Episode Sixteen: Insurance is All About the Data

Divide, Conquer and Integrate

Yanna Winter, CIO and Head of UK and Global Corporate & Commercial IT at Generali joins us on the podcast to share her views on the use of data across the insurance industry. Tune in to hear why she feels data is key to putting ‘the pieces together and the value of data for risk and portfolio management.

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 16: Insurance is All About the Data

Guests: Yanna Winter, CIO of UK and Global Corporate & Commercial IT, Generali
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO - Dun & Bradstreet

Sam TN 00:00
Welcome to the power of data podcast. I'm joined today by Yanna Winter, CIO of Generali UK IT and Global Corporate and Commercial IT. That's a mouthful. Welcome Yanna.

Yanna Winter 00:10
Thank you

Sam TN 00:10
Yanna before we get stuck into insurance, you've had a decorated career across a number of different areas of industry, including having spent time at Gartner and Capgemini. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your career so far?

Yanna Winter 00:23
I have spent my entire life in IT. And my focus has always been on the end to end responsibility and how all of the pieces come together. My current job as Chief Information Officer, that has always been my dream. Also, in consulting, it has always been the emphasis on how wide how deep how complex things can be. Four of my IT transformations cost two billion pounds in total. So there have been big transformations where there's nothing that compares with the full ownership of the idea of a complex company.

Sam TN 00:54
I want to come back to the point you just made on end to end responsibility and how it all comes together. That's a nice catchphrase already for the data component of this. But for those that aren't familiar with Generali, can you tell us a little bit about the business, about it scale and about your areas of responsibility?

Yanna Winter 01:11
Generali is an Italian company. It started about 200 years ago, one of the first insurance companies, it is one of the largest by gross rate and premium. It is operating in 50 countries. And I would describe it is a very, very strong, prominent player in Western Europe, and with great prominence in Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and Asia. It has a wealth of licensed business, including obviously, insurance and asset management. I'm just going to have one claim to fame, some of the loveliest buildings you can see in Italy are owned by Generali.

Sam TN 01:48
That's awesome. I'm not going to tell you who told me this, but I hear they also own some of the greatest vineyards in the world as well.

Yanna Winter 01:54
This absolutely correct and tested.

Sam TN 01.56
Yeah, I've tested it to actually. Wow, 200 years old, combine that with Dun & Bradstreet’s history and we've got nearly 400 years between us that's quite something. I know one of your key priorities has been creating a Master Data Management System and essential part for anyone looking to build a future proof strategy upon which to grow. How's this transform data management and governance and what benefits have you seen across the business from having that cohesive data strategy in place

Yanna Winter 02:25
For a moment and I will go into an IT world because it's all about the labels definition what people mean by that. So, instead of having a religious war or a terminology for us, Master Data Management is not right piece of data was in will propagate throughout all the systems, but it's much more do we know what data is where and most importantly, how do we link it to use it? Again, although my IT career I have seen a lot of very expensive and failed attempts to have one physically existing store of data, which is the master tidy up the clean it up, lock it away, don't touch it again. In the world of reality, we have to admit that we have multiple countries, multiple businesses, multiple territories, multiple revenues. So for us Master Data Management is possible, whoever customize where they are, identify them, and then have the strength and the technology to link all of that and use it for analytics for reporting for new market opportunities. So again, we are being strong to know that data will exist in many places. For us the emphasis of Master Data Management is how we link it.

Sam TN 03:42
It's a really interesting point you made there about the linkage. So it's not just the what or the where it's not just having clean structured data, it's about the linkage. One of the things when and I've only been at Dun and Bradstreet for six months now that I assess when I came in. The thing that made Dun and Bradstreet unique was its ability to link. Without that linkage data sits in isolation. It doesn't help break down silos, it doesn't help digital transformation. So linkage I think is a key word that we're going to come back to a fair amount. I think in our conversation. Let's talk about the insurance industry. The insurance industry fascinates me. I've not worked in it, so it's been an outside in view, enjoy the conversations. I have my father in law, who's in the insurance industry. I think he’s had a good time in the insurance industry, truth be told, what role does data play within the industry? And how do you think that is evolving?

Yanna Winter 04:32
So it may sound simplistic, but insurance is all about the data, because it's very rare for the insurance industry to have a tangible product. So it's all about the data in a very simple approach. It is data in data out and in the middle. What do you do with it? And it may sound simple, but all these three steps data in data out in the middle, what do you do with it? If you multiply everything by a big number 1000 2000 3000 when you multiply it the about few billion ways of going about it, then my responsibility as the Head of IT is to provide my business with simple approach to data, again on the data in will receive fast amount of information and data from various sources in various forms with various frequency. Various importance is not simply the underwriting data, but also the data that helps us put the pieces together in the middle. I'm going to mention Dun & Bradstreet, without the DUNS numbers, the unique numbers, we would not have been able to the middle bit of how the data links now on the data out how we use it, the obvious candidness obviously for our own users for applications for reporting, regularity reporting, insight analysis, regulatory reporting at insurance, specifically, it's all about the data. I have worked a lot with banking, maybe in banking, data is a little bit less prominent. But insurance, in my view is all about the data.

Sam TN 06:10
I always get nervous when I'm talking to a technologist that I'm not going to understand things. So when you talk about simplifying it, I get very excited. That was a really beautiful snapshot of exactly what happens. Insurance is all about data, data in data out and then that component in the middle what you do with it, the insights you take from it is the important part. So let's talk about those those benefits a little bit. What are some of the benefits that an insurance firm can look to extract from sensible data usage and analytics?

Yanna Winter 06:42
Talking about the benefits I'm going to give you two very specific examples because I'm sure that each company has its own vision, how they want to use data, whether it is for business benefits, whether it's for regulatory compliance, but I'm going to give you two examples. One is risk management. Especially for an insurance company like ours, we operate in 70 countries. So if we're underwriting risk, and the risk is property related, and our customized corporate and commercial customer, the big company that operates in, let's say, 40 of our 70 countries, are we going to approach this 40 different countries with 40 different risk exposures. Or I'm going to be able to aggregate this and analyze it. Very specific now again in the hurricane period of the year, do we take partial or local view, or do we take the global view. My IT strategy is again, simple, which is divide, conquer, and integrate. So including for our data, and zooming into the data trend is, on one hand will have more and more data providers everyday they need a new vendor on the market. On the other hand, we don't have the capacity to use all of this. So we need to be very selective What data we use? for what purposes? How it snaps into our picture? And how is genuine for business benefit? So let's get back to the risk exposure analysis. That's a perfect example. Because if you want to ensure, for example, a property in Hong Kong, how quickly does fire propagate from one building to the next building, even the close proximity? Again, do we want to be only parochial? Think about general exposure? Or do we now want to know what is around the buildings that we insuring? Data is absolutely king in that. So this is about the example about risk exposure. A second example I would like to give is portfolio management. It's not purely about the risk, but again, portfolio is that end to end word of what do we have? How do we manage it? Where do we make money? Where don't we make money? We have a business strategy. What is the evidence that our business strategy is working? So unless we have the business strategy pinpointed by IT delivering and then the actual capability to get the data and judge that we may be making some very good deals and on balance losing money. So, again, data for portfolio management is absolutely paramount.

Sam TN 09:13
But just thinking about parallel industries. Okay, so the financial services industry went under and a huge inflection point in 2008, spanned on a ton of innovation. The insurance industry hasn't yet had that. One of those innovations driven by regulation in financial services was PSD to an open banking, a real need to open up competitivity in the marketplace for the consumer, and ultimately, driven in turn by sharing data. Do you think the insurance industry has a similar moment coming?

Yanna Winter 09:46
Very good question, and I'm discussing this exact subject in the industry, with my peers, with business colleagues. My personal opinion in the moment there is no immediate trigger. So there's nothing equivalent what has been happening in banking since 2008. Less even an initiative on open insurance is yet to be defined what it means and what is going to be that trigger to get the insurance companies in action. So if you mentioned open insurance, question number one, what would it mean is true but not one question. But then again, from my opinion, IFRS 17 is one of those triggers. It gives us the imperative to think differently about how we manage our data, how we break down our data. And then yes, we do have to do it for regulation purposes. This will give us the opportunity and sometimes the budget to bring a bit more discipline in our data houses.

Sam TN 10:44
That's a really good point. I remember I was working at Barclays at the time during the financial crisis. And that's exactly what it did. It woke everyone up and everyone had to think about governance. It was a forcing factor. You think about the sliding doors moment what would have happened if 2008 hadn't happened. The FinTech industry certainly in the UK wouldn't be anywhere near where it is today. The customer wouldn't be as empowered as it is today. Technology advancements might not have been as dramatic in this space, new business models wouldn't have emerged. Inflection points, definitely need triggers. I think I think you're absolutely right. And I look forward to seeing what that trigger is in the insurance industry because change has definitely been that little bit slower. But it hasn't been slow for Generali, I know there's there's a ton of stuff that you guys are focused on around your digital transformation journey that will ultimately secure your place in the upper echelons of insurance firms around the world. When asked what the criteria for delivering digital transformation and enabling future innovation meant, you've been quoted, and sorry to quote you back. You've been quoted as saying overcoming the practical challenges of legacy systems and IT silos. So I guess the question is, how can insurance firms and other businesses overcome these challenges and create a Master Data System to provide a single source of truth?

Yanna Winter 12:03
My IT strategy is divide, conquer and integrate, which again, sounds very pragmatic approach and I hope it is a very pragmatic approach. But specifically with legacy systems, it is about the biggest problem in insurance. And my biggest transformations have been all about modernization of legacy systems. We're talking about 10s of millions, sometimes hundreds of millions of pounds transformations. So, it is more and more rare to be able to raise budgets for huge transformations. So how we enable the digitalization is similar to how they eat an elephant, one slice at a time and where IT has responsibilities to be able to first quantify second, imagine how that big elephant is. What are the slices in order that if you're under sequences, what are the safe steps of executed that it is a very practical point, because if you have in an insurance company, let's say average insurance company of mid size it may have up to 20 policy administration systems, up to 30 claims administration systems. If you are asked to deliver digital transformation, usually people think about the visible part well as distributors, brokers, customers, data, data analytics, it sounds really cool and it is. But then the complexity of its deliveries, how do I deal with 20 policy, 30 claims, administration systems, and if I have to implement one change, how do I do it in 50 different systems and the divide conquer an integrated strategy is not a simple one. Because some of these mammoths, sorry I just switched from elephants to mammoths, but some of this big legacy systems that we have, there are absolutely fundamental to our businesses. They have a place for 2030 years. Again, after generically about the entire insurance industry to even say, I don't like the system, I would love to go into places that takes on average, three to four years 10 to 15 million talking about big systems, how often can you afford that? Again, the legacy systems, how many of them can you actually say, your system, I cannot afford to replace it. I would like to be able to integrate you, can you please let me have an interface into you, so I can send you a claim and you can give me something back. I can send you a Dun and Bradstreet number and you can send me something back. Even that kind of thin veneer integration is not an easy exercise. So that's where with my divide, conquer and integrate. I still have a lot of old fashioned integration, the good old fashioned ETL extract, transform laws, that kind of technology has been in place for the last 40 years. Now we have our approach of how we move that to services. I'm not going to comment with a microservices microservices, because that usually starts a third world war in IT world. Yeah. But again, we need to have our services because that's the only way our systems will be able to talk to each other. So to me the most important core stance of my IT strategies, how do I deal with the data, doing the wages? How do I link it? That's one side the data. And the other side is with my integration. We're going all about enterprise service bus all about API Management, because again, that's the way we eating the elephant.

Sam TN 15:31
Stephen Daffron, the president of Dun and Bradstreet has a military background. He would love the divide, conquer integrated strategy.

Yanna Winter 15:37
You know, how I get my strategies, military books.

Sam TN 15:40
I love that and the vegetarians aren't necessarily going to love the eating an elephant analogy, but I liked it. So thank you. This podcast is forming part of a wider series that we have under the accelerating industries brand and innovating insurance is a very hot topic within that. We're going to talk a little bit later on video. So our listeners can hear more about how to take operations in 40 countries and make it one view global how to link all of the data that's required to create that unique output the generally has. Before we do that, I would like to talk through a couple questions more about the personal side of you Yanna. You're an extremely busy lady. How do you manage your time if you had to give our listeners the best piece of advice you could? How do you fit as much as you can into your day?

Yanna Winter 16:29
Prioritize. I have accepted there's physically no way I can do everything that is expected of me. So I have a simple principle, under promise and over deliver, genuinely prioritize, and I'm not afraid to say no.

Sam TN 16:44
Okay, that's good. I rarely say no. It's definitely something I learned. I always ask people about mentors. I've been very lucky to have some wonderful mentors. One of my favorite quotes is, If I have seen further is by standing on the shoulders of giants. I think that becomes increasingly true in business where the world gets more and more complex every day, who have been some of your mentors and role models through your career?

Yanna Winter 17:09
I had a long career in, in university as a university lecturer, Director of Undergraduate Studies. And my first mentors have been in academia. And my biggest lessons from my mentors has been we’re all cosmopolitan people we all have different backgrounds - don't impose your culture. Understand that all of our students, all of our colleagues are from different backgrounds and take the best out of every single area. Including I moved from Bulgaria to England about 30 years ago. And you can hear that even 30 years later, I still have the Bulgaria accent. I was concerned about it and my vice chancellor at Brunel University. He was one of my mentors. Exactly this advice, relax, not everyone needs to have Buckinghamshire accent. Just take the best of your culture and bring it and take the best of the cultures as coming to Brunel University and use it.

Sam TN 18:02
I'm delighted to say that you know, one of the reasons I love London so much, and people who have listened to other podcasts know that I tend to get passionate and emotional about London is is the greatest city in the world. But it's true. It is a rich tapestry or patchwork quilt of different contributions. And that's what makes it great and I think that will be continually, Brexit or no Brexit. What continues to propel London it is a cosmopolitan city that gets the best out of everyone and accepts everyone. It really is a pleasure to hear you say that. Yanna, we're moving from microphones to video cameras. Thank you so much for your time on the podcast. It's been really lovely to talk to you.

Yanna Winter 18:40
Thank you, Sam. Pleasure.