20 insurance innovators to know

Published
  • June 09 2017, 5:58am EDT
It’s an exciting time for insurance. Startup activity and investment — $1.7 billion in 2016, according to CB Insights — are at an all-time high as the growing cohort of “insurtechs” targets legacy processes for digital reinvention. On the carrier side, visionary executives are spearheading internal efforts to emulate those companies’ abilities to ideate, iterate and execute on a 21st-century timeline.

Over the past several months, Digital Insurance consulted with experts across the industry to assemble this list of 20 innovators who are truly leading insurance into a new era defined by digital efficiency and effectiveness. These leaders are transforming an industry known for paper forms and overnight batch processing into a fully digital experience from quote to claim, leveraging real-time data from connected devices and advanced analytics to create new insurance products that meet modern needs.

It’s an exciting time for insurance. Startup activity and investment — $1.7 billion in 2016, according to CB Insights — are at an all-time high as the growing cohort of “insurtechs” targets legacy processes for digital reinvention. On the carrier side, visionary executives are spearheading internal efforts to emulate those companies’ abilities to ideate, iterate and execute on a 21st-century timeline.

Over the past several months, Digital Insurance consulted with experts across the industry to assemble this list of 20 innovators who are truly leading insurance into a new era defined by digital efficiencies and effectiveness. These leaders are transforming an industry known for paper forms and overnight batch processing into a fully digital experience from quote to claim, leveraging real-time data from connected devices and advanced analytics to create new insurance products that meet modern needs.

Alex Timm

CEO & Founder, Root Insurance

Timm’s first job — at age 14 — was in insurance, making phone calls on behalf of his father’s agency to help customers manage policies. But despite that baptism by fire, he fell in love with the industry. “When your neighbor’s house burned down, insurance was right there to help them pick up,” Timm says. “It’s a very complicated, mathematically driven industry, but I’ve always loved that there’s this ‘noble cause’ at the same time.”

Eventually, Timm he got into the actuarial side of the industry and worked at State Auto and Nationwide, the big insurance companies located in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. That’s where he first began to notice that the insurance industry needed to make some changes. While he was working as a consultant for Nationwide, “[the insurance industry’s] digital satisfaction ratings were worse than government services,” he says.

Timm set out to build a data-driven insurance company from the ground up that could incorporate the full potential of advances in analytics, digital channels, and self-service with the singular goal of making insurance a better product for policyholders. So in March 2015, he began working on Root.
Root’s goal is to lure good drivers with the promise of lower rates. Once someone downloads the app, it collects data about that driver’s habits over a period of about three weeks. After that time, a quote is generated.

[Read Timm's full profile here]

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Dan Preston

CEO, Metromile

Dan Preston started out at Metromile as its CTO under co-founders Steve Pretre and David Freidberg. His intimate familiarity with the company’s core data model and technology platform served well as he took over the CEO role. Under Preston’s watch, Metromile has become a full-stack insurer (it was a managing general agent when he took over), moved into bigger offices in San Francisco and begun an aggressive campaign of value-added services, claims innovation and expansion.

Metromile works by using on-board telematics devices to track how many miles customers drive each month, then charges them based on that. It’s not as interested in how people drive, but rather how much. That’s because, Preston says, driving less is a bigger predictor of loss than almost anything else. So the company uses traditional underwriting methods to set a price — but it’s per-mile, rather than per-annum.

Of course, that means the company’s model of metered insurance isn’t for the general auto insurance market. Metromile targets urban drivers who don’t take to the road as much. That’s driven some of the innovations Preston led over the past few years. Metromile’s location-aware technology is able to notify customers if they need maintenance or if they are in danger of receiving a parking ticket, for example.

[Read Preston's full profile here]

Dan Schreiber

CEO and co-founder, Lemonade

Lemonade CEO and co-founder Daniel Schreiber laments the distrust consumers have for insurers. A major goal of his company, a renters insurance carrier, is to turn that on its head.

In announcing Lemonade last fall, and in interviews and public appearances since, Schreiber explains that because customers don’t trust insurers, its easy for them to rationalize misleading carriers. He believes that consumers need a bigger stake in the insurance product in order to disincentivize that behavior.

In many ways, Lemonade is like many insurtechs: It leverages smartphones heavily, as the main customer-acquisition channel and claims-reporting tool. That meets customers’ demands for a modern insurance experience, Schreiber says.

However, going beyond that is the company’s financial model. At the time they sign up, customers select a charity to which Lemonade will donate unused claims reserves at the end of each year. This means that customers know that they will only be hurting their cause of choice by exaggerating losses.

“We create a group, in a sense, of peers who are defined by their common cause,” he explains.

[Read more from Schreiber here]

Shobana Sankaran

GM of insurance, Nauto

For startups targeting the insurance industry, coming up with an idea that may impact the sector is one part of an equation. But marrying an idea to the actual pain points of insurance is a separate task entirely. At Nauto, a telematics startup based in Palo Alto, Calif., that’s where Shobana Sankaran comes in. She is GM of insurance for the company and a more than 15 year veteran of the industry, including stints at Progressive, Esurance and Metromile.

Nauto offers a platform to help measure driver skill. The technology includes inward and outward-facing cameras, as well as sensors, to detect road conditions and monitor how well a driver reacts to them. Sankaran’s experience helped her communicate the company’s value proposition effectively, and a panel of insurer judges selected Nauto as the winner of Plug & Play’s insurtech expo late last year.

“It’s having the ability to measure risk holistically – combine driver, vehicle and contextual data and act as a prevention mechanism, so that insurers can move away from managing losses to preventing loss,” Sankaran explains.

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Tim Attia

Co-founder, Slice

Tim Attia and his partner Ernie Hursh were among the few people who were undaunted by Google’s auto insurance aggregator, helping develop the technology that connected it to insurers at their previous company, Bolt Solutions. After Google shut down that aggregator, Attia and Hursh resurfaced in short order with Slice, an insurance company that provides coverage for the sharing economy. People renting their homes on Airbnb or similar services can purchase insurance for the contents of those homes on-demand, through Slice’s app, and if there’s a claim, can upload images through the same app to get paid quickly.

Rooney Gleason

President, U.S. Retail, Argo Group US

As a broker for Argo Group, working with grocery and retail clients for the commercial carrier, Rooney Gleason identified an opportunity to digitalize store inspections, with an eye toward reducing slip-and-fall accidents. The logic was that if stores had a more regulated process for inspections, trouble spots would be caught earlier. So he started a tech company, Gleason Technology, to develop it.

Eventually, Gleason returned to Argo and brought his technology, now called Argo Risk Tech. The platform leverages mobile devices that pair, using near-field communication or Bluetooth technology, with a series of sensors, beacons or QR codes placed around a business. This allows a supervisor to track an employee’s path during a safety check. Any records required during the safety checks are logged electronically and are stored in the cloud, for easy access and searchability. An array of Internet of Things devices are worked into the process — for example, for perishable item checks, Argo’s platform supports Bluetooth thermometers that can send the temperature reading directly to the log without requiring any input.

When there’s an incident, the employee only needs to bring their mobile device, which will walk through the process of taking pictures and recording important information. That creates a first notice of loss that is immediately sent to Argo. It can then be cross-referenced with the inspection information to help adjudicate the claim.

Now, as part of its insurance product for the grocery industry, Argo will set up Risk Tech for new clients, positioning itself as a full partner in risk management. “There hasn’t been much new offered in what is a mature industry,” Gleason says. “This really differentiates us because what we’re leading with is tech and not insurance.”

Snejina Zacharia

CEO & founder, Insurify

Distribution is one of the most-targeted aspects of insurance, but many technology companies have simply put a digital skin on the existing form-driven, agent-centered process and called it a day. Not so for Snejina Zacharia’s Insurify. The MIT graduate set out to re-architect the insurance agency from the ground up, using artificial intelligence, optical data recognition, and chatbots to give customers access to insurance products from Progressive, Safeco, and more than 30 other insurers in a fully digital experience from quote to bind. Earlier this year, Insurify created a chatbot for Facebook, allowing customers to buy policies on the social network’s chat application. “We are redefining the insurance distribution networks with carrier and agency partners,” she says.

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Brian Hemesath

Managing director, Global Insurance Accelerator

Great ideas need great visionaries to execute them, and that’s what Brian Hemesath did as director of the Global Insurance Accelerator. At once tasked with selling insurers on the value of insurtech, and selling insurtechs on the potential for Des Moines, Iowa, Hemesath has grown the number of participating startups, insurance company mentors, and notoriety of insurtech through each of the program’s three years. “We see the impact in [insurers] digital initiatives by introducing new partners that, frankly, would have never even made it onto their radar without the GIA,” he says.

Mariel Devesa

Head of innovation, Farmers

Farmers Insurance is taking digitalization very seriously, and Mariel Devesa is leading the charge. A veteran of the company, Devesa has served since 2013 as head of innovation, with responsibility for not just coming up with new ideas, but anticipating broader cultural shifts that could impact the insurance industry. Under her watch, Farmers was one of the first insurers to offer insurance specifically for ridesharing drivers, in 2015. And this year, Devesa keyed the launch of Signal, the company’s usage-based insurance program that specifically targets distractions behind the wheel.

Michael Rudoy & Luke Cohler

Co-founders, Jetty

One of the ways insurance is changing through digitalization is through more value-added services. That’s the core concept behind Michael Rudoy (far left photo) and Luke Cohler’s renters insurance startup, Jetty. In addition to providing standard renters insurance coverage — updated to reflect the new realities of young professional urban living — the company also offers surety bond products to help renters pay security deposits and meet guarantor requirements. And it takes under two minutes to apply through the company’s online portal.

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Ryan Kottenstette

CEO & Founder, Cape Analytics

Ryan Kottenstette is no stranger to the transformative power of technology on established businesses. Before starting Cape Analytics, he worked at a venture-capital firm, Khosla Ventures. There, he saw the trend toward using artificial intelligence to revolutionize businesses like logistics and agriculture. Cape’s technology applies the power of geospatial imagery, computer vision and machine learning to extract and analyze property data that’s crucial to insurers. That allows insurers to shorten the application process and get real-time visibility into their reinsurance needs, all without having to send out additional manpower to get the information.

Scott Walchek

CEO & founder, Trov

Way back in 2013, Scott Walchek took his “digital locker” idea to AIG and Fireman’s Fund and offered it to them as a benefit for their customers. Originally, Trov — pronounced like “trove” — allowed policyholders to catalog their possessions online for easy remuneration in case of a loss. But as the insurtech industry continued to evolve, so did Walchek’s vision. Today, Trov directly offers insurance coverage, underwritten by Munich Re, for those possessions. The supplemental insurance protects customers’ most valuable items specifically, rather than bucketing them under other insurances like homeowners, renters, or auto, offering peace of mind around particularly expensive or rare items like instruments.

Andrew Rear

CEO, Munich Re Digital Partners

Munich Re is one of the most active insurers in supporting startups, and leading that charge is Andrew Rear, head of the company’s Digital Partners division. Digital Partners currently works with eight startups and intends to grow partnerships by at least 10 each year. It currently backs some of the most prominent insurtechs in the market, including Trov and Slice, providing financial backing for their nontraditional insurance products.

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Louis Ziskin

CEO & founder, DropIn

Louis Ziskin started DropIn, a platform that allows insurers to use streaming video from drones and other sources in underwriting and claims. The offering has been praised by insurers such as State Farm for its flexibility and adaptability. That’s all part of Ziskin’s overall goal to improve the experience for all insurance stakeholders. “Typically when you improve the bottom line, it is at the expense of customer service, and vice versa. I saw the unique opportunity to improve the bottom line and customer service concurrently,” he says.

Gareth Ross

Chief Customer Officer, MassMutual

Since joining the insurer in 2008, MassMutual’s chief customer officer Gareth Ross has emerged as a champion for digitalizing his company, making it a leader in the life insurance industry.

Ross led the charge for MassMutual to embrace data science, culminating in the company opening a data science lab in 2015. He also championed the development of a data talent pipeline, partnering with local colleges to support education in the field and rewarding students with positions at the lab.

From that analytics-driven foundation, Ross keyed the launch of MassMutual unit Haven Life, which uses an algorithmic underwriting engine that leverages data, mobile technology and machine learning to help customers to get life insurance in a fully online experience, often without a medical exam.

It’s all part of Ross’s greater vision for the company. He believes that digital’s promise for changing the insurance industry comes down to providing a better customer experience.

“As a product, life insurance looks pretty much the same as it did in the 1950s, yet it’s how we interact that needs to continue to evolve,” Ross explains. “People now expect our customer service to be as prompt as Amazon’s, our results as quick and accurate as Google’s, and an interface as simple as Uber’s.”

Greg Barats

President & CEO, Hartford Steam Boiler

In his position as CEO of Hartford Steam Boiler, Barats has led the company’s commitment to leveraging the power of the Internet of Things for commercial lines. Under his watch, HSB has acquired two companies that make management platforms for connected devices: Meshify and Waygum. The carrier also provided the technology powering a model smarthome at sister company American Modern. Most recently, it partnered with Church Mutual to install smart leak-detection devices at several places of worship, which tend to have problems with older pipes that can freeze, burst and cause water damage or mold build-up. “This use of sensor technology provides an easy and effective way to help prevent losses and reduce the damage when a loss does occur,” Barats says.

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Kuang Chen

CEO & founder, Captricity

For life insurers, gleaning information from paper forms has been a challenge. Kuang Chen’s company, Captricity has emerged as a leader in document digitalization in that sector, not just with the actual conversion projects but also by making those documents searchable and applying analytics to the data within them to help life insurers better understand their customers and design products to serve them. Captricity’s platform is currently in use by 13 life insurers. “Now more than ever, insurers need high-quality, normalized data to deliver revenue-generating business insights,” Chen says. “unlocking the hidden value in customer data presents a unique opportunity to drive growth and customer acquisition.”

Farron Blanc

VP, innovation studio, RGAx

In his role at RGAx, an in-house incubator that’s part of Reinsurance Group of America, Farron Blanc is tasked with identifying companies that can, he says, make insurance a “more delightful” experience. Since 2015, Blanc has led investments in five startups, the most recent being insurance social media platform Denim in April. But it’s Everplans, a digital archive that stores policyholders’ crucial documents for their loved ones to access after death, that he says, which sums up RGAx’s mission most effectively. “Traditionally, the industry views payment of a claim as having solved a beneficiary’s problem,” he says. “It’s about taking a wider view of a consumer’s life stage and creating an appropriate delightful journey to provide them with protection and peace of mind.”

Sean Katz

CIO, Vitality

When South African health insurer Discovery first launched its Vitality program in 1997, it was simply a way to reward members for using gyms to stay healthy. Now, nearly two decades later, the program has been spun off and is working with several insurers to help quantify biometric data from wearable technology devices like FitBits and Apple Watches. Katz runs the technology department at Vitality in the U.S., working with partners like Manulife and John Hancock on unlocking the trends revealed by customers’ data and finding the right mix of discounts and perks to encourage healthy behaviors .