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InsurTech Ohio Spotlight with Colin Ingram

Colin Ingram is CEO and Co-Founder at FormFire, bringing digital online processes to the paperbound world of Small Group health insurance quoting, sold case installation and group renewal for employees, employers, brokers and carriers. Colin was interviewed by Chris Luiz, Director of Solutions Architecture and Customer Success at Monitaur and Cleveland Founder at InsurTech Ohio.

Colin, can you provide a little background on yourself and your career?

“I was not born or bred into the insurance industry by education. I'm a mechanical engineer turned tech, and I sort of wandered into the insurtech space about 18 years ago. Earlier in my insurance career, I was part of a start-up tech group, and we tackled the issue of multiple and diverse applications needed to process medically underwritten quotes for group health. From day one, I found myself like a four-year-old, asking the same question about how this industry works - that question was: ‘Why?’ Given my education and background, it all seemed very dysfunctional as an industry. Although I love everyone in it, sometimes it feels like the lunatics are in control of the asylum.”

What are your thoughts on the divide between corporate P&C and group benefits insurance selling?

“It's not a new subject by any stretch of the imagination. When I entered the industry, it was a thing, and it still seems to be a large, undealt-with topic. The only group that cares, or should care, is the retail broker community. What I've witnessed with that community is that they are consolidating, and the more they consolidate, the more this new-old problem arises.

Everyone in the insurance space understands getting clean, clear information is probably never going to happen. If you think about the property and casualty market, generally it's about $1.8 trillion per year. Here in the U.S., health benefits are about 1.1 trillion, resulting in a 60-40 split - and that spend is mostly going on by the same buyer at a company level. From my discussions with the retail broker community, if they even know a number, most of them are less than 10% in benefits when compared to P&C. Somewhere there's a missing 30-40% of the market. Why is it missing? I started asking questions about this, and it's always funny to see what people put up as hurdles. Hurdles real or not, Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can't - you're right.’ The industry thinks it can’t, so it must be right.

A lot of this attitude is fueled by past failures, and there's a lot of failure in what people generally call cross-selling one against the other. Everyone has a failure story about trying to cross-sell. I get it. 

The first core problem I see is people think it’s a selling problem. They believe all they need to do is sell it or sell harder. But that’s not it. It's certainly part of the problem space. Selling is always part of the problem in any kind of business model that relies on someone writing you a check. But, it's not the singular or only thing. It's actually four main areas in my eyes. 

The four big challenges, which I feel are becoming less challenging the more the industry consolidates are: in-house capabilities, operational infrastructure, customer targeting and selling. And, above those, the last one: directional leadership that drives teams. Most of the industry prides itself on individual competitiveness on the customer facing part, and that’s an anathema to the problem at hand because it fuels the wrong approach. You need strong leadership that has a team-driven approach to break the problem. If you can assess the four challenges in the right way, and to paraphrase Einstein: ‘You can pose the best question and now go find the answer.’” 

What do you think are the primary issues causing friction in the P&C and Benefits cross-sell process?

“I’ve found that there are seven fundamentals that answer that. One, complexity and understanding of the subject. Two, data integrations and technology. Three, regulatory and compliance. Four, customer targeting and customer's confidence. Five, diverse competition. Six, marketing & market drivers. Bringing up the rear at seven is selling skills and training. If you listen to an industry ‘someone’, once you’ve posted the question of ‘why’ in front of them, you are going to get a variation of one or more of those seven. About six years ago, I started jotting these answers to why down. The seven just kept coming up. I love seeing patterns in things. If I say something about these seven items to people on the front line, I get vigorously nodding heads. We could talk all day about any one of them. 

Here, I’d just like to talk on one: data and tech possibilities. Tech has outstripped the industry needs and surpassed trying to solve the obstacles of this industry. So, it then turns into a conversation about tech and its application. People with the deepest pockets (carriers) aren't worried about this area, so they aren't going to take it on. They don't care enough. The only unifying force who should/could is the emergent larger retail houses that have the clout and the capacity needed. If you're a small agency, you may wish to do this, but in essence, you are not going to sit there cranking out the time and treasure to take it on. Technology and data needs business drivers and someone to write checks. It will solve the problems. But, if tech can't be shown how to understand it by the folks who are in it, you end up with expensive off-target outcomes.

There needs to be a starting point that the industry has not taken on. I'd call that the data dictionary; you have to start putting things in the same contextual language. You can't have 17 different ways of saying the same thing. In this, stop talking about ‘rules’ and talk about the exceptions. The exceptions are the rules. Once you do this, you can start forming patterns that will self-refine and bring a common language. Getting this industry to agree on a common language is not where I'd start in this. Not if I wanted to keep my sanity. I'm a mechanical engineer, so I know standards start with someone doing something a certain way - the rest will follow the commercial success that the move naturally brings."

Who do you think is best placed to challenge the ‘status quo’ and improve or reinvent the process?

“It's the groups with the growing end-buying crowd, and that's the consolidating larger retail agencies. They're the hope here if this problem is to be solved. Most of them originated out of property and casualty, and it kind of bled into benefits too. For the past few years, many have treated benefits like the redheaded stepchild that they couldn't afford to get rid of. They're the ones that can take this all on.

I see them appointing more and more people by title who should have customer risk at heart as opposed to functional product sales. There's hope there. But, what they have to recognize is that they need to target the right customers early on. Of course, everyone could buy everything, but they probably won't. There are targets worth the squeeze because the juice is there. I'd say that's the smaller large groups, the ones with 100 to 500 employees. We have an internal phrase for them called ‘Smarge’: small large group,

They're the ones that can be the most receptive with the smallest amount of decision-making apparatus to act in short timeframes. If you want to make headway in a sales cycle, those would be the groups I would chase. It's the growing capacity of the consolidating retail brokers, focusing on the small, large groups, with the right team attitude that will win through”

What do you think could immediately happen next to make things better?

“I would ask those who have a mind and a care for it, to take a look at those four zones I spoke of earlier and give yourself a radical judgment. Where are you on a scale of one to 10 on each of those four? If your average is below five, don't do it. It's a suicide mission. If you've got an average above five, take a critical look at the weakest zone, and think about improving that while you give the whole a go. That's where I’d start. I suspect some people are or have already been doing that, but it's also a good judgment call to say, ‘How much dollar value am I getting (or missing) per customer across P&C and benefits?’ If it's woefully low or zero, you've got an opportunity.”



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