Indira Davidson: Finding the right direction at USAA

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The desire to be on the front lines is a characteristic of many strong leaders, and USAA’s Indira Davidson has lived that out in her career. The multiline financial services company’s AVP of operations and planning for claims started out in the back office, serving in multiple finance-related roles. But, she says, as the insurance industry has evolved to be more digital, innovative and real-time, she wanted a change.

“I wanted to experience a deeper connection to our membership and link all my years of finance, strategy and planning learnings to operations,” Davidson says. “I began with the company’s strategic imperatives and alignment to defined outcomes. How could I help the claims team manage the competing demands of the industry, while balancing the needs from a compliance and regulatory perspective? How do we continue to serve members in their time of need, while enabling an effortless and empathetic experience?”

Davidson is credited with building the operations and planning group within claims from the ground up. Her background in finance has helped her keep claims operations costs down – consistently 10% below plan, USAA says, leaving more wiggle room in case of catastrophes. She has also been credited with implementing processes that help the claims organization stay in compliance with regulations efficiently and cleanly. But her overarching objective, she says, has been to deliver an “effortless” claims experience that makes the member experience great.

“We prioritize and invest in efforts and initiatives that deliver the greatest value to employees, members and the association, never losing sight of the obsession we have for our precious resources and military families. We strive to deliver the most personalized experience and be the provider of choice,” she says.

“But our members’ expectations are changing and evolving every day,” Davidson continues. “The external environment continues to become more digital and real-time. More companies are using artificial intelligence in everyday operations, and non-traditional competitors are rapidly entering the insurance marketplace. These are the areas where we need to double-down and prioritize.”

Under Davidson’s watch, USAA’s claims organization implemented data capabilities that powered all these objectives and made claim information more visible and easily accessible across the group and company. The company has also been a first mover in leveraging drone technology to help get imagery needed to adjudicate claims after catastrophes.

“To achieve our goals and be there for military families for the next 100 years, we must make sure that our systems, processes and interactions are effective and efficient,” she says. “Automating manual processes and focusing on where we need to strengthen for scale and stability are key. For example, before catastrophes unfold, we must determine impacted areas and members and proactively communicate with those who are affected. Speed and agility are crucial to enabling us to bring members back to normal.’”

Davidson relates that the opportunities to be a change agent in the insurance industry are growing as a result of the increasing digitalization of the sector. The breakdown of silos between practice areas, front- and back-office functions, and the increasing necessity to serve customers in real-time provide a strong incentive to become a well-rounded employee with knowledge of how every aspect of the insurance business works.

“Years ago, one would have received their accounting degree, become a CPA and hoped to land a job with one of the big accounting firms,” she says. “And, certainly, my finance background has been my strongest and most valuable enabler throughout my career, allowing me to appreciate what our members and employees go through each day.”

Companies in the insurance industry are looking for leaders that have hybrid, blended skills, she adds. Working as a mentor to women and men in the organization, Davidson looks to deliver the message that it’s always worth learning a little more.

“The strategic thought leader of tomorrow must be able to not only understand financial components and complex business models, but also translate strategy to execution,” Davidson explains. “This evolution of leadership is why I decided to make the move from finance to operations. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn the entire lifecycle of the insurance business.”

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