In the latest Phinsys Perspectives, Premia’s CIO and Director of Operations Justin Ward, and Head of Data Analytics Mike Humber, offer a window into the ever-evolving world of insurance, where technology, innovation, and adaptability are critical to success. Our conversation explored a spectrum of themes, from Premia’s strategic priorities centred around simplicity, scalability, and efficiency, to navigating the intricate landscape of M&A data migration. Both Justin and Mike emphasise the importance of supporting regulatory changes such as Lloyd’s Principles for Doing Business, and shed light on the evolving nature of their roles. Their experiences and insights serve as valuable guidance for both newcomers and seasoned professionals in the market.
Q: What are your main priorities for 2023?
Justin Ward: As a legacy player in the insurance market a key priority is always to ensure we have a fully streamlined onboarding process for new transactions. Premia is constantly evolving and we need to ensure that our day-to-day operation is efficient, scalable, and can be easily integrated.
One of our core priorities is to maintain consistency to ensure our technology estate always remains simple, current and stable. This minimises technical debt and negates the need for us to inherit or carry end of life applications.
Mike Humber: Phinsys have a deep understanding of our data requirements and have helped us build a solid foundation for our data warehouse and downstream processes. This partnership will continue to be a priority as we work to optimise our data operations and enhance overall efficiency throughout 2023.
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge Premia is currently facing?
Mike Humber: M&A bespoke data migrations always come with their own nuances and challenges, and we want to ensure that we handle them in the best way possible. We're using standard tools such as SQL and Power BI, but we also augment these tools with the very latest automation tools.
Justin Ward: New deals inherently demand a lot of attention. We want to make sure that we can onboard data from new underwriting systems, for example, and load it into our existing data model to have a conformed view. To achieve this, we have worked with Phinsys to develop a data model that can act as a central hub, feeding into our downstream processes such as credit control, reinsurance systems, and finance systems. The key is to keep things simple and avoid having to maintain multiple underwriting systems for different deals.
Q: Can you tell us about the strategic planning happening within your team at Premia?
Justin Ward: Firstly, we're focusing on retaining a small, tight and nimble internal team that's well-equipped with the right infrastructure to keep things simple. And the right partners we can trust that can help us on our journey in a collegiate manner.
Secondly, we're committed to supporting regulatory activities in the market, such as Lloyd’s Principles for Doing Business, Operational Resilience, and Cyber Essentials. This will ensure that we stay ahead of regulatory changes and maintain our position as a trusted partner in the market.
Mike Humber: Looking forward, we’re always focused on competitive advantage and being ahead of the game. We’re exploring new tools and technologies where appropriate, such as Robotic Process Automation, to improve our efficiency and drive innovation.
An example of this approach is our work in the reporting space during 2023. A process such as the full end-to end quarter close process has been reduced from weeks to a matter of days vastly improving data scope and granularity. Much of our data held off system is now held where we need it, in a modern, scalable Data Warehouse platform enabling swift and efficient “as-if” analysis.
Justin Ward: We're also looking to expand further afield and outside the Lloyd’s market. To achieve this, we're focusing on building a robust and scalable platform on all sides, not just at Lloyd’s, to maintain consistency across all our business entities, whether they are based in the US, Bermuda, the UK, or Europe.
Q: Can you explain your onboarding process for new opportunities?
Justin Ward: We typically get involved in new transactions right from the start as part of the bid process. We examine the systems, processes, people, and applications involved, and need to have a clear understanding of the data. Once a data room is set up, we review it and determine the cost for integrating it into our system. At the actual deal process we play a crucial role in analysing the data and systems.
Our data model and ecosystem are designed to be scalable and repeatable. We use similar processes and the same system across different deals, providing economies of scale and reducing ongoing run costs. This allows us to onboard clients quickly which is a significant advantage in a market where speed is critical.
Q: How reliant are you on Phinsys data and systems?
Justin Ward: When Premia Managing Agency was first established back in March 2020 we had to redesign and build a modern IT infrastructure which included a new data warehouse and reinsurance system. As it was our first time doing this, we were heavily reliant on Phinsys to support us in building the tracks for our train set. In other words, setting up the system and ensuring that the data was properly managed. As our business was growing at a considerable rate over a short period, they were instrumental in helping us to establish our key systems and get everything up and running smoothly and quickly.
One of the reasons for choosing Phinsys was the fact they had off-the shelf pre-built modules, not only for storing underlying data, but also for processing and enrichment. This ensured we could build our estate pretty quickly to suit the growth of the organisation.
Honest collaboration and communication have been key to this. The team at Phinsys have a deep technical knowledge, not only from a technology perspective, but from a true understanding of London Market insurance processes. This means we can liaise directly with developers without the need for us to manage armies of BAs and PMs.
Mike Humber: We use Phinsys' enterprise data warehouse, Tandem, on all deals. It provides us with a solid foundation for managing our data and ensuring that it's properly structured and accessible. However, as we bring on new underwriting systems etc, we need to ensure that the data from those systems is integrated into our existing model. Phinsys provides support for that process, helping us to create a single, conformed view which will feed into our downstream processes, such as credit control, reinsurance, and finance systems.
Q: Can you provide an overview of Premia's IT estate strategy and explain how it remains current, stable, simple, and scalable?
Justin Ward: At Premia, we take our IT estate strategy both in the Lloyds and the wider Company Market very seriously to ensure that it is always up-to-date, reliable, easy to manage, and has the ability to grow organically with our business. To achieve this, we use a combination of third-party vendors and a small, nimble in-house team to ensure that we have the right mix of expertise to manage our IT infrastructure.
Additionally, we do not believe in developing proprietary solutions in-house, and instead rely on our trusted vendors for any specific needs that we may have. This approach allows us to maintain flexibility and scalability in our IT estate.
Mike Humber: We also have a process in place for decommissioning legacy applications and switching off any servers that are not needed. We bring on development servers as and when required, on a pay-as-you-go basis, and only use cloud-based applications, which enables us to future-proof our IT estate.
One of the benefits of using cloud-based solutions is that we can scale Azure resources quickly and easily to run industry standard systems such as SQL databases, BI dashboarding software, Microsoft, Excel, etc; alongside the newer automation & analytics tools.
Q: Have you both always wanted to work in insurance?
Justin Ward: It would be remiss of me to say I left university with sights on Insurance! In fact, Architecture was my original chosen career path. But It’s only when you try things and experiences evolve you start to get an understanding of where you want to be. Technology was much more exciting.
The Financial Services sector was traditionally 10 years behind other industry sectors industries, and I saw it as real opportunity to bring new ideas and approaches to differentiate and do my small part to shake up the financial services industry. Allowing Robots to manage straight through processing was totally unheard of when I joined. Now they are encouraged to support company advantage and free up people to focus on the complex stuff. The future in our industry is so exciting. I would encourage anyone to try it.
Mike Humber: Insurance wasn’t my obvious first choice when I completed my chemistry degree, but I began working at a finance company and enjoyed the analytical challenge so decided to pursue a career in this area. Subsequently I transitioned to the Lloyd’s market where I have remained for the last 20 years.
Q: Could you tell us about how your role has evolved since you began your career in the insurance industry?
Justin Ward: Prior to joining the Insurance Industry 10 years ago, I led technology and operations teams across the aviation, media, and healthcare space. If I look back at my experience in Media and Airlines for example, they really were light years ahead in terms of leveraging technology and leveraging data to track and attract customers. Putting the customer at the very core of business and getting the basics right first ahead of brilliance was key to maintaining competitive advantage. Financial Services were way behind, and it was the opportunities to help evolve Insurance through technology that attracted me into this market. Fail Safe and Fail Fast were key to trying new ideas. A someone once told me “You can plan to be brave, but it’s even better if you try to be brave. That has really stuck with me.
Mike Humber: I have worked across multiple functions during my career including Actuarial, Finance and Data & Analytics so haven’t necessarily seen a fully linear evolution per se. All of these areas obviously have significant overlap in terms of analytical skills and challenges, but with the emergence of Big Data and associated apps, historic processes built around Excel for example are likely to be gradually phased out in favour of such tools and augmented with AI insights.
Q: How do you see your roles evolving in the years ahead?
Justin Ward: I believe we will see a significant shift towards process automation and self-service reporting suites. The power of applications such as Chat GPT are likely to augment knowledge and help shape the way we do business. By automating routine processes, we can free up valuable team time to focus on more critical aspects of their jobs and ultimately drive revenue and success. Another area of focus for CIOs in the coming years will be the development of self-service reporting suites. These tools can provide users with the ability to access critical data and reports without the need for IT intervention. By empowering end-users with the tools they need to make data-driven decisions, CIOs can improve efficiency and drive revenue.
Mike Humber: One of the key aspects of my role is to bridge the gap between different functional areas within the organization. By automating how data is moved between systems, we can facilitate seamless collaboration across teams and drive greater efficiencies. At the same time, I believe that it is important to maintain a deep understanding of the business and its strategic objectives, as well as to build strong relationships with stakeholders across the organization to ensure our data and analytics efforts are aligned with business needs and driving real value.
Q: What do you think about remote work and hybrid work, and how do you see them evolving in the future?
Justin Ward: Premia has embraced both remote and hybrid working. They both come with their positives and negatives, but ultimately, they allow us to be much more productive and efficient with our time. When you're working from home, you have the freedom to focus on certain tasks without any distractions. However, there's no substitute for face-to-face collaboration. Being able to deal with issues side-by-side, share knowledge, develop people, create team spirit, and support work-life balance is invaluable.
Mike Humber: From a data and analytics perspective, hybrid work can also present challenges in terms of data security and access. Companies need to ensure that remote workers have secure access to data and that they're following best practices for data protection. This requires a combination of robust technology and clear policies and guidelines.
Q: As leaders in the insurance industry, what advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in this field?
Justin Ward: I would advise them to keep an open mind and vary their experiences as they move through different roles. It's important to remember that where you start your career doesn't necessarily dictate where you will end up. By trying out different roles, you can gain valuable insights into what you enjoy and what you excel at. Additionally, don't pigeonhole yourself too early in your career. Be open to exploring different areas that may present themselves, even if they weren't part of your original plan. Finally, communication and training are essential in the insurance industry, particularly in a tight-knit community like ours. So, keep talking and be honest with your colleagues and mentors.
Mike Humber: In addition, I would suggest that anyone starting out in the insurance industry should attend market events whenever possible. There's nothing quite like being out there and seeing how things work in practice. Don't stay insular and limit yourself to just your own company or department. Instead, network and make connections across the industry. Lastly, while it's certainly helpful to take advice from careers advisors, remember that your career path is ultimately determined by being in the right place at the right time. So be prepared to take risks and seize opportunities when they present themselves.
About Phinsys Perspectives
Phinsys Perspectives is a series of exclusive interviews with Insurance, Finance and Tech leaders in the global insurance industry, offering valuable insights into the pivotal role of digital transformation in revolutionising finance and accounting processes. Each perspective aims to shed light on the dynamic nature of the insurance landscape, highlighting the need for adaptation to ever-evolving regulatory demands and market trends, and offering opinions on the industry's current state and the future trajectory of insurance finance in the digital age.