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A quick study put Uber in the driver's seat

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When Uber Technologies Inc. needed someone to develop an insurance program for the pioneering ride-sharing company, it turned to a newcomer who was equally innovative to manage the company's risks.

Gus Fuldner, who joined the San Francisco-based firm as an insurance novice in 2014 following a venture capital career, helped break the auto insurance coverage mold by helping design a program based on miles driven rather than the traditional yearlong policy.

Uber's 34-year-old head of insurance worked closely with insurers, regulators and even other transportation network companies — the industry's term for the ride-sharing business — to develop a uniform standard for automobile liability insurance for Uber's part-time drivers.

Those with whom he has worked praise his attention to detail, quick uptake and retention of specifics of insurance risk management issues, and his ability to inspire and contribute to creative solutions to problems.

It is for these efforts and others during his tenure at Uber that Mr. Fuldner has been named Business Insurance's Risk Manager of the Year®.

Thirty-three states, the District of Columbia and about 40 cities now have insurance requirements for ride-sharing drivers, and most also have regulatory frameworks, according to Uber. For instance, Uber operates in New York City, but not elsewhere in the state.

The ride-sharing company said it operates in 45 states, the District of Columbia and about 70 countries internationally.

“Gus is obviously a very impressive young man,” said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak, who is based in Tulsa and has worked with Mr. Fuldner. “He can comprehend a lot of regulatory information. When Gus is in the room, many times it takes other companies' five or six people to keep up” with him.

Karim Hirji, Toronto-based senior vice president of international and ventures at insurer Intact Financial Corp., who is working with Mr. Fuldner in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, said Mr. Fuldner's “quite phenomenal” depth of knowledge is apparent “as soon as you walk into a room.”

Mr. Fuldner said with its approach to insurance, Uber is “really changing two industries at once — both the transportation and the insurance industry — and that's a pretty unique opportunity.”

“Insurance is a very core part of Uber,” Mr. Fuldner said. To deliver people or goods, what's needed is a safe driver, a safe late-model vehicle and “a way to address insurance that has the appropriate coverage,” he said. “You can summarize a lot of the regulation and other things down to these three issues.”

Eighteen months ago, there was much discussion on the insurability of ride-share drivers, and a big debate among the taxi industry, the insurance industry and transportation network companies — each with a different view of how insurance should work for ride-sharing, he said.

“That really peaked in early 2015, when that was being discussed in state houses across America. At one point, probably in February or March of last year, there were more than 100 active bills in different legislatures in the U.S. discussing the insurance of ride-sharing,” Mr. Fuldner said.

“My team was flying around from state capital to capital to hearings on this topic,” he said. There was “lots of misinformation and there was lots of confusion.”

“It was really Gus who was driving the regulatory side of the development of the industry, because at that point nobody knew what to do with it,” said John Clarke, senior vice president of marketing at Richmond, Virginia-based James River Insurance Co., a surplus lines insurer for Uber.

California, Colorado and Illinois were early adopters of ride-sharing legislation, each of which had some differences, he said.

So, Mr. Fuldner said, he met early last year with large insurers and trade associations “and came up with a piece of model legislation we could agree to that satisfied the needs or interests of personal auto insurers, of insurers that sell insurance to the (transportation network company) industry and (transportation network companies), and then address the sort of concerns that legislatures generally had about ensuring the public was protected.”

Participating parties included San Francisco-based competitors Lyft Inc. and Sidecar Technologies Inc.; personal auto insurance firms; and major trade associations including the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos. and the American Insurance Association. Last July, the Manasquan, New Jersey-based National Conference of Insurance Legislators endorsed the model legislation.

“Then we were basically able to say, "Here's a framework'” and a “set of language we can agree on together, instead of arguing with one another,” Mr. Fuldner said.

This led to meetings at the state legislatures “where we were literally sitting in a row and saying, "Uber supports this, Lyft supports this, AIA supports this, Farmers supports this,'” said Mr. Fuldner. “Things passed much more easily that way” and the language is now part of most states' and cities laws on the topic, he said.

“There's an area of common interest among all players in the industry, and so I'm often finding myself speaking at regulatory conferences or on the same panel as someone from Lyft or those who are testifying at the same state Senate or statehouse hearing with them,” he said.

Mr. Fuldner has been a major factor in Uber's success, said Randy Nornes, Chicago-based executive vice president at Aon Risk Solutions, a broker for Uber.

“If they didn't get some of the risk and insurance right, and really take the lead in building not only the insurance programs, but also building relationships with regulators ... it would certainly have slowed” the business's growth Mr. Nornes said.

Mr. Fuldner “was able to work with regulators like myself to develop a way that Uber could provide insurance coverage ... to protect consumers, rather than find ways around it,” said Jim Stephens, chief deputy attorney at the Illinois Insurance Department in Chicago. “He found a way to make it work, and I admire his work on it. As a regulator, I don't often say that about people in his position.”

“What I think is just amazing about Gus is his ability to kind of play at 30,000 feet, and then very quickly get into the weeds on an issue,” such as policy language, then “get back to 30,000 feet,” said Kristy Furrer, senior vice president a Woodruff-Sawyer & Co. in San Francisco, who runs the broker's property/casualty practice. “There are people who are good in one area or the other, and he's really stellar at both.”