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Brokers diverge in investments in risk management information systems

Brokers diverge in investments in risk management information systems

Aon P.L.C.'s decision to sell its risk management information system unit, Aon eSolutions Inc., to an affiliate of Palo Alto, California-based private equity firm Symphony Technology Group provides a study in contrasting RMIS approaches by the world's two largest insurance brokers.

Analysts see London-based Aon's decision to sell its RMIS unit for an undisclosed sum earlier this month as likely resulting from a reluctance to make the investments necessary to compete with other providers and a desire to create a vehicle nimble enough to compete with newer stand-alone RMIS providers.

However, Marsh L.L.C. is taking the opposite course by investing significantly in its RMIS unit, CS Stars L.L.C.

David A. Tweedy, senior consultant and director of RMIS solutions at Sacramento, California-based Bickmore & Associates Inc., said by becoming a stand-alone company, the former Aon eSolutions — now Ventiv Technology Inc. — will be better able to compete against competitors such as Chicago-based Origami Risk L.L.C. and Kennesaw, Georgia-based Riskonnect Inc.

“It's a very positive step for the company because it puts them in more of an independent position similar to Riskonnect or Origami,” Mr. Tweedy said. “They now have somebody to invest in them and allow them to continue their platform development.”

Ventiv CEO Kathy Burns, who was CEO of Aon eSolutions, said the new arrangement enables faster strategic decisions.

“We'll be able to very quickly assess opportunities in the market, assess new product lines and where we need to acquire talent,” Ms. Burns said.

“We are really looking to accelerate our product offerings,” she said. “We think that the overall cultural environment of being an independent, stand-alone company with a very technology-oriented outlook will really enable us to take off from beyond our current path. It's about improving the speed and pace of the entire organization.”

Gretchen Roetzer, Chicago-based director of Fitch Ratings Inc., said she was not surprised to see Aon sell eSolutions.

“They are constantly divesting and acquiring businesses, and it's certainly not out of character for Aon to divest a noncore business,” Ms. Roetzer said. “It's a technology that would have needed a significant investment to become more scalable, and I don't think Aon would have an interest in putting money toward that. It's just not where they would want to put their money.”

“I think companies that are kind of saddled with clients on historic technology platforms have had a very tough time moving to new platforms,” said David P. Duden, a director at Deloitte Consulting L.L.P. in Hartford, Connecticut. Younger stand-alone RMIS companies such as Origami and Riskonnect don't have the same legacy platform issues, he said.

Mr. Duden said he thinks the transition to a cloud computing environment also poses challenges for older RMIS providers.

“In this case, trying to get everything in the cloud just isn't that easy,” he said, the attempt being a technology shift that could affect the way some insurers and third-party administrators look at their own RMIS offerings as well.

But Marsh and its CS Stars unit appear to have a different perspective.

Rather than selling, Marsh is investing in its RMIS operation and views it as a “differentiator,” said Paul Marushka, CEO of Chicago-based CS Stars.

“We're going the exact opposite direction. Marsh is doubling down its investment in Stars,” Mr. Marushka said. The broker will launch a new product at its user meeting in October that he said is “going to bring the cloud, it's going to bring social media, it's going to bring mobility in ways the industry has never seen before.”

Marsh already has made a significant investment in the transition to a cloud-based operation, the CS Stars CEO said. “Seventy percent of our clients are already in the cloud and on some (software as a service)-based version of our software,” Mr. Marushka said. “So that's not an issue for us. We started that investment several years ago.”

“By being in the cloud, you have the opportunity to accumulate that data across industries, across geographies,” Mr. Marushka said, allowing clients to leverage that data in their risk management analysis. “We have the most rich data source of anyone in the industry.”

Mr. Duden said he advises companies “to think about an independent solution” to “maintain that data integrity.”

Carolyn Snow, director of risk management at Louisville, Kentucky-based Humana Inc., said the health insurer just installed a new RMIS system and independence was an important criterion in selecting a provider.

“We didn't want a system that was connected to a broker or (insurer) because we wanted our system to be independent,” she said.

Though she wouldn't identify Humana's new RMIS provider, Ms. Snow said the system is cloud-based.

“Actually it was something we had to overcome because we don't typically put a lot of information into that cloud that might connect to a member,” she said. “We worked really closely with our IT area to make sure that everyone was absolutely satisfied that there were as many safeguards as you could possibly have.”

Another risk manager, Melissa Bowman-Miller, vice president of risk management at Cincinnati-based Staffmark, a subsidiary of Recruit Holdings Co. Ltd., said the staffing firm also values independence in its RMIS system.

“As a whole, we unbundle everything. We don't want to be tied to anybody,” Ms. Bowman-Miller said. “I've been with our company for 181/2 years and we've been with five brokers. You don't want to be tied to and have all your data in one system and then have to change because of a broker change.”

Staffmark's RMIS is a customized internal system that's been in place since 1997. “It meets our needs. It's consistent,” Ms. Bowman-Miller said. “The comfort in the data, being able to pull data from a system, is important to me.”

But Mr. Marushka said he thinks CS Stars has advantages over independent RMIS systems in terms of data, research and development funding, and data security that come with being part of Marsh.

Regardless of the RMIS system a company chooses, it helps to have someone from risk management with some information technology aptitude who can help with the search, Ms. Snow said. And a company should be prepared for the time needed for the transition to a new system, she said. “The bottom line is it takes longer than you think.”