Five Minutes of Fame (literally)

A year ago I was in Phoenix to participate in one of the sessions at the spring SOA meeting. I was given five minutes to make a point. While five minutes is not a lot of time, it was more than enough time to make a point, especially if no one else is debating you. To celebrate my five minutes of fame I have reprinted my brief, yet scintillating talk. The point I was trying to make was underwriting needed to become an insurance company’s strategic intellectual asset. Of course, re-reading what I wrote/spoke a year ago, I never mentioned my point in exactly that fashion. Not that it mattered. After all, I was talking to a bunch of actuaries.

Society of Actuaries Life 2007 Spring Meeting

May 10th Session 43

Speed Underwriting: At Least 10 New Ideas in 90 Minutes

Strategic Outsourcing

Strategic outsourcing represents a significant shift in the way businesses operate to stay competitive in the global economy. Outsourcing strategies have evolved from short-term tactical cost savings to higher-level strategic initiatives that drive revenues and profits. Cost reduction is tactical, not strategic. As insurance companies focus on core competencies and migrate away from fixed cost to flexible variable cost models, outsourcing becomes more and more attractive. Outsourcing must be pursued on a partnership basis. The buyer should get excellent service at a reasonable cost and the provider should make a profit or service quality will suffer.[1]

Strategic outsourcing begins with careful planning. Explore your strategic options for the current reality: a supply and demand imbalance in underwriting talent that will persist for many years to come. Downsizing and demographics have combined to create the current reality. What are your company’s strategic plans to attract, acquire, and retain talent? What does your company’s long-term underwriting training program look like? Does your company have a strategy to capture its underwriting knowledge before that knowledge walks out the door?

This reality is not a short-term threat. Unfortunately, our minds do not perceive longer-term threats because the human mind is not equipped to comprehend the modern world we have created.[2] Decades of downsizing and the aging of the Boomers are simply two drivers of strategic outsourcing.

Skills and knowledge can be taught. Talent must be acquired.[3] And talent needs to be matched with the work to be done. The scarcity of talent demands different approaches.

Combined intelligently, your company’s core competencies plus extensive outsourcing strategies can improve returns on capital, mitigate risk, provide greater flexibility, and make you more responsive to the needs of your customers.

Disclaimer: Strategic Outsourcing Program LLC Edmond, Oklahoma is not me. I was doing a Google search with the term “strategic outsourcing” and I found this company based in the same town I live in.


[1] The American Management Association (AMACOM) published a guide in 1999 titled Strategic Outsourcing: A Structured approach to Outsourcing Decisions and Initiatives by Maurice Greaver.

[2] New World New Mind, Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich. This is a great book published by Simon & Schuster in 1989 and will provide a fundamental understanding of our cognitive shortcomings.

[3] First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Another fine book from Simon & Schuster that explains why conventional thinking in business is not always correct.

Medical Information – Enough is Enough or Is It?

My thoughts have crystalized on the amount of medical information you need to know to compently underwrite life mortality risk. Consider what follows to be totally unscientific and strong personal opinion based on experience. I developed this opinion from reading way too many APS’s in my lifetime and some recent observations from #1, the pre-Med student. After shadowing some doctors and observing a few colonoscopies, an EGD and knee arthroscopy up close and personal, #1 made this comment:

“Wow, specialists need to know a lot more than a family medicine doctor.”

Classic Duh, what do you think? But his comment got me thinking about what we do for fun and money. I have always thought I would make a good GP/Family Medicine type of doctor. Aside from the real world reasons why I didn’t pick that path, I understood intuitively why I have felt that way. I am the ultimate generalist. I like to do something intensely for a few years and then do something else. This drives my wife crazy. It’s not a real good strategy either for building up a nice pension. I also don’t recommend this strategy for career development. But hey, it’s what I am.

I’m drifting here. My thoughts have crystallized. We are underwriters. We don’t need nor will ever use the knowledge a specialist in medicine requires. All we need to be are halfway decent family medicine practitioners with an emphasis on preventative care. We need to understand what diseases and what behaviors will kill you. So how do you become a quasi-family practice person without the medical school training? I have to think about this some more. As always, comments and input are appreciated.

Remote Underwriting – Half-Baked Thoughts

Several years ago I led a project team that designed and implemented a paperless work flow system for new business and underwriting at a company I once worked for.  I saw the future and remote underwriting definitely was going to be a significant contributor to the ability of companies to attract and retain talent.  Envision a cadre of experienced underwriters working from their homes in a human network that rewards individual members of the group for finding work not only for themselves but for others within the network as well.  Kind of a modern day intellectual collective.

At the upcoming AHOU meeting there will be a networking breakfast session on the topic of remote underwriting.  Due to a number of reasons involving comittments you really don’t want to know about, I will not be in Miami for the meeting.  But since I’m not going, I’ll toss in my two cents for whatever its worth.

“The discussion will cover all of the unique issues associated with remote underwriting, inlcuding technological concerns, training, scheduling, phone coverage, processes, management, and any other concerns brought to the discussion by attendees.”

Here we go:

  • Technology.  The technology to enable remote access to company systems has been around for many years and remote underwriting is a reality for many.  If you don’t have the technology, you better get it.  But more importantly you need to build a solid business case.  With the supply and demand equation favoring the underwriter and not the employer, each year that passes without the commitment to the technology puts a company in a more difficult position to attract talent.
  • Training.  This is a big one.  FLMI, FALU, CLU, yada, yada, yada.  Companies need to first figure out what the gaps are and what needs ought to be addressed through training.  Then create, buy, outsource, something, anything, to address your training needs.  How do you train a dispersed band of underwriters without breaking the budget?  See point number one.  Technology.  Try a webinar.  Check out http://www.gotomeeting.com.
  • Scheduling.  This is not an issue limited to remote staff.  You will have scheduling issues whether your underwriters are all under the same roof or if you have them all over the globe.
  • Phone coverage.  See scheduling above.
  • Processes.  Look for best practices.  Find out what has worked and what hasn’t for companies using remotes.  This isn’t and never will be a one size fits all answer.
  • Management.  Communicate clearly and often.  How do you make remotes feel part of the team?  What are the retention issues?  Can mentoring and coaching (not the same as training) get done?  Can remote mentoring be done at all?

Well, I think I’ve raised more questions than answers.  If someone attends this session let me know how it goes.