Bryan Falchuk is a best-selling author, executive coach, TEDx presenter and notable public speaker. Bryan combines powerful experience as a C-Suite and senior executive for both P&C insurance and insurtech companies, and has used this distinct background to guide the evolution of major players in the insurance industry. Bryan was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Community Leader at InsurTech Ohio and Partner at PolicyFly, Inc.
Bryan, you have a very unique perspective on the evolution of insurance, talk me through your background as both an executive at insurance carriers and insurtech startups.
“As a management consultant first and then coming up through the carrier ranks, I’ve built a very deep understanding of a lot of the issues facing different types of carriers, across an array of functional areas. I’ve seen different contexts, geographies and lines of business, which have given me a very rich understanding of what it takes to be successful as an insurance company.
The notion of then transitioning to an insurtech company whose age is measured in months and not decades was a tremendously exciting transition. That transition was working with Hi Marley as their Head of Growth. This was an insurance-focused technology company trying to support carriers’ operations and enable new efficiencies and growth through a changed customer experience.”
Given your unique perspective on both sides of the “insurtech fence” where do you see immediate areas for improvement?
“I especially felt when I was running claims for a carrier, that as an industry it’s become fashionable to make fun of working in insurance. I think what bothers me about this is that it is actually an amazing ecosystem to work within. It might be a joke to a lot of people who treat it like ‘Oh you work in insurance, let’s talk about something else.’ Unfortunately, we also do it to ourselves and it’s something that needs to stop. It’s a mentality that actually breeds resistance because it’s usually followed by “Oh, we’re in insurance, we’re slow.’
This perpetual idea that it’s not fun, it’s not sexy. The customer wants something, but we can’t possibly meet their needs because we’re stuck in this boring place that struggles to change. Actually, it’s not true so let’s stop reinforcing this idea that we’re unable to make positive change.
The second thing is that there’s a generational gap that isn’t necessarily age based, but there are people in positions of power that have been particularly resistant. I’ve often shared a story about a carrier I was talking to during my time at Hi Marley, when my contact at the carrier told me that their CEO had handed down a mandate that they couldn’t work with a new entrant until they were at least five years old. That threshold is arbitrary and superficial and has little to do with the survivability of a company or the value of their solution.
This is an example of fear-based, programmatic decision making. It lacks genuine interest in creativity and doesn’t serve the industry or our clients properly. So while the reputation of the industry is overall undeserved, there’s no denying that this type of institutional thinking can hold insurance companies back.”
What about new entrants and their attitude? Are they missing the mark in any critical ways?
“I think the issue of hubris comes in more than anything for insurtech startups. Whether you’re an insurtech carrier or enabler, if you come in with the pretense that the industry is so old, broken and slow, and that you’re going to save the day because people in this industry can’t save themselves, you’re going to alienate yourself and miss complexities that end up mattering. You’re certainly not setting yourself up to succeed.
If you’re a tech company that wants to play in this space, have the humility to understand the space you’re playing in, instead of moving so quickly to judge it. I mean if all of these carriers are so backwards and so broken, how are they still here?
Instead, have the humility to listen and understand because it will prepare you for your own difficulties better and build the partnerships you’re going to need to survive in this industry. Talk to carriers as customers or partners that you value and you’ll earn their respect.”
What can insurtech startups do to combat this besides the adjustment in attitude?
“The easiest way is to have insurance people in your ranks. That’s one of the key takeaways in my book “The Future of Insurance”. When I was at Hi Marley, working with Ohio Mutual, we weren’t just a tech company hypothesizing and judging, we were almost all insurance people who understood the reality of solving their challenges because we had been in it ourselves. Our firsthand knowledge allowed us to build deeper relationships rapidly because we truly understood how to stand behind customers in their toughest moments.”
I’m very excited about your new book, “The Future of Insurance”, how much fun did you have writing it and what are some of the powerful themes that came out of this book?
“I completely geeked out on this. I loved getting into the case studies and stories, and was so honored that people really shared honestly and openly with me. Which I didn’t necessarily expect given the required corporate legal and PR sign offs, but the stories they shared weren’t heavily sanitized. The conversations were honest and in the end, three major takeaways came out of the case studies.
And none of them are about choosing the right tech. If you don’t nail these things, it doesn’t really matter what technology you choose.
The first of the three core lessons that I learned was that your customers have the answers. I think that’s a particularly tricky one for this industry. A lot of carriers are intermediated by agents or brokers. While we can get close to the customers, there’s still a filter through their agent or broker speaking on their behalf. Whether you’re a direct writer or not, you can still talk directly to customers, and you should. Ask them, and actually listen to what they tell you rather than just presuming what they want.
The second lesson is to do the same with your own people. A lot of carriers have made big strides in the past few years to be more employee-centric and engage their people, but there’s a large swath of carriers who have really only said that without practicing it, so it’s lip service. Maybe even not intentionally, but you can’t have these little idea groups working together, but nothing actually comes of them. Nothing changes. I’ve seen CEOs stand up in front of their staff talking about major changes, but then refuse to answer questions about that change. That’s not empowering your people. You’re probably going to anger them instead or teach them that this is more internal PR than reality.
And the last one is to just focus. It’s not groundbreaking territory, but this one especially resonated for me coming out of a startup right before writing this book. It’s the issue of shiny object syndrome. It’s important to create clear plans and objectives so that you can keep moving forward despite all the new ideas and distractions that present themselves along that path. It’s hard because you want to stay open to feedback and new ideas, but know when something is a distraction because it’s new and interesting so you can park it to investigate fully rather than constantly changing direction. This can only happen when you clearly define what outcome you’re aiming for so you can test new ideas against that outcome to see if they align and help, or are pulling you off course. You don’t have unlimited resources and if you don’t yet fully understand what you’re trying to solve you need to take a step back.
Find a balance where you can stay open and flexible, but hold all ideas accountable to the course that you’ve set. And when you do feel that you’re heading in the wrong direction, take the necessary steps to make the right strategic decisions to affect change. Don’t let the day-to-day drive you in circles.”