Pekin Insurance: Redefining Digital Transformation

Pekin Insurance: Redefining Digital Transformation

Amy Bingham, VP and CIO of Pekin Insurance, tells us about digital transformation and app development in the world of insurance

One of the longest-established insurance companies in the US, Pekin Insurance was founded in 1921 and has recently celebrated its centennial anniversary. Originally launched as a solution to pre-war automobile insurance, the company has grown and expanded its offerings into the P&C market. 

More recently, it has been tasked with the challenge of digitally transforming its business processes, as well as introducing lean and agile principles to its IT operations. With a robust culture of progression and innovation, Pekin Insurance has made extraordinary progress in this journey, driving forward new IT initiatives while also launching cutting-edge products and services. 

Bingham joined the company in late 2021, taking on the role of VP and CIO. Her responsibilities include managing the day-to-day operations of the IT department at Pekin Insurance. She partners closely with the business to deliver on the key outcomes and priorities, in alignment with Pekin Insurance’s strategic goals and objectives. 

With an impressive career prior to joining Pekin Insurance, Amy spent 21 years with the number one P&C insurer in the United States: “With all this experience in IT throughout my career journey, I've been very intentional in pursuing opportunities that really broaden my experiences, exposing me to new facets of IT and the organisation as a whole. As a result, I developed a real breadth of experience across IT.”

She led delivery efforts across product lines and has extensive experience in test management. She also led in the IT risk and compliance area, partnering closely with information security. Another area of expertise is leading in the infrastructure space and managing two very large data centres in the United States. 

Later on, she led technology initiatives in sales and marketing ‒ another aspect that has provided her with specialist knowledge of the customer service environment.

She says: “When I think about my background, I've been very intentional to really take my career down the path of exposing me to a wide breadth of experience across IT. And I think that's positioned me very well as I've come to Pekin Insurance to lead in the CIO role. I feel that the IT employees here really appreciate the broad spectrum of experience that I bring, and they see me really being able to relate to their roles and their work.”

Transforming a leading legacy company into the digital insurance space

With its dynamic and forward-thinking team, Pekin Insurance has experienced a radical digital transformation journey over the past few years. Its newest offerings include a life insurance product that can be issued automatically with zero human touch ‒ an impressive feat when life insurance is one of the most difficult products to translate into a digital solution. 

“The life company just implemented the first instant issue application that uses rules-based underwriting and e-signature capabilities for a zero-touch experience. And that's really exciting on our journey from more of a legacy-based system to a more digital environment,” says Bingham.

Another priority initiative Pekin Insurance is embarking on is the migration of the Guidewire platform into Guidewire's cloud SAAS solution. Guidewire is a leading partner of Pekin Insurance and has been instrumental in the company’s transformation. 

“After our initial investment in the implementation of Guidewire, we were finding it difficult to really stay on top of those product releases due to staffing constraints and the need to focus on delivery of other priority business initiatives. So as a result, we were missing some of the opportunities of enhanced functionality that were being offered in the more recent Guidewire product releases.”

Guidewire and ValueMomentum both became key integration partners on a plan that's going to enable a full migration to the Guidewire cloud platform.

“We're starting on this journey now with plans to complete the migration in Q1 of 2023. And with this migration to a full Guidewire SAAS solution, we're going to realise several opportunities. I look forward to collaborating with our business partners to investigate this enhanced functionality, which includes the ability to seamlessly make changes to underwriting and validation rules without time-consuming deployments. It will enable configuration approaches that will constantly improve the user experience and ease of doing business for our agents, our employees, and our policyholders.”

Utilising the Guidewire ecosystem

Pekin Insurance will use Guidewire's ecosystem and insurtech integration partners to advance its claims technologies and create a more streamlined experience. The company also has plans to leverage Guidewire's claims analytics, which will allow Pekin Insurance to optimise and improve its process automation functionality with things like subrogation identification, injury severity escalation, total loss determination, and payment approvals. 

Bingham is enthusiastic about the move, which she predicts will be a key element in the company’s digital journey. “These are all new opportunities that we're going to have the ability to explore as we make this migration into Guidewire's cloud,” she says.

A culture of opportunity within IT

While many legacy companies are struggling to embrace the new digital processes, Pekin Insurance has been an enthusiastic adopter of new innovations. The key is in the culture and core values, which are centred on nurturing talent and providing opportunities. 

This is one of the aspects that attracted Bingham to Pekin Insurance in the first place, as she explains: “One of my passions ‒ and likely top-of-mind for every CIO in today's industry and climate ‒ is really that of employee engagement and overall company culture. 

“Pekin Insurance is not exempt from the challenges most CIOs and organisations are facing, as it relates to attracting and retaining top IT talent. But I really see a great strength of Pekin Insurance IT is that our workforce has always been willing to give feedback and participate in the ideation process to improve our team engagement and our culture.

“With that feedback, it then becomes leadership's responsibility to build out the tactical and strategic initiatives that are going to engage our workforce, attract and retain the talent, and continuously develop and upskill the workforce to meet the challenges of the future. This is a key focus for me as I step into the role of CIO for this year and beyond.”

One of the first steps in this strategy is to create employee engagement focus groups. Bingham is a big believer in employees being a part of the solution as it relates to improving the culture and employee engagement. The focus groups will enable Pekin Insurance employees to generate and sponsor ideas to improve the company culture and our employee engagement. The aim is that better input will lead to even more innovation.

“We're going to continue to increase our focus on innovation, which we all know is key to attracting and retaining top talent. We're looking at things like hosting innovation events, hack days, and making innovation part of the DNA here at Pekin Insurance. I also want to increase our focus on development for our IT employees. We know that is critical to employees remaining satisfied at work and staying relevant in the industry.”

Taking care of talent

One area of focus will be enhanced career-pathing through a talent pipeline so that employees see themselves having opportunities to grow in the organisation. Pekin Insurance is also creating an IT operating model that's product-centric, with an aim to increase IT and business engagement as well as partnership, while at the same time promoting flexibility and efficiency. Making the most of skills and providing new opportunities for talented staff are, she says, of paramount importance.

“We often hear from employees that they're really stretched across multiple priorities and they want a say in decision making, as it relates to their work. This model is going to foster significant improvements related to those employee concerns. This year and in the years to come, we're going to be very intentionally focused on improving employee engagement and developing a value proposition. I want Pekin Insurance IT employees to truly see our company as the employer of choice.”

Building a robust IT culture

But ensuring a business has a strong talent pool is not the only challenge facing insurance companies that are in the midst of a digital transition. Creating a more robust, product-focused approach to its IT culture is also a critical element. Pekin Insurance is a mid-sized company ‒ but it has invested and pursued key product management principles such as user experience, design thinking, and a continued focus on agile practices and maturing those practices. 

“My vision is simply to take this to the next level, to create an organisational structure that really supports product management, introduces and fosters dedicated teams, and brings more empowerment and decision-making to those teams. This is all going to be done in concert with the business to ensure the creation of better partnerships and that we're solving the right business and customer problems with clear business outcomes in mind.”

Digital strategy and expansion

Making core changes within any company is a challenging process. But Pekin Insurance is also driving an expansion strategy alongside a digital transformation. This means it is entering new marketplaces and creating new products and services while streamlining its internal operations. Bingham is enthused with the process and is clearly relishing the challenge.  

“It really is an exciting time at Pekin Insurance, because we are embarking on a multi-state geographic expansion, initially focusing on our commercial lines of business. Our first state expansion will go live later this year. We're implementing a repeatable process here in IT to continue to roll out additional states annually until we reach our expansion goals. 

“The Guidewire platform has well positioned us to quickly make the technology changes that are needed to enable this expansion. Additionally, ValueMomentum is our key integration partner in this geographic expansion. We've partnered with ValueMomentum to stand up a persistent team, primarily made up of offshore resources to support the expansion in a very cost-effective and flexible way.”

With this persistent team model, Pekin Insurance is funding the team and not a specific scope of work or timeline. This will allow Pekin Insurance to scale at their own pace alongside the rollout. It's essentially a flexible model that is enabling the company to quickly respond to any risks it encounters as it grows ‒ which means the speed of expansion can fluctuate according to the climate.

“If we decide to accelerate our expansion, we're going to have the ability to easily ramp up this team to increase the pace. This geographic expansion is truly a catalyst in meeting our company's strategic growth goals. And I couldn't be more excited to be a part of this exciting journey here at Pekin Insurance,” Bingham says. 

Successful technology partnerships

A large part of Pekin Insurance’s transitional success has been due to the strategic partnerships the company has formed. Bingham is swift to point out the benefits that have been reaped by collaborating with technology providers deemed the perfect fit for Pekin Insurance’s growth strategy, saying: “ValueMomentum really has been our key integration partner as we've gone on this journey with Guidewire. 

“We’re heavily leveraging ValueMomentum while continuing to mature our digital transformation journey and our integrations with Guidewire. We've partnered with them closely to develop models that are very flexible with what we need in our continued maturation journey. And they've been very good partners in strategising and aligning us with the capacity and support that we need to continue to support this journey. 

Pekin Insurance is also implementing Workday financials for its new accounting system. They are migrating from a very manual spreadsheet-based accounting platform to Workday financials, which is a much more robust, integrated solution. ValueMomentum has played a key role in enabling this key initiative.

Outlook for the future

With so many irons in the fire, Pekin Insurance is set to have a very busy few months ahead as it completes its digital transition to Guidewire’s cloud platform and launches numerous new products and services. 

Data is foundational to the insurance industry. The more data Pekin Insurance can leverage to inform business decisions, the more it can capitalise on data-driven advancements, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. This will streamline processes and provide critical data insights to inform key business decisions. The other trend and key area in insurance focuses on customer experience and ease of doing business. Pekin Insurance is making this an imperative as it moves forward and is placing customer centricity at the forefront of success for its organisation.

Bingham says: “This year's really all about laying the foundation, putting the proper organisational constructs in place, improving our development and our delivery practices here in IT. Additionally, we need to deliver our key strategic priorities, including our state expansion and migration to Guidewire SAAS. 

She adds: “As I look to the next year, I really want to increase our focus on digital capabilities to improve customer self-service, as well as the overall user experience and ease of doing business. Like every organisation, we must increase our focus on data and data strategy to ensure we have the right architecture in place, that we're leveraging data insights and analytics capabilities to improve our processes and inform key business decisions.”

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