Case study: Ladder loves embedding for maximum distribution
“We’re always looking at ways to continue innovating,” said Mike Izakov (pictured), Ladder’s head of financial institution partnerships. “There’s a lot of work for us to do.”
The company and its 150-plus employees are in growth mode. Ladder has raised close to $200 million in venture capital to date, including a roughly $110 million round intended to fuel a product expansion and more hiring. Ladder launched in 2015 and debuted its first product two years later.
Ladder’s ability to offer flexible insurance coverage digitally in a short time-period comes from what Isakov said is “taking a full stack approach and building each piece.”
That involved designing the product itself, but also the underwriting engine that allows the company to process applications in real time. Ladder also puts to work a proprietary policy administration system designed to give consumers the ability to manage their policy. Flexible insurance means customers can “ladder” or adjust coverage as their needs change.
Isakov said Ladder’s approach is different because it operates in multiple ways, in part through partners Fidelity Security Life Insurance Company, Allianz Life in North America and Allianz Life in New York. The company’s Ladder life product is proprietary and built on those carriers’ paper (Ladder’s life insurance company in California is separate).
The company’s core digital platform is built to be carrier agnostic, and it uses layered APIs with partners.
“Our APIs allow partners to embed every stage of the buying journey into their native environments, whether that’s consumers figuring out how much coverage they need or submitting an application online and [then getting] an offer, [or] being able to bind their policy all the way through to the other end of managing that policy,” Isakov said. “We have APIs that allow each of those things.”
Machine learning is a crucial ingredient, helping Ladder constantly optimize its underwriting process and improve its application experience. Beyond that, however, Ladder’s underwriting engine is both unique and crucial, Isakov said.
“We’re not taking shortcuts or doing a more simplified issue that can only serve a couple of health classes, [and] we go from preferred plus all the way through to substandard table ratings,” Isakov noted. “One of the reasons that we’re able to do that is … it took us two years from the day the company was founded to the day that we launched [a debut product]. We really built that underwriting engine to process applications in real time.”
That underwriting engine also enables third-party data integrations that allow the company to validate information clients provide it in real time, Isakov said.
Typical integrations involve fintech applications, such as within a bank’s mobile app, or financial institutions such as SoFi, the personal financing company and online bank that handles mortgages and other financial services.
The SoFi partnership started in 2018, and Isakov noted they have a consumer finance wellness platform to highlight its various products. SoFi partnered with Ladder and embeds it into its own customer facing systems.
“As a certified member, if you log in … you can calculate your life insurance coverage needs. You can see personalized offers or obtain a quote for coverage, and you can apply for and purchase life insurance policies all right there within the app,” Isakov said.
When a customer approaches Ladder about a potential integration partnership, the company first explores customers’ needs and whether they would benefit from learning about life insurance within the proposed platform.
Assuming that’s the case, the conversation then explores the best link up for mutual gain and benefit.
Partnership/integrations range from where a partner simply promotes Ladder to customers, to a sort of white-label experience where Ladder is embedded fully into the partner’s system.
Assuming a potential partner wants a deeper integration, both sides’ product and engineering teams connect. Ladder presents potential options based on the client’s platform and the capabilities Ladder has, and then Ladder compiles “a roadmap for integration and timeline”, Isakov said.
Next, attention turns toward establishing a secure connection, so data can flow back and forth, as well as the user experience. Product designers step in for that, working with clients to create the best possible customer journey, he noted.
APIs are key here, too, which Isakov said “provide the plumbing on the back end” that enables designing of the customer journey on the front end. Both companies exchange API credentials, and Ladder provides a “sandbox environment” for testing and design tweaks.
From start to finish, the process can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on the size of the client and its integration needs.
Partnerships of this nature are now in the range of “a few hundred” Isakov said. He added that these embeddings/integrations should grow “significantly” by the end of the year.
“Over the last couple of years, partnerships have become … our largest distribution channel,” Isakov noted.