Insurance company employees wondering where all their bosses are this week should not be worried. It’s a good bet the executives are safe in Las Vegas at the second annual InsureTech Connect Conference. More than 3,800 insurance and technology enthusiasts from the U.S. and around the globe have flooded the corridors and conference rooms of Caesar’s Palace this week. Attendees began showing up in record numbers on Monday and have gone about their business despite the tragic mass shooting that occurred at the Mandalay Bay hotel just blocks away on Sunday. In addition to insurance executives, the attendees include technology entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, management consultants, data scientists and state insurance regulators. The entrepreneurs are looking for financing and feedback while the insurance executives are looking for technology partners and products. This conference, which was born only a year ago, has in its brief existence become one of the largest insurance conferences anywhere. The conference planners, Caribou Honig and Jay Weintraub, see it continuing to grow as they announced plans to move it to the MGM Grand next year to accommodate as many as 5,000 people.

Incumbents In the House: Most major insurers from Allstate and Chubb to Nationwide and XL Catlin are represented (Amtrust brought more than 20 executives), as are well-known technology firms including Guidewire, IBM, Insursoft, Equisoft, Duck Creek and Insurity. Indeed it feels like traditional insurers and their familiar technology and consulting partners (Accenture, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Oliver Wyman) outnumber the startups this year. Even ACORD and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America came, perhaps trolling for new members among the fledgling carriers? According to Honig, three-quarters of the insurance executives at the conference are in the c-suite of their firms. One in five came from outside the U.S; more than 40 countries are represented. The traditional industry is clearly taking insurtech seriously and looking to learn and partner.

Open Wide: An ITC highlight is the wit and wisdom of ITC co-founder Caribou Honig. Buying insurance is a lot like going to the dentist, Honig contends. People do it maybe once or twice a year and don’t particularly enjoy it. “It’s mildly uncomfortable,” he says. Apart from the visit, patients who have a toothache, or a claim, go in and get it taken care of. Linked to this, according to Honig, is his belief that insurers have “a bit of bank envy,” meaning they long for the same type of high customer engagement relationships that banks have with their customers, interacting on a weekly or even daily basis as they check balances, make deposits, withdraw funds and pay bills. “I think the insurance industry has asked, ‘Can we do that too? Can we raise the level of engagement so that it’s something happening on a regular or daily basis?'” Honig figures this is where the insurance industry could use a toothbrush, which when used daily makes the visit to the dentist a lot less painful. The insurance industry needs ways to engage customers more than once a year. Honig said there have been attempts to move things to the toothbrush and he believes this year the industry and the innovators are going to see whether insurance can be transformed into a toothbrush experience of regular, even daily, contact. If that’s not doable and the industry is going to accept that it will continue to only have contact with a customer once a year, then the industry should strive to make that the best dentist visit experience possible.

Hugulation: Honig took time to emphasize the attendance by regulators. Twenty-three regulators are registered. “This is important because innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” he said. “It happens in the context of the regulatory environment and if the regulators aren’t part of that conversation and they’re not listening to you and you’re not listening to them, then innovation isn’t going to happen to its full potential.” He said he loves having regulators at the conference and even urged attendees to hug any regulator they find.

Just Desserts: In a universe of insurance technology startups with odd but fun names like Bunker, Cyence, Flock, Ring, Fing, Hippo, The Zebra, Bold Penguin and Figo, one insurtech stands out, winning this year’s most perplexing name: Pie Insurance. No, its sweet spot is not crust coverage; instead Pie is cooking up a plan to make it easy for small businesses to save money buying workers’ compensation insurance. How easy? According to CEO John Swigart, “as easy as pie.'” A delicious price predictor tool is baked into Pie’s plan.

Model Startups: Managing general agencies (MGAs) appear to be the preferred business structure now for startups. Honig said this has led some to wonder if there are turnkey MGA solutions—sort of an “MGA-in-a-box” —that startups could use to simplify the process. He hasn’t seen one yet but he’s not ruling out that someone will come up with something. Dennis Silvia, president of Cedar Consulting and a panelist in the afternoon on “Maximizing Profitability,” had another answer for startups considering the best business structure for their ventures: create a captive insurer. He described captives as a way for startups to become risk bearers without a lot of capital or insurance experience and position themselves to capture more of the premium dollar while also better protecting their intellectual property.

Buzzword Alert: “Tee up” is the new buzzword. It is apparently used when raising an issue you aren’t totally confident is worthwhile but feel you should raise anyway, or a question you can’t or do not want to answer. For example: “My hope is my talk will tee up some of the issues we will face in the next year.” One more: “Fail fast.” This is a good thing. It refers to being able and unafraid to try something new, and abandoning it soon thereafter if it fails to accomplish what it was designed to do. The key point here is that companies need to have a culture that allows innovators to fail without being punished. As Chubb’s Sharon Ashton said, “win fast” is preferred but “fail fast” is also necessary to an innovative culture.

Snapped to It: The spirit of mutual learning permeating the conference may have been best captured by comments from Alex Meisner, director of innovation for Snapsheet, a startup that provides insurers with mobile claims settlement technology and services. In written commentary provided to the media, Meisner acknowledged some early missteps by his company in dealing with incumbent insurers and what lessons he has learned:

“At Snapsheet, a mistake we made early on was not understanding the importance of implementation. I would argue that the ease of implementation is more valuable than the product itself. During Snapsheet’s first few years, we found ourselves struggling to close deals with insurance carriers, despite them believing in our product. Our product enabled them to shave days off their cycle time, increasing customer satisfaction without sacrificing quality. We had built a solution that addressed the problems carriers faced within their own claims organizations, and they wanted to use it.

Win, win, win, right? Wrong.

It doesn’t matter how awesome or innovative a solution is if your customer is unable to implement and use it. While our product solved a major problem, carriers couldn’t move forward because our solution created problems; we had an implementation issue. Whether it was a lack of resources, fear of change management, or legacy systems that could not support the product, it all tied back to execution. Our product was too disruptive.

We quickly learned that large insurance carriers have highly sensitive workflows and legacy systems. Also, insurance carriers are like snowflakes; as similar as they might seem to be, no two are the same, and if we wanted to succeed, we needed to enhance the configurability of our product to compensate for the variety of carriers’ constraints. Once we understood the who, what, where, when and why of the implementation problem(s), we addressed them with an elegant solution. We retrofitted our innovative platform so that it wrapped around insurance carriers’ legacy infrastructures; carriers, regardless of their systems are now able to implement Snapsheet without any friction.”

Active Tech: With so much focus on new technologies, Matt Leonard, a partner at Oliver Wyman’s Insurance Practice, a main sponsor of the ITC, couldn’t resist reminding people of technologies that still exist in some insurance offices today. They include adding machines with paper rolls used by call center personnel to calculate premiums and the fact that some insurers still do not accept credit cards for payment. But Leonard’s real focus is how new technologies are going to transform insurance from a passive product to an active product, one where insurers and risk controllers actively manage the risk and protection of insureds on an ongoing basis. “The nature of risk is changing,” added Prashanth Gangu, also an Oliver Wyman partner. “We can’t ignore this or we will end up building solutions for the past.”

Editor’s Note: More to come from Insuretech Connect Conference 2017.

*This story ran previously in our sister publication Insurance Journal.

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