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Carrier Confidential: Technology Transformation Puts CUNA Mutual in a Stronger Position

As part of its corporate transformational efforts efforts, CUNA Mutual's IT organization revamped its technology infrastructure, building an agile foundation to help the carrier grow and respond to turbulent market conditions.

In 2006 CUNA Mutual Group CIO Rick Roy presented the company's ambitious corporate transformation plans, driven by recently arrived CUNA Mutual CEO Jeff Post, to an assembly of insurance CIOs. When Roy was done, one audience member remarked to another, "I'd like to see what he has to say in a couple of years." We at Insurance & Technology couldn't help but agree, and said so at the time to Roy, who had taken on the role of senior vice president of customer operations in 2005 after serving as the carrier's CIO beginning 2003. Roy was reappointed to the CIO role in late 2008.

When we caught up with Roy in early 2009 to review the results of the program, he reported that since the transformation effort CUNA Mutual has enjoyed 8.3 percent average annual growth -- entirely organic -- with 2008 operating revenue of $2.89 billion. The company has realized a $172 million three-year average operating gain without raising rates, according to Roy, and its IT organization has helped to realize $300 million in transformational benefits to the company and $700 million in increased benefits to its customers. "We grew and improved the company without doing it at the policyholder's expense," Roy comments. "In fact we enhanced the customer's experience."

From the perspective of results, Roy and his team can look back at the transformation as a job well done. Technology transformation, however, is never wholly finished. Today Roy and his colleagues at CUNA Mutual ($13.2 billion in assets under management) face a new set of challenging circumstances, but they do so from a much stronger position than if CUNA Mutual had delayed the transformation. "We feel fortunate that we made underlying changes to the way our company runs at a time when we could do so proactively rather than in reaction to the challenges of today's market," Roy comments.

Infrastructure Revamp

Madison, Wis.-based CUNA Mutual began its transformation effort in 2005 in a defensive spirit, concerned about the need to reinforce a threatened position in the marketplace, according to Roy. "We were also paying close attention to ways we could grow and diversify, how we could drive operational efficiencies, and looking at various cultural elements relevant to those goals," he recalls.

Transformation Lessons Learned
In the IT organization those concerns translated in part into a transformation of its own. The organization made a departure from what Roy characterizes as a siloed approach to process, created new roles and set new expectations for IT managers and associates, and took the opportunity to improve some of the carrier's foundational technology, he relates. "IT did a good job of using the change agenda to help reset some of its core infrastructure, which is always a little more challenging to justify within a larger change agenda," Roy says.

The larger change agenda took shape with several major IT projects undertaken more directly in support of the business, including an overhaul of CUNA Mutual's call center capabilities for all customers, whether credit union business customers or individual end-customers. "We laid down a new call center infrastructure, with an Avaya [Basking Ridge, N.J.] telephony platform and a sophisticated call-monitoring and analytics package from NICE Systems [Ra'anana, Israel]," Roy says. "Those technologies have fundamentally changed the way we run our call centers based on how the IVRs were set up on the front end and how we were able to track the results of calls and implement [quality assurance] programs to improve the quality of service from our representatives to the customer."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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