A Recap of Insurtech Spring Jam ‘18 courtesy of Curt Stevenson
Insurtech Spring Jam ‘18, the latest InsurtechBoston event, was another successful night of networking and fresh content at District Hall in the increasingly vibrant Boston Seaport. Hosts Mike Albert and Allan Egbert of AskKodiak again raised the bar with great speakers, organized and impromptu networking, plenty of beer and wine, and over 300 attendees.
After a solid 90 minutes of networking (with a master DJ in the background), the first session of the night was a panel moderated by Pooja Shah of QBE Ventures. Her panelists were Peter Brodsky of HyperScience and Chris Cheatham, CEO of RiskGenius and proud Insurance Nerd. The first topic was POC (proof of concept) horror stories…
Cheatham’s advice was to watch out for POC’s – he was presenting RiskGenius to a buyer who brought in an “assassin ninja” – essentially a vendor-hater whose primary role was to find potential flaws in the software and essentially blow up the deal. He had one of these clowns kill a deal he had spent months on, but in a typical startup roller coaster ride, Chris ran into another carrier (QBE) the following day. QBE engaged and bought the RiskGenius solution and are still a satisfied customer today.
Brodsky told a story about a particularly security-concious carrier (I thought they all were) who had conducted extremely thorough background checks before HyperScience could even come on site for the POC. Word of their presence had spread through the prospect, somehow bringing a CISO to meet them when they checked in. This officer called them out for being suspected Russian hackers. Brodsky replied, “ha ha – the joke’s on you – were actually Bulgarian hackers.” Needless to say, they lost the deal.
To the question, “What can traditional insurance companies do to make a POC with an insurtech more valuable”, Cheatham answered, “Don’t do a POC to find a problem. Do it if you have a problem to solve.” One of the insurtechs on the panel mentioned some surprise that one of the industry analysts called to offer to talk to him…for a fee! This pay-to-play mindset that lives amongst the traditional insurers and vendors is out of synch with the true insurtechs, who are comfortable enough in their value propositions to achieve success without analyst endorsements.
Shah’s next question was ‘How do you deal with over-promising to a customer?’ Peter brought up the concept of ‘Core/Custom/Configuration’ (which I honestly thought I had invented when we implemented AgencyPortal at The Hartford in 2009…which arguably remains the most successful agent-facing carrier portal in the industry – but I digress). He broke it down from the vendor’s perspective:
- Custom is bad – do once, sell once.
- Core is good – do once, sell many times.
- Config is middle of the road
Chris (whose sense of humor had become obvious to anyone by this point) brought up the concept of “Founders’ debt”: something he would go back and tell his team “I promised this and we have to build it”. Chris had cards that he handed out to his team when he would do this. He said, “It’s like saying you’re going to build an airplane and building it as the plane is going down.”
Peter answered the over-promising question with an admitted non-answer (but a good one): “Christopher Columbus kept two ship’s logs: one that was accurate and one was 40% less – to avoid mutiny from his crew as they approached the edge of the earth”
Shah’s final question was, “What’s your favorite thing about working with carriers?”
“The people”, answered Cheatham, which was met with laughter, but he went on to describe #insurancenerds, people who actually care about insurance. They make fun of it, but really want to solve problems. Brodsky was also struck by how personal and mission-driven the insurance industry is – in the business of helping people (or businesses) in times of need.
Phil joked that he was new to insurance, having ‘just’ started in 1976 (as a teenager). His impressive CV includes co-founding William Gallagher and Associates, selling it to Travelers, then AON, then buying William Gallagher back.
At one point, Phil ran for local political office and won, then decided to run for congress. To prepare, he went to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and met some legendary leaders and dignitaries from around the world. Just as Phil was feeling insignificant compared to his classmates, a Senator from Iowa reminded him that insurance was important – all about helping people.
Phil gave a good explanation of the Corvus name (see slide below).
He didn’t talk in depth about Corvus offerings on stage, but I got a great download talking with Phil and his team earlier in the evening. They are doing some really cools things with smart cargo and smart cyber insurance.
Phil’s parting line was similar to the first panel: There is a lot of work for us to do
The final speaker was Ben Clark, co-founder of Bold Penguin. He picked up on Phil’s theme of how crows and ravens are so smart with the comment, “Penguins are not very smart. But they’re bold.”
Bold Penguin is a commercial insurance exchange, helping agents place risks where they don’t have markets, and providing flow to carriers who have the appetite. The Columbus-based group currently places 10,000 risks/month.
The audience spilled back out to more networking, and card swapping. The consensus was that this was the best one yet. Stay tuned for the next date. Rumor is that it may be a different format – like maybe a half day? (You didn’t hear that from me). I’m sure Mike and Allan would welcome any ideas.
More about Curt Stevenson
Curt is the Managing Director of Oyster Insurance and has been in insurance technology for more than 25 years. Curt founded and led Back Bay Technologies (now part of KPMG), a technology consulting firm serving both Life and P&C carriers. Curt led Professional Services at Agencyport Software (enabling P&C distribution and automated underwriting) for several years before becoming CEO in 2013. After selling Agencyport to Duck Creek Technologies in 2016, Curt served as Duck Creek’s Chief Digital Officer.