The Who's Who of Financial Services
An Interview with Mathews George, Head of IT, MetLife Australia
Tala Jahangiri, Journalist, FST Media, 02 Feb 2011
Jahangiri: How close is the insurance sector to automating end-to-end claims online, i.e. from submission, to facilitating tracking and payout?
George: Making the claims process simple and transparent to the customer is paramount to comforting them when they need it the most. I believe the insurance sector is just a step away from end-to-end automation of claims. In fact MetLife launched online claims in the fourth quarter of 2010.
To protect the interests of the customer there is usually a manual check before delivering the decision and commencing the payment process. I believe that there’s a paradigm shift that the Underwriting department has been through and that the Claims area is now working on.
Jahangiri: What is the next generation of customer channels in the insurance industry?
George: The ubiquitous access to services through portable devices that banks have offered for a while has just started permeating through to the insurance industry. Although this is not ‘next generation’ in its true sense, we will start to see these technologies be in the insurance spotlight in the near future. Social networks is the other channel that is gaining recognition as customers are giving weight to peer group recommendations apart from their own research for competitive products.
Jahangiri: How is MetLife responding to the increasing customer demand of real-time interaction with insurers?
George: Needless to say that with the advent of social media instant gratification has become the norm. If it's not real time, it's not worth the time. At MetLife we had online submission and tracking ofapplications and claims for some time now. And we also deliver real-time decisions through our online applications. We've recently launched online claims with a manual review of the assessment. Once we accumulate adequate statistical evidence to give us comfort that the system is making the right decision for the customer, we will be providing an online decision for some of our claims. Over the course of this year, we would enable self-service portals aimed at both our business partners and their customers.
Jahangiri: From an IT perspective, what’s the next ‘big thing’ we can expect to see in the wider insurance landscape?
George: I can see a couple of things on the horizon. Unfortunately with Paul the ‘octupus’ not around, I haven’t been able to pick the next big thing to put my bets on. I think commoditisation of insurance products will be something to look out for. By that I mean simply the insurance products & process of purchasing it so that the customer can refer to a standardised table to compare products across providers.
Jahangiri: What are your top IT development priorities for the year ahead?
George: At MetLife we believe in ‘One Team One Focus’, so our IT development priority is very much aligned to this motto. The top three priorities are –
a) Enable our suite of technology offerings for our business partners and their customers.
b) To improve customer intimacy, we are also investing in an insurance industry data model to leverage and reuse what already exists rather than starting from scratch.
c) Self-service portals aimed at both our business partners and their customers.
Jahangiri: From a technology perspective, what are some of the challenges preventing the insurance sector from achieving a single-customer-view?
George: I think the main challenge preventing a single-customer-view for an insurance company is where they fit in the value chain. In a group risk scenario the insurer may not have access to the customer details, except for cases beyond the authority of the administrator that were referred to them. Even though the insurance company may have the platform product provider. Meaning that by the end everyone has a piece of the puzzle, but not the full picture.
From a technology perspective I think the challenges are twofold.
First, over time insurance companies would have built or acquired an assortment of systems that have their own definitions and structures making it a sizeable task to bring the information together to provide this view.
Secondly, justifying the benefits of such a project to the company’s earnings is usually more difficult than let’s say an online application that taps into a new channel or reduction in maintenance cost through means like virtualisation.
Jahangiri: What are your thoughts on cloud computing; and what do you see as the key security challenges for organisations embracing a cloud infrastructure?
George: Cloud computing is an option that should be considered while making any IT investment decision. But the security, risk and governance considerations that would generally apply for any other outsourcing arrangements should be given reasonable thought before making a decision. The challenges for an organisation will be specific to the nature of their business and policies around IT security, risk and governance. However, we should be aware that certain policies may be implemented differently, such as through an application control rather than a physical control. So keep an open mind.
Jahangiri: How closely aligned is MetLife’s local technology roadmap with that of the global group and how have you tailored it to the Australian market?
George: The IT roadmap for the country is based on the local requirements. However, the regional / international group through investment governance ensures that there is leverage and reuse across the countries thereby creating a broader technology roadmap. For this reason our local technology is tailored for the Australian market and at the same time closely aligns with our regional/international roadmap.
Jahangiri: How is technology changing your customer’s insurance consumption habits?
George: Customers are spending more time online, accessing the services they need at their own convenient time and place. We in turn have to constantly monitor these trends and ensure that we are ready to support and enhance the customer experience through the channels that they prefer to use.
Jahangiri: Every IT leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?
George: Think big! Thinking big brings in visibility, fosters collaboration and helps to concentrate effort when and where it matters the most. It also gives a greater sense of pride and satisfaction when the broader goal is achieved.
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