The InsureTech Geek Episode 33: Infrastructure for Commercial Insurance with Amber Wuollet from Bold Penguin
The InsureTech Geek podcast, powered by JBKnowledge, is all about technology that is transforming and disrupting the insurance world. We will be interviewing guests and doing deep dives into specific technologies that we see changing the industry. We are taking you on a journey through insurance tech, so, enjoy the ride and geek out!
JAMES: Alright! Going to have some fun today, talking about tech and insurance, and how we are going to overhaul all that back-office infrastructure for commercial insurance. We are going to have all kinds of things talking about that, and many other things, including home routines and all kinds of fun things we become adjusted to, but besides that, let us just check with our cohost, the illustrious co-host Mr. Rob Galbraith. Rob, how you doing buddy?
ROB: I am doing great, James, how are you doing?
JAMES: Awesome. It is another beautiful day in Texas. The temperature dropped like 20°. It is down in the ’70s and ’80s and it feels like the Midwest right now. That beautiful cool breeze coming off a lake somewhere, except it is down here in the hot, humid Southern parts. Of course, we have had some hurricanes in the South in the last couple of weeks that have kept us on our toes, but nothing scraped through these parts, as they say.
And, with us today, we have got our guest Amber Wuollet from beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota, Amber. Nice to have you on the show.
AMBER: That was a beautiful Minnesota accent James, Well done. Yeah, so, hey Rob, hi James, thanks for having me on. I am excited to chat today.
JAMES: Absolutely. Glad to have you here. Do you vacation at Lake Wobegon or is that just where your cousins and aunts and uncles go? I am just kidding.
AMBER: Every Friday night.
JAMES: If you do not know what I am talking about, of course, it was A Prairie Home Companion, a longtime running radio show out of St. Paul, I believe is where they actually recorded that, that I listened to my entire childhood. I have got volumes of this stuff that I have listened to and every time I go to Minneapolis, they had these stores, they have all the gear, and it is a fun place. You have a big mall there too.
AMBER: Yeah, it is quite large. Yes.
JAMES: Not far from MSP Airport. I have been that mall and got lost in that mall. Found myself again. And then found the amusement park, a whole rollercoaster is in there I believe. Man, that is fun.
AMBER: It is designed to make you lost, so I guess it did the work.
JAMES: Yeah. And it is designed for 6 months of brutal, hard, cold winter.
AMBER: Yes. That too.
JAMES: Yeah. Which is that thing that you have. I remember one time I went to Duluth, Minnesota, in July to visit a client of mine. And I flew into Minneapolis, I got a rental car, and drove to Duluth. And it was like 75° and sunny in Minneapolis, really nice, pretty summer day. And I got to Duluth. You have driven to Duluth I am sure.
JAMES: You know you peak that hill and you come down?
JAMES: So, I peak that hill and I came down and the temperature just bottomed out. It was a high of 55° in the middle of July in Duluth. People there just must be tough as nails to deal with that.
AMBER: They are. Northern Minnesota people are a whole different breed of human. It is beautiful up there, a love Northern Minnesota, but definitely, it is always like 20° colder and it gets cold in Minneapolis. So, if it is cold in Minneapolis, it is 20° colder up there, so buckle up.
JAMES: Gracious, it is! And to think a couple of hundred years ago, people settled there without central heating.
JAMES: Intentionally. It was not an accident. They chose to live there. My goodness. We are glad to have you on the show today. You did not have to deal with hurricanes this week.
AMBER: I did not.
JAMES: If you did, that would be very disturbing.
AMBER: It would be.
JAMES: Before we get started with our interview, do not forget that you can subscribe to the InsureTech Geek podcast by texting GeekOut to 66866. If you are seeing this video on Vimeo or Facebook or Twitter, we put this everywhere. You can actually subscribe to the podcast and we will email you show notes. You get that and you can get links. We transcribe these podcasts so you can read through them if you want to. Just text GeekOut to 66866. You can never miss an episode.
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Back to our guest. Amber Wuollet from Bold Penguin. A company name that tells you absolutely nothing about what they do.
AMBER: Simultaneously everything.
JAMES: Right? And simultaneously everything. It could be swimming gear, it could be volleyballs, it could a media brand. We do not know so we are going to find out what it is today. Before we dive in and figure out what Bold Penguin is, I want to know about Amber. I want to know about you. Here is what I know. I know what I read on your LinkedIn. You go to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and you study foreign languages. And you told me before the show, you had the dream of being a diplomat. Maybe you watched a lot of Bond movies and you wanted to be a spy and pose as a diplomat. I do not know. Where are you born and raised, before college, and what led you to want to study a foreign language and go into that arena?
AMBER: Yeah. First of all, I did not have spy dreams, but I did have the lofty goal of brokering world peace. That was a thing. But it really started when I was younger. I did a few exchange programs. I spent some time in Germany as an exchange student, sometime in Uganda as an exchange student, traveled around Europe a bit. And fully fell in love with it. When I graduated from college, I moved to France. I spent a year in France working as a teacher, and then I moved to Sweden, and then came back and I was actually accepted to an international relations program in Brussels. I was two weeks out of leaving, and my sister talked me out of it. She talked me into applying for a job at American Family Insurance. She is like, just give it a try. Try Corporate America before you commit yourself to a life of living around the world, away from your family. Why do not you just give it a try?
I am like, okay, I will give it a year. How many years later is it? I do not know, 14 years later, something like that. I am still in insurance so that was sort of my 180° of a career move, which really serendipitous landed in an amazing industry completely by accident. Like many people who are in insurance I suppose.
JAMES: That is awesome. We say this on the show a lot. Very few people, some do, but very few people go to college saying I want to work in insurance. They discover the magic that is this industry a little bit later in life. Sometimes by accident, that was me. I landed an insurance client in 2004, and then I walked in and I am like, oh, my gosh, I did not even know anything about this industry other than buying renter’s insurance and car insurance or homeowners insurance. We do not understand the giant machine that has insurance and how it enables global commerce.
I do a speech on the history of insurance. It winds back to banking contracts in ancient Babylon, where they would forgive the loan if there was a loss. It was a bank loan that was forgivable, and you paid an extra premium, you paid extra interest for the forgivable nature. It was brilliant. It was a brilliant financial instrument, and it is thousands of years old. So, this is not a new industry, but a lot of new stuff is happening. What did you learn at American Family? You were there a decade. When you arrived there, something happened, something clicked in your brain that led to you being an Underwriting Ops Services Manager, and that is a really important role at an insurance company. So, what clicked for you? What really went off in your brain that made you want to commit a decade of your life to that?
AMBER: Yeah, I will never forget my first week. Really jumping into insurance with very little background. I had purchased maybe an auto policy at that point, but that was the extent of my insurance knowledge. Everything was new. Then, it was quite a bit different than today. We were literally learning how to calculate rates. We had a worksheet with a pencil and paper, and we were going through insurance. We had printed out contracts. We were studying policy language and it was a different language, essentially. And first of all, that was fascinating. I love language. I love understanding stories. And that was a lot of what it was. But what I really credit to is the leadership and the mentors that I had at American Family who really turned an entry–level job, which I thought would be temporary into a lifelong passion. Because they also explained why. This is why we do this. This is who we do it for. This is why it is important. This is a foundational block of society is insurance, is what we are doing. We are literally protecting dreams and hopes and families.
I guess I am a typical millennial, looking for that meeting. I went from thinking I was going to broker world peace, obviously, very idealistically, but then switching into something else that all has so much meaning. It adds much value, and it was really fun. I got into underwriting, I was working with agencies, and some of our newer States on the West coast, trying to understand the different risks. How is a risk in the Tahoe area, different than Seattle, different than South Dakota? What do I need to know, what elements of the story are important? Learning all of those pieces, it was just fascinating.
And then, of course, digital transformation became the thing and change became even more rapid. I realized very quickly, this is an industry that you can settle into and never really settle. You can keep growing and keep evolving. And I got to work on some awesome projects, like changing rating structures, adding new discounts, things like that, and really just fell in love with the space. And that is why I of just trying to sift it into product and marketing.
JAMES: Awesome. Rob?
ROB: Amber, I love your background and your history. And I know that you are a true insurance geek. So that is the point of having you on the podcast. I am curious about the move from that traditional insurance company to the InsureTech space. Maybe you can talk a little bit about your journey, post–American Family, and how you landed at Bold Penguin. And then tell us a little bit about Bold Penguin. do.
AMBER: Yeah, absolutely. It was a huge seismic shift. Really from spending 10 years in an organization that large, in the same office with the same people for 10 years. And when I left, I was the second to least tenured leader on the management team. At 10 years. So, and that just speaks volumes about the breadth of knowledge and experience and the culture. So, leaving was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying, but it felt like a very pivotal point. I was just finishing up my MBA then, at UM Carlson, and I had really gotten into sort of product and marketing. I had done some consulting work at Carlson and really felt like I was ready to move into a different area and take that knowledge and add it to the industry in a different way.
So I shifted into new product development and marketing at that point, and really went from a 9000 person organization, to explore which at the time I think we were about 120 something, so really working directly with senior leadership and a small data company that is very tenured in the insurance industry. Sells into the personal line side and really get hands–on. And I think one of the key differences if you look at those large, heavily matrix organizations, there is opportunities on both sides. The main difference is that in smaller organizations, you are going to wear a hundred different hats. And at that point in my career, I am like, yes, I want to wear a hundred different hats, because I have been studying all of this, I have been experimenting and all these things. And I feel like that was a really key point of just embracing that and then the uncomfortableness of presenting to senior leadership my second week, and diving into new data sources and trying to understand a different world, and just had a fantastic time doing it while still working with the insurance industry.
I was actually working with some of my old colleagues at American Family. It had this element of familiarity still, where I was able to use my knowledge, and I had spent the last 10 years, gaining in a new way. And then, Bold Penguin had been on my radar really since probably 2017. When Bold Penguin came up, I saw a very different message from them. Being on the carrier side, when Intertek started, was a disconcerting experience, cause a lot of them came out saying we are disrupting, we are revolutionizing, agents are going to be gone, underwriters are going to be gone, you are all going to be gone.
JAMES: It is like an Oprah show. You are gone. You are gone. You are gone. Oh, wait. No, it is not like an Oprah show. It is the opposite of the Oprah show. Remember when she used to give away cars like you get a car! You get a car! What they were basically saying in their arrogance, was, we are going to eliminate all of you. And that is absurd. If you know anything about insurance, you know it is such a relationship business. So much of this business is relationships because there is only far data can take you in. And while data can eliminate a bunch of menial tasks, you still have human relationships because it is absurd to say you are going to disrupt and eliminate everybody.
AMBER: Yeah, I know Rob you have had similar experiences around those time periods as well. And really it was fascinating to see a few voices at that time period, just a few that were saying the opposite. And Bold Penguin was one of those saying the opposite of, we are not here to displace anyone. We are here to empower the existing value chain. We want to help you. We want to work with carriers and agents and other InsureTech’s. And that was a really refreshing message to see at that point. And just the brand was a ton of fun. They have got a really cool piece of technology they are building over there. And their messaging is really different and really unique. They were on my radar really from the beginning, seeing them out and about, so I was kind of fangirling for a few years before I even talked to leadership.
JAMES: That is awesome. I do not think we did a really succinct elevator pitch on what Bold Penguin does. Just to be clear. Can we in 30 seconds or less really, really explain it for me.
AMBER: Essentially Bold Penguin is the pipes of small commercials, like pure-play technology company. Not an agent, not a carrier, it is the technology in the middle connecting a very fractured industry. So, you got agents, carriers, small businesses, other InsureTech’s, Bold Penguin is in the middle. Obviously, with technology, you are using machine learning, natural language processing, APIs to connect. I think we are best known probably for our exchange, which was one of our first undertakings, which matches agents and carriers and small businesses using all of that technology in instantaneously essentially.
JAMES: Deduplicate has been a hot button by the way, recently with my client base. JBKnowledge, we are a 230-employee insurance technology company. And we work for carriers, brokers, TPAs, PBMs. We build custom software. We implement stuff. We have a couple of small products. And I have heard this recently, there was this topic this week. It was about deduplicating clients who are shopping the same insurance to multiple brokers, and the brokers are all shopping the same markets. So, the same quote is hitting the same carrier, like four or five times. Do you all help deduplicate that type of interaction? That is actually a major pain point with folks out in the insurance business.
AMBER: Oh completely. There are many duplication and inefficiency. And actually, to back up to the year 2016, well Bold Penguin was founded by a couple of former insurance agents who actually had a hard time writing small commercial cause they are like, it is the scale of small commercial is really hard to make work as an agent because primarily organizations with less than a hundred employees, are sometimes micro. You know 1, 2, 3,5 employees. So, you are not talking huge premiums.
So how are you going to do on average? It can take 6, 8, 12 weeks to write a policy, do all that research for a policy that is a $1000 a year in premium. It does not work. So how do you make that work? That is one of the components that they were very passionate about building in is like our agent terminal for example that independent agents can use. You are typing in the information once. It is getting all the information once and then the carriers are waiting in the wings and they are opting in and out as you are entering information. So, one carrier might ask, how many years have you been in business? And another one might ask what year was the business founded? So, we just dedup that.
We ask the question once and then maybe the answer is 2020 and carrier A is like, I only take more tenured businesses. They opt out behind the scenes, other one’s popup. That is all happening in real-time as you are going through the app. So, you are not calling 12 different underwriters filling out 12 different applications. You are doing it once. That is really one of the beautiful things of the system, is it is made for the agents and carriers to get out what they want. Cause carriers already told us, exactly of the 19,255 next codes, we want these 8,000 types of businesses. We will take landscapers, but not landscapers that go on roofs. That is plugged in there. As we are entering information, it is all real-time.
JAMES: And who actually pays you? The carrier and the agent?
AMBER: There are a few different ways our revenue stream works. In our exchange, for example, it is a true matching system. We are not like selling leads or anything. As the agent or the small business partner sends in the small business, who is looking for insurance, we pay them, and then on the end, the receiving side pays us. And then of course, if you see us in the news nationwide or progressive, obviously those are custom terminals. That is custom build for a consumer–facing storefront or agent facing storefront, which has obviously different revenue models.
JAMES: So, you are enabling carriers to go direct to consumer with your platform? Is that what you are saying?
AMBER: Yep. Or through their agencies as well. If you buy a commercial policy through progressive, if you are a small business, you go on their site, that is our technology powering that experience. They are also working very closely with our teams. We actually become one team through that process. Like our engineers and their engineers become a team. It is a very, very collaborative effort.
JAMES: Awesome Rob?
ROB: Amber, I love how you talked about being a fangirl, and you have known all of Bold Penguin and loved that they had a different message in the marketplace. Certainly, we have talked a little bit about the different value prop of being an enabling technology, but I think you would agree that since the beginning and I have had a different message entirely. It was always fun. And I think Dr. Robin Kiera who we have had as an earlier guest on the InsureTech Geek podcast, he uses the term attention hacking a lot., and I think that is something that Bold Penguin does super well.
And you personally, and a lot of your video series on the insurance nerdery and others, if anyone has ever followed your work, that is something that you also do well, so it definitely feels like a good marriage to have you as the Chief Marketing Officer, but maybe you could just talk a little bit about, what are some of those things that separate Bold Penguin from the plethora of InsureTech’s out there trying to get attention from carriers and agents and brokers in the marketplace. And what are some things as the Chief Marketing Officer, any tips, tricks, or guidance? You guys have a unique voice in the marketplace that I have always admired. Just curious whatever secret sauce you can share with us I appreciate.
AMBER: Absolutely. Well, first of all, I am flattered to hear my name mentioned in the same sentence as Robin Kiera, I am a huge fan of his, talked to him at a few different events, love his work and what he does. And I think step one, which is completely out of my control and which I am very lucky to have, is to have a really, really solid product because there is no marketing in the world that can compensate when it is it is fluff or just hype. That makes my job much easier because our teams are doing incredible work. Our engineers are building an incredible set of technology, which makes my job so much easier. And then we all have a leadership team that is really all about embodying who we are and that is bold. There is a reason we are called Bold Penguin. We want to be that bold force leading the industry forward, and we are willing to take some risks and break the marketing mold to do that. And I think that speaks volumes about our leadership team.
And then it is really about being authentic about who you are. And for us, we show up at events and we are always thinking about how we communicate what we do, and how do we connect with the industry. At ITC, 2019 we are out with the penguin suits, we are having those conversations, we have got our swag bags, and then we all have our sales leader ready to communicate on a deeper level about what that means and what we are doing. And then we do deeper content as well. White papers work, we with insurance journal, other partners in the industry. And then we always looking at ways, how do we connect beyond those.
So, we started our own weekly video series last April. We called it BPTV for obvious reasons. The goal there was to create content that is both entertaining and relevant to the lives of our audience. Again, just really trying to add our own personality to it. And what we would call short snackable content, like 8-minute videos with insurance leaders across the space. Having a little fun with it, and really just trying to bring the industry together, which is what our technology does, but all doing that with our content.
JAMES: Awesome. Rob?
ROB: Amber, maybe you can talk a little bit more just about small commercial. And I know there is this term, SEMCI that is out there, which we will throw out to listeners to see if you can guess what that acronym stands for. I know small commercial is going digital and it is actually very tough as you mentioned for agents to make money, so being able to enable it digitally helps bring the cost of acquisition down, and something like 60% of businesses fit into that small commercial space. It is a ton of folks and not necessarily a ton of premium, but it is fairly substantial if you add it all together. There is definitely a wave of different competitors out there. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what differentiates Bold Penguin from your competitors.
AMBER: Absolutely. It is a good trivia question. I will give the audience a second. What does SEMCI mean? (Insert Jeopardy theme song here). Stands for Single Entry Multiple Company Interface. So, it is not the catchiest long name you have ever heard, but as the name would imply, it is about connecting one single interface, multiple connections there. Which is really what small commercial has been needing, because it is such an incredibly challenging space to thrive in for agents. It was really funny. I was actually on my way back from ITC last year. I was at the airport in Minneapolis, waiting for my bags at midnight, and the guy next to me is waiting for his bags and he is like, oh, I am a small business owner and this is the last thing I need to do it to lose my bag. He is like, I have been having all these insurance problems, and I am like, you got to be kidding me. Tell me about them. Tell me about it. I want to hear about your insurance problems.
He is like, I make bottles and it is not that complicated, but my insurance agent has been trying to find me coverage for four weeks now, and I am about to lose a major job because I cannot prove that I have the right coverage. Anyways he is like, there is got to be a better way to do this, this is ridiculous. I am a small business owner. I do not know about insurance. I do not want to know about assurance. I just want someone to give you the policy today I need to run my business.
That is exactly what Bold Penguin’s trying to do is fix that problem because as a small business owner, you do not want to think about insurance. You want to get the coverage you need as fast as you can and get back to work. And as an agent, you want to be able to help the small businesses that come in through your door in a way that works for your business. If it takes three months to write a policy and you estimate $1,500 in premium, you cannot make that work. And that is one of the huge challenges of small commercial. And I think that is a huge problem that our founders saw when they were agents 10, 15 years ago and wanted to fix.
So that is the role that Bold Penguin really tries to play and has really succeeded in that role of connecting small insurance, being the pipes of small commercial. The infrastructure that brings the players together and makes their lives a heck of a lot better. And there are many different players in small commercial, and really what we are doing is trying to make technology that helps all of them succeed. Working together is how we all succeed in small commercial cause it is such a challenging space.
JAMES: Sure. Through our SmartCompliance product, we ended up working with a lot of agencies that deal with small policies. And the number one conversation is how do we make money on this. Because you look at a $1, 000, 000 company that you are riding, and a $100, 000, 000 company, you are riding, and it is not 10 times less work to write the policy. It is a similar amount of work regardless of the size of the company. Of course, some companies are incredibly complex, like anything touching the PEO space, but when you are dealing with small business and medium–sized companies, the premiums are way smaller, but you have about just as much work.
It is like the number one topic we talk about is how can we do all of this faster. How can we automate as much of this as possible? And let focus on building relationships, get out of the way on data entry. And certainly, I am seeing some people try to do SEMCI products in the aviation industry. I am a pilot. There is been some attempts there because they request an incredible amount of information and you have to fill it all out every single time and everybody has different forms. Luckily for the agents, there is a lot more money at stake. And there is enough commission money to make it worth it. But man, these policies! And look, the reality is a lot of these policies can be written pretty quickly. If there is something that the digital MGAs who are skipping agents and just writing directly to business owners have showed us is that, they can write a lot of this without ever having a phone conversation.
JAMES: There is got to be a change for agents to be able to compete against the direct to consumer digital MGAs, right?
AMBER: Yup. You really have to meet the customer, these business owners, where they want to be met and get them the experience that they expect. If you have data, if you have connections, you can do that. And a lot of businesses at that scale can be written quickly. If you have got the data and the connections and you can make it happen then literally everyone in the value chain wins.
JAMES: Yeah. I have said this many times. You are about delegating and elevating. You are delegating menial tasks to computers. You are elevating humans to thinking tasks like building relationships, analyzing risk, and trying to allow, and particular in this case, smaller accounts to get a lot of attention. Because who ends up losing right now in the current system without a SEMCI? And by the way, I played the sound effect over when you explained that that is, a single entry, multiple company interface, SEMCI. The whole goal here is to not have to fill out 500 applications with the same information on different forums.
JAMES: That is, it. If you had to boil Build Penguin down to one thing, would not that be it? You are cutting the number of applications down by like 95%?
AMBER: Yeah. And you are getting the job done like 300 times faster, literally.
JAMES: Yeah. So, everyone saves time. This is one of those interesting things. Well, I think everybody wins. You know there are some technologies, and when you look at the technology, you go, well, that is a great technology, but this party over here loses because of XYZ. They are disrupted and now they do not have a job anymore. Like you look at self-driving cars and eventually you look at, 4, 000, 000 commercial drivers and you go, okay. If self-driving cars really actualize, there is going to be real pain and suffering and a massive disruption and a lot of retraining.
You look at this and you go, if SEMCI like Bold Penguin is really successful, literally everybody wins. The client wins because they are going to get their quotes back away faster. And they are not going to fill all these damn forms out. The agents win because they do not have to rekey all this information and lose money on half their accounts. The carriers win because they get the data flowing into them. I was on the phone with a carrier today that still receives faxes with all their applications, and they have to respond with faxes. They still regularly receive faxes. So, they have faxes, they have emails, they have an API entry, then they have a portal. They have four different ways of getting these things. And it just mind-numbing. They want to take a power drill and drill a hole in their skull to relieve the pressure. So, if this is successful, if Bold Penguin is successful, then every party involved with you wins. And just tell me, once you get there, and here is the question part. Once you get there, what is next? What is the big play?
AMBER: Well, the big play is upgrading small commercial and never stopping. Often when I was thinking about all these transformations, these digital transformations and I was part of them, on the carrier side, it is like, okay, we are going to be done in 2009 and 2012, or, on this date. And what I have quickly realized is there is no done when it comes to technology and innovation. Consumer expectations are constantly shifting, and it is not just insurance to insurance comparison. We have to live up to the expectations that the Googles and Amazons are setting outside of our space. There is no done. It is always about how do we cover all the small businesses that need small that is neat coverage. And small businesses are innovating. They are coming up with new ways, especially over the last year. New business models are reinventing new ways to thrive in the crazy macro-environment that we live in.
That means we have to change too. It means we have to figure out how do we get that insured covered. How do we meet them? How do we understand their need? Okay, we are going to need data. How can our machine learning help with this? How can we make sure that they are classified correctly? You know the 19,000 plus next code. How do you make sure they have the right one, the right classification? That is an ongoing, moving target. And then how do we really support them for their whole life cycle? From the second that they opened their business, until they retire, that they continue to have coverage that they need and the support that they need. And that is a huge ask. And again, that will require continuous innovation, new data sources, new technology using our existing technology, and new ways to continue to achieve that.
JAMES: That is awesome. That would be an amazing end result at the end of the day. Rob?
ROB: Amber, I am curious. Maybe you can tell us a little bit more, or really advice actually for, folks like ourselves that have been in the insurance industry for a while, this really could be anyone of any age, but I am particularly thinking of millennials, that may have started out for a career in insurance. And as you mentioned, you were 10 years with the company, and you are the second most junior person still on the leadership team. And I have seen this more and more. A lot of folks originally that started out, I worked from Silicon Valley as a technologists, entrepreneurs, investors outside of the insurance industry, but more and more, we are seeing people that are professionals that have worked in our industry for several years that see some of the problems, see what I call the seven fatal flaws in my book, really kind of jumping over to the InsureTech side to help solve some of these problems. And I am just curious as I have been on both sides of it now. What advice would you give to somebody that maybe is thinking about making that career leap, but it is a little bit unsure about going from perhaps a larger organization, to leap into a startup world?
AMBER: From insurance to insurance or outside insurance to insurance?
ROB: Insurance to InsureTech, let us call it.
AMBER: Sure. Gotcha. There is no one magic organization or magic role. It is really about assessing what you are passionate about, what you are good at, and which parts of your job that you enjoy. And then finding the right fit from there. What I realized is that I love the storytelling part and that was not my favorite part about underwriting ops. My favorite parts about the project work that I did, I would go out and present to our agents and help them understand what we are doing. And it was about crafting the story and telling the story. And I loved being creative with that. I was always thinking about, okay, how can I continue to develop that skillset and use that skill set to add value to the industry. And that is where I sort of shifted into a smaller organization where I could expand that. It starts by looking internally and really thinking about what I love doing. And sometimes the answer is not obvious. That is a great point to where, I had a career counselor once told me, ask five people in your life. Ask a friend, a family member, two colleagues, and someone who you have reported to.
Ask them what you are passionate about. What they see you in and what you are good at, and you will get some different answers, but you will get overlap as well. And if you are wondering where you fit, that can help add some clarity and spark some introspective ideas. Because that is when you really find contentment and true satisfaction in your career, is when you are doing the things that you are passionate about and that you are excited about and that you feel good about doing. And I think if you are looking at making the move to a smaller organization, just being realistic about what that means. You are going to give up a little bit of the consistency, a little bit of the process, a little bit of that sense of security, but you are going to usually gain a little bit more freedom, usually a little bit more flexibility and more growth.
Just thinking about this point in my career, where I am at today, this is what I am good at, this is what I enjoy doing, and this is where I want to be. That is a really key point is just thinking about your day to day, balancing that with 5 years from now. Where do I want to be 10 years from now? Where do I want to be? And then talking to those that are on that side. Certainly, I got to know several folks on the InsureTech side before making the shifts. I felt like you never know 100%, but I knew enough to feel pretty confident that it was the right space for me.
ROB: Awesome. Great advice. Thanks for sharing Amber. I really appreciate it. That is great having you on.
JAMES: Yeah. It is been a good discussion and Amber, I am excited about what Bold Penguin has done so far to kill menial work that nobody wants to do. This is such an important thing and I appreciate you breaking it down and explaining the basic concepts and then diving into the current implications and where you are headed. It is exciting. It is exciting to me.
We do have some news I am going to lead off with our news, just because this just happened. I just got the email, yesterday. Yeah. So, 8 days ago, I get my email from InsureTech Connect Insider’s Update talking about, hey, it is just 8 days to go, it is coming up. Sessions begin Monday, September 21st. That was 11 days from that email. 3 shows in 1. What does ITC Global talking about networking and sessions and expo, and they divided the whole world into three things. They had this plan and 8 days ago, it all sounds like it was locked on, and then yesterday, I get a very surprising email that they have decided to delay all of InsureTech Connect by an entire month. And mind you, this decision was made, 4 days from the beginning of the conference. It came as a surprise to many people because they had over 9,000 people registered.
This is not a small group of people. They are deferring 9,000 registrations by a month. They are saying that this is to better the community of industry, executive innovators, and thought leaders because they did not feel like giving them enough time to plan all that ancillary meetings that take place around InsureTech Connect. You guys, if anybody has been to insurance conferences lately, or ever, you know that there is like 70% of the value of an insurance conference is outside the sessions. Maybe more. And the sessions are great, by the way. I am not trying to undermine how good the sessions are. I have been a speaker at RIMS multiple times. I have been a speaker IRMI multiple times. I have exhibited at RIMS for a decade and a half.
I have been around the block on insurance conferences and I love them because there is much business of the conference center that is done in the hallways, that is done in restaurants, that is done at all the parties afterward. And I will say, the parties about a decade ago used to be bigger and better. I am just going, to be honest. I am going to say there are some carriers that through some blowouts. I got to see One Republic at a party.
AMBER: Now that was a major FOMO. I need to travel back in time.
JAMES: Amber, Amber, you missed out. It was amazing to be there, watching One Republic with a thousand of your friends, right? One of the smallest concerts that played that year, and then you meet 3 people that you end up doing business with there, having a drink. That is just the way that this is. So, it is disappointing and surprising that it is this close to the event and they are moving it. If you did not know already, it is now going to take place Monday, October 19th through Wednesday, October 21St. They moved it to October, and it is still virtual. And they laid out their reasoning. Obviously, I am sure, a very tough decision for Jay Weintraub to pull off, but they had to do it. You got to do what you got to do because it has been an extraordinary year. Rob, you have been pretty tight with the ITC bunch. What are your thoughts on this?
ROB: Yeah, I am curious to get Amber’s thoughts, as well as somebody that I am sure, had a lot of activities planned for ITC. It is really tough. For any of you that have ever been to InsureTech Connect, and I have, been twice. The first year I went was just an amazing experience and mind-blowing, so I actually wanted to try to capture that experience, last year. I actually made an ITC video diary over the three days I was there. (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3). So, we will get that over in the show notes for anyone interested to watch those on YouTube, but it is a one-of-a-kind event, and you are absolutely right James. The sessions are great, but that is not where the action happens. Again, not to denigrate, and as somebody that has spoken at multiple ITCs, including a virtual world tour event, where Turkey just earlier this week, before all this news came out, there is great content.
It is one of a kind and networking at the expo, is second to none. That is why people travel from all over the globe to Las Vegas when this event is happening in person. And we know that the events that have gone virtual, the biggest lacking part is the networking. It is dead. Nobody has done it right in a virtual event. Just knowing how important that is, particularly for ITC. I do not blame them for this call, although like you said, definitely late in the game and I am sure it is very, very difficult. But the networking part is the whole point of ITC. It is a global celebration of insurance. It is sad to see that they have had to make this tough decision. Amber, I am curious about your thoughts.
AMBER: No one loves ITC more than me. One year I made a video diary. I all wrote a song about it. InsurTech Wannabe. YouTube that for some entertainment. I love ITC, but I have to agree, the networking component is a huge value add. And that speaks to the value of the networking, not the lack of value of the sessions as you mentioned, James. But yeah, I think that has been so hard to recreate. You talk about being at a concert and making deals and whether it is at a conference hall, the happy hour, or a concert or one of those, the fact is that that is where a lot of the deals and that relationship building happens. And no one has been able to really find the key to really represent that in the virtual space. I think they are probably just really trying to dig into it to make sure it has a value. And that is a huge challenge. I know do not undermine their position. That is hard. That is a tough nut to crack for sure.
JAMES: Now, just for your listening pleasure. Because I am a massive music nerd. I have got to play this for everybody here, just so they know how magical this is. Oh, man, you are good girl! I am going to get my guitar out. I am going to join you. My goodness! Amber!
AMBER: I like country music and I like ITC. So, I married the two.
JAMES: Oh, my goodness. I am going to have to play a song now. Guitar has been my Coronavirus project.
AMBER: Oh, fun! I like your guitar too. It is pretty.
JAMES: Oh yeah. I just did not buy one. I bought four, because I was like, I am going to get an electric guitar and I am going to get a ¾ guitar and then I am going to get a full–size guitar. And then I just did not stop. And then I got a looper pedal and yeah. It is a sad moment. It is a sad moment for us with ITC getting delayed, but we are going to get ITC back and we are excited about that. And Amber, you definitely win the prize for the only InsureTech song ever written.
AMBER: There is actually a couple of them, but I do think that mine is up there.
JAMES: I feel like I just need to do a GDC progression and just, I think we just write one right now.
AMBER: Let us do it.
JAMES: So, let us move on to other news. Rob, I know you had a really interesting story that I was captivated with about State Farm.
ROB: Yeah. I got to give a shout out to my friend Denise Garth from Majesco, who we will have to have on a feature podcast, but I am planning an upcoming webinar with her and Bryan Falchuk on September 30th. And we were preparing right before this event and she actually gave me both news items this week, so shout out Denise, I cannot take credit.
ROB: And she was saying that State Farm, and this is the Insurance Journal, they announced the first acquisition in their 98-year history of GAINSCO, which is a nonstandard auto insurer, based here in Texas in the Dallas area, I believe. A lot of people were thinking it might be a reaction to Allstate’s acquisition which we talked about earlier this summer so you guys can definitely check out the article. But basically, the question is, is this the beginning of a whole lot more M&A activity in the insurance sector. I do not know if you know this James, we have 700 insurance carriers here in the state of Texas alone. I certainly could not tell you what differentiates all 700 from one another. So, there is thought with the consolidation of technology, and then this space that you are going to see more of this. Anyway, fascinating scores this week. Kind of curious about your thoughts on M&A.
JAMES: Well, State Farm was the very first carrier I ever had to integrate with. 16 years ago, I built an inspection interface for one of their vendors to collect all their home inspections. And then we had to ship all the data to State Farm, and they had to use it. And I have a very near and dear place in my heart, cause had State Farm did not require the digitization of their inspection process, I would not be in the insurance industry. Seriously. That is that is for real. I am excited. It is notable because of how large State Farm is. And it is the fact that it is their first acquisition. It is hard to even believe in an industry that is acquisition heavy that they went this long without acquiring anybody. But it certainly is telling that companies are sitting on a lot of cash. It is almost impossible to make returns without taking risk. You cannot even make 1% right now without taking a good bit of downside risk because of how terrible the bond and the credit markets are because the federal reserve is bottomed out everybody’s interest rates.
So, you are going to see more money looking for homes. There will be a deal activity, just careful deal activity. And I am stoked. I think it is interesting. You know they are going to be cautious about it. Frankly, I am not saying this to be insulting with those little experiences they have acquiring companies, I am sure it is going to be a culture shock for many people on State Farm to have another company stepping in. And they are going to have to learn how to bind companies. It is actually a skill to buy companies. They are going to have to figure that out and I am sure they have some awesome advisors helping them out and State Farm is a great company and that is certainly I owe my entire insurance career to them. So, I am excited. They are getting it done.
ROB: Yeah, absolutely. And then another one I wanted to quickly note is an item from Blackstone Backs Algorithm-Led syndicate at Lloyd’s of London Ki in $500M Deal. We are talking about Lloyd’s of London, but I am going to say it again. We think about in fact Lloyd’s, I think they are all going to go back to the office here soon, in their little underwriter booths or whatnot, but, they are going to do the entire underwriting for this new syndicated totally based on an algorithm, no humans involved. So, definitely, one that is really fascinating to watch.
JAMES: They say no humans. This is the beautiful thing about being on a podcast, is we can just spout our opinions off. Okay. I have been writing software since 1991. When I turned 11, I started writing GW–BASIC code. And I have heard many times, there are no humans involved. This is fully automated. And then I get a chance to peek under the covers and it is like, ah, Soylent Green is still made of people! Because they say there are no humans, but then there are people coaching all the machine learning algorithms and people is doing QA-QC on it. Look, $500, 000, 000. Oh my gosh. That is a ton of money. I am captivated by the size of the check. I will be following this closely along with you, Mr. Rob. And if I get to peek under the covers, I am curious to see if Soylent Green is still going to be made with people. Do you know what I mean? Don’t you remember that?
AMBER: I do.
ROB: Oh yeah.
JAMES: Amber I know you are a millennial, but that is an old Charlton Heston, and that whole concept was redone with, I think Tom Hanks was in the redo. It a wild concept. The reality is what we say is automated is not always automated. We will see how much they can do. I am excited. And I am excited about the check size. It means they are really serious. They spend a lot of money chasing that problem, buddy. Hmm. Amber? $500, 000, 000.
AMBER: That is a lot of zeros, especially thinking about a company like Lloyd’s just infamous for the old school underwriting, you know the booths. To think about them dropping that many zeroes on AI (Artificial Intelligence), it is a fascinating marriage for sure. It will be exciting to watch how that progresses.
JAMES: Yeah. I would like to go back in time to the coffee shop. In 2020 you all are going to spend $500, 000, 000 on an artificial intelligence algorithm! Oh, my goodness! Well, look, Amber. This has been so much fun. I am thankful that you came on our show today.
AMBER: Likewise, I had a blast. What an awesome way to wrap up the week and chatting insurance and country music and Lloyd’s. Does it get any better from that? I do not think it does.
JAMES: No, it does not. Rob dude, you are awesome. Thanks for introducing us to Amber.
ROB: Of course, absolutely.
JAMES: And to all of you and in honor of my country music star, just InsureTech powered by JBKnowledge is all about, we are all about technology.
AMBER: That was a good song, keep going! I like it!
JAMES: We are going to come up with an InsureTech Geek song. We are going to sing together. It is going to be awesome. In the meantime, we are going to play our usual music.
This has been the InsureTech Geek podcast powered by JBKnowledge. It is all about technology that is transforming and disrupting the insurance world. I have been your host, James Benham, JamesBenham.com joined by my co-host Rob Galbraith, EndOfInsurance.com. Big thanks to Jim Greenlee, our Podcast Producer, Kara Dalton-Arro, our Creative Producer, and Adéle Waldeck, our Transcriptionist.
Thank you for joining us today.
We are taking you on a journey through insurance tech, so enjoy the ride and geek out.
See you next week!