Meet Kelly Lyles: Insurance leader and the newest member of Cytora's advisory board

By Holly Hunter, Cytora


It’s often said that when we surround ourselves with great people, they challenge us to be our best selves. We’re delighted to be welcoming one of these great people to Cytora today, as Kelly Lyles becomes the newest member of our advisory board. 

Kelly is a well-known international insurance leader with 35 years’ experience in underwriting and general management in global commercial insurance. She’s held senior positions at AXA XL and XL Catlin, where she most recently served as CEO, Client and Country Management. 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Kelly about her career to date, the challenges facing underwriting teams and CUOs today, along with the impact of technology across the insurance value chain. Here’s what she told us…  

Holly Hunter: Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your background and career to date?

Kelly Lyles: My career has spanned about 36 years, and I’ve spent the entirety of it with insurance companies in underwriting and general management. I did start my career in the United States – hence my accent! – but the majority of it has been here in the UK, in UK-centred roles as well as a few global roles. I also did two stints in Paris, for about five years, all in underwriting and general management. 

HH: With that breadth of experience and in your 36+ years, what have you seen change in the industry?

KL: There’s been a lot of change, but probably the biggest one has to be technology and the use of data. It’s almost embarrassing to say that when I started, we didn’t even have desktops. Now, we can’t go anywhere with at least three devices that are able to do just about anything. So I’d have to say the biggest change would be using data and machines to augment that human intuition and skill.

HH: What areas of the insurance value chain have the biggest potential for insurers to transform today?

KL: The biggest problem facing the industry today is our expense ratio and the impact of that on our clients. I’d suggest that our more sophisticated clients don’t want to pay for that inefficiency.  And if we don’t continue to be relevant to those clients from a product perspective, they will find an alternative solution.

HH: You’ve previously said that “the time is now” for insurers to invest more heavily in improving productivity with technology and data. Why is that time now, do you think?

KL: It’s always been important, but it’s more important now because we’re coming out of a soft insurance cycle, where rates were declining for many years. That had an impact on insurance companies’ results and our margins were compromised. When the results aren’t great, there’s less money to invest, whether in talent, in technology, product innovation, etc. 

Because of that under investment, we haven’t improved our efficiency. Now that we’re getting into that harder market, where insurance margins are going to improve, it’s important not to lose sight of those improvements and investments for the future. 

HH: What’s the biggest challenge CUOs face in executing their underwriting strategy?  

KL: That’s exactly the challenge that CUOs have – the execution of their underwriting strategies. They set it, then they hope that it trickles down. That dilution of message is the biggest challenge that they have. 

Any visibility that they can get, such as looking at the MI frequently, is really important. Cytora’s Intelligent RiskOps technology will help CUOs with that visibility, from setting the strategy to the implementation and execution throughout the process. 

HH: Talking of execution, how do you best balance human execution with digital transformation in underwriting?

KL: That’s particularly important in larger account underwriting, but I don’t think digital transformation and human underwriting skills are mutually exclusive. They go together really well, because digital transformation allows the underwriter to underwrite more efficiently – and to underwrite better, because it gives them better access to data, and allows them to remove some of the more administrative tasks that take away from them using their skill. I think they go perfectly together, and you don’t have one without the other. 

HH: If underwriters could be granted one wish to make their jobs more effective, what do you think it would be?

KL: It would be a combination of eliminating those admin tasks from their day, and giving them access to real-time data that helps them make better decisions. 

HH: What tips do you have for insurers looking to grow in today’s market?

KL: ‘Stick to your knitting’ – look at the lines of business where you have the best talent and the best access to data for your underwriters to make the right decisions. Also, don’t be afraid to pull back, if and when the market changes and risks become less attractive. 

HH: Your list of accolades is impressive! What’s your secret to success in the industry?

KL: I’ve been incredibly lucky and I’ve had the ability to work with some really talented people. I don’t like to make sports analogies, but when you’re playing with the A-team, all boats rise, and everyone’s talent is pulled up. I’d put my success down to the people I’ve had the privilege of working with.

HH: What about Cytora excites you?

KL: So far, everything! I’ve been really impressed with the people, everyone that I’ve met. Not just the expertise and talent that they have in what they do, but in their focus, particularly their client focus. It’s Cytora’s interest not just in selling something to the insurance industry but how they approach each client with their specific needs, understanding the client’s secret sauce, and making it even better – I love that. 

HH: If you could leave insurers with one thought for 2021, what would it be?

KL: Let’s try and fix our expense issues and make ourselves much more efficient as an industry, while we can. We should start it this year and continue, because it’s going to take a few years to make it happen. 

For more information on our existing advisory board, visit our company page here