WTW tech exec transforms "art of the possible"

WTW tech exec transforms

Duncan Anderson (pictured) is an example of a technology executive who doesn’t have to be trained in technology to be effective.

Anderson is managing director and global leader, insurance technology, for WTW (previously known as Willis Towers Watson), but he is a trained actuary rather than a technologist. This dynamic is something he said brings vital qualities to the table including an awareness of “having the right internal culture focused on client needs rather than engineering technical beauty for its own sake.”

Anderson has served in his current position for five years and with WTW for more than 30 years. His division includes roughly 1,500 professionals that serve the insurance industry, and the technology team he oversees constitutes “a large proportion of that,” Anderson said.

His role involves overseeing the creation and support of software, and he also serves on the WTW global leadership team that steers the whole practice. The division provides consulting services and specialist software to the insurance industry. Clients include anyone involved in selling, underwriting and distributing insurance – carriers, intermediaries and small brokers among them. Anderson’s team is also dotted across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions, which all have clients WTW serves.

A different time

More than 1,000 insurers globally currently use WTW technology, and the company has been providing specialist software to the industry for more than 30 years, Anderson noted. Over that span, client requirements and the technology world in general have changed enormously. With that in mind, Anderson’s mandate when taking on his current executive role was to accelerate the development (and modernization) of software in multiple areas.

“We have software that helps insurers with some of their technical functions, be it pricing, underwriting, claims analytics, capital management, reserving and statutory reporting,” Anderson said. “In all of these areas, we could see an increased demand for the richness of the offerings.”

In response, Anderson has more than doubled the size of the technology team since he took on his new position, and he’s also increased the “output and the nature” of some of the company’s key software.

“It really was to just keep accelerating the innovation,” Anderson explained, adding that his status as an actuary and business advisor helped bring some client-centered focus to the effort.

‘Art of the possible’

Anderson’s tenure has seen his division pursue a significant embrace of the cloud.

“One of the things we’ve done is push forward [with] some of the cloud functionality of our offerings,” Anderson said.

He and his team meticulously thought through the process.

“Some of our software focuses on, for example, regulatory reporting that requires a very significant number of stochastic simulations to be done,” he said. “As a result of some of the developments we’ve made, things which a few years ago would take many hours to run can now be done in a small number of minutes.”

Those improvements mean WTW now has software that enables companies to explore capital management issues more quickly and at a better cost rate.

Advanced analytics has been another area of improvement, thanks in part to what the cloud now enables, according to Anderson.

“The proliferation of third-party services in the cloud has changed the nature of … raw computing power that is now available,” Anderson said. “It has changed the art of the possible with advanced analytics.”

Machine learning is another advance that has proliferated in insurance and other industries. Anderson’s team has helped WTW pivot to address this, developing features and services specifically useful in this area for the insurance industry.

Not done yet

The mission to adapt and improve technology for customers is far from finished, Anderson said, as WTW identifies clients’ ever evolving wants and needs.

“There are some universal themes of what clients are trying to do. They want now to make sure their decision making is based on rich data and analytics” and very agile in how it is used, Anderson said. “They want everything to be as efficient and automated as possible, while having a view to the digitalization of the offerings [for] the end consumer client.”

Anderson said that WTW believes those things together will change the nature of the tech functions within insurance companies, which is the core target for its software. Currently, Anderson said, those functions generally work in separate silos, but companies will need a more holistic approach as they increasingly demand richer data and work together more closely.

“This will require much more holistic and interconnected analytical software to work with,” Anderson said. “Our software is going to move to a world where there’s one version of the truth and we are providing analytics and services to … what is currently quite separate functions that will become much more aligned in the future.”

In addition, WTW will make sure future annual software offerings are cloud native and work better with third-party services.

COVID-19 helps spur innovation

Some of the innovation work had to take place during the coronavirus pandemic, where entire industries were forced to work remotely.

Anderson recalled he was worried that productivity would slow down significantly, but the opposite happened.

“It accelerated, really, in the first few months,” he said.

At the same time, Anderson said, in-person, face-to-face sessions are better to spur innovation, but he learned a lot regarding how quickly WTW adapted to rapid changes the pandemic demanded. In turn, he said, the company has pursued its advanced analytics and cloud services offerings to accommodate changing work dynamics the company itself faced.

“Identifying what is possible to do to enhance clients’ performance is relatively easy, and that’s been quite quick to do,” he said.

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