Insurtech Tackles Paper, Speed, and Transparency for Commercial Agents


Adam Demos, CEO of TowerIQ on the Connected Insurance Podcast presented by Agency Revolution

Adam Demos, CEO, TowerIQ

Adam Demos saw the problem clearly. Other industries were miles ahead of insurance. And clients suffered the frustration and irritation of an industry that was slow, opaque, and cumbersome. Adam started TowerIQ to solve these problems and make the life of commercial agents easier. Listen to this discussion to learn: 

  • How to gain a competitive advantage over competing commercial brokers
  • What Adam is doing to provide rapid and accurate data transfer
  • How savvy agents can boost their closing ratio and retention

Don’t miss this conversation with one of the insurance industry’s rising startup founders. A must-listen for agents with any commercial lines clients – and insurance professionals who want to understand the future of the industry. Click here to take advantage of a special limited-time offer from TowerIQ.

Presented by Agency Revolution, the Connected Insurance Podcast provides weekly opportunities for listeners to dive deep into the trends affecting insurance agents and brokers today and to gain proven strategies and tactics for agency growth. Our hosts facilitate thoughtful panels and 1:1 conversations with a variety of prominent thought leaders, with a focus on how to streamline and drive operational efficiency for your independent agency through the intelligent use of technology.


Transcript

Michael Jans: Adam, how are you?

Adam Demos: I’m great. How are you, Michael?

Michael: Well, I’m doing good and excited about this conversation. Let’s start with this because the audience may not know you. You are the founder and CEO of an insurtech that provides services to the independent insurance agency system and to brokers, but you haven’t always done that, so give us a little sense of how you got to be who you are today.

Adam: That’s very true. I’m new to insurance as of the last three years. The heart of TowerIQ was founded out of my experience in San Francisco. We’re currently based out of Boston, Massachusetts, but I have spent the global leader in competitive intelligence for mobile apps. I thought it was a really interesting business model that we had, we provided a free tool to our users, app developers, and app publishers. In return, they would provide commercial information about businesses to help with transactional processes. I sat back and said, “What’s a really big, really established market with really, frankly, terrible intelligence?”

Michael: Terrible intelligence. That sounds like, what’s a stupid industry?

Adam: More on like the market shares, is probably the better way to say that. I looked at things like commercial real estate, I looked at shipping and transportation, and then at one point, for some reason or another, I really fell in love with commercial insurance. We’re tackling a stimulus problem, that this market is massive, has a handful of transparency issues, whether that’s by design or for lack of data, but it’s also an industry that I think everyone knows is it’s primarily based on data. It needs to be based on accurate data, of course, in order to do anything. The respect for data is there, but we need to find a way from, I think, a technical perspective to solve a lot of the industry’s biggest problems.

We’ve focused a lot on the commercial brokerage space, and as of January 3rd, we launched a free tool for any broker or agent that wants to give their clients a better digital experience.

Michael: Okay, well, free does get our attention. We’ll circle back to that, but before we do, I want to get a little bit of a sense of the story of the TowerIQ story. As I understand it, Adam, you’ve got experience in software and you got experience in software in the hub or the heart of San Francisco, the hot space, and then you intentionally looked around for another opportunity and found this one?

Adam: That’s right.

Michael: Okay. Somewhere along the line, you actually said you fell in love with commercial insurance?

Adam: I did. I really did.

Michael: All right, now that you’ve been in it for two or three years, are you still in love with it?

[laughter]

Adam: I am. We’re at a point now where I think the first couple years of any insurance technology company is you get a lot of false positives, I think.

Michael: Okay.

Adam: That’s I think everyone’s experienced. I think everyone experienced that. As we refracted our strategy, it’s been the right strategy. The tool that we launched in January 3rd, and I think that resounded with a lot of people, so the energy in our offices have been through the roof for the last month. Everyone’s really excited to get the product “crosstalk”

Michael: Congratulations on that.

Adam: Yes, thank you.

Michael: I’m going to do something a little bit different here, Adam, for a moment. My audience, our audience, is primarily comprised of retail insurance agents and brokers, but this is an industry that’s under a lot of disruption or transformation or change to some extent, maybe some chaos, probably causing a fair amount of confusion, people like you causing confusion. We all know that this sub-industry or new industry of insurtech is emerging, just cannot be ignored. It can’t be ignored by the retail insurance agent anymore. It’s not just insurtech is trying to compete against us.

They’re insurer techs like yours and like the one that I started 10 years ago, that are trying to support the independent insurance agent. Here’s the little thing that I want to do, just different for a moment or two, is to give our audience a little bit of a sense of what’s it like on the other side of the door? What’s it like to be on the insurtech side? Because you had said it’s often the case that the first couple of years, you’re testing, you’re trying, you’re failing, you’re getting false positives. I know what it’s like, and I know what my experience is like, but share a little bit about yours.

Adam: Yes, I think we went in to start at the brokerage space. The brokers have this really unique position of having really all the data that they have, all of the inputs in the form of the exposure data, and they have all of the outcomes in the form of a policy. There’s really only one thing in the middle, which is the black box of the underwriting models, but this wonderful thing happens when you actually, for us, it was really hard to get any partnerships, other insurance technology companies because I still think they’re few because they’re regarded as the industry is on. What ended up, our eventuality was we had to just build everything.

I have who I think is, and I guess I’m a little biased. He’s the best CTO in insurance technology, I think. He spent 15 years at Fidelity, he built the world’s first trading system, and he’s a hilarious guy if you get the chance to meet him. We ended up building everything. Everything from an insured experience, to the broker portal where they can manage all their forms and applications and things that we call master application. We built a wholesale seller portal, we built the carrier portal, where they can configure and list their products via a bindable API, as well as a reinsurance portal for people to be able to manage their MVAs.

We had to do a lot. What happens is, now you have to pick a strategy after that. After we’ve done everything, we have to say, “How are we going to go to market with this?” That’s a little bit about the highlight we talked about earlier, which is the launch of the free tool, which was this past January 3rd.

Michael: That brings us to now, you’ve got the free tool. Talk about, obviously, when you had your aha moment and realized that there was a problem to be solved, you had some understanding of that, what that problem was, you probably compared this industry, perhaps to some other experience, other different industry experiences?

Adam: Yes, I think the original intention was the app being a model, lifting more transparency through data into the market. As we dug really, really deep into the problems, that that started to shift a little bit, which was there’s actually a lot of big technical problems in this market. How can you track an individual data point across the end-to-end ecosystem? It’s not an easy thing to do because everyone has different languages, different data architectures, and often, they’re a multi-schema architecture. Let’s go into more complication into it, because insurance loves to do that.

When we solved that problem, the ability to take in check and an individual data point across the end-to-end ecosystem, we really focused purely on technology and building a vast company. In that sense, we have a similar path as a lot of the area of companies have.

Michael: Yes, okay. Maybe to some extent, my job is to ask the dumb questions. What I want to ask you to help me do or help me understand or help the audience understand is, what this means in the real world. When we talk about things like data points and data architecture and transparency, it’s easy to get pretty abstract. Help me bring it down to feet on the ground, a real broker’s life or a real policyholder’s life. What does that problem look like or feel like?

Adam: It’s a promise that brokers have been getting for a long time. The problem is around the broker space in terms of the front end issues, not the technical issues. A very well-known, it’s largely been a business model. A lot of brokers are familiar with digital application and Smartphone company. Independent agent on TowerIQ free version of everything that they would have ever thought that one of the Smartphones or digital foreign companies out of the box for free. They can log in, they can select their forms, they can create their submission, send it to their insurance, the insurance will get a link. They run into their own portal where they can manage their own policies, it will be a brand new experience. You can go through this full application a binding experience in the TowerIQ platform.

We spot as a carrier as well in the US in every line. You can send your submissions in a handful of different connectivity types that we support. Whether that’s submission to the email, a manual submission, which is basically a data dump submission via binding API, or a submission via the TowerIQ portal, where the actual underwriter will get the ability to log in to a carrier portal to be able to manage their submissions. We offer a whole lot on that end, which I don’t think is appropriate for this audience, but happy to go as deep as possible. It’s all mobile. It has to be mobile. Half of the users, 70% of people learned from an iOS or Android device, so from that very experience, from whether it’s marketing material, they can click that link and go through a full application the binding experience on that phone.

Michael: Now-

Adam: Still a lot.

Michael: Tell me anecdotally, before and after, a broker now what would they say to you about how ‘my life is better because of TowerIQ’? How is it better?

Adam: I didn’t accept that the data points from going from a paper-based business to a digital-base. One of the biggest value props is the client experience. If they’re trying to win a deal and win a deal faster, sending somebody a link where they can actually get value from the broker themselves for free, helps people win deals. Then a year later, and they go through the renewal process, that data is never lost. You’re not going through and populating the same “inaudible” forms or your  “inaudible” supplementals, or what have you. You’re basically just verifying the data from the year before, seeing if there’s any material changes, and the renewal process is drastically reduced.

Michael: It sounds to me like, three benefits come to my mind immediately. One, save me time. I’m a busy broker, you saved me time. Two, you gave me a competitive advantage to get a new client. I’m going up against somebody who doesn’t have this platform. They’re dragging their renewals through paperwork. Then number three, I can really simplify your renewal process. My closing ratio goes up, my retention goes up, and I did it in less time.

Adam: Exactly.

Michael: Did I just do a reasonably good sales pitch for you?

Adam: It was pretty good. You could do that. I am happy to tell you some condition anytime. It’s important to put in perspective that all three of those things fundamentally will decrease here. If you’re worried about, certainly away as a manager, or owner, could have a little more control.

Michael: One of the ways that a company like yours, a startup, but now you’ve got what, two years, right?

Adam: Yes, three years.

Michael: Three years. Okay. One of the ways you can demonstrate or proof of value obviously is, if the market supporting you another way is if you’ve convinced the investment community that you’re solving a serious problem. Presumably, Adam, this is public information. I’m probably not revealing any secrets, probably pretty sure you released a press release about it. You’ve secured a couple of million dollars in seed funding to get going?

Adam: That’s correct. We have great backers configured from the general catalyst. We’ve raised a total of $5 million to this point.

Michael: $5 million. Terrific.

Adam: That’s a decent indicator. It’s the better indicator, and I’m sure everyone would agreeis the market adoption.

Michael: Well, it’s with the investors.

[crosstalk]

Michael: Again, speaking of press, I’ve got a copy of that. December 5th, you issued a press release, announcing availability, this free edition of the TowerIQ platform, with a number of bullet points, build smart forms, with the forms library, map, and prefilled form data, share forms on and on and on. That can be a bold move. We’re all familiar with the freemium software where you get something like Zoom. You and I have communicated on Zoom. You can do that for free. At some point, was that- [crosstalk]

Adam: Shopify is a great example for this because in a lot of ways you want to get– I’m not– The number one thing when we configured our go-to-market strategy is, how do we make this as easy as possible? How do we get somebody to a point of genuine value? That was the kind of decision that let’s give everyone, everything you would have got with a smartphone’s company. Plus a few bells and whistles here and there, that’s free. If you want to do all the really interesting stuff on the back side, which I can highlight in a little bit, in terms of connectivity, we built over 398 commercial insurance APIs to do anything. If you want to do any of that stuff, then certainly there’s a cost associated.

We started from the back end, and then some of our competitors started from the front end. Until now it’s going to be a lot harder for them to get to the back end and definitely to build a UI and UX. That’s really put our stake in the ground. Everything we get there with them is free because I don’t think that delivers enough value as an independent broker agent.

Michael: Got it. Then this press release came out in December, but was it early January, you really released the free version of TowerIQ?

Adam: That’s right. January 3rd.

Michael: What’s the profile of the agency that fits your product?

Adam: It’s really a full spectrum. Again, part of the strategy wasn’t to go after the enterprise contracts, part of the strategy was to go after the individuals. If you as an individual want to do better, you can sign up on your own and you can use the TowerIQ platform. That’s a big spectrum. There’s a lot of brokerages in the top 100, who signed up who are in interested in the free tool but are very interested in what we call master application. Then all the way down to the cleanup, two people shops, and upstate New York. I think there was a big size relief in the “inaudible” channel, we’ve seen this tool before, the digital form companies and they want them, but the price is too much of an inhibitor. Especially in an upfront basis. We did signing up about 15 brokerages a week “crosstalk”.

Michael: Nice. How does somebody do that? How does somebody sign up?

Adam: They can go to the TowerIQ website, www.toweriq.io.

Michael: .io?

Adam: Yes. We talked about this.

Michael: I know.

Adam: There’s another TowerIQ company in New York.

Michael: They will not satisfy the listeners of this podcast.

Adam: Yes. Exactly.

Michael: toweriq.io. All right.

Adam: That’s right. Yes. The one that sounds like it’s insurance. You’ll be in a safe place there, but you can sign up there, there’s a little banner on top of the website and a customer success rep will reach out and you’ll get login credentials and you’ll be able to go through your full application defining binding experience with the forms you want and control your branding. There’s a whole bunch of stuff in the back end that you can play with.

Michael: It sounds like people should probably touch and feel this to get a sense of what it can do.

Adam: Of course. It was crazy to think that people will pay 10-50K in the brokerage side without seeing the value of it. I thought that was a crazy thing to do.

Michael: Once they see the value, it’s an easy choice.

Adam: There’s a couple of ways that we move people into an enterprise subscription. Generally, the first thing that an IA will pick up is access to what we call our editor. What that is, is the ability to build your own forms, your own application, control your branding in a visual editor. I think like a website builder or something like that so that you don’t have to wait for anyone to build. You got to do supplemental from access or chub or whomever. You don’t have to wait. The average in the market is about a two-week turnaround. You can do it on your own in real-time, have full control over it too, which is nice.

That’s really the first way we say if you want access to that, there’s an upsell there. The second upsell is been a lot with the larger brokerages. The top 30 to top 250 range or top 200 range which is what we call master application. A master application is instead of selecting your accord 125 and your Hartford supplemental you run a risk in the traditional process that business has done today. Choosing the wrong application and then having to go through the flow all over again.

Michael: Yes. It’s dreadful.

Adam: TowerIQ, you can select the client and you select a product or an industry. You can say Michael James DNO and then when you get sent a link from TowerIQ as insured, every data point that you fill in is tied to a data model, which means there’s value and meaning behind the information you’re typing in. As you type it in, the appropriate questions will get attached to the appropriate forms and supplementals will get attached. If they’re not relevant, you’ll never touch it again. That cleans it up a lot for the broker, cleans it up a lot for the insured but really when you’re going to markets, you’ll know appetite before you even send a submission.

Michael: Got it. I do want to circle back to TowerIQ here in a moment. Since I’ve got you, I want to ask you a broader question that I think is just so critically important to the industry right now and to our listeners right now. I think you can give me a fair and objective answer to this one because obviously not everybody is an inappropriate fit for your product. In other words, if I have a personalized agency, I’m not going hop on TowerIQ, right?

Adam: You could but it’s probably not going to be a huge value. You can try it. It’s free.

Michael: Try it. It’s free. If all I’m selling is home and auto and umbrella, et cetera that’s not your bag.

Adam: Actually have gotten a lot of it. It’s really the market is dictating it now. Now that it is a free tool. The PNP broker has been our focus, our bread and butter for sure. We’ve had a lot of captive agents comes in, LNA, brokers come in. It’s up to you. It’s free. Subscribe.

Michael: Either way, you can give me a fair and objective answer to this question. Here’s the problem. I feel some responsibility to solve for the industry and let me tell, I’ll tell the story behind it. When we started agency revolution 10 years ago or maybe even more, obviously we put all the things together, product and technology and marketing and customer support and pro services, et cetera. Of course, we had a sales team with sales leadership and systems. We had a sales process to sell that product. What we realized was that the people that we were talking to did not have a buying process for technology.

They had a buying process for buying cars because they probably bought a car every couple of years. They had a process for whatever, maybe buying their house because maybe every six or seven years they’d- but they didn’t really have within their agency, if you knock, knock, knock, let me in the agency, I got a question for you. “What’s that?” “Well, the question is what’s the process you use to purchase technology?” You’re generally just going to get a long silence. It’s in part because, sure, they bought their agency management system and they probably bought the standard computer stuff.

Now, we’re in an industry where offers are being made constantly, inbound calls are being received from technology companies constantly. There are new and emerging technologies constantly and it seems that somehow the industry and the independent insurance agency principle, the buyer, should start to cultivate a process, one for choosing which categories of technologies should I have and how do I decide, should I have an agency management system? Obviously, should I have a marketing automation system? I would say obviously. Then we have dozens and dozens of these other kinds of tech categories. Then even then within the category, now, once I’ve decided, “Yes, I need this technology,” how do I decide among competitors which ones I get? It’s a two twofold question. What advice would you give to agency principals on how they should structure their buying process for technology?

Adam: There’s so many ways to go about this. Very different than my previous life. My previous life, almost every company actually sold to, depending on your level at the company that I was selling to, you’d have a budget. A manager would have 25K, a director would have 50K, a VP would have 250K and then C-suite do anything above that. They never even had to go. They built a built-in autonomy and trust inside of those organizations. Often they just buy both, buy two or three of them. Trust me, these companies make a lot less money than insurance companies.

Michael: Larger companies, they’ve developed processes. Number one is they had budgets, but number two, they probably had some criteria, so the manager made halfway decent decisions.

Adam: Right. Then when you get to the much larger organization then you’re basically going through a consultant. You’re going through EY, PwC, Accenture whomever and they put you as a part of their stack. It’s tough. I don’t know if they always have your best interest in mind. They’re incentivized by– They’re paid like lawyers. They are hourly billed.

Michael: Yes, right. Let’s really dig into this. Okay.

Adam: Let’s choose a really big, a really complicated product that has a horrific implementation process. Good. Let’s do that one. As opposed to let’s choose the one that– For TowerIQ on the interior side, that product looks stripe. We give the carrier a link and then everything they need to configure their products and release it via “crosstalk”or API, is done in an editor. Consultants hate that. It’s too easy. It doesn’t take enough time or at least I haven’t found the right consultant partner yet.

My advice is this, maybe to the smaller end sized chain office or to your listeners is, I’m entrusting your team. You hired them for a reason. They’re either a great manager, a great producer, great account manager and what have you. There’s even on a free tool, people are scared to sign up because they think they’ll get fired or they’ll get in trouble. That is culture shift that just needs to happen. It’s such a silly mentality to go, “Oh, my producer signed up for a new tool.” It could be anything. That they have so much fear not to do it because they’re scared of getting fired, is incredible. That needs to change. I could talk about it for days.

Michael: Okay, so sounds like step one is a cultural/attitudinal change which is be willing to embrace technologies?

Adam: Yes, and trust in your people more.

Michael: Okay. In this case the user. In another words if-

Adam: Yes, even broker, or the producer, or the account manager that wants to use a new tool. It’s not really totally in the AI channel. It’s in that top 10 to top 100 range where that fear resides. I think if you hired someone, you should believe in him.

Michael: Trust their recommendations. Okay. Got it. All right.

Adam: If they want to use a free tool whether it’s TowerIQ or what have you, they should be able to do that without fear.

Michael: Yes, all right. Now, circling back, if our listeners want to find out more, want to touch and feel, want to see it, maybe want to access this free version of TowerIQ, what should they do? If they have questions, I don’t know– I know that you’ve been on the road. You have not been home like for six weeks. You’re not easy to reach. Also, if they have questions, what should the do?

Adam: I have an offer for your listeners.

Michael: An offer for my listeners. All right.

Adam: That’s the cue.

Michael: It’s better than free, better than free offer?

Adam: It’s more free.

Michael: It’s more free.

Adam: If it’s more free. I’m Oprah right now.

Michael: Look under your chair. Okay.

Adam: Yes, exactly. What we’ll do for anyone who– We’ll have a unique URL. It will be www.toweriq.io/jans.

Michael: J-A-N-S. Okay, got it.

Adam: J-A-N-S. Michael Jans, last name. For anyone who signs up on this link, what will do is we’ll onboard you and our customer success team will make sure that you are happy on the free tour, but we’ll also give you the enterprise version for six months basically.

Michael: Yaipers. Okay. Now, that is super generous and by the way listeners, that’s not something that I negotiated in advance of this podcast. That sounds like an extremely generous offer.

Adam: It just felt like a right thing to do.

Michael: Felt like a right thing to do. Well, this is the podcast to listen to. All right. TowerIQ.io and then super-duper offer on /jans, J-A-N-S.

Adam: Correct.

Michael: All right. Very generous of you. Adam, anything else before we go. What do you want to say to this industry? That’s the last thing I’m going to ask you. You’ve been an observer and you’ve come from that fast-moving environment of Silicon Valley and you’ve had an opportunity to observe this industry which now you love, which I love, so be careful about what you say, but be honest.

Adam: Of course.

Michael: What do you want to say to this industry?

Adam: Hey, it’s a new decade. I think it would be amazing that if in the new decade there was no paper. I don’t mean just paper, like print out paper, I mean PDFs. We don’t need PDFs anymore, we don’t need paper. You don’t need it today. If we can in a decade save some trees, save the ocean, reduce global warming what have you.

Michael: Oh, goodness, we’re really appealing to our highest values. Okay. Remember your grandchildren. They have to live on this planet. Okay.

Adam: Think of your grandchildren. Let’s get rid of paper this decade. That would be great.

Michael: Yes, all right, hey. I enjoyed the conversation very much, Adam. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Adam: No, thank you for having me, Michael. It was a blast.

Michael: You bet.

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