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Management Strategies

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Leading Integration, Inspiring Innovation

After his firm was acquired by Nationwide, Arne Herenstein of Harleysville Insurance ensured a seamless assimilation of both systems and staff.

The creation of accessExpress began with the need for a more effective way for agents to write key small commercial lines of business. The system leverages third-party data and streamlines the submissions process by reducing from 75 to eight the number of screens each agent needs to complete. This cuts an agent’s processing time from 70 minutes to 10, which has resulted in a 20% to 30% increase in underwriter productivity, Herenstein reports.

AccessExpress was entirely developed by a joint team of employees from business areas and IT, which have a relationship Herenstein has been working to strengthen. The two should not be separate entities, he says, or be at odds with one another. The key to success in today’s environment is for IT to become part of the business. 

 “Our job is not to tell the business, ‘No,’” Herenstein explains. “It is to help them understand what is the best way to do something, and what alternatives they have in getting to the objective they want.”

A key priority for both teams is the adoption of new technologies such as analytics, which has received a great deal of investment since Herenstein’s arrival. The insurer now boasts a mature predictive modeling capacity and leverages analytics to improve risk prediction.

“[These capabilities] tell us what we can learn about our insureds and how we can help them better by knowing more about the world at large and them in particular — without, of course, interfering with their privacy.”

Transformational Leadership

These efforts illustrate Herenstein’s subtle approach to leadership. Rather than adopt a commanding presence, he opts to serve a more supportive role by helping employees in any way possible and eliminating legal, time frame, or technical barriers. “I’m not a big fan of an overly hierarchical project structure,” he admits. “If you’re the expert, it is your show.”

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His understated leadership strategy is a lesson from a mentor early in his insurance career, who demonstrated the importance of giving employees the freedom they need to excel. “Give people a great picture of where you want to go, the tools to get there, and the training to do it, and the smart people will always get there,” Herenstein explains.

Following the acquisition by Nationwide, a large chunk of his efforts were directed toward integrating the teams from both insurers. The newly mixed group spent a lot of time getting to know one another and engaging in team-building activities. After a long workday, it wasn’t unusual for employees to order a few pizzas, head out for cheesesteaks, or relax at a local bar. The idea was to give the team an opportunity to have some fun and balance the daily stress of work.

“It was giving them the opportunity to get a little fun in, along with the ridiculous amount of stress that everyone was under,” Herenstein says.

The Nationwide acquisition was completed successfully without operational disruption and resulted in a $30 million reduction of Harleysville’s IT run-rate. Herenstein credits the achievement not to his own abilities, but to the competence of his team.

“Our biggest reason for success was the ability to have talented teams of people capable of doing the work that we needed,” he explains. “The success came from a stack of partnerships – specialists from legal, underwriting, processing ... everybody knew on any given day what they had to get accomplished.”

A Look At The Future

As 2015 approaches, Herenstein has two major projects in the planning stages. The first is the development of an integrated commercial platform that will improve service to policyholders, which is currently in the planning stages. He intends to use modern technologies and application suite development to improve operational flow.

Herenstein also plans to leverage his leadership skills to ensure that the IT teams from both Nationwide and Harleysville have the opportunity to learn and grow in their new working environments.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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