SURVIVING THE “WILD WEST” OF INSURTECH: TIPS FROM A BIG DATA CHIEF – EPISODE 090
On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews David Davis, a 20-year veteran of Intel and now the Chief Technical Officer at Fudge Insurance.
By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- Why Davis decided to transition from a career in data technology to a career in the independent insurance agency channel.
- Which parallels Davis sees between the challenges now faced by insurance agencies and the challenges overcome by other businesses he has worked with.
- Which opportunities for innovation Davis is most excited about.
Why should you listen to what David Davis has to say? Because this guy has been there. For close to 20 years, Davis was a data chief at Intel, where he oversaw cloud and data center technology and helped clients such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft build and maintain their data center infrastructure. “I loved my job, but I did the math, and I was out of the office 40% of the time.” He wanted to spend more time with his family, so he took a one-year sabbatical to figure out the next stage of his life.
It was Davis’s brother-in-law, Doug Fudge, who suggested that Davis try a career in insurance. Fudge runs Fudge Insurance, a medium-sized independent agency in Florida. Initially, Davis was skeptical: what did insurance have to do with data and technology, his areas of expertise? But he agreed to accompany his brother-in-law to an Insurtech conference. And that’s where he got his answer.
“Sitting in that audience, listening to those speeches, it really hit me: these guys are dealing with the same issues as the industries I have already worked with. I realized that there are things I could contribute here. I’ve done some of this stuff, I’ve been through some of these challenges, and I’ve dealt with some of these changes and fears.”
If you work in the independent insurance agency channel, you probably know what kind of changes and fears he is referring to. Carriers and large agencies have been investing into technology for years, and they’re beginning to see results. Independent agencies, on the other hand, have long been attached to a business model that is overdue to scale, which is unlikely to happen without some assistance from technology, and the agencies are wising up to that. An avalanche of entrepreneurs is consequently trying to capitalize on this discovery. “It’s all happening at once,” Davis says. “I’ve seen other industries go through the same transition. There’s this mixture of apprehension and fear. As you get past the IT implementation stage, where you are basically converting analog into digital, you start to see a bunch of technology companies offering somewhat similar products—and it’s overwhelming.”
Different agencies are coping with it in different ways. You’ve got your “dinosaurs” who are barely bothering with anything that’s happening and are likely to go extinct. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got your “early adopters” who are investing heavily in new technologies, if they can afford it. Most agencies, however, are probably somewhere in the middle: “They’re in this ‘wait and see’ state. They know they’re going to need some technology to move forward, but they’re unsure of what that technology should be.”
And that’s okay.
“A lot of settling needs to happen in this space before you have a clear plan for any of those folks, especially the two that are investing in technology. From an independent agency’s point of view, there are not a lot of sure-bet winners. There’s some great stuff out there that will save you time and money, but not a lot of tried-and-true pillars that everybody’s going to need. I think there’s still a lot of settling, collapsing, and merging that needs to happen before we get there.”
The upside is that Insurtech is still anybody’s game, making for a world of opportunity. Davis likens it to the Wild West. “This is a cool time to be involved in the transition of the industry. You can take a look at what was successful in other industries and try to apply it to Insurtech. That’s what I’ve been trying to do: survey the space, look at the different technologies, talk to a bunch of people, and use my previous experience to try to place some intelligent bets on what we and other agencies might need in the future to be successful.”
Having since agreed to join Fudge Insurance as CTO, Davis is now responsible for modernizing the agency’s operations, and he’s hitting the ground running. He knows he wants to do something about agency management systems and the many “pain points” that afflict them, and he’s also eager to introduce insurance agencies to the idea of data democratization. (“Independent agencies are basically minting gold bricks and settling for copper pennies.”) But a good dose of humility keeps him in check: Davis is quick to admit that for everything he has to teach, there is at least as much he has to learn, and he’s looking forward to those conversations.
“A lot of the growth and success of small and medium-sized agencies has been driven by this entrepreneurial moxie, and I’m trying to stay focused on it, without losing sight of the structured goal setting and measured objectives that have helped larger businesses. I think there is a happy medium, and we’ve been working toward that here at Fudge. We’re setting goals, and we are using technology to achieve them—but we’re also going out there and seeing what else we can do that’s new. Are there wagons that we should be hitching ourselves to, technologically, so that we’re better poised for success in the future? Are there ways that we can actually contribute materially to the solution space or the conversation?”
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