When many agents think Insurtech, they assume startups aimed at “disrupting” the insurance industry and replacing the independent agent. That, however, is not always the case.[pullquote]Technology often gets a bad-rap in our industry as a force for disintermediation or replacement of the agency system, but companies like ours really exist to support you – AskKodiak[/pullquote]
While it is true there are some start-ups out there looking to replace agents via algorithms and virtual agents, many in the insurtech startup community are trying to do the exact opposite. In fact, many are looking to harness the power and possibilities of technology to benefit agents. In this month’s Agency Interview, we interview one such start-up trying to do just that: AskKodiak.
Co-founded in 2015 by Michael Albert and Allan Egbert, AskKodiak is based in the Greater Boston area, Arlington to be precise, and was created with the precise purpose of trying to help the independent agent.
A Massachusetts-based insurtech startup aimed at helping the information flow between agents and carriers? We knew this warranted an Agency Interview. Enjoy.
So where did the idea for AskKodiak come about? How did you develop AskKodiak?
Being focused on the distribution side of P&C insurance for so many years it was impossible not to notice about 1,000 opportunities to do things better. Shortly after setting out on this new venture we had conversations with folks on both the agency and carrier side. Building a match.com for commercial insurance emerged quickly as a real opportunity to help agencies be more efficient in commercial placement and at the same time help carriers focus on underwriting only the risks they actually wanted.
How did you get the name AskKodiak? What is the significance of the name?
It was important to us that we not sound like your typical insurance software vendor, because we’re anything but. Allan happened to be in the process of digitizing a number of photographs from his dad’s time researching brown bears in Alaska in the 1970’s. Kodiak stuck quickly. Looks great as logo and on a T-shirt, too.
Did both of you have any background in insurance before starting AskKodiak?
Yes. Before Ask Kodiak, we were both on the management team of a software company in the insurance technology space. We have both worked very closely with insurers all over the country for the last 15 years, helping them build amazing systems for their agents to do business with them.
Can you give us your elevator pitch? What does AskKodiak aim to do?
We have still never met an agent that likes having to go to every-single-one of their carriers websites to figure out if a particular risk is within appetite. So for them, we built a very google-like experience. Describe what a business does, where it is, and what kind of coverage you need and get an instant view of all your carrier markets (and even identify new carriers that you maybe should be working with too).
When did you officially launch?
We launched with a couple of carrier partners in December of 2015. We spent most of last year refining the platform and adding more carriers and brokers.
Is it a beta or a commercially operating site?
We have been live for more than a year and have hundreds of agents on the platform searching.
How has it been so far?
The feedback from our agent users has been great. Any time you are starting something new that did not exist before, there is concern you are going to miss the mark, but the level of engagement we have seen and the feedback we have gotten from our users has been tremendously motivating.
Do you have funding from venture capitalists? Are you looking for funding?
Shortly after we got started, the whole “Insurtech” thing really started to blossom. There has been an enormous new class of startups and with it has come a particular emphasis on the raise. We have a different mindset. We are making a bet that the path to glory is through happy customers. We are a revenue generating business, and we are not seeking VC.
What do you see as the benefit to insurance agencies from using AskKodiak?
Efficiency in commercial placement. Better communication with your carriers. Discovery of new markets. We think there is a better way to keep agents educated about their commercial markets than the constant blast of email updates or disruptive visits from the territory manager.
How many insurance agencies do you have signed up?
We have almost 200 agencies of all sizes and shapes on the platform. Our focus in the first year was making sure we had it right and we have grown so far by word-of-mouth. Outreach will be the name of the game in 2017 to make sure that agents know we are here for them and that our platform doesn’t cost them anything.
Why do you think IAs should sign up for AskKodiak?
If you have ever wasted time on filling out an application, muscling through a hard-to-use carrier website, or going through carrier underwriting only to be declined because of an ineligibility, AskKodiak can help you. Think instant pre-qualification for all your carriers before you spend the time on their process. Oh, and it is totally free for agents too.
If it is free for agents, what is your economic model?
AskKodiak is free for agents, and they can sign up right on our website at askkodiak.com. While we have some extended offerings that we do sell to agencies, our primary business model is selling to the carrier.
What do you say to the argument that agents write based on their profit sharing with carriers? Why should they look at AskKodiak?
Why wouldn’t they!? That said – Sometimes the carrier with whom they will make the most commission is not the right market for a risk. If they have payed less attention to their other carriers, AskKodiak can help them avoid having to sift through emails or making phone calls to figure out where to go.
Those profit sharing plans change and the whole team needs to know it. We have been working behind-the-scenes on some new features that will help our agencies turn the dials and set their own preferences w/r/t search rankings and annotate certain carriers and products for their teams so that everyone is on the same page where to take things.
On the opposite end, what can AskKodiak offer an insurer?
For insurers, AskKodiak is a marketing platform for their commercial products. They get analytics about their products and agencies so that they can better understand which agencies they should be working with and what classes or lines of business they should be targeting.
How can an interested Mass. agent or insurer get in touch with you or better yet, how do insurance agencies sign up?
They can do both right on our website: www.askkodiak.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Honestly we wouldn’t be where we are without the support of Independent Insurance Agents. If you like AskKodiak, we could really use your help getting your carriers to get on board, if they are not already on the platform. One thing we have learned so far is that insurers will do things, like AskKodiak, to help their agents, if those agents ask.
Lastly, what is your vision for AskKodiak? What do you see as the future of AskKodiak?
More agents. More carriers. More features. Our users are awesome and we have built what we have built because they asked for it. Our eyes and ears are open for the next places to go. In the big picture, there is enormous opportunity in commercial lines distribution and we hope AskKodiak can play an increasingly central role in making things easier and less expensive for agents and carriers alike.
On an entirely different note – the both of you, along with Jay Farber (of F-Prime Capital Partners) were the brains behind Insurtech Boston. Can you tell our readers about why you decided to organize this meet-up and why you think both agents and insurers should attend?
We have an amazing group of talented people working on insurance-related initiatives in and around Boston. We met so many great people early in our journey, but also realized there were no networking events for them to meet one another. That is what we have tried to build with Insurtech Boston. It is a great chance to meet others working on interesting stuff in the space and we have participation from agents, insurers, tech companies, and capital markets folks.
Sign up at https://insurtechboston.com
Anything else we missed?
We believe in the insurance agent. They play such an important role in helping their customers protect their livelihoods. Technology often gets a bad-rap in our industry as a force for disintermediation or replacement of the agency system, but companies like ours really exist to support you. The agent of the future will continue to play an important role in the industry, but they’ll have better tech at their disposal than they have had historically. Sign up at askkodiak.com and check us out. Let’s figure out how to make the future better together.