The Insurance Agent of the Future: Q&A with Brett Fulmer

Digital Transformation, Insurance Industry News & Views - August 19 2020

Brett Fulmer, AKA “Broker Brett”, is an Insurance Broker at Newport Beach Insurance Center (NPBIC.com) and is in charge of their Digital Strategy. They are building a national, full-spectrum insurance hub, based out of Newport Beach California, that is technology driven in its delivery of insurance services. Brett is an advisor to several Insurtech companies including FINAEO, Juniper Labs, and Breezy Pets LLC, and is also a podcast host and contributor to InsNerds. Brett discusses insurtech, digital transformation, and how drones and the Internet of Things (IoT) will make insurance more data-driven, real-time, and frictionless in the future.

Brett, with COVID-19, everyone has had to learn to collaborate 100% virtually and stay focused and productive. How have the teams you’re connected with stayed connected with each other and with customers during this new normal?

The most interesting one for me has been connecting with my friends and colleagues at FINAEO. Before COVID I was the only remote employee (contractor), and most of the time they were good about me firing up my laptop for meetings, but I still was pretty disconnected. Now I feel way tighter with the team.

My Partner Ed Arango and I recently relaunched a boutique “sandbox” insurtech-driven brokerage, NPBIC.com, and we’ve been doing the bulk of the work during COVID, so we’ve had no choice but to adapt and communicate well online. The Orange County brokerage that I have assisted with P&C and sell benefits through, Maxwell Agency, has always had a tech-enabled presence, so that helped us be prepared with utilizing Google Drive, Ring Central, and other cloud services that made working from home easy too. Slack and Gchat are musts in this environment as well.

The pandemic has disrupted the entire insurance value chain including traditional distribution channels and producers – and some of the changes we’ve had to adapt to overnight are likely to be permanent. What will the insurance agent of the future look like post-COVID?

I would say the Financial Planning (insurance related) community was hit the hardest in this regard and has the most potential for upside. They were used to long meetings and applications. It was always a heavy relationship driven side of the business, and now people are more comfortable building rapport online. Auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance haven’t been changed too much by all of this; these lines were already tech driven and digitally enabled for the most part.

For commercial Insurance, it had been fairly balanced in my opinion: Half of it had been in-person meetings and relationship building, half had become online and tech driven. Now it’s all headed there. I think you’ll still have “bricks and mortar” to help substantiate your agency, but savvier brokers will use tech to stretch out their markets. The old rule was a four-hour drive in each direction for your sales territory, so it’s one day’s drive for meetings. Zoom and COVID have blown that rule up.

There’s a lot of talk in the industry about delivering a frictionless or touchless insurance buying experience, especially now. What do customers expect from their agents and how well are agencies doing at meeting customer expectations today?

Videos embedded in proposals, video conferencing, and DocuSign have all made paperless delivery incredibly easy. I would say the opposite is the challenge now when less tech-enabled consumers want the “analog” experience – that may be the harder challenge for a lot of us to meet these days. If we had faced COVID a decade earlier, it would have been devastating. This may have actually firmed up changes that were in process, or should have been happening anyways, and consumers are keeping up for the most part.

What do agents and brokers want – or need – from their carriers during the pandemic?

Clear and updated underwriting guidelines are huge from carriers right now. Everyone’s stretched, everyone’s a little on tilt, and things change regularly. We need clean, concise, and not overdone communication from our carriers and departments of insurance right now. And it is a balancing act because too much information just becomes white noise.

You spend a lot of time advising commercial insurance clients. COVID-19 aside, what other trends do you think will have the biggest impact on commercial insurance in the short term?

I am really curious about audited polices this year, and what’s going to shake out as revenues are a quarter or half of what was projected in a lot of verticals. The audited/adjusted premium and loss of commission could be a lot for agencies to absorb. For commercial insurance, there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny on what’s executed from a policy. It is my understanding that SARS got Pandemics excluded from policy forms in the past; it’ll be interesting to see how carriers and regulators deal with it going forward. If regulators make companies pay out on Business Interruption, it’s going to have a wild impact on the industry too.

The insurance industry is increasingly focused on attracting new customers including millennials and Gen Z. If you had to give the industry a report card, how well are established insurance companies doing when it comes to building digital strategies and products that are relevant to the needs and buying behavior of millennial and Gen Z customers?

The traditional carriers had successfully been doing well in their “hurry up and wait” strategy, meaning letting the Insurtech players produce winners and then potentially absorb them, like Esurance. Lemonade did change things up by making a lot of noise lately with an IPO, but they have been hot with a lot of scrutiny because of their metrics. HIPPO actually went the other way and bought carrier “paper” recently, so maybe there’s some change coming there too? I think traditional carriers are going to have to start “intrapreneur” companies more often, like Toggle Renters Insurance from Farmers.

How do you feel insurance agencies can align with InsurTechs to deliver a better customer experience?

Really using whatever tools are the best fit for clients should always be the biggest goal for brokers and agencies. Insurtechs aren’t just consumer-facing sales tools; sometimes they can help make the buying process smoother, require less legwork on the customers’ side, and provide greater clarity for agents.

What do you see as the next big breakthrough in insurtech that carriers and brokers need to prepare for?

The delivery of products is going to get smoother and simpler, even for traditionally complex lines of business. In a world that’s getting more and more digitized, I think carriers are going to engage agents with a deep understanding of their products, and a more natural way to communicate about them. Transparency is definitely the theme of the day, and insurance should try and communicate how it works better too, rather than just marketing cheap rates.

Take out your crystal ball: What do you think the insurance industry will look like in 10 years?

Data-driven accurate polices with real-time IoT acknowledgement of loss and instant remediation. For instance, let’s say there are wildfires in northern California: drones survey the damage, driverless Ubers get sent out, and insureds are taken to Airbnb’s and hotels, with Amazon or Target delivering replacement clothes and other necessities. Or let’s say there’s a fire in a machine shop: IoT knows what machines are down, and procurement and a temporary facility is automatically worked on for the insured to help mitigate downtime. Last but not least, we may be dealing with climate issues for a number of reasons. I think insurance will play an enormous roll in keeping our society moving, as it always has.


brett_fulmerBrett Fulmer, AKA “Broker Brett”, is an Insurance Broker at Newport Beach Insurance Center (NPBIC.com) and is in charge of their Digital Strategy. Brett is an advisor to several Insurtech companies including FINAEO, Juniper Labs, and Breezy Pets LLC, and is also a podcast host and contributor to InsNerds.

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