Steve Lust is a Senior Underwriter and Innovation & Insurtech Leader at Ohio Mutual Insurance Group. Steve was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.
Steve, how did Ohio Mutual develop the insurtech meetup, and why has it become so highly valued among your team?
“We value the customer experience very highly at Ohio Mutual. We ask for feedback from our members, annually, through surveys. The thing that is consistently reported is that our members are expecting more of their insurance carriers as time goes on. Competitive rates and excellent claim service have become the table stakes in our industry, and they're expecting more. They want value beyond just the traditional insurance policy. That expectation led us to design our member benefit concept. The insurtech meetup was created to not only support the conventional function of insurance, but also to evaluate additional member benefits that we can provide to our customers and, mainly, to focus on the customer experience and bring that value beyond the policy.
Our team focuses on innovation. We actively engage our members in protection. It's both preventative and restorative and we have partnered with an external insurtech advisor. Our advisor challenges our group to think creatively. He brings us topics that are emerging in our industry and the insurtech space. That's been invaluable. Our committee has also evolved; so much so that we renamed ourselves from ‘The Insurtech Committee’ to ‘The Innovation and Insurtech Committee.’ We didn't want to limit ourselves to just tech solutions, so that's where the innovation aspect emerged.
When we say innovation, we're thinking, ‘what can we do to make processes more efficient?’ while still remembering to focus on customer service. Rebranding our committee broadened our customer experience focus. And it didn't just focus on our members, but also our independent agents who sell our products and services. That's been an excellent addition to the insurtech and innovation part. I think it’s so highly valued because we take pride in knowing that we're helping improve experiences for our policyholders, our members and our independent agents. Our company is somewhat small and our structure has made us pretty agile, so we can adopt these insurtech tools into our business fairly easily.
In a few short years, we've partnered with quite a few insurtech companies, but we've done equally as much homegrown innovation. Our team is involved in all aspects of it. The part that I think is really neat is we don't just vet the company and then pass it along. We vet the company and monitor the process from start to finish.”
What is the framework for these meetings?
“There are 10 people on our committee right now including me. We meet formally once a month for about an hour and a half, but there's a lot of communication that happens between those meetings within our group. So, when we're vetting a company or monitoring processes, we get together in separate meetings with a smaller subset of our committee (because it affects that particular area of the business.) For example, my day job is in underwriting, so if there's a company we are investigating that particularly pertains to underwriting, I would attend that meeting. If there's one that pertains more to claims, then our claims member would attend that meeting.”
What are some key components of a successful meeting?
“This question is funny because when we started this back in January 2020, I think we had one or two in-person meetings. Before our company went fully remote, we had to figure out the transition from in-person to all-virtual. So, as you would expect from an innovation group, we innovated. We went from leveraging in-person whiteboards to using virtual whiteboards to track the progress of the companies that we're looking at and tracking through various stages of their implementation after we had decided they were a good fit for us.
A key component that I've learned, especially in the virtual meetings, has been that you have to have a meeting facilitator: somebody that sets the agenda each time and ensures everybody has some input into the meeting. You need to encourage people to use their voices. Studies show that if you have a meeting of eight people, three people do 70% of the talking. There has to be a way to have a facilitator help engage those other folks. Just because they don't have a loud voice doesn't mean they don't have great ideas. So, find a way to encourage everyone to participate.
We've recently begun having a guest attend each meeting and that has been very interesting. It has really energized our group. We ask one of our vice presidents from each of our business areas to come to our formal monthly meeting and talk about what's going on in their area business, problems they have and what the Innovation and Insurtech Committee can do to help support their strategy and achieve their goals. They present us their strategy in our meeting, and we consider that and think about companies that could help them or processes and innovations that could assist.
Consistency is the last part of having a successful meeting, especially virtually. Whether that means meeting once a month or having a similar agenda, so people are comfortable and know what they expect. Not only is that consistency key, but also adaptability is key. If something isn’t working, we need somebody to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I think we should do this slightly differently’, and we have to be able to adapt to that. Those are some of the things that we've learned, especially with virtual meetings.”
Can you share some tangible examples of how these meetings have led to company-wide improvement?
“Our industry is facing a lot of pressure. We’re facing inflation, catastrophic losses, uncertainty in the financial markets and more. So we have to find ways to get new members to Ohio Mutual and retain those members. As I mentioned earlier, we're committed to the independent agency channel. One of the innovations that we adopted was homegrown. We provided a tool for agents that will tell them before the renewal which Ohio Mutual members may be at risk as they're approaching renewal. We give them that little nudge and identify which members would likely benefit most from a proactive touch. On the insurtech side, we've partnered with the developer of an accident advisor program. It brings awareness to high crash locations where people are driving. For example, say you have a youth on your policy and you want them to avoid a particularly dangerous intersection on their way to school. It will show them a way that may take one minute longer, but it's five times safer. It gives you options like that because we care about you and your protection. A month before that, we partnered with another insurtech that will monitor your electrical systems. It monitors for electrical fire hazzards and helps prevent fires before they happen.
What we're trying to do with insurtechs and innovation is to flip the script and say, of course, if you have a claim, we're going to give you great customer service just like every other carrier, but we’ll also give you value beyond your insurance policy. Policyholders and members don't want to have a claim. So we are giving them things they can do to prevent a claim. There are many more of these partnerships and initiatives. We're trying to listen to our members and give them that value on the policy.”
What sort of process is run internally for signing up or handpicking team members to participate, and how does this play a role in building an innovative culture?
“Our charter says that we will have between eight to 11 members on our Innovation team, which includes the chairperson. They generally serve a one-year or two-year term. We try to rotate people through. The group team members usually either participate because they have told us they love innovation or they love technology. Another way that they come to us is by being nominated by someone else, either another manager or another associate at our company. They come to us because they're forward-thinking. They have great ideas. Another key part is that our team is supported. We have two senior leaders of our organization who are our sponsors and we present to them biannually and keep them informed as needed. Ohio Mutual is very focused on the customer experience. That's where this whole thing is born. We all have a vested interest in it.
When we formed the committee, we said that we don't just want IT folks. We purposefully want somebody from each line of business represented in this committee. That cross-functionality is what makes us great. We challenge our members on this committee to read publications, follow the information on LinkedIn, and more. Our CEO talks about this at our associate meetings and directs them to send along anything that they find that looks interesting. I receive emails at least once a week from someone passing along interesting information or asking if we have heard about a particular item.
The cross-functionality really spreads the word. And that's what leads to our culture. Our customer expectations are changing. We hear it across the industry and must adapt to meet their needs and sustain their loyalty. And I believe this is how it's done.”