Building a Next-Gen Toolbox for Brokers of the Future

Q&A with Erik Mitisek, President of Highwing
By Rob Boyce Posted on October 31, 2019
You have been a leader in the Denver community for some time working to advance the technology industry in Colorado. What inspired you to join Highwing and lead the build-out of the company?
Rob Cohen (CEO of IMA Financial and longtime personal friend) recognized the insurance industry was on the cusp of a software and information revolution. He shared an opportunity to join IMA in uncovering the power of IMA’s internal data set to drive innovation. As a successful founder and CEO of high growth companies innovating in other verticals, I was intrigued to learn the inner dynamics of the insurance industry. Starting with IMA’s business intelligence, I led an initiative to harness, clean, organize and enable data operability across the firm, resulting in a number of insight-driven growth initiatives for the business. Realizing the positive impact on the business internally, we began to imagine the impact for the business externally. We knew data operability between brokers and carriers could change the future of the industry at large. The opportunity to modernize the broker and carrier relationship was more than a project, it was a company—and Highwing was born. That was pretty inspiring.
Broker-carrier connectivity has long been a chicken-and-egg issue. Platforms need broker participation to get carrier buy-in, but they won’t get broker participation until they have the right carriers on board. How are you tackling this challenge?
Historically, these partnerships required both parties to invest significantly to build connectivity before incurring any benefits, presenting an intimidating “cold-start” problem. Although early, both carrier and broker systems are moving toward an open data environment—starting to publish APIs and document data standards to inform flow between partners and build reusable tools. Savvy brokers are hungry for API-readiness and data connectivity to enhance their relationship with insureds and decrease their servicing costs. They understand strength in numbers is key to innovating an industry that has remained largely unchanged for the last 30 years.
What do you see as the future of the broker-carrier relationship? Has the battle to be closest to the consumer already affected this relationship?

In a word, connected. When we enable data operability for the broker and empower them with connectivity to their carrier trading partners, we eliminate mundane workflows and reduce processing inefficiencies through technology. While that is a significant advantage for growth, the real innovation comes when it frees up both parties to focus on the work that only humans can do—partnering to build tailored, competitive, comprehensive programs for the insured.

The battle to be closest to the consumer is a positive influence. It’s forcing both parties to prioritize the consumer’s needs and think critically about the tools to meet those needs effectively. That, in turn, increases awareness around API-first mindsets and the value of high-quality, clean data. As a result, both carriers and brokers are prioritizing data and data connectivity at an organizational level, which encourages strategic collaboration in program development for the insured. The broker’s role continues to elevate in concert with technology, freeing up more time to focus on the expert advice and client service consumers demand, especially in the large and complex risk commercial arena.

As brokers continue to work with existing data “trapped” in legacy systems, how much work needs to be done on the front-end to fully leverage a platform such as Highwing? To what extent can a lack of standardized data inhibit the implementation of these new technologies?

One nice feature of the industry is that insurance datasets refresh each year when policies renew. While there is a tremendous amount of potentially valuable historical data locked away in legacy systems, data silos and unstructured formats, the annual renewal cycle lends itself to building a highly valuable, highly useful set of data in a short, predictable amount of time.

We find connectivity is the key aspect above all else. When you start connecting disparate systems to deliver value immediately and moving forward, that buys additional time to work on historical data challenges.

To that end, Highwing requires only a minimum data set to begin realizing value. If that data is not well structured, or hard to access, Highwing provides data services to address the issues and quickly ready a broker’s data set for platform onboarding. It’s a case-by-case basis as to what extent a particular client’s state of data can inhibit the implementation of new technologies. We are committed to helping brokers in any situation chart the correct implementation path, realizing incremental value every step of the way. Whether we provide our platform in the interim as we work to integrate with their existing tooling, or we develop new features in collaboration with brokers, we are laser-focused on helping brokers work smarter—not harder.

How can a brokerage firm successfully incent brokers, account managers and other employees to change or alter existing business processes that have been ingrained for 10+ years? Particularly considering it might take some time to experience the benefits from implementing new platforms and technologies.

When compared to other industries, insurance has lagged in developing a culture that prizes complete, accurate data at every level of the organization and makes use of every touchpoint with the customer to help improve it. At the same time, accurate data is required to deliver the level of service and quality of experience that insureds expect from all manner of other vendor relationships, from corporate to personal. Training and education to build that understanding, connecting the dots for employees so they are able to see how the pieces connect, how incorporating and validating and updating data as part of their everyday responsibilities helps enable end-user experiences they can be proud of—that context is critical to ensure people at all levels of the organization grasp the vision and feel they have a role in moving the organization forward, instead of simply viewing data-related responsibilities as yet another task heaped on top of an endless to-do list.

The incentive is two-fold. First, digital insurance transactions of tomorrow will require complete and accurate information to take full advantage of innovations in the industry. You have numerous tools and companies developing amazing technologies that are dependent on clean, accurate, complete information. Second, with complete data, associates will be enlightened to the increased speed, increased quality of work and increased quality of insights they can convert to expert advice and new business. Agree, it takes time, but if you are focused on building products that are 10x the value of products available today, the magnetic pull of value and time will be the impetus for change.

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