When Catherine Smith took over ING's U.S. insurance operation two years ago-the unit was mired in a slump. Top-line growth was sluggish and profits had been flat for five years.
Smith took a number of steps to fix the problem, including appointing a chief growth officer. But one of the most effective moves was finding people without insurance and selling it to them.
"We've focused on multi-cultural segments and women in an effort to reach more middle class consumers that have inadequate insurance, or none at all," says Smith, who oversees retail life, employee benefits and group insurance. "Our strategy has been to make insurance more accessible."
That's meant spending time in Hispanic and Asian communities, conducting heavy market research and making sure that ING's marketing and sales approaches are workable from language, cultural and needs-based perspectives. "Giving people the advice and counsel that meets their needs has been the most critical element in building a cohesive strategy."
The slump is over. ING US Insurance's sales grew to $386 million during the first six months of 2008, a 21 percent hike from $319 million in the same period in 2007. For all of 2007, earnings rose 47 percent over 2006, and the value of new business improved from negative $39 million to $50 million and sales rose 21 percent.
Smith's also making an impact on corporate culture, with "green efforts" including recycling paper, limiting water and electricity use and encouraging green commuting for its employees-all moves that have resulted in the firm recently becoming carbon-neutral in the U.S. She has also been on the front lines of streamlining the business through operational efficiencies. By reconstituting the cross-organizational quality council for all of ING's Americas region, setting new financial metrics and advocating the program to peers, the program has created $44 million of benefits in 2007 and another $39 million half-way through of 2008.
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