Spex was founded in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, after the destructive event ravaged the East Coast of the United States in late 2012. Its impact included $62 billion in property damage and years of fraudulent practices, class action lawsuits and policyholder anguish (See: 60 Minutes investigative report).
Four years later, Hurricane Matthew, grazed the southeastern portion of the US, causing nominal damage to some states and more extensive damage to others (e.g North Carolina.) Matthew was deemed negligible in its financial impact, resulting in approximately $4 billion in total property damage to the US. We’ve heard several industry leaders ask the question, “what would have happened if Matthew had moved 20 miles more to the west?!”
However, in talking to dozens of IA firms, TPAs and restoration contractors post Matthew, the industry impact was more significant than the financial story. It was a “black eye” event for P&C insurance. Claim cycle times were slower than ever and re-inspection volume was excessive. The service providers to the insurance carriers lacked the rosters for sufficient deployments and those deployed often lacked the training, knowledge and tools to execute swiftly, efficiently and accurately.
Crawford, a market leader, took action in December. Crawford not only formed a venture group to evaluate insurtech but they took the important step of acquiring WeGoLook, an eight year old business based in Oklahoma. Crawford paid nearly $40 million for the majority rights to WeGoLook as a strategic investment in its future. For those less familiar, WeGoLook is a gig economy business focused on managing a network of “lookers” for activities ranging from auto damage to task management such as lines outside the Apple Store (speaking of, are there lines outside the Apple Stores anymore? Wow do we miss Steve Jobs!)
We’ve seen a tremendous surge of interest in the Spex platform since October and expedited desire to adopt our solution. Industry leaders are rapidly evaluating new and different approaches to the growing demands of carriers and policyholders. We’ve found our stride by focusing on being the best-in-class technology solution for “heavier” property inspections. We’re grateful to be providing increased value to customers, large and small now, serving the important and timely needs of policyholders.
So, what changed over the past few months? Is the insurance market catching up to the value of good technology? Is there an insurtech bubble forming? Here’s our two cents:
Better + Differentiated
A top insurance carrier exec recently shared they are aggressively evaluating new inspection and scoping models for their claims operations. “Better, faster, cheaper” is the mantra for their business and for their expectations of service providers. But, what does the execution of that look like? A “network of lookers” is likely cheaper, and may even be faster depending on methods of recruitment and deployment, but is is “better?” Is a Direct Response Program (DRP) managed by TPAs or contractor networks a better approach?
Uber has undeniably become “better” than the traditional taxi model of shuttling passengers around the world. But, it’s better because of the combination of available drivers AND the technology that manages the service providers. It’s impossible to have one without the other. If Uber had a network of drivers but no technology to request a driver or enable that driver to locate the passenger and take them to a destination, the solution would fall way short of its current success.
It’s unquestionable in P&C insurance that new types of “inspectors” make sense. Even more, there are different categories of inspectors that make sense to different categories of inspections. A trained, experienced adjuster isn’t valuable scoping a wind-damaged fence. Nor is a fresh-faced looker the right solution for a hurricane flooded basement. The winning solution is to pair the right type of field service person with the right technology solution(s) that enable effective assignments, management, inspections, QA and file completion.
Many leading companies “crossed the chasm” over the past year from evaluating insurtech on a “build” basis to pursuing it on a “buy” (or license) model. We’re biased but we’re grateful for that evolution. It’s typically prudent to leave technology to technologists. A premier restoration business shared that their significant business doesn’t include a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in its org chart. Without a CTO, the proposition of successfully building and deploying field service platforms, new workforce management tools or otherwise is a stretch and mis-allocation of resources. However, these companies willing to “buy” must now consider the strategic and competitive considerations of doing so. Can a tech firm’s technology solution address their needs sufficiently AND be used by competitive businesses? Therein lies the crossroads moment where technology and strategy must effectively intersect.
Again, I find myself missing Steve Jobs as I write this. As much as anything, the founder of Apple helped associate easy-to-use technology with mainstream adoption. Apple products rarely require an instruction manual. I recently purchased an “out of a box” bed mattress that was easy to order, easy to receive, easy to set up and is a pleasure to use.
I’m often asked about the product evolution of Spex. Beginning in 2013, the business began hammering away at the task of building great inspection software to replace the traditional “clipboard and graph paper” experience for property inspections. As the Spex product evolved from beta to Version 2 in 2015 to Version 3 in 2016, the defining characteristic of its progress was “ease of use.” I can recall a number of times where David Cockrel, our founder and a long-time industry vet, suggested to our development team, “nope, still not easy enough to use.” Great technology, especially in markets categorized by historical tools and workflows, must be easy to understand, easy to learn and easy to adopt. Then, “suddenly,” we found “ease of use” last year. We repeatedly hear new users tell us, right around the time of their third inspection, “this rocks!” and “I’m never going back to the old way.”
So, what then does the “adoption” experience look like here? Ease of adoption, or activation, is as important as a simple to use product. Everything in the experience of getting started with the new solution must speak to ease: from sign-up to billing to training to support.
We learned last year that Customer Success was imperative to Spex adoption, particularly for larger companies handling more complex inspections (as defined by volume or complexity of damage.) David now runs our Professional Services team, an army of stars on our team who combine subject matter expertise and technical acumen. That team focuses on swiftly getting organizations up and running on Spex. They identify the right levels of training and support required to get professional inspectors comfortable with hardware in the field and mobile-first software on that device. All great insurtech businesses over the year, have figured out that same formula.
As we make our way into 2017, the term “BI” (business intelligence) will be increasingly replaced with “AI” (artificial intelligence.) This evolution really gets our tech “juices” flowing.
A quick explanation of AI may be in order here first. AI is a category of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines. Machine Learning (ML) or Natural Language Processing (NLP) are categories of AI. We see early steps into AI regularly now in our daily lives: in your Netflix video recommendations, when you use Siri on your iPhone, on the continuous Amazon Alexa commercials. AI combines structured data sets with evolving user preferences to get “smarter” and more efficient as one continues to use it.
How many industries rely on data to affect their businesses more than insurance? The entire basis of the industry rides on risk assessment, risk evaluation and management of the reserves required to pay out damage to a portfolio property. So, a clipboard beholden to an individual user’s coffee stained scope notes has never been an effective data source. Leading estimating software platforms have fared better but still lack the data capture, AI scalable requirements necessary to unlock “better, faster, cheaper” documentation and reporting.
Innovative insurance businesses will increasingly control their property data alongside deployment of a platform like Spex. The power lies in the combination of the two: capturing field data more efficiently and then leveraging that data to arrive at better, faster, cheaper reports and insights.
Agony can be the best mother of invention. And, whether rational or irrational, insurance has officially entered a more inventive era. The term “insurtech” didn’t exist one year ago; it’s omni-present now. For those businesses ready to embrace innovation, technology and align it to a proprietary strategy, a new era of “better” results awaits.
CEO of Spex