CNA’s Michael Costonis on His Innovative Leadership Role

Named COO in 2018, Costonis’ 2021 appointment as EVP of Marketing, Strategy and Innovation resonates more as an expression of both his career and the current moment in the industry.

(Image source: CNA.)

As Accenture’s Global Insurance Industry Practice Leader, Michael Costonis was a prominent industry figure for many years. His appointment as CNA’s Chief Operating Officer in 2018 was unsurprising, given his status as a senior consultant and thought leader, but his most recent appointment as EVP and Global Head of Marketing, Strategy and Innovation resonates more as an expression of both his career and the current moment in the industry. Costonis advised more than 50 insurance carriers in 21 countries during a time when IT was gaining a greater presence at the leadership table. His current title suggests a fruition of those years, where technology is now of crucial strategic importance, and it now makes sense for marketing, strategy and innovation now work in unison. This is what Costonis’ title suggested to us, and having spoken with him many times over the years, we thought we’d have a conversation to hear from him directly about how he sees his new role in the industry as it stands today.

Insurance Innovation Reporter: Give us a brief impression from you on how you perceive where the insurance industry is in its technology journey in 2021.

Michael Costonis, Global Head of Marketing, Strategy and Innovation, CNA: I think that on some level insurers recognize that if they aren’t ready to make the right changes to their business model, they won’t be able to capitalize on emerging opportunities. It’s moving so fast that you need to get the right players on the field to capture those opportunities. You need truly meaningful relationships with your distribution network, your technology must be up to snuff, and you have to structure your business the right way—you have to fire on all those cylinders to meet the moment.

IIR: Your job title is interesting. What is the relevance of your new role in helping CNA meet the moment?

MC: It encompasses broker strategy, channel solutions, strategy and transformation, giving us a closed-loop way to identify and execute on these market opportunities. We aim to take the opportunities from idea to reality by getting our capabilities lined up to our distribution network. Intimacy with our distributors is huge—understanding their heartbeat, what they’re focused on, knowing what we’re exceptional at and making that match with transparency and predictability. We simply want to make the harder things easier and the easy things effortless.

IIR: And you would affirm that there’s a confluence of challenges that makes make sense to place marketing, strategy and innovation within the responsibility of one executive?

MC: Without a doubt. The sheer pace of change requires it.

IIR: How did your tenure as CNA’s Chief Operations Officer pave the way to your current role?

MC: As COO, I was responsible for technology and operations. I also established an enterprise analytics function and an internal consulting team we called the Transformation Office. That broad scope gave me a chance to see at an intimate level the processes, systems and information required to efficiently and effectively deliver our products and services. Seeing and changing this first hand, getting technology and operations to work in a more coordinated and purposeful way is in a lot of ways what forms the foundations for the relationships that we are looking to expand.

IIR: How are you looking at the challenges of the market as you embark on your new role?

MC: Every element of this business we call insurance is changing. From capital, to the nature of risk, to the changes in distribution, and the ever accelerating pace of technology, there are a lot of moving parts.  What this means for us is that our world does not exist in a vacuum.  We have to maintain a very sharp understanding of our customers’ wants and needs. We need to know what our competitors are doing. We need to know what is out there that we can take advantage of to further our business.  Most of all, we need to stay true to our mission of how we want to serve the market.  It is a constant balancing act but that is what makes is exciting.

IIR: What are the main areas you’ll be working on?

MC:. Advanced analytics and data science allows us to blend the art of deeper relationships with the science of creating mutual value. That will help us to refine our understanding of our portfolio and experience, and then to make better matches with our distribution network. We’re looking to take advantage of investments we’ve made to move data to the cloud, as well as in advanced modeling factories. We want to combine this with our deep underwriting expertise to further position us as a solution provider.

IIR: Tell us a little bit more about what you meant by “closed loop,” and what that means in terms of combining disciplines to address new market challenges.

MC: Closed loop is really about taking something from an idea to an opportunity, and executing at scale.  To do this well, it requires focus, collaboration,  discipline, and continuous learning.

IIR: What are some of the advantages technology is providing today?

MC: Technology and the availability of viable solutions in the market is allowing companies to make some strong advances in how they operate. I would say that true competitive advantage is drawn less from software and more from data. What I have seen is that through this combination of advances and availability, the time to new or improved capabilities is getting shorter and shorter.  It is also allowing a different conversation to occur between business and technology.

CNA Names Michael Costonis Head of Marketing Strategy and Innovation

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 [email protected] or (503) 936-2803.

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