As the CEO and co-founder of digital MGA Koffie Labs, Ian White was initially New York-based. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, spurring a creative rethinking about what a corporate headquarters should be.
“I was living in New York. So was my co-founder. The first couple of us were there, and then the pandemic it,” White recalled during an interview at ITC Vegas 2021. “It really kind of emboldened me into [deciding] there’s no reason to try to think of ourselves as being a New York-focused company with employees.”
At ITC Vegas 2021, InsurTech entrepreneurs and insurance executives came to the large industry gathering well-positioned to market their digital products after their pandemic experiences, along with new insights on how they themselves could get work done remotely. After their experiences, carriers were changed, too, challenged by the pandemic to accelerate their digital transformations and focus on their employees’ collective well-being.
Several industry executives spoke with Carrier Management at ITC about their pandemic experience and how it spurred them to innovate for customers but also redefine their internal operations.
Koffie Labs didn’t let the pandemic stop anything. During the height of it, the company raised a $3.5 million round of venture funding and developed its business, which focuses on transportation and trucking.
White also branched out his hiring, with subsequent employee additions based in Toronto, Tennessee, Connecticut, Texas and other parts of the country. White himself relocated to North Carolina. Ten people work for the company now, and more remote hires are coming.
“We work really hard,” White said. “We have meetings when we need to, but also get together every four to six weeks.”
Foresight Commercial Insurance
For David Fontain, CEO of Foresight Commercial Insurance, a shift to remote work during the pandemic allowed the workers compensation MGA to bring in employees beyond its home base in the San Francisco Bay Area. Founded in 2019, Foresight specializes in commercial coverage for safety-critical industries operating in the middle market.
“There’s not many people out there that want to pick up shop and move out to California, where it’s very expensive and the taxes are higher than the other states,” Fontain said. “Being able to take our talent pool from the Bay Area/California and expand it nationally and hire the best person for the role, no matter where they’re located, in whatever state, has been a massive benefit for a fast-growing company like us.”
Angela Klett, senior vice president of corporate development at Nationwide Insurance, said Nationwide almost immediately sent its workforce home when COVID-19 struck, and the company went into overdrive eyeing a digital-first approach for customers wishing to curb their pandemic-era interaction with people.
“For the work that we have going on in ventures and in partnerships, and, frankly, across even the brokerage area that we have responsibility for, we have had to figure out ways to be digital-first, because customers adopted digital applications and digital interaction models at a much faster pace because of the pandemic,” Klett said.
One example of this is Nationwide’s partnership with Insurify.
“It allows us to hook up to a partner once and then broker the business from there,” Klett said. “If Nationwide can’t meet the customer’s need, we’re still able to meet the protection needs of that customer through a partner, and one single partnership just by adopting Insurify, which is also a place where we’ve made a venture investment. It’s a great partnership of both where we’ve seen one of our venture investments come to life in true market conditions.”
Eileen Potter, solutions marketing manager, ABBYY, said what has changed most due to the pandemic are customer expectations, the need to watch for costs and all of the new technology involved. ABBYY’s intelligent automation services help insurers transition to a more modernized system as they return to a hybrid workplace.
ABBYY recently released Vantage, a cognitive skills platform that processes documents in a human-like manner, extracts information and makes decisions. Vantage was in development for a long time, said Potter, “but it’s really timely now” because of insurers needing to understand their data and content in a faster way.
“You may know how your processes work now, you may know what your needs are now, but you may have another need in six months that you don’t know about,” Potter said. “We can help you be agile and adapt to those needs as companies evolve and as they see fit.”
Rick McCathron, the president of Hippo Holdings Company, said that the pandemic helped accelerate consumers’ “digital acquisition” of insurance policies, a trend that benefited his company.
“Where most customers still would go through an independent agent or a captive agent system to buy a homeowners policy, the fact that you couldn’t meet these folks face-to-face did accelerate direct-to-consumer online acquisition of customers,” McCathron said. “That’s something that has helped us.”
Working from home also ended up being an easy adjustment, McCathron observed.
“As a startup, we have really taken advantage of modern technology,” McCathron added. “Since we are a tech native company, we were able to provide all of the infrastructure necessary for all of our employees to work from home and all of our customers to have the same level of care they expect from Hippo.”
That work-from-home dynamic also helped Hippo connect customers with new products, McCathron said.
“The pandemic really accelerated the idea that your home is more than just the place you live. It’s your gym. It’s your office. It’s your movie theater. Everything that customers really, really need to have, they need to have in their homes. So, most traditional homeowners insurance policies don’t cover you amply for things like home office, you know, equipment breakdown, for home appliances, for electronic equipment.” McCathron said. “If you look at most traditional homeowners insurance policies, there’s exclusions for that home office. What happened with the pandemic? Almost everybody started working from home, and you need coverages to support that.”
For Swiss Re, the pandemic led to a greater focus on employee well-being, along with a doubling down on keeping business operations smooth and as seamless as possible, according to Keith Wolfe, president of the Swiss Re’s property/casualty U.S. Americas business.
“This has been quite difficult over the last 18 months, but our staff has been the biggest concern along the way,” Wolfe said. “We have to point out that they have done a phenomenal job with persevering through this very difficult time.”
At the same time, Wolfe said, Swiss Re has “not missed a beat on the business side.”
But mental health has been a paramount concern with everyone suddenly shifting to remote work as the pandemic hit and then continued for months.
“When you start to intermingle home life with business as much as we have over the last 18 months, it really can put a lot of stress on the system, and we’ve got to pay attention to a lot of different situations related to that,” Wolfe said.
With this in mind, Swiss Re focused, in part, on its Pathways program during the pandemic, a mental health awareness and wellness network dedicated to actions including seminars, talks, mindfulness and stress management.
“The pandemic really accelerated the investment and the scope of what we were going to do under that platform,” Wolfe said.
Anthony Grosso is the chief marketing officer for EIS, which produces an administrative software platform for insurance companies. He said the early stages of the pandemic were tough on sales, at least at first. He added, however, that adaptation came easily.
“From a sales perspective, we definitely did see a hit in our pipeline as carriers spent all their time figuring out how to do basic things like opening email,” Grosso said during ITC. “However, we have always been delivering our software remotely. We have a global team of software engineers, and for us, the transition to 100 percent remote was actually easy, because we’ve always worked that way.”
That internal ease at going fully remote helped inform a digital shift for customers, too, Grosso added.
“It was actually very easy for our customers who were doing implementation. So, we had no loss, and actually we had an increased improvement in velocity in delivering our software, implementing our software, and it really helped our customers to stay on track,” Grosso said. “Now, we are seeing the turnaround in the economy.”
In other words, COVID-19 spurred adaptation and innovation, Grosso said.
“Because our platform is completely API-based, our customers were very easily able to shift their IT staff to build digital customer experiences that connected to our platform,” Grosso said. “Their staff were able to focus on the experiences that their policyholders and customers wanted, and they could simply just call [on] our APIs. They didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every time they wanted to create an online application.”
Grosso said EIS was particularly proud of helping its customers “to deliver the digital experiences that became so important during the pandemic.”