The Hartford’s Tooker: Insurtechs forcing industry “to think bigger and faster”

On The Insurer TV’s recent visit to The Hartford’s corporate campus in Connecticut, Mo Tooker spoke about the launch of the carrier’s new innovation lab and discussed the lessons his company and the broader industry are learning from the recent insurtech boom.

Tooker said that irrespective of whether an industry player is an incumbent, start-up, broker, or carrier, the latest cohort of insurtechs has forced executives to “think bigger and think faster”.

The executive’s comments come against the backdrop of an insurtech segment that saw firms attract significant funding when capital was cheap, but which has become more challenged in the past year as capital costs have soared.

“I think the first lesson we've all seen is that profit matters. All these companies were focused on growth and disruption, but when you get down to it, profit matters,” Tooker said.

However, The Hartford’s head of middle, large and specialty said the intellectual capital that has flowed into the insurtech segment and the industry problems those firms are aiming to solve have been a positive for the industry.

“I think the second [lesson] … is these new brains, new technology, new talent coming in and looking at the intrinsic problems of the industry, are really good for the industry, and I think they've challenged all of us.”

“Pace matters,” Tooker added. “I think the start-up environment has challenged the industry in lots of new ways that have made us better,” he continued.

“Here at The Hartford … I think you'll find us embracing some of these start-ups, trying to make sure that we learn from them and make sure that we can embrace what they're doing,” he added.

Tooker said driving significant change in the insurance industry is a “long road”, and insurtechs that arrived on the scene five to seven years ago with ambitions to disrupt the sector have shown it to be “maybe a little bit harder than originally thought”.

He also described broader industry tech adoption as “mixed”, while noting that tech behemoths such as Amazon and Google have increased “expectations” among customers regarding the insurance buying experience.

The Hartford refers to itself a “200-year-old start-up”

Tooker highlighted The Hartford’s 2018 acquisition of gig economy-focused MGA Y-Risk and the influence the MGA’s team has had since then, calling the work the group is doing “one of the most exciting things we have going on”.

Following the Y-Risk acquisition, The Hartford launched an innovation lab that Tooker said is intended to “catch ideas” that come in from agents, brokers, customers, or The Hartford’s own staff.

“When they got in the building here, you start[ed] to see a pretty unique skill set, just in terms of how they diagnose problems [and] think about underwriting, think about products,” Tooker explained.

“They have the skill set and now we put the resources around them, so that we can get more and more products into the market, responding to all the feedback we've gotten,” he continued.

Tooker said the work that has come out of the firm’s innovation lab has led the group to create products “rather dynamically in the desire to get things quickly to market”.

“On the surface, you can say, well, it's a 212-year-old company – it just must be slow-moving, there's got to be a lot of history there – yes, but on the flip side of that, to survive 212 years, you’ve got to reinvent yourself,” Tooker explained.

He added that the firm’s innovation journey “has just started”, calling it a “work in progress”.

“We have big, big aspirations to make sure that we can be a nimble 212-year-old company. I think innovation is probably the point I would say that's the most nascent in our efforts.”

Return to office part of “grand societal experiment”

The Hartford’s campus was buzzing with activity on the day The Insurer TV visited, but Tooker acknowledged that the company was still attempting to figure out what a return-to-office or hybrid work environment of the future might look like.

The executive shared an anecdote where he said someone had described the return-to-office debate as “the largest question we’ve tried answering since the Industrial Revolution”.

Discussing where The Hartford sits in the debate, Tooker emphasised the “community and nourishment” colleagues get from being together in person.

“How do we get what we as the company need, and what the employee needs? I think we're continuing to work through it,” Tooker said, calling the current work environment a “grand societal experiment”.

“We believe that in-person [work] is going to help you spiritually, in a community fashion, and in ways that you probably won't recognise for two, three, five, 10 years,” the executive explained.

Tooker also spoke to the importance of in-person work in the underwriting and innovation process.

“When we get into some of these risk decisioning – underwriting, some of the investment decisions we're making – I don't know how you do some of this without being in-person,” he explained.

“So, we have tried to find that balance that provides the employee the flexibility that he or she needs, but at the same time the in-person activity we know is so important to culture, risk decisioning.”

“And so we found a balance, again, whether it's going to be correct or not, or whether it's going to be for the long term, I think remains an open question,” he concluded.