Michael Jans: Hello everybody this is Michael Jans with Agency Revolution. We make it easy to automate your systems, engage your customers and to grow your agency or brokerage. I want to welcome you to this episode of the connected insurance podcast where we examine the trends, innovations, challenges and solutions to the biggest problems facing retail, agents, and brokers.
I’m thrilled to introduce you to our guest for today, Brad Ruben. Brad has been automating insurance agencies for 31 years after graduating from UCLA with a degree in math and computer science. He has lead Archway Computer for the past six years where they’ve achieved consistent growth of 35% a year and he is currently supporting 115 agencies in 25 states.
One of the things that I love about talking to Brad is that he understands technology from the inside out. He understands what technology means and what it can do from an agency in terms of day to day operations but also how technology can be used to scale and grow the agency. They specialize in helping agencies of all sizes get the most out of their computer hardware and software.
They proactively prevent problems before those problems put a halt to your business so you can really focus on what you do best which is growing your agency. Without further ado, I want to invite you to a stimulating and very practical conversation with Brad Ruben. Brad Ruben, I’m thrilled to have you with us here today and I know that we share a number of mutual clients and they have nothing but good things to say about you, so it’s great to have you. How are you today?
Brad Ruben: I’m great. How are you doing? Are you drying out?
Michael: No. We have lots of weather to deal with. First of all, let’s just back up really quickly. I’ve introduced you to our audience already, but in your own words, tell us a little bit about what it is that you do and what your area of expertise is?
Brad: Well, I guess for the last 31 years, I’ve been automating insurance agencies and I’ve tried to get out. I sold my first business but I find that the insurance industry is a little bit like the mob Michael you can never leave.
Michael: Okay, once you’ve done a favor, that’s it, right?
Brad: That’s right. My current company that I started six years ago is what’s known as a managed services company. But specifically, we provide computer IPs support for insurance agencies. I like to joke we have no normal clients, only insurance agents and what I find is that the technology surrounding the insurance industry is very different from what most IT people have — I’ve worked with. We become an outsourced IT department for 120 insurance agencies that we currently do business with.
Michael: Right. Okay. I think a lot of our conversation is going to be pretty practical and tactical and so I want to dive into a few issues that we see arise over and over again. One of them very much in the Zeit Geist today, we could call it cyber security of course, data security. An insurance industry, we know that that’s a big deal and of course if everybody who listens to the news or watches the news realizes how much damage can be done when a system is breached and so security, it’s a critical issue. Talk to us a little bit about why agents should care about data security and what they need to do about that.
Brad: Right. Well, let me just start with maybe bringing the temperature down a little bit.
Michael: All right.
Brad: I think agency owners have been scared into thinking that Chinese hackers are out there and they’re going to steal — Well, today Russian hackers are out there and they’re going to steal their data and sell it to someone. But in my over 30 years of doing that, I’ve never seen that happen.
I wrote an article for restaurants magazine that they always make the title of the article but I believe the article was the security threat within. In my 31 years, I’ve seen a lot of agency producers steal a company policy information, customers information and go to the competitive agency down the street. I’ve also seen equipment get stolen and then you’ll have a data privacy issue that might have been just some classic thieves an employee, so it might have been in a place that physically stole equipment. Yes, you need to have technology security in place, but what I see more often is that there’s not a physical security.
Michael: Ah, okay. Tell us what to do.
Brad: Sure. One thing we tell people to do is we tell people move your data to the cloud. Once your data is on the cloud, it’s much more difficult to get stolen. Even though we hear in the news all the time about this giant company with that and this giant company with that, what we don’t hear in the news is that 10 person insurance agency down the street had their data stolen by a producer. That’s not going to make headline.
Michael: That’s not in the news. Okay.
Brad: Not in the news but I can tell you I’ve seen it happen. Moving your data to the cloud is a good idea. But another part of data security is not doing something stupid yourself which means not reading your data, not having a good data backup. Basically, we do the system reviews. We do it for free for agencies.
We want their business but we find that the insurance broker is such a small place by covet that it just creates good karma. What we’ve seen in the system reviews is roughly half of the agencies that we work with, that we’ve done audits for don’t have good backups. 50% don’t have a good backup.
Michael: Obviously that’s very serious.
Brad: Sure. People kept transfixed on these news events of Russian hackers did this and did that but I would just say they don’t deal with the physical, the data that’s in their office, so making sure that that data is protected.
Michael: The danger is a little more every day, it’s a little more — we’re less likely to be hacked by some mysterious Russian hacker than we are to have stuff stolen by producer who got an offer from the guy down the street.
Michael: Right. Your recommendation is move to the cloud. I’m curious about this. Obviously, we’ve seen a transition from agency management systems to move into the cloud-based platform. What percentage do you think are there and which percentage are not there?
Brad: Well, I think maybe you have to start with what does the cloud even mean, right? Because when you’re going to the New York Times that comment or at times that come, are you on the cloud because you’re consuming a lot of information on that? That was the first generation of the internet or Web 1.0 was content, a one-way information. Then another way people describe today being on the cloud is they’re using their agency management system online or they have their email online. Those are both cloud-based applications where there’s a two-way interaction that’s happening. Data is coming from the provider, you’re inputting information into a policy, into a customer et cetera.
Then there are many people that have different definitions for that. I call that Web 2.0 and then Web 3.0 is the new way that folks like me are trying to take our agency bases. That’s to take your desktop, your Windows desktop and move it to the cloud. When you move your desktop to the cloud, you gain a lot of advantages from that. You never have to upgrade your equipment again. If your machine is running slow in the cloud, then we happen to be big proponents of the Amazon web service. They have a very big lead in this space. If your desktop in the cloud is running slowly, it’s a mouse click for a technician to say, “Okay, I’m doubling the memory in your machine.”
Michael: Okay. Got it.
Brad: It also means as we get a more distributed workforce, that it doesn’t matter where literally in the world that you are, you have access to your computer wherever you have access to the Internet.
Michael: It facilitates a remote workforce?
Brad: It facilitates a remote workforce, it facilitate some mobile workforce, and it allows a lot of flexibility in how you roll out computers to people without having to have the computer tech walk into the office, and set up a computer.
Michael: Okay. Brad I know that I have a number of clients who are still using their original server based agency management system platform. I’m going to ask you, in one sentence, what do you want to say to them?
Brad: Move to the cloud.
Brad: Your information is safer in the cloud and your ability to work from anywhere is much easier when you’re in the cloud.
Michael: Got it, All right. I’m going to change gears. Okay. Anything else on that?
Michael: Okay. I’m going to go data security.
Brad: No. I would just say that, hey there are lots of definitions, you’ve actually just heard the correct definition. Everybody else has one.
Michael: [laughs] Very good. Okay, All right. Okay, I do want to change gears here and move to a different take on technology in general. I know that you use a number of technology tools to help you sell. Can you share with us what your marketing your sales stack is?
Brad: Sure. Let me just start with what I tell every person who uses the internet, and that is –
Michael: All right. Which is everybody that you ever talk to. Okay.
Brad: [laughs] Well, you’ll be surprised, that I was with an agent yesterday where the owner doesn’t have e-mail.
Michael: Okay, Fair enough. For a moment I forgot we were talking about the insurance industry.
Brad: Exactly. What I’d like to tell people that use the Internet, who use the Web, is that everything that they’re doing is being tracked. I know it’s scary, but people start to — when I tell them, “Hey, have you ever wondered why these ads pop out for a website that you haven’t visited in five days.” They say, “Yes, I understand that.” Well, that’s because there is a tracking network that places ads because they’ve discovered that people are more likely to click on ads where they’ve been to that website before.
Michael: If they’ve shown interest. Okay. Google’s re-marketing.
Brad: Exactly, Google re-marketing et cetera. They’re just trying to get people to click on things, and that’s what it happens. But my point is everything that anybody does on the internet is tracked. You could use that for bad like let’s say Flow, and the gecko use that or you could use it for good.
Michael: Okay, the forces of good. All right.
Brad: Some of the products that I like to use with the forces of good, is what is called visual visitor, and that’s a product that will do what’s called in techno geek terms or reverse DNS look up. Which basically means when somebody visits your website, whether they got your website from a business card or a friend told them, they didn’t get it through a Google ad or whatever, it will tell you, the agency owner, that X company just visited your website. I find agencies sales people, producers, tell me that this is very useful information because they don’t know how interested a commercial account might be in what they’re offering until they see them hitting their website consistently throughout the day and they go, “Oh my goodness, this company that I didn’t think was interested in our products, obviously is, and they’re visiting the website.”
Michael: They are visiting. Is that an application that gets integrated into your web platform, not agencies?
Brad: Yes. Into a website and it’s basically a two line snippet of code that gets integrated and in a $39 monthly fee for that.
Michael: Right on. Okay.
Brad: Another product that I really love is Yesware or a product called Tout App.
Michael: Can you spell the second one?
Brad: Tout App is T-O-U-T-A-P-P. They essentially do the same thing. They integrate with Outlook et cetera. But what it is it’s a read receipt without a read receipt. Which means that for individual emails that you send, it will give you response. It will tell you that that email was just opened or that an attachment inside that e-mail was opened, and what’s so interesting, oh – go ahead.
Michael: Well, I’m familiar with that technology and I was curious if you knew by what percentage somewhere between zero and 100% and way closer to zero, it reduces the deliverability or increases the likelihood that it gets put into a spam folder.
Brad: I’ve never seen it happen.
Michael: Okay. All right. Got it. Pretty good.
Brad: I’ve never seen it happen. What it is it’s a little graphic bit [crosstalk]
Michael: Right. A little pixel that gets in.
Brad: Right. What some Tech people will do, is they’ll turn off graphics so that pixel never gets open and then you won’t know. But what I’ve seen is, and what my agency principals have told me, is it’s just really great to be able to call up a prospect, right when they opened an email.
Michael: Right on. It’s also interesting to notice like, if you ask somebody to call you back and you know that they opened it and they don’t call you for days and days, it’s a remarkable window.
Brad: Yes, or perhaps a cancellation notice.
Michael: Yes, how about that?
Brad: If they read out their iPad on their couch at home and then they opened it on their Windows desktop at work et cetera.
Michael: Does that product have a free version and a paid version? The ones that I’m familiar with, the free version that has a little bug that sort of advertises the tracker and the paid version removes that.
Brad: Yes. The free version of Yesware, allows you to only send so many e-mails that are tracked in a specific time period. I’m not familiar with the ones that you’re talking about. You know that basically I have an ad for them.
Michael: Mail Tracker.
Brad: I haven’t seen that.
Michael: The one I’m familiar with and the one I’ll use when I feel that it’s appropriate is Mail Tacker. The free version has got a little mail tracker bug down at the bottom of the e-mail. If you want to have that removed, there’s a small monthly fee.
Brad: Sure. I’m not familiar with that product, but I will see. In general, I’ve had this come up where I sent a proposal to an agency and then I’ve seen it later opened by a competitor by knowing that this vendor is in a specific city and saying, “Wait a second, they don’t have an office there.”
Michael: [laughs] Right. Okay, got it. All right.
Brad: My agency clients have also told me, they’ve said, “What we’ve seen is we’ve seen we send a proposal out and then they say no and then 11 months later we see them open up proposals.”
Michael: Interesting. Right. Okay. That’s good.
Brad: And they go, “Wait, we should call.”
Michael: We should call, all right.
Brad: But in general, and this will sound like I’m talking to the players here, agency management systems, they aren’t agency management systems.
I think that an insurance agency is a sales organization and all these agency management systems that are on the market, I am sorry to say, don’t do anything to improve the sales organization. They are all about a back office management system and customer support.
Michael: In their defense some of them have subsidiary products that help in that regard, yes?
Brad: Yes. But the main focus has not been on sales. I think we would agree on that.
Michael: I think everybody agrees on that. Right.
Brad: On automation and so automating the back office. That’s why I’m excited about products like Agency Revolution that are truly — they are filling the void that isn’t out there. We also have some agencies using products like Pipe Drive which is –
Michael: Pipeline manager?
Brad: Yes, pipeline manager. There are some agency management systems that do that a little better than others and I don’t want to take sides in that whole segment.
Michael: You’ve got friends out there so be careful what you say. Visual visitor and the email tracking applications. Are there other software or technologies besides Agency Revolution which you also mentioned, thank you. Are there other applications out there that you like on the sales side? And pipe drive, as I recall they have a free version that you can test and really get your feet wet in before you choose to go to the premium version, at least that’s the way it was when I saw it a year or two ago. Anything else?
Brad: Right. I think having some sort of email marketing campaign is good. I’m a big fan of, believe it or not, a product called Google Voice which allows you to make click to call. When you have a producer, it will take any web-based application and as we know, some agency management systems are web -based and some aren’t. But for those that are web-based, having a clickable phone number really is helpful to producers that are spending a lot of time on the phone.
Michael: Right on. Okay. There’s something else that is in the zeitgeist these days, ransomware. Can you tell us what that is and why agents need to even think about it?
Brad: Remember when we were talking about how I’m not afraid of Chinese hackers taking your data and selling it to somebody. The fact of the matter is Michael, there is nobody that wants to buy most agencies’ data. The hacker is going to steal the data and then go, “Now what? What do I do with it?”
Michael: Where are the credit card numbers?
Brad: Yes. What hackers have recognized is the person that wants the data is the person that they stole it from and so that’s what Ransomware is all about. It is about encrypting a company, an agencies’ data such that their own data such that they have to pay through bitcoins, which is an untraceable currency, you are not getting your money back once you give them the bitcoins, you are not going to be able to challenge that with your credit card company etc. What we’ve seen is the rapid rise of really these mob-style gangster organizations that are doing this in places like Asia and Eastern Europe.
When we saw it come out about three years ago, one of my lead engineers said, “This is the scariest stuff that I’ve ever seen and so we’ve got to do something about it.” We installed for all of our agencies that day, the first time we got hit by Ransomware three years ago was there’s a service and I’ll just give these guys a free plug and it’s free from foolish IT, now you can spell that many ways but foolish IT.
Michael: [laughs] Okay. I got it. Well, I wish I could.
Brad: You can download a product called Cryptoprevent that won’t prevent all versions of Cryptolocker but will prevent some of them.
I will give you an example that’s in the news. A hospital was hit by Cryptolocker out here in Los Angeles and they had good backups and they were going to be able to restore but the problem was they had so much data that it was going to take them three days to restore it. Reportedly, they gave the criminals $20,000 to get their data back. The criminals had asked for a million, somehow they were able to negotiate them down. But that of all the security stuff that is going out there is really what I’m concerned about. There used to be viruses that all they would do is they would destroy your data and so the hackers got nothing but some sort of masochistic or sadistic joy out of that.
The other thing we see quite prevalently is what’s called malware where people hijack the computer unbeknownst to the user and they start emailing out a million emails to everybody that they want to sell Viagra to or whatever and then when they do that the email, they get blacklisted by the ISP such that all their emails are thought of by the world as being spam. That’s a bad situation to be in.
Michael: Okay. The same kind of protective software can protect from that?
Brad: Yes. You have to have layers of protection, you have to have firewalls that protect you. You’ve got to have anti-virus, anti-malware. We use Cryptoprevent. But again, most of those problems go away if you move your data to the cloud.
Michael: All right. One last question for you and maybe this is an opportunity for you to take a swipe at the competition. A lot of our clients and agents and brokers throughout the US and Canada have their local IT guy, right? What’s wrong with that?
Brad: Nothing’s really wrong with that. They are usually nice guys and I am sorry if I’m being sexist here but they are almost always men and they are usually playing on the owner’s softball team or they have kids in the same team et cetera. But what we find is that many of them are trying to be Jerks of all trades, they’re not specializing in insurance, they’ve got a gamut of customers, they’re busy, they’re handling text files, they’re doing the accounting, if they’re on one side of town they can’t be on the other side of town at the same time.
We find that, sadly, that if they follow Microsoft’s best practices, that doesn’t work with insurance technology.
Michael: Ah, okay.
Brad: We also find that that guy down the street is all about selling products and things that don’t make an insurance agency any better. I think that owners of the agency have been conditioned to believe that they just have to have somebody on site. And they didn’t pull this because their IT vendor has told them this because they’re down the street from the IT vendor. The IT vendor, often times, they make money going into your office. This is a model called Break-Fix. Things have to break in order for them to fix them and to make their money.
We’re in the managed services business, so we wake up every morning saying. “Gosh, we hope we did everything we can to prevent problems from happening.” Because customers pay the same amount of money, whether there are a hundred things that we fix in a month or zero. But, normally, the IT guy down the street, he wants to be called in because, just like a taxi, the meter starts to run.
Michael: Got it. All right. Brad, I’m going to ask you one more question. We’ve talked about, so far, nothing but technology. What we really haven’t touched on, and I’m not going to ask you to spend a lot of time on this, I’m going to give you about two sentences for your answer, is in InsureTech, it’s the massive infusion of energy, capital, innovation from really largely, from what you would call the technology sector, or technology innovators startups largely intended to disrupt or transform the industry. Given that context, given the big picture of landscape that we’re all living in right now, if you were going to say something, sort of deliver a declaration or an imperative to the agency force today, what would you say to them?
Brad: Leverage your technology and find niches that you can really help your client to.
Michael: Very good, excellent. Okay, Brad. That was tremendous, and also extremely practical and tactical. I appreciate the usability of this information. Is there anything else you want to pass on before we wind it up?
Brad: Well, I will just say, “Go, Brad.” I’m at UCLA. I graduated from UCLA exactly 18 years, and that’s the truth, [laughs] and we’ve got a great basketball team this year Michael.
Michael: Right on. Okay. There’s a history of that there. If people want to reach out to you and find out more about what you do, what your firm does, how should they do that?
Brad: Sure, they can call me directly at, (424)-245-5270. They can also e-mail me, brad@myarchway, or visit us at myarchway.com
Michael: Very good. All right. Brad, thanks so much for sharing your expertise on behalf of all of our listeners. This has been great. Thanks.
Brad: Thank you Michael.
Michael: Have a great day.
Brad: You too.