Careers in IT at insurance companies may not be at the top of everyone's list, since the industry's image rarely includes exciting IT innovation. But insurance companies have a wide variety of IT needs and hire a wide range of people to meet them. And innovations: Web-based customer apps, for example, are moving in.
IT apps permeate the insurance industry. Agents in the field need reliable software sales tools. Consumers like to compare insurance products online. Privacy and security requirements are paramount. And above it all is the industry's dependency on information: data to be processed, stored, consulted, used for business decisions and prediction modeling.
Up to date with diversity
Insurance initiatives and technologies change constantly and rapidly, and companies rely on their IT folks to keep their computer systems up to date. They also realize that workforce diversity is good business.
At Harleysville Insurance (Harleysville, PA), Catherine B. Strauss is exec VP of HR and public affairs. "Different views and perspectives are important to generating the new ideas that lead to superior results, like better products and services for our customers," she says. "A company culture that encourages diversity also helps us attract and retain excellent employees."
Bob Salipante is president of Sun Life Financial U.S. (Wellesley Hills, MA). "A culture that respects and embraces individual differences fuels creativity and innovation," he agrees.
Jaime Sguerra is CTO at Guardian LifeJaime Sguerra has worked at Guardian Life (New York, NY) for nearly five years. He began as a chief architect before taking on his chief technology officer job.
He's responsible for a number of groups: enterprise architecture; messaging; enterprise info management, which includes data warehousing and management; research technology; developing and deploying enterprise security architecture; and document and processes services. He also coordinates the IT needs of the corporate marketing department.
Sguerra grew up in Colombia and graduated from the Universidad Piloto de Colombia (Bogotá, Colombia) in 1988 as a systems engineer. After graduation he came to the U.S. to look for job opportunities.
He worked as a consultant for U.S. Trust Bank (now Chase Manhattan), UPS, IBM and others. Then he signed on at the New York, NY location of AIG Life (Wilmington, DE) as assistant VP. His work there included a worldwide conversion project for insurance policy admin, and standards and practices for the life division.
He moved on to KMPG Consulting (now BearingPoint) from 2000 to 2002 as manager of the financial services practice, where he helped with Internet integration and strategy. And now he's at Guardian.
Sguerra enjoys working in Guardian's diverse atmosphere, leading his team of a hundred people. "My team is very diverse, and we work with people from many backgrounds," he says. "The company has a positive culture, and we all respect each other."
Sguerra says he's had helpful mentors throughout his career. Now, as part of Guardian Life's mentor program, he's acting as a mentor himself.
"I love what I'm doing here," he says. He would like to become the company's CIO, a job that is more business-focused than his current CTO position. Setting himself on that path, he's enrolled in a management training program, attends management seminars, and works with a personal coach who may help him achieve his goal.
Lynda Butler-White is apps development manager at HarleysvilleA native of Pittsburgh, PA, Lynda Butler-White graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a BA in sociology and earned an MS in social work at Columbia University (New York, NY).
She started her insurance career at Colonial Penn (Philadelphia, PA), working in support and moving into claims ops. But most of her twenty-year IT career was spent at Cigna Property and Casualty Co (now ACE, Philadelphia, PA) in testing and claims system management.
She went on to be QA director at AIG Life, and joined the Harleysville Insurance IT department in 2002.
At Harleysville she was initially responsible for managing the enterprise software quality test team. Early this year, she was asked to lead the QA test team that supports strategic apps development and business re-engineering for Harleysville's commercial lines products. The new role gives her responsibility for the software quality test strategy for all data and apps components.
Managing the test process means she must focus on data, system and infrastructure components of mainframe, distributed and Web technology solutions, all at the same time.
Butler-White notes that her work in IT and ops for the insurance industry has contributed to both her business and IT success. "I knew I wanted to be in management, and made career choices that gave me those opportunities.
"As a manager you need to be a coach, a mentor and a role model," she notes. She herself has had many coaches and mentors, both male and female, from all levels of executive management. "It's important to have a diverse group of professional friends and colleagues to give you career guidance," she says.
Butler-White adds that good communication is vital for success in insurance IT. "You have to ask a lot of questions and be a good listener, because IT jobs involve a lot of problem-solving."
Manoj Doshi is senior IT manager at AetnaManoj Doshi, whose background is African Indian, left Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to study CS at Central Connecticut State University. When he completed his BSCS in 1990, he'd already been working at the Middletown, CT location of Aetna (Hartford, CT) through a college co-op. When that was completed he was hired on as a business analyst.
He was promoted to senior technical engineer, then to senior business system analyst, distributed desktop support manager and now senior IT manager. The most recent job change also meant a move from San Diego, CA to Aetna's Hartford HQ.
As a senior IT manager Doshi is responsible for distributed desktop support for Aetna execs and third-level tech support for round-the-clock server maintenance, along with SMS and e-mail ops. He also manages tech implementation for major user support initiatives, works with external vendors and much, much more.
"I've been very fortunate in my career at Aetna. All my managers have been very helpful," he declares. His most recent mentor is the head of integrated user services. "He has helped me improve my business and management skills," Doshi says.
"I've never thought of myself as a minority at Aetna," Doshi concludes. "The focus here is on what you produce, not your ethnicity; opportunities are based on performance." He speaks Gujarati and Swahili, but doesn't get much chance to use them, he says with a smile.
Raymond Arroyo, Aetna's head of diversity, adds that "Diversity is an important and strategic lever for Aetna. It can improve the quality of our workforce and be a catalyst for a better return on investment."
Debbie Boyles: senior software engineer at Liberty MutualDebbie Boyles' father was in the U.S. military and her mother is Korean. She and her two younger brothers and sister got used to traveling, growing up mostly in Korea and the U.S. She attended Bryant College (now Bryant University, Smithfield, RI), took a double major in finance and CIS, and was hired by Liberty Mutual (Boston, MA) when she graduated in 2001.
Since then she's been in the company's technical development program, which includes business and tech rotations in all areas. Everyone in the program gets a mentor, and Boyles credits hers with helping her understand the company and her role in it.
Her current job involves developing Web services for business applications, coordinating and testing software systems, promoting the value of reusable software components and ensuring business service functionality for everyone. She also answers software questions from business agents and brokers.
Boyles works in an industry where men traditionally outnumber women, but she's comfortable with the situation. "I never think of women as minorities, but I do think of myself as a minority since I'm half Korean," she explains.
She is working on her charter property casualty underwriter (CPCU) certification. "I see myself going to grad school in a few years," she says. "I'm trying to decide between a masters in computer engineering and an MBA. I might do both."
James McGovern is an enterprise architect at the HartfordAt the Hartford Financial Services Group (Hartford, CT), James McGovern focuses on information security and complying with various legal and regulatory concerns. "We're breaking down IT stereotypes, becoming more open and pioneering as a company," he says. "The IT department is modernizing and updating its portfolio and exceeding competition in the use of new paradigms and a greater capacity."
McGovern grew up in Bloomfield, CT. His mom worked for an insurance company and McGovern had a high school internship at the Cigna Data Center in Bloomfield, but after high school he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. After his discharge a few years later, he attended several local colleges, concentrating on IT. "Once I realized that I was good at IT, I focused on it," he says.
During school he worked in IT at a local brokerage firm, a healthcare company, a regional consulting firm and an Internet startup.
He worked at the Hartford for more than a year while he was in college, and in 2001 he went back there to take his present enterprise architect job. "I know what direction my career is heading in, but I don't have a fixed target," he says. "My goal is to seize whatever opportunities emerge and provide value wherever I can."
The Hartford is growing, and welcomes folks with diverse backgrounds, he notes. "People who seem to be different are actually a lot like me. I never would have learned that if I hadn't taken the time to understand them."
Maria Schattschneider is a senior engineer at American FamilyMaria Schattschneider began her career as an applications technology engineer at American Family Mutual Insurance (Madison, WI) in 1997, while she was still at Madison Area Technical College. She graduated in 1998 with an associates degree in computer programming, and not long afterward was promoted to apps tech senior engineer. She's now going to college part time to complete a BS in CS/programming.
Schattschneider is currently responsible for the company's call center software apps, infrastructure and related project management. She's also involved in brokerage systems maintenance. She's worked on new development and maintenance in the mainframe, client/server and Web environments.
She's had several mentors who were "very willing to share" their know-how with her, and her current position gives her a chance to mentor others. "I've learned a lot from my mentors," she says. "American Family really puts an effort into growing its employees."
Schattschneider's great-grandparents came to California from Mexico in the early 1900s, and she grew up in California with two sisters and a brother, speaking both English and Spanish at home. "My elementary school was one of the first in California to use computers in school classrooms," she says, and she credits that for her early interest.
In the near future she intends to get into some kind of tutoring or speaking in schools, hoping to motivate Hispanic students to enter the IT field. "We need to let young Hispanics know there are jobs for them in IT," she says. "If they see their counterparts in a good career, then they may pursue it, too."
Don Schiller: service manager at State FarmMacular degeneration hasn't kept Don Schiller from doing good work. He began as a programmer/analyst at State Farm Insurance Co (Bloomington, IL) sixteen years ago, and has assumed more and more leadership roles and projects over the years.
Today, as systems service manager, he manages a team of fifteen consultants, developers and business analysts. The team works with analytic and business intelligence tools to help business partners get analytic data from the company's data warehouse.
"We get requests and translate them into reports and information to help people make decisions," he explains.
Schiller and his two brothers grew up in Jefferson City, MO. His father was an insurance salesman for Prudential, and his mother was an underwriter for a local insurance company. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelors in CS in May of 1989, and began at State Farm three weeks later.
He utilizes technology to assist him in his job. A screen reading program reads text to him, and a hardware/software device scans documents and converts them to text for the reader. This helps him increase his productivity "quite a bit," he says.
Schiller praises State Farm's emphasis on leadership development and its support for diversity. "Diversity programs here have been a high priority in the past few years," he says.
Donna Nelson-Duey is IT VP for Sun Life's U.S. HQDonna Nelson-Duey's father was an insurance company exec in Massachusetts. Today she is VP of IT for the U.S. HQ (Wellesley Hills, MA) of Sun Life Financial (Toronto, Canada).
She attended the University of Massachusetts with a major in education. When she graduated in 1977 she moved to New York City and took computer classes at Hunter College.
In 1984 she got married, moved back to Massachusetts and began her career at Sun Life. She's held a number of jobs over the years, including manager of IT and head of the e-business department. Last year she was promoted to VP of IT, which gives her responsibility for the development and support of all systems within the U.S.
Nelson-Duey has had two mentors during her career at Sun Life, and one of them is still with her. Sun Life's mentorship program pairs high-potential people with higher-ups who can advise them about the management track.
Being a minority and a woman in IT is "a positive," Nelson-Duey thinks. "Women bring a different perspective and work style." The IT organization recruits more widely than most areas of the company, Nelson-Duey notes.
So far she hasn't had a chance to work across international borders, but she's open to the opportunity. This goal should be quite attainable, as Sun Life has locations in Ireland, China and the Philippines as well as Canada and the U.S., and will be opening a support center in India.
INSURANCE INDUSTRY OPPORTUNITIES
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.
|Company and location
|Healthcare, dental, pharmacy, group life, disability and long-term-care insurance and employee benefits|
|American Family Mutual Insurance
|Health, life, property, vehicle and business insurance; loans and annuities|
|Health and life benefits|
(Los Angeles, CA)
|Insurance and financial services|
(New York, NY)
|Life, disability income, dental insurance; retirement services, annuities, business planning, employee benefits and investments|
|Insurance for individuals, small and mid-sized businesses; property, casualty, life
|The Hartford Financial Services Group
| Property, casualty, auto, home and life insurance; investment financial services; mutual funds, annuities, college savings
|IT for nonprofit health plan |
|Auto, home and life insurance for families, individuals and business|
(New York, NY)
|Insurance and financial services|
|Auto, fire, life and health insurance; financial services|
|Life insurance, annuities and mutual funds; group life and disability insurance|
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