There's a persistent business stereotype that insurance companies are exceptionally conservative organizations that embrace the status quo and shun innovation. But any analysis of the past decade -- a period framed by two once-unimaginable disasters (the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon explosion) -- reveals an industry that has been transformed by innovation. Today's capabilities for forecasting risks, communicating with policyholders and distributors, and underwriting and closing new business did not exist at the turn of the century, yet are commonplace in 2011.
The innovations in technology and communications that have transformed the industry over the past decade are the focus of this special Insurance & Technology presentation of "The Top 10 Innovators of the Decade." In a thoughtful (yet admittedly opinionated) report, the I&T editorial team has identified 10 individuals who devised innovative ideas, tools, strategies and solutions that have led to positive change, transformation and growth within the insurance industry. Some of these individuals are (or were) prominent executives in the insurance business; others are from outside the industry -- in some cases, way outside -- yet their innovations were adopted by carriers and vendors and became insurance best practices. Some of our selections are probably predictable, while others may surprise you. Whether you agree or disagree with our choices, the fact that there can even be debate about the top innovators in insurance shows that "innovation" definitely is not a dirty word in this business.
But it also must be acknowledged that at many insurance companies there still is room for improvement when it comes to cultivating and embracing innovation. According to the 2010 InformationWeek 500 study of innovative companies, barely a quarter (28 percent) of insurance company respondents said their CIOs are responsible for innovation. More than half (56 percent) of the insurers in the study said they are innovating to make business processes more efficient, and 44 percent said they are innovating to lower IT or business costs -- in other words, focusing on process and operations. This compares to only 28 percent who reported innovating to engage customers in new ways and 21 percent who said they are innovating to get better business intelligence to more employees, faster -- that is, engagement and experience.
This special report also looks at the challenges of creating a culture of innovation -- and then protecting those advances once they start producing results. Successful innovators recognize that innovation does not come without risks, wrong turns or second thoughts. But without it, there is no growth or survival. By learning from the innovators of the past decade, we can drive the industry into a dynamic and profitable next decade.
USAA's Neff Hudson has been a central player in establishing the company's sterling reputation for customer engagement throught the early 2000s.