Insurance Data Strategy Is a Board-Level Issue

Recent high-profile data security events have caused an increased awareness of the importance of data, necessitating a much closer alliance between insurance company boards and IT than ever before.

(Image credit: Dollar Photo Club.)

On Tuesday, May 6, 2014 — the day after Target’s CEO resigned amid data breaches, board members at many companies, including insurers, woke up to the reality that inattention to data security could reverse years of hard work and growth, threaten the organization and disrupt their own livelihood. But worries over data security are only half of the equation when it comes to data strategy. There is real opportunity and additional risk to be found in digital disruption and in the use of data for strategic growth.

Board-level interest in data strategy

A helpful way to think about data’s role in the insurance carrier boardroom is by generalizing the conversations into the following strategic categories:

  • Downside risk
  • Opportunity risk
  • Upside risk

Downside risk is the stuff of surprise headlines—and no board wants to be a surprise headline. Sony, Target, Anthem, Home Depot and all consumer-facing organizations are finding that data, especially personal and financial data, is valuable enough and easy enough to steal. The risk is great. An organization can have its reputation harmed, leading to financial damage from lost revenue, recovery costs, legal issues and regulatory penalties.

From a board perspective, an ancillary but no less important loss can happen if the CEO or CIO is forced to resign. Even when thoughtful succession plans are in place, a hasty, unplanned exit will have a negative impact on internal operations, external perceptions and shareholder value. A data strategy that includes excellent security measures and continued oversight is the insurance for insurers, protecting against financial, reputational and executive loss.

Opportunity risk is concerned with disruption. MBA programs have redefined disruption as a sort of digital anarchy where available technologies are rewriting the common rules of business. The term disrupters is used for both those organizations that capture the opportunities and those technologies that assist.

An excellent example of the relationship between data and disruption is Uber. Uber has hopped, skipped and jumped over taxi rules, regulations, pricing and communications to rewrite industry business practices using disruptive technologies and data availability.

Data on driver availability and the locations of Uber riders is converted into a real-time dynamic pricing model. Bonus services, such as anticipated time of arrival and forecasted fares, give them an edge, allowing them to compete at a whole new level. If data is making them competitive now, consider five years from now. What future opportunities will Uber be able to capitalize on with five years’ worth of customer and transportation data?

Insurance executives should take note that data and disruption can occur in any industry at any time. Uber’s experience is similar to P&C insurers who began using telematics to adjust pricing based on relative risk. Companies that are gathering and using telematics data now are learning lessons from that data that may make it difficult for competitors to catch up. However, board level data strategies can turn the tide of opportunity risk and competitively reposition insurers.

To circumvent the start-ups as well as the big players, such as Google and Amazon, and usurp their common role as disrupters, insurer boards will need to understand data opportunities well enough to prepare their own organizations.

Upside risk completes the insurance data conversation. The quickest opportunities for data transformation lie within the base of the organization and are built upon solid foundations in data management and data quality. This is why boards should really be concerned about data investments.

Boards should be asking, “Are we capturing the right data on our business processes? What outside information can we use to get a more complete picture? Is every business process improving based on the data that we are feeding back into it? Are we creating and fostering a culture of people who use data effectively?”

Forward-thinking CEOs will want to make data-driven decisions to improve the business, penetrate the most valuable markets, strengthen customer relationships and underwrite with more confidence. To do that well, they will need to trust the analytics they receive and have a rudimentary idea of how the organization gathers and uses its data for improvement. They will add that to their business acumen to mold an operational framework that will support competitive strategies.

The day will come when boards and C-level suites are populated with these data-driven executives who thrive on fact-based management. They will grasp data’s importance across the enterprise, respect its risks and capitalize on its ability to rewrite the rules of insurance. Some of them will be the same board members who started the data conversations in the first place, and who adapted their own mindsets to embrace the concept of insurance in a data-driven age.


John Johansen // John Johansen is a Senior Vice President at Majesco. He leads the company’s data strategy and business intelligence consulting practice areas. John consults to the insurance industry on the effective use of advanced analytics, data warehousing, business intelligence and strategic application architectures.

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