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Survival of the Fittest

Kevin Murray helps AIG get a return on its technology investment.

There is a saying in biology: a species must adapt, migrate or become extinct. The same could be said for insurance companies and their key executives. Kevin Murray, chief information officer and senior vice president of AIG (New York, $268 billion in assets) Claim Services (AIGCS), studied biology and seems to have taken the dictum to heart.

"I was a marine biology major in college; I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau," Murray says. "In fact, I was so taken with it that I went to school in Florida." Wiser counsels prevailed, however, and Murray migrated to Penn State, where he majored in computer science and minored infinance. Between his sophomore and junior years, he began a co-op program run by Penn State in conjunction with Cap Cities/ ABC in New York. "When I graduated, they offered me a job and I went into their systems analyst training program," Murray says.

After leaving Cap Cities/ABC, Murray went on to be senior systems officer at J. P. Morgan, and director of information services at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey. He joined AIG in 1996.

In the business world Murray found success required evolving beyond being a mere technologist. "Once I got that down, I really concentrated on developing relationships with people and learning to get involved in the business," he says.

Murray concentrated on this adaptation because of his belief that the IT side was "a piece of cake" when compared to the business side. What makes it so hard, he says, is managing and maintaining one's role as a critical contributor to the strategic business team. While senior management is busy running the business, he says, "you've got to figure out how to get next to them and become part of them." The formal business conducted through RFPs is one thing, he says, but the more intimate, informal process requires anticipating precisely what your strategic management partners need. That, he says, "means taking off your e-cap and becoming one of the business guys."

The CIO who doesn't make the transition to the business side is not likely to survive, Murray believes, noting that at AIG he is on the executive team payroll rather than IT's. This classification of the CIO within the business rather than in the technological family is important, Murray says, "because you really need to live on the business side."

Murray oversees four divisional CIOs, six systems officers and an IT staff of about 500. He manages domestic brokerage group claims operations and personal lines businesses, and is responsible for the development and production of all company systems.

He also directs AIGCS's business systems development group, which drives technology projects with a business-first approach. "Many organizations engage the IT arm too early and spin their wheels on efforts that may not even mature into bona fide technology projects," Murray says. The group gives him the ability to manage both business and IT, "and when the time comes, to make them one team and develop the technology," he adds.

As a member of AIG's executive management team, Murray is directly involved in all business activities, operations and strategies, says Anthony J. Galioto, president of AIGCS. Galioto affirms that Murray has been a key figure in the transformation of AIG into a technologically savvy company, saying that "he has helped mold a successful partnership between business and technology, and in doing so has ushered in a new era of claims management at AIGCS."

Murray could never have gotten there without the trust of AIG's senior executives. "When I first got here there was zero credibility," he says. "Everybody thought you were full of it, and didn't believe that IT was ever going to help them. The business people knew what they were spending—and it was a lot—but they weren't too sure about what they were getting for it. I put myself in their shoes," Murray adds. "IT is expensive, so you need to show them that they're getting their dollar's worth."

"Kevin is unique in that he understands that technology only adds value if it serves the needs of our business," Galioto adds. "Under his management we have consistently delivered high-quality systems at a great price."

Of Murray's recent accomplishments, Galioto says, "He engineered the development of a new claims system—built by AIGCS from the ground up—that handles all claims administration, functions and financials, and enhances the partnership between our claims professionals and our customers. He has also led AIGCS' migration to an interactive Web-based platform that offers our customers a tremendous resource of claims information at the touch of a key."

"I feel I have two customers," Murray comments. "Internally, I have my business partners and users of systems and data. Externally, I have AIG's customers, whose needs I service directly. I really try to treat them both as customers, and at the same level."

To get the best results from his operational teams, Murray relies on a theory of management he learned from his father. "Murray's Wheel," as it might be called, is a metaphorical guide to thinking about the workforce. "My father was a good manager, although I didn't realize it at the time," Murray says.

Murray's Wheel rolls in the direction provided by the manager. The most highly motivated 20 percent of the workforce stays on the outside of the wheel, providing the spin. "You don't have to worry about them," Murray says. "Whether you're the best or the worst manager in the world they'll be just as motivated." The remaining 80 percent are spread about the interior of the Wheel, most of them at different spots on the spokes—some even riding on the hub. "Those are the true coasters," Murray explains. The challenge for the manager, he says, "is to get as many of these people as possible out toward the outside."

Keeping employees motivated requires a conscientious effort, Murray suggests. "It's lots of touchy-feely, it's compensation, it's bonus," he says. "It's getting them to take risks and asking them to help you." But one of the main reasons it all works, according to Melinda Leary, assistant vice president, communications, is that "Kevin doesn't ask of his managers what he wouldn't do himself," she says. "He's very encouraging, he gives, lots of positive feedback."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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