Two influences loom large in the shaping of Joseph Beneducci as an effective CEO of Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. ($5.8 billion in premium for 2006). The first is having been the son of a New York City firefighter, which guaranteed Beneducci a profound appreciation of the Novato, Calif.-based insurer's traditional and continuing role in supporting the fire service around the country. More prosaically, but no less significant from a business point of view, Beneducci had the experience of starting in the insurance industry as a commercial underwriting trainee.
In witnessing how insurance products were distributed by independent agents to individual customers, Beneducci observes, "One can quickly see enormous opportunity for efficiency gains in trying to get information from customers and brokers into our systems in order to be able to produce not just a contract but an entire insurance program." However, efficiency is only the beginning of technology's potential benefits, in Beneducci's view. It's not just bringing insurance products and services to the customer faster and cheaper, he adds -- it's what products and services you are able to bring. "My technology education started very early, but it's been constant ever since around how important technology is to ensure that we can deliver something truly special to the end customers and the agents," Beneducci says.
Seeing technology as a driver not merely of economy but of differentiation radically changes how one views it, Beneducci asserts. "When you start an innovation process in that manner, the technology you look to apply to solutions is obviously very different; it's not just a matter of creating a Web site where a customer can come in and get a quick quote," he argues. While Fireman's Fund's customers value efficiency as much as anybody else, what they are looking for from the carrier is the best protection of their assets, Beneducci reasons. For the carrier to meet that demand, he says, "you need different technology that will be able to speak to details that help us distinguish what that value is all about."
That kind of thinking informed the creation of Fireman's Fund's iCustomer Web portal, which Beneducci championed in 2002 while SVP of the carrier's commercial business unit. The portal provides Fireman's Fund customers access to a suite of tools and information sources tailored to the industry niche pertaining to the customer's coverage. For example, in addition to claim-reporting tools and more-general loss-prevention information, "a restaurant owner has access to the restaurant environment [of iCustomer] where everything is tailored to the unique risk considerations of that business, such as slip-and-fall hazards, parking lot issues, etc.," Beneducci explains. "Why is that important? Because that's what customers told us would be important to them."
Innovation at the Core
Technology innovation also has been critical at more foundational levels at Fireman's Fund, without which refinements such as iCustomer would have been irrelevant. "About nine years ago, we were looking at a middle-market commercial business that was deteriorating before our eyes as the market continued to soften," Beneducci recalls. "The problem was inconsistent decision-making as to appropriate risks and adequate prices to quote. Depending on whether you were in New York or San Francisco, having two underwriters looking at the same risk, the likelihood was we would issue different responses."
That state of affairs was turned around through the creation of a Web-based underwriting environment. "We dramatically reduced our loss ratio as a result of better decision-making and exchange of risk," Beneducci says. "At the same time we took what had been an eight-hour process to underwrite a given middle-market customer and dropped it to 45 minutes."
Fireman's Fund implemented further refinements with the 2002 launch of its Underwriter Efficiency System (UES) for commercial business, which analyzes relevant information and documents, and archives underwriting and pricing decisions. This January, Beneducci notes, the carrier launched its Enterprise Underwriting System, which brings more science to the art of underwriting by providing a uniform standard for risk selection, loss control usage and pricing.
Joseph J. Beneducci
Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.
Career: Beneducci was named president and CEO of FFIC in January 2007. He had been president and COO since February 2006. Prior to that appointment, Beneducci held the positions of EVP and chief administrative officer, and SVP in FFIC's commercial business unit. He worked at Chubb for 10 years before joining FFIC in 1998.
Technology Philosophy: "My tendency is to push the limits within our team toward what we can accomplish with different technology," Beneducci says. "At the same time I try to make sure they are in a comfortable environment where they can say, 'Joe, it's a great idea, but honestly it's not going to fly, and here are the reasons. ... '"
To hear more from the 2007 Tech-Savvy CEOs, visit www.insurancetech.com/podcast.
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