Lincoln Financial's Heather Milligan Uses Data to Unlock Insurance's Value

Published
  • October 24 2016, 6:30am EDT

After 26 years in insurance, Heather Milligan says her current role for Lincoln Financial Group is “by far” her favorite.

The industry veteran got her start at Chubb Insurance in 1989, working in the insurance carrier’s record management department while attending college at night under a program by which the insurer helped with school costs. Despite the paper-pushing drudgery of the job, Milligan says she learned the value of insurance from it.

“I read a lot of the stories and claims reports of people we were insuring. It was fascinating to me,” says Milligan. “What we do is really powerful and personal to people.”

After Chubb and a stint at Jefferson Pilot Financial, working with agents and in customer service along the way, Milligan joined Lincoln as head of underwriting and new business in 2007. Her first major goal was to close expense gaps. But one of the mechanisms by which they achieved this goal also revealed the value of the customer experience. Milligan and her team decided that expenses could be reduced by making the application process shorter and simpler.

For example, with MoneyGuard, Lincoln’s retirement and long-term care offering, Milligan led the charge to condense the application to a single online page, rather than the 20-page paper forms previously used by the company. Processing periods — at one time lasting anywhere from six to eight weeks — dropped to about a week. MoneyGuard now reports more than $1 billion in premium vs. $250 million when she started.

“I’m proud of our work with MoneyGuard because we completely transformed the way underwriting is done,” she says. “In order to innovate, you must be comfortable in the ambiguous and be bold enough to take risks.”

Milligan’s work with MoneyGuard helped revolutionize Lincoln Financial’s underwriting philosophy. The modernized approach is centered on deploying electronic alternatives for customers that simplify life insurance transactions. It also incorporates the use of data to improve risk assessment and lower costs.

The shift in strategy prompted Milligan and her team of innovators to launch Lincoln TermAccel in May. The program is an attempt to give Lincoln a foothold into the highly coveted millennial and Gen X demographics for life insurance. Its goal is to identify pivotal touchpoints in young adults’ lives such as marriage, parenthood and starting a 401(k), to begin an online life insurance application.

The move, however, was not without risk. “We did not want to disrupt current distribution partners’ experience while reaching a new market. But we had to challenge our status quo,” she explains. Though TermAccel begins online, the process is completed with an agent.

Currently, Milligan and her team are working on projects involving artificial intelligence, electronic health and automated underwriting — though she could not go into further details. Also on her list: Exploring the transformative power of wearable technology in insurance.

But perhaps Milligan’s defining characteristic is her enthusiasm for mentoring. Because she began her own insurance journey nearly three decades ago as a teenager with zero experience, Milligan says it’s “instrumental” to give back to younger generations the way colleagues did for her. In addition to Lincoln mentorship programs, Milligan participates in the Signature Leaders program, where she advises young women from different industries, and works with the United Way.

“There were so many people that reached back and helped me. It is my responsibility to help young professionals understand how they can advance their career,” she says.

(This article appears courtesy of our sister publication, Insurance Networking News)

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