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Darwin Professional Underwriters Flourishes in Competitive Specialty Liability Segment With High-Tech, Low-Cost Strategy, Says President and CEO Stephen Sills

Stephen Sills' mission when he launched Darwin Professional Underwriters five years ago was to effect change in the specialty liability insurance segment by bringing straight-through processing and self-service to a traditionally unautomated, paper-bound business.

Stephen Sills, Darwin Professional Underwriters Tech-savvy or not, few insurance company CEOs can say they actually founded the organizations they run. But Stephen Sills, president and CEO of specialty lines carrier Darwin Professional Underwriters, can make exactly that claim -- in fact, he's done it twice. Sills, who earlier in his career founded Executive Risk (which was acquired by Chubb in 1999), launched Darwin in 2003 with a mission of bringing speed, efficiency and improved service to the professional liability business.

According to Sills, technology has been a cornerstone of this strategy from Day One, and in just five years the Farmington, Conn.-based carrier has gone public and is producing $250 million in annual revenue to date. "We couldn't have done what we've accomplished unless it was for the technology that we've put in place," Sills declares. "We've been able to grow the business at about $2 million per employee [with 175 employees], and we attribute that substantially to technology -- the ability to streamline the process, the ability for people to do business without as many steps as you would typically use if you were using faxes or mailing it in -- and then having people deal with it."

Unlike the personal or standard commercial lines of the P&C business, Sills explains, until recently there has been little automation in specialty lines, such as directors and officers (D&O), medical malpractice, and lawyers' professional liability. "When we started the company," he says, "we believed that over the long term, if we could build a platform to handle small and mid-size business in a very cost-effective way -- and by that I mean cost-effective for our brokers, cost-effective for us and cost-effective for the people who are buying the insurance -- there would be an opportunity to substantially grow the business, where other people have not, or where other people have expended far too much money and expenses to grow the business."

That platform is known as the i-bind system. Under the direction of technology head (and fellow Executive Risk alumnus) Robert Asensio, Darwin launched i-bind in 2005 using the OneShield (Westborough, Mass.) policy administration suite; the platform runs in an Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.)/IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) WebSphere/Linux environment. With i-bind, which incorporates principles of straight-through processing and self-service, "The incremental cost of providing the quote is, for us, basically zero, and approaches that for most of the players in the chain," according to Sills.

From Days to Seconds

In terms of how i-bind has transformed the new-business life cycle, Sills notes, "If you're looking for speed metrics, you can say it's taken from 30 days to sometimes 30 seconds or 30 minutes" to quote and bind coverage. But while the technology is leading-edge, it's not an end in and of itself, Sills emphasizes. "The technology ... is led by the business people," he says. "The business people design the specs of what needs to get done; the business people are involved in the testing of it when it's coming out. [There] isn't a wall between the two as I know exists in other companies."

Illustrating the shared values in this forward-looking culture is the message displayed on Darwin's home page: Evolve or Die. "If you don't evolve, you die -- hence, the name of the company," Sills observes. "Companies that have been doing things the same way for 50 years generally have a difficult time surviving. What we're doing is different -- we think it's evolutionary."

Looking to the future, Sills says he intends to leverage the i-bind platform to offer more products and services. "We don't have to worry about scalability," he notes. "When we built the system we built it to be scalable, so anything we can imagine into the future -- in terms of how big and popular this gets -- our system has been built to be able to accommodate it."

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Stephen Sills, Darwin Professional Underwriters

Career: With nearly 30 years of experience in the specialty liability area, Sills originated Darwin Professional Underwriters in 2003, following 13 years at Executive Risk, which he founded in 1986.

Personal Interests: Sills, who enjoys travel and reading, points to Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food" as two books that impressed him: "The information was really enlightening and inspired me to eat more naturally," he says.

Tech Savvy CEOs 2008 Logo "The issue of speed has always been very, very important [to us]. That's still practiced today -- a good decision today is better than a great decision seven months from now."

Edward J. Zore, Northwestern Mutual Ron Boyd, Midwest Family Mutual Thomas C. Godlasky, Aviva North America John Leonard, MEMIC Stephen Sills, Darwin Professional Underwriters

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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