As a child, Jayne Olsen gained an early appreciation for the insurance industry after witnessing her home badly flood, thanks to a malfunctioning pipe.
“Our insurance company played an important role in rebuilding most of the walls and floors,” she says. “It was hard to endure the process of rebuilding, but I was thankful my family did not have to worry about the financial burden.”
So when Olsen had the chance to leave management consultanting firm Ernst & Young in 2004 for an IT management role at Swiss Re, she jumped at the opportunity. Now, as the reinsurer’s head of analytics in North America, Olsen is charged with turning Swiss Re from a data-supported organization into a data-driven one. Under her leadership, Swiss Re has turned to an “outside-in” approach to build out its global analytics strategy: That is, the goal is to identify analytics best practices from other industries that fit Swiss Re’s business model.
Olsen leveraged a partnership with IBM to bring in outside speakers to educate Swiss Re staff on topics impacting the industry. Additionally, she has embedded in-house data scientists within different business units, serving the same purpose.
“Many industries have embraced tech in unique ways and I think there are important lessons we can learn from sectors like retail, for example,” Olsen says. “Our normal processes might work, but it doesn’t mean it is the best way to do it over time.”
Recruiting additional talent is also on the agenda for University of Albany graduate; who currently leads a growing group of 45 data scientists spread across the reinsurer’s global and U.S. analytics business units. Olsen recently launched a hiring campaign in search of individuals familiar with machine learning, natural language processing and cognitive computing, she said. Initial recruitment began in December 2015 with Swiss Re’s Hackathon event in New York City—an initiative Olsen spearheaded with IBM.
“It was a first of its kind event and a great starting point to kick-off the recruiting process,” says Olsen. “Swiss Re is not a brand technologists may think of. Many were not aware of insurance in general as a tech career.”
The Swiss company has gone on to host two additional Hackathon events, including HackZurich in September. However, recruitment is still not over. Developing Swiss Re’s analytics capabilities is very much a long-term play. Olsen and her colleagues frequently visit universities to meet students graduating in data science.
Like many other large carriers, Swiss Re is working to harness the insurance industry’s large amount of data through predictive underwriting, predictive modelling the Internet of Things. Olsen and her team also want to properly leverage emerging technologies; particularly, artificial intelligence and blockchain. The technologies have the potential to change the way Swiss Re assesses risk and engages with customers and other financial services companies, she says.
Olsen formally mentors two Swiss Re employees, as part of the reinsurer’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) program. The network is comprised of 35 D&I Champions—senior managers from different business areas, according to the company. Upon becoming D&I champion of IT, Olsen helped create a mentoring network within the unit itself, alongside Swiss Re’s executive IT management team.
Olsen says that the insurance industry has improved a lot in the last decade in offering mentorships and growth opportunities to a wide range of workers.
“Navigating a career while balancing family and personal values is difficult,” she says. But insurers “now looks at mentoring from a diversity point of view,” she adds. “Employees come from different backgrounds and are each diverse in their own way.”
(This article appears courtesy of our sister publication, Insurance Networking News)
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