Tony Milne is the Vice President of Engineering at Foxen, a firm that provides innovative financial solutions for the benefit of property owners, managers and residents. Tony was interviewed by Andrew Daniels, Founder and Managing Director at InsurTech Ohio and COO at LISA Insurtech.
Tony, what new data sources do you see entering the insurance space?
“I'm seeing more property management systems creating modules to store the policies and associated data. This is helpful for property managers to track all of their policies and make sure residents have insurance and are complying with their lease. The problem is this is really time consuming and extremely manual. The property manager is taking the file, uploading it and entering all that data over time. Those systems are going stale and becoming untrusted. Once the data isn't trusted, the effort to collect data is void. It takes considerable time and effort to keep up with all the policy and the data given for any given apartment community.
Picture this: you're a property manager with 500 residents in your community. Your job as a property manager includes leasing vacant units, collecting payments, addressing tenant needs and other duties, as well as tracking those insurance policies. A lot of time that becomes the victim to prioritization, so that data doesn't stay up to date and it leaves the property at a little bit of a vulnerable state, not knowing if the resident truly has insurance or not. It also leaves the renter vulnerable.
When it comes to carriers, sharing that data easily - it really doesn't exist, especially in personal lines in renter's insurance . There's no great way of having a standardized data model, maybe APIs, any place where you can easily exchange that data. What I'd like to really see come in the not too distant future is a place where we can interact with that data through tokenization, so the resident is able to provide a token to let's say the landlord or their property manager. With that token, I can go to a carrier and get the data that I need. That gives us a great way to exchange the data that we need while still keeping it secure.”
What does the current renters insurance space look like?
“Rental vacancy rates are continuing to decline, implying there are more renters. Increasingly, landlords are modifying their leases to include a requirement for residents to have in most cases, a hundred thousand dollars in liability coverage in the event that they cause damage to the property. This kind of convergence of more renters and more landlords requiring insurance is causing the space to expand. I've seen statistics that say that less than 40% of renters actually have renters insurance. Based on our first-hand knowledge at Foxen, we believe this is a little bit high. It's probably much less than 40%.
So, you've got the residents that are at risk, you've got the property that's at risk. Even with more landlords requiring insurance, rental insurance is a product that's still not well known or well understood by renters. Most renters do get insurance because the landlords require it with their lease and maybe don't let renters take possession of the property until they've produced that certificate of insurance. It's a huge friction point at this time when a resident has to take the time to source an insurance carrier to make sure they’re in compliance with their lease. They may contact their insurance agent, and if they don’t have one, they go online. Meanwhile, they’re overwhelmed with the logistics of moving into an apartment or house, which is a very stressful time in general. Foxen was born out of property management, so we were able to see and understand what’s going on from the property side, but from the renters side as well. Our product really inserts a solution right at lease signing so that the renter doesn’t have to go anywhere else. They sign up for the product as they sign their lease. This really eases the burden on both property manager and renter.”
How important is the overall financial wellness of these tenants?
“Financial wellness is something that should be important to everyone. It's how we take care of today, and it's how we provide security for the future. Achieving financial wellness isn't really something that comes fast, but it comes with consistency and time. I've really been fascinated with the increased interest in investing from those that are under 30 years old. Platforms have been built to easily invest and educate on how to grow your wealth over time. When used properly, these tools can be valuable in improving your financial wellbeing and growing portfolio, but growing a portfolio isn't the only factor to financial wellbeing.
An often overlooked, critical pillar to financial wellness is having great credit history. Good credit helps with access to lending at preferred rates for things like vehicle loans or purchasing a home. Unfortunately, residential tenants are at a bit of a disadvantage each month. They pay their rent on time and in full, and that typically is the largest single bill in the household. Yet, for that consistent, reliable payment, the same kind of credit reward system afforded to homeowners on their mortgage is not typically given to renters. This challenge coupled with understanding the importance of financial wellness for tenants was really the catalyst for our rent reporting and credit-building solution, Rentistry. We’re helping tenants improve their credit history to set them up for future financial success like improved financial terms, lower interest rates, consumer loans or home mortgages.”
Switching gears a little, you are responsible for the tech side of the business, what’s the hardest thing when recruiting talent especially on the tech side?
“Recruiting for technical positions has been competitive for the better part of a decade. What I've seen and heard from others in the community is that finding engineers is far more difficult today than it was even just a couple years ago. They're being bombarded - everybody is banging on their door. Making yourself stand out is critical, otherwise that kind of canned message that everybody is receiving is really ignored. For us, finding talent relies on good old-fashioned networking and sourcing.
Networking is still one of the best ways to connect with great talent. I always encourage those in the tech industry to dive into the community by attending user groups, conferences and meetups; any way that you can connect with other folks in the industry. I truly believe in the power of community. That’s why I joined a local tech conference, Dog Food, with nearly 500 community members across the U.S. to help foster that growth and connection right here in the midwest.
Our sourcing is really good at finding people and igniting a conversation and connection with potential candidates. Finding folks that have a passion to grow, not only themselves, but the business and the technology. Once we talk to a candidate, our conversion percentage seems to be fairly high. Likewise, organizations are getting more creative with their perks, providing unique and interesting benefits that can be a decision maker for a candidate. Things like voluntary time off to spend volunteering for an organization that’s important to them. Or a generous annual stipend for health and wellness. I’m talking beyond the gym membership reimbursement.
I think most engineers want to work with the latest technologies while solving problems. We’ve been deliberate about selecting our tech stack and making sure that we have really good end-to-end continuity while providing a platform that engineers are excited to work on. We’re solving challenging and interesting problems while using technology that’s exciting and cutting edge. Our success is greatly tied to the people and our technology.”