The Reciprocal Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

CIO Jason Lichtenthal leverages tech to drive customer satisfaction for member-owned, reciprocal insurance company PURE.

It may have been his first role with an insurance firm when Jason Lichtenthal joined PURE in 2009, but his new status in the industry came with a distinct advantage. “I came in with a fresh set of eyes and no preconceived notions of how an insurance company should operate,” says Lichtenthal, who is now the organization’s senior vice president and chief information officer. “We’re not trying to compare ourselves with other insurance companies; we’re comparing ourselves with the best companies out there. Everything we do is about making membership smarter, safer, and more resilient. That’s why we do what we do.”

Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (PURE) is a member-owned, reciprocal insurance company that has grown by 40 percent year after year since its inception in 2006. The company’s underwriting profits and surplus growth are eligible to be returned to the membership through subscriber savings accounts. In addition, the subscribers’ advisory committee of PURE—composed of a group of its members—meets regularly with management, offering recommendations and advice.

From the start, one of Lichtenthal’s main goals was maximizing transparency for PURE’s membership. PURE has a secure online platform, where members have full access to policy and claims information. As a result, the portal also offers a wealth of policy and billing documentation and information, as well as a claims tracker, which provides what Lichtenthal calls “unprecedented visibility” of claims information to PURE’s members.

While the industry he walked into may have been new to him, the growth phase of the company was not. From previous tenures with companies in a similar phase, Lichtenthal knows the challenges that come with rapid growth and how to mitigate any potential headaches. “For a lot of small and fast-growing companies, managing projects is like kids playing soccer,” he says. “You throw a ball on the field and everyone chases after it. Then throw a second ball, and a third, and mass chaos ensues. The goal was to find a way to organize, triage, and prioritize the ever-increasing needs of the organization, but still allow the team flexibility to creatively solve problems without clear answers.”

To achieve this, Lichtenthal relies on the scrum methodology, an agile framework for solving complex problems. Employees are assigned to scrum teams; each unit evaluates what is needed, and then executes together on a solution. “Scrum helps you figure out how much you can accomplish with what’s available, and if you need to scale up,” he explains. “That’s especially important for a company in a growth phase, because things will spiral out of control if everyone is still scrambling after that soccer ball. There are bright, shiny projects that people start to chase, and black hole projects that can distract the team from more valuable business initiatives. The scrum methodology keeps everyone focused on what’s important to make the team successful.”

Another of Lichtenthal’s areas of concentration has been increasing the emotional intelligence, or EQ, of the company. During the hiring process, they screen candidates for their emotional intelligence skills. When employees go through training, EQ is an essential part of what they learn. The idea is for employees to put themselves in the shoes of a member who has just been through a traumatic event and bring appropriate awareness and sensitivity to the interaction.

“PURE EQ allows the tech team to deliver better service to our business units and executive management,” he says. “Our job is to use empathy and creativity to be exceptional, as well as to favor action over unnecessary bureaucracy.”

These many efforts have translated into ever-increasing customer retention and satisfaction. The company uses the net promoter score (NPS) metric to track customer satisfaction. The NPS uses a scale that categorizes respondents as detractors, passives, or promoters. The overall score comes from taking the number of responses that are promoters and then subtracting the number of detractors. PURE’s NPS has increased every year for the past four years. In 2015, the company’s NPS was sixty-six—ranking it among the highest in any financial services segment. Paring down responses of customers who had filed claims, the NPS was eighty-eight. Last year, the company had a 96 percent customer retention rate.

Part of maintaining that customer satisfaction is winning a member’s confidence by ensuring them that their data is secured. With more than 55,000 active members, PURE secures tens of terabytes of data. “We take the security of and access to personally identifiable information very seriously,” Lichtenthal says. “We scrutinize every interface where we send data to other organizations. We examine every data partner and do appropriate testing of the controls they have in place. When we transfer information to a partner, we give them only the minimal information necessary to properly serve our customers.”

Even with strong security architecture in place, a staff trained in emotional intelligence, and outstanding customer satisfaction numbers, Lichtenthal says there is no letting up.

“PURE looks to do the right thing for our membership every step of the way,” he explains. “We’re going to continue to engage with our membership and create a better experience for them whenever we can. Our job is to protect them. You do that by giving an unprecedented level of transparency, and by providing the economic alignment that comes with being a reciprocal. It’s not the ever-advancing technology that does this. Even twenty years ago you could have built an HTML web page that showed you information. There was nothing stopping anyone from doing what PURE does today. We decided to do the right thing as an organization every step of the way.”