OPPORTUNITIES IN INSURANCE IT
New insurance products & services expand the IT job market
“The life insurance industry is essential to the financial well-being of families.”
– Phyllis Johnson, New York Life
From the recent grad seeking a first position to the veteran technology expert, a job in the insurance industry can be a viable career choice for IT professionals.” – Keyla Cabret, Aflac
By Angela M. Hutchinson
To keep up with the competition, insurance providers are continually creating new or improved products and services. This requires a continuing supply of IT talent. Brenda Mullins, second VP for HR and diversity officer at Aflac (Columbus, GA), notes that “Our diverse workforce helps us provide the highest level of customer service while driving the business forward.”
Aflac, which provides insurance policies for individuals and businesses, has a current workforce that’s more than 70 percent female, and more than half these women are in professional-level positions, Mullins reveals. Minorities make up about 40 percent of the company’s employee base.
Opportunities are growing
In addition to insurance policies, many insurance carriers now provide a range of financial services. In the past, “A technology professional’s role was more or less limited to programming, but now the opportunities are steadily growing and specialized professionals are a big commodity,” says Kenny Gray, a senior application developer for Aflac.
“Previously there was a huge mass of data from processing and batching information to handle, but now we are able to access information that has never been used before. That can contribute to the bottom line of the business.
“In this new era there are new technology avenues, many of them related to business intelligence, to venture into and find a special niche.”
Bahija Noell is VP for IT business partnership management at Aflac
Bahija Noell began her career with Aflac in the IT department as a business systems analyst. That was nearly twenty years ago, and “Since then I’ve served in various leadership and management capacities until being promoted to my current position,” Noell says.
Today she’s responsible for the alignment of IT products and services to better achieve Aflac’s business strategy. “I oversee demand management and facilitate the development of technology implementation roadmaps for the planning year,” she explains. She also develops and sustains relationships with Aflac’s IT customers to ensure their needs are met.
Noell’s business partnership management office was established in 2005, a fairly new concept at Aflac. “I am enjoying seeing it come to fruition and begin to have a very positive impact on the Aflac organization,” Noell says. “Developing strong business relationships, and ensuring that IT products and services not only hit the mark but stay ahead of the business, is both rewarding and challenging.”
Born and raised in Morocco, Noell is a Muslim of Arab decent. She came to the U.S. with a Ronald Reagan scholarship at Eureka College (Eureka, IL), where she earned her BSCS. Later she completed a masters in management from Troy State University (Troy, AL) and the IT management program at Georgia Institute of Technology.
“My background has taught me to value diversity in everyday life as well as at Aflac,” she says. “I am open to diverse views and opinions and I always seek to understand my customers,’ my peers’ and my employees’ views.
“Individuals by nature want to do well and excel in life and work. I provide the environment for my group to accomplish more and be fulfilled as IT professionals.”
Keyla Cabret, university relations supervisor, notes that Aflac’s IT division has “a seat at the business table. This can lead to greater career longevity as opposed to being typical service providers,” she explains.
Healthy and competitive
“From all indications, the IT job market in 2008 is healthy and competitive,” says Steve Nexon, an executive recruitment director at AIG. He credits more investments in new projects by companies as they expand into global markets, baby boomer retirements and the overall drive to leverage IS as a competitive and productivity-enhancing tool.
Dr Maria Berenguer is a managing director at AIG
In 2003 Maria Berenguer, PhD joined AIG, Inc (New York, NY) as CIO, charged with building a team to support the needs of the newly created enterprise risk management function. Last year she was promoted to managing director for pension solutions in AIG’s investments division.
Pension solutions is an emerging group that focuses on defined benefit pension plans, Berenguer explains. AIG Investments is the asset management arm of AIG Inc.
Currently Berenguer is developing new business models to help companies manage or eliminate risks embedded in their defined benefit pension plans. “It’s a fascinating challenge, given the scale of the problem and the urgent need for solutions driven by recent changes in regulation,” she says.
Berenguer is originally from Alicante, Spain. She moved to Germany to study physics. In 1990 she completed an MS in physics, and in 1994 a PhD in theoretical nuclear physics at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (Frankfurt, Germany).
She became interested in the IT field as a project manager for Dresdner Bank, where she implemented a credit risk management system for derivatives. She moved to New York to join AIG, a financial services firm with more than 70 million customers and 106,000 employees in 130 countries around the world.
“I believe IT professionals are playing a key role in the transformation of the financial services industry,” Berenguer declares. “We are adding value not only through increased efficiency, but also by creating innovative solutions for customers.” Berenguer lives in Rye, NY with her husband and their three children.
Steve West, SVP and head of global operations and systems, adds that “AIG’s success is built by the people who work here, and their success is based on their ability to connect with our clients, the communities we serve and each other. It is really important to us that our employees are a reflection of the clients and communities we serve.”
Michael Kim is a CTO at the Hartford
Michael Kim is CTO for property/casualty insurance operations at the Hartford (Hartford, CT) insurance company. He’s responsible for application and information architecture, the “innovation lab” internal IT consulting group, and the company’s data warehouse and services.
Originally from Korea, Kim moved to the U.S. as a small boy. “As an immigrant, I was typically instilled with values that gave me a hard-work ethic and really made me strive for success,” he says. He was competitive in athletics as well as academics, and graduated from Yale University (New Haven, CT) in 1989 with a degree in economics.
After college Kim went into general management consulting, focused on the financial services industry. Along the way he’s been a management consultant at several companies, CEO of an early-stage collaboration software company, and a partner at Tillinghast (New York, NY), the global insurance and financial services consultant, where he launched and led the firm’s
Kim has been with the Hartford for four years now, giving full play to his passion for technology and enjoying the company’s collaborative work environment. “My job is to be sure the people I work with have the support and tools to succeed,” he says.
Peggy Anson, VP for workforce engagement and inclusion, notes that “At the Hartford we appreciate and respect the value of a diverse workforce in today’s competitive marketplace. We believe it’s a primary driver for success.”
Donald Rice, Jr is an application development manager at BCBSNC
In 2004 Donald Rice, Jr began at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC; Durham, NC) as a senior developer, but soon progressed to application development manager. His work includes resource management, project management, application design, career development planning and assisting with contracts.
“I’m here to support my team in making decisions and provide guidance if they have questions,” he says. “Once they understand what is required of them I treat them as professionals with expertise. I value their opinions and as a team we make decisions together.”
He notes that he’s “managed projects ranging from two to twenty people, both internal and external and including offshore.”
The call center is a current project. “One of our overriding goals is to reduce the total number of apps that our agents have to go into to answer a call,” he explains. “We have a very diverse user community and they need to find information very quickly and be able to explain it on various levels.”
Rice is from Winston-Salem, NC. He attended the University of North Carolina-Charlotte to earn his 1995 BSCS. In 2006 he got an online MBA with a focus on IT management from the Jones University in Colorado.
Early in his career, while he was working as a software tester for a local company in Raleigh, NC, Rice decided to accept a contract assignment in Germany. “This opportunity helped me take control of my career and gave me confidence in my abilities,” he says. “I learned that as a manager, I am only as successful as my staff.”
After a variety of work experiences as a technical business analyst and senior consultant, Rice landed his post at BCBSNC. A major perk in his current job, he thinks, “is that I get to see the fruits of my labor. When a project is over, I know I’ve been involved in something very tangible.”
He’s also part of his company’s effort to showcase diversity. For example, he’s led the black history celebration in his department for two years.
Fara M. Palumbo, VP for HR Business Solutions for BCBSNC, says, “The demand for new and emerging skills continues to increase. We must continuously seek to attract and identify talent from many sources, and maintain a diverse culture where these talented individuals can thrive.”
Kim Drumgo is BCBSNC’s chief diversity official. “A diverse workforce will help us keep a competitive edge in this rapidly evolving environment,” he states.
Lance J. Roller is an assistant VP at MetLife
Lance J. Roller joined MetLife (New York, NY) in 1985 as a junior systems engineer. Since then he’s held jobs from programmer analyst, systems consultant and IS specialist to his most recent post as assistant VP of enterprise technology services.
He leads the strategic data network engineering organization, responsible for global network technology services for the MetLife businesses. He’s also responsible for engineering tasks focusing on global network architecture,
e-commerce infrastructure design, remote access, mainframe networking, satellite, video teleconferencing and cabling infrastructure design.
“Twenty-three years of diverse technical and management experience combined with advanced education have enabled me to provide leadership in several capacities at MetLife,” Roller says.
In 1985 Roller earned his BS in computer and information science from Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY). He joined MetLife because “It was known as a place that took care of people and provided fantastic training, which means marketability for employees,” he says. In 1996 he completed an MS in telecom at Pace University (New York, NY).
“What we do in the engineering discipline is part science and a large part art,” Roller declares. “I let my staff develop and innovate. I set the goals and track what we’re doing, but I always challenge them to think of new ways to do things, and then I let them do it.”
A critical function
“IT is a critical function at MetLife,” notes Roger Taylor, VP of strategic staffing. “MetLife is always interested in talented people who want to contribute, learn, and be recognized for their achievements.” The company currently has about 4,000 IT professionals, he says, with at least fifty ongoing openings throughout the U.S.
Denise Singleton, VP and chief diversity officer for the company, notes that diversity is important, in IT and across the company. “At MetLife, we believe that leveraging diversity is critical for us to continue to be competitive in business, as well as our ability to attract and retain talent.”
At Allstate, Willie Anderson directs enterprise technology services
As director of enterprise technology services at Allstate Insurance Co (Northbrook, IL), Willie Anderson is accountable for 120 people and millions of dollars in technology resources. He focuses on integration, documentation management, social networking and messaging services and content management. “My group is mostly project-based,” he explains. “We partner with internal business entities and figure out solutions to meet their business needs.”
A big part of the work is making sure his staff stays energized, engaged and on schedule. He also offers project support, and focuses on leadership: “Setting a tone and culture to make sure we are service-oriented and provide what our customers need.”
Anderson was born and raised in Cleveland, OH. He has a 1993 BS in MIS from Akron University (Akron, OH), and began with Allstate as an intern while he was in college. That’s how he came to take on a management role at an Allstate processing center at the age of nineteen.
He managed more than forty people, mostly women and many working moms. “On my first day on the job, I told them I know less than any of them, but I learned how to listen to the team and how to motivate them to excel.”
Currently Anderson is working on a messaging project. “We are looking at how we can revamp our email system. We have the opportunity to build something that may not even exist in the marketplace!”
Anderson is strongly committed to Allstate. “They took a chance on me when I was a nineteen-year-old kid because they thought I could deliver. How could I not choose them!”
Brett Winchell, HR director at Allstate, notes that “It’s important for a company to view potential talent in the same way that it views potential customers. Companies must identify and connect to potential talent early, and leverage approaches targeted to diverse segments.”
Anise Wiley-Little, Allstate assistant VP and chief diversity officer, believes that “Diversity improves our ability to understand our customers better and deliver the products and services they want.”
Phyllis Johnson is a risk engineer at New York Life
Phyllis Johnson has been with New York Life Insurance Co (New York, NY) for twenty-two years. She’s currently working as a risk engineer in the info security group, developing processes and procedures that help identify and mitigate information security risks.
Johnson manages a security review board team that assesses application risk. She also tracks the progress of New York Life’s information security program through metrics measurement and reporting, and reviews the company’s security policies and procedures to ensure that New York Life is in compliance with government regs and industry standards.
She’s currently working on acquiring a tool for governance, risk and compliance (GRC). “The tool would take data from existing policies, risk procedures and security assessment tools to create an overall view of information security,” Johnson says. She’s been watching the evolution of the GRC for several years, and “It’s fascinating to see how the capabilities of the technology have grown.”
Johnson got her BS in economics from Binghamton University (Binghamton, NY) in 1985 and went to work at New York Life, attracted by the financial strength and stability of the company. She came in as a contract analyst, checking to be sure that employee benefit plans complied with state regulations.
In 1992 she completed an MBA in information systems at Pace University (New York, NY).
She also has certificates in IT security and LAN admin. “Grad school gave me a broad understanding of IT management,” Johnson says. “I learned everything from overall systems design to database admin. It gave me a very good foundation on which to build a career.”
Johnson has been married for twenty-one years to a “tremendously supportive” husband; they have two children.
Barbara Scaturro, HR business partner for New York Life, explains that “Attracting diverse candidates is not only part of our corporate strategy, but ensures that we have a large pool of talented candidates from which to choose.”
VP and chief diversity officer Katherine O’Brien adds that “New York Life is a company founded on strong values of financial strength, integrity and humanity. A diverse workforce broadens our pool of talent so we can generate new ideas and approaches, and better serve our policyholders.”
Suchitra Pandey manages special projects and more at Liberty Mutual
Suchitra Pandey has been with Liberty Mutual (Boston, MA) nearly four years. Within the program office of the personal markets IS division, she’s responsible for improvement, assurance and overall assessment of delivery processes. The division, she explains, provides full lines of coverage for autos, homeowners, valuable possessions and personal liability.
Currently Pandey is working on process assurance and improvement opportunities. “We are restructuring the way we triage and manage internal and external audit requests in our division. The goal is to gain efficiencies within the process.”
Pandey’s family is from India. “Education has always been of the utmost importance to us,” she says. Her father is an engineer and her mother works in IT. “My parents instilled in me the values, drive and work ethic that prepared me for the initiatives I’ve undertaken.”
In 1999 Pandey graduated from Stonehill College (North Easton, MA) with a BS in business admin and a minor in CIS. She went to work in systems implementation for a medical software company, traveling throughout the U.S. and Canada.
In 2004 she finished an MBA with an MIS concentration at Bentley College (Waltham, MA) and joined Liberty Mutual.
Pandey likes working with her teams and driving change. “I enjoy the challenge when change introduces a cultural shift,” she says. “It’s important to create and maintain a positive environment to drive change and continual process improvement.”
Key to success
“Finding and retaining top talent is key to any organization’s long-term success, because we can tap all pools of talent,” observes Stuart M. McGuigan, SVP and CIO of Liberty Mutual.
“It’s a given in the marketplace that companies need to be competitive,” adds Christine Lahey, VP of IS HR. “The job market is different now. Candidates are savvy not only about what they can do for us, but what the company can do for them.”
Niranjan Kesani is an AmFam apps tech senior engineer
As an applications technology senior engineer with American Family Insurance (AmFam, Madison, WI), Niranjan Kesani designs, develops and maintains moderate to complex apps, analyzes problems and recommends alternatives. He’s currently a tech lead for multiple Web-related Java projects.
“I really enjoy prioritizing and managing multiple projects,” Kesani says. He’s also growing his career by aligning with an architecture team. “I feel I can leverage my previous experience and entrepreneurial skills into the insurance industry to benefit the organization.”
Kesani began with a BSCS at Andhra University in Southeast India. In 2003 he went on to a MSCS from Mississippi State University, and in 2005 he received an MS in MIS and entrepreneurship from the University of Arizona. The MIS, he says, provides a broader range of insights into other parts of the picture besides CS.
Before joining AmFam, Kesani worked in a range of software jobs including engineer, developer, analyst and business-systems analyst. “I moved to AmFam because I saw huge growth in the insurance industry, and knew I could bring both technical and business knowledge on board.”
Al Meyer, AmFam exec VP, notes that “Acting on our commitment to inclusion and diversity helps make us a successful company. It helps create a desirable working environment and enhances our ability to service our diverse customer base.”
Bob Herrera is info services manager for Mutual of Omaha
As an information services manager at Mutual of Omaha (Omaha, NE), Bob Herrera manages a team of system analysts and project managers who support computer apps on behalf of Medicare Part A. “I am responsible for all Medicare system activities associated with our application team,” he says. He works with internal IS staff to complete a variety of requests.
Herrera’s team recently completed a large transition project over about fifteen months. “We transitioned a block of business and customers to a different company, and we were responsible for making changes to split the application into a separate environment. It was challenging, and very rewarding to see the transition end successfully.”
Herera’s father was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. to work during World War II. His mother was born in Omaha to parents born in Mexico. Herrera was the first of his family to earn a degree: a 1986 BA in business admin from the Kearney State College (now part of the University of Nebraska), followed by a 1991 MBA from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“I manage my staff by giving them full accountability and ownership for their assignments,
but I step in and provide direction and guidance when needed,” he notes. “I like working
with people and helping them achieve their career development goals.”
Herrera enjoys the ever-changing IT picture. “You need to be prepared to change along with the technology trends. The insurance landscape is also changing, and so is the long-term strategy of our company,” he says.
The value of diversity
Highmark Insurance (Pittsburgh, PA), the Pennsylvania health insurer, shares the diversity-positive views of most insurance companies. SVP/CIO Tom Tabor sums up the business philosophy of many companies, as he lauds the commitment to a unified, diverse workforce.
An inclusive work environment, Tabor explains, “creates synergies that maximize team effectiveness, produce innovative ideas and impact customer satisfaction. As our customer base becomes increasingly diverse, our workforce must reflect that diversity.”
OPPORTUNITIES IN INSURANCE IT
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.
|Company and location
|Life, health, accident, dental, life and vision insurance
(New York, NY)
|Insurance and financial services
|Asset protection and management, wealth transfer, family protection insurance
|American Family Insurance Group
|Auto, home, health, business and life insurance
|Blue Cross and Blue Shield
|Healthcare, dental, life and disability insurance products, information and services
|The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc
|Financial services; life, automobile, homeowners’ and business insurance
|Insurance products for individuals and organizations
(Long Island, NY)
|Life, auto, boat, disability insurances; retirement and investment services
|Mutual of Omaha
|Life and health insurance, financial services
|New York Life
(New York, NY)
|Life insurance, retirement income, investments and long-term care insurance
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