“Change is hard,” but someone has to do it

Insurance innovation strategist talks about disruption and what keeps her grounded in the midst of great change

“Change is hard,” but someone has to do it


By Allie Sanchez

Self-effacing and hesitant to take the credit for the digital transformation of the century-old insurance firm CSAA Insurance Group, Debbie Brackeen, chief strategy and innovation officer, noted she is reaping the benefits of years-long investments made way before she came on board with the property and casualty insurer.

Now she is celebrating her six month milestone and she looks back fondly on her career with the insurer to-date.

In particular, Brackeen points to the company culture which is committed to diversity and inclusion, and its service-oriented culture which makes her job a joy to perform.

Coming from finance and technology (she is an alum of Hewlett Packard, eBay, Sun, and City Ventures, among others), she observed that the professionals in the insurance sector have been consistent with the others she has dealt with in her previous jobs.

“Humans are pretty consistent in that change is hard,” she observed.

Be that as it may, it was clear in her voice during our phone conversation that she finds joy and is passionate about her job with CSAA. Insurance, she said, is on the cusp of great disruption, which makes it an exciting time to be working in the industry, what with technology poised to revolutionize products and services.

In the case of CSAA, she said that the company has successfully evolved its legacy infrastructure and integrated policy and claims silos that are geared towards protecting old business and generating new leads for the company.

It has also dipped its toes in telematics and usage based insurance, and these technology initiatives have been backed by innovation training among the company’s employees through human resource management efforts.

CSAA’s 3,800 employees all underwent innovation training at the behest of senior executives who want to evolve the centuries old insurer to ensure its relevance to future market conditions.

Being at the eye of the disruption storm has proven challenging, at the very least, for Brackeen, what with “negative disruptive threats” hanging over their heads as insurtech start-ups gobble up market share with their new products and services. She added that there are internal cultural challenges that have to be dealt with as CSAA employees grapple with the implications of technology adoption in their organization.

As she “leads the charge,” Brackeen said that “lucky for me, I love the challenge.”

She adds that it helps that the company board is “sold” on the idea of digital transformation and has proactively sanctioned spending geared towards optimizing benefits from technology through investments.

Her head may be in the innovation cosmos, but Brackeen says her family helps her keep her two feet firmly on the ground. The duties of motherhood and homemaking keep her occupied and it “keeps me humble,” she notes.

She also revealed that she lives near the beach, and long walks by the sea have proven to be an escape from the pressures of being at the helm of such great change in a well-established firm.

As we concluded our interview, I asked her to encapsulate her thoughts about her job at the insurance company in two words.

“Always innovating,” was her reply.

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