Case Study: Using the Decision Model to Decompose Underwriting Calculations


Aviva UK Health sells private medical insurance, income protection, corporate critical illness, corporate life cover and occupational health services in the UK. It is part of Aviva, the world’s sixth-largest insurance group and the largest insurance services provider in the UK.

Aviva have 36,100 employees serving 53 million customers around the world, focused on providing customers with prosperity and peace of mind.

The Project

The project involved updating a quote process and the technologies underpinning that process, this included dealing with an underwriting calculation, which was embedded partly in the legacy systems and, partly, in heavily manual processes. The project team could not determine how to unpick this calculation and provide a detailed specification to a 3rd party software house. At first, the project deemed it too complex to move, since there was no complete specification of the business logic and, as a result, was preparing to re-use the legacy system for this part of the process.

The Decision Model

Previously, the decision model had been used to decompose another calculation in the business and it was suggested that this methodology would be a good way of approaching the problem. Therefore, early in 2010, a small group of people, including a Decision Architect, Expert Underwriter, a Business Analyst, and a Data Modeller, entered a room armed with plenty of coloured stickers to try the method. The Architect (who had read about Barbara von Halle and Larry Goldberg’s Decision Model) ran the first couple of sessions by walking through, step by step from the top down, how the Underwriter assessed a proposal. The team captured definitions and detailed rules as they went. As the method is so intuitive, the Business Analyst, who was completely new to the method, was confident enough to take over leading the sessions within two days.

The Result

For the first time, a detailed model of the underwriting logic is available to the Business Team. Seeing this decision ‘as a whole’ has allowed them to consider where it could be improved and comprehensively map the associated rules. Ultimately, this method resulted in a detailed specification for a 3rd party software house who found it excellent in helping deliver the calculation engine. The decision model and specification have become a corner stone within the project, with all of the testers, developers, analysts and business experts referring back to it as the master map of the logic.

Advantages of Using the Model

  1. The biggest benefit is the deep and common understanding that developed throughout the exercise of decision modelling. It has acted as an aide-memoire to discussion and, each person who was involved, is able to ‘walk through’ the logic, easily and consistently, with the rest of the team.

  2. The decision model has been used at all levels in the organisation, from walking through the findings with the senior management team, to communicating understanding with the developers and 3rd parties. Feedback has indicated that it is the visual nature of the model which has gained the buy-in from the business.

  3. It is the rigour that has gained confidence and buy-in from the IT and Change Team, because it is easy to see if all of the rules have been harvested (each rule family in the model should have associated rules.)

  4. It has forced the Business to think of the logic separately, focusing on the goal of the decision as a separate asset, and not confusing it with the process.

  5. It has enabled the vital facts to be identified, including those derived facts used within the calculation that are not necessarily retained. By cross referencing the data and decision model, both have been validated for completeness and consistency.

  6. It has proved an excellent medium for leaving the underwriting philosophy in a well-defined state for the future.

  7. Finally, having a consistent and rigorous calculation applied to each quote ensures that our customers are receiving a high quality quote service.

Give it a Go!

Talking to the project team, their enthusiasm for the decision model is clear to see. They really do see it as the bridge between the process flows and the understanding of what should go on in the ‘black box’ containing their calculation logic. In summary, they believe it is a powerful tool which makes the highly complex decision…… simple!

Author: Kathryn Clarkson is a Data and Decision Architect working for Aviva Health UK, the private medical insurance arm of the Aviva Group, the world’s sixth largest insurance group and the largest insurance provider in the UK. She has worked on ‘all things data’ for over 18 years, with a foray for the last 5 into the world of automated business decisions and business rules. Kathryn leads a small team of dedicated data and decision professionals, ‘fighting the good fight’ for quality data, good business definitions and improved decision making!


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