OTIP: Doing everything with its members in mind
Founded in 1977 and currently managed and owned by four teaching affiliates (AEFO, ETFO, OECTA and OSSTF) in Ontario, Canada, the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) was established on the basis that nobody understands education better than educators. A not-for-profit organisation, OTIP is committed to providing the very best insurance benefits to its members, using its collective industry insights to go above and beyond the needs of the teaching and education professionals it serves. Starting out handling long-term disability insurance, OTIP has subsequently grown to over 700 dedicated staff and covers a wide range of auto, home and health insurance.
Joining the company in 2016, Stacey Rous, EVP and CFO, came from an accountancy background originally, but gradually gained experience in insurance from some of the top companies in the sector, including Allianz. “I have a property, accident and sickness and group benefits background too,” she explains. “My career has really been about change: I adapt to change and I try to implement change very quickly in businesses.” Rous considers her executive leadership skills and ability to identify problems and subsequently bolster a company’s operations and finances to be the reason OTIP sought her out. What sealed the deal for her was an outstanding corporate culture that clearly centralises the wants and needs of its members. “It's all about the people,” Rous says. “Insurance is our business, but it's the people we work with every day that are so important to our success.”
When she started with the company almost four years ago, Rous says that it was an intense transition period as OTIP was expanding. “I quickly saw that our project management office and parts of our operations were not adequately staffed and really needed ramping up.” Meeting the workload demand required strong management skills and a clear vision of the company’s overall goals. “You can use technology down the road after you ramp up your growth. You can't do it in the beginning; you really need people to get something as large as what we were doing off the ground,” Rous explains.
Utilising technology whilst always keeping business people-centric is a philosophy which informs both Rous’s approach to being a CFO and OTIP’s method of operating. “Great success is built on people, not on technology,” she says, “but technology is the enabler that helps keep your workforce engaged.” For this reason, the company seeks out individuals with creative flair, drive and passion to help deliver quality and member-focused services to Ontario’s education community. “At OTIP, our job is to look after our members, so we're very service-oriented and we want people that have empathy and care for them.” Therefore, OTIP is careful to ensure that any technology introduced to the company has the end-user in mind and will benefit their members directly. “It is so important to make sure that our workforce is equipped with the necessary tools to be able to do their job well. I always say, ‘we are not for profit, but we're not for loss either.”
Serving approximately 20% of the teaching and education staff in the province prior to 2016, she states that OTIP now supports almost 100% - more than half a million members and their dependents. “OTIP’s growth came from our expertise in the industry and the backing of the four Ontario teaching unions saying, ‘OTIP needs to do this work’.” Taking a strong and positive stance, OTIP operates with the conviction that once someone experiences its service they won’t want to go anywhere else. The organisation achieves this by maintaining care and empathy for its members at all times, and this approach appears to be swiftly winning over educators across Ontario. With a vision of always fulfilling the insurance needs of the province’s educators, the company funnels any profits directly back into its members’ benefits programmes. The ‘not for profit but not for loss’ attitude also means that the latest innovations in technology are trialled and considered for use. “We need those technologies because as times change and new teachers join the profession, they expect choice in the platforms we offer them,” explains Rous.
One particular innovation which had a large impact is what OTIP calls ‘middleware’. In the wake of its increasing membership, Rous says, data was being collected in very large quantities from over 70 school boards and across four separate teaching unions. It was soon discovered that some of the information had been transmitted incorrectly, causing hardship to members who were unable to access the benefits they needed. “We took a step back and said, ‘our members are in a crisis’,” she says, “We needed to own this, and come up with a creative solution to solve this problem.” What resulted was the development of a unique computer programme which allowed OTIP to maximise its capacity for data processing, allowing the company itself to produce a member’s eligibility for benefits. “OTIP is ‘in the middle’ between the school board and the member and that is how the term ‘middleware’ got coined,” explains Rous. “Now, instead of relying on others to ensure our members’ information is accurate, OTIP has taken control of the situation and brought an operational stability that would not have been possible without the middleware solution.”
As with any organisation, in order to deliver a superior service, a company cannot function alone. OTIP recognises this and has built important partnerships with local and international businesses to assist in its mission. “Operational Excellence is at the centre of the member journey,” Rous explains. “Given our need to improve a number of temporary and inefficient processes, we have partnered with Brooklin Consulting, experts at productivity enhancement, to help us make the necessary changes to improve service and quality for our members.” Working with numerous insurance, tech and admin companies, one other partner singled out for special praise by Rous is the HR services company Morneau Shepell, which helped OTIP implement a new health and dental administration platform just prior to its explosive growth. “Morneau Shepell has been working with us since 2014. It has walked side-by-side with us, living through and helping OTIP with the difficult times and always coming up with creative ideas. Morneau Shepell really cares about our members and we couldn't be where we are today without them.” Other companies lauded by Rous include Waterloo-based Economical Insurance (“they’re a huge partner for us”), Aviva Canada and Robotic Process Automation Implementation Inc (RPAi Inc), the latter enabling OTIP’s first utilisation of robotics.
“People sometimes get scared when they hear about robotics and automation because they think it will take away their jobs. However, robots are simply an extension of your workforce, designed to take away the repetitive administrative tasks and allow employees to focus on value-added work for our members,” Rous emphasises. Demonstrating that OTIP is willing to try out anything if it appears beneficial for its membership, Rous clarifies: “what the company is doing today in robotics is small, but we're branching out into other areas of the business to help with process automation.”
Adding another crucial component to OTIP’s everyday computing infrastructure is Applied Systems’™ (AS) ‘Epic™ ’ Broker Management System. A long-term provider of software solutions to the insurance sector, AS’s product allows OTIP to gain a holistic view of its business, integrating P&C, benefits and sales into one application. One of the most widely used agency management systems around the world, Epic provides OTIP with an essential method of managing relationships with its members, as well as accounting functions and core administrative capabilities relating to insurance.
The last few years have been a challenging and transformative time for OTIP. Not only has the company striven to link technology to each member’s experience in a meaningful way, but recent events - such as the ongoing Ontario teacher strikes - have conspired to make life for the province’s educators even more challenging. Despite this, the company is confident that no other business understands education from an insurance perspective as it does, and it is by bringing technology and people together that OTIP hopes to further distinguish itself. “We're really about ease of doing business and ensuring that we can leverage the technology to get things right,” Rous states. “Everything we do is for our members.”