At the beginning of a career path that culminates with her today holding the reigns of Chubb’s commercial auto business, Sharon Ashton started in a position familiar to many Insurance Networking News readers: She was a developer in the insurer’s IT department.
Over the course of her career, Ashton says, she’s benefited from her experience on the technology side, as insurance and technology have become ever more intertwined in an increasingly digital world. But moving from the service side to the business side wasn’t as simple as waiting for that moment, she says.
For other insurance professionals who want to make a similar jump, Ashton advises that “It has a lot to do with networking, exposure, and image.
“You have to have the confidence to move up and on,” she continues. “My love was tech, and still is, but in order to be the best, most trusted advisor that I could be to the business, it was about sheer curiosity. The more I understood about insurance, the better my tech solutions would be.”
Ashton’s mindfulness about the business of insurance paid nearly immediate dividends for Chubb after she was moved into her current role. In the first three years that she was in charge of commercial auto, the book has grown to a total of $270 million, and was up 14% year over year by the middle of 2015. She has run a tight ship, with the best loss ratio of the top 34 commercial auto writers in the country, according to SNL Financial.
At the same time, her technological acumen has been instrumental in improving Chubb’s position among its peers in the industry. Ashton spearheaded the design and development of a system that was able to capture unstructured data for use during the underwriting process, a business problem encountered by insurers across the industry.
Ashton says she is passionate about the ability of data to revolutionize the auto insurance industry, and the promise of new data sources is one of the key reasons she keeps a keen eye on the connected auto and other emerging car technology, like driver assistance and ultimately, perhaps driverless vehicles.
“In the immediate short term, it’s all about data and analytics, and when we talk about auto insurance specifically, it’s telematics,” she says. “It’s starting to really harness the power in commercial of that data that the vehicle is able to share with us so we can better price the exposure.”
The economic structure around driving and car ownership is also in flux — and Chubb should know, since it is one of the insurance companies for the ride-sharing app Uber. That means that the insurers’ underwriters have to understand the economics and technology driving the innovation in the market.
“Chubb actually insures Uber on an excess layer, and to understand that an Uber driver uses an app on their phone and how it works to determine whose coverage they are on is something that underwriting is dealing with,” she explains. “They have to get educated about technology to meet the needs of these new tech-savvy insureds.”
That need is instrumental in how Chubb approaches recruitment and hiring for the next generation, Ashton adds.
“We insure chemical companies, so we need people who can underwrite them,” she says. “When I talk to people in college, they never give insurance a second look, until I say ‘We insure the NBA and NHL.’ Then they listen.”
Chubb is also taking a leadership position on using social media to connect people in the company. Ashton says that social has been helpful in connecting her with proteges, and has helped bring like-minded people together.
“You have to dedicate some people power to administrate [social],” she says. “Our working parent group is really successful.”
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