Sponsored Content by The Hartford

How Insurers Who “Fail Fast” Produce Better Results

Proprietary insurance carrier platforms offer a clear advantage for commercial agents and underwriters.
By: | April 1, 2020

Perhaps the most painstaking part of an agent’s job is gathering all the details required by underwriters for a new policy submission. Or perhaps it’s waiting for a response. Previously, it could take carriers days to parse through the data and follow up with their decision.

The transaction — still driven largely by manual processes — begs for more digitalization.

Insurance carriers have begun to shift to a digital format through the development of proprietary carrier platforms designed to ingest, clean, and organize data quickly and without the need for human interference.

In the small commercial space, these platforms have offered an advantage to agents and underwriters.  In the middle market and larger client space, though, they offer less value to agents simply because client solutions ultimately require more than one carrier.

“Agents for mid-sized businesses submit to a much broader audience of carriers. For these agents engaging with multiple markets, proprietary portals may force them to duplicate some of their work,” said Matthew Foran, head of alternative distribution, The Hartford.

“Agents usually have their process down pat, and they’ve developed their own shortcuts to boost efficiency. What we should be solving for is how to support these processes and enable the best approach for agents,” he added.

That’s exactly what The Hartford did in the development of its commercial account setup tool — or CAST — a platform that automates and dramatically speeds up the existing submission process for mid- and large-sized companies.

“We built a platform to ingest what agents send us in any format. The system extracts detail from documents, runs them through rating platforms and ultimately gets the information into the underwriter’s hands with a view of whether we are interested, what details are missing, and what range might we have in terms of initial terms and conditions,” Foran said.

“That process normally could take three to five days,” he added “with the new tool, the process now takes less than an hour and we have achieved a best time of six minutes and twelve seconds.”

How is this possible in an industry with a reputation for being slow to innovate and often behind the technological curve? Here’s how a change in mindset and culture drove results:

1) Ditching the “waterfall” model for an agile approach catches problems early and solves them faster.

Matt Foran, Head of Alternative Distribution, The Hartford

Large insurance companies typically follow the “waterfall” model of project management, which is linear and sequential. Out of a natural need to control risk, strict timelines and budgets are enforced.

“In this approach, you build a three-year plan, set a budget, create a bunch of Gantt charts, hire consultants and implementation specialists, and sign up with one large vendor,” Foran said. “Most of the work is done out of public view, and we see the result of the project on the other side of those three years.”

Agile product management, on the other hand, is much more iterative. Solutions are tested continuously and updates made incrementally, with no prescribed method for how certain milestones should be achieved.

“We started with the grand vision of cutting turnaround time on a new submission from five days to one hour,” Foran said. “Then we assembled an expert team and said, ‘Go prove it.’ We let them find the critical pieces of this process along the way.”

Under this approach, it took the team just 18 months to prove it.

2) Transparency and a “top-down” culture of innovation fosters collaboration.

Even in the early days of the new platform design, senior executives were involved in the process. Leadership’s interest in the work’s progress and not just the final results helped to reinforce innovation as a company priority.

This trickled down through the organization and supported the true inter-departmental collaboration necessary to build a tool that benefits every stakeholder.

“Normally, insurance companies would be unwilling to broaden the testing of new solutions if it adds expense or creates a burden for normal functions of the everyday business. That would be considered counterproductive to the overall strategy,” Foran said.

“But because our operations team was so integral in this work, they were willing to absorb some extra expense in order to conduct a bigger, more intensive test that went against some of their immediate goals.”

That culture of innovation also helps to attract top technology talent away from Silicon Valley.

“We now have the talent at The Hartford who architecturally and programmatically run at exact same speed and capabilities as some vendors,” Foran said.

3) Acceptance of failure allowed experts to think “outside the box.”

Tech startups operate under the mantra “fail fast, fail often, fail forward” — a motto not often embraced by the necessarily risk-averse insurance industry. But allowing for and even embracing failure had two critical advantages:

First, it allows experts room for experimentation. The team can attack a problem from a new angle without fear of reprimand, which may produce a better result in the long run. Second, failures present learning opportunities that can benefit future projects.

“Throughout this project, there was an awareness that failure was completely acceptable, provided you learned from it and carried it forward,” Foran said.

Developing CAST required that latitude because it was attempting to do something no other platform has done before, pulling together multiple disparate technologies.

“Things like optical character recognition (OCR), third-party data hydration, data indexing, data orchestration, predictive modeling, artificial intelligence (AI) for interpretation… these tools aren’t new. What’s new is pulling them all together and running them at the same time,” Foran said. “If you want to enter new territory, you have to leave room for unexpected speed bumps.”

What It Means for Agents and Their Customers

The speed and agility that went into the design and implementation of CAST translates to increased speed and agility for agents. That matters more at a time when people expect convenience and quickness from every service they use.

“Our ability to come back to them in a rapid and confident manner helps agents demonstrate their competency to clients. While they’re waiting for responses from 10 other carriers, we can tell them within hours whether we’re comfortable with the risk, what our terms and rate might be, and what additional information we need to get over the finish line,” Foran said.

This cuts down the frictional costs and frustration of continual back-and-forth with clients. Most importantly, this improved level of service comes at no additional cost to agents.

The Hartford has a track record of providing exceptional experience and increased ease-of-use for agents in the small commercial space, where it has focused investment in technology for the past 20 years. With the implementation of CAST, the same streamlined experience will now be possible in the more complex world of middle and large commercial risk.

To learn more, visit thehartford.com/specialization.


The Hartford® is The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. and its property and casualty subsidiaries, including issuing company, Hartford Fire Insurance Company. Its headquarters is in Hartford, CT.



This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with The Hartford. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.

The Hartford is a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. With more than 200 years of expertise, The Hartford is widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust and integrity.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

The Betrayal of Elizabeth

In this Risk Scenario, Risk & Insurance explores what might happen in the event a telemedicine or similar home health visit violates a patient's privacy. What consequences await when a young girl's tele visit goes viral?
By: | October 12, 2020
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.


Elizabeth Cunningham seemingly had it all. The daughter of two well-established professionals — her father was a personal injury attorney, her mother, also an attorney, had her own estate planning practice — she grew up in a house in Maryland horse country with lots of love and the financial security that can iron out at least some of life’s problems.

Tall, good-looking and talented, Elizabeth was moving through her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania in seemingly good order; check that, very good order, by all appearances.

Her pre-med grades were outstanding. Despite the heavy load of her course work, she’d even managed to place in the Penn Relays in the mile, in the spring of her sophomore season, in May of 2019.

But the winter of 2019/2020 brought challenges, challenges that festered below the surface, known only to her and a couple of close friends.

First came betrayal at the hands of her boyfriend, Tom, right around Thanksgiving. She saw a message pop up on his phone from Rebecca, a young woman she thought was their friend. As it turned out, Rebecca and Tom had been intimate together, and both seemed game to do it again.

Reeling, her holiday mood shattered and her relationship with Tom fractured, Elizabeth was beset by deep feelings of anxiety. As the winter gray became more dense and forbidding, the anxiety grew.

Fed up, she broke up with Tom just after Christmas. What looked like a promising start to 2020 now didn’t feel as joyous.

Right around the end of the year, she plucked a copy of her father’s New York Times from the table in his study. A budding physician, her eyes were drawn to a piece about an outbreak of a highly contagious virus in Wuhan, China.

“Sounds dreadful,” she said to herself.

Within three months, anxiety gnawed at Elizabeth daily as she sat cloistered in her family’s house in Bel Air, Maryland.

It didn’t help matters that her brother, Billy, a high school senior and a constant thorn in her side, was cloistered with her.

She felt like she was suffocating.

One night in early May, feeling shutdown and unable to bring herself to tell her parents about her true condition, Elizabeth reached out to her family physician for help.

Dr. Johnson had been Elizabeth’s doctor for a number of years and, being from a small town, Elizabeth had grown up and gone to school with Dr. Johnson’s son Evan. In fact, back in high school, Evan had asked Elizabeth out once. Not interested, Elizabeth had declined Evan’s advances and did not give this a second thought.

Dr. Johnson’s practice had recently been acquired by a Virginia-based hospital system, Medwell, so when Elizabeth called the office, she was first patched through to Medwell’s receptionist/scheduling service. Within 30 minutes, an online Telehealth consult had been arranged for her to speak directly with Dr. Johnson.

Due to the pandemic, Dr. Johnson called from the office in her home. The doctor was kind. She was practiced.

“So can you tell me what’s going on?” she said.

Elizabeth took a deep breath. She tried to fight what was happening. But she could not. Tears started streaming down her face.

“It’s just… It’s just…” she managed to stammer.

The doctor waited patiently. “It’s okay,” she said. “Just take your time.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath. “It’s like I can’t manage my own mind anymore. It’s nonstop. It won’t turn off…”

More tears streamed down her face.

Patiently, with compassion, the doctor walked Elizabeth through what she might be experiencing. The doctor recommended a follow-up with Medwell’s psychology department.

“Okay,” Elizabeth said, some semblance of relief passing through her.

Unbeknownst to Dr. Johnson, her office door had not been completely closed. During the telehealth call, Evan stopped by his mother’s office to ask her a question. Before knocking he overheard Elizabeth talking and decided to listen in.


As Elizabeth was finding the courage to open up to Dr. Johnson about her psychological condition, Evan was recording her with his smartphone through a crack in the doorway.

Spurred by who knows what — his attraction to her, his irritation at being rejected, the idleness of the COVID quarantine — it really didn’t matter. Evan posted his recording of Elizabeth to his Instagram feed.

#CantManageMyMind, #CrazyGirl, #HelpMeDoctorImBeautiful is just some of what followed.

Elizabeth and Evan were both well-liked and very well connected on social media. The posts, shares and reactions that followed Evan’s digital betrayal numbered in the hundreds. Each one of them a knife into the already troubled soul of Elizabeth Cunningham.

By noon of the following day, her well-connected father unleashed the dogs of war.

Rand Davis, the risk manager for the Medwell Health System, a 15-hospital health care company based in Alexandria, Virginia was just finishing lunch when he got a call from the company’s general counsel, Emily Vittorio.

“Yes?” Rand said. He and Emily were accustomed to being quick and blunt with each other. They didn’t have time for much else.

“I just picked up a notice of intent to sue from a personal injury attorney in Bel Air, Maryland. It seems his daughter was in a teleconference with one of our docs. She was experiencing anxiety, the daughter that is. The doctor’s son recorded the call and posted it to social media.”

“Great. Thanks, kid,” Rand said.

“His attorneys want to initiate a discovery dialogue on Monday,” Emily said.

It was Thursday. Rand’s dreams of slipping onto his fishing boat over the weekend evaporated, just like that. He closed his eyes and tilted his face up to the heavens.

Wasn’t it enough that he and the other members of the C-suite fought tooth and nail to keep thousands of people safe and treat them during the COVID-crisis?

He’d watched the explosion in the use of telemedicine with a mixture of awe and alarm. On the one hand, they were saving lives. On the other hand, they were opening themselves to exposures under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. He just knew it.

He and his colleagues tried to do the right thing. But what they were doing, overwhelmed as they were, was simply not enough.


Within the space of two weeks, the torture suffered by Elizabeth Cunningham grew into a class action against Medwell.

In addition to the violation of her privacy, the investigation by Mr. Cunningham’s attorneys revealed the following:

Medwell’s telemedicine component, as needed and well-intended as it was, lacked a viable informed consent protocol.

The consultation with Elizabeth, and as it turned out, hundreds of additional patients in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, violated telemedicine regulations in all three states.

Numerous practitioners in the system took part in teleconferences with patients in states in which they were not credentialed to provide that service.

Even if Evan hadn’t cracked open Dr. Johnson’s door and surreptitiously recorded her conversation with Elizabeth, the Medwell telehealth system was found to be insecure — yet another violation of HIPAA.

The amount sought in the class action was $100 million. In an era of social inflation, with jury awards that were once unthinkable becoming commonplace, Medwell was standing squarely in the crosshairs of a liability jury decision that was going to devour entire towers of its insurance program.

Adding another layer of certain pain to the equation was that the case would be heard in Baltimore, a jurisdiction where plaintiffs’ attorneys tended to dance out of courtrooms with millions in their pockets.

That fall, Rand sat with his broker on a call with a specialty insurer, talking about renewals of the group’s general liability, cyber and professional liability programs.

“Yeah, we were kind of hoping to keep the increases on all three at less than 25%,” the broker said breezily.

There was a long silence from the underwriters at the other end of the phone.

“To be honest, we’re borderline about being able to offer you any cover at all,” one of the lead underwriters said.

Rand just sat silently and waited for another shoe to drop.

“Well, what can you do?” the broker said, with hope draining from his voice.

The conversation that followed would propel Rand and his broker on the difficult, next to impossible path of trying to find coverage, with general liability underwriters in full retreat, professional liability underwriters looking for double digit increases and cyber underwriters asking very pointed questions about the health system’s risk management.

Elizabeth, a strong young woman with a good support network, would eventually recover from the damage done to her.

Medwell’s relationships with the insurance markets looked like it almost never would. &


Risk & Insurance® partnered with Allied World to produce this scenario. Below are Allied World’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

The use of telehealth has exponentially accelerated with the advent of COVID-19. Few health care providers were prepared for this shift. Health care organizations should confirm that Telehealth coverage is included in their Medical Professional, General Liability and Cyber policies, and to what extent. Concerns around Telehealth focus on HIPAA compliance and the internal policies in place to meet the federal and state standards and best practices for privacy and quality care. As states open businesses and the crisis abates, will pre-COVID-19 telehealth policies and regulations once again be enforced?

Risk Management Considerations:

The same ethical and standard of care issues around caring for patients face-to-face in an office apply in telehealth settings:

  • maintain a strong patient-physician relationship;
  • protect patient privacy; and
  • seek the best possible outcome.

Telehealth can create challenges around “informed consent.” It is critical to inform patients of the potential benefits and risks of telehealth (including privacy and security), ensure the use of HIPAA compliant platforms and make sure there is a good level of understanding of the scope of telehealth. Providers must be aware of the regulatory and licensure requirements in the state where the patient is located, as well as those of the state in which they are licensed.

A professional and private environment should be maintained for patient privacy and confidentiality. Best practices must be in place and followed. Medical professionals who engage in telehealth should be fully trained in operating the technology. Patients must also be instructed in its use and provided instructions on what to do if there are technical difficulties.

This case study is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be a summary of, and does not in any way vary, the actual coverage available to a policyholder under any insurance policy. Actual coverage for specific claims will be determined by the actual policy language and will be based on the specific facts and circumstances of the claim. Consult your insurance advisors or legal counsel for guidance on your organization’s policies and coverage matters and other issues specific to your organization.

This information is provided as a general overview for agents and brokers. Coverage will be underwritten by an insurance subsidiary of Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd, a Fairfax company (“Allied World”). Such subsidiaries currently carry an A.M. Best rating of “A” (Excellent), a Moody’s rating of “A3” (Good) and a Standard & Poor’s rating of “A-” (Strong), as applicable. Coverage is offered only through licensed agents and brokers. Actual coverage may vary and is subject to policy language as issued. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions. Risk management services are provided or arranged through AWAC Services Company, a member company of Allied World. © 2020 Allied World Assurance Company Holdings, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]