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Field of Dreams for Insurers

Robert Regis Hyle | February 28, 2017

Six insurtech companies are in the midst of discovering if their insurance technology solutions are market worthy and how to go about taking their company from a start-up to a major player in the busy and expanding insurance software market.

Brian Hemesath, managing director of the Global Insurance Accelerator manages the program and he recently spoke about what the GIA has to offer along with two participants in the program that the GIA refers to as cohorts, Jim Gardner, co-founder and CEO of ViewSpection, and Roland Chan, CEO of Find Bob

 Gardner became interested in the program when he visited the GIA last fall for the organization’s InsurTech Week, but Hemesath wasn’t sure if ViewSpection was a prospect for us. Hemesath issued the invitation because he wanted to introduce Gardner to the GIA investors.

“ViewSpection has a developed product that is out in the market and that gives our mentor more to work with. That's a huge win,” says Hemesath. “Jim is one of the most coachable people I've known and that's a good sign for our accelerator. He is willing to listen to our feedback and build on it.”

Gardner reports that he was “blown away” by the GIA during his initial visit to Iowa last fall. He believes it gives his company a head start on the mentoring program.

The Global Insurance Accelerator’s 100-day, mentor-driven program kicked off in Des Moines, Iowa in mid-January with a cohort comprised of six globally diverse startups.

While in Iowa, cohort members have an important opportunity to become immersed in the technology and insurance-rich environment where more than 60 insurance companies are headquartered. The GIA identifies developing and growing insurance-centric startups, provides hands-on business support from program mentors, and exposure to insurance professionals, industry influencers and potential investors.

 “The geographic diversity of this class shows good ideas have no borders or boundaries,” says Hemesath. “The insurtech ecosystem continues to grow and bring great ideas forward for the benefit of the insurance industry and consumers. Having a front-row seat to all of this has been fantastic for our investors and mentors.”

Each cohort member receives $40,000 in funding from the GIA for a six percent ownership stake in their venture. In addition to the funding, the GIA provides a significant housing subsidy to assist with relocation to Des Moines for the duration of the program. These financial considerations are important, but not the determining factor which drives companies such as these to partner with the GIA.

“It will be an intense 100 days,” says Gardner. “That we were here for a week puts us in a more comfortable place. Anyone considering the 100 day program should definitely come to the one-week program.”

Hemesath reports Chan delivered one of the most professional pitches that he has ever heard at this stage of the development.

“When Roland got done with the interview process, I felt he was coachable and we were excited to have him here,” says Hemesath. “He has a product that our institutions are excited about.

This is not Find Bob’s first experience with an accelerator. The company graduated from the global startup incubator of the Founder Institute headquartered out of Silicon Valley in Toronto.  The company also is immersed in the Toronto startup ecosystem and has been affiliated with Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Ontario.

“What we learned most about ourselves and our company is that there's an entire ecosystem of talent; individuals who have experienced bringing products to market and scaling their organizations who are willing to share their experiences, both good and bad to help you succeed,” says Chan.

Chan liked the fact that the GIA is focused with what he calls laser-like precision on the insurance vertical. “That and the fact that many of the investors and mentors are from the insurance industry, and being located in one of the epicenters of the industry in North America, it was an easy choice to make,” he says.

Goals for Cohorts

Hemesath explains the goal for all the cohorts at the GIA is for them to be ready to do business with insurance carriers.

“It may or may not be with our investor group,” he says. “We hope the time they spend with mentors helps them discover their core value proposition. The rest of the time is all about finding the ideal customer segment and understanding what it takes to secure a pilot.”

Gardner explains the main piece that drives everything else is collecting more data on customer engagement. “We don’t have enough data and coming here I'm hopeful and confident to get more usage,” he says. “We don't have the barrier here in Des Moines because these carriers are ready to jump in, which will help us. Customer engagement is the main thing we're looking at.”

Find Bob is already gaining significant traction in Canada serving the transition needs of some of the largest life insurance and mutual fund companies, according to Chan. However the transition problem doesn't exist just in Canada.

“With the average age of the independent advisor being 59, and over 80 percent not possessing a written and actionable succession plan, firms and advisors are at risk of losing trillions in assets to attrition, not to mention informing their fiduciary obligation,” says Chan.

Find Bob’s mission at the GIA is to explore how firms in the U.S. are tackling this problem, and in exchange share a bit about our business and technology in the hopes of collaborating to address this massive industry issue.

ViewSpection Platform

ViewSpection serves a number of users, so Gardner is looking for input from the GIA mentors to help with that. ViewSpection works in loss control and, in the traditional sense the inspector will come to the house.

ViewSpection has the property holder doing the inspection themselves instead. This allows the agent to dive deeper into risk consultation with the client. It eases and accelerates the interaction between the client and agent, according to Gardner.

“We are carrier centric and agent centric,” he says. “The transactional model is policy by policy. Carriers are still our main focus. Agents do not have that many specific tools built for them outside the agency management system. With the struggles the independent agents are going through, this is a new way to connect with policyholders. The agents don't have the time or money to drive 30 miles to look at a house. This helps them with that.”

Find Bob Platform

The Find Bob platform is deployed within financial institutions to help their advisors focus on transition outcomes by allowing them to set goals and track progress toward the completion of those goals, according to Chan. Advisors can discover opportunities to buy, sell, merge, partner, find or become a successor with likeminded advisors on the platforms private white-labelled marketplace.  

“We use machine learning to algorithmically predict and suggest meaningful goals based on data we collect on the advisors interest.” Says Chan. “Our machine also can predict and suggest appropriate matches between advisors based on interpersonal and psychological traits as well. Our platform also leverages data to help relationship managers at home offices gain insight into what is actually important to their sales force and underwrite the risk and prioritize activity.

Chan evaluated other accelerators, but found none had the breadth and depth of both insurance industry partners and mentors as GIA.

“Over the next 100-days we hope to expand our network, share our story, and partner with smart institutions who are passionate about solving the transition planning problem in our industry,” he says. “We're excited and humbled by this opportunity and are confident that we'll have a much stronger company coming out of GIA.”

The GIA is backed by insurance company investors from across Iowa and the U.S., including American Equity Investment Life Insurance Company, Delta Dental of Iowa, Farm Bureau Financial Services, Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance of Iowa, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, IMT Insurance Company, Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company, Principal Financial, EMC Insurance Companies and Markel Corporation.

“With more than 60 insurance companies and hundreds of mentors located in Des Moines, it's the perfect place for the GIA to help launch these startup companies on their future success,” says Jeff Russell, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Iowa and current GIA board chair. 

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