Safety National's Griffith navigates changing CIO role

Chris Griffith is VP and CIO at Safety National Group, which he joined in 2013. Chris’ previous positions include senior technology roles at IX3 Technology Group and CCMSI. Chris graduated from the University of South Carolina Upstate with a BS in Computer Science and earned an MBA from the University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business. Chris was interviewed for the Novarica Update in 2018. The insurance tech analyst firm gave permission to Digital Insurance to re-post this interview.

Tell us about your role and how your IT group is structured.

Safety National is a market-leading specialty insurance and reinsurance carrier. On the insurance side of the business, we offer a variety of risk solutions for large commercial and public entity clients, with lines including workers’ compensation, commercial auto, general liability, cyber risk insurance, and other specialty lines. We are a member of the Tokio Marine Group and work closely with other TM group companies to find synergies to help us lower costs and stay on top of trends in the industry.Our claims handling is unbundled and we work closely with our Broker and TPA partners to offer best-in-class customer service to our insureds. To support our uniqueness within insurance, we have several major IT initiatives, including Guidewire InsuranceSuite, Salesforce, and custom development projects built and supported by our amazing IT team.

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About half of our staff is local to St. Louis and we have an offshore office in Salta, Argentina and another in Ukraine. We operate our Guidewire project somewhat uniquely, with an agile 2-in-the-box approach. We work with EY as an SI partner, but pair a person on our staff with an EY resource and take over leading the project about half way through, so that our team is fully capable of supporting the project on our own by the end. This helps lower the total cost of ownership of Guidewire. We follow a similar agile, iterative development process for all other IT projects.

How has managing that blended team worked?

Communication can be a challenge when working with diverse teams from different countries. We work with our teams to help them learn English, and use both video and chat technology that helps break down the communication barriers. Business drives IT at Safety National, and we work closely with business through tools like Slack and Vidyo to ensure our teams are fully meeting the needs of our business partners.

We see that Safety National is focused on digital innovation and analytics; what are your key projects these days?

Safety National is making a significant investment in both digital innovation and analytics. We promoted a CTO to handle day-to-day IT operations and created an EPMO to handle project management responsibilities. This has helped to free my time to focus on leading both our analytics and digital innovation initiatives.

I co-lead our data analytics committee with our chief risk and predictive analytics officer. Having been a leading carrier in excess worker’s compensation since 1942, we have a significant amount of data for both prescriptive and predictive analytics. We are actively building a data lake and are working to provide a self-service reporting interface to that lake so that our employees can view data when they need it, how they want to see it, without having to ask for it. We also have a data dictionary that connects to the self-service tool to ensure that we clearly define the fields used by business and pull them from the same location.

We have a data science team that reports to me, which is currently building internal facing models, and is working with several InsureTech companies to provide predictive analytics to our insureds. We are unique in that most of our policies have very high deductibles; the insured assumes a lot of the risk themselves. Providing our customers with predictive models at a dollar threshold relevant to their policy helps us to continue to provide top-tier customer service to them.

As the leader of digital innovation, I work closely with our senior and executive management team as well as with Tokio Marine to focus on the digital areas that will help move our company forward. We are actively implementing robotic process automation, utilizing UIPath, to automate many manual, repetitive processes throughout the company. We are looking at initiatives, including artificial intelligence, telematics, wearables, chatbots, digital portals, and data integration with partners. Blockchain is also a concept that we are very interested in as a company and we see several potential use cases for this technology to help improve the service we provide our customers.

How is your new role different from the traditional IT leadership role?

Thinking strategically forward instead of fighting daily fires has been the biggest change in my role as CIO. I am now the digital evangelist of the company, and with that comes the responsibility of having the vision for how digital will help transform our company over the next decade.With the rise of digital innovation and InsureTech, IT leaders are now in a role where business is asking us what we should do. We get to bridge the gap between business and digital.

So what sells best to your colleagues in other business units?

Typically, what sells best is ideas that help improve our customer experience or decrease operational expenses. They like ideas that improve the expense ratio or help improve stickiness with a customer. For Safety National every policy is complex, every opportunity is unique. We are applying this same mindset to digital innovation, by considering every opportunity and determining how it fits with our customer.

How have you and your team leveraged your relationship with Novarica?

We consider Novarica to be a partner. When we evaluate anything new—any technology, any vendor, any concept—one of the first things we do is research through Novarica. You help us to make better decisions.

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