When Mark Clark took over the CIO role at retirement solutions-focused Jackson National Life in 2009, his predecessor and mentor, George Napoles, advised him, "If I were you, I'd hold my budget fairly level for the next year to prove to leadership that you can manage money." But it didn't work out that way.
The 2008 financial crisis drove players out of the variable annuities market, and over the intervening years, Jackson's ($129.9 billion in total IFRS assets as of June 30, 2012) superior hedging strategy rocketed the company from 12th place to second in the sector, driving up the Lansing, Mich.-based insurer's technology spending, according to Clark. "The growth of this company has been explosive over the past three years, and IT has grown along with it," he reports. "As a consequence, my focus has been on building IT capacity."
Until the late 1990s, Jackson's IT department completely outsourced to EDS (Plano, Texas), now part of HP. Napoles, a 2007 Insurance & Technology Elite 8 honoree, founded an IT team of eight individuals and built it up to 500 strong. Clark has since expanded the team to about 800, but, he says, he runs a shop that is far more concerned with quality than quantity.
As CIO Clark has presided over a long line of initiatives aimed at world-class service and greater efficiency. For example, Jackson's Genius contract-specific product reference guide applies an unconventional use of Thunderhead (Elstree, U.K.) correspondence management software to enable call center reps to answer all potential individual customer questions about the company's full range of variable annuity products. And Jackson's Electronic Filing Cabinet self-service capability, launched in 2009, allows producers and customers to receive and access their Jackson documents securely through an intuitively designed user portal. Clark notes that more than 30 percent of Jackson's in-force VA policyholders have converted to e-delivery, which has saved the company more than $8 million.
In addition, Clark's team has worked continually to enhance self-service on the Jackson.com website, including appointment licensing capabilities. And Jackson's Jackson Process On Demand (JPOD) uses an inference engine to automate business rules, thereby freeing associates from more mundane processes and enabling them to perform more valuable tasks.
Clark also has led Jackson's ongoing single platform policy administration consolidation initiative, including the development of a methodology for the systematic conversion of customer data from legacy systems to Jackson's target CSC (Falls Church, Va.) Cyberlife system. Converting policy data to a common system reduces support and maintenance needs, allowing Jackson to wrap its mainframe system with web-based technology and provide access to other critical systems, according to Clark.
Also under Clark's stewardship, Jackson has implemented Thunderhead for batch correspondence and, coupled with a newly created document tracking system, will use the solution for "on-demand" requests in 2013. Further, Clark's team rolled out a Workday (Pleasanton, Calif.) HR system this fall and is in the throes of developing the in-house built JDS (Jackson Document System), which will replace a vendor solution.
Meanwhile, through its support of the business during a time of rapid growth, IT has strengthened its relationship with the business thanks to close alignment and reliable delivery, Clark says. "The various departments within the business look at IT as partners in how they can do their job better and more efficiently and at lower cost," he relates. "And as a result, we have some of the lowest unit costs in the industry."
That said, calling the IT organization a partner may not adequately state the importance of technology to the rapidly growing firm. "Our COO, James Sopha, says that Jackson was a distribution company, then we became a manufacturing company, and now we're starting to become a technology company, where technology is taking on such a key role that it is what's driving the company now," Clark reports.