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Electronic Chat with Rock Schindler

Rock Schindler, Founder and CEO of SD Refinery, launched the company in 2018 in response to the insurance industry’s need for AI technology that could provide unstructured “sentence data” to improve underwriting and claim performance. SD Refinery’s proprietary sentence data processing technology has been specifically designed, developed, and refined since 2006. It leverages data science methodology with narrow AI core capabilities that include the ability to extract written data, analyze sentences word by word, transact by applying key data points, and load the data into a data warehouse or analytic dashboard. SD Refinery has been selected by Global Insurance Accelerators (GIA) as a cohort to showcase innovative products

How long have you been involved in the insurance industry?

I started as an auditor at Peat Marwick Mitchell in 1986 and jumped into the auditing of insurance companies right away – so, more than 30 years.

Please provide a little background on your career and how you apply your past experience to your current position.

As someone with experience across several broad areas including finance, claims, underwriting, compliance, regulatory, and reinsurance brokering, I’ve noted a gap in the ability of managers and executives to rapidly access the granular information they need to optimize their business decisions. This need has been the motivating factor behind building our core technology with the purpose of dramatically improving operational outcomes in underwriting, risk management and claims.

Where do you see insurtech headed in the next few years?

Insurtech is going to improve informed decision-making and efficiency for offensive-minded individuals and companies seeking to optimize operational activities. In my opinion, many individuals and companies have needed to “play” more responsively or defensively because they didn’t have access to the actionable information they needed to be more informed and consequently, more proactive. As validation successes and healthy ROIs continue to emerge, there will be an increasing amount of time and resources invested in insurtech.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges in launching and growing technology companies today?

In my opinion, these challenges can be categorized in two major areas;

  1. Funding the company while forecasting and generating a predictable revenue stream will always be the primary challenge. Careful selection of the right clients you will serve as valued partners is the key to future success. New companies need to balance raising capital while organically growing the business with clients who see long term value in your technology.    
  2. Technology companies are extremely focused on the task at hand and may be mired in the technology itself. As such, it is imperative to put concentrated thought into how to most clearly and succinctly differentiate yourself as a function of the value you can uniquely provide to avoid becoming lost in the sea of sameness. Articulate the outcome that you deliver better than anyone else and do so without deviating unnecessarily into how you accomplish that objective. When done well, there will be plenty of time to dig in to the details of “how” after you deliver the “wow.”

Please tell us a little about SD Refinery and how you came to be involved with the company.

I started SD Refinery in 2018 following leadership positions in several prior start-ups. We set out to develop core AI technology to dramatically improve underwriting and claim performance in the risk and insurance industry. 

Operational executives have forever complained about their lack of access to data, especially unstructured or “sentence data” -- hence the SD in our name. Our flagship technology, “SENTENCE AI,” cleans, tags, and extracts sentence data across every sentence within a population to answer critical operational questions quickly and efficiently. While no longer settling for a review of small sample of a data set, executives using SENTENCE AI have unprecedented and rapid access to the mission-critical information inherent within their sentence data.

Please briefly describe sentence data processing and why it’s important to the insurance industry.

The insurance industry has a treasure trove of sentence data that has previously been relatively inaccessible and buried within or across multiple systems. The conventional process is inherently flawed because it is incomplete, involving only a review of a small portion of the data universe and because every person reading and reviewing the sample data interprets, perceives, and retains information differently.

Our technology reads and interprets sentences across the entire population of data to provide granular information about what did, did not, or may happen in a manner that provides structured data the entire company can use to facilitate rapid and informed decision-making.

Risk is nebulous and ever-changing. Being able to continuously and directly access rich data dramatically improves the speed and efficiency with which we can identify issues and opportunities and solve problems.

SD Refinery uses AI technology to help operational executives make better decisions faster. How do you determine what decisions the technology makes versus decisions a user makes? 

We work with each client to determine the level to which decisions are made by the technology rather than people. Based on our client’s needs, we can deliver information in a dashboard, in a file for data warehousing, or data lake storage, and in learning data sets for machine learning processing.

In any case, we have incorporated a 100% transparency into our processing and the key decision-making algorithms we co-create with our clients, who remain the content experts. We’ve coined the term “operational middleware” because our technology resides between the data locked in files and records and our clients’ access to data results.

What insurtech trend are you especially passionate about?

Unequivocally, it is artificial intelligence and allowing companies like SD Refinery to target a specific area that solves a large problem. In the case of SD Refinery, we’re passionate about using our technology to dramatically improve the core operations of underwriting, risk management, and claims by overcoming the industry’s fundamental problem of not being able to read enough information. This dramatically decreases the time and expense needed to identify and fix problems and capitalize on opportunities.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work – hobbies, family, personal interests?

I love my wife and children, family, worship, physical workouts, gardening, hiking, music, and learning.


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The Email Chat is a regular feature of the ITA Pro magazine and website. We send a series of questions to an insurance IT leader in search of thought-provoking responses on important issues facing the insurance industry.


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