Insurance Starter Packs for Modern Life. Now appointing agencies in Massachusetts!
For those insurance agents who may be interested in working with Surround, Co-Founders Jonathon Jay Grayson & Kate Terry are officially launching their company on Agency Checklists. In this in-depth, sponsored interview they dig-deep into what Surround is and what the company offers a Massachusetts agent and their insureds.
Surround Insurance gives independent agents the digital tools and innovative new products they need to stay competitive in a changing world. We’re an MGA building insurance starter packs that fill the insurance gap for consumers between college graduation and a major asset purchase like a car or home.
We’re aiming to modernize insurance around a person’s lifestyle by matching their activities to coverages, not just their assets to traditional monoline insurance products.
Both of you worked in the insurance industry before starting Surround. Could you share a little more of your insurance backgrounds before you co-founded Surround?
Jay: I spent 13 years at Liberty Mutual Insurance – the first half of my career in finance and the second half in personal lines. I worked on Liberty’s acquisition of Safeco Insurance in 2008 and then helped to integrate $12 billion of personal lines premium. My last role at Liberty was managing customer experience for more than 10 million policyholders before I left to become an entrepreneur.
Kate: I have 15 years of insurance product management experience. I started my career at Progressive in personal lines, working with agents, then came back to Massachusetts to work at Plymouth Rock on their auto product right when the Massachusetts auto market was deregulating. Then I moved to Liberty Mutual, where I switched over to commercial lines and spent six years as a senior vice president working with a variety of products.
We were introduced in early-2018 through a former colleague, Kristen Bessette, who’s the Chief Actuary at QBE North America. Kristen saw that we were thinking about the future of insurance in a similar way but from different perspectives, which is both true and has been a huge help as we’ve built Surround.
When did the inspiration for the idea that became Surround strike first strike you both?
Jay: I was spending time on a college campus in late-2017 going through an entrepreneurship program at Babson. I got to observe some new and interesting trends while hanging around college students all day! I saw up close how these students were living so differently than older generations of consumers. My classmates were renting from car-share companies like Zipcar and Turo to drive into Boston or freelancing to earn extra income. As an insurance person, I could see that they were overpaying for insurance at point of sale or taking risks that could change their lives if something went wrong.
Kate: I came of age in insurance working in the southeast during and after Hurricane Katrina, and I saw the very real way we help put people’s lives back together. Having a product background, I’ve long been concerned about whether our industry’s products are structured correctly and are truly available to everyone who needs them. When Jay shared his idea with me, I was inspired by the opportunity to serve customers who have all of their lives before them but few tools available to manage the risks they face.
How did this idea develop and evolve into Surround?
The idea is pretty simple. We’re building personalized insurance around a person’s lifestyle, not their stuff. We do this by matching their activities to the coverages they need. We’re starting with an underserved market of consumers in their 20s and 30s who are taking all kinds of risks that the insurance industry has not yet addressed in a modern way.
Our earliest work was getting memberships on the platforms these consumers are using – car share, bike share, freelancing, and apartment rentals. We read through more terms and conditions than we care to admit! We knew there was an insurance product gap sitting between consumers, these platforms, and the industry, but we needed to get a clearer picture of how to close that gap.
The next step included a lot of interviews. Because insurance is such a regulated industry, we also needed to figure out where we could innovate, so we talked to a lot regulators, independent agents, target consumers…and their parents. Everyone had a story about things that go wrong in the modern economy, but the industry hasn’t yet figured out how to design insurance around what these consumers are actually doing when they rent, borrow, share, or freelance.
The idea evolved from a Powerpoint in early-2019 to what we’re launching with today. During that time, we zeroed in on the product coverages, the purchase experience, and the marketing and distribution strategy. What you see now as our first product is a combination of our long-term product vision and what the market needs right now.
What is the product that Surround is launching in Massachusetts?
The first product is a three-product bundle, positioned and sold as a starter pack of insurance. The agent and consumer see a beautifully designed quote flow and insurance product that covers driving, biking, renting, and freelancing. Under the hood are three monoline products – an HO-4 renters policy, a non-owned auto liability policy, and a miscellaneous professional liability policy – flat priced at $720 a year. Think of it as an umbrella policy with dropped down limits and some personal property coverage.
Our starter pack will cover most of the P&C risks that urban consumers need for their lifestyles. The entire purchase experience involves 4 questions and takes less than 4 minutes to quote. We’ll release more insurance starter packs in 2021 that cater to a wider range of target markets and lifestyles.
How long has the process of bringing Surround from concept to launch been?
About 18 months. It’s been a massive effort to essentially build an insurance carrier for your own products on a limited budget. Working in a regulated industry makes it even more complex. We have a much deeper appreciation for the challenges that business owners, like our agency partners, face to build their businesses.
What lessons have you learned during this process that enhanced the Surround product?
When you design with a customer-first mindset and challenge industry thinking, you’ll discover new opportunities to differentiate your product relative to the competition. We’ve managed to dramatically simplify quoting and underwriting for a multi-product bundle, present coverages simply, and use technology to dramatically improve sales and service delivery for the agent.
Who is funding Surround? Could you share any specifics on Surround’s backers or investors?
All our investors have a background in insurance or fintech. Our earliest angel investors were Robin Harbage, a retired Chief Actuary at Progressive Insurance, Mike Hughes, a retired President at Safeco Insurance, and Helen Sayles, a retired head of HR at Liberty Mutual Insurance. More recently we took investments from west coast and east VCs who believe in the problem we’re solving. The funding will support our rollout in Massachusetts.
Can you describe the target market for the Surround product?
We’re starting with the market of urban professionals in their 20s and 30s who don’t own cars but drive rented or borrowed cars, rent an apartment, and freelance for extra income. These are Millennial or Gen Z consumers that need more than renters insurance because of the risks that they’re taking. They need insurance to be simple, relevant, and portable because of the way their lives are defined in the modern economy.
How large is the target market?
There’s about 100,000 of our target consumers in the Greater Boston area. We believe there are 10 million nationally living in major cities.
Is Surround directed to specific cohorts, or is everyone a potential insured?
We’re hyper-focused on asset-lite urban professionals. If your own a car or a condo, you’re not in our target market because you’re already well served by auto and home insurance products. We’re really looking for the “No Car-partment” crowd that is using a car-sharing service like Zipcar or Turo, renting an apartment, biking around the city, and maybe has a side hustle generating 1099 income. We’re offering lifestyle-based insurance.
How well served presently is the target market served by existing insurance products?
There’s a huge insurance gap between the risks our target market is taking and what traditional insurance products will cover. Right now, our target market is only being served well by renter’s insurance companies, and we believe there is a much greater share of wallet to be won.
Did you know that Lemonade has acquired 800,000 policyholders in less than 3 years? If there’s one thing that Lemonade has proven, it’s that there is untapped demand from Millennials and Gen Z to purchase insurance that feels modern.
Our research tells us that the majority of Millennials want to speak to an insurance professional just before purchase. We also confirmed this through our consumer interviews. We believe that our target market is better served by independent agents who can position and sell our starter pack insurance products to these young adults, their parents, or their employers.
What does the product that Surround is launching offer that is a unique benefit for Surround’s target market?
Fast, simple, and relevant insurance that’s tailored to an asset-lite lifestyle in the city. We include a package of moving, living, and working coverages designed for driving, biking, renting, and freelancing. We offer umbrella-like simplicity at working limits.
What will be Surround’s distribution model? Direct or via independent agents, or a combination of the two?
We distribute exclusively through independent agents and employee benefits brokers.
What advantages does an agency get by marketing Surround’s product?
– Perpetuating household relationships
– Accessing new consumer segments –
– Increasing current and future commission revenue streams –
– Product breadth –
– Creating new conversations during account reviews or policy changes
What are the demographics and geographic positioning of the agencies you plan to appoint?
We think a lot about agency plant and franchise value, even as a startup. We work with traditional independent agencies and employer benefits-oriented agencies. We like seeing long-established relationships with preferred local and national carriers. We’re really focused on appointing suburban agencies that have the parents of our target customers or urban agencies that have direct access to these young professionals. The common denominator is that all our partners are growth-oriented, so the sales process with them is an easy conversation.
What other requirements will you have for a potential agent partner? Will there be a volume requirement?
We look for partners who already see the value in our product and have an idea of how to position and sell Surround to their client base. They believe in our mission and they want to be a part of our journey to bigger and better offerings. For now, there’s no volume requirement.
Have you appointed any agents in Massachusetts yet? New England?
Yes! We’ve already appointed agencies in the Greater Boston area and Worcester. We’re fortunate to be launching with some amazing agency partners. Some of them include Kaplansky Insurance, Rogers Gray, Sullivan Garrity & Donnelly, and Sylvia Group. Ely, Dave, Tom, Maureen and their teams have been unbelievably supportive of what we’re looking to do for this market.
Do you have any specific requirements or limits on the number of agents you are looking to appoint in Massachusetts, New England, or nationally?
We are only appointing agencies in Massachusetts.
Can you discuss what the commission structure is?
Like our products, we offer a simple and transparent commission structure. Agents earn a 10% commission on new and renewal business plus a $50 new business incentive, which brings the first-year commission to 17%.
Agents aren’t signing up because of the commission. They’re signing up because we help them win and retain consumers they would have otherwise lost, perhaps forever. We’re filling a product gap on their store shelves at a price point that is much better than selling a monoline HO-4 policy, and those same agents also believe in our product vision.
What are the payment options for your insureds? Direct bill, debit cards, credit cards, EFT?
A credit card is our only payment method. You can pay in full for a 5% discount or auto-pay monthly. We’ll look at other options in the future to support our agency partners.
Are there any nuances to your payment systems that enhance the company, agent, insured interface?
Our purchase flow was designed through agent feedback. We want the agent’s time focused on positioning and selling our product, not entering data. The agent just provides an email address, and the prospect does the rest of the work.
You can see the referral flow here:
We’re also applying new technologies to help agents save time or sell more. For example, the producer can see where a prospect is in the purchase journey – similar to the Domino’s Pizza Tracker. If a prospect gets stuck or abandons, the agent can reach back out to help or nudge the prospect to complete the purchase.
Who does Surround use for its underwriting company? Does the policy issue under the Surround name? If not, who would issue the policy?
We are really excited to partner with Accredited Surety and Casualty company as our issuing carrier. They are an A.M. Best A- (Excellent) rated, 50 state carrier, and we are excited to grow with them.
What type of policy forms will Surround use?
We are using ISO forms for all three lines, with some slight modifications via endorsement on the professional liability.
What is the actual workflow of your company right now? Where in the launch process, are you?
We’re waiting for DOI approval and will be launching in early-November. We’re gearing up with our launch agents, who have been fantastic to work with! Our processes are entirely digital and designed to be simple to navigate, so we’re testing every scenario right now to make sure we’re delivering the best possible experience at launch.
What is the pricing of Surround versus your competitors?
We haven’t seen a competitor yet with a similarly designed offering. The best an agent or consumer could do is purchase each of these products individually. When they do that, they pay roughly 40% more and spend about an hour longer in the purchase flow.
What do you think sets Surround apart from its competition?
We start with the customer’s needs first and then design the insurance experience from there. What that means is our products are the fastest, simplest, and most accessible insurance products on the market. There are no decisions to make and the pricing is totally transparent even before you start a quote.
How are you getting yourself noticed? How are you marketing to consumers?
We have relied heavily on the startup ecosystem and PR for free publicity. We’ve been a part of some local startup accelerators like MassChallenge, the DCU Fintech Innovation Center, and the Harvard Innovation Labs which have helped us get featured in a number of industry publications.
We are building out our social media accounts to work with the digital marketers of our partner agencies. We’re also working with these same partners to figure out marketing strategies that work best to drive leads to their agents.
What is your vision for the company as of today? in 6 months? a year? Five years?
We want to be known as the insurance starter pack company. Younger consumers are delaying or altogether forgoing the major life event moments that traditionally drove an insurance purchase. These are events like buying a car or a home, getting engaged, or starting a business.
The risks for these younger consumers are becoming increasingly complex while they rent, borrow, share, or freelance, and they have no desire to buy insurance products in the traditional monoline way.
We want Surround to be the first insurance product that agents and brokers recommend because of the ease, simplicity, portability, and relevancy of our experience. We’d be ecstatic to fill the white space between college graduation and the first major life event moment.
How big is your company now? How many people do you have working for you, and where is Surround officially headquartered?
We have six people working full-time at Surround and another half dozen part-time professionals across actuarial, marketing, finance, and operations. We’re officially headquartered in Cambridge.
Do you plan on expanding Surround’s offerings in the future?
Absolutely! We have a long roadmap of starter pack bundles that we plan to build.
How can interested agents contact Surround with additional questions or concerns?