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Lisa Valentine
Lisa Valentine
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Lincoln Financial Group CIO and SVP of shared services talks with I&T about the company's system integration process, his vision of a shared services model, as well as new initiatives such as SOA and Web services.

Chuck Cornelio, SVP, Shared Services, and CIO, Lincoln Financial Group

When Lincoln Financial Group (Philadelphia) merged with Jefferson Pilot (Greensboro, N.C.) in April 2006, Jefferson Pilot's then-CIO Chuck Cornelio took over the top technology job for the combined company. Since then, Cornelio has guided the multiline insurer ($234 billion in assets under management) through system consolidations, the retiring of legacy systems and straight-through-processing initiatives. At the same time, he is deploying new technologies, including SOA and Web services. The result, he says, has been cost savings as well as top-line growth.

I&T: Your title includes the term "shared services." What does shared services mean at Lincoln Financial Group?

Cornelio: Shared services refers to a wide set of functions that support multiple businesses at Lincoln Financial. For example, while contact centers may support different lines of businesses, in general they all function similarly. Our IT shared services function supports all contact centers across the organization. We also have corporate shared services, which includes facilities, procurement, document image management, and benefits administration and payroll.

I&T: Why create a shared-services model?

Cornelio: As we move through integration and evolve Lincoln Financial into a retirement and [financial] security company, we want to look and feel more consistent to our customers, whether those customers are planners or agents or marketing organizations. We also want to create a higher level of effectiveness by reducing redundancy and duplication of functionality.

I&T: What were some of the technology challenges in merging Lincoln Financial with Jefferson Pilot?

Cornelio: In any large merger you are going to have overlapping systems and operations, especially when the businesses have similar lines. One of the biggest challenges in integration is selecting the best-of-breed solutions without regard to which organization the system came from. In the Jefferson Pilot and Lincoln Financial businesses that overlapped we're doing a lot of integration work, including consolidating systems, reducing administrative platforms and moving toward new technologies that one or the other of the companies may have been developing.

We promised our shareholders that we would save costs as a result of this merger. You want to accomplish those savings, but you want to do it in a way that does not disrupt your distribution partners or slow down your top-line growth. That's a big challenge when you are redeploying operations people to do integration work but they still have to support your customers and distribution partners.

Our role in IT is to enable the company's strategic objectives and support its distribution partners and customers, and I think we've accomplished something fairly remarkable at Lincoln Financial. In the life insurance and annuity business it is unusual to be successful at hitting your first-year integration targets while growing your top line.

I&T: Is your focus solely on integration?

Cornelio: No. At the same time we are integrating our legacy platforms we are aggressively deploying new technologies, such as straight-through processing, rules engines, service-oriented architecture and Web services.

I&T: Can you describe some of these new initiatives?

Cornelio: In the employer markets division, we are embarking on a more-offensive IT strategy to replace several older platforms with a service-oriented architecture that will provide greater flexibility in the business and more reusability of IT work. In the individual annuities business, we are making remarkable strides in improving quality and timeliness by taking the information that comes in from our distribution partners and feeding that information through a rules engine and enterprise bus into our administrative platform. We're eliminating the need to manually key in information.

We have a similar effort in the life insurance business. In that case we take the application in, push it through a rules engine, automatically order medical records, push it through an underwriting engine and, for certain circumstances, actually underwrite the policy.

I&T: What are the benefits of these types of projects?

Cornelio: The benefits of removing human intervention include improved quality, faster processing and reduced expense. But the major benefit is that these initiatives make it easier to do business with us. Our distribution partners obviously do business with a number of companies, and the easier we are to do business with and the easier they can navigate through our company, the more likely we are to be successful with them.

I&T: Have you achieved that goal?

Cornelio: We think so. It's always hard to tell how you capture market share, but in many of the places we do business we continue to improve our market share, and I think we are doing that for the right reasons -- customers find our products and service to be good, and we're easy to work with.

I&T: Lincoln Financial's Web site has received several awards. What is it about that makes it so good?

Cornelio: We spent a lot of time making sure we had the right functionality and information about the products and services we offer. We try to be consistent in the customer experience and provide a Web site that is relatively easy to navigate. This is really about what we think our customers need in order to accomplish what they think is important.

I&T: Were there cultural differences between Lincoln Financial and Jefferson Pilot that had to be addressed?

Cornelio: The cultural similarities outweigh the cultural differences. While no two companies have exactly the same culture, we have been able to work effectively at creating the new Lincoln Financial by blending the cultures and creating the optimum result.

Jefferson Pilot's technology was primarily in-sourced and centralized while Lincoln Financial primarily ran a federated model with outsourced systems and no central CIO. The heads of the various parts of IT reported into the businesses. We had to decide which model to use and determined that the most effective and strategic way to run IT was to centralize it while keeping very strong links between IT and the business.

I&T: How is the transformation to a centralized IT model going?

Cornelio: Very well. The businesses have endorsed this model and we have very little problem with not having the correct alignment between IT and the business partners. I am not a CIO who has to address the problem of IT and the business not seeing eye to eye -- IT is seen as a partner, which is great for our IT leadership and IT professionals.

I&T: How do you motivate staff, especially through a merger?

Cornelio: In any merger, the biggest challenge is picking the right people, motivating them and blending the cultures of two large companies. Our results tell us we've done a very good job at putting the right management in place. Motivating IT staff is about providing intellectual challenges. Are they working on new stuff or simply stuck in old environments? We try hard to get our folks to work on interesting projects. We look for ways to reward them for their contributions, such as through public recognition, compensation or new projects. I also talk with as many folks as I can about how they are doing and let them know that I understand their stresses. In all IT shops, you have to deal with ever-changing priorities, and I try to make sure that staff workloads are manageable.

I&T: How does the legacy staff fit into the new environment?

Cornelio: We are actively reorienting legacy folks. We have been able to take legacy programmers and make them Java programmers. It doesn't always work, but we have a good success rate. I feel good about that.

I&T: Are there any hardware or software products you use that are especially important?

Cornelio: We don't talk about our exact software or hardware choices, but we do have strategic partners. We've had a long, successful relationship with IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) and CSC (El Segundo, Calif.). We've enjoyed a rich experience by having a real partnership as opposed to having a vendor/customer relationship.

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