This content is repurposed from Agency Nation’s Tech Talk 20 Questions with Brian Wood podcast episode that aired February 14, 2020.
IVANS’ Vice President of Data Products Group Brian Wood recently answered a lightning round of questions about:
- Why Brian joined IVANS and the trajectory of his insurance career
- How IVANS is using insights and data trends developed with data analytics
- What the industry looks like today versus before data analytics became a priority for the independent agency channel
Read on for Brian’s insights about the transformative properties of data analytics for independent agencies.
Interview with Brian Wood
IVANS Communications: How many years have you been in the insurance industry?
Brian Wood: I’ve been in the insurance industry right at 20 years. I started with a technology-based startup agency in 1999 in Austin, Texas.
IVANS: What was your path to working at Applied/IVANS?
Brian: My background prior to the startup was in financial services. I joined the startup agency to help it grow. It was built around rating technologies and we were actually the first company to bind insurance online, so it was a very exciting time. I just missed out on the dot-com boom by about two years, but it was a great experience.
We were acquired in 2001 by Marsh, and I went on to run strategy for their consumer and affinity businesses. I spent 10 years with Marsh and built a large strategy team that supported everything from large client implementations to implementing policy administration systems. Then, with technology that Marsh had acquired through that agency, we ended up building that into a global sales platform. That was a great learning period and I really enjoyed my time there.
After leaving Marsh I cofounded an insurtech startup called EvoSure in 2012. It was a network platform for the purposes of helping to solve the commercial distribution challenges between underwriters and the independent agency channel. We were acquired by IVANS in 2015 and have not only been growing the legacy of the EvoSure product but also growing a number of additional products and analytics products for the independent agency channel, as well as our carrier and MGA partners.
IVANS: Your title is VP of Data Products Group; what does that mean? What do you do at IVANS?
Brian: Our group touches a lot of areas. From an IVANS perspective, we have 450 carrier and MGA clients that are driving data connectivity with 45 agency management systems and 35,000 independent agencies. At Applied, we play a massive role in driving the kind of system of record technology that agencies rely on day-in and day-out.
In the data products group specifically, we’ve really been growing the capabilities of identifying key trends or patterns in data using machine learning. It came out of a lot of time with our many advisory board members at agencies and insurance companies who were telling us, “you have insights across the industry that nobody else has.” They started to give us real world examples of those insights and how they would utilize them to make their businesses more effective and efficient, improve their relationships (agencies with their insurers or insurers relationships with agencies), and all the way down to improving end-user experience.
We have been excited to work with both our agency and our carrier partners as we build products on the industry’s largest dataset.
IVANS: What do you like about working in this industry?
Brian: It’s probably a bit of a cliché but hands-down the people. I love the people in our industry. They tend to be high-integrity people who really care about our customers. I can get behind that and throw myself into that kind of work. It’s funny because I have a t-shirt that I love that says ”data nerd” and while I love data and I love the intersection where data is meeting people and technology today, it would be much more accurate to say ”people nerd.”
“What we’re able to do through data science, utilizing machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), propels us and has helped us overcome a lot of gaps.”
IVANS: What makes you most excited about the industry right now?
Brian: Historically, the use of data in the insurance industry has been less than ideal. That made it difficult to create and drive insights. There’s been a lot of improvements there. Systems are becoming more and more open which means that from an agency perspective, I’m able to utilize and leverage an ecosystem of applications and systems that best fit my needs or my client’s needs. I think that is exciting.
From a data perspective, what we’re able to do through data science, utilizing machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), propels us and has helped us overcome a lot of the gaps that we previously had in creating correlations and regressions. It’s helping us to create insights that we never could before like looking at relationships and data that we never thought were correlated but we found are highly correlated.
You see this in underwriting. You see this in some of our analytics products around driving the operations of an agent’s day-to-day business or even helping drive growth, which is on everybody’s mind.
IVANS: How would you explain data analytics to agents?
Brian: Really simply, it's just agents using data that enables them to view their businesses in a much more complete way. For instance, data analytics also covers areas such as book of business. That means answering questions like: where am I growing, where am I shrinking, what are driving the changes? It also covers carrier insights with questions like: what’s happening with my insured relationships, whom am I growing with, with whom am I contracting with? The question where do I need to consolidate is often a big thing on people’s minds.
Data analytics is just using data to help drive decisions that, previously, most people were making based on experiential evidence. The problem with experiential decision making is often that it’s based on what we’ve experienced recently as opposed to a more complete picture.
IVANS: How do you see data analytics transforming the industry right now?
Brian: When we’re looking at how competitive the industry is becoming – the need for growth, the need for driving strong user experience and the need to drive efficiency – I don’t think it’s possible to do that any longer – at least competitively against others who are – without utilizing very strong analytics to drive those decisions.
It takes too long to understand what you should do and oftentimes you’re working off incomplete data or incomplete information so the purpose of data analytics is to bring all of that up to your fingertips, oftentimes making recommendations about what that decision should be. It’s not only advantageous but it’s critical for agencies today.
“If you aren’t using data analytics to support your business decisions, you’re leaving money on the table.”
IVANS: What would be the first thing you said to an agent about the importance of data analytics?
Brian: If you aren’t using data analytics to support your business decisions, you’re leaving money on the table. There are dozens of studies that show that agents who leverage data analytics to run their businesses grow faster and have higher margins. It’s really that simple.
IVANS: How are you seeing agents’ opinions toward analytics recently?
Brian: What we’re seeing is that the vast majority of agents and agencies see data analytics as critical. I think we’ve moved past the tipping point of “is this something that I need to do.” We’ve seen agencies move into taking a much more proactive stance.
IVANS: Would you say that this is a big change from five years ago?
Brian: Huge. It’s amazing just from an industry perspective all of the dynamics that have changed over the past five years. From a worldview of data and data analytics, it has changed dramatically.
Five years ago, I was having to convince agencies why, for instance, they would want to enter an industry classification or ISO class code within their agency management system so that when they wanted to do analysis on their book – any number of insights – they could. Most agents I’m talking to have either already done that and have already done major data hygiene initiatives or they’re in the middle of completing them now. I think that’s a huge shift.
I think one other thing that I really love is there’s a group of agencies – a growing group – that’s not only aware and understand the need for data, but they are driving us to move our data analytics solutions to the next level. They’re pressing us to get more insights more ingrained within their workflow. That’s a great tension to have.
Explore trends in the IVANS Index 2020 Q1 Report for data insights you can use to provide clients with advice on expected renewal rates and more.
Read the next post in this two-part series where Brian discusses the importance of data strategy, how agents can get started with data analytics and more.