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COO Manages Strategic Initiatives, Costs and Tech, by Peter High in CIO Insight

Peter High

12-17-2014

Except from the article:

Barry Perkins is the chief operating officer for UK General Insurance and Shared Services, which includes commercial and personal insurance. He handles all the big decisions on run costs, strategic initiatives and technology, as well as overseeing the provisioning of management information.

CIO Insight: What are your primary areas of responsibility as the COO of Zurich UK?

Barry Perkins: My official title is chief operating officer for UK General Insurance and Shared Services. By way of background, UK General Insurance (GI) is a diverse area of the business that includes all distribution channels and most flavors of commercial and personal insurance with a Gross Written Premium (GWP) of approximately £1.6bn.

Specifically, I am responsible for managing approximately 40 percent of the expense base (approximately $200 million), the bulk of which is IT. That means all the big decisions on run costs, strategic initiatives and technology come through to me.

I’m also responsible for overseeing the provisioning of management information; our strategy on big data; ensuring that our BPO [business process outsourcing] operation in India runs smoothly; encouraging the use of lean techniques; running the central lean team to ensure operational efficiency; looking at strategic sourcing opportunities; ensuring our corporate real estate strategy is aligned to our business strategy; ensuring that our facilities are running smoothly; and driving the digital agenda.

The shared services part of the title points to the responsibilities I have for the services we share with our UK Life business—a separate entity within Zurich that shares services in countries where they make sense. This includes overall management of document logistics, supplier assurance, and our switch board. This part of the job gives me the opportunity to have an impact at the country level because of the scales involved.

Finally, I am also responsible for ensuring that the UK GI operation is in lockstep with the strategy and services of Zurich as a whole. UK GI’s project spending plans must be approved by the group and fall in line with the overall group strategy. This brings some big challenges, but also some great opportunities to be part of a global group operating in over 200 countries, which means I have to have a strong voice at the table in the GI operations council with my international peers.

Before taking on my current role I held the position of UK CIO, which felt very much like trying to drive the bus from the back seat. The COO role gets you forward a few seats, even if you’re not driving the bus directly!

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