I met one today. I’ll call him Joe. He’s been in and around insurance for the last 20 years. Now he’s making a move, buying up a few struggling carriers, small blocks that have been led by tech-resistant exec’s who say “No” to anything unfamiliar (like anything Internet). I can’t wait to see what Joe does, now that he’s partnering with a Web developer that can make his ideas a reality. He’s got a vision of taking on the rest of medium-sized carriers (not necessarily the big guns like Humana and Anthem) with high-powered technology and creative products. He’s both chasing Net-ready agents and planning to sell direct.

While I was waiting to go in to see Joe in his humble, suburban Chicago office space, the latest issue of I&T fell out of my bag – cover story: Tech Savvy CEO’s. The article made some interesting and timely points. Bill Pieroni, GM of IBM Global Insurance Industry, says that true (i.e. authentic, effective, engaged, ethical, etc.) leadership has a “vision for the future and considers, from a stewardship perspective, what is going to be the fundamental basis of competition 5, 10, even 15 years from now.” I guess the undertone in that statement is… enough with the decision-making that only looks 90-days out; enough of the endless CEO cliché’s maximizing shareholder value while serving the customer, blah, blah, blah. On the contrary, let’s make every effort to do our homework, read, study, communicate, understand, and give meaningful new insights into where the market should go and how to best compete on that playing field over the long haul.

OK, I’ll admit, I’m not a CEO. I only talk to them day-in day-out. Maybe if I was a CEO, I would have greater empathy for the RRRREST of the story. But sometimes it seems that when the CEO finally gets to that position, at least in the Health and Life biz, he or she kind of runs out of gas and goes into protection mode, stops working on his or her skills, only reads the “in” books, etc., etc.. (Actually, mostly the “he’s” – the “she’s” don’t seem to fall into that trap as much, perhaps because there’s fewer of them.)

The article goes on to say that tech savvy CEO’s need to steer their technology in three areas: core insurance capabilities (policy admin and U/W), distribution and products. It seems that very few are (or have been in the last 10-15 years) “exhibiting the longer-term vision and leadership and investing discretionary dollars in this core.” You got that right! But that just leaves more room for the tech savvy CEO like Joe. He’s laughing all the way to the bank. …Now I’m doing my own cliché’s!
On to some cold, hard facts…. Zurich NA: their cost ratio went from 32% to 20% after a three-year process of redefining core processes and leveraging technology. Axel Lehmann says “Do what you have to do and do it right.” As my Dad used to say all the time to me during the log-home building days of my youth, “Do it now. Do your best.” AFLAC’s Dan Amos, an admitted non-tech guru, talks about his SmartApp laptop enrollment system, now handling 88% of new app’s, 58% of which are issued without further intervention – better, faster, cheaper as I like to say – including a 50% reduction in “defect rates.”

Lastly, Mike Frazier of Genworth had a couple excellent comments. First, he points out that effective leaders must look outside the company and industry for business models that drive innovation. “That forces leadership and the individuals within the organization to be good learners.” Exactly! He also mentioned being struck by the lack of technology focus in the insurance vertical as compared to financial services, his background. Perhaps his most compelling thought is that “technology is currently reshaping the industry’s competitive landscape,” an example being his digitalized new-business process. Lastly, with sort of a haunting comment for non-tech-savvy health and life CEO’s: “A business fights against commoditization every day. You have to fight with product innovation, distribution innovation, process innovation, technology innovation, and people innovation.” That’s excellent.

So what does all this mean? If you’re a non-tech-savvy insurance executive – Get in the Game! Shift your focus from the routine to the unfamiliar – right now, today. For those that are blazing the tech trail in health and life, keep it up and spread the word. And, oh yeah, IdeaStar Insurance Technologies can help with the Web quoting and enrollment part! ;-) Rock ‘n Roll…