Heather Wentworth is the Chief Data Officer at Accelerant, a technology-fueled insurance platform that empowers underwriters to more effectively serve small and medium enterprises by rebuilding the way that underwriters share and exchange risk. Heather was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and Co-Founder at PolicyFly, Inc.
Heather, I know that Accelerant stresses data quality almost religiously. What are some of the key differences between poor and good quality data?
“We've taken a different approach than most because we started with data quality first. We've invested heavily in the tools that we need to not just govern our data, but actually move to data intelligence. We know the minute data comes in, the quality received, where it goes and where it gets used. Machine Learning (ML) has been a vital part of our success with data management. We started here because it’s well known how analytics, applications and customer experience all suffer when a company rushes its operations and has poor data quality. On the flip side, opportunities abound when the data is actually good.
At the same time, we didn't have a lot of guidance for how to create these roles because it doesn't exist in our industry, so we've looked to other industries and partners. What we've found is it's something that few have done well and most are still not doing. We moved to a different model where we ensure that all of our data is of the quality we want and expect, so we have unified data governance and intelligence that we rely on and, more importantly, our Members and risk capital partners can rely on.”
Is there a point when the existing infrastructure is just too broken to fix and a company needs to holistically start over? How do they fix this?
“Being able to start from scratch is definitely a benefit at Accelerant, but for those who have been in business, it's a different answer depending on their tech stack. The best approach is usually to start to replace some components, or move to a new tech stack.
MGAs want to do everything, right? They want seamless technology with data integration and automatic intelligence, especially those who use TPAs (Third Party Administrators). I'll use that as an example. MGAs who use TPAs sometimes struggle to connect claims and policy data. It's hard to connect data to produce valuable insights when they don't have teams of analysts and scientists who can pull all of this together or an IT team that can build the pipelines. It's just too much for most MGAs. At Accelerant, everything that we do for ourselves, we look to see if we can turn that around as a service for our Members.
We've found that we can connect the data for them, produce actionable insights and provide it back in the timeline that they need. This saves our Members the trouble of having to get their own data and build their own pipelines. One of the values of the connected Accelerant model is that we can take most of that burden away, they likely won’t have to replace their systems today and they can focus on what they do best - underwriting and distribution.”
How important is it for MGA’s to have the support of their carrier partners in working through this evolution in technology?
“It's a deal breaker today. During our initial discussions with members, we like to understand where they're at, and they like to understand what we can offer. We work to craft exactly what they need. We had one member that had been with a carrier for two years, switched to Accelerant and tripled their sales in the first month because we took care of so much of their data and technology headache straightaway.
We go flat-out 100% for our members. We don't just provide the risk capital, we provide growth capital. We don’t just provide auditors, they get our entire team available to them all the time. Whether they need an architect, data scientist, claims expert, legal, underwriting, marketing, etc. Whatever they need, we're there.
We can help our Members get to where they need to go, whatever it is. Their success is our success, that’s the Accelerant way.”
In terms of both technology and support, are carriers actually trying to do anything differently to deliver greater value to their MGA partners?
“I can't speak for what carriers are doing, but we consistently hear from our Members that the Accelerant way is very different and preferable. Their typical experience with legacy carriers is that they’re practically begging for capacity. If they get it, they have very few touch points unless something's going wrong, or the carrier makes a change — which suddenly pulls the foundation out from underneath the MGA. At Accelerant, we provide five-year capacity, so we are reliable and sustainable. That's peace of mind for our Members.
We've also heard that our onboarding process is very different because it's quick and personable. We are there to serve our Members, which isn’t the mindset of traditional players. Traditional players often view MGAs as simply a short-term means to an end.”
This digital transformation that’s ongoing within insurance can so easily appear overwhelming, so I’m curious how you help MGA’s prioritize each step in this evolution?
“We have a data consulting practice where we will sit down with our Members and focus on issues or opportunities they have in any part of their business. If they want to walk through their whole underwriting process or their customer experience, we will bring the team and step through all of it. I think they learn a lot about their capabilities and what’s possible through that process. We then collaborate to develop plans and help them achieve the advancements, which often brings new value for their customers, new product opportunities, etc.
We also help our Members overcome the impediments to their own data quality by explaining ways they can handle it and break down what would provide the most value for them. We've talked a lot about governance and quality, but it all starts at the front. Our members don't always have the resources or technical expertise in this area but make it easy, so they can focus on meeting the needs of their customers.
The other thing that we talk about is third-party data services. Sometimes, our Members aren't capturing as much data as they'd like to or as seamlessly as they'd like to. There are two ways between that. First, we talk with them about any third-party data services that are out there. We have some third-party services that we license at an enterprise level, and we're able to share at a discounted price with our Members. Second, we talk about negotiation. Sometimes it’s difficult for a small MGA to negotiate with these big third-party data companies, but we can help with that.
The other side of it is the advancements in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Our intelligent ingestion engine takes in structured and unstructured data. Much of our data management is driven by ML. We can share some of those services with our Members to bring new insights and predictive models as well as helping them process data faster at the front end. This could be loss runs, applications, schedules, etc. These new capabilities and insights, combined with third-party data, help our members improve risk selection, pricing, efficiency and the customer experience, including faster quote-bind and, where possible, straight-through processing.
At the end of the day, we have built and are building an industry-leading Member toolkit that empowers our Members in every facet of their business.”