26 digital insurance innovators to watch

  • May 07 2018, 5:16am EDT

Leaders of insurance innovation

Transformation of the insurance industry is continuing at a rapid rate, with new technologies being adopted across the value chain every day. Last year saw increased deployment of artificial intelligence, drone technology, biometrics and blockchain, just to name a few. And 2018 shows no signs of slowing down with new product launches that take into account what's truly possible from advanced digital tech.

These innovations are all made possible by leaders who are willing to take risks and go against the inertia of a venerable sector. This year, Digital Insurance has again consulted with experts across the industry to assemble this list of 26 innovators who are leading insurance into a new generation of efficiency and effectiveness. These carriers and technology representatives profiled on the following pages are driving true change with bold new ideas and implementations.

Hari Balakrishnan

Founded in 2010 by Balakrishnan, another MIT professor, and an experienced entrepreneur, Cambridge Mobile Telematics has ascended rapidly in recent years: More than 35 customers in 20 countries use its DriveWell turnkey behavior-based telematics platform and other technology offerings. The company continues to broaden its value proposition, powering driving-rewards programs to tackle distracted driving with companies like Plymouth Rock Assurance and Arbella Insurance through enhancements to its software. In addition, Balakrishnan holds positions as the Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science at MIT and a director of Wireless@MIT.

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Jim Chen

Launched in 2015, ZhongAn has quickly asserted itself as a leader in applying digital solutions to insurance in the massive China market. Chen stewarded his company to a $1.5 billion IPO in late 2018, and the company is on track to shatter its previous high in auto insurance premiums this year. Chen cites the company's heavy investment in big data and AI as the reason for its growth. In late 2016, Chen launched ZhongAn Technology to serve as an insurtech incubator within the company. That division has implemented several blockchain projects, including one for agriculture insurance that will monitor the lifecycle of chickens in rural China.

Marissa Buckley

Buckley has led the way in providing a top-notch customer experience for Security First. She focuses on mobile, implementing a storm tracker on the company's app that led to 50,000 new users in the run-up to Hurricane Irma. When Irma hit the state, a mobile service that she championed for first notice of loss was used by four in 10 claimants. In addition, she oversaw the user experience design and development of the company's JobSight app for contractors to receive claim assignments and payments, digitally and immediately. Going forward, Security First is working with its tech partners PointSource and CodeObjects to implement artificial intelligence and cognitive computing to optimize these services.

Todd Fancher

A 30-year veteran of the company, Fancher is now leading American Family's strategic investment in AI, machine learning and advanced analytics. To accomplish this, the former life insurance unit president is building a digital transformation office, which will have up to 90 employees focusing on "building an overall infrastructure where our technologies not only integrate with each other, but also provide us with a flexible, robust and adaptable environment that enables us to offer the ultimate customer experience," he explains. "The goal is establishing new ways of working that are more data-driven in order to become more proactive." For more on Fancher's efforts to establish the office, click here.

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Chris Cheatham

Insurers and insurtechs alike are looking to find the best application for AI in the industry, and Cheatham's RiskGenius appears to be a winner. The company's platform analyzes policy language to help insurers sell the right coverage to the right customer and identify new areas to improve in. It caught the eye of QBE, which invested in the company and announced plans to roll out the software across its North American operations. "The RiskGenius product will provide a platform for building better products and better meeting our customers' needs," says Bob James, group head of transformation for QBE. More than 125,000 QBE policies will be uploaded to the RiskGenius platform by June.

Seth Flory

Flory is the liason between Nationwide and the RiskBlock Alliance, a consortium of insurers working on blockchain technology use cases for the industry. Shortly after joining the group, Nationwide agreed to pilot a blockchain-based proof-of-insurance concept. The insurer has been monitoring blockchain for several years, Flory says, and this is the kind of business case that can attract people to the transformative power of the technology and drive real solutions for policyholders: "This is something that can be done quickly, expose a lot of stakeholders to blockchain as an underlying technology and illustrate the purpose of a federated ledger."

Gary Hallgren

Arity, a company providing mobility technology and analytics for various connected-car initiatives, has an advantage few new companies enjoy: As a startup born out of Allstate it was able to ramp up quickly with a large staff and access to an even larger cache of data from the insurer's existing various UBI programs, including Drivewise, Milewise and Drivesense. Hallgren has led the company to contracts with its first external customers, including National General and a handful of ride-share and car-share companies, partnerships with Xevo and Airbiquity and the release of a software development kit that ports its scoring model to everyone across the insurance - and driving - value chain.

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Beth Maerz

While many carriers are well aware of the need to transform the customer experience digitally, only a few insurers are applying the lessons of digital to the core insurance product. Maerz has catapulted Travelers personal insurance to the forefront by spearheading the launch of Traverse, a new renter's insurance product that has been revamped from the bottom up. The product is in market and will provide a view of where the insurance sector could head going forward. "The goal was to build a product targeting millennials and understand what their needs are," Maerz explains. "We wanted an experience that was transparent and could be serviced entirely on a mobile device."

Alex Kubicek

Kubicek founded Understory, a company deploying sensors to hail-sensitive areas around the U.S., in 2012. The network of sensors provides carriers and other interested parties with ground-level data on weather impacts; its damage analytics helps estimate claims volume immediately after a storm. In 2018, Understory had a successful real-world trial of its technology with Pacific Specialty, with carrier VP Cory Candelario commenting, "Never before have we been able to correlate specific weather events with potential damage in such a granular way." The company started 2018 with 500 sensors deployed, but plans to have ten times that by the end of 2019 -- providing more options for insurers.

George Mathew

The drone-as-a-service model has been evolving since FAA regulations were loosened on commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, and few firms have excelled in this space as much as Kespry. Mathew took the reins at the company in January 2017 and has made significant inroads into the insurance market since, presiding over the launch of its insurance-specific offering and inking a contract with Farmers Insurance. Looking to the future, Mathew writes on the company blog that this year, Kespry will "continue adding deeper cloud capabilities, as well as enhancing how Kespry data can be experienced with integrations into the enterprise systems our customers use every day to drive their businesses."

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Seraina Macia

Macia's career has taken her to many corners of the insurance industry: XL Group, where she was honored as a Digital Insurance Women in Insurance Leadership winner; AIG; Hamilton Insurance Group; and now back to AIG when newly minted CEO Brian Duperreault hired her to run Blackboard Insurance. The technology-focused subsidiary of the insurer is working to "reimagine and transform commercial insurance through digital technology, data analytics and automation" -- including refining the small-business underwriting platform Attune, which Macia was a part of launching at Hamilton. Blackboard Insurance is keeping things close to the vest, but plans to launch its platform in the second half of 2018.

Kyle Nakatsuji

The insurtech movement is maturing quickly, to the point when veterans are finding new opportunities. Just a few years after helping launch American Family Ventures, Nakatsuji struck out on his own with Clearcover, an auto insurance startup that aims to reduce premiums by as much as half by leveraging AI and other advanced technologies and not spending as much on advertising. The company began selling policies in California this February and reached a premium run rate of more than $16 million in fewer than 90 days. "It's expensive to maintain outdated technology, buy celebrity endorsements, run commercials, and send an endless flow of junk mail," Nakatsuji wrote in announcing the launch.

Martha Notaras

As a partner at the venture capital arm of XL Catlin, Notaras has led investments in some of the most prominent insurtechs of the past several years, including Lemonade, Slice Labs, Notion and Cape Analytics. She also has emerged as a public champion and thought leader, who is well aware of the increasing scrutiny on the sector and the need to keep moving and not re-tread already explored ground. "There are many other opportunities within insurtech that will become attractive to investors," she wrote for DI earlier this year. "For example, commercial insurance is a $300 billion market ripe for new technology solutions and data sources - it's about time ventures tackle the space."

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Karn Saroya

Saroya and co-founders Natalie Gray, Anand Dhillon and Ben Aneesh raised $11 million in seed funding for Cover, which is unique in its use of imagery to customize insurance coverage. The company operates as a broker: Its Magicam technology uses a smartphone camera to recognize items and add them to a customer's home insurance inventory. The platform can also identify the make and model of a car. Whichever product is desired, Cover will extract relevant data from the images and shop the customer's risk profile to partner insurance companies. Users of the app can also input their current policy information for Price Drop Alerts; Cover will notify them if a lower price on a similar policy is available.

Roel Peeters

Peeters' company is well-known in insurance for its water-leak sensors and smart batteries that have been distributed by companies including Desjardins, Aviva and USAA. But his long-term goal is to convene a Home Telematics Program that insurers can tap into for insight into what the data these devices collect says about risk, leveraging the pool of information collected by all companies. "To be statistically relevant you need to get 50,000 to 100,000 data years," says Peeters. "With a limited investment, insurers are able to get access to that in a short period of time." State Auto signed on as the first carrier in the consortium this year, indicating that the message is resonating in a historically guarded sector.

Glenn Shapiro

In his previous role as chief claims officer for Allstate, Shapiro took the lead in rolling out a number of key digital solutions across that organization. He oversaw the deployment of drone technology on a wide scale in the aftermath of the major hurricanes in 2017. Shapiro also brought in the insurtech Carpe Data to help it detect and prevent claims fraud using its automated scoring platform that draws on third-party and social-media data. In being named president of the entire personal lines division, Allstate says Shapiro will "accelerate the utilization of telematics and build an integrated digital enterprise," giving him a key opportunity to implement new solutions across more than just claims.

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Karl Ricanek

Ricanek's company is playing in the emerging biometrics space with its Chronos platform. The facial analytics software that uses selfies to analyze BMI, gender and physiological age to determine life insurance underwriting risk, looking for intricate signals that dovetail with the information carriers need. Legal & General America is using the technology to power its SelfieQuote.com quoting tool, on which prospects can upload an image of themselves to get an initial quote. It's been so sucessful in reaching a new market, LGA plans a big expansion this year. "This tool is engaging people in their mid- to late 30s," says LGA EVP of business strategy and innovation Jim Galli.

Piyush Singh

Singh is well-attuned to the data challenges insurance organizations face: He spent years as a carrier CIO at Great American Insurance Group and RLI before moving into the insurtech sector with his new company, Terrene Labs. Terrene offers an analytics product that allows insurers to underwrite policies by integrating with third-party data providers using only limited information at the point of application. "Their product allows a prospect to enter a very small number of data elements," says Karlyn Carnahan, head of the Americans for P&C insurance at analyst firm Celent. "This not only improves the underwriting decision, but drives a very streamlined customer experience."

Wayne Slavin

SURE delivers several different kinds of niche coverages, from different insurers, through an app and website. It is a leader in episodic coverage, like for rental cars; its latest launch is a product for ridesharing passengers that protects them in case of an accident. The learnings from that product are being applied to potential coverage for autonomous cars, Slavin says: "We realize autonomous fleets will not have drivers, but what won't change is the passenger."

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Kate Stillwell

After 20 years as a structural engineer, Stillwell realized that people in earthquake zones needed easier-to-access financial security for resiliency in case the worse happens. That led her to found Jumpstart, a parametric insurance product that triggers a payment as soon as a shaking event is detected in a policyholder's area, with fully mobile enrollment and communications capabilities. Jumpstart will sell its first policies this year.

John Swigart

Former Esurance CMO Swigart started Pie to help better serve small companies that need worker's compensation coverage. Through a partnership with Valen Analytics, Pie will be able to more closely match small businesses' premium to their actual risk, he says, explaining that these owners are unable to shop around too much because of the labor-intensive nature of getting the coverage. "There is essentially no direct distribution for small businesses in commercial lines, but even less so for worker's comp," he says. Pie has an aggressive rollout plan: It began selling in four states in March, adding four more in May, and expects to be available in more than 60% of the workers' compensation market by the end of 2018.

Abel Travis

Travis was just named director of innovation for commercial and worker's compensation insurer AF Group in March, but has been making his name known as an influential voice in the broader insurtech movement for some time before that. In his previous role as AVP and head of product management for The Hanover, Travis took a keen interest in the industry's digital transformation, with his new ideas landing him on a list of 40 leaders under 40 to watch in the Hanover's home city of Worcester, Mass. He also contributes content as the host of the Insurance Innovators Unscripted podcast, where he discusses disruptive issues for the sector with other thought leaders.

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Kathleen Tierney

A 2013 Digital Insurance Women in Insurance Leadership honoree, Tierney led the launched of a new personal insurance provider within Berkley targeting high-net-worth consumers in Illinois late last year. Berkley One looks to strike a balance between high-touch agent-based service with a robust digital experience. That meant going to market with a fully customized IT infrastructure that served agents and customers with mobile and web-based portals, as well as the right attitude about this market. "It's about having an appropriate sense of self and understanding the role that insurance plays in people's lives," she says. The company expanded to Arizona and Colorado in April.

Brooks Tingle

Tingle's selection to lead John Hancock's personal lines life insurance unit has drawn the eyes of the industry because of his commitment to a new vision for the product. In his previous position as SVP of marketing and strategy, he took the lead in rolling out Vitality, a wearable-powered wellness program, that gave policyholders an avenue to reduce their premiums. He also was responsible for implementing ExpressTrack, an underwriting system that used third-party data to cut down life insurance's historically long policy-application cycle. After years of championing digital technology as a way to bridge the coverage gap in life insurance, Tingle has the opportunity to make it core to the company across all its various products.

Sabine Vanderlinden

Representing the insurtech accelerator community on this year's list, VanderLinden has taken a leadership position in supporting the growing insurtech ecosystem. She presided over the launch of Startupbootcamp's insurance-specific incubator program in the UK, which ended with 80% of the 21 participants getting funding. This year, she brought the program to the U.S., basing it in Hartford and revitalizing that region's strong traditional ties to insurance. The first class of insurtechs in the stateside edition graduated in spring 2018. Sabine is also a co-editor of the crowdsourced InsurTECH Book, which will be published by Wiley later this year.

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Adam Waldron

At the helm of a technology organization at a regional carrier, Waldron is every bit as plugged-in as his peers at national companies, testing smart-home devices and working with Idaho State University on a drone program for both underwriting and claims applications. In fact, Waldron says, a heavy agriculture bent in the company's book gives it willing participants for these new technologies, with sensors and drones being newly crucial to gaining high crop yields. "Farmers are very tech-savvy," he explains. "We found a lot our customers were flying drones themselves." The college's busiess fraternity awarded him Idaho Business Leader of the Year in 2018 for his work on these key digital initiatives.