Not-So-Risky Business

Insurer Zurich uses collaboration technology to help businesses manage risk and to save itself money

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

December 7, 2001

3 Min Read

Collaboration with customers is often about finding out what the customers know. In the case of insurance company Zurich U.S., though, collaboration has helped customers find out what Zurich knows.

The Schaumburg, Ill., company started using collaboration technology two years ago to help risk managers at large companies understand what areas of their businesses cost them the most in terms of injuries or damages. If, for example, a factory started generating excessive claims caused by people slipping, Zurich's RiskIntelligence system, which uses Business Objects SA reporting software, would notify the manufacturer's risk manager. The risk manager could then find out the cause and perhaps take steps to reduce the number of accidents--an important capability for businesses, which typically share responsibility for employee claims. "They want to be as conscious of perils as possible. They want to have this information to see patterns," Zurich CIO Dave Saul says.

Zurich has been generating claim reports for its clients for several years, but they were massive paper publications that weren't timely or convenient enough. RiskIntelligence lets risk managers access and manipulate the data instantly. They can add data fields or information, letting them, for instance, see how many claims were generated at a particular factory or for one type of accident.

New York cosmetics company L'Oreal USA has been using RiskIntelligence since Zurich started offering it. Before the application was created, the company had to wait at least a month before claims data came in. "We can get data the next day on claims that were reported the prior day," says Guy D'Antoni, L'Oreal's director of risk management. L'Oreal can also customize what data the application generates so it delivers the exact information senior executives need to make decisions. For example, L'Oreal has built in to the system a report that looks not only at divisions but at specific products within a division. "When we have a product liability loss, we're able to pinpoint the specific product that generated that loss," D'Antoni says.

Of course, Zurich benefits in the process. In RiskIntelligence's first year of use, the company saved $400,000 just on diskettes and paper copies it didn't have to send out. Then there's the savings from accidents that the knowledge helps prevent. Zurich predicts a 250% return on investment by the end of this year. Most critical, the service makes it easier to hold on to existing customers and becomes a selling point to attract new ones. Customers get information, not just insurance, in the deal.

Spurred by the success of external collaboration, Zurich now is looking internally. Insurance policies are affected by three groups of people: underwriters, claims adjusters, and risk engineers. Long ago, those individuals would have had desks next to each other--but as Zurich grows, they're likely to be spread across the country. Distance makes it difficult for the parties to come together on a policy. "There's a lot of knowledge capital between those entities. The problem is, that's where it stays--inside the heads," Saul says. Zurich plans to build a knowledge-management and collaboration system that would let an underwriter creating a policy for a branch of a company in Florida connect with a claims adjuster who's processed a couple of that company's claims in Oregon or to a risk engineer who's checked the company's factory in Kentucky. The project will be completed sometime next year, and Saul says it has the potential to restore tight communication among Zurich's entities. The knowledge base would also store information so that if an underwriter dealing with a particular type of company left, someone else could use the stored information to continue to work with those companies.

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