These are uncertain times in the workplace, with challenges in healthcare coverage, uncertainty about pensions and related benefits, and high-profile mergers and corporate restructurings. This turmoil isn't abstract for Thomas R. Watjen, president and CEO of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based employee benefits provider Unum Group (2005 assets of $51.9 billion). "We recognize we have to do things differently because our customers are confronted with a number of very visible issues: the rising cost of medical coverage, the rising cost of pension coverage, the very diverse nature of workforces these days," he notes.
Technology is playing a direct role in helping Unum "do things differently," Watjen points out. "We are very, very firm believers that using technology smartly does create substantial competitive advantage for us," he says. "We have to be sure that we improve the ease of doing business with the company. It's critical — in terms of growing our business and maintaining our market leadership — to improve our core processes for how we connect with the employer and also with the individual insured. If we're not easy to do business with, people have other choices, including not purchasing employee benefits coverage."
Giving Credit Where It's Due
But while Watjen emphasizes Unum has "proven to be successful using [technology] as a competitive advantage, because it's driven by business conditions," he is equally adamant about giving credit where credit is due on this count. It is CIO Bob Best, Watjen stresses, who has championed a culture in which "any technology discussion starts with a business purpose. Bob is actively engaged with his business partners around the company in a dialogue, which again starts with what we are trying to achieve businesswise."
This commitment to collaboration has been critical to this month's successful launch of a new operating platform, called Simply Unum. "It's a very simple but very potent offering of products and services, primarily for the small and mid-size employer," Watjen says of the project, which has been in the works for almost two years. "It allows for a wide range of products and services, it's easy to do business with, it offers a lot of choice. There are a lot of self-service components built into [it], and it's fully integrated from the front end to the back end. We think this will be the next generation of products and services in our industry. It has had extensive business team involvement — there's not a part of the company in terms of underwriting or claims or service or sales that hasn't been integrally involved in this whole process."
Simply Unum will adapt an existing technology platform that has been in use at Unum's Colonial Life & Accident Insurance benefits enrollment/supplemental insurance operation (the company also includes a U.K.-based income protection business). The easy-to-work-with features aren't targeted just to Unum's customers, Watjen notes. "The Simply Unum offering will simplify the process an individual might go through to service a customer," he says.
His praise for CIO Best notwithstanding, ultimately it is Watjen who creates the environment in which IT excels. "I play a fairly important role in creating the atmosphere, which encourages discussion across different silos," he says. Specifically, Watjen adds, he focuses on "setting the strategic direction for all our businesses. The second thing I do is work to make sure our organization, in terms of our management and our leadership teams, is organized in a way that facilitates good discussion across the different parts of our business, and [that we are] connecting our technology teams to those discussions as well."
Thomas R. Watjen
Career: Prior to joining Provident Companies in 1994 as EVP/CFO, Watjen worked at Morgan Stanley, Conning & Co., and Aetna. In 1997 he was named vice chairman and director. In 1999 Watjen became EVP, finance and risk management, of UnumProvident Corp., following the Provident/UNUM Corp. merger. He was named vice chairman and COO and was elected to the board of directors in 2002. In April 2003 Watjen was named interim president and CEO, and in September '03 officially was named president/CEO.
"I have tried to encourage our employees to recognize that change is ongoing — it doesn't come and go and stop. Our customers are changing, our marketplaces are changing and the competitive landscape is changing."
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Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio