Alpa Patel didn’t expect to become an insurance technologist. “Growing up, I was strongly led to believe that all Indian kids became doctors, lawyers or engineers,” she says. “I was good enough in math and science that I became a chemical engineer.”
But due to a downturn in that industry, Patel took the opportunity to work at Andersen, now called Accenture, in 1988, as an insurance consultant. After stints there and at John Hancock, The Hartford and One Beacon, Patel landed at XL Group in May 2011 as SVP and CIO of global services. In that role, she implemented a new underwriting platform for the carrier, while also cutting infrastructure costs by about 20%.
“You have preconceived notions of what insurance clients will be like as a consultant,” she says. “But once you are a client, you realize how much more responsibility you have. I had a very narrow perspective in consulting and did not know what broad really meant until I came into the industry.”
Eventually, Patel was promoted to head of middle office, Americas for XL Catlin, a title she took on in the spring of 2016, about a year after the merger of XL Group and Catlin that created the combined organization. She and her team of approximately 300 employees support the Americas underwriting operations; she also is responsible for the provision of IT and shared services for the region. The role is Patel’s first where she delegates tasks IT focuses on, rather than fixing problems herself.
“My goal was to bring my technology background to operations so that I could add value to [XL Catlin’s] businesses in a different and potentially broader way,” she says.
XL Catlin is currently in the midst of instituting a new target model for insurance operations. The model will support underwriting across all regions after the integration of XL Group and Catlin. As head of middle office, Americas, Patel is responsible for designing a cost effective, consumer-facing model for the U.S., Canada, Bermuda and Latin America.
Under her leadership, XL Catlin Americas has been further leveraging shared services. More than half of policy support services are provided by XL Catlin staff in low cost locations. One constant is her ability to keep XL Catlin’s underwriting, product and regulatory talent together in the Americas to better serve customers.
There was some skepticism from business leaders in implementing a new model, Patel notes.
“We were clear in our communications to business leaders: this is not intended to be one size fits all,” she says. “My objective was to communicate the target and gain business buy-in through negotiating timing and scope relative to business value, while maintaining the principles of the target.”
XL Catlin’s target operating model project should end by the middle of 2018, with the bulk of the work being done through the remainder of the year.
Patel’s other ongoing projects are focused on the insurer’s overall strategy to implement more emerging technologies. Her team is eyeing new capabilities in robotics and the Internet of Things that will quickly add business value. Proofs of concept are underway.
The University of Connecticut graduate also mentors four leaders within the insurer’s shared services center in India and Poland. She co-leads XL Catlin’s Women of World program in Hartford, which is part of XL Catlin’s enterprise-wide Diversity & Inclusion program.
“I think [internships] are a great way to bring in young people that may major in a field where they may not see the applicability of their education to the insurance industry,” she says. “They witness the innovation, the business model and variety of skills needed to make insurance work.”
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