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Innovation has a variety of interpretations, but for Keith Schlosser, Gamiel’s guest on this week’s CXO of the Future Podcast, innovation is a mindset that has led his career in unexpected directions. Keith is the Global Chief Information Officer at AXIS Capital, where he currently heads up global IT and data strategy–following a background of more than 30 years of insurance industry experience with roles in IT, business solutions, marketing and sales.
Prior to AXIS, Keith served as CIO for Chubb’s Overseas General Insurance division, where he spearheaded a number of growth, innovation, digital and change initiatives. Before that, he served as The Travelers Companies’ International Division CIO.
The Journey from Field Agent to CIO
At the beginning of his career, Keith started out as a field underwriter (an agent), and his job was to go out in the field and identify companies to insure and start the underwriting process with. All of this was done on paper, and in order to rate things, agents had to flip through manuals and binders of paper worksheets.
“In the mid 80s, I bought a computer thinking: ‘Gee whiz, I could probably take these rates and put them into a computer program and speed up the process for myself.’ Which is exactly what I did.”
His first computer was a Zenith that looked like a sewing machine.
After about a year and a half of doing that, people started asking him how he quoted so much business. ‘Your rates are to the tenth of a penny versus roundings. How do you do that?’ Keith met with the CEO and told him his story and was eventually asked to come to the home office and set up computers for everyone.
“We took an organization of twelve hundred agents who didn’t have a computer, a printer, or any kind of tech to support them and set them up with a CRM system, online rating tools and everything that they needed to be successful. And that kind of kicked off my career in tech–leveraging what I knew about being an agent and how technology could help people. And here I sit today.”
Outcome Driven Leadership
Keith believes that leadership is about hiring the right people, making sure they understand how they impact internal and external customers, and making sure they’re focused on business outcomes—not just technology.
“It’s important for me and the technology team to understand the business. I sit with the underwriter, the underwriting assistant, the claims person, and think, as the customer: ‘Are we interacting with you effectively?’ If we don’t have that level of understanding and knowledge, we’ll never have the empathy to understand what we need to build and to use it. We spent the first couple of months teaching the IT group, Business Technology Solutions (BTS), about the insurance business. AXIS Capital recently created an educational track for our employees. ‘What is the history of Lloyd’s of London? How does AXIS Capital operate? How did we start? What is a claim? How do we settle claims? What is our claims philosophy?’
All of that helps us build a base of empathy for our users. There’s an inherent disconnect between tech and how it’s employed, and the understanding of the people building it and its value to the community.
I also make it clear to our organization that the IT group is not a service provider and we are not the back office. We want to be thought of as part of the front office. There’s almost nothing that happens at AXIS Capital that doesn’t involve some sort of technology, including video calls, iPhone support, laptop software, settling claims, or conducting board meetings. Our team went from feeling like they didn’t have an identity, to being Business Technology Systems and Solutions. We’ve created a culture and an ecosystem that connects the IT side to the business side.”
Making Acquisitions Work
“The insurance industry is ever changing and unrecognizable compared to when I started 30+ years ago–not only in the way we distribute products and go to market, but even in terms of the products themselves. Who would have thought about cyber insurance, self-driving cars and the impact on the auto insurance industry 15 or 20 years ago? Insurance products and the expectations of the customer have changed as well. It used to be, ‘Hey, we’re going to sign you up and you’ll get your policy in a month.’ Now we sign you up and you have everything you need electronically in 15 seconds.
Acquisitions are an important part of our world. I wrote an acquisitions playbook for my previous employer, CHUBB, because we did so many of them:
Phase 1: Due diligence. We’d go in and meet with a company, learn about their strengths, weaknesses, and their philosophies around data (which are incredibly important in our industry).
Phase 2: The deal has been done, but it hasn’t closed. Getting to know the people, the organization, the culture, the skills, the software contracts, and the partnerships they have.
Phase 3: Closing and execution. After spending significant amounts of money buying an organization, we can’t allow the acquisition to fail. ‘What kind of organization do I need to put together to ensure success?’
Phase 4: Integration. Employees of the company being acquired worry they will lose their jobs. We reassure them that we are looking to bring on and bring together the best talent. We spend a tremendous amount of time making sure that people are comfortable with who we are, what we stand for, and about our goals and visions. Everyone needs to be singing out of the same songbook so we can achieve the end goal–a successful merger acquisition–and provide value to the shareholders and the customers.
There isn’t much that happens in an insurance company where technology is not involved. IT touches all parts of an integration, and at the center of all this is data. In an insurance company, data is absolutely the key to success and has been for a number of years. Understanding how we can provide the data during an acquisition to all of the constituents in a way that they can consume and start making decisions really drives the ‘IT touches everything’ mentality.
“At AXIS Capital, innovation is a mindset and is part of our culture. We believe that every day we are innovating in one way or another. It’s not something where you wake up and say, ‘Today I’m going to go to the innovation meeting and we’re going to innovate.’ We discuss innovation at all of our staff meetings. It’s just what we do. It’s almost like turning the lights on.
When the pandemic started, for example, we worried about getting our underwriters and our distribution team in front of the brokers and agents who sold our products and services. How would we educate employees that might be new to a brokerage? What’s a good risk for us and what does that look like? So we went to the whiteboard to create a virtual lounge using our video stack. We planned on manning it like the front office of an insurance agency where you can walk in and say, ‘I’d like to buy some cyber insurance today. Who can I talk to about that?’ We also planned that underwriters in the lounge could do videos, or work on submissions together/other group-oriented tasks. We reached out to Cisco and some of our third-party providers to help us.
We went live with the virtual broker lounge eight weeks later. We didn’t look at it as ‘We’re innovating!’ We looked at it as: ‘How can we be creative in solving a real business problem?’ And it happened to be innovative. I think if you just make innovation part of your DNA, it’s just always happening.”
Working with Startups
“I’m passionate about working with startups. I’ve met many a startup where the founder is wicked smart and has probably been at the top of their class throughout their entire education. And they’ve been taught along the way that they have all the answers.
I would advise that founder to take the time to really understand the company first–do their research. They should set up some time before a pitch meeting and say, ‘Tell me everything you can about your company and your industry. We’re not going to talk about the product today. We’re not going to talk about what I do for a living. I want to just learn as much as I can about you.’
That way the founder can go back to their teams to develop a tailored pitch. I cannot tell you the number of times that a startup has come into a meeting with me and my team, and they have missed the mark completely, or they think that we’re financial services and they lump in insurance into financial services, or they did a pitch to a life insurance company and they think, ‘Well, AXIS Capital is insurance, so that makes sense.’ And they do a life insurance pitch to a P&C company. And so I think doing that homework is super, super important.
When we do an engagement with a startup, whether we do a deal with them or not, it’s a two-way street. It’s my goal to leave them better than when we found them. If we approach a conversation with that understanding, I think we’re actually giving back to the startup as much as they’re giving to us.
Startups also need to understand the buying cycle of a big company. They need to understand that we have complex regulatory challenges that need to be thought through, financial hurdles to overcome doing business with a small company, and that an architecture discussion needs to take place to see if they fit into our ecosystem. I think it’s really important for the startup to not sell against that, to actually go with it and understand that the sales cycle might be a bit longer. But if they actually partner with us and they understand what the hurdles are, they’ll have much more success.”
- The Business, Tech and Solutions organizations are all part of the same ecosystem.
- Data is critical to everything you do. Use it thoughtfully in a way that the business can consume it and start making decisions.
- Think of innovation as a mindset and part of your organization’s DNA and a way to solve business problems every day.
- The best way to get into a CIO role is to just learn the business. The more you can get into the business, the more you can make relationships deep into the organization: from the CEO, to your customers, and your board.
- I spend time every Friday afternoon randomly calling employees and just checking in. And I find that to be quite insightful. I learn so much about our company and our employees that way and I can use what I learn to help fine tune the way we deliver services and the way we interact. I think we all get super, super focused on the technology and delivering a product or service that sometimes we forget the benefits of a regular conversation with people just off the cuff.
Keith Schlosser is Global Chief Information Officer at AXIS Capital, where he leads the Company’s global information technology and data strategy. Mr. Schlosser is also responsible for driving change through
out the organization by delivering high-quality, future-oriented IT services in line with AXIS Capital’s business strategy. Mr. Schlosser has more than 30 years of insurance industry experience, spanning roles in information technology, business solutions, marketing and sales. Prior to AXIS, he served as Chief Information Officer for Chubb’s Overseas General Insurance division,
where he spearheaded a number of growth, innovation, digital and change initiatives. Before that, he served as The Travelers Companies international division CIO. Mr. Schlosser was also a Vice President for marketing technology and web communications at AIG.
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