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Making Things Easier

By keeping it simple, Kent Cannon drives IT to facilitate business growth at Beneficial Financial Group.

When Kent Cannon began his career as an actuary with Beneficial Financial Group, (Salt Lake City; $3 billion in total assets), then known as Beneficial Life Insurance Company, back in 1974, it was a "conservative midsize life insurance company with wonderful potential," he says. Since becoming president and CEO in 1995, Cannon has utilized his mathematics degree to figure out the formula to drive the carrier's growth: Apply technology throughout the carrier's business strategy. "My role has been facilitating strategic planning, making sure we have a clear plan of what we are trying to achieve, and driving that deep within the organization," he explains. And it's worked. So far, Cannon's five-year plan to facilitate improved service, enhanced workflow and cost reductions that began in 2000 has contributed to a premium growth of 10 percent per year since its implementation. "We don't use technology for technology's sake," he says. "It has got to make sense in business operations and be a part of our strategy."

Keeping It Simple

To a great extent, Cannon's strategy was to simplify. In 1998, the carrier consolidated multiple core systems from a COBOL mainframe to PDMA's (Indianapolis) LifePRO policy administration system. "It has made good sense to keep our overhead costs down through a single policy administration system," he says.

This system consolidation also allowed Cannon to add core technology to create ease of use for distribution channels. "Our success has come through strengthening our career-independent and financial-institution distribution channels, and leveraging technology to improve service and make our products more competitive," he says. For example, the carrier installed an Oracle (Redwood Shores, Calif.) database and Oracle development tools to create Web-based initiatives for its agents.

Using LifePRO, the IT team was able to build portals and Web applications in the construction of a program called New Business Tracker. The program provides agents with immediate access to information regarding policy processing and real-time tracking of sales results for agents to view their commissions. "We thought the faster we could create client [agent] fulfillment, the higher service marks we would get and the more we could attract people," says Cannon.

With the core infrastructure in place, Cannon has driven the IT organization to update the system frequently by adding incremental applications to the business portfolio such as Client's Plus -- a proprietary illustration software that uses charts and graphs to help agents sell more effectively. "We are constantly adapting our technology to the business' needs," says Cannon.

One of those needs was improving Beneficial Financial's ability to analyze and manage risk. In 2003, the carrier implemented a teleunderwriting unit to gather policy medical information. "When medical issues arise on the phone, our teleunderwriting representatives are able to ask a second tier of questions, thereby collecting information more rapidly," says Cannon. The teleunderwriting system has helped the carrier lower cost and increase accuracy in collecting underwriting data.

Currently, Beneficial Financial has approved the development of electronic applications for its group life division, which will allow employers to enroll employees into the group life program. Cannon is also considering eventually doing this for individual life products. "We decided in the near term to postpone and let some of the vendor packages evolve," he says. "We are very interested in electronic applications, and with the strong technology and infrastructure that we have put together we are ready, but we are looking for the optimum time to implement."

Beneficial Financial Group's newest project involves deploying a Cisco (San Jose, Calif.) VoIP solution throughout its call center. "This is all for ease of use," says Cannon. "Technology is a tool to make doing business easier."

To hear more from the 2006 Tech-Savvy CEOs, go to:

Kent Cannon

Beneficial Financial Group

"Technology is a tool to make doing business easier."

Career: Kent Cannon began his career as an actuary with Beneficial Financial Group in 1974. He left the company in 1981 to work for Wilcox and Cannon, an actuarial consulting firm, but returned to Beneficial Financial Group in 1985 as vice president and actuary. Cannon was eventually appointed president and CEO in 1995.

Education: Bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Utah.

Hobbies: Cannon has five children, and for fun he enjoys taking them on waterskiing trips to Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park. He is also on the board of the local United Way and is involved in Salt Lake City's Chamber of Commerce.

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