ForMotiv Forum: Interview with Breathe Life CEO & Co-Founder Ian Jeffrey
In our last few articles, we have discussed what led to the rapid onslaught of InsurTech companies entering the market, highlighted some of the top companies to pay attention to, and looked deeper into some of the innovative business models these companies are using to disrupt the market.
The feedback has been awesome and we’ve received a lot of insightful questions about some of the companies we’ve discussed. Because of that, we thought doing a series of Q&A interviews with InsurTech founders, folks from incumbent carriers, and other interesting people in the space would be a fun and informative series for our readers.
Our first guest on the “ForMotiv Forum” is Ian Jeffrey, CEO & Co-Founder of Breathe Life, an InsurTech company shaking up the life insurance space in North America. With over 20 years of experience as a founder, investor, and advisor, we thought Ian would be the perfect person to kick off our series with. So, without further ado…
Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this, Ian. To give our readers a little background, you started your career in marketing then moved into security. Your most recent role before founding Breathe Life was as GM of PasswordBox, a Montreal-based startup that was acquired by Intel Security in 2016. Prior to that you ha Co-Founded FounderFuel with Real Ventures.
You started Breathe Life a little over two years ago and have since launched with carriers across North America and scaled the team to 36.
To level set with everyone reading this, could you give a few sentences on what Breathe Life does?
Breathe Life is helping protect families around the world by transforming the way individual insurance is bought and sold today. The API-driven Breathe Life Enterprise Commerce Platform is focused on delivering new business, using advanced analytics and AI to unify customer data into a single view and dispatch leads to the right channel with the right insurance product at the right time. Using the Breathe Life platform, carriers can sell more policies through advisors, direct, or anywhere in between.
Given your unique background, particularly the fact that you don’t have much, or any, “Insurance” experience, what compelled you to get into the life insurance technology business?
When I was thinking about the next company I wanted to start I knew it needed to check a few boxes. I wanted to build a real business that would be generating revenue early on and not another Venture-backed startup that doesn’t have paying clients until several years in. I also wanted to do something that positively impacted the world. I’ve got two young sons and I want to show them the importance of building a business and a product that helps people globally. Many people outside the insurance space might not see how enabling the sale of life insurance does that but it provides millions of families worldwide with the financial security and peace of mind they need.
As a startup, you are dealing with some of the largest and most sophisticated companies in North America. How do you convince them to go with Breathe Life versus another provider?
There are a few ways in which we convince carriers to go with Breathe Life instead of other providers. One of the biggest is how fast we can move. Being a younger and agile company works to our advantage because we can go from a signed agreement to being live in market in under 3 months. This is extremely rare to see with incumbent technology organizations. Our platform is also API-driven which means we can integrate with existing technology solutions. For example, if you use X to do your underwriting, we’ll just plug into them and integrate our platform around them so that you don’t need to stop using existing technology providers that you’re happy with. We also have a huge focus on the consumer. One of our Co-Founders is a product designer and because of this, we have always put an emphasis on building beautifully designed products that can be rare to find in the insurance market. We ensure that the user flow and experience is top of mind in everything we build.
You wrote an awesome blog on Buy vs Build. I know our team enjoyed it. Touch on the Buy vs. Build conversation you have with carriers during the buying process.
We have seen a shift in carrier’s mindset around partnering with startups. They are less and less thinking about building because they understand the benefits that such a partnership can provide. In our minds, the arguments boil down to Time, Costs, User Experience, and Customization and at the end of the day, it is faster, costs less, you have a stronger user experience, and easier level of customization if you buy a SaaS product rather than building yourself.
What is the biggest area of opportunity within insurance when it comes to technology enablement? Any technologies, in particular, you looked at in your role that excited you?
When we first started building Breathe Life, we thought the biggest area for technology to hit was for InsurTechs to take down the incumbents and go at selling insurance themselves, then after some research and exploration, we landed on enabling carriers with a way to sell direct to consumer digitally. However, as we have matured and had countless conversations with insurers across the continent it has become clear that the biggest opportunity within insurance when it comes to technology is enabling carriers in general and providing a platform to enable advisors to sell and manage policies digitally is a big part of this. A lot of companies are going after the middle market with D2C platforms but we have recognized that advisors, agents, and brokers play a critical role in the sale of individual insurance policies and that isn’t going to change so we found a way to enable carriers to enable them to sell more efficiently, with an almost zero error-rate. One of our partners launched this platform and expected to see 5% of policies being processed through it but within weeks they were at 27% and they had reactivated a huge percentage of “dormant” advisors. Not only have existing advisors been waiting for technologies that will help them but as they head towards retirement there is a need to onboard a new generation of advisors and providing them with technology will massively help this process.
Is Breathe Life using AI to address any of these problems?
Many AI projects are possible areas of research and development for our data team. In the short term, we are focusing our machine learning work on the optimization of a lead scoring algorithm that we’ve created. This trained model learns from our end users’ anonymized behaviours and profiles to help detect the new leads that have the highest probability to convert. The goal for this tool is to prioritize leads and help our partners’ sales and marketing departments increase the ROI of their growth efforts.
We’ve noticed a shift for carriers from agent-based distribution to direct-to-consumer? Is that something you are seeing as well?
It’s definitely something we’ve seen because there is such a huge gap in the middle market, and a portion of our platform does help carriers distribute direct-to-consumer. However, I believe that we will soon see carriers put increasing importance on supporting their advisors because they are the ones selling the bigger, higher-worth policies. Advisors will become less and less salespeople but will be actual advisors.
In Term Life, we definitely think direct-to-consumer can disrupt this product. On the Whole Life side, given the complexity of the product and financial commitment, we think digital as a sales rep might be more difficult to disrupt human interaction. Do you have any thoughts?
I believe we will always need human interaction, advisors play a crucial role. The best way forward will be to enable advisors through technology rather than try and replace them.
Do you buy into the notion of the new insurance companies disrupting the old or do you think it’s mostly marketing spin? What do you like about them? Not like about them?
I don’t buy into it, I definitely think the incumbents are here to stay and that they will all begin to move forward with digital transformations. There is definitely room for the new ones to enter the game and shake things up a bit but we’re seeing a lot of the new ones struggling quite a bit, it’s not an easy industry to get into as a young company, there’s a reason you don’t see new insurance companies popping up every day.
ForMotiv is a behavioral intelligence platform that helps leading financial service, insurance, and on-demand companies measure user’s digital body language to predict outcomes such as risk and fraud.