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Multi-National Vision

Prudential Financial takes a decentralized view of the individual life insurance business.

Although it dedicates a division to its international insurance operations, Prudential Financial (Newark, NJ, $379 billion in assets under management) doesn't take a global approach to the information systems of its individual country units. The impetus for the carrier's decentralized vision of operations in Canada, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines and Poland is reflected in its technology philosophy. "Information technology is there to support business and the individual life insurance business is multinational, not global," says Bob Weissman, senior vice president, International Insurance, Prudential Financial. "The selling of individual life insurance should be done on a market-by-market basis."

Apart from its entrance into the Canadian insurance market in 1909, Prudential is a relatively new player in the multi-national insurance arena. Its attempt at breaking into the Japanese market in the late '70s was slowed by roadblocks. After studying the Japanese insurance market for the better part of the '70s, inquiries with the minister of finance revealed the country's unwillingness to allow a wholly owned American subsidiary to open a life insurance operation within its borders. After a chance meeting between Prudential's chairman and Sony Corp. (Tokyo) president Akio Morita, according to Weissman, the companies made arrangements to start the Sony Prudential Life Insurance Co., which was eventually approved by the minister of finance. It began operations in 1981 and existed until the two split in 1987. At that time, Prudential was able to start Prudential of Japan.

Around the time it started its wholly owned Japanese operation, the carrier began investigation of the international insurance markets. Although "it wasn't part of a grand international expansion," says Weissman, the study resulted in the establishment of operations in Korea, Taiwan and Italy. A Spanish operation was also started but has since been closed. In 1997 operations in Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines and Poland were launched. Prudential's ninth international operation, Gibraltar Life, is located in Japan (Tokyo) and born out of Prudential's acquisition of Kyoei Life Insurance Company Ltd. (Tokyo).

Acting As a Liaison

Although Weissman describes Prudential's international units as "stand-alone, fully functioning life insurance companies that operate independently of any stateside entity," he isn't getting paid for nothing. Prudential's international insurance headquarters group—which is based in Newark—performs a variety of functions. According to Weissman, it acts as a liaison between the individual country units and the larger Prudential corporate. The group also oversees country operations and makes sure that everything is running smoothly.

Another of the department's functions is to act as what Weissman describes as a kind of Johnny Appleseed. The international group "takes ideas from one country unit to another to make sure that we are not reinventing the wheel in these locations." It has set up a clearinghouse database where each of the country units can deposit and access IT information. In addition, the international insurance headquarters has a hardware and software specialist on staff for consultation.

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