All Aboard the Digital Train

Insurtech providers are facilitating a more efficient insurance market for both buyers and sellers. Brokers must stay ahead of the learning curve to remain competitive.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 4 min read

Insurtech firms — many with the financial backing of big name insurance groups — are fast making cheap, digital P&C procurement the norm.


By and large though, they don’t see themselves as disruptors. They prefer to be perceived as revolutionaries — transformers of the market.

Commercial brokers targeting the SME sector would do well to pay attention, and to commit to staying up to date with the rapid pace of changes to come.

“Existing brokerages aren’t built to serve the needs of smaller or medium-sized businesses. The big guys can’t service them efficiently, and the smaller brokerages don’t have the resources, market access or vertical expertise,” said Matt Miller, CEO of start-up Embroker, launched two-and-a-half years ago.

“Carriers are thinking hard about how to develop digital strategies without alienating and disrupting their existing distribution networks,” said Sofya Pogreb, COO of Next Insurance, which serves 6,000 small businesses through its platform with the backing of powerful investor-partner Munich Re.

“Companies like ours do pose a threat for the traditional distribution channels,” she said. “Insurtech will either replace the agent or provide them with better tools so they can focus on offering expertise to customers rather than moving paper applications around — I suspect a mix of both.”

Sofya Pogreb, COO, Next Insurance

Small local brokers for whom SMEs are their bread and butter may be particularly concerned, though Keith Moore, CEO of Coverhound, is keen to work in partnership.

“Rather than disrupting, we think we’re enabling market segments that have been underserved. We’re also giving small local brokers a better way to transact. We want to help facilitate the transaction, and are indifferent as to how the business is placed,” he explained.

“Anyone who said the traditional broker is dead is a fool,” said Insureon CEO Ted Devine. “However, agents and brokers are going to have to embrace some of the technologies we are leveraging to make their solutions more efficient and deliver more value for the customer.”

Many of those new technologoes will soon be essential for brokers to grow and sustain their business.

“We bid on 400,000 keywords every day and have massive models to make sure the return on every bid is right, and we’re doing some cool things with machine learning to deliver the best product to the customer.

“This is very hard for a broker to do, so they’re going to have to raise their game to be at our level,” said Devine, adding: “The best ones will.”

Forging Ahead

While Insureon, Embroker and Coverhound all pride themselves on providing human expertise to help buyers find the right solutions, their real competitive advantage will always be driven by their tech capabilities. Some, like Next, are happy to limit human interaction to a minimum.

“On certain larger or more complex risks, perhaps an engine can’t make all the decisions and human expertise is needed — at least in the near term,” said Pogreb, though others feel insurtech may have a role to play higher up the food chain fairly soon.

Miller believes Embroker’s model is “just as relevant” to large, complex commercial risks, though he admits that it will be a challenge overcoming “entrenched” buyer behavior, while Devine thinks big commercial risks could benefit from automated panels.

“Agents and brokers are going to have to embrace some of the technologies we are leveraging to make their solutions more efficient and deliver more value for the customer.” — Ted Devine, CEO, Insureon

“I’ve been surprised how much appetite there is for an alternative way of transacting among larger commercial accounts,” said Miller. “It shouldn’t cost so much to access insurance in a digital world, and companies are increasingly looking at their efficiency ratios.”

Matt Miller, CEO, Embroker

He believes the implications of the swathes of data captured through insurtech will be “profound” for the insurance industry, helping improve underwriting efficiency and risk modelling.

Next is planning to move beyond pure distribution into the development of proprietary products tied to the distribution engine and react to data in real time — essentially creating intelligent, ongoing optimization of coverage. “That’s not happening in the traditional market at all.”

This is one area where brokers could wrestle back some advantage by taking the lead in the development of wearables, telematics and other data sources to bolster risk modelling and real-time insurance cover.

Doug Turk, chief marketing officer at JLT Group, acknowledged that insurtech is a risk for brokers, who he said should already be investing in research and development and tech partnerships.


“The broker of the future will have to be incredibly information literate. They’ll have to understand all the different sources of information available about their clients’ operations and risks.

“They’ll have to be willing to separate themselves from the way things have been done in the past and accept that there may be better ways to do things, particularly when it comes to how risk is underwritten and rated,” he said.

Alternatively, some agents and brokers might choose to explore the other side. “We’re certainly hiring,” said Embroker’s Miller. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

Pinnacle Entertainment’s VP of enterprise risk management says he’s inspired by Disney’s approach to risk management.
By: | November 1, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

Bus boy at a fine dining restaurant.

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

I sent a résumé to Harrah’s Entertainment on a whim. It took over 30 hours of interviewing to get that job, but it was well worth it.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?


The Chinese citizen (never positively identified) who stood in front of a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989. That kind of courage is undeniable, and that image is unforgettable. I hope we can all be that passionate about something at least once in our lives.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber risk, but more narrowly, cyber-extortion. I think state sponsored bad actors are getting more and more sophisticated, and the risk is that they find a way to control entire systems.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Training and breaking horses. When I was in high school, I worked on a lot of farms. I did everything from building fences to putting up hay. It was during this time that I found I had a knack for horses. They would tolerate me getting real close, so it was natural I started working more and more with them.

Eventually, I was putting a saddle on a few and before I knew it I was in that saddle riding a horse that had never been ridden before.

I admit I had some nervous moments, but I was never thrown off. It taught me that developing genuine trust early is very important and is needed by all involved. Nothing of any real value happens without it.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?


Setting very aggressive goals and then meeting and exceeding those goals with a team. Sharing team victories is the ultimate reward.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

Disney World. The sheer size of the place is awe inspiring. And everything works like a finely tuned clock.

There is a reason that hospitality companies send their people there to be trained on guest service. Disney World does it better than anyone else.

As a hospitality executive, I always learn something new whenever I am there.

James Cunningham, vice president, enterprise risk management, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc.

The risks that Disney World faces are very similar to mine — on a much larger scale. They are complex and across the board. From liability for the millions of people they host as their guests each year, to the physical location of the park, to their vendor partnerships; their approach to risk management has been and continues to be innovative and a model that I learn from and I think there are lessons there for everybody.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

We are doing a much better job of getting involved in a meaningful way in our daily operations and demonstrating genuine value to our organizations.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

Educating and promoting the career with young people.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

Being able to tell the Pinnacle story. It’s a great one and it wasn’t being told. I believe that the insurance markets now understand who we are and what we stand for.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?


John Matthews, who is now retired, formerly with Aon and Caesar’s Palace. John is an exceptional leader who demonstrated the value of putting a top-shelf team together and then letting them do their best work. I model my management style after him.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

I read mostly biographies and autobiographies. I like to read how successful people became successful by overcoming their own obstacles. Jay Leno, Jack Welch, Bill Harrah, etc. I also enjoyed the book and movie “Money Ball.”

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Ice water when it’s hot, coffee when it’s cold, and an adult beverage when it’s called for.

R&I: What does your family think you do?

In my family, I’m the “Safety Geek.”

R&I:  What’s your favorite restaurant?

Vegas is a world-class restaurant town. No matter what you are hungry for, you can find it here. I have a few favorites that are my “go-to’s,” depending on the mood and who I am with.

If you’re in town, you should try to have at least one meal off the strip. For that, I would suggest you get reservations (you’ll need them) at Herbs and Rye. It’s a great little restaurant that is always lively. The food is tremendous, and the service is always on point. They make hand-crafted cocktails that are amazing.

My favorite Mexican restaurant is Lindo Michoacan. There are three in town, and I prefer the one in Henderson as it has the best view of the valley. For seafood, you can never go wrong with Joe’s in Caesar’s Palace.

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]