New York Life: Insuring Business Success

New York Life Insurance Co., the nation’s largest mutual life insurer and a leading provider of financial services (more than $29 billion in 2008 insurance and investment sales), has built IT into a powerhouse that helps the business thrive at a time when many other financial institutions are reeling. Among other things, it has constructed an enterprise portal contact system that feeds CRM data and other information to agents in the field; a Web-based new-business/underwriting system that guides agents, customer service representatives and underwriters through the life insurance application process; and a workflow automation system that balances transactional loads across the firm’s regional processing centers.

More importantly, New York Life has constructed a framework that inextricably intertwines IT and business objectives. “In a period of economic turmoil, as others are looking to cut expenses, we are well-positioned to think and plan for the future,” says Eileen Slevin, senior vice president and CIO.

Agents of Change

Managing a portfolio of IT initiatives isn’t unusual. Every company must confront new technologies, changing work processes and a constantly evolving marketplace. What makes New York Life so unusual is that it has built a highly structured but flexible framework for managing IT across the enterprise.

The contact management portal, for example, lets agents view customer leads as quickly as they stream in; it gives them instant access to existing contacts, calendaring data and account notes; and provides a view into a client’s entire portfolio. In addition, agents can view contracts, peruse up-to-the-minute policy details, and read an array of manuals and resources. “They can get to it from any computer at any time,” says Jim Bain, first vice president of New York Life’s Corporate Information Department.

In fact, the system allows agents to tap into their data from “a single place rather than having it scattered across multiple applications,” Bain notes. New York Life, which has more than 11,000 agents in the United States, has tallied about 10,000 unique visits since the portal went live in January 2009. “It’s a single sign-on portal that provides access to any application or service running on it,” he says. “The goal is to make things as simple and seamless as possible for agents.”

The Web-based transaction management system, meanwhile, guides insurance agents, customer service representatives and underwriters through the entire process of filling out a customer application and gathering all the information required for approval. A typical life insurance application is about 20 pages long and includes customer data, medical information such as blood tests and physician statements, and motor vehicle records. “The process generally takes two or three weeks,” says Ken Toffolo, vice president of business architecture.

New York Life developed an interface that taps into medical and Department of Motor Vehicles data in real time. The system also flags missing information for agents and provides them with live status reports about customers.

The result? The company has trimmed the time required to complete the application approval process by 25 percent while improving accuracy. Although the system was introduced in 2005, IT continues to introduce new capabilities and ongoing workflow improvements.

Internal processes haven’t escaped the company’s attention either. In 2000, New York Life introduced a workflow management system that delivers policies, claims and other transactions to processing centers in multiple cities. In the past, balancing workloads was a problem. At times, some centers suffered from overload while others were underutilized.

As a result, the company developed an IT application designed to equalize the flow of work and optimize resources and labor. The workload-balancing system also allows New York Life to take a center offline and reroute transactions as needed.

Toffolo says that as powerful as the system is at present, it’s merely a steppingstone to more advanced capabilities. “The ultimate goal isn’t to just change the way we route work; it’s to move to a service-anywhere concept,” he says. “We want to deliver transactions and work to people at any location.”