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Zurich Builds CRM Tech

After scouring the marketplace for technology, Zurich North America decides to build its own cross-departmental system.

Four or five years ago, according to Richard Ayuso, assistant vice president, customer systems, Zurich North America, the separate business units of the company, which operated autonomously, most lacking CRM technology, were instructed to build their own individual CRM systems.

Bill Bolinder, head of Zurich's US group, voiced the opinion that such a plan didn't make sense. "We needed a system that could cut across groups in order to understand who our customers are," says Ayuso. "Bolinder was the first to commission a cross-unit system."

Ayuso—originally hired to build a CRM system for a Zurich North America (Zurich NA, $8 billion in annual premiums, Schaumburg, IL) subsidiary—was asked to build the system for Zurich NA. With the primary goal to cleanse and consolidate customer data where it resided within any of the company systems, and an executive steering committee consisting of Ayuso who represented IT and representatives from the group executive board, Zurich small business and strategic alignment, the three-year project began.

Build or Buy?

Ayuso, who was in charge of the requirements, designing and building phases of the project, began surveying a cross-section of users within all of the business units to discover what they needed a CRM system to do. "Users needed to, on demand, view policy and quote information on a near real-time basis," says Ayuso. "They also needed to manage party-to-party relationships between parents and subsidiaries."

During this time Ayuso began evaluating tools. "It's fairly easy to buy a product," says Ayuso. "But only after you've cleansed and consolidated the data." After looking at a number of CRM products, "There wasn't a single CRM tool vendor that would help us on the cleansing and consolidation side," explains Ayuso who decided to build a system. He did, however, purchase a data-reengineering tool—Harte-Hank's (San Antonio, TX) Trillium and Intelligent Search Technology's (Brewster, NY) Name Search. A server running Microsoft (Redmond, WA) NT, used for development work, was the only piece of hardware purchased.

A process of system rationalizations and retirements to eliminate redundancy and IT operating costs, according to Ayuso, took place during the requirements period that ended in July of '99. A Services Organization was formed with the consolidation of IT resources to provide support across the business units.

The designing and building phase commenced in July '99. The system runs on an IBM (Armonk, NY) mainframe and utilizes an IBM DB2 database. Cobol programs are used in a CICS environment that control access to the database. Trillium and Name Search are hosted on the mainframe. IBM's MQ Series is used for messaging communications. JAVA servlets control messaging back to the CICS region. The system also utilizes IBM's Websphere which runs on the mainframe. Java server pages are used to serve a browser-based application.

Under $5 Million

The project was done for less than $5 million. "That is pretty cheap when you think about what CRM systems cost," Ayuso says of the project, during which he conferred with nine consultants that were used throughout the project's duration.

Among the benefits that Zurich North America is reaping as a result of the company's new CRM system—which went live in April 2001—is product density revenue from existing customers, value maximization from cross selling and up selling and new customer acquisition through better marketing. Ayuso's goals for the future include, what he describes as insurance's holy grail, the ability to enable an insurance customer to view their entire book of business.


Case Study Closeup


Zurich North America, Schaumburg, IL ($8 billion in annual premiums)


Personal/commercial lines, health, accident, life, reinsurance and asset management.


Microsoft (Redmond, WA) Windows NT; Harte-Hank's (San Antonio, TX) Trillium; Intelligent Search Technology (Brewster, NY).


Build a CRM system.

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