Agile Insurer: Tracy Tillinghast, Topa Insurance

A veteran of business and IT, small and large companies, Tillinghast talks about the Topa’s dynamic, opportunistic and innovation-friendly culture.

(Tracy Tillinghast, CIO, Topa Insurance. Source: Topa Insurance.)

Topa Insurance (Calabasas, Calif.) exemplifies the agility with which smaller property/casualty insurers can be effective competitors and innovators. The company has attracted attention in the industry for its use of up-to-date technology for core systems and data, as well as its innovative market activities involving interest partners, such as homeowners’ insurance innovator Hippo (San Francisco), and products—such as the StormPeace Florida parametric homeowners’ policy, a joint undertaking with Assured Risk Cover (Pleasanton, Calif.). The company recently made several executive appointments, including promoting Tracy Tillinghast to the role of Chief Information Officer.

Brian Schween, former CIO, Topa Insurance Group.

Tillinghast was recruited by Topa’s then CIO Brian Schween, a former CSAA (Walnut Creek, Calif.) colleague. Topa was in the throes of implementing the Guidewire InsuranceNow core system suite for its Commercial Excess and Commercial Auto lines of business at the time, and Tillinghast had just wrapped up implementation of EIS Group’s core technology at CSAA. “They signed me up for a six-month contract, and one of the things Brian sold me on was that there might be opportunities beyond that,” Tillinghast recalls.

When Schween had the opportunity to move to Topa parent company Topa Equities (Los Angeles), he recommended Tillinghast as his replacement to Michael Day, now Topa Insurance’s CEO. Day gave Tillinghast the job on a three-month trial basis, but after six weeks decided he didn’t need any more time. “He liked some of my ideas about where to go in the future,” Tillinghast says. “He also liked that I had started my career on the business side and could understand the business users’ perspective.”

In his new role, Tillinghast is currently focused on ease-of-use initiatives and migrating policies to the Guidewire InsuranceNow platform. “We do all of our business through brokers, so my driving order is to make it as easy and simple as possible,” he says. “We’re working on a submission automation project that will enable us to consume brokers’ submissions automatically into Guidewire and respond with a quote or indication.”

Michael Day, President & CEO, Topa Insurance Group.

When it comes to the broader opportunities presented by technology today, Tillinghast notes the growing impact of new data sources. “We continue to see more data available at a price of course where you can prepopulate to a higher level of detail,” he comments. “That will make a huge difference.”

Tillinghast sees new ways integrating with partners as an important direction, whether those be for purposes of distribution or for accessing capabilities. “One thing I like about partnering with Guidewire, is their leader coming from Salesforce and taking a similar approach with APIs,” he says. “This makes it easier to connect with third parties that give me more options to build things such as agent portals—I don’t have to be dependent on vendor or build myself.”

Topa is also exploring the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to help identify risks through automation and to identify fraud.

Innovative Atmosphere

Having worked for very large organizations, Tillinghast enjoys a more spontaneous environment for exploring business and technology innovation at Topa, both because of the size and the culture of the organization. “In a small organization like Topa you don’t have the same bureaucracy—there are no decisions by committee,” he relates. “I had a conversation with Mike [Day] this morning about AI. There is support here, but there’s also an atmosphere where it’s easy to go from talking to the next stage, and creating an initiative without going through layers of bureaucracy.”

Tillinghast sees technology as vital in making the most of Topa’s agility, which he sees as one of the company’s competitive advantages. “As a small organization, we need to grow revenue without growing staff by a tremendous amount,” he says. “We have the small company culture where we look for opportunities that we believe we can capitalize on. And backed by a well-capitalized company like Topa Equities, we can take advantage of those opportunities.”

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Anthony R. O’Donnell // Anthony O'Donnell is Executive Editor of Insurance Innovation Reporter. For nearly two decades, he has been an observer and commentator on the use of information technology in the insurance industry, following industry trends and writing about the use of IT across all sectors of the insurance industry. He can be reached at or (503) 936-2803.

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