Thomas McGrath started his first business as a teenager. Back then, he’d purchase skateboards on eBay, slap on custom designs and resell them in bulk at local skate parks. The experience showed him he could combine his two passions: building things and working with people.
Today, he leads iink Payments, a company that aims to quicken payments to restoration professionals so policyholders can return faster to their businesses and homes after property insurance claims. As McGrath explained it, paper checks issued by insurance companies that require mortgage bank signatures can yield slow repair and reconstruction timelines.
“It’s kind of this hidden, dark area of insurance claim payouts and mortgage banking,” said McGrath, who served on iink’s board of directors from 2018 to 2021 and is currently the company’s CEO.
He’s seen some of those loss timelines drag out for as long as a year before properties are fully restored.
“I would say six months is not uncommon at all,” McGrath said, “especially when it’s on the larger loss side, above that $40,000 threshold. That’s hurting local economies,” he said, adding that it’s keeping families out of their homes.
Through iink, customers can remotely endorse, disburse and deposit insurance claim checks.
The company’s name is ironic, as iink aims to eliminate those paper checks that can cause major slowdowns by providing a digital signature alternative. The company’s leaders essentially want to create a “TurboTax” experience that more rapidly funnels money to contractors repairing homes.
McGrath’s path to his current role has taken twists and turns. While studying entrepreneurship and corporate innovation at Indiana University, he launched Social Sweepster, a company designed to help college students wipe pictures of themselves partying from social media pages with the help of facial recognition and language processing technology.
That service caught the attention of social media analytics companies interested in using the technology to build demographic profiles from social media photos. McGrath went on to become senior product manager at Crimson Hexagon’s research and development lab, where he worked to commercialize the data science team’s artificial intelligence and machine learning statistics.
“The really beautiful thing about product management that I tell everybody is that I think it is probably the best job to prepare you to be an entrepreneur,” he shared. “Because you have to understand how all the pieces fit together.”
Entrepreneurs must be able to speak with the engineering team to translate business requirements into technical requirements, he said, and they must enable the sales team to sell what they’ve built because they know it best. Holding the product management role helped him understand how a company should be structured.
After Crimson was acquired by Cision, McGrath sought altruistic work and became a product manager at Nuance Communications, where he helped build a marketplace for AI applications that could assist in diagnosing and quantifying diseases and other ailments in medical images. He later held a senior product manager position at Alteryx, where he was responsible for merging the technology of a recent acquisition — an MIT-based startup — into the core platform.
“There was always a focus of using AI (and) machine learning technology to automate complex workflows,” McGrath said of the common thread that links his product manager roles. “That was really the thematic where I kind of developed a strength.”
He brought that strength to iink Payments, where his co-founders, Ryan Holliday and Ken Lollar, had identified a complex workflow that McGrath described as “a big administrative issue for a lot of restoration professionals.” Lollar is a public adjuster, and Holliday was a roofing contractor. They identified the problem, and McGrath had the entrepreneurship expertise and technology know-how to tackle it.
“I think that we put our heads together and we saw an opportunity to automate a complex workflow with technology,” McGrath reflected. “I always like to say that it was this perfect storm of the two worlds coming together. These blue-collar guys who had identified this very unsexy domain problem that nobody was paying attention to.”
In a hypothetical example McGrath shared of how paper checks and monitored claims can significantly slow the payout process, he described a man serving overseas in the military while his wife lives in the U.S. He said it’s not enough for only the wife to sign the check; that check must be FedExed overseas and signed by her military spouse before the bank deposits it.
“It’s just silly inefficiencies like that,” McGrath said. “Here’s this guy, literally taking a bullet somewhere, and he has to be concerned that his wife and young kid don’t have a house to live (in) because the bank still is using antiquated paper checks, and they need to send it to Japan to get someone to sign it. Versus, you can digitally endorse a check. This isn’t novel technology that’s difficult to do.”
Also, when checks are lost in the mail, it can take between 30 and 60 days for them to be reissued and resent, McGrath said, adding that this can be long enough to nearly put a contractor’s business at risk because they can’t make payments.
McGrath urged aspiring leaders and those interested in InsurTech to dig into industry inefficiencies. “The unsexy things are oftentimes the things where there’s the opportunity for the most innovation,” he said.