Anyone who thinks that millennials do not like insurance, hasn’t met Abel Travis. An AVP with The Hanover Insurance Company in Worcester, MA, as well as a 2017 40 under 40 selectee of the Worcester Business Journal. Mr. Travis is becoming well known in the Massachusetts insurance industry through his own podcast series on a topic he loves: insurance.
As the host of the Insurance Innovators Unscripted podcast, Mr. Travis has delved deep and wide into this of insurance innovations, with weekly podcast discussions from various thought leaders and professionals working within the industry. We asked this self-starter to speak with us about his love of insurance and his mission to share it with the world. What we learned has both inspired us as well as shown us just another example of why we think Massachusetts is actually becoming the Insurtech capital of the country.
In talking with us, Mr. Travis made it clear that the opinions expressed in this interview are his own and do not reflect the view of The Hanover Insurance Company.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
My pleasure. I always enjoy talking about insurance.
Can you tell us about you happened to decide to do your own podcast on Insurtech?
It is very interesting actually. As the assistant vice president of product management with The Hanover in Worcester Massachusetts, I head up the commercial lines product management team, and the group for commercial lines.
In the course of my work at The Hanover, I recognized that there was a gap in my understanding of things that have been happening in the industry.
All of a sudden, I started to hear about of all of these rapid changes [within the industry] and soon realized that I could not really keep up with everything that is happening. So, what I did was, I just started figuring out if there were other folks out there that are either on the precipice of the innovation that is occurring, or folks that are introducing all of the different new ideas. I just reached out to them and said, “Hey, do you mind talking to me about what you guys are doing, and just helping me get an understanding of what this means for our industry.”
Then, I thought to myself, “There are probably a lot of other people in the industry that also have a similar need in terms of, really wanting to understand what is happening, what the rapid changes are that is occurring in our industry.”
The purpose of the podcast is really all about helping to add to the discussion and the discourse around innovation and the insurance industry. It is also about learning, and it is about helping other people understand what is happening in our industry as well.
The first episode was recorded on September 4th  which was an interview with Matteo Carbone. So, it only really started just about two months ago.
And when do you do the recordings, since you also work full time?
Well, work comes first. so the recordings I usually do either before or after the workday. It really depends on who I am talking to. If it is someone overseas, I typically get up at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning, for example if they are in Europe, or if they are in South Africa, or in Asia.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you started your career in insurance?
Absolutely, I started my career back in 2004 at The Hartford. I started in commercial lines underwriting. In terms of how I first entered the insurance industry, that is really interesting because I actually had not planned on every coming into this industry.
After graduating from Clarkson University in upstate New York, I planned on going right into investment banking. I had three offers on the table when I graduated. One was an offer from The Hartford Insurance Company, another from a boutique investment banking firm down on Long Island, and an offer from Xerox, to work as a financial analyst.
I was dead set on going into investment banking, but the person that hired me into the insurance industry was someone that also had graduated from my Alma Mater, Clarkson University. She was able to convince that insurance was a great career choice by highlighting all the benefits of a career in insurance offers. She told me “While investment banking may seem very lucrative, you know it is stressful, and it may not create that work-life balance.”
More importantly, she told me that if I saw myself with a family long term, an insurance career would be able to provide the same level of growth and the work-life balance that is needed.
She was very convincing, and so … that is basically how I landed in this industry. When I look back now, I am convinced that I actually made the best choice. I love working in this industry. I would never look back.
And what was your career path since joining The Hartford until your position at The Hanover?
I started at the Hartford in 2004, as a commercial lines underwriter, then I left the Hartford to go to Travelers Insurance. While at Travelers Insurance, I started as a senior commercial lines underwriter. I actually joined the person that initially hired me into The Hartford at Travelers. She was launching a new unit for catastrophe strategy, product development, and catastrophe management. She brought me in to run the CAT underwriting strategy element of the unit that she was joining. At that point, I was only 3 1/2 or 4 years into the industry when she hired me to run the CAT strategy unit, under the CAT management team.
I stayed at Travelers from mid-2007 until 2011 to come The Hanover Insurance Group. I first joined The Hanover as the Director of CPP, or Commercial Package Product management, product development.
I should mention that I did take a little bit of detour a couple of years ago. I went over to a company called CyberScout, to be the head of product management there, but then The Hanover called me back and now I head up the commercial lines of product management unit there.
Getting back to your podcast, where do you see yourself a year from now with it? What is your goal, is it to create a community?
My goal is really to take a community of people within the insurance industry and help address–I do not want to call it an issue–I guess it is to address the opportunity for innovation in the insurance industry. There are just so many advances happening within our industry right now, but I think that a lot of us that are just doing our day-to-day work and not recognizing what all of the advances happening around us are. And I think if they keep a blind eye to that, what we are going to wind up finding is that we are going to wind up falling behind the times.
So how long do you plan on producing this podcast?
Originally, the idea was to take the next year, and talk to innovators all around the world, to understand what is happening in all areas of the planet, in terms of innovating the insurance value chain.
As I started talking to more and more people, what has wound up happening is that I started saying to myself, “Wow, this is such a great concept…I wonder what this is going to look like 12 months from now.” So, what was originally going to be fifty-two discussions and fifty-two episodes, I am actually now looking at doing this for the long term and continuing to talk to people, continuing to release different episodes to help to add to the discourse of our innovation.
So, I am hoping that I can continue to get people from all across the world, that are listening to this podcast, and help to connect them to really create this community around the insurance industry, and innovation in our insurance industry. We can really learn from it, we can share with each other.
So how has the reception to The Insurance Innovators Unscripted Podcast been thus far?
With the first episode, we had over 2,000 listeners. That was the interview with Matteo Carbone. I actually attribute the response to Matteo because he has a really deep and wide network, and a really deep following within the insurance industry.
But, what I saw was, as I released episode 2, and then episode 3, and then episode 4, and episode 5, and so on … That it did not stop. There were more than 2,000 listeners for each episode, and then as new people started to find the podcast, when I looked back at the numbers from the old episodes, those numbers are going up. While they were nearly at the 2,000 mark for the first episode, that episode is now at 3,000.
As I look at the numbers around listenership and the countries that they are coming from, there are listeners from every continent, but Antarctica. I am always saying, “I need that one person in Antarctica to go down and stream the podcast”, then I can say, ” People have been listening to my podcast and are thinking about insurance innovation on every continent on this Earth.”
Did you have any prior experience in producing a podcast? They are all very well put together for somebody who just did this for the first time.
You know, I had absolutely no experience. What I did was, I binged read a whole bunch of things on, how to put a podcast together. I just really tried to hone in on trying to produce the best type of content that I could produce. It took me about a week to learn everything that I needed to know: What the format should be; how to record the calls; how to build a website; and what the best software would be.
In speaking with all these people as well as working for a traditional insurance company, you have a viewpoint that most people do not have. You can see both sides of the coin. What is the most important thing that you have seen from each side of the coin and how each one could benefit the other?
The first thing that I have seen, just from an Insurtech perspective, is that a lot of innovation actually is not really happening where we would think the innovation is going to occur. By that I mean, as I look at the US in comparison to a lot of the other countries, you are starting to see all of these different trends like, deep adoption of telematics, or the use of internet of things, or the use of adding a retail element to an insurance policy in order to enable a behavioral economics outcome of how you want your policy holder to behave…
What I am seeing is a lot of opportunity to look at things within adjacent industries, and apply those same things to the insurance sector, and you will get results that are fairly similar or better, in terms of being able to drive the outcome that you want within insurance.
It is a real challenge, however, to innovate and introduce something new, if you are the only one trying to do this on your own as a new entrant. For example, our industry is a very highly regulated industry. It is challenging for someone that does not have a relationship with their state’s Division of Insurance to try to do something completely different in the industry.
A lot of the incumbent carriers, on the other hand, have deep relationships with the Divisions of Insurance all across the country. In order for a newcomer to be able to effectively introduce their innovation in a while regulated industry like insurance, it is better to create a relationship, or maybe a contractual relationship or partnership with incumbent carrier that already has those deep ties. That will then help the innovation become more ubiquitous and move forward at a much quicker pace, than if they were trying to do it on their own.
On the incumbent side, what I am seeing is that, incumbents are trying to innovate, but ther are a lot of challenge in incumbent carriers innovating because what they have to do is maintain their bottom line, based on what their current profit centers are. They find it tough to introduce a new concept because they cannot allocate the resource to that new concept. Especially if it is only going to be a half a point, or even less than a half a point on the profitability.
So for incumbent carriers, it actually makes sense to partner with these either start-ups or insurance technology organizations, that are small enough and nimble enough to change, and to shift, and to pivot, to find their niche.
I have seen this play out in other countries, and I am hopeful that a lot of the incumbent carriers in the US will begin to catch on to that, and to start to partner and maybe create some contractual agreements with some of these insurance technology companies and new entrants into the industry—To help to grow our great insurance industry.
In your opinion, how does Massachusetts fare? Would you consider it a center of innovation in the United States versus other states?
I definitely see that Massachusetts is a hub for insurance innovation. In addition to tradition P&C carriers, there are also a lot of smaller new entrants into the market which are actually basing their hubs out of Massachusetts. Whether it is the direct-to-consumer insurance distribution company like Quilt, or whether it is people that are focusing on the back office like Ask Kodiak, or Query Insurance. With the scale of companies that are here, it is clear that we are really going to be a market for insurance innovation.
I also see this In comparison to other places around the world, Massachusetts is not only a hub for invention in general, and that is translating into insurance innovation as well. So, I think that this is something we are going to see for the long term.
Based on your discussions with people in the Insurtech space, where do you see the greatest opportunities for providing value and services that are different and more efficient than what is presently being provided?
I am seeing that there are opportunities all across the spectrum. However, because of the deep regulatory nature of insurance, you have to really have all of your pieces in place, in order to be able to get the regulators on your side, in terms of what you want to do…
Where I see the true ability to grow is in the back office, because when you look at a lot of these insurance companies, a lot of these companies are doing things in such an antiquated way. The process fees are antiquated, the technology, you know some of them are running on Cobalt technology, others are running on old technology, that you would not expect a company that size to run on. The technology is so calcified in the make-up of that insurance company, that it would take millions upon tens of millions of dollars in order to change that.
New entrants that are focused on the back office are actually providing the ability to completely disconnect what they are doing from the incumbent carriers’ back office. They are creating that ability to use their technology instead of the incumbent carrier’s technology, and then plug that into the data stream, the data analytics of that incumbent carrier … In order to get the information and then pair it with all of the older technology, in terms of the data that they are trying to address from the regulators.
I definitely see that the back office and the back-office technology is going to be where we are going to see the greatest innovation in the insurance space.
What I see as a challenge… is the commercial lines space…When it comes to commercial lines, while it is ripe for disruption, or for innovation, that is probably going to be where there are going to be challenges. If someone can do it and get it right, I absolutely believe that they are going to do really well for our industry in what they are trying to do.
As soon as you start to get into the more complex, less commoditized lines of business, and coverages, and so on … That is where you have the regulators, and that is where you get the more sophisticated policyholders that really understand what is happening. There may be a little bit of resistance for the change, unless it is going to create some level of efficiency for the policyholder.
Just following on that questions, a lot of the Insurtechs talk about the disruption, and that follows is that, no longer will you need an independent agent. A lot of our readers are independent agents. Do you see Insurtech displacing the independent agent? If not, why not?
My answer to that is no, actually. I do not think Insurtechs are going to disintermediate the independent agency channel. Actually, what I think is going to happen is that Insuretech’s are going to enhance the value chain for independent agents, and help to make things much more efficient for the independent agent.
I do not want to you to think that I have blinders on in terms of what is happening. We are starting to see a lot of these companies go direct to market. Or, we are also starting to see a lot of these new entrants start to include insurance as an embedded product when you are buying things. Tesla is an example, they recently piloted something like this with Liberty Mutual. Other auto makers are actually talking about, not only looking at models for partnering, they are talking about doing the insurance piece on their own as well.
So, do you see an IA’s strength being as insurance becomes more complex the more an insured needs a trusted advisor?
I think that is absolutely the case. I think there also is still going to be an element of being the independent agent, working with even the more commoditized lines.
I do think that as the complexity increases you cannot remove the independent agent out of that channel. I think that they are absolutely[ going to continue to have a trusted advisor for the organizations and for the policy holders that need to really understand. I think that insurance technology is just going to augment the process, and help to improve the process, versus just disintermediating the independent agent out of the process. I absolutely believe that that is how it is going to play out.
We really like what you are doing and how you are trying to create a community around insurance innovation.
Thank you. I appreciate that. As I mentioned, I really love this industry. It is weird that I am saying I love insurance, but I just think there is so much excitement happening in it. I just love hearing about, and learning about all of the new things that is happening. So, thank you.
On a final note, will you be attending Insurtech Boston IV this week.
Yes! I will be there.