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Insurers' Innovation Talk Is Cheap, CIO Says

Proven technologies can help insurers entice customers, lower operational costs and develop innovative business processes, but caution tends to win over audacity when it comes to adopting those technologies.

I recently spoke to Narragansett Bay Insurance Company CIO Mike Anselmo, a guy who has demonstrated the prudent use of leading-edge technologies throughout his career. I first got to know Mike after interviewing him about his work at Praetorian Financial, where he did the technology work that helped the entity grow from an $800 million company to a $2.2 billion one, immediately before the company was being sold to QBE.

Mike is doing roughly similar work at his current company, which has gone from being an $8 million company at the time of his joining in Feb. 2006 to a $113 million company today - and growing. Mike has supplied the technology platform necessary for Narragansett Bay to capitalize on the niche growth opportunity of selling homeowners insurance for properties near but not on the coast. Mike said this about insurers' cautious approach to innovation:

"A pet peeve of mine is that insurance companies have neglected technology. They say they innovate, but many really don't," Anselmo says. "I understand it can take time to move very large companies, but there are also smaller companies that get stuck in their old way of doing things when there are so many things they can do with technology to bring in the customer, reduce expenses and adopt leading-edge business processes."

The sad truth is that insurance companies remain bureaucratic organizations that often encourage CYA over decisive action. But decisive action will be needed, as some insurers actually begin to walk the walk on customer and agent service. Last week I commented, tartly if appreciatively, on Cigna's GO YOU campaign and Aviva's "Youmanity." The advertising may be a little touchy-feely for the more jaded among us, but the fact remains that these companies are walking the walk on innovation, as attested by their multi-year technology modernization plans. Those who take innovation less seriously have to worry about these leaders and even outside entrants eating their lunch.

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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