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IASA: The Education Resource

To gain insights into both emerging and established technology trends, Insurance & Technology interviewed Craig Lowenthal, vice president and CIO for Hartford Financial Products, a unit of The Hartford, who is also serving with IASA as VP, Education, for 2003-04.

I&T: Congratulations on being nominated as VP, education. What led you to this position?

Craig Lowenthal, The Hartford/IASA: While I'm currently responsible for technology for Hartford Financial Products, I am also a CPA. So, IASA is the perfect association for me because of its focus on both finance and technology education.

I started attending IASA's annual conference in 1990 after a colleague from the finance department made me aware of the association, and I haven't missed a conference yet.

Many people associate IASA with accountants and financial-based systems. While IASA is definitely the place to be for that, it's also the best place for insurance technology professionals to learn about technology as it relates to insurance. As vice president of education, I want to continue IASA's tradition of education and enhance it further by bringing in additional speakers and topics on emerging technologies that will make this a must-attend show for any technology professional.

I&T: Speaking of emerging technologies, what technology trends do you think will have the most impact on the insurance industry in the next five years?

Lowenthal: Historically, the insurance industry is not known for leadership in adopting leading-edge, or even emerging, technologies. So, I don't think there will be any surprises here. I believe carriers that specialize in personal lines insurance will continue to make significant strides with call center technologies such as voice recognition, data mining and employee performance monitoring. In the business lines that require more individual attention, including claims, I think you'll see greater strides in XML adoption, wireless and document imaging. There are some great stories of claims areas using wireless applications. I believe this will become more mainstream as companies compete on customer service. Management teams will have ubiquitous access to corporate Intranets and information via wireless handheld devices. Key personnel will be able to use their smartphones or PDAs to access key data while out of the office.

Additionally, for companies to survive and compete, data needs to be transformed so that companies know who their customers are and can have a holistic view of their relationships. While CRM has begun to pave the way for this, there is a long way to go. Any person in an organization who services a customer must have the same, up-to-date, single-customer view. Customers need to be able to do business the way it is convenient for them. Separate organizations that focus on e-business will go away-all channels need to work together. Portals will also expand past simple Web access to provide true multi-channel, multi-technology access to a carrier.

I&T: What kinds of sessions or seminars do you envision IASA offering to prepare technology and finance professionals for these changes?

Lowenthal: I believe that case studies of companies that have implemented some of these technologies will provide a lot of value for our members, hence IASA's tagline "Progress Through Sharing Knowledge." It's important to show real-life examples of how wireless either improved customer service or provided critical information in a timely fashion. Also, learning how XML and straight-through processing have lowered costs and improved efficiency is invaluable. But, I'd also like to introduce additional sessions on emerging technologies that discuss how they may be used in the insurance industry.

In addition to offering those types of forward-thinking sessions at the annual conference, IASA is also partnering with Bowne Insurance Division to provide intensive "basic" training. We will be offering seminars later this year in Statutory Accounting Principles for both Life and Property & Casualty.

I&T: What are you going to do as vice president of education to make the 2004 Annual Educational Conference & Business Show THE event to attend?

Lowenthal: I think one of the keys is to have the conference appeal to each individual for multiple reasons. For example, an IT professional wants to learn about technology. But, this same person wants information on specific insurance industry applications and solutions. Our Educational Conference and Business Show provide both. Rather than having to go to a "generic" technology show and then an industry-specific show, this person can get the best of both worlds at IASA.

And, it's the same for the financial side of the house. Efficiency is one of the driving forces behind cost-cutting, and the more financial professionals and technology professionals work together to create those efficiencies, the better off all our companies will be.

I&T: Are there other reasons to create synergy between these two groups?

Lowenthal: Accounting, finance and technology have historically been linked. There is a large percentage of CIOs who report to the CFO. Additionally, the CFO is a key player in the approval of IT investments. IASA adds this additional dimension that is not present in any other association.

I&T: What is the value of continuing education-why do you think it is so critical?

Lowenthal: Continuing education is extremely important. While some states and associations require continuing education such as CPE and CME, sustained education is something every individual professional should strive for even without a push. How can people grow in their careers or take advantages of opportunities for career diversity without education? Continual skills development and awareness of industry trends, ideas, case studies, lessons learned, etc., is of tremendous benefit not only to the individual, but to the employer. I believe the IASA provides tremendous breadth in education for most insurance company disciplines through seminars offered throughout the year and, of course, the Annual Education and Business Show.

I&T: As vice president of education, what is your number-one goal for the year?

Lowenthal: My top goal this year is to show technology folks that IASA is the best educational and knowledge-sharing forum for insurance technology professionals. This is something that insurance accounting and finance professionals already know. I plan to offer the industry's best technology education that balances actual company case studies with useful and timely technology topics. This, in combination with IASA marketing efforts to spread the word, should result in many additional professionals leveraging the IASA for their personal and company career growth.

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