Ian Cohen’s arrival at risk and insurance specialists Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) in July 2009 marked a return to the financial sector for the CIO who started out delivering e-commerce for the Lloyds TSB Group. CIO UK caught up with the devout and vocal Chelsea FC fan to discuss a year at JLT, outsourcing and the potential IT has to reinvigorate the insurance industry.

JLT is an international risk specialist and employee benefits organisation; one of the largest companies of its type in the world. It’s a London Stock Exchange listed company with a global presence in the risk and insurance market as well as pensions and benefits sectors, employing over 6000 people worldwide.

“It’s an interesting business, the largest risk and insurance company you’ve never heard of,” Cohen quips

“We handle everything from the very high end – construction, marine, aerospace, oil and gas; right through to personal insurance. We are also a leader in employee benefits providing solutions for defined contributions and defined benefits pension schemes using our own software and a captive offshore BPO operation.”

Last year JLT reported turnover app­roaching £620m with a profit before tax of around £100m in a difficult market.

Until Cohen’s return to the City after eight years in the media sector, JLT didn’t have a recognised professional CIO in its senior management structure.

“Like most insurance companies it grew through M&A and developed internal­ staff into heads of IT rather seeking professional IT leadership. As a company, it has been successful despite its IT and was in a bit of a mess technically when I arrived, especially the infrastructure,” says Cohen.

“Pretty much everything you could do wrong in infrastructure outsourcing, had gone wrong. They had the wrong partner, a poor contract, sub-optimum service and limited internal skills to manage the relationship. Happily they’d recognised the problem and started to rebuild. I guess that’s why they hired me.

“JLT has a built its success on a highly entrepreneurial culture with individual operating companies led by expert MDs. As we grow, the message from our CEO is clear, we want to be an agile and mature group that grows both internationally and by strategic acquisitions, but always retaining the unique JLT DNA. Exploiting new technologies to both innovate business process and drive down operational cost will be key to our success.

“It’s like they have thrown off the stuff of youth and decided to be more grown-up. Fixing a derelict house is an interesting challenge of thinking where it is and where could it be with great people, process and technology,” he says.

“Fixing the infrastructure and the outsourcing is fine, but preparing JLT to be an even more profitable group than it had been – that is what was really interesting for me,” Cohen says of the task he has ahead of him.

“The role is wider than just IT, which is very attractive.” Cohen reveals he really enjoys the challenge of a turn-around followed by changing the business processes so that business strategy and technology capabilities are aligned.

See also: JLT's Ian Cohen on managing outsourcing relationships

See also: JLT's Ian Cohen on splicing IT strategy with business goals