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03:40 PM
Max Drucker
Max Drucker
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Complementary Styles, Collaborative Solutions

Drawing on insights from his experience as both insurer CIO and vendor, Elite 8 2000 honoree Max Drucker reflects on the carrier-vendor divide.

In November 2000, at the peak of the dot-com boom, while CIO of start-up online carrier eCoverage (San Francisco), I was named one of Insurance & Technology's Elite 8. The Internet Age had begun, and as a result, the world was about to witness a dramatic shift in the ways in which insurance was bought and sold.

Unlike the other honorees that year, I had barely worked with mainframes or IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) AS/400 systems. Instead, my career path in insurance began with a start-up online insurance company. As time went on and my career evolved, I was able to migrate to the vendor side of the business -- with the founding of insurance software provider Steel Card (Santa Barbara, Calif.) along with my partner Michael DeGusta -- bringing along the new excitement, creativity and capabilities of Web technology. This shift, from insurance company to vendor, has given me a valuable perspective on the way technology works in -- and for -- the insurance industry.

There are two important similarities between the role of CIO for an online insurance start-up and the role of founder and managing director of a successful software company. First, the management of time lines and expectations is the same. Second, both roles face the same pressures to deliver. Whether the clients are external or internal, they always want more; and they want it to be bigger, better, faster, cheaper and of intrinsically superior value.

Add to this pressure the fact that we must remain fully aware of the way in which Web technology has changed insurance companies' interaction with customers. We quickly have evolved from the face-to-face interaction between producers and buyers to the anonymous transactions of online policy issuance. At the insurance company, our business opportunity was to get online faster and better than our competitors to meet this growing demand. As a vendor, I see brick-and-mortar insurers struggling to Web enable older technology and systems in order to be more competitive and efficient.

The underlying challenge in both jobs essentially is the same: to increase efficiency and productivity while creating a satisfactory customer experience. But the lenses through which each job views the challenge are somewhat different. From a technologist's or software vendor's perspective, an industry-applicable solution always can be found or manufactured. Insurance companies, on the other hand, often tend to believe that company-specific processes or problems cannot be solved with technology. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Multiple Disciplines

To bridge the gap, an open dialogue is the place to start. There is a wealth of knowledge waiting to be tapped on both sides of the discussion. I am a self-described technophile, but my degrees in political science and economics give me a good understanding of the business requirements that go into most insurance projects. And I am not alone. Multiple disciplines that inform broader perspectives are becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

Today, six years after being selected as one of I&T's Elite 8, I find myself in yet another position. Steel Card started small and worked up, gaining clients and credibility as we went. We achieved enough success and acclaim to be a target for acquisition. We recently were acquired by ChoicePoint (Alpharetta, Ga.) and have become part of its Insurity (Hartford) business. Being part of Insurity and the ChoicePoint family brings instant scale, stability and credibility, reassuring risk-averse insurance carrier customers. It legitimizes what we do and makes it easier to get the technology where it needs to go.

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