Motion Auto's Denese Ross is ready to launch

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Denese Ross, Motion Auto
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Denese Ross’s insurance career covered a lot of the typical nuts and bolts of insurance during stints at Commerce Insurance and CSAA, among others. But it was in her second stint at the latter that she had an “a-ha” moment that set off the chain of events bringing her to usage-based insurance MGA Motion Auto, where she is chief underwriting officer today.

CSAA was offering a nonstandard auto product from a different carrier through its captive agents because it didn’t have one itself, and that carrier’s digital infrastructure was more evolved. “It was easier to do business with them than AAA, so the agents are selling those policies more,” she says.

Ross identified the digital direction of insurance and worked within CSAA to increase their innovation infrastructure as the company grew. From there she moved on to Commerce West (now part of Mapfre) and GMAC Insurance. Eventually she started an insurance consulting firm, which led to her involvement in the nascent insurtech movement, and eventually to Motion Auto.

The company is based in Lehi, Utah -- one of the two states where it is currently selling products -- but Ross remains working in the Bay Area. That doesn’t make her any less crucial to the mission. Ross is responsible for the strategy and oversight of the company’s private passenger auto insurance, integrating telematics data, and identifying new rating factors, product development, strategic partnerships and relationships. Among the partnerships she spearheaded: A soon-to-be-announced collaboration with an in-car infotainment system to glean data for insurance.

“Things are just exponentially growing in terms of data” that can power UBI, she says. “Every year it's like the timeline's compressing a little bit. There's a lot of experimentation that is possible because it's cheaper to do it.”

That’s only one half of the UBI equation, of course -- the other part comes from consumer acceptance. And current circumstances may push more people in that direction than ever, Ross posits: “There’s always been the fear of ‘big brother,’ but I think COVID is going to have a profound impact on consumers in general, who now look at the world totally different than they did before. They're driving less and they're like, ’wait a minute, I'm driving less, shouldn't I be paying less? I'm still paying $1,800 a year for my car insurance, and they sent me $8’” in a rebate.

For small insurers like Motion Auto, the coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to stand out from the crowd with an offering that can meet consumers’ unique needs at this moment in time. And, the company’s leanness means it doesn’t itself have to cut back much, Ross says.

“We're so small still, so there wasn't a lot of impact other than we probably benefited from lower claim frequency and severity like everybody else,” she explains. “We’re kind of launching during COVID so it’s not like we had this five-year plan that got interrupted.”

Ross’s colleagues note that she combines a holistic view of the insurance market with the confidence and knowledge that the industry can be better through digital innovation as it continues to adapt to a changing market.

“The demographics are going to keep shifting. What I’ve noticed is that 30% of the population is still going to do business with an independent agent, no matter how much of this online, direct-to-consumer, stuff is going on I believe there will always be that segment of the population that will prefer to interact directly with an agent. I think the telematics is just hitting a different segment of the market altogether.

“But I've always been an optimist,” she concludes. “I was the first pilot car at AAA [for UBI]; I actually found that system in my garage the other day. The data now is coming so much faster and cleaner. We're just leaving the parking garage and driving full speed down the road.”

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Women in Insurance Leadership 2020 Women in Insurance Leadership Telematics Usage-based insurance Insurtech