Technology is Creating New Opportunities for Insurance Distribution

James C. Riviezzo
February 3, 2021

Every business needs insurance - and help buying it. Especially small, independent business owners. According to the Small Business Association, there are 30.7 million small businesses in the U.S. alone - a figure which accounts for 99.9 percent of all U.S. businesses.

Serving the needs of small business customers is no easy task for insurance carriers and the agents and brokers which look after this large segment of the economy. The average cost of a business owner's policy (BOP) is just over $600 annually — meaning that agents and brokers need to sell many of these sometimes hard-to-place coverages in order to maintain a viable business (lest we forget - independent agents are small business owners too).  A burdensome aspect of providing small business insurance is that the underwriting process generally requires manually completing lots of paperwork. Since it is universally agreed that "time is money" - paperwork costs agents and brokers their most valuable asset, which could be better allocated to providing customers with improved advice and service. Each insurance carrier has its own application, and there is little consistency in the answers agents must provide in order to obtain a quote.  Worse yet - insurance carrier's underwriting appetite is always changing. There is a lot of information for agents to have to remember. In some cases, a small business owner waits weeks to obtain necessary coverage to hire more employees, sign new contracts, or add critical services.  In the end - the traditional buying experience for small commercial insurance simultaneously fails to serve the priorities and best interests of agents, customers, or carriers.

To Briza - the independent agent and broker is essential to the process of improving the buying experience of commercial insurance.  We don't view agents as unnecessary middlemen - nor are we proponents of "disintermediation" by removing professional servicing and advice from the equation.  Briza makes it incredibly easy for agents of all sizes to connect with multiple carriers, and deliver the best insurance products directly to their clients - in a fraction of the time, and online.  That means no more paperwork - and more money and time in the hands of both agents and customers alike.

Likewise, insurance carriers issuing small business coverage also face a myriad of challenges to their legacy business models.  The insurance carrier market operates on tight margins, high operating costs, and has witnessed anemic growth in the last decade.  Persistently low interest rates, relentless cost-cutting efforts, and the need for large capital expenditures in technology have all hampered carrier's profitability and growth.  The ever-shifting competitive landscape for carriers include the pitfalls of continued agent and broker M&A, captive markets reducing their pool of dedicated sales professionals, and the potential channel conflict inherent in the merging of direct and retail markets via online aggregators.  All of these factors place formidable pressure on traditional distribution strategies.  Briza believes that technology is creating compelling solutions for both agents and carriers selling small business commercial insurance.  Both of these key market constituents will benefit via the increased use of APIs to create opportunity, efficiency, and a drastically improved customer experience.

What is an API? API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface, which is a type of software which allows two distinct applications to talk to each other. Each time we use popular applications like Google Maps or hail a car using Uber, or gawk at dog photos on Instagram, we are unknowingly using an API.  Technology, and APIs in particular, hold the key to empowering the commercial insurance industry to provide fast, aggregated, online quotes, legally issue proof of coverage to buyers of policies, and provide a payment experience no different than any typical online purchase.

But there is still a great deal of work to be done. The widespread utilization of API in insurance is currently low - but the trend is finally beginning to change.  Automated underwriting platforms require carriers to build and develop bespoke API for their own organizations, allowing, for example, claims data to mesh seamlessly with billing data, or a policy administration system to smoothly interface with an underwriting platform to allow for simple endorsement requests like a change of address.  But just like entry into a foreign country requires a passport - having APIs only allows an insurance carrier to cross the border into the future state of insurance.  APIs alone do not solve the language barriers between travelers which meet on the road to digital insurance.  No two insurance carrier API are the same. There are no industry standards.  So how exactly can we promote a fluent conversation between a multitude of trading partners?  Who will be the Rosetta Stone of risk?

Briza is investing in building the critical infrastructure to aggregate carrier quote, bind, and payment capabilities — all via one unified API.  We view our work as performing the necessary heavy lifting for the commercial insurance industry - integrating and bringing together non-conforming carrier APIs.  Our work allows us to collaborate with unlimited development partners outside of the insurance industry to promote a world of new distribution opportunities for agents and carriers alike.  Imagine a future when insurance carriers can seamlessly embed their products in online banking, accounting, or wealth management platforms?  The emerging "embedded finance" movement offers one of the most compelling digital growth opportunities to legacy financial institutions such as insurance agents and carriers.  By easily translating the quoting, binding, and payment experience, Briza seeks to allow insurance companies rapid, low-cost functionality into adjacent platforms, and likewise enable any brand or merchant to integrate innovative risk and protection services into their digital storefront.

Briza's mission is "delivering commercial insurance to the world." Practically speaking, that means empowering developers to create delightful user experiences, and democratizing commercial insurance APIs through the action of allowing them to be consumed by as broad an audience as possible. In this endeavor, we are proudly a neutral party. We are neither owned by an insurance broker or an insurance carrier. This unique posture allows Briza to work conflict-free with insurance agents, brokers, carriers, wholesalers, MGA's and technology providers alike.  Our underlying objective is drastically improving the ease, efficiency, choice, and experience of buying commercial insurance.

The new frontier of the commercial insurance industry will require the mastery of digital solutions and alternative distribution channels. Conventional product distribution networks may never be replaced entirely - but digital and embedded partnerships will most certainly become dominant platforms for growth.  Briza is using technology to create new opportunities in agent and carrier marketing by delivering a fundamentally unique value proposition to our market partners: API distribution.

Briza - delivering commercial insurance to the world!

James C. Riviezzo

James leads business development at Briza and has responsibility for all activities related to expanding relationships with insurance carriers, MGAs, wholesalers, aggregators, SaaS platforms, and select brokerage partners seeking to develop digital distribution solutions for commercial insurance. Before Briza, James spent over six years at American International Group (AIG) as Director of the firm's US Client Engagement Practice. Prior to AIG, James led the marketing, sales and client relations practice for the northeast region of the United States for Safety National Casualty Corporation, and began his insurance career as a broker with Marsh, USA.

James resides in New York City, where he is actively involved with several civic, nonprofit and charitable groups, including serving as a Board Governor for The John Street Insurance Association, City Harvest, Monday Night Hospitality, and the Corporate Volunteers of New York.