Working Towards A Frictionless Future
Q&A With Brett Fulmer of Newport Beach Insurance
Brett Fulmer is the Managing Broker at Newport Beach Insurance Center LLC, where he is helping build out their digital strategy, to meet Personal, Commercial and Life Insurance needs fluidly nationwide. He is also the US Ambassador of FINAEO (Finaeo.com), a Toronto-based insurtech startup. They are building the Amazon of Insurance for financial planners, by digitizing the fabric of one of the oldest industries in the world. Brett assists with Marketing, Compliance, and Partnerships. He was also an Advisor to Juniper Labs, acquired by NEXT Insurance, and is regularly involved in SEED-stage startup conversations.
The following are excerpts from a conversation between Brett Fulmer and Andrew Wynn, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Ascend, the first modern insurance payments platform that provides automated all-in-one financing, collections, and payables.
What are some of the top insurtech trends you’ve noticed this year?
Everyone wants to embed insurance and be part of a process or a flow. That’s what I’ve been seeing — a more intuitive process. There’s also a lot of people currently riding the API wave, which is a huge opportunity for sellers and distributors of insurance to build their own infrastructure.
Most of all, I’ve seen agents and technology working together more now than they ever have in the past. People are no longer scared of insurtech. And because of that, we’re finally starting to see the integration of brokers/agents and tech companies. And better yet, they work together well. There’s definitely more of a blue ocean mindset from agents and brokers, and I’m excited to see where that leads in the future.
How are insurtechs adjusting their approach to better work with agents, brokers, carriers etc.?
Insurance is not just one thing — there’s claims, premium financing, sales, customer service, etc. People are starting to get smarter about tackling all these different areas of the stack and offering solutions that are truly needed. The industry needs an automated all-in-one financing, collections, and payables platform that can help distributors sell more by eliminating labor intensive, expensive processes while providing customers with the great online checkout and financing experience they’ve come to expect. That’s why I’m excited about what Ascend is building.
It’s also interesting to see the maturing of insurtechs and where they are winding up, like Ask Kodiak being acquired by IVANS earlier this month. We are definitely seeing some “insurtech darlings” get scooped up by these bigger entities. As an entrepreneur, an exit is an exit. It’s pretty cool to see these wins. And it’ll be even cooler to see how these major players begin to incorporate these technologies.
Where do you think insurtechs have room for improvement?
I think the biggest thing is to look at other verticals and see what kind of technologies are taking off in those spaces. Then ask yourself, “Why isn’t this here yet?” “How can this be done well here?” When you see what’s being done differently in other verticals, you can start to figure out how it can apply to your own area of expertise. For instance, why does this type of technology work in banking, but not in insurance? Is there something we can do to integrate it and solve a certain problem we’re facing?
Essentially, you can make facsimiles of other technologies that you know for a fact work in other industries/sub-industries. If something works beautifully in the world of travel insurance, see what can be done to integrate it into the world of life insurance. If the blueprint already exists, figure out how to make it work for you and your area.
Where do you see people try something but it hasn’t landed yet?
The biggest goal is to simplify things. Think of robotic process automation or blockchain — there’s a ton of buzzwords people take and use to raise money. But I don’t think that most of these people are making anything simpler. At the end of the day, solutions need to be less of a hindrance. They need to be quicker, lighter, and frictionless. I would say where people tend to come up short is when they try to latch onto the new, hot, shiny technology of the moment and force it into insurance without properly understanding the problem or what they’re addressing.
Insurtech is two things — insurance and technology. If you lean too heavily into one or the other, you’re going to get lost. You can find yourself getting eaten alive by development costs or not be taken seriously if you don’t know the bones of the insurance industry.
How do you think people on the tech side can better work with the insurance side, and vice versa?
The most important thing is to spend time around people who are actually doing what you want to do, and who understand the industry you’re trying to break into. Get your hands on the papers, spend time with an agency, hop on phone calls. The real world is so much more fluid. The best way to learn is to put yourself in the middle of it and be surrounded by people who can teach you.
To insurtech companies that are maybe struggling to find product market fit, I would recommend exploring other insurtechs outside of their core competency. If you’re a commercial insurtech with no experience in personal insurance, don’t be afraid to explore personal insurtech companies. They know what they’re doing in that space, while you don’t.
What are your customers’ biggest pain points today, and how do you solve it?
The biggest pain point is definitely policies and portals being all over the place. We need more consolidation. Right now, people are using 40 different apps and mailing paperwork. That doesn’t work in this day and age. If you want things to run efficiently and effectively, you need to provide people with the right environment and tools to do so. We need more shared information and data, be it in the form of a shared ledger or what have you.
As for how to achieve this, I would lean back into what I said earlier — look at what kind of technology has been working in other verticals and figure out how we can integrate it. The model already exists, just not in the industry we need it to. Think of Expedia for travel — it has everything people need all in one place. Most personal and commercial insurances have not been fluidly bucketed yet, but the technology to do so is already out there. Now we just need to bring it over. FINAEO is trying to do this for Life Insurance!
What are some of the biggest challenges insurance as an industry is facing right now?
One of the biggest challenges is definitely how to intelligently use data. It’s a hard market, and everything is getting more expensive. If we could figure out how to operate more efficiently, have a clearer understanding of risks, remove friction, properly vet IOT, etc., we’ll be better off. It’ll make things exponentially easier.
Assuming we can solve those problems, how do you think the insurance world looks in ten years?
I think that insurance will look a lot more like the airline or banking industries, which are far more fluid and aggregated spaces. Insurance at its best is a good lineman — you don’t even know it’s doing its job if it’s working well. Hopefully, insurance will continue to operate more and more in the background — easier, cheaper, better protected, with more person to person relationships, and with less paperwork.
Do you think that carriers will push harder into distribution, or pull out and focus on underwriting and investing while brokers focus on distribution?
This industry is a menagerie, it’s evolving. You’ll have people like Progressive that do really forward-thinking things, and others who continue to stick to a more conservative, traditional approach. The tides regularly seem to shift.
Specifically, digital distribution will make things more frictionless for agents — you’ll be able to do more with less. There’s a whole generation of young, hungry people entering insurance, and they’re excited to be here. They’re studying and learning, and they want to evolve the space. I’m excited to see where they take it.
How would you coach people to get into insurtech?
Keep an eye on job boards! Tons of people in the space right now are hiring and growing. Keep your eye on your own personal bottom line, and keep a pulse on the space. It’ll only benefit you in the long run.
What advice would you give your younger self about working in insurance?
I was a comparative religions major, and that was something I was a bit insecure about when I started getting interested in insurance. Eventually I came to realize that it’s less about the degrees and the majors, and more about the people. Understanding the people making decisions, getting things done, and contributing to the network is key.
Success is being a worthwhile person and contributing to the world — exactly what our parents told us growing up. I would say keep owning it, keep showing up, and always try to make others look good.
How can large, risk-averse insurance carriers and brokers truly embrace innovation in a meaningful way?
Definitely build a side stack. No one is saying you need to give up on what you’re currently working on, but just place a second bet if you can. Build something cool and don’t overmanage it. This also serves as a great opportunity for insurtechs to work with traditional carriers and brokers, especially ones with corporate ventures arms. There’s plenty of upsides across the board to building and investing in a side stack, so why not do it?
Who is leading the insurtech space so far?
On the distribution side, I really like Talage. I like a lot of the philosophical things they’re doing — letting the agent bind it, giving you some control over the intake flow.
Hazard Hub is great on the infrastructure enablement side of things. They give you a 10,000 foot view of the properties you’re looking at and help you feel more comfortable binding policies in regional markets that you’re less familiar with. I find myself looking at both of these insurtech models and using them myself.
And who is one insurtech expert, founder, investor, you’d like to meet?
The CEO of Hippo, Assaf Wand. He seems like he’s doing a really good job, and I’m always excited to see what comes next from them.
Bio: Andrew Wynn is the Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Ascend, the first modern insurance payments platform that provides automated all-in-one financing, collections, and payables. Prior to Ascend, Andrew built a home maintenance startup called Sheltr, which provides homeowners with routine preventative maintenance service and diagnostics to offer data-driven proactive care to catch issues before they become costly repairs. The company became the first acquisition made by insurtech unicorn Hippo because of its intuitive and technological approach to building an insurance product that went beyond the customer interaction. Prior to Sheltr, Andrew was at Instacart, leading the company’s product and data integration team.