Under (pandemic) pressure: How Kaufman exec found a solution

Under (pandemic) pressure: How Kaufman exec found a solution

Rich Fusinski joined H.W. Kaufman Group as its new chief information officer in October 2019, a few months before the coronavirus pandemic began to take shape. He had to pivot before he barely got his feet wet in the job and remembers feeling the pressure.

“Being new to this organization there is a real sense of responsibility and much dread in a way that if this is real, I’ve got to figure out a way to make sure we can keep the lights on,” Fusinski (pictured) recalled feeling. “I’m either going to put us in a position to succeed or allow us to fail.”

Fusinski, also corporate senior vice president, already had a big job ahead of him without the pandemic. H.W. Kaufman is a giant operation, a global network of insurance companies serving the specialty insurance industry including brokers, producers and underwriters that serve brokers, carriers and agents. It has more than 60 offices in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, housing over 2,000 employees. Its flagship company is Burns & Wilcox, a large wholesale insurance broker and underwriting manager focused on commercial and professional liability, property, environmental, marine and personal insurance.

In other words, the company already had a lot of moving parts on which to focus. Fusinski, a veteran of the banking industry, had been hired with a mandate of digital transformation.

Pandemic crisis, digital opportunity

Fusinski describes the job as “setting the table for operational excellence” but also handling company computers and “deploying Microsoft Word, information security and all of these things.” Before any of that, however, he devoted his attention to keeping things stable as the pandemic took hold.

“I had to really focus on the nuts and bolts and making sure that we [could] expand our capabilities to work remotely,” Fusinski said.

He made a pitch for a seven-figure investment on infrastructure to enable a pandemic pivot, and executives were on board, Fusinski recalled.

“We very successfully pivoted to remote work almost seamlessly,” Fusinski said. “That wasn’t necessarily the case with all organizations. We were firing on all cylinders in late March and early April of 2020 when some of our competitors were struggling to just turn their computers on.”

As the pandemic accelerated digital transformation in other parts of the insurance industry, so was the case with H.W. Kaufman Group, Fusinski said, speeding up a process that had been very slow.

“Consumer behaviors have been leading toward digital first for a very long time,” he said. “What the pandemic did for our industry is accelerate that.”

Transformation and pandemic together

Fusinski got on with transformation plans. One of his early projects has been focused on modernizing the broker systems used by flagship company Burns & Wilcox, moving from long-standing analog processes.

To be sure, there have been plenty of technologies in play already, including accelerators, carrier portals, ratings engines and policy administration systems. Those are all legacy and separate, however. Fusinski and his team moved full speed ahead developing a single system, on the Salesforce platform, that would unify and consolidate systems for agent and broker users.

“What we are working on right now is implementing a single platform that will service that entire lifecycle of policy creation – maintenance, quote, bind, issue, renewals, endorsements, cancellations, all of that,” Fusinski said.

The platform is two months away from its initial launch, with a focus at first on personal lines. It is the product of more than 18 months of work, he said, involving close interaction with Salesforce engineers.

“This was an opportunity that we both recognized,” he said. “We’re co-developing a lot of functionality to deliver this experience.”

There’s also IssueQuick, a project that Fusinski said co-mingles with the larger platform project. IssueQuick, which predates Fusinski’s arrival at the company, was an attempt to create a digital portal for Burns & Wilcox that allows for “straight through processing of risks that are more simplistic in nature.” It focuses on quote, bind, issue and collect payment, with an agent/broker target audience. While it has launched, Fusinksi explained that the portal is being “re-platformed” in Salesforce, to produce what is evolving into a “self-serve” digital channel.

Ultimately, these and other technology projects are meant to reposition Burns & Wilcox as the insurance version of what Rocket Mortgage does, Fusinski said.

As an agent, “if my primary way that I interact with Burns & Wilcox is online, then I can start my interactions there. I can see my entire book of business. I can submit claims. I can start a new submission from that portal,” Fusinski said. “If it doesn’t fit within the eligibility criteria that is required for straight-through processing, [there is] a very robust referral engine that then takes that risk and refers it to one of our core experts, which is the core engine of our business.”

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