The hu­man side of an­a­lyt­ics

Digital Insurance - - CONTENTS - By Anne Raw­land Gabriel

A wa­ter­shed mo­ment for­ever al­tered Kim­berly Holmes's pro­fes­sional tra­jec­tory by teach­ing her an­a­lyt­ics suc­cess be­gan with em­pa­thy and not with a model. In the early 2000s, in a pre­vi­ous role, Holmes worked col­lab­o­ra­tively with a team of un­der­writ­ers to build a new pric­ing model. “When I pre­sented the model to un­der­writ­ing head she re­sponded ‘thank you, but I've been pric­ing for 20 years, so a model is un­nec­es­sary,'” re­calls Holmes, who is now SVP of strate­gic an­a­lyt­ics for AXA XL. In­stead of con­sid­er­ing ways to im­prove the model or her pre­sen­ta­tion, Holmes de­cided to fig­ure out what was im­por­tant to the un­der­writer. “It's the mo­ment my job be­came about learn­ing to un­der­stand and an­a­lyze the de­ci­sions un­der­writ­ers needed to make, rather than about build­ing mod­els,” she says. Soon Holmes went from sit­ting alone in her of­fice to en­ter­tain­ing a con­stant stream of un­der­writ­ers seek­ing her as­sis­tance. “By fo­cus­ing on the crit­i­cal de­ci­sions un­der­writ­ers were fac­ing, I started build­ing im­pact­ful tools un­like any on the mar­ket at the time,” she says. “Not only were the tools em­braced by man­age­ment and rein­sur­ers, the process of dis­cov­ery, cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion be­came what I love about data sci­ence.” Prior to the merger that cre­ated AXA XL's pre­de­ces­sor com­pany, XL Caitlin, CEO Mike McGav­ick asked Holmes what ex­cited her about her job. Af­ter telling that story, McGav­ick sug­gested Holmes lead a yet-un­born ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics unit. “It was a blank page,” she says. “There wasn't even a name for the team.” With in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal as­sis­tance, Holmes built her 20-per­son team and dubbed it “Strate­gic An­a­lyt­ics” to em­pha­size that an­a­lyt­ics should drive busi­ness strat­egy. She tack­led in­ter­nal skep­ti­cism and re­sis­tance by creat­ing value quickly while si­mul­ta­ne­ously build­ing out her team's foun­da­tion and di­rec­tion. “No amount of talk­ing con­vinces peo­ple,” she says. “Ev­i­dence is the only way to trans­form skep­tics into be­liev­ers.” Over the next five years, Holmes' team com­pleted so many suc­cess­ful projects that mea­sur­able busi­ness im­prove­ments ex­ceeded the cost of her depart­ment. Much as with her pre­vi­ous em­ployer, Holmes and her team achieved this by fo­cus­ing on creat­ing busi­ness value, in­stead of de­vel­op­ing an­a­lyt­i­cal tools. “At the point we be­came a profit cen­ter, we could branch out from de­vel­op­ing tac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to de­liv­er­ing more strate­gic value,” she says. One re­cent ex­am­ple is de­vel­op­ing a ma­chine learn­ing tool which au­to­mates a man­ual process, re­duc­ing it from weeks to min­utes. Still early in its im­ple­men­ta­tion, the tool is de­liv­er­ing an es­ti­mated ROI of more than a half-mil­lion an­nu­ally. It's also so unique that AXA XL is ap­ply­ing for a patent. “It was my team's idea and ex­e­cu­tion,” says Holmes. “I was aware they were work­ing on the prob­lem, but my lead­er­ship style is hir­ing the right peo­ple, giv­ing them suf­fi­cient guid­ance to fo­cus their ef­forts and em­pow­er­ing them to get things done.” This in­cluded get­ting in­put on a set of 10 tenets that her team lives by. “Af­ter draft­ing eight, I asked my team to sup­ply the other two,” she says. “They pro­vided so much in­ter­est­ing feed­back that I in­cor­po­rated and con­densed it into the fi­nal set. My fa­vorite con­tri­bu­tion is ‘trust is like money; treat it as such.” Holmes finds am­ple time for for­mally and in­for­mally men­tor­ing oth­ers, con­trast­ing that to her early years when women lacked men­tors. She says that her hus­band has helped be a sound­ing board. “He pointed out that highly tech­ni­cal peo­ple, for var­i­ous le­git­i­mate rea­sons, are in­vested in be­ing right,” she says. “But, oth­ers don't want to in­ter­act closely with some­one be­cause they are right; they want to do so be­cause the per­son is lik­able.” Now, she tries to ap­ply those lessons in her in­ter­ac­tions with oth­ers. “For in­stance, when asked for hir­ing ad­vice, I tell peo­ple the num­ber one cri­te­rion is lik­a­bil­ity,” she says. “We can teach an­a­lyt­ics, we can't teach lik­a­bil­ity.”

Kim­berly Holmes SVP, Strate­gic An­a­lyt­ics, AXA XL

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