“There’s really no choice.” The phrase that Prashanth Ajjampur, principal for Deloitte, uttered at the outset of his presentation encapsulated the message of the Silicon Valley Insurance Accelerator’s Fusion event, held over two days this week at the South San Francisco Conference Center.

Changing customer expectations and tech advances are upending the insurance industry, Ajjampur added, pointing to his fellow panelists. One of them was CSAA Insurance Group chief innovation and strategy officer Debbie Brackeen, who recently came to the insurer after a stint at Citigroup. The theme of the conference was the convergence of insurance core systems – the industry’s legacy IT structure – with the emerging insurtech landscape.

Right before she made the jump, CSAA completed a core conversion, Brackeen said. “I wouldn’t have taken the job if they hadn’t made the transformation,” she asserted. “We’ve been able to deliver stuff like usage-based insurance and telematics because of the improvement in the underlying core systems.”

CSAA is looking to work with insurtech companies and other partners in trying to make itself a more digital insurer, Brackeen concluded. “We’ve got a goal of adding $1 billion in new revenue in the next decade,” she said. “That means we really do have to think differently about how we’re going to create new sources of value.”

(l-r) Sean Kevelighan, CEO, III; Debbie Brackeen, chief innovation and strategy officer, CSAA; Angus McDonald, co-founder, Covergenius; and Prashanth Ajjampur, principal, Deloitte, the final panel from the Fusion event.
(l-r) Sean Kevelighan, CEO, III; Debbie Brackeen, chief innovation and strategy officer, CSAA; Angus McDonald, co-founder, Covergenius; and Prashanth Ajjampur, principal, Deloitte, the final panel from the Fusion event.

MetLife Auto and Home AVP John Tramonti said that the drive to meet customers’ digital demands has trickled back into the company’s overall IT strategy. In attempting to rebuild its customer portal, MetLife began to embrace Agile development methodology, with its small teams and quick iterations.

“We had a small group working in smaller teams. Once that group started to see the benefits associated with it, they became champions,” he said. “Now we have 160 people working in Agile teams.”

Many insurers who spoke over the course of the conference said that digital transformation wasn’t just a matter of incorporating new technologies. Rather, it requires a new way of thinking about the insurance business and process, and getting comfortable with failing fast and moving on to the next plan.

“When you are working in an insurance company that’s been around for 150 years and a P&C organization that’s 40-plus years old it can be difficult,” Tramonti says. “But we’re really building out the test-build-learn model and making sure that’s part of everyone’s gameplan.”

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