“When it comes to the cloud, there is no one size fits all solution,” says Jonathan Boylan, chief technology officer at Irish insurance software vendor FINEOS.
FINEOS is one of Ireland’s most prestigious indigenous software companies.
FINEOS has more than 60 insurance carriers and government accident compensation agencies as customers, with six of the top 20 Group Life and Health insurance carriers using the FINEOS core software today.
In August it emerged that the company is to create 50 new jobs in Dublin over the next 18 months.
The company has also opened a new headquarters and R&D base at East Point in Dublin.
The new investment in Dublin will support the further development of a transformative core insurance product suite, which FINEOS will sell to new and existing customers to increase its international footprint and increase new export business.
While Boylan is CTO of FINEOS rather than CIO, he nevertheless masterminds how the technology can be integrated by the CIOs of insurance companies worldwide to ensure better performing insurance businesses.
As CTO of FINEOS, can you tell me about the company and the market it targets?
We specialise in core insurance technology. We lead the market in an area within the Life and Health insurance sector and that insures people’s health, wellbeing and income.
We help insurers to care for their customers and today this is very much around the claims process, the biggest service an insurance company actually provides. We have taken an international leadership position within our claims technology market, everything from when you are first talking to an insurer about a claim to how those payments are processed to how services are arranged in the case of recovery or rehab or those kinds of interventions.
It’s a complex business process. We have clients in different regions across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and we are also in South East Asia.
We are a market leader in life and health claims technologies for household name, blue-chip financial services companies.
How specific are the needs of insurance businesses around the world?
Historically, insurers have had systems since the 1960s; big mainframes were all adopted by insurance companies.
Insurance is a very IT-based industry and that also means they have a rich history in systems, a lot of legacy systems from 20 or 30 years ago or more and a lot of them are formed through mergers and acquisitions.
They also have very complicated product portfolios.
Insurance is a very regulated industry. How do you navigate that if you are talking about diverse technologies?
Essentially what happens is you need a lot of options. There is no one size fits all. Especially if you are talking about cloud computing.
Sometimes you are dealing with very large insurance groups who keep all their infrastructure in-house and are using some form of virtualization or private cloud to manage their infrastructure anyway. They are getting a lot of benefits from cloud.
But sometimes they want to launch a new product or are being experimental with a new product and they might want to do that in a public cloud where they can spin it up and use it, and if it doesn't work they can scale it down.
We also work with smaller insurance companies or smaller units of larger companies that might want a more turnkey operation. We have a cloud solution we provide to certain businesses of a certain scale and we also do on premise solutions that can be integrated into a client’s existing infrastructure.
Regulation is very important, there is a high standard for security and confidentiality. So there are a lot of aspects that are common but the actual machines on which the platforms run are quite diverse and there are lots of different requirements from lots of different markets.
What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?
Customer service and overall experience is always high on the agenda and Insurers are constantly trying to improve their Customer Experience adopting the new mobile, wearable and web technologies. Customers are at the core for every insurance business and customer satisfaction and retention is a huge bonus to them.
One of the other trends we are focused on is analytics and big data. Insurers have a lot of data and are naturally disposed to analytics. The business of actuarial and risk prediction has been part of the business since insurance was founded and they have an interest in analytics.
In the claims environment it is really about trying to predict outcomes. Unlike areas like property or motor insurance where you get your property or your home fixed or your car fixed, in the area of human insurance you could be under claim for 50 years for somebody who is put out of work permanently and needs constant assistance.
It’s about understanding when the claim has begun how it may turn out in terms of length and what interventions can be triggered to help that person back to work. There are a lot of areas where, if the intervention is correct, people can go back to work but if interventions are missed the injury can be quite debilitating and take people out of workplace for life.
Insurers are very interested in being able predict what’s going to happen to the life of this claim and what interventions can we do with physiotherapy, medically or psychologically to really speed up the recovery of this person and get them back into the workplace rather than it turning into a very long, lifelong claim dependency.
It’s a combined social service and cost motive. We deal with government agencies and private insurers and both groups are interested in predicting intervention in the claims process.
Having a good quality of life after an accident is important and the fact is that from a whole life perspective working is good for you, it can give you self-esteem, a purpose and a place in society.
Do you have a mobile-first strategy and how is the insurance sector embracing mobile?
We do have a mobile-first strategy for our technology. It’s a good practice for web systems in any case, whether they use mobile or not.
We are seeing a slow but growing use of mobile among insurance organisations. Within the insurance world of the not-so-distant past there was a lot of paper and people would literally go to a meeting with a broker with a paper file under their arm.
Mobile is growing up in a way that allows people to bring the insurance policies, claims and the history of their situation in a digital format.
It’s not an absolute must-have right now, but really it’s about better business, more communication and collaboration in the insurance process and that is what is driving change.
Another driver is the digital service space where traditional financial services and definitely insurance was very paper-based, signature-based and quite legally influenced. And we’ve all dealt with insurers that wanted a lot of forms filled in.
The more progressive insurers are doing much more servicing by email and electronic mechanisms. You will often buy insurance via the web but often if you have a service issue you end up on the phone or filling in forms.
So there’s a big trend now towards digital service and self-service beyond the sales process.
How much of FINEOS’ resources, investment goes into R&D?
We’ve a pretty substantial team and it’s actually an area where we are growing a lot. Last year we moved to a new premises capable of taking an extra 100 people and most of these will work in our R&D teams as we have been expanding from Claims into other core areas within the back office, including Billing and Policy Administration. We are ramping up very significantly to invest in our technology platform and in creating these new products.
We have our core product development centre in Dublin so a great opportunity for people working in this country to be able to influence the new products as opposed to working in a satellite of a US-based product company where all the decisions are made in the US.
It’s a big expansion push for us and we are investing a lot in our people and core products and a lot of that is going into Ireland.
We have a very substantial and modern office in EastPoint, our product development centre is here and we are growing that team 50pc to 70pc over the next few years.
How to you manage that kind of growth?
It has been a lot of fun. You couldn’t spend as long as I have in this role without a lot of change. My role has changed from designing products to running development teams and market-facing aspects of product management and communication.
Overall the change is a good thing and the growth gives people opportunities to develop their careers in lots of different directions and take on skills and a breadth of knowledge that they wouldn’t get if the growth and the change weren’t there.