[Transcript] Shefi Ben-Hutta – Founder of Coverager.com

Listen Now

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, five, four, three, two. 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 special episode of the connected insurance podcast where we examine the trends, innovations, challenges, and solutions to the biggest problems facing retail, agents, and brokers today. I am very excited to be able to introduce a friend of mine Shefi Ben-Hutta, who is somebody I think everybody in the insurance industry should be paying attention to right now. She’s the founder of Coverager and you can find that folks at coverager.com and you should.

It’s described as the first insure-tech media company targeting the modern insurance professional. I think Shefi is paying attention to things that matter very much to today’s retail agent. I subscribe to our newsletter and read the content that comes from Shefi religiously and frankly, I think everybody should. Prior to that, she worked for a digital distribution startup called Bolt and for CNA as part of their small business automation team working on real-time coding solutions for digitally focused brokers. Without further ado, I want to introduce you to somebody, again everybody should be paying attention to, Shefi Ben-Hutta. Hello Shefi, thanks so much for joining us. How are you?

Shefi Ben-Hutta: Very good. Hello Michael? Thanks for having me.

Michael: Pleasure to have you here and I want everybody to know that I’m a Shefi fan. I’m in your fan base and a loyal reader of your e-mail newsletter. We’ll circle back in a moment about what it is that you do and how people can find out more about you, but let’s start at the very beginning. I’m going to ask you first, what do you think your position is? What’s your role in the insurance industry?

Shefi: Probably the best way to answer that is to say that my role is to provide information and entertainment. Coverager is both about doing intelligence in a way that is easy to understand, easy to comprehend and making it honored along the way.

Michael: Okay and you do that. That’s one of the reasons a loyal reader of the newsletter that says, I think in the subject line or somewhere, it says, “This is a really short newsletter but it took a long time to write it.” Something like that, right?

Shefi: Yes. I want to say I spend about seven to eight hours reading insurance news and finding the best stories and curating them. I think someone said that a little bit of ego goes a long way. I try to live up to that, so a little bit of ego, but we do spend a lot of time making sure we bring the right information to the audience.

Michael: Okay, let’s dig into that. In some ways, you are perhaps a professional curator, yes?

Shefi: I guess so, you can say that.

Michael: Yes, okay. For each newsletter you think you’re reading seven or eight hours?

Shefi: Well, I  research insurance all the time and I always, always read it’s funny and one of the things that people is how do you get the information or how do you know? I’m self-taught and I read and I analyze and I think critically about what people are telling me, what people are conveying. One of the problems in the insurance marketplace is the fact that the majority of the information is being delivered to us by startup founders and by companies and so you have to put that into the right context. That’s what I do. I live insurance all day long and I think Coverager is a product of me.

Michael: Okay–

Shefi: Well, and it’s just a matter of saving you time, right?

Michael: Right.

Shefi: I love it and I do it because it’s a lot of fun too.

podcast-click

Michael: Okay, I’m going to ask you a little bit about your process for curating information. There are probably a number of us that consume insurance information all day long. I have a ritual where virtually the first thing I do related to work with my first cup of coffee, is I click one button on my computer and it opens up 11 resources that deliver insurance and insurance related information to me every single day. By the way one of them is yours so if you have new stuff, I’m tracking your new stuff.

The information that you deliver, it’s not like just another insurance magazine. There are a lot of those. You have a unique perspective. Particularly what intrigues you about what’s happening in the insurance industry right now? What you’re reporting on right now, I don’t think you could have reported on back even maybe five years ago but certainly not 10 years ago. What is it that you think is unique about what you are seeing and what you are sharing?

Shefi: That’s a really good question. I think you’re absolutely right. I started this process about two years ago and what I report about right now is completely different from what I reported about back then. There’s a lot more stuff to say to report on. It’s mostly because, I think, at least in the last three years we’ve seen at least 200 new players. New players mean new technology; sometimes it also means new products.

It means just different ways of thinking about strategy and of business and just our landscape in terms of what the impact is of each new player, but obviously, with each new player it’s another source of information which I track all of those. It’s also about being a part of a very dynamic insurance community on LinkedIn and on Twitter; those are my two primary channels and feeding off of the network. I think there is a very vibrant network professionals sharing what they’re doing, sharing their vision, and me tapping into that and being able to convey that in the context of a new player, new money, the product.

Michael: It is the word new? It’s the term new that stands out to me when I think of Shefi?

Shefi: Absolutely. I think the way I position Coverager is a new modern media company to the new insurance professional. I think that one of my main frustrations with insurance and I was part of the insurance workforce for I’m going to say 13 years now. Part of it was in Israel, part in US. I was a startup for an insurance company. We definitely have a talent gap. We always had a talent gap.

What we’re seeing now with new entrants, and this is not that much about insurance expertise but it’s about the culture and how do we embrace change, how do we embrace failure? That was, I think, one of my frustrations and whatever I was trying to provide a solution for when I was working or when I started blogging. I don’t know if people know this, but I started Coverager, before that it was called Insurance Entertainment, while I was still working for CNA.

Michael: You and I both been in the industry quite a while. I think we first met at CNA. I’m right about that?

Shefi: We did. One of my main roles at CNA was to aid the independent agency channel learn about digital solutions and Agency Revolution was one of, as at the time you were offended that I recommended you, Jim Scott who was my boss, that we talk to you and see if there is a way to partner together.

Michael: Well, I appreciate that. You mentioned a few words that, I think most people don’t associate with insurance and those of us who have been here for some decades; we didn’t used to hear about insurance. You said, I think, words like innovation, change, dynamic. I’m going to ask you to talk about that. I think the emerging insurance landscape is radically different than the relatively staid conservative industry that many have been used to. A lot of change in the future, what do you see happening?

Shefi: I agree with you. There’s a lot of change in the future, but I’m not going to discount the change that has been taking place. I think it’s all a matter of there’s new technology, now there’s new players and then new money coming in. I think the piece of change is different across lines of business. You will see a lot of the new entrants focused on maybe small business, personal lines obviously, but we don’t see a lot of this digitization in the middle or higher lines of business.

But, I think, obviously apparent we see a lot of insurance companies launch should we see funds, we see the rise in accelerators, we see new funding and obviously what that means. But there’s also and I guess what I’m trying to go, there is this divide where people are trying to divide and to attack versus incumbents, new entrants versus old.

podcast-click

Shefi: But I think to your point there is change everywhere. You see Geico applying changes and then vice versa. You see companies like Lemonade and Metromile which are fairly new also introducing different ways to sell insurance. I think at the end of the day this is all going to be about the 101 ways we’re trying to sell insurance. It’s all about selling insurance at this point. Yes there is backhand innovation but a lot of focus is about– still about how you’ve been offered the product in a more efficient manner.

Michael: All right. Share one or two of what you think are some of the most exciting changes that we might be seeing in the next few years.

Shefi: Well, there’s so many.

[laughter]

Michael: Well, we can go beyond that but we’re like, what gets your juices going when you think about a transformed industry?

Shefi: It’s not necessarily a product. I think what I’m so excited about is who’s going to win. Right? I look at Geico. We all look at Geico, right? In 2013 or so it surpassed All State so obviously they know what they’re doing. If there’s one constant in insurance is their huge span in ads but then when I think about it and I follow them very closely is that all over sudden Geico has from one side a company like Metromile and then from the other side a company like Lemonade and I would love to see how that turns out. Right now their probably– they may not be feeling it, right? Metromile is regional. Lemonade is only in New York and it’s pro renters insurance, right?

There’s all those dynamics that people can then discount, hey it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. Then I feel like this is the same folks that may say Wes, Airbnb four years ago, whose going to want to sleep on someone’s couch? These are the things that excite me. The competition. How is the landscape going to change? Who’s going to stay on top? I personally believe Insurance is a zero sum game which means that if somebody wins somebody else is going to lose.

What is that going to look like? That’s one example that excites me. The second thing that really excites me is, which is a big question mark in my mind, if anyone is going to figure out whether the customer wants to engage around insurance? For the longest time my answer for that would be absolutely not. No one’s going to want to engage with an insurance product but then comes a player like Trov for instance with their micro duration and the ability to instantly buy coverage. I don’t know the size of their market but obviously they’re operational. Are they proving that for certain lines and businesses or for certain products people would want to engage with an insurance player on a daily basis.

Michael: For listeners who aren’t familiar with them, can you share with us what their value proposition is?

Shefi: Yes, for all the three players? Lemonade, Metromile and Trov.

Michael: Terrific. Yes. You couldn’t pick through three more interesting ones.

Shefi: If you haven’t heard of Lemonade-

[laughter]

Shefi: – where are you living? Lemonade launched– well, they officially launched in September, I want to say of 2016. They’re a renters insurance carrier operating right now out of New York mobile first. AI centered. Billy, their value proposition is to use technology to remove the middle man from the process. They raised  in one sale was 60 million and they have absolutely good backing, right? That’s Lemonade for you. Metromile is a usage space insurance carrier. Their value proposition is for low mileage drivers to be able to pay per mile I think. They’re regional but least I want so say is seven states. I could be wrong.

Michael: Yes. Okay.

Shefi: But also very successful. They recently announced that they moved from being an MTA to being a full stack insurer. They’re also working under claims process. There’s lot of teases and innovation over there. Last but not least is Trov. Trov currently operates in Australia. They also operate in U.K. They’re planning to come to U.S and it’s all about micro duration on demand insurance products for yourself–

Michael: Put that one in plain English for us.

Shefi: That means that you can take your mobile app and swipe to the right or swipe it to the left when you want coverage for your mobile or for your electronics and tablet.

Michael: Okay. We’re not trying to give out–

Shefi: Insurances what they like to say.

Michael: Say that again.

Shefi: They like to call themselves the Tinder of insurance.

Michael: What products do they provide protection for?

Shefi: Electronics at this point. I think they’re looking to– maybe sports gear as well. Definitely mobiles, tablets, maybe cameras. Products insurance.

Michael: Yes. I noticed the other day that Lemonade had announced that they closed a claim that had been opened in three seconds. I don’t know if I read–

Shefi: Yes, with Brandon.

Michael: What’s that?

[laughter]

Shefi: Yes. They even shared the guy’s name.

Michael: Yes, right. They even shared the guy’s name and the $1000 packer that he was– that he apparently lost. Of these, do you think– potentially are they are all transformers? Are they industry transformers?

Shefi: Transformers. Not yet they aren’t. Not yet they aren’t. I think that– I’ll answer it in a different way. I think Lemonade is trying to position themselves. They said it. I didn’t say it. But they called themselves the technology company that happens to be in the insurance business. I’m pretty much certain that that’s what Esurance said at the beginning. I think that’s sometimes what Insurance says which is a digital commercial broker out of Chicago.

I think the margins determine what business we’re at and for the most part where in the insurance business. Technology is just a means to an end. It offers convenience. Yes, it’s great. It’s convenient. It’s only one claim. That’s why I said I’m really– I’m watching Lemonade closely. I’m watching Metromile closely. I’m watching Geico just as close. Nobody is still sitting idle. Everybody is doing something.

Michael: Even the established stade, so called stade carriers that a lot of independent agents rely on are being– they’re making investments.

Shefi: Absolutely.

Michael: They’re making–

Shefi: The only question– The only carriers I would question what they’re doing are some of the mid tier carriers that you don’t often hear in the news. It’s not clear to me what someone like Hanover is doing or what someone like Elective is doing. Or what someone like CNA is doing. Now me– pretty frankly maybe I don’t have all the answers or maybe it’s himself and who knows. But that is what the agents should be asking themselves. What are their partners doing to make sure that they stay relevant in business. For the most part it’s the agents that will be impacted by any change.

Michael: All right, so let’s talk about that. Shefi as you know my role in the industry is largely as advocate for the agent broker. I care about them and I recognize that they’re facing what could be a fairly turbulent near and mid term future. Can you give them a perspective on what their– Let’s break this into little chunks. First of all, what do you think their future might look like in the next two or three years?

Shefi: Well, I think– It all depends again what line of business their focused on. Change is going to happen in different pace in different line of business. It’s not all doom and gloom and I think– I see examples of agencies that are really successful and using technology or just new business models to improve their processes. It’s not going to be just about being that insurance agents. It’s going to be about trying to find value or different value through their partners.

Whoever their partners may be. It could be that obviously in one hand it’s the policy holders but then on the other side it’s the carriers that they work with. I think that traditionally agents have a really good ability– and they’re awesome partners. That’s the one thing I would say. They are really awesome partners to the one, two or three top carriers that they work with. They need to be selective in terms of who they work with.

Two, they– I think one of the advantages that agents have is for the most part, they understand the customer sometimes better than the carrier actually does. They have access to them directly. They may even have access to their e-mail which some insurers don’t even have that. There are a lot of ways in which these agents can use the data that they have in order to give a carrier the glance into the customer’s world. They can partner with new entrants. We see a lot of new distribution players that are looking to use, basically their mobile first or the web in order to attract clients. But for the most part agents have a really solid book and word of mouth still holds in insurance. There will be– I think there will be some interesting collaborations or definitely opportunity for some of the more established brokers to partner with new players. Especially if one can bring their expertise in marketing the other can bring their expertise in product or maybe their contract or their relationship with carrier’s better serve than that new customer.

Michael: If you are going to give a brief piece of advice to those who own and run agencies and brokerages about innovation and technology and navigating through all of this change Shefi. What would you say?

Shefi: Two things, I have to have two things. One show up, show up to conferences, shows up to events begin to now understand where the players are. If you’re not familiar with what we’ve just talked about then that’s a red flag. I think that’s the first thing brand, make sure that you understand the market dynamic. We start with having the access to the right information.

The second thing is try, this is a time to try and fail and try and fail. You actually understand what works. I think that no one knows what works and even the players who get millions in their back pocket are still unsure about what works. They built all the time and it’s not too late to go ahead and shop and try a new online initiative new offline initiative. Never discount offline.

That’s one of the things that maybe some of these new entrants discount its a, “Hey how everybody wants to be they wanted through the lab they wanted through a mobile.” I think with insurance that’s some of the larger and more complex products having a human interaction is going to be very important. Have a sense of trying to figure out what works for you what will work for you in the future and a lot of it is going to be around what is right for you.

From my end I worked for DNA for four years and what I would say and the at most respected agency channel is that they’re so diverse.. Every agency is different everyone has a different some will consider outsourcing some absolutely not. Some will work with carriers call centers and engage all these little dynamics that make the agency who they are. Each one will know what works for them and what does that but it really starts with having the talent that is willing to go and try and see what works.

Michael: You mentioned the word having the talent, right?

Shefi: Yes.

Michael: Do you think that’s a problem in the industry? Do you think we overall, is there an absence of the talent that’s willing to innovate change and move quickly?

Shefi: Yes, and I think of along with some of the insurers I didn’t go well with the agency that they may have a better shot at that. For the most part it’s their business. Then they seem to be able to embrace the talent and the right talent. How to answer that with Insurance Companies I definitely advice. A lot of these insurance agency I view them either as family businesses or entrepreneurs, they really care about their business and their brand. They also offer some really fun some of them are often really fun in creative environments to work with some of the folks that I’m at. Actually, that’s one of their advantages and whatever talent they struggle to attract. Same thing happened with the new entrants I think it’s the same in balance.

Michael: Yes, as we look to the immediate future perhaps we see new competitors arising yes. We see really in some cases almost a new channel the emerging digital channel arising so we’ve got the digital channel, the direct channel, the captive channel, the independent agency channel .What do you think the greatest strength is and what will and what gives hope to the agency channel and what is it that they can build on that nobody else can replace. What do you think that is?

Shefi: Well, it’s going to be very hard to replace insurance expertise. It’s going to be very hard to replace a customer’s need for advocacy. Basically, has been a main advantage for the agency channel I think that the opportunity will not be necessarily in one channel or the other. It will be about making sure there is an alignment between the products being sold and the channel it’s being sold to. Through what partners and if I can give you one example which I think you know it actually happened pretty recently but there is Halid Financial which is an agency selling trump like products and obviously more products is brought but they are obviously been in the insurance business for years partnering with someone like Alber which is they know about for to help guide your finance.

That’s the opportunity that traditional agents have to search for these. If they can’t go ahead and manage their own online strategy partner with someone that can and then support them with their insurance expertise or insurance knowledge or that, then making sure. Not everybody is going to stay 20 year old with contents worth of $5000 or $10000 going to evolve. That’s why the agency channels are going away if we having already we can safely determine that it won’t but the role will change and the amount of players will change. That we already see, so partnerships is really the key.

Michael: All right Shefi, if people want to find out more about you what you do or read your newsletter. How can they do that?

Sheffi: Well, obviously they can access some coverager.com they can email me directly at shefi@coverager.com. We welcome any questions feedback always happy to talk about insurance.

Michael: I know you are. All right.

Shefi: Isn’t that weird?

Michael: Yes, well there like the pot calling the kettle black there on that one. You just called me weird. Before we wind up, I want to ask you a couple of other questions if I can just change gears here just a tad okay. If it let’s say if you were going to gift one book to let’s say our industry what would that be?

Shefi: Wow, does it have to be about insurance?

Michael: No.

Shefi: One of my favorite books is I never Saw Paris, a book about the afterlife. It is really, really, really funny. It’s actually about I want stay– I read it a really long time ago and I remember we were just laughing at all the time but it’s about. I want to say seven individual from all life and they die in a car accident. That’s the beginning of the book and they find themselves in somewhere between heaven and hell. They’re all trying to determine what they have in common to just feel better about themselves that this is why fate put us together. I don’t know if it’s me being in Israeli and in America and sometimes noticing the lack of diversity at times I just I have no idea why. I really, really love that book it has a really nice message.

Michael: Can you repeat the name of the book?

Shefi: I Never Saw Paris a book about the afterlife.

Michael: That sounds interesting. All right, one last question. What do you want Coverager to be two or three years from now?

Shefi: The number one media fact forum in insurance which basically means every insurance proportional open their day or closes their day with something from Coverager.

Michael: Well, I’m pretty much one of those already in our– I’ll encourage my listeners to do the same.

Shefi: Thank you.

Michael: Shefi thank you so much. Hopefully I’ll see you at a conference. One of the conferences coming up soon and we’ll have an opportunity.

Shefi: On ground Chicago, many promo.

Michael: Okay, all right. I’m not sure I’m going to be there for that one but I go to a lot of international conferences. I’m saying that for your sake but also for my listeners. Angela maintains my schedule when I travel and if I go to a conference I usually have an appointment or a meeting booked virtually every single hour that I’m there. If it’s I love to talk to our listeners and of course I loved to spend time with our clients.

If I’m on the road and you know about it reach out to my team and we’ll get some time to get together. All right. Shefi, this is been a real eye opener I think for me and hopefully for our listeners about some of the change turbulence and some of the exciting innovation that’s happening in the industry. I want to thank you for sharing that.

Shefi: Thank you for having me.

Michael: All right. Have a fantastic day.

Shefi: Bye, bye.