Ben French is the Head of US Digital Business Development at Convex, combining unrivaled experience, reputation and a legacy free balance sheet. Ben was interviewed by Chris Luiz, Director of Solutions Architecture and Customer Success at Monitaur.
Ben, can you tell us a little bit about your career in insurance and your current role at Convex?
“I started my career at Hiscox as a traditional E&O underwriter, working my way up to Underwriting Manager in the Midwest. About halfway through my tenure at Hiscox, I decided to make a lateral move. Something that sounded really exciting was this large enterprise-wide business transformation program the company was undertaking, which included a lot of digital transformation. The program wasn’t just about applying new tech to existing processes, but taking the opportunity to revamp old ways of working that could best be enabled through new tech.
After I completed the program, I returned to digital trading where I’ve been ever since. My curiosity with digital was piqued in that transformation project as I was exposed to the possibilities of good application of technology to streamline and operationalize efficiencies of how we do business. About a year and a half ago, I joined Convex, focusing primarily on business development for our digital-underwriting trading unit here in the US working with our London team as well.”
What do you think the current state of the world is concerning digital trading?
“Despite lots of advances in recent years, it's still very fragmented and nascent. There are various stages of engagement from all of the different players like brokers, carriers and MGAs. Also, there are different levels of sophistication and investment in digital trading. I think there's a lot of promise with the advent and incorporation of emerging tech, such as AI, but the realities of change, whether it's from an adoption or process improvement point-of-view, is that it’s going to take time.”
Where do you think digital trading is going, and is there anything that you're particularly excited about as far as the future?
“I see three main threads continuing for the near term and midterm. The first thread is those who are grasping the opportunity today, investing in technology and the promise and value of what technology can do and the data that accompanies it to help transact and grow SME business portfolios. There are those who are actively investing their capital in building out their digital trading platforms. Whether it's their own technology or they’re licensing software to do that, they're leveraging their distribution expertise and deep networks as well as building out the capabilities to run everything in-house with their own technology experts or teams.
Then there are those who just want to focus on what they do best, which is managing their distribution networks and leveraging their expertise. They rely on third-party platforms to access technology to trade digitally without investing their own dollars but see the value of it and want to actively participate.
Finally, some are more conservative or even laggards that choose not to participate at this stage. They want to wait and see, or they don't yet see the value proposition of what technology or that data capture can do for them. It's a matter of time before they’ll come across a business case that appeals to them. But, there's a lot of knowledge to be gained by participating at some level rather than sitting out at this stage, and there's something to add value to each business today with proper application of technology and digital trading.”
How will those changes affect underwriters (and other employees) and their workflows?
“The use or application of technology and automated straight-through-processing, if done thoughtfully, should be welcomed by many underwriters, brokers and operational support personnel. If technology can reduce or even eliminate the rote, mechanical and repetitive aspects of their job, it frees them up to focus on applying their knowledge and expertise where it's additive to the experience, digital or otherwise.
Many people should find their roles and responsibilities much more rewarding and hopefully intellectually stimulating than they do today where a large chunk of their day is spent doing mundane tasks. If technology can help reduce or eliminate those aspects of their jobs and no longer eat up hours of their day, then my hope is that people with a particular skill set will find themselves with the time and energy to actually tackle the bigger problems that are strategically important.”
What do you think is the right balance between tech/people, and how do we make sure it is correctly balanced?
“It's a tough question, but a really good one because there will always be a need for humans, certainly in knowledge and human-based industries such as insurance. No matter how much mundane business activity we automate or streamline through technology, we shouldn't ever lose sight of the fact that we're dealing with people during two very distinct states or frames of mind as a customer. No one wants to buy insurance, although they know they should or have to, which comes with a lot of trepidation, questions or concerns about what they're really buying.
The same goes for handling the ever-evolving needs of whatever coverage is purchased. No amount of information provided online will satisfy everyone's questions or concerns about buying insurance. That's a role only a skilled insurance professional can fill. And, on the backend, when a customer is wondering whether the insurance they bought will actually make them whole after suffering a loss, that's where agents, brokers and carriers earn their reputation. No amount of automation will ever satisfy everyone's needs for that human touch throughout the claims process, answering questions and giving assurances that they have a knowledgeable advocate to help resolve their claim situation as painlessly and as fairly as possible.
Considering all stakeholder points of view and needs will help determine the right level of balance between tech automation and human involvement.”