ORLANDO, FLA. — The recession may cause some to stumble, but opportunities for growth and improvements in efficiency remain.

Robert Kerzner, president and chief executive officer of the Life Office Management Association, Atlanta, and LIMRA International, Windsor, Conn., delivered that message here at the ACORD LOMA Insurance Systems Forum.

“The world has changed pretty dramatically since we met at this time last year,” Kerzner said. “The final quarter of 2008 is something none of us would want to live through again.”

Indeed, he noted, life insurance sales fell 14% in the fourth quarter of 2008, and that’s the worst figure reported since 1951.The property-casualty industry’s net income “fell by a whopping 96.2%” in 2008, Kerzner said.

Thanks to the financial meltdown, “a transformation is under way in this business, and when the dust settles this industry is going to look extremely different,” Kerzner said.

“There [are] probably going to be fewer companies, as there no doubt will be consolidation down the line,” Kerzner predicted.

However, he added, because of the credit market crunch, the toxic assets on the books of many carriers, the fact that some insurers are taking Troubled Asset Relief Program funds from Washington, and “the game of chicken going on” in terms of who might want to acquire which company and at what price, “the consolidation is not going to happen as quickly as some might expect.”

“We’ll see the first big deal in the next 3 to 6 months, and then see consolidation activity accelerate after that,” Kerzner said.

In addition, he said, health care reform will present opportunities for life and health carriers, as federal efforts include a “major information technology component–the computerization of medical records”–an effort bolstered by the Obama administration’s commitment of $17 billion from the economic stimulus package.

“Once we overcome the major concerns about privacy, this system will improve our ability to serve consumers,” Kerzner said.

Pointing out that “the current underwriting process can be frustratingly long in terms of getting necessary medical information,” Kerzner asked the audience to “imagine how much faster, more efficient and more accurate we’ll be able to work if we can get that data at the touch of a button.”

Payment of both health and medical disability claims also would be greatly facilitated by having medical records available electronically, Kerzner said.

“As we return to ‘normal,’ whatever that turns out to be,” Kerzner concluded, “IT will be the enabler of greater efficiency and productivity.”