Go I-Dawgs!

I’m back in Chicago today after a couple of days in Mississippi to moderate a panel at the annual MSU Insurance Day at Mississippi State University.

This year’s gathering was the 20th anniversary of the event, presented by the Risk Management, Insurance & Financial Planning program at MSU. It was a solid program, and very well attended.

Among the various presentations at the MSU I-Day, Paula Rosput Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of Seattle-based Safeco Corp., raised a number of interesting issues in her presentation on “Disruptive Forces in Insurance.”

Ms. Reynolds suggested there is a technology “arms race” between insurance and the banking industry, with insurance “a little behind.” The banking industry tends to be more customer facing with its technology investments, she said, though adding that she feels there’s no reason the insurance industry couldn’t follow suit.

“You have to know how to deploy smartly and you have to have a vision around the future,” the Safeco CEO said. With that in mind, the insurer plans to include some of its product development folks in upcoming meetings with Microsoft. “It’s really important to us to try to program ahead rather than be programming in the rear view mirror,” Ms. Reynolds said.

Ms. Reynolds also talked about changes in the way insurers are positioning themselves in the marketplace. The large companies who represent the bulk of insurance industry advertising spending have moved away from simply “talking about their product in a feel good way,” she said. With so much advertising bombarding consumers through various media these days, companies are focusing less on brand-based advertising and more on emphasizing product features and convenience, she said.

Ms. Reynolds raised a potential regulatory issue associated with insurance companies making more of their products available to buyers online. As companies offer consumers more and more self-service options, she said, it’s likely that at some point regulators may face the question “should the consumer have been allowed to do this transaction unadvised?”

Thanks to Edwin H. Duett, Peter K. Lutken chair of insurance at MSU, for offering me the opportunity to participate in this year’s I-Day (and for the chance Tuesday night to enjoy a strong performance  by the Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball team as they dispatched Southern Mississippi 11-2).

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