingly have the opportunity to say “bon voyage” to working 9-5 and retire, some Insurance IT executives are having restless nights trying to figure out how they are going to address the resulting brain drain. Not only are insurers losing vast amounts of programming knowledge, but they are losing vital business knowledge as well.

    Documentation on aging systems in many cases is more akin to tribal knowledge than a true knowledge management “system”, and the potential for things to go bump in the night increases as these environments face generational transition. For example, one CIO recently shared a story about the transition of responsibilities for running an annual production job from one retiring individual to another programmer. The transition involved, by definition, a year between education and execution. And what was the final result?

    A minor error sent an entire production run of annual statements, totaling 400,000 documents, to a single address! Somehow “oops” fails to capture the full magnitude of such an event.

    The insurance industry isn’t the only sector trying to figure out what they are going to do next. Banking, retail, manufacturers and even the federal government will be looking to find new sources for COBOL talent as the generational transition accelerates. As of 2015, 10k boomers achieve retirement eligibility daily, so the issue won’t resolve itself easily or quickly. This will be the pattern until 2029, so “hope is not a plan” may have never been a more appropriate sentiment.

    With such a competitive marketplace to find COBOL programmers what can you do? Three options immediately present themselves:

    1) Moving off big iron platforms dependent on COBOL, Assembler, VSAM and related technologies
    2) Finding COBOL programmers offshore
    3) Leveraging COBOL programs at local universities

    For many entities, the first option really isn’t feasible based on economic factors alone. The business case for converting old blocks of business can be weak at best, leading carriers to conclude that these systems will be running for the foreseeable future in tandem with more modern capabilities designed to handle new products, channels and priorities.

    The second and third options, however, can offer some immediate relief for these legacy programming needs. I’m pretty sure most people have a good handle on offshore providers, but some IT executives may not be familiar with the third option and I’d like to tell you more about it.

    Currently, I’m on the Advisory Board for the Computer Science and Engineering Department at North Carolina State University which provides some interesting visibility into both the demand and the development of new onshore resources. We are certainly seeing training programs emerge that are intended to restock some of the lost talent in this space. We are also seeing some fascinating collaborations between educational institutions, private enterprises and technology providers as they look to address gaps. One example of this is a collaboration between IBM, Blue Cross / Blue Shield of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina. BC/BS has the need, USC has the capacity to train and IBM has been an active participant in framing the curriculum and capabilities. Other examples are emerging as well which provide an opportunity to collaborate with either traditional colleges and universities as well as technical schools. Junior / community colleges may also provide some interesting options. We also understand that some companies are reverting to a tried and true technique deployed in the 1960’s: internal development programs to build new skills around aging technologies.

    At the end of the day, if the only tool a CIO has in their toolkit is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In this case, it is incumbent on CIO’s to develop a broader set of tools that can allow them to creatively and effectively build up the talent pool required to keep aging platforms and systems functional until such time as they can be retired. The reality for many mid-career CIO’s today is that these platforms may still be running after THEY retire, so considering the options sooner rather than later may minimize pain points.

    If you would like to learn more, or share your own experiences in this potentially mission critical area, please feel free to contact me at email.

    Here’s the Problem… A Process Is Only As Good As Its Weakest Link!

    Rob McIsaac

    Recently, I decided that I needed to update my life insurance portfolio. With a range of life events taking place, and a 10 year term policy purchased in 2004 coming to a natural end, I was poised to take quick action. Suffering from mild OCD, I actually started the process a full 8 weeks before the anniversary date. Little did I know that I was dancing on a razor’s edge in terms of timing. This sort of “secret shopper” experience has been frustrating, humorous and thought provoking all at the same time. Does it really need to be this hard? If a process is only as good as its weakest link, this one sets a new standard on the low side of the scale.

    In an era of instant access, and nearly instantaneous gratification, I went online to start shopping at an aggregator site. To my surprise, this was less functional than the site I recalled from 10 years ago but it did earn me a call back from a call center agent. After going through the medical questions, we landed on the need to “draw fluids”, a process that could take 2-3 weeks to complete. Given the green light, this process started. It took 3-4 weeks to actually schedule the blood draw.

    Thinking the process had run amuck, I went to a second carrier directly. After completing their app online, I was called back in minutes for the medical questions. Because of how I answered one question, I was cautioned that I wouldn’t qualify for the super preferred rate and that the agent had no idea what the premium might be. The thrust of the conversation was that it would likely be around 50% more, but that this was just a SWAG. Clearly surprised that I wanted to proceed anyway (not a great trait in sales) we again marched into the need to draw fluids. A process that could take, I was assured, 2-3 weeks.

    The third carrier was a traditional Agency company that I decided to test to see if the web site channel worked. Although it took several business days for someone to respond, when they did, the agent was effective and knowledgeable. She was able to share different premium scenarios and suggest which products might best fit the need. While the low end price was higher than the direct company super-preferred rate, the “likely” rate based on the medical questions was lower. And, of course, drawing blood would take several weeks.

    Several interesting points in the process:

  • For all practical purposes, the questions the carriers asked were exactly the same. The only variations seemed to be in looking at my driving record (3 years or 5) and my parents issues with illness (before 60 or 65). Other than that, it was cookie cutter.
  • All three companies declined the opportunity to get medical records (fluids, EKG, chest x- ray) directly from my doctor, despite the fact that they were available as part of an annual physical done two weeks earlier. All wanted to have their own chance to stick me with needles.
  • All three carriers used the exact same service to do the fluid draw and on site visit. Some effect envy for me there, since I got a “three for one” deal on the fluids and the list time. Each carrier wanted their own EKG original so I had to sit through that multiple times, but only partially disrobe once.
  • The direct carriers are decidedly poor at staying in touch with process updates. With them it feels like I’ve fallen into an abyss. The agency carrier seems to be far more engaged through my touch point.
  • Across the board, the process seems broken … or at least archaic. I became a little worried about coverage gaps with the ’04 policy exporting, but I shouldn’t have been concerned. The old carrier indicated that it takes a calendar quarter to actually lapse the contract … whose premium would triple on the next anniversary barring action on my part.

    At a time when the balance of consumer’s financial lives is so readily available through self service and guided experience, this seems like a trip back in time to a different world. Actions are measured in weeks and quarters rather than minutes and hours. Rather than full transparency on information and pricing, the process feels both secretive and ill-informed.

    The process also seems to be intentionally inefficient. When my doctor did his version of the fluid analysis, we had results in 2-3 days. The paramedic firm used by all three carriers said it took 2-3 weeks. How could that possibly be?

    Left to a natural course, this process could run (in total) 6-10 weeks, by my estimation. At that point, I will be presented with “take it or leave it” offers from all the carriers involved. I will, of course, have a personal choice to make at that point, armed with full disclosure and valid pricing as inputs. In the end, it will have a happy outcome for some.

    This got me thinking about my own children and their Gen Y peers. They would be highly unlikely to participate in an exercise as slow and as painful as this one. Baby Boomers like me may now be closing in on purchasing their last life insurance contracts as other life events loom.

    For carriers, the time to think about the required paradigm shifts is coming quickly. Those footsteps you hear are future generations of prospects but they may be running away, rather than toward, you!

    Big data, mobile capabilities, access to a form of Telematics and other devices may all prove to be game changers sooner than we think. Remember what life was like before SmartPhone? I don’t either…

    Straight Through Chicago

    Rob McIsaac

    Last week’s LIMRA/ LOMA Retirement Conference in Chicago provided an interesting overview and update for what is happening in the industry today. Jim McCool from Charles Schwab noted the importance of having carriers move to establish trust with consumers, and the need to de-clutter and simplify products and business models. He highlighted the example of Apple as a company that has taken a potentially complex space and made it elegantly simple with a terrific user experience that inspires trust and confidence.

    This was a great build on a presentation I had an opportunity to deliver at the conference on Straight Through Processing.

    The reality in the United States is that 10,000 Baby Boomers are now reaching retirement every day, something that will persist for the foreseeable future. The opportunity for carriers to prepare for this is now. Further, with low interest rates and continued cost pressure, finding ways to reduce operational expenses while improving customer experience (for both agents and customers) is critical.

    Another reality is that customer experiences are increasing being set by companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon. They have perfected ways to make complex things simple, easy to use, innovative and “delightful” to customers. With expectations set there, business practices that are dependent on paper and rooted in the 1950′s are increasing arcane and inaccessible to agents and customers alike. The need to drive toward electronic applications and electronic signatures is crucial for carriers across lines of business. It is both a crucial step toward better customer experience now … and a precursor to bring able to deliver on meaningful mobile capabilities.

    This was an opportunity to highlight findings from a recent Electronic Signatures Executive Brief we published.

    When asked if there was a potential crisis due to aging in the producer community, the executive panelists at the conference’s main session noted that there is. Allianz, Schwab and Wells Fargo all acknowledged the problem and highlighted approaches they are taking to prepare for a new generation of advisors.

    In some places, the agent / advisor community is actually aging faster than the general population at large. This also highlights the importance of creating better and more compelling user experiences for both producers and end clients. Moving to simplify business process, allowing for the electronic execution of transactions and “going mobile” are all key to this. Carriers will continue to need to compete for advisor “mind share” which will require experiences that can be concurrently compelling to multiple generations of users. All of this, of course, ties back to the Hot Topics we see for insurers in the near future.

    The Apple analogy continues to resonate, particularly if carriers want to truly remain relevant in a highly competitive environment.

    While there are certainly complexities inherent to the life insurance, annuity and retirement plans segments of financial services, the future is clear: STP is moving from being innovative to becoming a “cost of doing business”. Hope is not a strategy and indecision is not a winning game plan.

    Tactical Versus Strategic Approaches on Projects

    Sarah Bogan

    Some of our recent advisory work has focused on working with project teams engaged in major initiatives. Some of the questions we use in our discovery work include:

    • What is currently preventing you from doing your best work?
    • What challenges are you experiencing?
    • What do you need from others in order to be successful?

    These questions typically cause folks to pause for a minute, and then laugh nervously. They commonly say that they have not thought about it. Many admit that they have been tactical rather than strategic, and reactive rather than proactive.

    We then ask them to go into detail about the challenges that they are facing. Our goal is to draw out their unarticulated issues. Some of the questions we use at this stage include:

    • What type of help do you need in order to feel successful?  What steps would you need to take in order to be proactive?  Are there additional steps that would help set expectations and support for your work?
    • Who has expertise in this area?  Who can help you be more successful?
    • How can you manage the people, processes or tools around you in order to be more effective?

    As a result of these meetings, we’ve seen folks go from focusing entirely on their own roles as individual contributors to seeing themselves as coordinating work and engaging with others in order to achieve common goals. It can be like watching an awakening when they realize that they really are part of something bigger and not just making sure their little piece of the project gets done.

    For more on our insurance consulting offerings, see our client case studies at

    Adding a Resource to a Late Project Makes it Later

    Sarah Bogan

    It’s a common belief that adding more resources to a delayed project can magically fix a runaway project and help over-allocated resource meet their commitments. Unfortunately, relief is not immediate and may create unanticipated and undesired consequences.

    Timing is everything where project staffing is concerned. By the time a team realizes that that a new resource is required, it is often at a place when adding a resource would actually cause strain to the very individuals it was meant to relieve. In fact, adding a resource often has an adverse, and opposing short-term effect by requiring over-taxed resources to interview, train, and transition work to new team members–all while handling their overcapacity workload.

    IT lead project teams commonly underestimate their resource needs at two critical times: just prior to implementation and during implementation — especially when it comes to their need for business resources. Taking business resources out of their operational roles for User Acceptance Testing, Training and Production Support reduces their capacity to do their work, while work levels remain constant.

    Implementing a new system will require new processes and tools to be adopted and create a temporary lull in productivity. It may also require operational resources to problem solve and document production issues. Adding new resources during these times is especially likely to be problematic and create additional strain on the project. For that reason, project teams and impacted business areas should consider an increase in staffing levels in advance of the need in order to provide time for new individuals to come up to speed.

    Project Plans Have a Shelf Life

    Rob McIsaac

    Recently, while making a run through the refrigerator for a late night snack, I happened to notice that almost everything has a “use by date.” While I don’t suspect things become poisonous on that date, the quality does appear to trail off at some point, ultimately leading to the product in question morphing into something else. In reality, some of these changes can happen mighty quickly! Think about how fast fine wine can turn into something that more closely resembles vinegar. Both useful fluids, but hardly interchangeable.

    All of this got me to thinking about technology-dependent projects at insurance carriers. Regardless of how much time has gone into planning an effort, working to achieve IT/Business alignment, appropriate levels of sponsorship and the necessary architectural review–every project as designed and planned has a natural “shelf life.” If pursued outside of that window, the results of the initiative may well be significantly different than what was originally conceived and approved.

    How can this be?

    Projects are complex combinations of components that, when assembled correctly, lead to the desired outcome for a carrier. The elements that drive this include:

    • Technical: Versions of code change, infrastructure morphs and other projects that drive the core of the business can make assumptions invalid.
    • People: This has implications for both carriers and vendors. Having the right resources, at the right time, are crucial. Trying to field the B Team can add notable risk.
    • Political: Every significant change event requires executive sponsorship, organizational support and resource commitment. If an effort loses these elements due to changes in the political environment it can make a tough project impossible.
    • Vendor:  Vendors are in the business to make money and to keep things running on their end requires managing a pipeline of projects and a pool of resources. Delaying from agreed upon plans can lead directly to an effort to “crash” their plans. While a very large vendor may have capacity for this, small ones most certainly do not.

    Get these right, and the project has a reasonable chance for success based on all the best practices from program/project management. Alternatively, taking a project and allowing it to sit in a shelf to be picked up and executed at some future date can have wildly unpredictable results. Context can change, support can change, even the fundamental business problem can change which, in worst of all possible worlds, can lead to a carrier “solving a problem that nobody has–anymore.”

    In order to avoid this, carriers should have the courage of their convictions. Once a project is approved, organizations need to move smartly and efficiently toward execution. If an organization has legitimate reasons for holding up on an effort, they should take the time to re-plan and re-validate before pulling the trigger.

    Failing to do this can lead directly to truly unfortunate “Ready, Fire, Aim” events that can have adverse career implications.