QBE North America, which is headquartered in New York and provides general insurance and reinsurance through five specialized business units, named Gina Papush chief data and analytics officer in September. Papush brought with her a wealth of data experience from across financial services — she previously ran data functions for Citigroup’s mortgage unit and also worked at GE Cards — and she says that insurance is well-positioned to take a leadership role.

Before big data, “QBE had a number of analytics occurring within the firm, and we have a very strong financial and actuarial function where there is a history of that,” she says. “Now that we have a centralized function or federated model, we’re driving the strategy and speed of innovation. It’s allowing us to create more scale and move faster and focus on top priorities for the business.”

Commercial insurance, like life insurance, requires a long underwriting process. But business owners demand faster service, Papush says, and that’s where big data comes in — access to as much data as possible helps get policies done faster. And, she says, insurance can learn from the example of the mortgage industry, which over-relied on automation and reduced underwriter involvement before the financial crisis. Insurers, instead, should use analytics to make their underwriters even better at their jobs.

“The mortgage business got into a bind, because it is a complex lending decision not unlike a complex insurance coverage decision, she says. “Whereas that industry went away from disciplined underwriting, what we’re talking about is injecting insight and intelligence to make better decisions. People expect decisions on complex commercial decisions faster than ever before. It’s very important that there is a strategic focus on leveraging analytics and data to drive business impact.”

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