Jay Weintraub, founder and CEO of InsureTech Connect explores the digital transformation of insurance, and what makes InsureTech Connect the largest, most focused and relevant gathering of insurance industry executives, entrepreneurs and investors in the world. By Dale Benton
Walk us through your career journey and how you find yourself as Founder and CEO of InsureTech Connect?
In 2008, I launched an event series for a subset of the Internet advertising space, and it was there that I first got exposed to the world of insurance. Towards the end of 2015, I met Caribou Honig, who was a fintech VC in search of an InsureTech conference, and that meeting could have gone really poorly or really well, and I’m happy to say that it went really, really well.
What is InsureTech Connect?
We are the world’s largest event that discusses the digital transformation happening in the world of insurance. Insurance is one of these remarkable worlds. It’s worth trillions of dollars in annual premiums, it connects our lives, it enables us to do everything that we do at this moment and yet it’s something that is sort of invisible and behind the scenes. In the last four years, the world of insurance has seen, this groundswell of activity by entrepreneurs who are looking at this big world and saying, ‘Wait a second, why does it work the way that it does? There has to be a better way.” It is these entrepreneurs, the investors that fund them and the global incumbent insurance companies that all gather at InsureTech Connect in Las Vegas.
As technology has become more advanced, how are the conversations surrounding tech, different today than they were say, 10 years ago?
It’s amazing how much the conversation has remained the same, it’s the channels that are different. When we think about customer acquisition, there are certainly going to be broad shifts in how companies acquire customers as the access to channels. We must remember, the core of having a great product that appeals to people may change, but it’s the core of having something worth telling that really hasn’t changed.
Is there a challenge in understanding, and defining, what digital and digital transformation means to business?
It’s both a challenge and opportunity and it is what makes being in InsureTech such a fun place to be because is it talking about product lines. How do we use insurance in a new way? How do we take a classic product, break it into a way that is better and necessary but also helps consumers? Digital transformation is going to depend on what product line you’re in, what part of the value chain you’re in and what technologies you think can actually help you serve your customers better. There’s an immense amount of parallel transformation taking place.
What do you feel are some of the key barriers faced by insurance, in embracing innovation?
I would love for the answer to be technology. If we think about in the early 2000s when e-commerce was becoming a thing and people knew that they wanted to buy online, it still took 15 years before it became mainstream, and that was a technology issue. It was because mobile phones weren’t computers, there wasn’t connectivity, the cloud computing didn’t exist, so the ubiquity of what could be done wasn’t actually there. Today, we have consumers that want things and we have technology that gets it to them. It’s a fundamental culture change in a lot of cases, and insurance has been more incremental in nature. It’s an industry that is hundreds of years old and thinks in terms of hundreds of years versus any short-term trend.
How do companies stay on top of the new consumer demands so as not to fall behind competitors?
We have a couple of assumptions. We are assuming that over time, if it can be sold online, it will be. We assume over time that everything will be sold and written directly. The challenge for any business is, what is that time horizon? Personal lines are vastly consumed both directly and digitally, but commercial lines will one day be far more direct than they are. It’s why small commercial concerns are such a hotbed of innovation.
You think about the next generation of small business owner, it’s going to be somebody that has grown up with a phone, and so when they look to purchase their insurance, they’re going to want to start digitally versus maybe how the previous generation turned to an individual. When we’re looking at insurance, it’s about locating the pain point? Is the product going to be sold digitally no matter what? Or is it something that is still going to be sold through an individual, most likely with an advisor. How do you enable that advisor to do their job better?
How difficult is it to balance, move forward and embrace this next generation without turning your back on the existing previous generations?
I don’t think it’s a pure split. I think everybody wants to speak on the phone at a certain time, and I would say that there’s an ever-growing comfort with people who are happy to speak on the phone or not speak on the phone. We look at Facebook, right? It went from being students only, to almost getting a backlash for it becoming the playground of the parents and grandparents, and it shows the comfort of people engaging with a mobile phone as a device for consuming and inputting information.
I think about chatbots and other forms of conversational AI, and it’s a case of understanding how it helps you to make the experience better versus looking at it as just a, ‘Oh the young kids, they want to engage with their phone.’ We have to say, what does it help us do better, faster, and at scale? We have to look at these things for very specific performance enhancers and then always have an escalation process knowing that if there’s a certain level of complexity, if there’s a certain level of frustration, if there’s nuance, then there’s a trigger for people to always speak to a human. People can be guilty of looking at tech as the box that everything fits into. It’s like a hammer in search of a nail. Well let’s make it a box for everything, and we see it ultimately leads to poor outcomes.
How do you work to ensure that InsureTech Connect is relevant to the discussions of today in a time of never-ending disruption?
What is our role? Our role is to convene. When we think about the goal of insurance, both to enable people to live and take risks and to get people back to a pre-loss state faster, our hope is to always keep an eye on what’s happening and look at how we reduce the coverage gaps and say, what is actually making a difference? Who is actually making a difference? How do we make sure they get enough time on stage? And more importantly, how do we enable the attendees, via technology, to connect with each other so that start-ups meet an investor they might not have?
What can organisations, and the industry as a whole, be doing now to open the door to the next generation of skilled workers that’ll be able to continue to innovate and continue to operate in these new and exciting times?
It’s one of those great questions that has horrible answers because the businesses operate at scale. It’s about repeatable process and it’s about having the data and then acting. What we’re talking about now is, no one knows the data. We wouldn’t have guessed 5 years ago that having somebody who was really good with a mobile phone and understood Instagram could be a person that is immensely valuable to the largest organisations, and yet today, you think about some of these competencies… People are saying, ‘Oh, we want you to know how to use social because having our 10,000 employees engaged in social is actually one of the best ways for us to get seen and get noticed.’ But a lot of these skill sets we have are not obvious until they’re obvious.
The best thing is to look at the younger generation and at how they engage. Study them as consumers first, as this is how they consume and then look to understand what that means, every five or 10 years. The hardest part is we can oftentimes see where the future’s heading, but we don’t know how long it’s going to take. There’s a real discipline that says, how do we separate out some of these new skill sets, new future activities, how do we stay on top of it, without trying to either shift the entire organisation or treat it as something that is not that important today.
What would you say is key to remaining successful in this time of opportunity and challenge?
Never underestimate the power of relationships, because it’s the people who are ultimately the ones that are creating the next thing and the closer you are to the creators, the closer you are to the ecosystem itself. I think it is also being calm; you have to be calm and stop listening to the noise as much. We think about the companies that have dramatically changed our lives. I think about some of the big tech companies: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple. There are thousands upon thousands of start-ups that are doing interesting things, but the number of them that are going to ultimately change the way we do business are slow in their growth, in a way, before they fully change us.
Be a little patient and learn about ecosystems and make sure that you have at least someone or a team that is comfortable with these new platforms, so that when one of them becomes dominant like Facebook or Apple there’s at least some embedded knowledge about how these things work. Listen, but don’t overreact. Be patient. There’s usually always time, even though it doesn’t feel like it in the get-go.