October 18, 2011

Stuart Tainsky has played competitive sports his whole life, and the experiences he's had on the lacrosse field and basketball court have influenced his approach to management. "The lesson I've learned from athletics is, don't be a sideline coach -- coach on the field like a quarterback or point guard," says Tainsky, SVP and CIO of Privilege Underwriters Reciprocals Exchange, or PURE. "Your team needs to see you play on the field with them, and see you in the trenches working with them."

Embracing this lesson, Tainsky says, has helped him turn PURE's 14-person IT organization into an essential and trustworthy partner to the business and a key enabler of the five-year-old specialty personal lines carrier's rapid growth. The "foundational idea" behind White Plains, N.Y.-based PURE ($83.3 million in gross written premium as of Dec. 31, 2010) is that, "The most responsible owners of the finest-built homes deserve to pay the lowest premiums, without sacrificing any quality," Tainsky relates. "The people who are the most responsible 'risk share' between them all as a membership model."

A Service Mandate

To satisfy these high-value "members," as well as the independent agents who sell PURE's products, speed, responsiveness and leading-edge services are essential, Tainsky says, and his mandate since he joined the carrier in 2009 has been to provide just that. "The most important function I do is ensure that our members and independent agents have a world-class, reliable, straight-through amazing experience when they work with us, whether on the claims side, the underwriting side or the billing side," Tainsky says.

"My goal is to make sure they feel they are the most important person in the world," he continues. "Our technology must facilitate innovative underwriting processes through intricate rules, bringing data in to write the policies correctly and price them correctly, and select the right members that will add the right level of risk to the risk pool. That's my mission."

According to Tainsky, these efforts support three primary business goals: grow into new markets, do it quickly, and do so "in the best way possible." This involves enabling excellent service, competitive rates, and regulatory and competitive responsiveness, he says. "I'm very fortunate to be part of a team that looks at me as a peer, or as a leader, to help figure out how to make this thing work even better than it does," adds Tainsky, who reports directly to PURE CEO Ross Buchmueller, one of the company's founders.

The Need for Speed to Market

One of Tainsky's biggest accomplishments has been to facilitate that need for speed to market -- and do so in a way that solidified the IT organization's reputation as an essential partner. "When I first got here, there was a belief that technology could not keep up with the business needs and objectives of growing the company successfully," he recalls. "There were real credibility issues." The introduction of PURE's offerings in the first few states it entered had been an expensive and time-consuming process, Tainsky notes, so his challenge was: "How do we do this better, how do we do this quicker?"

Drawing on his background in project management and process reengineering, Tainsky and his team went back to the very basics of the state rollout process. "We used a methodology of 'keep it simple,'" he relates, "and took it back to step by step by step: How do we define … what a state should look like from a front-end perspective, from a filing perspective at the product level, from an underwriting perspective? What do we want the guidelines to be?"

The next step was to identify all the states in which PURE planned to launch and from that figure out how to build a scalable rollout model, according to Tainsky. Once this process model was created, the IT team could start building tools that would enable what Tainsky calls an "assembly line methodology" to simplify the process of entering new states.

The results? "This year we are rolling out two states per month, with four products per state [except in Massachusetts, where PURE doesn't write auto], so it takes about six weeks from the time we get approval from the state to when it is launched and live in production and writing business," Tainsky reports, adding that PURE started 2011 writing business in 11 states and is on target to be in 30 states by the end of the year. And with a rollout template in place, the process has gotten progressively easier, Tainsky notes.

Another initiative at PURE that combines speed with service has been electronic delivery of policies and bills, which was launched in 2010, according to Tainsky. Adopting a push (versus a pull) strategy in which members must specifically opt out of electronic delivery, PURE securely emails more than half of the electronic bills and policies it sends to customers.

"We went full force on this," Tainsky explains. "Our members love [electronic delivery] because it's convenient. There's also a big advantage for us, [in terms of] reduction of the costs of distribution. We're able to keep costs low, which in turn keeps our rates low."

Tainsky also took a page from the direct-to-consumer online strategies of carriers such as Geico and Progressive to help PURE launch what he calls a "direct to agents" quoting system that can be accessed via the company's agent portal. The carrier built what is essentially a "name your price" capability into its core system, he says, "so while the agent is shopping for a member [he or she can] understand what the implications might be by changing deductibles or coverages."

Speed and service also are the drivers of a mobile claims adjuster pilot Tainsky is overseeing. "Claims adjusters carrying mobile devices will be able to do estimates of property damage, then integrate [that information] with our [Guidewire ClaimCenter] claims system," using the Xactimate replacement cost estimating component of Orem, Utah-based Xactware's building and repair software, he says. "The claims manager responsible for the case can work with [the adjuster] and quickly have that data."

In addition to San Mateo, Calif.-based Guidewire, PURE's other core solution is OneShield's (Glastonbury, Conn.) Dragon for policy administration. Tainsky oversaw direct integration of the two systems to create what he calls a "best-of-breed infrastructure for applications." As for other functions, Tainsky says he has implemented an "insourcing/outsourcing" approach that uses secure cloud computing for "commoditized" functions such as email, telecommunications and the call center, along with outsourcing of the company's infrastructure.

The Data Imperative

PURE's strategy also depends on access to and use of quality data. Accordingly, an ongoing focus for Tainsky has been on improving PURE's data model, along with enhancing data warehouse and BI reporting capabilities. "Data validation and data management have been a huge push for us this year -- making sure we have our data clean, in a manner everybody understands," he relates. The data model "is serviced by so many different components of our organization that it has to be perfect." For example, sourcing timely market intelligence from PURE's data warehouse is an important aspect of an upcoming initiative to use the mobile platform for sales force management.

But data management is not a short-term project with a scheduled beginning and end, Tainsky emphasizes. "It's going to be an effort forever," he says. "You're always trying to figure out what to add to your model, what other analytics you can put around it. Data governance and data management is not a project, it's a way of life. We also look at underwriting processing as a way of life, and doing straight-through processing and smart underwriting as a way of life -- they are ever-changing and evolving. And using automated underwriting and straight-through processing is a lifestyle for us, not a project."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...