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Since joining Memphis, Tenn.-based Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc. in 1978 on the technology side, Steven E. Penman has held a variety of roles. He transitioned to the business side in the late 1990s to hold key positions in the third-party administrator's casualty and specialty operations. In January, he was named chief operating officer. He recently spoke with Business Insurance Associate Editor Bill Kenealy about how technology informs what Sedgwick does. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: You've had a lot of different roles at Sedgwick. How will your background influence what you do as chief operating officer?
A: Well, it's no secret that my roots are in technology, so that's a big influence on how I think about the future of Sedgwick. And my time in various operational roles gives me a unique perspective on the work our colleagues do every day. I want to maintain a clear focus finding ways we can use technology to make the work we do more valuable to our clients. At Sedgwick, we are always looking to evolve the role of the claims professional. I believe technology can help us to streamline our processes so our people are focused on delivering superior outcomes to our clients. We want to move beyond the perception that quality is just about checking the boxes. The more we can use automation to ensure the boxes are checked, the more time our claims professionals can spend on activities that actually drive better program performance, which will ultimately save our clients money and increase productivity for their organizations. The effect we are able to make on the business with technology is amazing and entirely necessary these days. Everybody has to do more with less.
Q: How have Sedgwick's ongoing investments in technology affected your ability to service claims?
A: Having proprietary technology has allowed us to constantly evolve our customer service capabilities at every level of the organization. Sedgwick is investing heavily in multiplatform push technology, giving claimants real-time information about the status of their claim. We believe this approach will provide a better experience for claimants, and the benefit to the client is the potential of reduced litigation and time away from work. Technology also allows us to give employers current information — the kind that points them in the right direction. Claim program base-lining and improvement require integrated data management models built on the big data concept, replacing traditional reporting and warehousing techniques. Combine this with jurisdictional and regulatory knowledge, and employers can clearly identify opportunities and solutions to help them achieve the best possible outcomes.
Q: Sedgwick has made several recent acquisitions. How is the company evolving to meet market needs?
A: The acquisitions gave us a lot of new capabilities that can be delivered in an integrated manner to our clients. Again, this goes to a desire to provide solutions to the real-life challenges our clients face. Today, we are able to offer services in new areas like consumer and warranty, structured settlements, fraud avoidance and unemployment compensation. Sedgwick can provide the right services and expertise at the right time on every claim, while maintaining accountability for how these services effect the cost and duration of claims. This integrated approach reduces complexity and improves overall program performance for clients. Ultimately, the acquisitions strengthened our core by bringing a greater breadth of resources and expertise to our already established casualty and disability operations.
Q: What are the primary challenges your clients are facing in 2013?
A: I would say the primary challenge that universally affects our clients is an upswing in government regulation. Government as a whole is underfunded, with many agencies at every level operating in deficit situations. In 2013, employers need to be ready for increased scrutiny from these agencies as they look for ways to raise revenues by charging fines to employers that are not in compliance with regulations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and Medicare. Now more than ever, employers need to ensure their exposure to fines and penalties is mitigated.