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Management Strategies

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Stuart Tainsky Named First CIO at PURE

As the first CIO at PURE, Stuart Tainsky will seek to improve the nascent carrier's ease of doing business while establishing a more holistic approach to technology.

New chief information officers can say that they are the first ever to hold the CIO title within their organizations. Fewer still can say they have prior experience in such a role.

In May Stuart Tainsky was named chief information officer of Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (PURE), a White Plains, N.Y.-based insurer of high-value homes, automobiles, watercraft, excess liability, jewelry and art. Tainsky is the first to hold the CIO title at PURE, a startup founded three years ago.

"This isn't the first time I've been part of an insurance startup. I was at National Financial Partners [NFP] for eight years before this," relates Tainsky, who estimates that he was among the first 25 people employed by NFP, a national network of independent financial advisers founded in 1998. "I worked my way across [NFP] handling a lot of different functions, including chief technology officer. Dealing with a greenfield is kind of my wheelhouse."

In his new role, Tainsky, who also has spent time at Ernst & Young Management Consulting and Arthur Andersen Business Consulting, will oversee PURE's technology operation, including application development, Web development, infrastructure and architecture. After acclimating to the position, Tainsky relates, he created a three-year technology road map for PURE ($32.5 million in 2008 gross written premium) to help the carrier take a more holistic approach to its IT operations and services and align IT with the company's overall business strategy.

According to Tainsky, PURE's IT team currently is focused on improving ease of doing business for its independent agent force. Although Tainsky declines to get into specifics, he says projects involving real-time integrations, download capabilities and Web services are all a part of that strategy.

The company also will analyze its policy issuance process and examine areas where it can become greener, Tainsky adds. In addition to "utilizing an SOA [service-oriented architecture] structure to be able to link our systems together to provide comprehensive portals for both our members and agents," he says, "What we're going to be doing in the next few months is ... really listening to our clients and our agents out there about how we have to get better."

As a startup, PURE engages in a significant amount of technology outsourcing, in areas such as infrastructure management, desktop support and application development, Tainsky reports. As the company has grown, however, it has taken a closer look at which areas make sense to outsource, Tainsky explains, and PURE has started to assemble an internal development team for day-to-day maintenance. "For some things that don't necessarily provide a competitive advantage, you try to keep those things [in] an outsource provider [environment] as much as possible," he says.

Startup Challenges

But even with outsourced support, taking on a technology leadership position at a startup insurer comes with a unique set of challenges and goals, says Tainsky. "You're basically building your business process at the same time that you are building your technology, which you can look at as a positive or negative," he relates.

Tainsky looks at it as a positive. "The willingness of our business community to make business process changes [and] enhance or bring in new technology is a great way to operate a technology organization within a new company," he suggests.

That said, a significant investment in technology is required to develop all the capabilities the company needs to operate and thrive. "We don't necessarily have some of the systems and some of the staff that our bigger competitors have," Tainsky acknowledges. "We don't have all the data in one place. [There are] some manual processes and some decent expenses [required to consolidate data]."

As such, managing business expectations can be an important function of the CIO, Tainsky says. Many business leaders at PURE, for example, have spent time at more-established carriers with $100 million IT budgets. "It's a little different when your budget is a very, very small fraction of that," Tainsky notes. "But if that's my biggest challenge, it's a good thing."

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