AutoOne CEO Carey Benson began his career in the insurance industry as CFO of a regional insurance carrier. One of the first jobs that came with that appointment was oversight over a troubled IT department. Benson, who had been trained as a CPA, was informed, "We have a problem over there. Fix it."
That experience gave Benson insight into the importance of business and IT alignment. "I had a very strong feeling about what project management was about and how ownership should be assumed and managed across lines," Benson says. "You don't just throw a request over the wall to IT and hope they later throw something back that works."
Benson carried that insight forward as CEO of Melville, N.Y.-based start-up Auto-One Insurance. Formed in 2001 with the goal of handling parent company OneBeacon's (Boston; $320 million in 2004 revenue; a subsidiary of White Mountains Group, Hamilton, Bermuda) assigned risk business, AutoOne offered Benson a clean slate for building an organization in which business and technology were tightly integrated.
The regulated sales cycle of assigned risk business meant that the company's brand-new systems had to be up and running within nine months. To prepare for AutoOne's sprint to success, Benson recruited VP of information technology Virginia Linick and VP of business analysis Jamie Mackenzie, both of whom Benson had previously worked with at another White Mountains company. "Having that kind of proven talent on board allowed us to make better decisions in a short amount of time," says Benson.
Those decisions included basing the carrier's processing on current browser-based technology as part of a larger commitment to mainstream technology. Using such technology, AutoOne designed, developed and deployed a Web-based point-of-sale system calculated to attract the placement of voluntary business in addition to the assigned risk policies the carrier was founded to handle. The insurer also built Web-based policy payment inquiry functionality for both agent and policyholder, complemented by an IVR system developed by Intervoice (Dallas) that provides the same information over the phone.
AutoOne has focused aggressively on its IT team, increasing staff by 400 percent since 2003. It also has created a dedicated internal technology group whose sole purpose is to seek technology-related solutions based on the business needs of the carrier. "I think a lot of companies struggle in new systems implementation or even minor application design by not having the right people who understand the business units' requirements and can relate them to what IT can or cannot do," Benson remarks.
Right the First Time
In pursuit of the ideal of "getting it right the first time," AutoOne uses IBM's (Armonk, N.Y.) Rational suite of development tools for change management and version control. The carrier also uses Mercury Interactive's (Mountain View, Calif.) tools for stress testing of systems in advance of deployment.
Technology is so much a part of AutoOne's routine operation that the company's business plan process is designed to identify interdependencies with IT and generally tracks along major technology initiatives, according to Benson. "The conversation is often about the status of significant projects," he relates.
A technology-focused business philosophy also is built into executive expectations. "One of the goals of each department is to find technology solutions that will enhance their operation," Benson explains. One example is the adoption of Opus Group's (Chicago) performance management tool, first adopted by the underwriting department and now deployed in claims and finance. "Executive bonuses are actually materially influenced based on how effective they are with their technology initiatives, among others," Benson says. "We are very systems-centric and understand that technology impacts us every day in our job. If we can improve the environment, we're going to get a better result and generally at a lower expense ratio."
Carey D. Benson
President and CEO
"You don't just throw a request over the wall to IT and hope they later throw something back that works."
"A lot of companies struggle in new systems implementation or even minor application design by not having the right people who understand the business units' requirements and can relate them to what IT can or cannot do."
Benson is active in Suffolk County Habitat for Humanity and IMAC, a Huntington, N.Y.-based foundation for the support of the performing arts. He enjoys art collecting, wine appreciation and yard work.
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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