As Abel Travis sees it, every InsurTech could use a mentor—someone from the insurance industry who can offer advice and counsel on how to target their growth toward success and viability.
“Having an industry mentor helps them to accelerate knowledge and insights about the insurance industry which they otherwise may not have known,” explained Travis, a vice president with AF Group who leads the company’s efforts to find innovative product ideas through its brand Fundamental Underwriters.
Travis said he’s been actively involved in InsurTech mentorship since 2017, most notably through AF Group [to enable long-term initiatives] and Startupbootcamp.
He’s also a 17-year property/casualty insurance industry veteran, bringing that experience to the table when he meets with startup founders.
During a LinkedIn conversation with Carrier Management Editor Mark Hollmer, Travis explained what an InsurTech mentor does and why he sees the role as increasingly important in helping startups maximize their development.
Q: What is your title, and how would you describe the work you do?
Travis: At this point, I would describe myself as an “InsurTech Mentor.” My focus with InsurTechs is to help them understand how to penetrate the insurance industry. Many InsurTech founders may not have experience in commercial insurance, or early startups may not have insurance experience on staff. I use my expertise to help them understand the industry and adjust their business models.
Q: What kinds of InsurTechs do you seek out?
Travis: [Those that are] primarily focused in the P/C industry, business insurance, personal lines [and] have created either disruptive business models or technologies to help solve problems with P/C carriers.
Q: What does an InsurTech mentor such as yourself bring to the table for startups?
Travis: I think it brings subject matter expertise in the industry and connections. For example, I previously mentored an InsurTech (Rozie.AI) who was trying to understand how the platform that they’ve produced can provide value to the insurance industry. We’ve pinpointed an opportunity in claims text mining that can unlock trends in troves of unstructured data. This allowed them to tweak their business model and define another avenue to partner and explore with carriers through this capability. This is something that, without carrier experience, they may not have identified as an opportunity.
Q: Why do InsurTechs need mentors?
Travis: Because having an industry mentor helps them to accelerate knowledge and insights about the insurance industry which they otherwise may not have known. I’ve watched several InsurTechs succeed as well as fail. There are some that may have a great technology but not understand if there is a viable business need. As they lead with technology, and if there is no business need, then the capability may not succeed. A mentor helps them to avoid those pitfalls.
Q: What makes a mentor such as yourself different from InsurTechs’ VC investors?
Travis: I think VCs are great, but not all VCs have direct knowledge of the industry opportunities. One thing I always say is money without knowledge doesn’t actually provide a lot of value. An independent mentor helps to weed through real issues without the focus being only what will quickly create a return, but instead, what opportunities the industry has faced that, if tackled correctly, can provide long-term value.
Q: Are there a lot of InsurTech mentors such as yourself?
Travis: I think they are becoming more common and have really started to take shape as accelerators (like Startupbootcamp) entered into the InsurTech space. I think that industry leaders genuinely want to see the impact that InsurTechs have made on the industry succeed. That’s why you will now see many industry veterans spend their time either mentoring, consulting with or taking an advisory board position with InsurTechs. It’s for the benefit of the [insurance] industry as a whole.
Q: Have you ever turned down an InsurTech?
Travis: I have turned down a few requests to mentor. I’ve found that early on, there were some founders that had shifted from one industry (online retail, for example) to the [P/C] insurance industry as InsurTech investments started to increase. Those founders didn’t have the right objective, and I felt they may not stay for the long term. While they may have seen an opportunity for personal gain, I would rather focus my time and energy with InsurTechs that want to serve our customer base and make the industry better than when they’ve entered.
Q: How do you define InsurTech success?
Travis: I think success is defined by value, which will ultimately lead to more tangible revenue growth. By value, I mean impacting things like changing the customer experience to really align with current customer expectations. Those tend to be the InsurTechs that I’ve seen succeed—ones that aren’t a technology in search of a business model but really have researched and tried to understand the problem, and developed a solution to solve that problem, thereby creating value to industry customers and carriers.