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Interview: Esurance CIO McKinnon Excited by Innovation Opportunities

The former Blue Shield of California CIO says that Esurance's corporate culture and business model facilitate strong business-IT alignment.

Insurance technologists often change lines of business when they change jobs, but there are few pairs with as stark differences as health and auto insurance. One is subject to heavy regulatory scrutiny and distributed largely through a group model, while the other is experimenting with new pricing models and technologies while shifting to a direct, digital sales strategy.

Elinor MacKinnon, the former CIO of Blue Shield of California who joined Esurance last September, says she is excited by the fact that technology is at the forefront of auto insurance growth strategies. And, she adds, her new company is a prime example of that.

"You can tell a lot about a company when you go through the interview process, and there was no wall of separation between how the business views tech -- it's very completely integrated," she says. "I think it's both an internet company and an insurance company."

Esurance is at an advantage in the new world of auto insurance because it's grown up as the kind of carrier that consumers want to work with, MacKinnon says.

"Insurance is an incredibly complex product, so when you start out by selling it online, you faced the challenge of taking a complex product and adapting to that, which many insurance companies have come to later in the game," she explains.

[Esurance takes on distracted driving]

MacKinnon is focused on working with the business to ensure a strong multichannel customer experience that takes advantage of Esurance's tech capabilities.

"As a company born on the web, our customer experience online is terrific. But the voice side and person-to-person is where we are putting a lot of focus this year," she says. "It's not about just making our voice better, we're working on making it an integrated experience across those channels from the voice to the web and back."

Mobile is also a priority channel for Esurance. The company recently launched a claims servicing app that MacKinnon says indicates how it strategizes around the best platform on which to launch new capabilities.

"The world has moved so quickly to mobile we have to think about what should go to web first and what should go to mobile. There's certain different characteristics that I spend my time thinking about," she says. "This is an opportunity that we saw to allow customers with simple claims to send us pictures of their vehicle damage without having to go to the body shop. It's kind of a natural reaction: 'Oh, I can take a picture of that.'"

This gets back to the focus on integrating the experience across channels and being prepared with technologies that enable what policyholders want to do when they want to do it. MacKinnon says that at Esurance, this is a data-driven strategy.

"On the mobile side, people tend to want a short, rapid transaction, while the web lends itself to a slightly more complex interaction," she says "So there's creating the small burst of capability on the mobile side, but there are things people do that are much more complex than that. We are doing analysis on what customers want and what they use our challenges for today. The integrated experience is really important, the ability to start in one channel and end in another and bring the right set of experiences for them. We do run analytics on both sides."

Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio

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