Women in Insurance Leadership 2019—Tracey Berg, Cerity
For insurance technology executives, the insurtech revolution is offering opportunities for new challenges that are wholly different from what they may have done early in their careers. Epitomizing this example is Tracey Berg, president of Cerity, a digital, direct-to-consumer spinout of EMPLOYERS, iterating on a platform to help small businesses and new entrepreneurs get the workers’ compensation coverage they need in more consumer e-commerce experience.
Berg joined EMPLOYERS as EVP and CIO in 2017, with a more traditional background and outlook for the job based on her more than 25 years of experience in insurance and tech. She had overseen multiple core replacement and upgrades in several years in the top tech job at West Bend Mutual; before that she had worked at Assurant. It appeared likely that EMPLOYERS would be looking for similar things. But the opportunity was impossible to pass up.
“I had tried not to be focused only on technology, but also participate in the corporate organizational strategy,” Berg says. “When our CEO [Doug Dirks] wanted to look at opportunities in direct to consumer, I led a team that took on the business case for that.”
Berg led a team of four through research and development of the Cerity product offering, along with the creation of a new subsidiary, which launched in about a year from its approval. The product is aimed toward company clients with 25 or fewer employees, but its customer profile is targeted more specifically toward buying preference, she explains.
“We saw a shift in consumer buying behaviors — one of which is instant gratification. We believed that it happening at scale is a ‘when, not if’ question,” Berg says. “We did some research on people’s buying preferences — keeping in mind that what they say and do is not always the same. Our product is perfect for small business owners who demand a simple and fast process and comfortable buying online.”
With limited resources and a complete greenfield opportunity to build on, Berg and her team developed Cerity’s platform to be entirely cloud-based, with no data center, using technology from Duck Creek on the back end and focusing on how to feed that with data and a modernized front end and present a differentiated experience to workers’ comp buyers.
“What’s changed [in insurance] is the ability to do data analytics, understand which questions are required and which aren’t, based on years of experience. You ask yourself: ‘historically we asked these questions, which ones can we figure out on our own without asking the customer?’ That’s how you get from something that’s 30 questions long to something that’s 10 questions or less,” she explains.
As it became clearer that Cerity was going to require more talent than could be reasonably expected to find in the Reno, Nev. area where EMPLOYERS is based, Berg and the team conducted a survey of municipalities as potential relocation sites. They settled on Austin, and have grown the team from four to 34 by drawing on the rich tech talent pool in the area.
That’s not to say that things were move-in ready, however. Berg says that as the leader of what’s effectively a startup, “you find yourself doing a lot of things like assembling desks and reloading the copier and washing dishes.”
However, that energy is part of the company’s sales pitch to prospective employees. “There’s not a lot of people sitting around looking for jobs. So we want to have a pretty cool story to tell,” she says. “It’s fun and exciting, but not necessarily easy and it’s not for everybody. We hire as much on cultural fit as skills fit. If you think I’m going to draw a nice tidy box around what you do, you’re mistaken.”