Episode 57: Full Transcript

[00:00:00.00] ILYA BODNER: I really wanted to live the American dream and be my own business owner, be my own boss and everyone I looked around, all the male and female leaders that I looked up to were in some way, shape, or form small business owners. So for me, it was a no brainer. I wanted to have my own company and an insurance agency--
[00:00:20.06] [MUSIC PLAYING]
[00:00:21.75] REID HOLZWORTH: 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.
[00:00:39.75] CHRISTEN KELLEY: Hey, welcome to a new episode of The Insurance Technology Podcast. This episode is a best of. Looking back at some of our past guests and how they got into insurance. First up, we're going way back to one of our earliest guests to see how they started off in insurtech. Starting off at one of the carriers who is still a major player in today's insurance ecosystem.
[00:01:07.88] REID HOLZWORTH: I'd just love to hear your story and how it began and how you got to where you are today and some of the things you've been involved with along the way. So how did you get into this, Dennis? How did you get into the industry?
[00:01:19.61] DENNIS CHOOKASZIAN: I've been involved in the industry for a long, long time to give you just a little bit of background on my story. My first introduction to the insurance industry on the technology side was in 1970 when I was given a project to design and build a reinsurance system and an external sign system for Allstate Insurance. But then after doing that, I went to CNA, and then I was with CNA for about 27 years or so-- 26 or 27 years.
[00:01:48.66] And when I went to CNA, I went in as the chief financial officer, and then I picked up responsibility for computer systems. So for 15 years, I was responsible for finance and accounting and also for the computer systems operation.
[00:02:02.94] CHRISTEN KELLEY: So while Dennis was there from the beginning, our next clip is from one of our insuretech founders. Let's find out how Kabir got into insurance and continues to be a major player in the world of data.
[00:02:21.62] REID HOLZWORTH: Can you give us a little background on how you got into insuretech if you don't mind, Kabir?
[00:02:25.92] KABIR SYED: Sure. Mine-- you know 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 first 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.
[00:02:56.84] I love to look at data and say, how can I help? That kind of thing. I'm more of a guy who wants to please. That's how I build products. So I got-- when I was doing that, I accidentally ran across-- when I was at in one of the sales meetings 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.
[00:03:24.84] And I was like 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 in 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, right? Most of us get into insurance accidentally, because we don't grow up saying, I'd love to be a broker. I'd love to be an insurance person.
[00:03:51.41] CHRISTEN KELLEY: It's fun going back and listening to some of these. Some almost two years old. But really listening to how they got into insurance and continue to have a passion is great. Next up is one of our OGs, David Rowe.
[00:04:09.30] REID HOLZWORTH: So for the listeners, David, if you could start by just telling people how you got into the industry initially. Everybody has a story around this.
[00:04:19.51] DAVID ROWE: Well, this is really a history type story. It was in 1978 when I had left Texas Instruments, and at TI I had been involved with data exchange type systems, and I went to work for Commercial Union Insurance company. And this was a time when all the insurance carriers were really trying to automate their relationships with agents, but the way they did it, in the '70s, was to extend the company terminals into the agent's office, which gave the agents, CSRs, the problem of having to deal with a different type of terminal for every one of the carriers they had to support.
[00:04:54.79] Maybe they averaged 7 or 8 different kinds of terminals in their office, that enough-- that was one kind of a problem. But at the same time, the agents started to use minicomputers to automate their own policy information, their own customer information for their own prospecting and servicing needs, which now created a problem of not only do I have to go from one company terminal to another, but I need that same data stored in my own database, in my own minicomputer system at the same time and, that was a real frustration.
[00:05:25.31] When I joined at Commercial Union, another coincidence was that the CEO was a former agent, Lawson Swearingen, and he listened to agents hear about this issue, and he said we're going to do something different. We're not going to extend our company capabilities into the agent's office with terminals. We'll use the agent's own system as a source to do that and create a single entry multi company-- that's where the word CMC came about-- capability so that agents could with one terminal go to many different companies with their transactions.
[00:05:57.29] And so my kind of focus was to not work on the inside of the insurance company, but to work outward with the vendors which led me to meet a guy who-- I'll talk about a little bit later-- was one of the great contributors to the agency automation arena. Rob Thompson from Redshaw.
[00:06:15.13] CHRISTEN KELLEY: Our next clip takes us to one of the major hubs in insurance, Columbus, Ohio.
[00:06:23.46] REID HOLZWORTH: Tell me, it's kind of funny, Columbus, Ohio, a lot of insurance there. A lot of insure tech there. Thanks to you, big part of it, right? Tell me, how did you get in to insurance and insurance technology?
[00:06:39.92] ILYA BODNER: Yeah, I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this. I didn't like go out looking for it. It sort of found me and kept sucking me right back in. I really wanted to live the American dream and be my own business owner, be my own boss and everyone I looked around, all the male and female leaders that I looked up to were in some way, shape, or form small business owners.
[00:07:04.84] So for me, it was a no brainer. I wanted to have my own company and an insurance agency-- what better way to live the American dream than being your own insurance agency owner? And so I went and got my license and opened up my scratch agency and started selling what we call hand-to-hand combat, home and auto insurance to the neighborhood, and the Russian speaking community and et cetera.
[00:07:31.69] And that's really when I first got my big splash into it, and I just said, oh my god, black letter or black background, green letters, that's how you do the quoting. There's multiple fax machines that had to have in my office, and you're just like, what is happening? But it pays really well. You can get-- I think at the time they were running a promotion, 55% commission--
[00:07:57.37] REID HOLZWORTH: What?
[00:07:57.85] ILYA BODNER: --for anything you sell. Yeah, that's how they lure you in. And I'm a good salesman is what I figured out through that process. I'm also not that bad at problem solving when it comes to technology. And when you have to look a person in the eye and explain to him or her why there's this five rounds of paperwork, and this tedious process of filling and signing and all that jazz, you're thinking to yourself, man. There's got to be a better way to do all this. There just has to. And the truth was at the time, there wasn't. And I'm not talking about centuries ago. This was just like 10 years ago. And so that's how I got into it--
[00:08:41.18] CHRISTEN KELLEY: Well, Ilya always knew he'd somehow end up in insurance. Our next guest started very far from the insurance industry.
[00:08:50.25] REID HOLZWORTH: So tell us-- and actually, I don't really know. I kind of know this, but how did you actually get into insurance?
[00:08:58.24] JIM HACKBARTH: Oh, probably like-- yeah, probably like most people-- by accident. It was not on purpose. My first two years of college. In undergrad, I was a Phys Ed major. I aspired to be a high school football coach. That's what I wanted to do. There was a unexpected death in the family, and I moved home to Columbus, which is where I was born and raised, finished up at Ohio State.
[00:09:27.19] And it was my father that had passed away. And one of the things that he said to me a couple hours before he passed unexpectedly is that listen, do me a favor and just take one business course because if this high school football coach stuff doesn't work out for you, you're probably going to be a sales guy of some type or another, but just take a business course. And he-- he at the time was head of claims of a Midwest insurance company.
[00:09:49.07] And if you've been exposed to people that come out of claims, usually the first answer is no. No, you can't have a motorcycle. No, you can't jump out of airplanes. No, you can't do this. So my first exposure to insurance was like it begins with no, so I had no desire to be in insurance. So the first-- the only business-- my first business course that I took when I transferred to Ohio State that I could get into because hardly anyone was in it was principles of insurance, and I was not what I would call a great student when you look at grade point average, but that was the only A that I got in my undergrad.
[00:10:27.83] REID HOLZWORTH: Really?
[00:10:28.41] JIM HACKBARTH: And the-- well, no, no, because I understood it. And all of a sudden, life became serious. And so I really studied, understood it. I mean, all the words I understood it because it was talked about around the dinner table growing up as a kid. And the professor, I'll never forget it, his name was Dr. Bickelhaupt. He had written several books that were CPCU type books.
[00:10:52.01] He came up to me and said-- at the end of the quarter. This is before most colleges moved to semesters. And he said, have you ever thought about changing your major to insurance? And I said, absolutely not. I have no desire. And then he said something that changed my mind. He says, well, there's a scholarship fund called the Griffith Insurance Foundation, and they're giving scholarships out to people that have a desire to major in insurance.
[00:11:18.20] And I said, you know something, I think that sounds good, because I had no money, and I was working three part time jobs. And I said I'm in.
[00:11:27.29] CHRISTEN KELLEY: I think one of my favorite parts about Jim was how he connected coaching into his career in insurance. Well, our next two guests, seemingly like many people that have been on the podcast, accidentally fell into insurance.
[00:11:45.03] REID HOLZWORTH: So let's get after it. So we'll start with you, Alan. How did you get into insurance and insurance technology? What brought you to this wonderful world?
[00:11:56.18] ALLAN EGBERT: For me, it was, sort of, accidental. I was thinking about this, this morning. I was working a consulting gig and was about to go on-- seriously, take a vacation. And somebody called me and said, hey, we're doing this-- we're doing this POC for-- I won't mention the carrier's name. We're doing this POC for this carrier on the West Coast and can you help out. And it was like-- it's supposed to be like a two week gig that ultimately led to a series of steps that brought us-- has me here today talking with you guys.
[00:12:37.14] So-- and it was agent portal, rating, submission, underwriting rules. It's like 16, 17 years ago, I think is the exact number and it's like-- and I was thinking this morning, it's like wow, it's sort of like some of the same stuff where people are still wrestling with today so-- and that was for Agency Port. I mean, that's how I wound up at Agency Port.
[00:13:01.83] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, no kidding. So that was--
[00:13:03.62] ALLAN EGBERT: It was for them. It was for them probably because Mike Albert knew better than to get involved with that POC, so they went outside to get contractors.
[00:13:11.03] MIKE ALBERT: No doubt it. That was for suckers.
[00:13:13.41] ALLAN EGBERT: Yeah--
[00:13:14.11] REID HOLZWORTH: For context, for the listeners, Agency Port. Because the brand isn't really there anymore, right? It hasn't been there for quite a while. We all know it, but like for the audience, whose Agenct Port? What happened with Agency Port?
[00:13:27.33] MIKE ALBERT: Great-- great company. Original insuretech as it were. Founded by three guys-- Steve Houck, Eric Harden and this other guy Adam Black. Awesome dudes. Adam had an insurance agency and knew about the problems of the space and the three of them went after it and did some really cool stuff. I think for both Alan and I, we learned a ton as part of that journey about business, about insurance, about technology, about this whole thing.
[00:13:55.55] And honestly, it was like it was like the School of Hard Knocks for us-- tough projects, lots of projects, lots of depth in connecting carriers and agents. Agency Port for was a company like Ivan's, really focused on this world in between carriers and agents. So it's like an incredibly nichey, space but man, we've been in it for a long time now. So anyway, great company. Very much a startup feel for us early, and we both worked there for a very long time until it got bought and sold a couple times and decided we wanted to go out and start anew.
[00:14:31.15] They're part of Duck Creek right now. Still a good company. The products are still ticking. A lot of our friends are still there. Others have gone on, started other businesses. It's like-- you always hear about the PayPal mafia and the technology world. Elon and these other guys have gone places and started other businesses. I mean, there's a few companies, and Agency Port's one, where folks that have been involved have scattered and started really meaningful businesses in the insurance space.
[00:14:54.75] REID HOLZWORTH: I feel like that's so true across all businesses, right? Not just in our industry. We see it a lot in our industry because it's a big industry, but it's small-- the people involved. And you do see it a lot. Like a lot of the people that we've interviewed in this podcast, you see like they've been doing this for so long. They were involved in things that were successful, and they continued just to go into these other orbs and create things and do things for the industry and are still very, very successful. It's interesting.
[00:15:27.56] So how about you, Mike? So how did you-- how did you get into the Agency Port world? How did that work out?
[00:15:35.00] MIKE ALBERT: Can I answer this really quick before he tells the story?
[00:15:37.30] REID HOLZWORTH: Yeah.
[00:15:37.61] ALLAN EGBERT: I think it started with a search for AL3 on HotJobs.
[00:15:42.19] MIKE ALBERT: I was going to say--
[00:15:43.83] [LAUGHTER]
[00:15:45.77] I've been dreaming of being a part of insurance technology ever since I was a small child. No, dude, this is one of those industries where it's like you've got-- at least in my journey thus far, there's a handful of people that have been-- insurance has always kind of been the future. A lot of times family business. They've known they're going to step up. And then there's people like me who it's like I ended up here, like Alan ended up here. And then here we are.
[00:16:14.72] I went to work at a school at a consulting company and on assignment day, you flip the coin. One destination if the quarter flips heads, I'm going in I'm working at a credit card company on credit decisioning. And if it flips tails, I'm putting on a suit and going to an insurance company and working on an upload project. So tails it was and here we are.
[00:16:37.73] [LAUGHTER]
[00:16:40.16] CHRISTEN KELLEY: I'm really glad that Mike and Alla stumbled into insuretech. Our industry is better for it. Next up, someone who has been part of insurance software since the very beginning.
[00:16:56.87] REID HOLZWORTH: So how did you get into insurance? How did you stumble into this industry?
[00:17:03.20] LARRY WILSON: I was going to the University of South Carolina, and when I was 19, I decided-- I was taking a business major, and I decided I really wanted some more business-- some business experience and the education became much more relevant. So I went to work for a local insurance company, which was near the university and could walk to work and worked throughout my undergraduate and graduate degree and then started a software company after that.
[00:17:41.73] At the time, I was working for the insurance company. You could go to-- if you were an IBM customer, you could go to all their schools for free. So during summers and semester breaks, I went to virtually every IBM course they offered, and I got a good education at University of South Carolina. I have a master's degree. But I got a great education from IBM and learned about technology and system design and programming and got a very good education from them-- and technology.
[00:18:19.04] And so I decided, after looking at what was going on in technology insurance at the time, that there was a better way to do it. And at the time, I'd gotten very familiar with insurance, gotten my CPCU. I understood insurance. I understood technology. So I designed a system called Policy Management Systems, which managed all policy transactions for an insurance company, kept all the records of claims and reinsurance and billing and collections and agents and virtually just everything an insurance company needed in their technology system to be able to run the business.
[00:19:05.14] And it became very successful, and we grew it to about 6,000 people over the years. And I decided that I'd-- after a number of years, I decided that I needed a little bit more relaxed lifestyle than being on planes 250 days a year going all over the world so-- and having 6,000 employees to look after. So I sold it to Computer Science Corporation and so-- but I've still been involved on boards and involved in other matters and continue to do that today.
[00:19:47.85] CHRISTEN KELLEY: The story of what Larry built is absolutely fascinating, and if you haven't listened to the full episode, I suggest going to the website and looking that one up. Our next guest stumbled into insurance simply to find a job.
[00:20:04.26] REID HOLZWORTH: So Bobby, tell us a little bit about yourself. So how did you get into the industry? What side of the world do you live on? Yeah, let's start with the industry. How did you get into insurance and really insurance technology where you're at today?
[00:20:19.58] BOBBIE COLLIES: Yeah, so my roots in insurance come straight out of college. There weren't a lot of job opportunities for a girl with a marketing degree, so I took an underwriting trainee position with Society Insurance, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. And I spent a majority of my career in commercial lines until about 2015, 2016 when the word insurtech started to pop into our industry. And I was put on a large project for another carrier I was working with at the time to focus on what is the future of distribution look like and how does technology or how will technology impact that, and that was my big leap.
[00:21:01.14] I was in an industry for about 15 years at that point where nothing had changed. Right before I left Society, we were still getting like carbon copied endorsement changes from some of our agents in Wisconsin. And I saw an opportunity to be able to not only participate in the change, but drive change within our industry. So it's been super exciting and kind of a short time in the distribution in insuretech side. It's maybe five years at this point where I've really invested in it. So it's been really fun though.
[00:21:36.59] CHRISTEN KELLEY: So glad that Bobbie's marketing degree ended up not working out, and she ended up being one of my favorite people to hear on these various insuretech podcasts as well as events. Up next, we have someone who started on the carrier side and then had a chance to work with Ivans twice.
[00:21:59.05] REID HOLZWORTH: So how did you get into insurance technology? How'd you fall into this world?
[00:22:05.02] THAD BAUER: Yeah, so I started my career at Great American Insurance, and I was a developer there and started coding. And I don't know, a few years into that job, I fell into the agency interface space and started working with a company called BWC Systems and so we bought their software, and I was that know it all programmer that started with the, we don't need these guys, we can do this, to being convinced OK, using software is a smarter way to go. You can't take on everything. It's hard to boil the ocean.
[00:22:41.38] So I'm using the tools that are out there, I kind of evolved into that to the point where I actually left Great American after 5 or six 6 and joined BWC Systems. So that kind of got me started in that insuretech space working for two wonderful people that were the owners there, and they really let me kind of join into the team and take over and help manage the groups as we move forward. So once I got into it, I fell in love with it.
[00:23:12.98] REID HOLZWORTH: For the audience, what did BW Systems do?
[00:23:17.48] THAD BAUER: So they were agency interface data translations. So I'm ending my career here at Ivans and BWC was bought by Ivans in '97 and so I stayed with-- I joined BWC in '95. We were acquired by Ivans in '97. And then one of the owners, co-owners of BWC, Bill Tedrick, he and I then started NxTech in 2004. So I actually left Ivans to later being acquired by Ivans so that's always fun.
[00:23:51.77] CHRISTEN KELLEY: That is such a great human being, and I'm really glad that I got to work alongside him for many years. Next up, we have someone who taught themselves how to code when they weren't even looking at an technology job.
[00:24:09.91] REID HOLZWORTH: How did you end up in the insurance software industry or really insurance from managing a bookstore and middle school teacher to all these things? How did you end up in insurance?
[00:24:26.12] DOUG ROLLER: The night that I saw the auction for the PC for the Apple II Plus. I thought, I've got to have that. So I asked Linda, can I call in a bid? And she said, yes. And I bid like $400. It was the most money I thought I could do. Well, it sold for much more than that.
[00:24:46.29] REID HOLZWORTH: Oh, wow.
[00:24:47.13] DOUG ROLLER: And so I thought, how am I going to get one of these things? I'm getting ready to go to grad school. I'm going to be in grad school for-- working on a PhD for maybe three or four years. I'm not going to make a lot of money doing that. So I thought, if I'm going to do it, I've got to find a way to do it, and I decided that-- I was actually visiting with my parents at their home, and my mom had an art store there that she operated.
[00:25:23.95] And I went in to see her there, and we were visiting and a guy came in named Max Miller who had an insurance agency and was actually the owner of that building. And I started talking to him, and he said it was for sale, and I thought, gee, I started asking questions about what do you need for it. He said he would carry the-- most of the down payment, and I thought, I could have it. I could probably have that computer in my hands within a few months if I did that.
[00:26:02.41] And so I just did a complete 360 in terms of my life, and Linda, my wife, has been just amazing. She was just-- she just said, sure, let's do it. And so for about a year and a half, I operated the insurance agency until I got my second year contingency check, I think, came through, and there was enough money on it that I could buy that Apple and feel not too guilty about it.
[00:26:34.35] CHRISTEN KELLEY: So glad Doug made the leap into technology. Companies and products that he created are still here supporting many in the industry today. Well last up, we have one of our more recent startup entrepreneurs and how they made the big leap into insurance technology.
[00:26:57.05] WILL SHAW: Football was like my only focus from probably about 16 to 24. Maybe 15 to 24. I just-- I just walked away and wanted to. I achieved what I had set out to achieve, and I probably could have achieved more, but I'm grateful for what I was able to accomplish. I walked away in relatively good health, and I have a lot of friends that can't say that. So I-- when I got injured, my wife was working at a company at the time called Infusionsoft. Now local here to where we're at in Arizona and Chandler.
[00:27:27.30] And I got to know-- she was in marketing department. I got to know that team, the CMO really well and basically we were just like, all right, well, let's reinvent yourself, like come work on Infusionsoft. It's a great company. It's a great culture. It'll be a great like "first job" because what was happening was nobody was hiring me. I was trying to apply everywhere. I was applying to like insurance companies, all of this stuff like whether it was insurance, not by because I wanted to be in insurance, I just wanted a job. Different-- like construction companies even.
[00:27:59.25] I was trying to-- at that point I was like, I'm not going to join the military. I'm married. I want to have a family. One of the things I hated about the NFL was being gone for periods of time from my family, so I wasn't going to go down that path. So that shifted like my mentality on what I was going to do. So I was like, all right, let's just try a job and let's see. I know at this point I'm 23, 24. I didn't have a prototypical college or early 20s experience, because I was playing football. I've never had a chance to do an internship or see what I was like. Let's just-- let's just go try a tech company. Like let's go try doing that, and see what I like and don't like. And
[00:28:32.07] So got a job on the customer success team, and I approached it with the same mentality I approached football, which was like just be the hardest worker in the room, just outwork everybody learn as much as I can, and I quickly got promoted and within a year-- and like within a year, I was at the top of the customer success team and then started moving into more of the product realm. And I was just learning as much as I could.
[00:28:56.34] And then basically a year and a half in, the summer of 2016, I decided to-- I decided to leave. I was like, you know what, I I've learned a bunch. I have a bunch-- I have a lot more that I want to learn, and I'm not going to be able to do it here. I see some opportunities to really create my own business, which was something I really wanted to try, and so I went for it. And I had basically started what I would call a tech enabled services company so like customizing whether it was Infusionsoft, HubSpot, Salesforce. For different businesses, we were implementing those tools.
[00:29:30.43] And then basically sold one insurance agent who happened to be local, who happened to refer us to a friend who referred us to another friend and from summer 2016 to end of 2018, probably worked with close to 100 insurance agencies kind of implementing the same 4 or 5 key core systems. And I eventually-- I decided to leave that company because they wanted to stay focused on the consulting side because they were in other niches and industries, and I said, you know what, we need to just-- we need to build-- we need to build a system from the ground up, and that's--
[00:30:04.12] the end of 2018 is when I left, and I basically did a lot of side consulting through 2019 and 2020. But basically, beginning of 2019 is-- that's when I transitioned out of what I was doing and into creating the idea of what became Better Agency.
[00:30:19.81] CHRISTEN KELLEY: Well, we could have kept going. Many, many more episodes featured how our guests had stumbled into or got into it on purpose this interesting world of insurance. I know that Reid, and I have many more interviews to come. However, if there is any of the guests that you did not get to listen to the full session, I highly suggest going to our website at insuretechpod and looking at those past episodes and listening to the full stories from all of the various guests we featured today.