From the C-Suite: Tony Smarrelli
Infinity Insurance Company’s Senior Vice President of Claims speaks about the importance of listening, the influence of predictive analytics, and why claims professionals should take ownership of their own careers.
By Taylor Smith
Current Position: Senior Vice President, Infinity Insurance Company
Years in Insurance Industry: 25+
Size of Claims Organization: 1,300+
Degrees: BS in Finance from Central Connecticut State University
Originally from: Milan, Italy; Raised in the Northeastern U.S.
First Insurance Job: Part-time claims investigator, Metropolitan Insurance Company
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Milan, Italy, and moved to the U.S. when I was very young. I spent most of my time in the Northeast, primarily Connecticut and Philadelphia. I’m the youngest of three children—I have an older brother and sister.
What was your first claims job?
My first claims job was working part-time for Metropolitan Insurance while in college. It was a great part-time job that fit my school schedule and gave me an opportunity to make some spending money. I worked evenings in a support unit, and one duty of ours was to attempt to contact parties who couldn’t be reached during the day. One day, the claims manager asked if anyone was interested in taking recorded statements at night on those same calls, and I volunteered. I did that for about two years while in school and really enjoyed it—it was much more interesting than the other tasks! When I graduated from college, I went to the office manager to give my notice and tell him that I needed to find a “real” job! He immediately pointed me to an empty desk and told me that he had an opportunity for me at Metropolitan. That was my first full-time claims job, working as casualty claims trainee.
Did taking statements help you in future positions?
Absolutely. Taking all of those statements gave me a great head start in claims. Through that process, I learned how to interview, and I developed good investigative techniques. Good listening and reacting to information you are given are important skills. I wouldn’t call that a typical career path, but it probably should be. It provides such a great foundation for solid claims handling and helps develop important components of a good investigation. Learning to truly listen is a very important skill in claims.
What made you want to stay in claims?
I enjoyed almost all aspects of my early introduction to claims, even when I was only taking statements part-time. I liked asking questions, developing facts, and painting a picture in my mind of what happened in the loss. Every claim is a different story, so it’s not something that you can get bored doing. It teaches you how to communicate with people from all walks of life. Sometimes the interactions were positive; other times they were very tragic. In any case, helping people during a difficult time is rewarding. You wear many different hats throughout the day—sometimes you’re a doctor, sometimes a mechanic, sometimes a psychologist, sometimes a lawyer—it makes for a diverse and interesting experience.
Describe your first experience in management.
I was given an opportunity to supervise an inside unit comprised of about 10 or so desk adjusters, then a small field office of about 20-25 staff. Those were very enjoyable and interesting times!
How has your management style evolved over time?
As responsibilities increase, your focus changes from being more of a technical level manager to more of an influence on behavior, motivation, etc. I try to approach my role in terms of being a guide. I think it’s a two-way street in which we both serve each other as we move the organization forward.
What’s your advice to young professionals who want to grow in their careers?
I think one of the trends of the industry over the last number of years has been to develop more specialized claims professionals. My advice to young professionals is to always keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. Ask for more responsibility. Don’t be afraid to tackle new segments of the job or areas that may expand your role or responsibilities. Make it known that you are interested in more than what you’re doing. My strongest advice is to take charge of your career and skill set. Be aggressive about seeking out opportunities. Don’t wait around for people to come to you; map it out yourself and take ownership.
Did you have any mentors during your career?
Frankly, I consider every person I worked for and with to be a mentor in one way or another. I learned as much of “what to do” as I did of “what not to do” from those around me. I think it’s important to learn from everyone with whom we interact.
Do you think there is a talent crisis in the industry?
Yes and no. From the perspective of having claims representatives who have broad multiline experience, the answer is yes. There are simply not as many well-rounded professionals in the industry today. More and more are becoming specialized now, which in terms of efficiency is a good thing since they aren’t jumping from one type of claim to another. Also, as specialists, they can sharpen their skills in that one area and really excel in that role.
From the perspective of finding management candidates with broad experience, however, specialization makes this more difficult. It’s more difficult to find managers with that level of experience and, in that sense, there is somewhat of a talent crisis.
Attracting new talent is always a challenge. We do not do a very good job promoting our industry!
Is the industry moving at a faster pace than ever before?
Yes, and I think that’s a positive thing. Technology has made everything move so much more quickly. We have so much information at our fingertips, which is great but also means that our reaction times must be faster. Technology also influences our customers’ expectations. They now want several options in terms of how and when to communicate with us.
Do you see any major industry trends influencing claims operations today?
Certainly our ability to gather and use data is a huge advance for the industry. From the old paper files to the Internet integrated systems we have today, we’ve come a long way in technology. We’re able to use that data in exciting ways to improve functionality and how we, as an industry, are able to look at the macro perspective. I think the biggest influence has been in the area of predictive analytics—essentially providing more data and information to claims professionals to make them more effective in their jobs, relying less on human intervention. Another exciting development is the mobile technology options we are seeing for field operations, which involve utilizing tablets with more sophisticated dispatch capabilities.
How do you use predictive analytics?
We originally started using predictive analytics to identify claims that may have fraud, but it’s a tool that has had application for us in several areas. We use it to “right track” our claims—getting them in the hands of the person who we feel is best suited to handle the lifetime of a claim. That improves cycle time and provides a better customer experience with fewer transfers between claims staff. We used to rely on our claim reps to identify potential fraudulent claims, where the referrals would average up to 30-40 days after the report before it was reassigned to the SIU staff. With predictive analytics, we can look at the attributes of a claim, compare them to historical data, and then assign it to the right claims person within 48 hours. That’s a huge advantage to us and a great benefit in identifying potential fraud.
What technology do you travel with?
I guess you could say that I’ve drunk the Apple Kool-Aid. I travel with an iPad and an iPhone. I’m very impressed with everything I can do on my iPad. For me, it eliminates the need to travel with a laptop.
Time to get more personal. Are you married?
Yes, I’ve been married to my wife Maria for 22 years. We have four children: three boys who are 19, 15, and 13 years old, and a 10-year-old daughter.
How do you spend your free time?
These days, it’s mostly running around from various athletic fields watching my children play sports. I also enjoy riding my Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I don’t have as much time to ride it as I would like, but I do enjoy taking it out once in a while.
Do you still speak Italian?
I do, especially with my Mom. In fact, when my oldest son was younger, he was fluent in Italian since my parents babysat him while Maria and I were at work. On occasion, I’ll have a request to translate for Italian-speaking parties. That is always fun!
Taylor Smith is a contributing editor and president of CLM Advisors, which provides consulting and talent acquisition services to the claims and litigation management industry. He may be reached at email@example.com, (224) 212-0134, www.clmadvisors.org.