Insurance is an old-school industry. While technology has touched virtually every industry imaginable, insurance has been slow to catch up. There have been some advancements – perhaps you answer a few questions online to get your auto or homeowners insurance. But if you’re a business owner in need of commercial insurance, many are the hoops to go through to find the right policy.
A local startup is bringing some much-needed technological advances to the commercial insurance world with its new agent portal. Bold Penguin designed its platform to streamline the underwriting process for agents, “We’re just trying to make one single place where they can just do their daily work,” says Founder Ilya Bodner.
To understand why Bold Penguin’s solution is a novel idea is to understand the archaic nature of the current commercial insurance landscape. Bodner calls it the “last frontier for insurance.”
“It’s an area that’s more archaic than the rest because it didn’t really need innovation,” he explains.
Unless you’re a business owner and need workers’ compensation, liability, or property or auto insurance for your business, commercial insurance is probably unfamiliar territory. When a business owner does need insurance, the process goes a little something like: talk to an agent, the agent shops the market and gathers proposals and brings them to the client. Different insurance companies look for different information, so while that process might sound straightforward, it normally includes several rounds of back-and-forth, largely communicated by means like email, fax and uploading documents.
“The agent, over time, has kind of morphed into being an info gatherer rather than a trusted advisor,” Bodner says.
However that trusted advisor piece brings much value to the process. Even when a business has a commercial insurance policy, navigating what is and isn’t included (the “I gotcha” moments as Bodner calls them) takes expertise.
“I fundamentally believe that the insurance agent, the human being, isn’t going away for awhile because explaining that is still needed,” Bodner says. “You need that trusted advisor.”
The time was right in the market for a solution like Bold Penguin’s that improves the process for both agents and insurance companies.
“There’s been some really big breakthroughs in how insurance companies are ran and managed internally in terms of technology, that has allowed people to start thinking about, well, ‘How do we make it easier for the consumer?’ ‘How do we make it easier for the agent?'” Bodner says.
Bold Penguin streamlines the underwriting process by automating workflows that make it easier for an agent to go out and shop the market, “And we’re doing that by partnering up with insurance companies,” Bodner says.
Nearly 3,000 agents are using the Bold Penguin portal for its capabilities to better organize the process which should ultimately lead to more deal flow. Bodner says they started with these basics to introduce agents to the platform, and ultimately want to build more functionality.
For the handful of insurance companies partnered with Bold Penguin, “They have to reach distribution; they have to figure out how to sell more of their product every day because they rely so much on the agent channel,” Bodner says.
Bold Penguin can help these companies better match with the types of businesses they want to bid on, and, “It gives them an opportunity to reduce their cost of issuing a policy,” Bodner says.
There’s an underwriter on the insurance company’s end that’s facing a labor-intensive process when receiving an agent’s information. Have a question about something? It’s back to the agent then back to the business, then a trip back down the pipeline to finally have an answer.
“It takes multiple people to quote or issue a policy,” Bodner says. “Where we’re coming in and saying, what if we just gather all the information up front, digitize it, have a bunch of different places to aggregate a lot of the data that we’ll know you’ll need, once and done.”
Bodner had been tinkering with the solution for about two years before officially launching last summer. There were two questions he wanted to answer first: ‘Is there enough digital demand to build a marketplace?’ and ‘With the lack of technology at insurance companies, would they actually integrate with it?’ After getting a few carriers on board, the deals started flowing. Turns out there were a lot of people that wanted to make the process easier.
Now that they’ve launched, the focus is to make the product even better. The “carrier recommendation engine” powers the Bold Penguin portal, matching agents and carriers.
“Our goal for this year is to make that engine smarter by integrating with more data sources, by integrating with more carriers, by integrating with more industry technology providers so we could just build this ultimate machine that makes it completely seamless for both the customers, the agent and the carriers to use,” Bodner says.
Bold Penguin has expanded to a team of 14. Bodner is growing a company in a city concentrated with huge insurance companies – Nationwide, Motorists, State Auto, Grange, but has actually been turning outside the state to recruit some of the team’s talent. Insurance isn’t the sexiest of industries. Bodner says it’s been tough to recruit from existing companies, trading controlled stability for the craziness of a startup. But, those same powerhouses, the ability to walk down the street to talk to a massive insurance company, has been a draw in recruiting.
For more information, visit boldpenguin.com.