BrokerTech Ventures drives collaboration in insurance brokerage industry

Holmes Murphy a founding co-leader of initiative

BrokerTech Ventures is breaking new ground in bringing a more entrepreneurial mindset to the insurance brokerage industry.

Conceptualized by Iowa-based insurance brokerage Holmes Murphy in 2019, the technology solutions and innovation initiative rapidly set up its operations and began producing tangible outcomes in 2020 and into 2021 — despite significant disruptions to businesses and daily lives wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative has effectively developed an innovation hub for the insurance brokerage industry, providing a platform for brokerages to invest in a technology accelerator program as well as directly invest in and adopt the latest insurtech platforms.

With a mission of “convening broker-centric innovation, ideation, investment and communication,” BrokerTech Ventures represents an unprecedented innovation-focused collaboration within the insurance brokerage industry, said Dan Keough, president and CEO of Holmes Murphy and co-CEO of BTV.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for our industry to work together to find ways to accomplish tasks that are more efficient,” he said. In addition to driving down costs and reducing risks for the companies served by the brokers, BrokerTech Ventures also seeks to make technology investments “part of the value chain” for insurance brokerages.

BrokerTech Ventures was built upon a “labs” concept that Holmes Murphy has used within its brokerage operations, initially to collaborate across different lines of business, but evolving to collaborating across the insurance agencies that it partners with, said Susan Hatten, BTV’s chief operating officer.

Working with Hatten is Ellen Willadsen, chief financial officer and chief innovation officer of Holmes Murphy, whose role with BrokerTech Ventures is executive sponsor. The lab’s concept provides a strong tool for collaboration among the partnering companies, she said. “It’s a way for us to bring individuals from all the different organizations together,” Willadsen said.

The sharing of resources across the partnering insurance brokerages has been even more effective than anticipated as the companies have connected through virtual technology during the pandemic, Keough noted. The collaboration focuses on noncompetitive areas that can advance the entire industry, including safety and back-office efficiency enhancements.

Among several milestones achieved last year, BrokerTech Ventures marked its first partnership with an insurance carrier a year ago when the Travelers Cos. announced in May 2020 its intent to work with BTV.

“We have deep relationships with all the firms involved with BrokerTech Ventures, and becoming a partner enables us to more closely collaborate on technology solutions for agents and brokers,” Patrick Kinney, executive vice president of field management at Travelers, said at the time of the announcement. “Together, we hope to identify new ways to digitally meet customers’ needs.”

Keough recalled the precise day that he and other Holmes Murphy leaders decided they would launch the accelerator program — May 17, 2019. The broker partnerships built up rapidly from there.

Partnering with M3 Insurance, Wisconsin’s largest insurance brokerage, Holmes Murphy initially brought together five regional insurance brokerages from across the country as investor-partners in BrokerTech Ventures.

BTV has since added to its broker partners and now has 13 brokerages that are invested in the initiative. Together, those brokerages present nearly $30 billion in annual agency premiums. BrokerTech Ventures ended 2020 with the announcement of an additional four regional and national insurance firms as partners, among them Merchants Bonding Co. of West Des Moines.

Central to the effort is a growing portfolio of insurance technology companies that have been chosen to participate in BTV’s accelerator program.

Earlier this year, BTV announced its second cohort of 12 insurtech companies, expanding its stable of insurtech partners to two dozen companies. The accelerator program provides a highly focused five-week curriculum, along with an executive mentoring network, as well as potential seed funding of up to $50,000 for each of the startups to conduct research and product testing. The relationship also provides a ready distribution platform through the brokerages to deploy the technologies.

By aligning as both an accelerator and an investment vehicle, BTV and its agency partners have the opportunity to shape a product or innovative solution alongside the startup company, said Mike Victorson, M3 Insurance president and CEO, and BrokerTech Ventures’ co-CEO. “We intend on being active participants in the insurance technology space and offering a testing ground to benefit our customers.”

By the end of 2020, BTV had made its first investment with a $1 million capital stake as a co-lead investor in Highwing, a Colorado-based insurtech firm that has developed a platform to automate the insurance application and quote-making process for the commercial insurance industry. Four BTV brokerage partners, including Holmes Murphy, the ABD Team, Conner Strong & Buckelew, and Heffernan Insurance Brokers, were among the companies that made investments in the $4 million funding round.

BrokerTech Ventures is also leveraging partnerships to drive communication and education for the brokerage industry. Last year BTV entered a sponsored partnership with Leader’s Edge magazine, which serves as the content platform of the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers. Together, Leader’s Edge and BTV are creating and delivering influential articles, blogs and webinars.

BTV’s influence has already spread beyond the U.S. borders. In December 2020, BrokerTech Ventures announced a partnership to help Israeli insurtech supporters to build a regional accelerator in Tel Aviv, as well as develop ties between Israeli and U.S. startup founders and insurance brokers.

The partnership builds on a tremendous pool of technology talent in Israel, said John Jackovin, executive director of BTV’s accelerator program. “We definitely see it as an opportunity to identify great young companies that might add value to our network of brokers and insurance companies in the United States,” he said.

The agency partners:
Holmes Murphy, Waukee, Iowa
M3 Insurance, Madison, Wis.
ABD Insurance & Financial Services, San Mateo, Calif.
PayneWest Insurance, Missoula, Mont.
Conner Strong & Buckelew, Camden, N.J.
MJ Insurance, Carmel, Ind.
Heffernan Group, Walnut Creek, Calif.
InterWest Insurance Services, Sacramento, Calif.
Woodruff Sawyer, San Francisco, Calif.
IMA Financial Group, Wichita, Kan.
Hylant, Toledo, Ohio
Graham Co., Philadelphia, Pa.
The Horton Group, Orland Park, Ill.