Maryland Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Birrane has been in her new role for nearly two months, and she already has big plans for the state to establish itself as a leader in the tech space.
“I’d like to see Maryland at the forefront of technological innovation,” Birrane told Insurance Journal.
The fact that her sights are set on tech and innovation may come as no surprise, as her plans for the state will capitalize on her background as a former partner in the Insurance Sector and Litigation and Regulatory Practice Group at global law firm DLA Piper LLP. In this role, her practice focused on insurance and reinsurance transactions, regulatory compliance and related litigation, representing clients with respect to, among other things, analysis of issues related to the use of technology, predictive modeling/big data, and artificial intelligence in the insurance sector.
“I am well versed in the ways in which the [insurance] industry is driving change through innovations that have been enabled by the convergence of big data, machine learning and computing power that is commonly referred to under the rubric of ‘artificial intelligence,'” Birrane said. “My mantra to my own clients was – high tech equals high touch. And that is still my approach.”
Birrane was originally appointed as Maryland Insurance Commissioner by Governor Larry Hogan on May 1, 2020, succeeding Al Redmer who in May assumed the role of Executive Director of the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund. Birrane took office on May 18, 2020, for a term ending on May 30, 2023.
“Governor Larry Hogan and my predecessor, Al Redmer, were instrumental in reestablishing a regulatory environment that is fair, practical and cooperative without sacrificing any consumer protection,” she said. “That’s why a growing number of insurers have chosen to do business in Maryland, creating a very competitive marketplace that benefits consumers.”
Birrane said she hopes to continue expanding the insurance marketplace in Maryland and protecting consumers, all while boosting the insurance industry’s tech capabilities in the state.
She said she sees the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA) as being part of the drive within the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) to use technologies such as blockchain to improve regulatory speed and efficiency. The MIA will also seek ways to use technology to deliver better and faster results for consumers, including through product and pricing innovation and fully digital purchasing and claims experiences under her leadership, she added.
“We can deliver the kinds of innovation that modern consumers expect, while protecting data and consumers and guarding against unfair trade practices,” she said.
Additionally, Birrane said she will work to attract more InsurTech innovators to Maryland.
“Maryland is home to world class educational institutions and is already a leader in tech related degrees and business incubators,” she said. “…the MIA has continued to act as a catalyst in building an educational pipeline from high school through graduate schools to assure a well prepared, educated work force across the insurance sector. To that, I hope to add an emphasis on degrees and opportunities in the technological and data sciences. I see Maryland as the East Coast leader in this area.”
With this in mind, Birrane said the state has already seen a push in the direction of embracing more technology due to the current COVID-19 crisis.
“I do think the industry has learned from the pandemic and if there is one common theme, it is the power and value of digital capabilities,” she said, pointing to telemedicine as one example.
“This emergency has led providers and insurers to make wider use of virtual consultations in ways that many resisted from skepticism. And yet, patients have been well served through these modalities…” she said. “Indeed, what we find is that opening up virtual methods of interaction removes barriers for some people and in the long run improves outcomes and leads to better, more effective and efficient care.”
Likewise, regulators and many companies were forced to transition to telework and virtual operations almost overnight, she added.
“This has underscored for all of us how much we can accomplish without travel and off-site, and I expect that we will see changes in what we require from very simple things like changing statutes that still require companies to file paper forms in triplicate to conducting more oversight functions remotely,” she said.
While Maryland has so far seen 68,423 confirmed cases and 3,086 confirmed deaths due to the COVID-19 virus, key statewide health metrics have continued to trend in a positive direction recently, according to Hogan, who announced the Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery on April 24 regarding the state’s phased reopening plans.
In early June, the state moved into phase two of its reopening roadmap, which was developed based on recovery plans issued by the federal government, the National Governors Association, and institutions such as Johns Hopkins and the American Enterprise Institute, according to The Office of Governor Larry Hogan’s website.
Frequent communication has been key for the MIA to understand how the pandemic is impacting insurance companies, coverages and claims in particular, Birrane said.
“The credit for that goes to Governor Hogan, Commissioner Redmer and the MIA’s seasoned and capable staff,” she said.
In the long term, Birrane said, the MIA needs to keep a close eye on its markets to monitor capacity and availability of coverages as the pandemic continues to unfold.
“My job is to keep the communications and, where appropriate, requests for accommodations, going in the near term,” she said. “We don’t know what all of the long term implications of the pandemic are in any line of insurance, but we can expect that the appetite for risk associated with certain losses will be very small.”
Although much of the virus’ impact has been unpredictable, one thing is for sure, Birrane said.
“The world has changed,” she said.
Despite ongoing transformation presented by the COVID-19 crisis, Birrane said she believes Maryland has a solid, well-regulated insurance market. She credits Hogan and Redmer for expanding the market and giving consumers more choices, adding that her goal is to continue this work to attract strong and solvent companies to the state in the future.
“I was not planning to step away from my partnership at DLA Piper, where I was very happy,” she said. “But I have tremendous regard for Governor Hogan, and I am honored to be a member of his cabinet.”
Stepping into the role of Maryland Insurance Commissioner also has personal significance for Birrane, she said, as she will not only be furthering the legacy of Redmer – Maryland’s longest serving insurance commissioner – but also of her father, Former Maryland Insurance Commissioner Edward J. Birrane Jr.
“I have a personal affection for this position, as my father served as the Maryland Insurance Commissioner from 1977 until 1982,” she said. “I’m very excited to be in this role.”
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