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View from the Top: Ilya Bodner, Bold Penguin

Ilya Bodner

Watch video interview of Ilya Bodner

Ilya Bodner, CEO of Bold Penguin Inc., founded the insurance exchange in 2016 with the Columbus, Ohio-based insurtech firm’s chief technology officer, Benjamin Clarke. As an immigrant from Uzbekistan, he wanted to live the American dream and opened an insurance agency in 2003, having been exposed to the business through a high school job. After implementing technology to make back-office processes more efficient, he sold the agency in 2006. Later, he teamed with Mr. Clarke and eventually launched Bold Penguin, which aims to reduce the time from quote to bind in the small and midsize commercial insurance sector. The company is looking to expand its excess and surplus lines business next. Recently, he spoke with Business Insurance Editor Gavin Souter about opportunities for insurtech to make insurance more efficient and his future goals. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: When you entered the insurtech sector, where did you see the need for technological innovation?

A: Somewhere between core systems, customer experience and underwriting capabilities, I saw a big gap because all three suffer. It feels like all the three problems need to have a three-pronged solution.

When I first went into it, I thought that the only way to really figure out and help insurance from within rather than disrupting it is to find a way to align those three legs to the stool and give each one an upgrade and make sure that if you change one process or upgrade or tweak one process, it doesn’t cannibalize the other one. So if you’re touching the policy administration system or core systems, you’re not screwing up along the way the customer acquisition funnel; or if you’re touching the underwriters’ world, you’re not messing up the policy administration systems or whatever core systems are touching.

Q: What are some examples of where things weren’t working?

A: So you had these big companies saying, “Let’s get a better website. Let’s make it an awesome, beautiful, very consumer-friendly experience.” So they did that. And then you go through that process. You click, click, click. “Cool! Awesome!” Tap, tap, tap, and then you get this button that says, “Thank you, we have all your information. Someone will be in touch.” As a consumer, you are like, “Wait a minute. I just spent 20 minutes telling you everything about myself and I have to wait?” So that’s what I mean by the customer acquisition that didn’t really tie into policy administration systems.

Q: So where do you think we are now in terms of insurtech development?

A: Well, I think insurtech is here to stay. We’re right at the beginning of it, and although there hasn’t been enough money, ideas and companies coming in to really tip it over, it’s like this snowball that’s just rolling down, getting bigger and bigger by the day.

Q: What are the innovations that you see as being particularly interesting?

A: The idea of using drones, aerial photography and data that’s already captured from other sources and bringing that together. We all know it’s costly to send an inspector to a house, to a scene, to a location. We’ve all used Google Earth to zoom in on a house — you can see the roof and the condition of it, even though the footage might be a couple of months old. You can automate that. And it totally makes sense where you could bring in a drone to that situation.

Another area is core system upgrades. A lot of insurance companies are finally bringing all the different, disparate sources of information into one system and changing that system from being homegrown to a platform of a solution. That’s shifting in auto insurance, home insurance, and the next is the commercial wave. There are a lot of technology providers that are entering that space that have (customer-relationship management) backgrounds and insurance and fintech backgrounds that are very much on point.

Q: How do you think that insurtech will penetrate the commercial insurance sector?

A: The reason why we got into commercial insurance as opposed to other industries is because the bar for innovation is very low. It’s one of the last frontiers of insurance that’s been largely left untapped and untouched. Margins are good, the size of the market is good, but the pace of things is really slow, and information availability is very scarce. So it is really exciting and totally ripe for a lot of new players.

Q: You’re looking to expand into the excess and surplus lines sector. Where do you see technology applying in E&S?

A: So I’ll admit that I’m still confused about why E&S is so complicated. But it’s common sense — if you can’t find it in the admitted market, you go to the nonadmitted market and, yes, there’s flexibility on pricing there and, yes, you have to show verification that you tried an admitted market. Through the digital space, can’t you show that as being declined? Shouldn’t you be able to show the declinations along the way programmatically, and shouldn’t you be able to show and retrieve a rate based on risk inputs right there on the spot? So, to sum it all up, there seems to be a lot of lag in the process for E&S today, and there seems to be a lot of forms along the process that can, should and will be automated.

Q: How do you see insurtech affecting employment in the traditional insurance sector?

A: I think it’s a net gain overall. It’s actually getting a lot of people who would have never thought in a million years they would be in insurance. I have a lot of friends in the startup insurtech scene who, if you tell them they’re an insurance agent, will take offense to it, but if you tell them they’re cool entrepreneurs working at a startup, they totally dig it. So I think that they will be entering, and it’s going to be a net positive, and old jobs and things that don’t make sense anymore get reskilled, repurposed — and, yes, there will be some fallout from that, but overall it will be a net positive.

Q: Presumably, there’s going to be a need for retraining for somebody who’s a clerk at an insurance company?

A: Yes, definitely a need for retraining. The insurance agent of the future doesn’t look like the insurance agent of today, the underwriter of the future doesn’t look like the underwriter of today, and the risk assessor and the reinsurer all look slightly different.





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