Photograph: Charles Harris
How did being a chief actuary prepare you for your role in data analytics?
My experience as an actuary serves as a good foundation for the role of chief data and analytics officer. As chief actuary, my job is to use disparate sources of data to make predictions. That can be claims data, membership data, information about care management, provider contracts and more. The other part of the foundation is my experience in our business. When you add my familiarity with things like operations, customer service and digital marketing to my experience as chief actuary, I think the data and analytics role is a good fit.
Tell me about the diversity of your team. Data scientists? Actuaries? Others? What are the skills and abilities of your team?
It’s a team with broad and diverse skills and experience—it includes analysts, data scientists and engineers. We also have some “translators” to bridge the analytical and business worlds. Our work requires technical skills to help us move in a rapidly changing industry, but more than that, it requires problem-solving skills. We have a great foundation with the data and analytics professionals already in the company. As a team, they’re really strong at taking the data and translating it into actionable information for the company. We are looking to add to their ranks.
What unique characteristics do these individuals bring to the table, especially with regard to the insurance domain?
In our business, we need people who know how to solve problems. We also value curiosity, strong collaboration and people who are excited to leverage data and analytics to make a difference in the lives of our customers. That’s what this team has. They bring an energy and understanding of how fast our industry is changing and the new technology, new sources of data and analytical tools that are available to them. These are the kinds of people with whom we want to work. Traditionally, as actuaries, we have job descriptions that are too rigid. We’re transitioning to job descriptions that are based on being able to solve problems.
Were there any hurdles to overcome during the transition to a position focusing on data analytics?
Understanding the data side of the business—how to store data, maintain it and protect it. There are a lot of complexities to it. Beyond that, I’m really focused on getting the people side of it right. Creating a new group dedicated to analytics represents a lot of change, so there are change management elements that are important. When people are in an uncomfortable setting, they tend to hunker down. Understanding the personal side of change and proactively working through the change process is key.
Technology changes at a rapid pace—how do you keep your team abreast of all the advancements?
I’m not alone in this, but I try to immerse myself in all the information that’s out there. I try to spend some time with tech companies, and I have been fortunate to have been able to have regular conversations with venture capitalists as well as technology companies in Silicon Valley. I constantly learn from them and share insights with my teams. The problems we’re trying to solve in health care are, in some ways, similar to problems other industries face, such as lowering costs, improving quality and creating a better customer experience.
As you look at the role of actuaries evolving, where do you see the biggest opportunities?
Actuaries specialize in being good risk managers. The great news for actuaries and others with this skill set is that the risk management space is growing rapidly in many industries. For our industry today, there are risk management challenges like data security, particularly as we handle larger volumes of protected information. There’s a growth opportunity for actuaries to apply their skills in new ways and to more industries. They can bring a structural thought process to many areas of business. For our company, I see a big opportunity for actuaries in helping to create and manage new payment models where we’re paying providers for quality outcomes and providers are taking on more risk.
How did you create your own opportunities?
I started at Blue Cross NC as an actuarial assistant in 1996. Although I have considered other opportunities, I’ve been very fortunate to work for a company that allows me to bring a perspective beyond actuarial science to our business. I’ve been involved in business development, provider negotiations and other aspects of our business. At Blue Cross NC, we try to make sure employees have opportunities to apply their skills and interests while at the same time meeting a need for the company.
What would you say to someone who is in their early to mid-career? What kinds of skills are needed?
I would advise anyone to focus on analytical and problem-solving skills. There’s always a need for more people with critical thinking skills who understand business and technology. Actuaries are well-positioned to bring these skills. I would say there’s one other trait, and that’s curiosity. I like to work with people who are curious and want to learn more. There are all kinds of opportunities to get more training and education—it’s all about being a lifelong learner.
What about your work brings you the most joy?
There are really two things. First, solving important problems for a company that has a mission-driven focus. We have the opportunity to drive more insight than ever as we try to solve some big problems. When we solve those problems, like improving quality and reducing cost, we know we’re making a difference for our customers and our health care system. Second, I’m always excited about the people side of the business. I really like working with smart, committed, passionate people from whom I can learn and work alongside to solve these big problems.
Industry disruptors: How will InsurTech evolve the role of the actuary?
We’re seeing more and more disruptors in health care. I think it may play out a little differently than what we saw in financial services with FinTech startups. In health care, we’re seeing more vertical integration among incumbents—CVS buying Aetna, for example—but there’s certainly room for InsurTech startups to bring innovation and technology to the market. Innovation and disruption are good things. Like other professions, some aspects of the role actuaries play can be automated. But there’s no replacing the analytical and critical thinking skills actuaries bring to the table.
How did you make the jump from chief actuary to predictive/data analytics?
I had some discussions with our new CEO, Patrick Conway, about the possibility of taking on a new role in an area of need for the company. I actually started by identifying the business challenges we were trying to solve and worked backward to identify the opportunity for a specific role in data and analytics. Patrick understood and liked the idea.
What is your definition of success?
The one thing I don’t want to lose sight of—and you can call it a definition of success—is personal happiness and satisfaction. This doesn’t always happen by accident. You have to think about it. My daughter’s definition of success is to have good grades and get into a good college, so I challenged her a little bit. After she thought about it, she decided her real goal is to go into a line of work that will positively impact people’s health. Doing well in school then becomes a step, not an outcome, and what really will make her happy is to achieve that goal of improving people’s health. That’s how I think about success—starting with the goal in mind, and working backward to see how I’m going to achieve it.