Kevin Rall is the Chief Digital Officer at Hosket Ulen Insurance Solutions and Co-Founder of borrowedtyme, a consortium of independent agents and brokers that collaborate and share in the development of core technology capabilities to run world-class operations on the cloud. Kevin was interviewed by Andrew Daniels, Founder and Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio.
Kevin, as you acquire new agencies, how do you streamline the process?
“Each acquisition is unique, and our ability to make decisions quickly, with some flexibility, is critical. Developing a well-thought-out plan and staying committed to clear communication with employees and clients increases our chances of executing a successful and smooth acquisition process.
A few years ago, we established a ‘One team, one system’ strategy at Hosket Ulen. Our goal was to have everyone in our agency, regardless of role, working together to support all moments of the customer journey on a single platform. Historically, in many agencies, producers worked out of some Sales/CRM solution, and account managers/account executives worked out of the AMS. We have taken a different approach and achieved our ‘One team - one system’ approach in 2021.
We harness the same ‘One team - one system’ strategy when acquiring agencies by focusing on our employee and client experience, and working quickly to transition data, people and processes to our target experiences at Hosket Ulen. We also have a set of ETL tools that we use to migrate data onto our platform. By committing to a proven data migration plan in advance of the acquisition date, our team is better positioned to onboard new colleagues and clients. Our success is often rooted in making as many decisions as we can in advance of executing the acquisition plan.”
How do you operate the business and launch a new technology?
“Our mission is to know our clients and protect what they value most. To some, it could appear that launching a new tech solution might seem to conflict with the mission of our agency; however, we have found that our new platform has helped us better live out our mission. We must be intentional about getting to know our clients, their families, business and their concerns with managing risk. Our technology must support our efforts to know our clients and deliver solutions that align with their needs and journey through life. For our team, our client experiences are about so much more than just selling an insurance policy.
The launch of borrowedtyme was deeply rooted in our agency mission. From the start, we sought to deliver a solution that would support our core business needs as an independent insurance agency. We acquired a handful of other agencies through the years, and we knew we needed to align on a tech platform that would allow us to scale with our team, enhance our customer experience and innovate into the future. After evaluating the traditional AMS offerings in the market and a few new ones, we decided to build on top of Salesforce Financial Services Cloud and Amazon Web Services.
We operate borrowedtyme in the agency much like a larger shop would operate with a dedicated IT staff. We have developers and business leads documenting features, designing experiences, running agile stand-up sessions, testing deliverables and managing deployments. We have also developed processes and training to help other agencies adopt the core borrowedtyme capabilities, that we now call btcore. We collaborate continuously with other independent agencies and brokers to deliver new feature enhancements and services.
Since we bootstrapped borrowedtyme, we've been able to focus on solving the needs of agencies and not feeling pressured into selling licenses just to make investors happy. We believe this differentiates us and allows us to prioritize resources for the good of our partnered agencies. We measure our success on the number of core capabilities we deliver to agents and how effective we are in helping other independent agents and brokers adopt them. It’s rewarding to see how the core capabilities we’ve developed are being adopted and helping individual agencies transform and evolve their operations. It's a legacy of which we are very proud. If our mission were to sell licenses and provide a return to investors, I'm confident we wouldn't have half the functionality we have today in borrowedtyme.”
What are the table stakes to building an agency?
“The table stakes to building a successful independent agency are the same as building any other company - it takes leadership and culture. Some of the best mentors demonstrated to us that the success of a business is often rooted in the soul of a few that choose to lead with purpose. That may sound simple, but it's not. There are many pressures, expectations and financial obstacles with running any business, and leading others through change and transformation is a significant challenge.
Agency principals who can define a mission and harness themselves to a set of guiding principles have a better chance of establishing a trusting and innovative culture that can differentiate their brand with prospects, clients and carriers. We embrace this perspective and are working hard to live up to it each day.”
How do you collaborate with other agencies, and why is that important?
“We created borrowedtyme with the primary goal of bringing together a community of successful independent agents to challenge the ‘why?’. Why do we do things the way we do? Understanding why your team is processing business in the manner that they are is a great starting point for reimagining the future. Many agency leaders might be surprised by the answers they hear when starting with the ‘why?’ question. Statements like ‘I thought that was what you wanted us to do,’ or ‘We've just always done that’ begin to surface. That's where transformation begins.
Curiosity is our starting point for collaborating with other agencies. We collect their ‘why’, ideate together on the business process and then develop the capabilities and automation to support the desired future state. Independent agencies become creative and transformational quickly when they experience rapid, agile development that delivers on their ‘why?’ statements. The overall experience is what borrowedtyme is all about...it's the reason for the ‘y’ in the name borrowedtyme. It's all about the ‘why?’.”
How important is it to have your core right when you are scaling?
“A solid core is essential to scaling an operation. Agencies, brokers and insurance companies can grow simply by adding more resources. Scaling is different as it’s about achieving exponential growth efficiently without always having to add more resources. It typically involves thinking beyond the current market and often requires structural and technological changes. This is why having the right foundation, or platform, to support the growth is required to scale.
Many innovative ideas come from the insurtech community of leaders. However, most are point solutions or services that still require integration into the back-office agency management system. The back-office integration is the challenge that every independent agency, broker and insurance company faces in the journey to transform. This is why we built the next generation of core back-office capabilities on Salesforce Financial Services Cloud with borrowedtyme. By delivering the capabilities on a contemporary cloud platform, the community of insurtechs, agents, brokers and carriers can transform standard operational processes at a much more rapid pace.
I recently heard Chris Cline, Executive Director of Agents Council for Technology, from the IIABA on an Agency Focus podcast, and he shared that he has been asking audiences of agents and brokers if they knew what they would do with carrier APIs if partner carriers provided them to independent agents. Based on the response Chris has received, most agencies have not thought this out. We are confident this will improve in the coming year. Every engagement we have with agencies and carriers around borrowedtyme is an opportunity to help educate and ideate on the art of the possible. The agencies we are working with are reimagining their workflows with carrier APIs, and it’s helping them identify new ways to partner with carriers and scale their operations.”