Observers inside and outside insurance warn that the the industry is on the brink of being upended by the digital revolution occurring across sectors. Aflac CIO Julia Davis is acutely aware of that fact.
“You have entrants thinking about getting into the market that are technology companies first,” she says. “And our industry is at the tipping point where we have to decide to invest in technology. We may have the expertise in insurance, and we have to embrace that while being prepared for the future.”
Since arriving at Aflac in 2013 after holding the lead technology role at American Safety Insurance, Davis has led an aggressive program of platform modernization with the goal of improving the environment and experience for a multitude of stakeholders.
“The consumerization of our industry has affected what we need to provide from portal and mobile perspectives,” she says. “We have our internal customers that want to do things on their phone like approvals and submit expenses, agents who want to do quoting and check policy status, and policyholders who want to be able to file claims or receive payments,” Davis explains.
And Aflac’s specialized line of business means that there aren’t many “off the shelf” products that can simply be selected and installed without customization, she adds.
“You’re never going to find the 100% solution. There’s always going to be that circumstance where you have some uniqueness, and that’s where you have to leverage as much as possible outside of the box,” she says.
This year, Aflac launched One Day Pay, which enables electronic claims payments via the company’s SmartClaim portal, in response to an increasing trend toward faster financial transactions both in insurance and other industries observed by CEO Dan Amos. Davis had to move quickly and strategically to develop and implement One Day Pay. By leveraging Agile development, she was able to deliver the finished product in six months, when she was expecting three times that at the outset.
As the insurance industry gets ever more digital, however, information security becomes a key risk factor that can make or break a company’s reputation. So last year, Davis hired Tim Callahan from SunTrust bank to work with her as chief information security officer to ensure that new tech investments don’t come compromised, and credits him with helping raise the profile of security company-wide. After all, she says, the Aflac brand is one of its biggest selling points — IT doesn’t want to be responsible for compromising it.
“The Aflac brand was probably the biggest draw when I came here — people are so passionate about it,” she says. “The ethical values are the highest of any company that I’ve worked for. We want to make sure we
understand why people are doing what they’re doing.”
Community involvement is highly encouraged in the Aflac organization, and Davis has gone out into the community to engage young women who are interested in technology jobs. At a local high school, she supports the robotics team, and was pleasantly surprised this year to find that there were more girls than boys involved. Davis says she was concerned to read recently that the peak for women in science, technology, engineereing and math careers was actually 1984, when she was in college. “And there were many times I was the only female in a class,” she says. But insurance, she counters, is a welcoming environment for women who want to pursue technology careers.
“It’s not a sweatshop type of environment, where it’s 60 to 80 hours a week, but we are doing fun stuff,” she says. “And as we’re moving more toward a collaborative type of environment, it lends itself more to a style that appeals more to women. We practice what we preach!”
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