Episode 3: Full Transcript


KABIR SYED: But the point I'm trying to make is we are very rich in data, but we don't think data is important.

SPEAKER: This is the insurance technology podcast, where we bring interesting people from across the insurance ecosystem to discuss and debate technology's impact on the industry. Join us each episode for insights and best practices from industry stewards and tomorrow's innovators. Now, here's your host, Reid Holzworth.


REID HOLZWORTH: So I wanted to invite Kabir onto the podcast because he is just a really interesting guy. Now, not everybody in the industry really knows Kabir-- really knows him. But it's funny, the people that do when his name is mentioned-- You'll see people smirk, smile and laugh because he's a really interesting guy, and you got to get to know him to understand what I'm saying. Now, not only that, but Kabir has a lot of depth, and spent a lot of time in this industry.

From his time at Marsh to founding RiskMatch, which then he sold to Vertafore. And now he's got this top secret company that they're building. Nobody knows what they're doing. He talks about that a little bit in the third episode, so stay tuned for that. But really good stuff. Now, in this first episode we learn how Kabeer got into the industry. And really he gets into his thoughts around how brokers and carriers are leveraging data, or frankly, how they're not for their success. It's a really interesting set of episodes, so stay tuned. You're really going to enjoy it.

Today I have a very amazing guest. The man, the myth, the legend, Kabir Syed. Welcome. Very, very excited to have you on the show today. We're going to get into some really good stuff. So for the audience, please me give a little introduction about yourself. And then if you could, please let us know how you got into insurance technology. Give us a little background on how you got into InsurTech if you don't mind, Kabir.

KABIR SYED: Sure. Mine is an accidental journey, and very good accidents along the way. I got into insurance because that was the only company that would actually sponsor my green card. That's how I got into insurance. So this was 27, 28 years back. And I got into research. I love research and data. So I'm not a programmer, I'm not a technologist.

I love to look at data and say, how can I help? I'm more of a guy who wants to please. That's how I build products. When I was doing that I accidentally ran across-- when I was in one of the sales meeting with this broker. I ran across, and the way they were selling-- And I'm like, well this doesn't make sense. Why can't we use technology? Because they were using yellow books to go after people. And I was a little bit shocked.

So when I came to America I always thought that, Oh, it's going to be technologically advanced. They're going to use the best computers, but they were using yellow books and country clubs and I'm like, well, this doesn't make sense. So that's how I got into insurance, and if you think back most of us get into insurance accidentally. Because we don't go out I'm saying, I'd love to be a broker, I'd love to be an insurance person.

And we just stay along for the longest time. Your friends, your colleagues. You become very close to them. So mine was a journey, which was into insurance. And then technology was just a project. When I think about it, I was creating something for Marsh at that point, Marsh and McLennan companies. A project which was, can I digitize, or take prospect data from, let's say D&B, merge it with market stands data, and then merge with our internal data to say, who's is a client? What did they pay? And what can we sell them, and what do they buy?

And it was just a concept that we hired an access program to really create. It was called MAPS, Market Analysis and Prospecting System. And that took off like hell within marsh itself. And they said, well, when you do one thing-- They're like, well, now you're the guy who does all these kinds of projects. So I'm like, I love it So let's start- doing that.

REID HOLZWORTH: That's awesome. So talk about that. So what did do you do after that? What happened after? You're were doing the Marsh projects and whatnot. So then what did you get into?

KABIR SYED: So it was a very interesting journey. I've never been a broker, I've never, so I'm not a broker. I'm not a programmer. I'm more of a research strategy guy. Marsh did not know what to do with me, but I had great mentors over there, who allowed me to solve problems. So their point was like-- So if you think about my 15, 17 years at Marsh, I changed 14 roles. They didn't know what do with me.

REID HOLZWORTH: So by the way, I just want to say. What a great place to start your career. At that level, that's awesome man. That's really awesome.

KABIR SYED: I've been very, very lucky in my life. Like I say, accidents. So I allow accidents to happen because you never know what you learn. And everything is a learning experience. So from there I went and I worked in finance for a little bit, sales for a little bit, marketing because you learn different aspects of how an operation works.

And while we were looking I was on a sales call with a producer, and the CFO of the company said, hey, can you give me a price on what my insurance will cost? Well, the producer went into this whole spiel about, well, we can't give you a price, there are 25 factors. And it went on and on. And I came back and said, I think we can give them a price.

He's like, no, we can't give you a price. We don't want to be bound by it. I said, no, we have 2 million clients. All we have to do is put together all the clients and say, you can be in a range between x and y. He's like, well, I don't know how to do that. If you want to do that, take a shot. So I did that, to say we'll create a pricing index. That's how the first part of benchmarking and insurance at that point came through.

REID HOLZWORTH: Come on. Get real. That's awesome, man. I didn't know this.

KABIR SYED: 15 years back. And it wasn't that I thought through it. I just said, well, why can't we do it? If you like I can give you a price. It won't be accurate, but it'll be a range. So that's what we used, and people would ask for hey, I'll give you $5,000 if you [INAUDIBLE] your price. And we started making money on that, which is kind of surprising.

REID HOLZWORTH: No kidding. Yeah. Marsh has been known for their benchmarking. Like still today. Like today, still.

KABIR SYED: The first project I started at Marsh, which was electronic. So--

REID HOLZWORTH: Well, that's awesome. I didn't know this.

KABIR SYED: And I've been-- I'm old, I don't look old. To say, hey, when you start, you're like, well, this old people will not understand. Now I'm one of those old guys. So it is very interesting. So that was one project which got me into technology.

And what I learned was, Reid, and you'll just get this very quickly, which is-- In our industry we have so much data, but we are like the highway for data to say, I'll take it from here, and pass it along. We never use that. We say, I intuitively know what carrier to go to, or what I should charge, or what they will buy. I'm like, that is data because you have learned it over a period of time.

So over a period of time I said, well-- I'll give you a great example. The next project, which actually helped me start the company was-- Marsh used to have a lot of data, and they spend a lot of money on data, on technology. So one of the things we said was, can we make money on data itself?

So one of the things we said is, look, it's easy to say I will not sell your data, I will not do this. It's not selling data, it's actually creating an auction kind of an environment. So one of the things we said was, you can make more money unless you change carriers. Or every five years, 10 years, whatever it is. So the way to market it is to say, I'm going to show you what we have. This is my pool.

And if you go back, most carriers do not-- and that they know this market is $1 trillion, but they do not know who has what, and when it comes up. So all I was trying to do was instead of changing behavior of 5,000 people, can we create a platform that says, here's what I have. Would you like to come and take a shot at it? And you go through the same process.

So it's like-- Instead of saying, it is my client. It's my personal relationship. It is a company's relationship. It is a company's data. So we said, let's put it up. And that really changed how carriers interacted with brokers. My point at that point was, can we take this, and make it to an industry-wide thing. That was the first initial offering of a marketplace, but only for Marsh.

Now, they're not-- so you might say, well, this is not genius. It's there in every other industry. You don't have to be a genius, you just have to say, what is working in something else, and can solve a problem for us. And that was very well taken. And that's how I started into the market. That was a very big project where you are giving access to a provider of a product. It's like saying, I go to a supermarket, but I won't show you all the products. You tell me what do you want, I'll show you. I'm like, no, show me all the products, then I can choose which one I like.

So we have the only industry where we say, you come to me, and you talk to me, then I decide what I want to show you, but I won't show you everything else. So it's almost like it's counterintuitive to what the consumer, or the end user really wants.

REID HOLZWORTH: That's interesting. You know what's interesting? Is that a lot of things what you said thus far is, you just ask why. Like, wait, I think we could do that. Why not? Why can't we? And you know what's so funny about that? I talk to people all the time, and people just don't ask. And they just like, well, I don't know. Like, no, I don't think we can do that. Why not? Right.

It's like, these are simple things technically. It's not rocket science, but it's just somebody-- I don't know, for lack of a better term, having the balls to just go out and do it. And then somebody enabling it too. Like in your case they're like, really, you think you can do it? Yeah, OK. Do it. [INAUDIBLE] Right?

KABIR SYED: Absolutely right, that. We have gone into this mode as an industry, where we never ask the question. Well it's always been done like this. I'm like, why not change it? Maybe we don't have email. We used to send by courier or mail. Why did we use email then? So if you think of the progression of our industry.

We went from sending paper packets, or FedEx kind of packets to everyone, and having the pink slips in the London market to sending via email. But we have not progressed beyond that. So why have we not? Because we like to do things the older way, or the traditional way. But it also costs time and money to do that. And the time and money-- You can always make money, but you can't get back time.

REID HOLZWORTH: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah it's kind of funny too. I was speaking at some event the other day, and I kind of said this. I mean, do you think that the industry in general seems to go after its shiny objects? And just like, let's go after the shiny object. Let's talk about AI, and this kind of stuff, right.

When we're still communicating via standard static forms, and email, and there's no automation, no connectivity. These kinds of things-- Should we be talking about those shiny objects? I don't know. I mean, I think they're cool. It's good water cooler conversation. But I feel that there are some core big things within the industry that could be solved. And it's guys like you That are just like, why don't we fix that? What do you mean?

Interesting, my last podcast I was interviewing Dennis Jacassi, which I'm sure you know Dennis. And Dennis was talking about the '80s man. Like the '80s and the '90s and like-- And it's so crazy. He's talking about like Semsi, not the company, but you know.

And by the way, I love Phillipe, love Semsi, good guys. But he was just talking about these are problems back in the '80s and '90s that exists today. And then you think about-- You brought the marketplace. Well there's a cuss word in our industry called, the exchange, right. Why? Because the exchange has failed so many times. And so I don't know, just what, why man.

KABIR SYED: You know, I've had this conversation so many times. Market Connect was the first exchange in insurance, at least in the US for brokers. And what I recognized was, the failure is partly because of the data issue. But the failure is also because-- We always say, no, we are special, we are customized, this is not a product--

REID HOLZWORTH: I would agree with that. Yeah.

KABIR SYED: And we got to get rid of this old world concept to save your customers. I'm like, no. At some point you're not taking a product and customize it, other than the wording, verbiage of it. Most of the time when we sell we are taking something off the shelf and giving it. So we should say, transporting it, accessing it should be faster, easier, cheaper.

Otherwise you're going to be out of the game. And that's what is happening over a period of time. Let's forget about the brokers. Brokers is one part. You have carriers who say, well, I'm not going to insure Tesla at a cheaper rate because you know why? Because all cars are the same. I'm like, well, Tesla is going to say. I'm going to create-- I predicted this three years back. To say-- Tesla is going to say, they'll do insurance on their own.

Now, what happens? Now it's only 2% of the cars, what happens when it's 15% of the cars? What happens then in 25 years, when it's 50% of the cars. So we've got to adapt to things to say there's a better way. And I'm not saying do cheaper, but I'm like, there's a better way to look at things. The second part of it is-- Look at the Semsi, the single interface thing. For how many decades have we been talking of this? I mean, from the '70s we have been talking about this. We have many companies. I work for a company that wasted $100 million on creating a single interface. And it doesn't even exist.

$100 million, which is nothing for this multibillion dollar company. But the point I'm trying to make is, we are very rich in data, but we don't think data is important. And we are buying technology which relies on data. And they'll say, I will enter it again.

Because we talk to people and say, hey, you have this, it should be-- And we are sequencing things wrong. If you look at our problems I will say, hey, I have a system. I have two platforms. We have a collaboration system, and we have a process. Now, the process system is the apex of the world. AMS 360s of the world, and the collaboration is, I use CRM, I use email. And if you think how much is going on, we only put structured things in collaboration and process. But all of our interaction, intelligence, codes, everything is sitting in a collaboration system.

So I'm like, how did these two then merge? Because now it's like saying, well, I'm going to have a Ferrari, but I'm going to keep driving my Fiat every day. It's just sitting in the garage, and you're going to have oil leaks. That's how we have to think, to say, can we merge them together. Why are we using this? Part of the thing is, we said, we will create-- We will look at problems, and create singular solutions to that problem.

And we have done that over. And part of it is how the venture cap industry works. Part of it is how technology works because they'll say, only focus on a narrow problem. I'm like, well, if you focus on a narrow problem then you're going to have 80 different solutions for the 80 different narrow problems. And then you're going to have a system integration problem at the end of it. But my suggestion is, they put data first, so that it goes into it, and become the repository of that. So that now you can feed anything you want.

REID HOLZWORTH: That's right. So dig into that a little bit. What do you think about-- Data in this industry, people are scared of it. They don't like it. I talk to carriers and they, Oh, whoa, whoa. Hold on. That word comes up, the people like get up out of their seat, right. I mean, there's that. And connectivity too, and all of that said, standardization across all of it. I mean, there's a lot there, but just a couple of thoughts on any of that. It would be awesome for the audience.

KABIR SYED: So let's take this concept, right. Insurance is all about data. I know it's the relationship that gets access to it, but carriers don't create data. They're collecting data, and evaluating you by collecting data. So the question is, we are taking data from the consumer, or the end consumer, what do we want. Whether it's person, organization, it doesn't really matter. And we are passing it on, and we never keep it. And the carrier again types it in, and then uses it, and maybe sends it back sometimes, but not all the time. They're spending money on it, so why would they send it back? So the question I have is. All data in insurance starts with the broker, at least in the US.

How come we have not, and it just travels, just the highway. And we push it off, and then we say-- I've been in meetings where brokers say, I'm going to ask the carrier how much business do I do. I'm like, you'll be in a great negotiating position when you ask a [INAUDIBLE] business you'll do. Why would they say it? It's like saying, how much money can you give me?

Well, I'll give you $2. You owe me $10 because our model is just one. If you think of our model, it's based on what the commission has paid. So on one hand-- That's one, right. We are saying, we need to tackle that problem of if the data is travelling through me, capture it and use it better.

Because ultimately if you're an intermediary you have two things. One is advice, one is execution. Think of every intermediary in any other industry, whether it's banking, stock trading, it's execution, and then pricing of things. So we're sitting on advice.

You have-- The private wealth managers are on execution, as you have the Robin Hood kind of platforms. You have to have that very well done. And the cost keeps going down. Otherwise they'll take you out, so that somebody will come and take you out. That's what happens with the banks, they have lost all of this stock trading. The $50, $100 per stock is now free, essentially. So those are the two parts that we have not paid attention to.

The second part is, well, we have taken over as brokers. We have taken over a lot of the things that the carriers used to do, whether it's certificates, and things like that. Because we want to serve the client, but we have not made it easy to serve the client. They'll say, all right, we are buying insurance. And we say, hey, here's what-- as a company, here's what we're doing. And this is what insurance we want. So I get three different forms, from our broker, because I want to use a broker. And I said to him, do you not have it digitized? He's like, no. And I'm thinking, this is 2021, and this is probably the 150th time you have done this. Maybe they have 45,000 times they have done this.

So I turn to a programmer, and say, take this form, digitize it. Next time, we're going to send him that, and say, give him a feeling for it. Because why can't you do it It's a job form or, whatever, different forms. So that's one part of it. The second part of it is we don't think psychologically, we think data means, Oh, technology. Which means I'm going to be out of a job.

REID HOLZWORTH: By taking away the jobs and manufacturing.

KABIR SYED: So we are like, well, it's not going to take your job. It's actually going to make it easy. So why not buy the data? If the carrier, or everybody is underwriting based on this, why not buy the data beforehand? That we can ask for more because the carrier is not creating data. They're evaluating data from a price perspective on their portfolio. That's all they're doing.

We have carriers will say, I won't underwrite if you jump off, or if you have a trampoline, or things like that. There are always pockets of carriers. So that's one part that we have not recognized. And we have not done enough in terms of implementing an easy way to serve customers. And an easy link to connect with carriers.

For example, you have the prestigious position of being the only company to download data from a carrier into the systems. Think about-- That's a very powerful position that the brokers rely on. So that's a great position to be in. So the question is, hey, can you also sell it? Could you also sell it?


KABIR SYED: Why not? You're downloading. Can you also have an electronic form. But not many people are thinking. You're thinking that way, but not many. Why can't there be a strike for insurance?

REID HOLZWORTH: Well, they're scared of it. I mean, to your point. It's like, we don't want to give that to them. We don't want to send it. It's like, let's hold it, but all we're doing is holding each other back, in my opinion.

KABIR SYED: Absolutely right. I'll give a great example. So if you say, what do brokers say? Carriers are my partners. They'll say, hey they're partners because--

REID HOLZWORTH: And they are. 100%. In every way, yeah.

KABIR SYED: So let me take that same thing and say, I'll say. OK, if you have a carrier, why don't you tell the carrier-- You can't change the technology for a carrier. You can't. I'm talking of speed. So if you're working with a prospect, tell the carrier I'm working with this prospect, and I would like a price on it.

You can buy the data because now when the broker-- when you get the BOR, then you have a price right then. You don't have wait days because I gave our broker the information on my new company. And we have been waiting. And the answer was, can you be patient? And I'm thinking, well, isn't it 2021? I waited a week, but I have to wait two weeks for it.

But two weeks to wait a price. It's like, would you ever go and go on Amazon, or Walmart, whatever it is. [INAUDIBLE] a physical and say, I'd like you to wait two weeks for a price quote. Why can't it be that if your only told the carrier, I know they can take some time.

But all I'm saying is, give the information before, so that you get a price very quickly. But you can't say, I can't give it to the carrier. You can't call somebody a partner, and not work with them with what you're doing. Because if you think of a carrier-- Carriers have this well, not a loophole, it's a reservation system. If you are working with one broker you won't accept the same deal from another broker.

So we are saying, can you use the reservation system to say, I want to lock in this client. That way you don't have to work. That's a loophole, or inefficiency in the system. So if you work--

REID HOLZWORTH: Right, totally. You've just locked the client. Yeah, it's a good point.

KABIR SYED: But they have this fear. Most brokers have this fear that the carrier will go and work with somebody else. Well you can't take one bad actor and say this is for the entire industry. It happens. It's like saying, well, how people tell. If you travel, and you're in Brazil you'll get mugged. I'm like, I could get mugged in Bronx too, so it doesn't really matter. So you just have to be who you are, and say, this is what I'm going to trust. And then go with it.

REID HOLZWORTH: Well that was awesome. It was great to get his perspective on how carriers and brokers should embrace technology. I still can't believe that he was the one that started benchmarks at Marsh. That's a really big thing. Marsh is known for that. So in the next episode you'll hear how Kabir eventually got bored with benchmarking, and decided to quit, and go off and start a data company, which became RiskMatch. Which he then sold to Vertafore, so please tune into the next one.

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