One year in, Marsh digital leader sees opportunity in small commercial

For the global insurance broker Marsh, its years of accumulated data on all aspects of risk can be unleashed with the right stewardship, according to chief digital officer Sastry Durvasula.

To that end, Durvasula has hired Andrew Hickman as global head of data science. Like the CDO, who joined Marsh in 2017 from American Express, Hickman comes from outside the insurance sector, having most recently worked for Experian. He will be responsible for advancing Marsh’s risk modeling and actuarial capabilities to drive new client solutions, the company says.

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“We are in the middle of the insurance ecosystem, with partnerships with clients, in the capital markets and more,” Durvasula tells Digital Insurance. “Data is a strategic asset for Marsh and there is a humongous opportunity to disrupt.”

Reflecting on the broader insurtech movement, Durvasula says Marsh’s digital unit operates “like an insurtech within.” One of the division’s major accomplishments has been its partnership with ACORD on blockchain-based proof of insurance, with the goal of making it easier for small contractors to be verified. It dovetails nicely with the charge to build digitally native business opportunities. Durvasula says the changing profile of the commercial insurance customer provides a big opportunity to expand into new products and markets.

“Whether it’s traditional small businesses or sharing and gig economy workers, that is where the prize is,” he explains. And he knows he’s not the only one to notice: Insurtechs offering solutions for these emerging risks pop up regularly. “A larger company will have difficulty trusting their critical risk-management functions to an insurtech,” so they compete for smaller accounts, he notes.

What Marsh has to offer, then, is an experience that works for the smaller business account.

“We look to partner with best of breed and bring an ecosystem for the client – cloud-based, API-based, using agile development,” he says. Data science expertise will help Marsh improve its ability to integrate machine- and deep-learning capabilities, the internet of things, real-time data and new risk models.

“Actuarial science is one of the fathers of data-driven risk modeling,” he says. “It hasn’t evolved as quickly technologically, but the fundamentals are strong."

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