AI Wisdom Ep. 24: The Modern Insurance Broker

Digital Transformation, Insurance Industry News & Views - December 15 2020

On this episode of the “AI Wisdom – Talking Innovation in Insurance” podcast, host Ron Glozman speaks with Dean Hildebrandt, President, Assurex Global about delivering an exceptional digital customer experience and what the future holds for brokers as they embrace technology advancements to remain on the competitive forefront. Click the play button to listen or read the full transcript below.

Full Transcript

Ron Glozman: Hello and welcome to “AI Wisdom - Talking Innovation in Insurance. On this podcast, we talk to business and InsurTech leaders about how artificial intelligence is transforming the way we buy and sell insurance. I’m your host Ron Glozman, Founder and CEO of Chisel AI and a strong believer in the power of AI to help people work smart and enrich their lives. So, let’s get into it.

RonThe insurance industry is undergoing major disruption and change affecting all aspects of insurance from products, coverages, risks, distribution channels, and so on. With customer demands increasing, especially during the global pandemic and expectations for touchless digital experience soaring, brokers are being forced to embrace new opportunities to modernize and embrace the customer experience. I’m very pleased to have with me, Dean Hildebrandt, President, Assurex Global join me today as we discuss what it takes to deliver an exceptional digital customer experience and what the future holds for brokers as they embrace technology and digital transformation while remaining at the edge of competitiveness. Dean, very excited to have you here with me. Can you please introduce yourself?

Dean: Sure. Thanks Ron. So, Dean Hildebrandt, President of Assurex Global. I’ve been with Assurex Global now for about 18 months. Before that, I essentially ran a broker for the past 21 years. So, I was the CEO of an insurance broker based in Minneapolis for 21 years. During that time, we started out pretty small in the industry, we were about a $2 million firm and through a series of M&A and just kind of growing the firm, I ended up in March of 2019, our firm was right around a hundred million of revenue and another 40 million of some other wealth management investment management businesses. So really got to enjoy the industry for 21 years, very much on the distribution side, very client-facing and have had an absolute great ride doing that. So very much enjoy the distribution side of our business and I’m happy to be with Assurex now with a little different perspective on the industry.

Ron: I love it. And given that long tenure, I’m curious, I think we’re going obviously through an unprecedented event, at least you tell me if you’ve had one like this and in your career. What do you think is the biggest or some of the biggest factors that are facing brokers and independent agencies today?

Dean: You know, it’s certainly interesting times, Ron and you think back to just a few days ago, the anniversary of 911. So certainly, lived through that as a broker and the economic challenges of the recession in 2008, 2009, had a different type of challenge to it. I would submit though that the challenges we have today around making connection, building connection, retaining connection, both with our clients, as well as our carriers and our staff, these are truly unprecedented challenges. It’s different than anything any of us have ever lived through. So, the challenges are significantly different and yet many of the elements that I think drive success through those challenges are very similar to what got us through some of the challenges before. So, while the challenges are different, I think a lot of the solutions are pretty consistent with what we’ve seen historically.

Ron: I’m curious to hear are what are you seeing or what are you hoping are some of those solutions that people can rely on that they might already have in-house?

Dean: You know, the way we view the world today, there’s a couple of just macro influencers that I think certainly influence how we see the world today. The level of transparency that we see around almost any transaction we entertain is just different than it was historically. So, you look at that transparency through the eyes of not so much a traditional insurance relationship, but maybe more through the eyes of like a transaction you would do on Amazon.

If I buy something on Amazon, I know exactly what the market rate is for that product. I know what the product costs, I know what the delivery cost is, I know what any incremental cost associated with add-ons adds to the value or cost of the transaction, and I know the regulatory costs to the transaction. So inherently I know all of the underlying costs and all of the frictional costs and I know all of those components in real time, in an incredibly dynamic forum.

I think it serves to solid reason that we’ll see that coming in the insurance transaction as well in many cases and so I think to that end understanding one’s value and understanding how the flow of value exists is absolutely paramount in serving customers today. Technology certainly augments a lot of that. At the core though, is I think an understanding of affirms or an individual’s value proposition.

Ron: I would love to hear maybe what can we do to evolve? So, obviously there are great things that we can continue to do and things that we know how to do and things that we have learned to do due to some of the things we’ve had to overcome in the past. What can we do maybe today that like; I’ll give you maybe one example? We had somebody come on and talk a little bit about like e-signatures and just because they can’t see clients face-to-face, they’ve had to move on. They used to think that people were, would be really, really afraid of this concept of DocuSign and e-signatures, but adoption has gone through the roof. In fact, it’s so much simpler and everybody loves it and in some ways they’re happy COVID happened because it moved the needle for them. It pushed them to the next stage when they’d been pushing that agenda and they were going to have a slow rollout over five years, and now it happened in like two months. Have you seen that? What are some of the pressures that you’re seeing and how are they causing evolution?

Dean: You know, it’s interesting Ron, right, because the insurance industry traditionally has not been great about a rapid adoption of new technologies or new practices, and that’s certainly been a bit of a struggle for the industry. And yet I would submit where you have technologies that are meaningful and e-signatures is a great example, but you know, it wasn’t that long ago when there were a lot of firms that thought proof of insurance and certificates of insurance and things like that online was somewhat blasphemy and goodness, that is adopted everywhere now. I mean, you couldn’t do business without that sort of functionality today.

So, I mean, I think there’s a little bit of the industry that in the incredible words of John Kennedy, don’t look at the world so much as it is and ask why. Ask about the way you want the world to be and ask why not. I think our industry really needs to look at that much more with that latter frame of reference, that frame of reference that says, look, for a customer to engage in almost any transaction and not just an economic transaction when the transaction meaning they want proof of insurance or they want to track their claim, or they want to understand where their endorsement is in the process, where they have a transaction I think as with any other type of transaction in which they engage, they want realtime transparency and dynamic information at all times available to them on all mechanisms.

I think we have to consistently look at the world and say, why isn’t it that way. And where there’s frictional costs or there’s frictional issue, we just have to eliminate those things. Obviously, that’s much easier said than done, but I think it starts with a framework that says we have to be able to serve customers at the same speed and at the same level of efficacy as anyone in a high-tech industry.

Ron: So, in that spirit, I’m curious, as a broker agent as you look at the world and you say how you want it to be, what do you wish carriers were doing for you?

Dean: You know, I think to great extent, Ron that depends on the type of firm that you’re representing. There are certainly firms that work with a very narrow set of carriers and they probably have a pretty good experience with a narrow set of carriers. There are other firms that are much more generalists and work with a broad set. I think that the underlying need though, there always needs to be a very clear set of expectations, clarity, and the appetite, clarity in delivery, clarity in timing of connection. So just clarity of expectation, I think is critical. Consistency and underwriting, you hear the horror stories of a carrier coming in and having one set of approaches to new business and a completely different set of approaches to renewal business. I think that really creates challenge not only for the broker, but also for the end client. I think that’s just playing hard for the client to understand. So, I think consistency is a big part of that. And then finally, speed.

You know, you absolutely have to have speed and transparency. So again, in our current world, the way technology exists today, there’s just absolutely no reason that a broker and absolutely as importantly, the end client, shouldn’t be able to expect to speak, see, and experience the world that way.

Ron: So in talking about seeing and experiencing the world better, are you seeing new types of risks emerging, like maybe like cyber and remote given the fact that people work from home and maybe on the flip side technology wise, like usage-based insurance and drone insurance and all those things? What are you seeing out there in terms of the landscape?

Dean: You know, Ron, I think we probably see maybe not so much new risks, but risks that are being experienced in different ways. I certainly wonder about how long-term worker’s compensation is going to exist and operate through the COVID experience and over time what that’s going to look like. It would appear that there is going to be some impact there. You can certainly see a day where people are either rewarded or penalized based on usage, whether that’s use of their car or use of property or whatever that particular use measurement is. I think you see the insurance transaction getting more consistent with the experience of the purchaser of insurance and that’s at its core, that’s the way it should be. The insurance product is essentially transferring the risk and if the risk is greater, there should be a greater cost to that risk transfer mechanism. And if the risk is lesser, obviously a lesser cost. So, I think those things are very consistent. Some of the things that become interesting to me and I think create greater question is as we have much greater population working remotely, what does that do to coverages like employment practices and what does that do to some of the employee benefits coverages that are in place? So, there’s elements of the risk transfer mechanism that they’ve existed for a long time, I think we’re just going to experience them differently in coming months and years.

Ron: Yeah. I’m curious to see where this time takes us. I think hopefully it takes us to somewhere better. What do you see as some of the major challenges, and especially when you think about what can be done in terms of innovation? Because I think a lot of times, we see innovation happening for the sake of innovation and sometimes people being afraid to innovate and people not actually maybe realizing the downsides of not innovating and just remaining the same. You know, what’s at stake if people don’t innovate, and then what would be some tips on how to innovate?

Dean: Well, I think Ron, realistically, if firms don’t innovate, if they’re not high-quality change managers, I think that is a competency that could be somewhat deadly if you don’t have that. So, if you don’t have quality change management in place as an organization, I would suggest that that’s a very important competency to gain. There’s a myriad of ways that that can be accomplished, but change management is absolutely critical. Specifically, when you look at change among large groups of people, so change with among sales staff or change among a significant service staff, that changed that the challenge to that change is frequently comfort that things are operating pretty good as they are today. And in many of our business segments, the profit margins and the margins are in general are pretty good. So sometimes it gets easy to get comfortable with that and not feel the need for change.

But understanding that there’s an absolute requirement to continue significant improvement across the delivery mechanism store and clients is absolutely critical.

Firms that don’t have strategies to challenge the status quo on a regular basis on a consistent basis that includes critical examination of a lot of different processes and approaches, those firms are going to struggle. They really are.

Ron: Hopefully, we can help them avoid that. We’re going to take a quick 20-second break to tell you where you can find more information and insights about insurance innovation. We’ll be right back.

[If you liked this episode of AI Wisdom, subscribe to our blog, Writing the Future: AI in Commercial Insurance at www.emailmar.com/blog for feature articles, interviews, opinions, and more.]

We’re back with a featured guest Dean Hildebrandt. Let’s jump right into the next question. Earlier this year, Assurex Global announced a renewed multi-year partnership with Patra. What does this partnership mean for Assurex Global members and for the market in general?

Dean: Yeah. Thanks, Ron. You know, Patra has been a great supporter and friend to Assurex for a long time. The relationship really means that a number of our partner firms and I would say a majority of our partner firms have a trading relationship with Patra. And what it really means to them is that Patra has taken the time and spent the energy to really fully understand the Assurex Global strategy moving forward, our long-term strategy and they’ve found significant areas of alignment in that strategy and they’ve developed tools and resources to support the strategy going forward. So over multi-year focus, our partners can understand that Patra is going to be there to help them best gain utilization and value out of the tools and resources delivered by Assurex Global.

Ron: Curious to get your thoughts as somebody who gets probably a lot of newsletters and a lot of inbound requests to meet. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on different technologies like AI, RPA, predictive analytics, telematics, so on and so forth. You know, which ones excite you, why do they excite you and where do you think they can help you grow your business as a broker?

Dean: Well, you know, the technology in general, Ron is just absolutely amazing and its exciting times. I think it’s absolutely a fascinating time to be alive in this world. If anyone that looks at Assurex Global, or it looks at the insurance industry and says, gosh, that’s kind of a sleepy place couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s such an exciting industry and there’s so much happening. I think anytime you have the ability to really make a difference in other people’s lives, that’s just a great opportunity and should be incredibly motivating. I look at workplace safety and I don’t believe there’s probably been any other force for greater safety in the workplace than the commercial property and casualty insurance industry.

If you look at wellbeing of human beings in the industrialized world, I’m not sure there’s been a more impactful industry than the employee benefits, commercial insurance space. So, what we do is incredibly noble, what our partner firms do is incredibly impactful in society and you look at how some of the technologies now are enabling the broker and enabling carriers to really have a bigger impact on safety and wellbeing of people. It’s just truly exciting times. I think a few of the things that really sparked my interest and then I try to study a great deal is certainly the prevalence of AI and ML. What we can do to understand the future predictability of events is absolutely amazing. And not just in events that could be lucrative, certainly that’s important from a business perspective, but back to that whole concept of making the world a better place, I think there’s a number of analytics that we have, analytical devices that we have, as well as the ability for our machines to learn things about the probability of future events that would lead us to a much safer and healthier world. And those sorts of things absolutely both intrigue me and inspire me.

Ron: Do you ever get the sense of fear that it’s going to take away jobs?

Dean: You know what? I don’t, Ron. I really don’t get too concerned about jobs going away. I think consistently through history, there has been points of monumental change that caused short term disruption, whether it’s the steam engine or any number of other technological changes that exist over time. They all have some burden of disruption and yet over time, all of society is better off for it. And, you know, with the way technology’s changing and where technology’s going, there’s definitely an element that creates ethical challenge and need to be act ethically in the implementation of these technologies. Yet it’s absolutely an exciting time to be able to be focused on those things and be able to be focused on helping our industry make the world a better place.

Ron: I’m curious to get some of your thoughts regarding attracting new types of customers, especially millennials and Gen-Z customers. If you had to give the industry a report card today, how well are the companies doing and where do you think they’re going when it comes to building products that are relevant to the needs and buying behaviors of millennial and Gen-Z customers?

Dean: You know, Ron, I think that’s a good question. I’m not sure that I’m fully capable of answering that. When I look at our industry, I look at a number of firms that are doing some very interesting things. I mean, whether you want to look at Root or Lemonade or firms like that, that have been around for a little while now and continue to do some innovative things to drive product and really drive innovation in our industry. So, I think there’s a number of spots where our industry is actually doing some innovative things and some interesting things to help drive connection into new generations. And yet there’s also an element of it that I would say if somebody has an apartment and a car, that is one type of buyer in our industry and if a different person has three homes and six cars, that buying experience and what is necessary to make sure that that risk is properly underwritten and protected, really age is not really relevant in that transaction. It is obviously on a very small level, but to great extent that buying process and that risk transfer process doesn’t necessarily care about age. It cares a lot more about making sure the right risk protection comes into play.

Ron: Yeah. I always found that funny as somebody who crossed the barrier of 25, not too long ago, and is finally able to rent cars without having to pay astronomical rental fees. Age, I think does not dictate a person’s driving ability, although I know statistics disagree, as a male under 25, I know statistics disagree. So obviously change is daunting, and you talked about change management and process management, being a core differentiating factor and having to stay with the times. And we know not everybody is accepting of change and many people in fact, dread it and fear it. What advice do you give to brokers who are embracing technology and are gearing up fundamentally to transform how they do business?

Dean: Yeah. Great question, Ron. And interestingly enough, I had a conversation this morning with a number of our partners from around the world and so we had partners on a Zoom call like this from all over the world and we were talking about this very subject. To a very great extent, it’s not that people don’t like change. People generally do like much change. They do like some change. If your paycheck suddenly goes up unexpectedly, that’s a change most people like. If their living conditions suddenly change for the better, that’s a change most people like and would enjoy. Maybe what people don’t like is either unexpected change that adversely impacts them or change that they have not had a voice in. So, I think at its very root to engage in quality change that is going to be impactful and lasting. I think it’s absolutely critical that the people that experienced the change have a voice in the change that they have an opportunity to share what is meaningful to them, what is impactful to them, and how whatever the change is, how that can be best impacted or best experienced from their world. And then also I think not just having a voice in it, but when change is brought about, if the change is such that you have to mandate usage, probably the individual or the entity initiating the change should step back and wonder why there’s a mandate required to engage in the change. If the change is well thought out, strategically sound and beneficial, then generally that change is positive and its impact to the constituency and the constituency would adopt it. If the constituency only adopts it via mandate, then I would submit, there’s fundamentally a challenge with the change.

Ron: That’s a great way to put it. You got to take the people on a journey.

Dean: Absolutely.

Ron: And most people, will come around if the logic is sound. So, Dean, thank you so much. I’d love to hear as we wrap up one piece of advice that you want to offer to our listeners who span across brokers, carriers, and reinsurers. You know, one piece of advice on any topic, doesn’t even have to be business-related, what would it be?

Dean: I’d stick to this, this particular genre of discussion, Ron and I would simply say technology has an ability to impact our lives in an incredibly positive way. And for our end consumers to the people consuming what we do on a daily basis, they’re expecting that, they want that. So, I think it is incumbent on all of us to really engage in that discussion, engage in that process and drive high quality change that utilizes the absolute best in our industry.

Chisel AI is an absolutely great example of technology that can change our lives for the better and I think it’s incumbent on all of us to really engage in that discussion, engage in that process and make the best of that technology.

Ron: I love that. So, Dean, thank you so much. Where can people find out more about you and Assurex?

Dean: assurexglobal.com is our website and my personal email address is dhildebrandt@assurexglobal.com. Always happy to help people in our industry. It’s an industry that has been incredibly kind to me and I seek to give back as much as I possibly can.

Ron: I love that. It’s funny you did that. I always wondered if people who do that actually respond and so I reached out to a gentleman that they left out their email and sort of a public location similar to this and I dropped them a note and they responded no joke within an hour. So, I think that’s very kind of you to offer that to people out there and when the time comes, if somebody needs it, I’m sure they’ll reach out.

Dean: It’s very sincere, Ron. The industry has been absolutely great to me and I still find it fascinating when I read about someone like you, that is doing what you’re doing and it’s what I love about this industry and what we get to do every day.

Ron: I appreciate that. As always, everybody please stay safe out there. You can find out more at www.emailmar.com. and as you know please watch for more podcasts in the coming weeks. Thank you everybody.

That’s a wrap for this episode of “AI Wisdom” hosted by Chisel AI and me, Ron Glozman. Thanks for listening.

If you like our podcast and want to hear more, check us out at www.emailmar.com or tune in and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts: SoundCloud, Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcast, or Stitcher

Join us next time for more expert insights and straight talk on how AI and insurtech innovations are transforming the insurance value chain. See you on the next episode!

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