Seth Zaremba is the Founder and CEO of b atomic, a next-gen agency management platform that helps independent insurance agents take back control of their data. Seth was interviewed by Andrew Daniels, Founder and Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and COO at LISA Insurtech.
Seth, talk to us about the past, present and the future of independent agents.
“Independent agents are the last cowboys; they kill what they eat and drive a trillion dollar economy. Unfortunately, the way that independent agents have operated isn't the future. If you think about it, agents have worked on closed systems that relied on human scale, tribal knowledge, experience and processes. That was great before automation, but now there's a real change that's happening. At present, agents solve everybody's challenge. For them to be relevant for their customer, they have to solve the customer's challenge. They have to solve the carrier's challenge, and now they have to solve the insurtech challenge. As the person in the middle, they have to take extreme ownership of everybody's abilities and inabilities in the moment where the customer wants something. They don't get to decide; it's decided for them.
So, they've gone to this MacGyver mode where they have to solve everything for everybody all the time, and that's fatiguing. The future then has to be one where the independent agent, as that person who's dealing with the customer when they want something, has to be catered to. No longer should it be that we dump all of the work on the agent and expect them to be okay with it. Rather, I think the future of independent agents is an elevated position on the front line being serviced by carriers serviced by insurtech, so that they can be most relevant for the consumer. If the agent is winning for the customer, then the supporting technology company and the supporting carrier automatically get the win. Once the relationship is established, they can add value.”
How do you see the next wave of agent technology enabling insurtech 2.0 carriers?
“Roads and sewers. It's got to be infrastructure this time. There are so many insurtechs and technology companies that are solving important problems, but many do so by adding complexity. Without the supporting infrastructure, without the roads and sewers, it's not working. That has to change, and so I think, the future of agent technology and insurtech has to be dedicated to connectivity. I’m focused on the highways between agent, carriers and insurtech, so that when somebody wants something, the insurtech can swoop in on a road that's already built without potholes and deliver for the agent and customer in that moment. What's missing is that on demand infrastructure, that connectivity piece has to be our future. It can't be just another portal in the agent stack.”
For these agents, what is the current dilemma with the new neo-carriers now distributing through the channel, and how can data solve that?
“I think value is the biggest challenge. If you think about the traditional carrier, set value was determined based on compensation, and that compensation model has been honed over 150 years. It's got a significant head start compared to neo-carriers. It doesn't look the same, so agents can easily default to the wrong metrics. They default to commission, profit sharing, override, incentive and bonus. Most of which were stripped out by the neo-carrier to build the supporting technology, so data can help them look at those two and compare the value of both. Once they understand the value of a neo-carrier, understanding that some of those traditional compensation models were stripped out to build a product, they can begin to start and project out the different value, but without data, they can't compare it. They go to the same 150 year old metrics and the neo-carrier misses out. Data in the middle can let them look objectively at carrier value and use them for the customer and the situation where they make sense. That's a sophisticated mindset. It takes data, understanding of transactional cost and ease of doing business, but that is where an agent needs to be.”
How does building an insurtech startup and an agency at the same time help you?
“It helps me; it would help nobody else. I am not advocating that anybody else do that. But, if you're an independent agent, and you're forced to use this stuff, you definitely develop opinions, use cases, value metrics and data sets that allow you to understand what could be different. I think that’s what makes me a little bit unique. With a technology-first mindset, it uniquely allows you to position either an existing insurtech or building services that have value, not just to you, but to other agents as well. Insurtech is a language, and it must be learned. Being an agent is a language as well, and it's very specific. If you're an insurtech who has ever tried to go into a room full of agents, you know pretty quickly that it's a very specific language; sometimes translators are needed.
As an agent, I find myself with real world, practical experience, speaking that language all my life. I’ve learned to be conversant in insurtech, and I’m able to bring both cultures together. It's a unique position, but it's also maddening. I can’t do it forever, but it definitely feels like an advantage in early stages. It shows up in my agency Zinc with better service and improved margins, and it shows up in what we're doing at b atomic with real world, front line stuff that we know hits on a daily basis with our technology.”