Insurity Transformed, a Conversation with CEO Chris Lafond
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Chris Lafond joined Insurity (Hartford) as a board member in 2017 as the property/casualty core system vendor was beginning a transformation under new CEO Chris Giglio. By the end of that year, Lafond became the Insurity’s CFO—a role he had held at Gartner for 11 of his 19 years at that company. During that time, the research and advisory firm had grown from under $1 billion to nearly $3 billion in revenue. In 2019, GI Partners (San Francisco) acquired Insurity and, the investors invited Lafond to undertake a transformation of his own—from CFO to CEO. Triggered by Giglio’s retirement from his operational role, the move made sense from the standpoint of Lafond’s successful track record with growth companies and acquisitions. It also signified a fresh departure for Lafond at a time when Insurity embarked on a similar trajectory of self-reinvention. Insurance Innovation Reporter recently spoke with Lafond about his CEO role and Insurity’s transformation.
Insurance Innovation Reporter: Insurity is one of a few prominent core system vendors of the last couple of decades, known for serving commercial carriers. How would you briefly define the company’s market role today?
Chris Lafond, CEO, Insurity: The way we think about ourselves and the way want people to think of us is we are a provider of cloud-native, fully configurable, policy, billing, claims and analytics software for the P&C insurance companies from the big Tier Ones all the way down to the smaller Tier Five and into the MGA space. We’ve been very thoughtful about serving that entire market and having specific products for each part of that market. As we think about that we feel we’re unique and differentiated in the market because we serve top to bottom, because we can do it in a cloud-native way. We have about 500 customers today and just over 400 have something in the cloud with us. I think that’s unique in the space we operate in.
IIR: How should we understand that way of thinking about Insurity in light of the transformation of the company beginning with Chris Giglio’s appointment as CEO in July 2017?
CF: The transition involved a few major themes. The first was that, like every other major industry, the insurance industry would eventually move to the cloud. We had years of cloud expertise, and so we believed that we could build on that and show our customers our cloud expertise and the cloud-native nature of our technology, and take advantage of that to get away from the industry’s habit of on-premise implementations.
The second, related theme was about the fact that, historically, insurers would tend to heavily customize their core applications—policy, billing, claims—and we believed that ultimately the insurance companies would do what many other industries had done, which is to start working with packaged software solutions—SaaS solutions—and move away from that heavy customization. We made the bet that this is ultimately where things were going to go, and we were well-positioned with our product portfolio to do that.
The third piece was about where the industry was going. We anticipated tremendous growth in the lower end of the market—the Tiers Three, Four and Five—as well as MGAs, which were becoming a more and more important part of the overall insurance ecosystem, and we felt that was a place where there would be tremendous growth.
IIR: What was your plan to exploit that growth opportunity and differentiate yourself from other core system providers?
CF: We built a portfolio of offerings, originally in commercial P&C, where we had historically played. However, through the acquisition of CodeObjects in late 2020, we moved into personal lines of P&C. We also serve specialty lines, and we serve everyone from the top tier through the smaller, newer startup insurance companies and through into the MGA market. I think we put together a great portfolio of offerings that is unique to each one of those segments. We believe that our ability, as a result of all that, and because of cloud and getting away from customization, that we can do things faster, better cheaper than any of the other competitors in the market.
IIR: How would you substantiate that in terms of recent successes you can report?
CF: One important metric might be that we had 52 go-lives during last year. We’re able to get people live in some cases as quickly three months. People have found the need to go after a specific insurance opportunity quicky, if they stay within the box, of the way of how our solutions are meant to be utilized, we can get them up and running fast.
IIR: Let’s go back and drill down a bit into Insurity’s transformation to understand how you got to this pace of implementation.
CF: When I first came on, when Chris [Giglio] came on, if you looked at the portfolio of projects were implementing, there was still a lot of heavy customization, so a lot of the project work was working with customers looking for a lot of uniqueness. In the first couple of year, while I was CFO, we began to pivot to becoming smuch more thoughtful about the customers we were working with. We would say, “Here’s how we operate; here’s how we think you’re going to be successful. You’re hiring us because we’ve done this before, getting our customer quickly into the cloud, and we know what it takes to make that happen.” There were still customers who wanted heavy customization, and we felt that wasn’t the model we wanted to operate in. We started pivoting and focusing on the customer set that understood what we were doing and really bought into working with us in a packaged software, SaaS solution environment.
We made that pivot pretty dramatically and started seeing a change in our portfolio. As a result, we started to see the more rapid implementations instead of the five-, four- or three-year implementations that some of the bigger carriers were undergoing—and in many cases abandoning. We encountered customers would tell us, “We’ve been working on a project with one of your competitors for five years and we’re just throwing it out—it’s not working.”
IIR: The amount resources wasted on legacy system replacement projects has been a troubling, even shocking feature of the insurance technology world.
CF: Coming from outside the industry, I found it amazing. During the course of my career prior to Insurity, I spent a lot of time looking at what successful IT projects looked like. When I looked at the projects that customers signed up to do with us, it was shocking to me that people would spend that kind of money and feel the need to be that heavily customized, given the cost and time, and then the long-term implications.
I think that often people don’t understand the long-term implications of customization. It’s very costly; it costs you a lot of money to upgrade, it cost you a lot of money to take releases, it costs a lot to maintain. It’s not by any means just the upfront costs. The ongoing cost is enormous. We try to help our customers understand that, “You’re not really thinking about the longer-term implications of making these customization decisions. So, before you make it, and not use our product the way it’s intended to be used. You better think about that differentiator. Is it really going to be important to you. Is it really going to be worth all this cost that you’re putting into it?”
IIR: So, to summarize, you saw a shift to a more industrialized approach in other industries, and you sought to bring the benefits of more repeatable, predictable processes to the insurance industry.
CF: Yes. The way I’ve always thought about that is that years ago, people never thought they could get rid of their CRM system and use Salesforce.com. They would think, “Our customer set, we’re so different in the way we manage our customers” But where are we today? There’s not a company in the world not using Salesforce.com. They finally figured out, “Actually we can use this and it’s going to be better, because instead of all this stuff we think we’re unique at, we can take the best of what hundreds of companies do.” That is exactly where we felt the insurance industry would go. They were eventually going to realize that using these systems out-of-the-box is probably not such a bad idea.
IIR: And this approach manifests itself not only in the embrace of packaged software as designed, but also in the execution of the implementation? Surely the embrace of implementation methodology is another important success factor.
CF: It’s an interesting topic. With some of the early projects when I started at Insurity, insurance company clients would say, “We need a fixed price contract, and we’re going to pay for this.” However, they didn’t even know what their requirements were. That’s why these things took so long and became so cumbersome: the constant change in the requirements and project activities.
That’s why we’ve tried to be very thoughtful about customers we worked with to explain, “Look, this is who you’re picking as s partner. This is what our DNA is, this is what we’re thinking about, this is the way we think is the right way to operate.” We’ve seen insurers struggle with their recognition that they need to move fast to take advantage of opportunities, on the one hand, but their ingrained tendency to seek heavy customization. Our approach has been to say, “Let’s figure out what your real priority is; it’s one or the other because those things don’t work well together.”
IIR: Insurity has made eight acquisitions. Tell us a little about Insurity’s thinking about those and what they bring to the company (Editor’s Note: See a list of Insurity’s acquisitions since Jan. 2020 below).
CF: This goes back, of course, to our thinking about where the market was headed. We reviewed our assets and thought about what we should bring to our customers. As I said earlier, we knew we wanted to play in was the MGA space, and we knew our existing products weren’t perfect for the MGA business. That being the case we went after a few different businesses, among them Epic-Premier, which we think is a great provider of end-to-end core software for the MGA space, also Virtual MGA, which was the leading cloud-based binding authority underwriting in the Lloyd’s market U.S. excess and surplus markets. Billing is always a big challenge for MGAs and so we acquired a company called Bill It Now. And ultimately we had the opportunity to acquire what was probably our largest acquisition, which was Insetc, which also served the MGA space. It also brought us into program business more aggressively, and into the midsize range, which was an important growth area.
We also thought that insurers would think about software decisions based not only on standalone software but also on data and analytics capabilities that a vendor can bring to the table. That’s why, while we had a strong analytics business—with the acquisition of Valen on the predictive analytics side in the 2016-2017 timeframe—we felt that the geospatial and risk analytics space brough a lot to the table. So, we acquired SpatialKey back in Jan. 2020, and then more recently Maprisk in 2021. We think that putting that together with our other data and analytics puts us in a strong position to show companies that not only are we providing software expertise but also the data and analytics that everybody’s trying to bring into underwriting, exposure management and claims operations.
Then the other piece related to Insurity’s historical focus on commercial lines. With the acquisition of CodeObjects, not only did we get into the personal side, but it was a really modern, great technology that we are now leveraging across our whole organization.
Those were the core pieces we thought about from an M&A perspective, and then we started to think about other places where we could add some things that our customers are telling us are important. We saw what AuSuM Systems did on the premium audit and loss control. That’s an area our customers were looking to invest in, and we thought that was a great addition for us to bring. We’re going to continue to look for those kinds of acquisitions to further strengthen our products and our position in core markets we serve, but we’ll also look to add things around the edges that our customers are saying are important to them.
IIR: Being cloud-native and taking customers into the cloud has been an important part of Insurity’s strategy, so tell us a little about the company’s cloud journey.
CF: Back in 2017 we already had a great cloud presence and great expertise. We had plenty of customers and plenty of our products were in the cloud natively for many years, and we were looking and beginning to move other customers into the cloud. That could be going straight to a cloud solution, or for some customers it can be, “I spent years in my on prem solution but I’d like you guys to host it and start running it in the cloud.” We have also taken customers who for years have run on-prem on our applications and taken those over into either a public or private cloud—whatever they’re most comfortable with—and begun their journey of getting it into the cloud, getting that whole management experience away from them and getting us to do it where we have the expertise to do it for them.
We’re talking to customers regularly about where and how they want to play, and if they’re an existing customer, how do we help them migrate to the cloud in a way that’s most relevant to them today, and then ultimately move them at some point to true SaaS, cloud solutions as they see the product portfolio that we’re bringing together and the evolution of the things we offer. That journey has been extremely successfully for us. I think we have plenty of examples of customers who we’ve been able to seamlessly move from their on-prem instance into a cloud or move them from whatever legacy system to one of our cloud-based applications we have a great team that’s been doing this for a long time.
IIR: What are some recent implementations that exemplify what Insurity is doing today?
CF: We recently moved Columbia Insurance (Columbia, Mo.) into the cloud and we’ve been able to do that quickly seamlessly. We just launched Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company on Sure Underwriting, an application from Instec that we continue to invest in. It has had dramatic impacts on streamlining the process and accelerating underwriting decisions. In some cases, it’s taken as much 30 minutes off the time needed to complete a process.
Stonetrust is a great example that went live with our Workers’ Compensation suite. They were able to execute that quickly and implement straight-through processing with their agency partners. We’ve integrated data analytics with the suite because Stone Trust was an analytics customer of ours. We’ve done a great job to improve their efficiency around underwriting and their overall workers’ comp line of business. SteadPoint Insurance is another workers’ example, where we were able to get them live in new states in less than 30 days. The were able rapidly expanded into all 50 states, using our application out of the box.
We’ve had a number of nice wins on the MGA side, for example, Novum Underwriting selected our Sure MGA products after looking at a wide range of options. They liked the breadth of the end-to-end solution and its out-of-the-box Bureau content. That enables them to rate, quote and issue policies faster than their competitors.
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Appendix: Insurity’s acquisitions since Jan. 2020 (as described by the vendor).
- Maprisk, October 2021: With the addition of Maprisk to the Insurity suite, P&C carriers and MGAs writing personal and commercial lines can seamlessly integrate geospatial data and analytics across the full policy lifecycle, from quoting and underwriting to claims. The acquisition builds on Insurity’s prior acquisition of SpatialKey from December 2019 to further solidify Insurity’s position as the industry leader in data and analytics, both in commercial lines and now in personal lines, with greater breadth and depth than any other geospatial data provider.
- AuSuM Systems, September 2021: AuSuM’s solutions empower insurers to automate their entire premium audit and loss control processes and significantly improve efficiency and profitability. This acquisition also accelerates Insurity’s cloud leadership and furthers its vision of empowering P&C insurers by delivering the world’s most configurable, easy-to-use, and intuitively analytical software suite.
- Instec, April 2021: Instec delivers mid-size P&C carriers a SaaS-based policy administration platform that P&C carriers and MGAs can leverage to build out new insurance products, refresh existing ones, or acquire new books of business. This acquisitions enables Insurity to further increase in-depth ISO-support to mid-size P&C carriers, enables it to expand into the $40 billion program business, and broadens its offerings for MGAs.
- CodeObjects, November 2020: CodeObjects provides a fully integrated end-to-end policy, billing, and claims suite and AI-powered virtual assistant. This acquisition brings to Insurity a modern, powerful solution purpose-built for managing personal lines of business, rounding out the company’s portfolio of industry-leading commercial line solutions, and advanced AI technology which will enhance customer experiences across all Insurity solutions.
- Bill It Now, October 2020: Bill It Now is a leading, cloud-based billing-as-a-service solution (BaaS) for insurers, MGAs, and program administrators, offering payment plan management and policy premium issuance, as well as flexible, multi-channel payment solutions and receivable management services. This acquisition further enhances Insurity’s ability to provide comprehensive, end-to-end billing and payment processing within its cloud-based core system solutions.
- Virtual MGA, July 2020: Virtual MGA offers a leading cloud-based binding authority underwriting and distribution solution for the largest wholesale brokers, syndicates, and MGAs, with a significant focus on the Lloyd’s of London and US excess and surplus markets. This acquisition enables brokers and MGAs to expand their capabilities and services across the entire policy lifecycle with an integrated, end-to-end digital platform for all P&C standard and specialty insurance lines of business.
- Epic–Premier, June 2020: Epic-Premier offers end-to-end core system software solutions for a diverse client base of MGAs, program managers, and wholesale brokers. This acquisition helps property & casualty professionals streamline their business operations across the entire policy lifecycle, increase the automation of both standard and specialty insurance lines, and improve the speed and agility needed to meet an ever-growing set of bespoke client requirements.
- SpatialKey, January 2020: SpatialKey is a leading provider of geospatial analytics, data enrichment, and risk intelligence solutions for the P&C insurance industry, and is trusted by over 200 re/insurers, brokers, and MGAs. This acquisition enables property and casualty professionals to make better decisions in their underwriting, exposure management, and claims operations, as well as bring together insured data, numerous expert data sources, and insurance-specific analytics and visualization to provide immediate, actionable insights that drive healthier portfolios, operations, and profits.