American Family Acquires Bold Penguin

The digital exchange designed to streamline the quote-to-sale process for small small business insurance will continue to operate under its name and leadership.

(Image credit: Peter Fischer.)

American Family Insurance Mutual Holding Company (Madison, Wisc.), an early investor in Bold Penguin through its American Family Ventures venture capital arm, has announced that it has acquired the Columbus, Ohio-based company (su. Founded in 2016, Bold Penguin is the provider of a digital exchange designed to streamline the quote-to-sale process for small small business insurance. The Bold Penguin platform is used by insurance agents, brokers and other distributors to match, quote and bind policies from a range of insurers to meet customer needs.

Bill Westrate, President and CEO-Elect, American Family.

“Bold Penguin had been on an incredible journey, building out the capabilities in their platform, expanding their carrier/MGA/broker partnerships, and making their own strategic acquisitions,” comments Mark Breading, Partner, SMA (Boston). “It is not surprising that AmFam has converted their investment into an acquisition to bring the company into the fold and realize even more future value.”

As a result of the acquisition, Bold Penguin will become a subsidiary of the American Family Insurance group, operating under its existing name and business model. Ilya Bodner, Bold Penguin founder and CEO, Ben Clarke, co-founder and chief data officer, as well as other leadership and staff will remain with the company. American Family, which declined to disclose financial details of the transaction says that Bold Penguin will continue operating with a “relentless commitment to neutrality and confidentiality with its insurer, broker and agent customers.”

“Ultimately, this is about small business customers and their communities,” comments Bill Westrate, president and CEO-elect, American Family. “We recognize the importance of small businesses and we want to do our part to support them. Bold Penguin reduces the complexity of small business insurance for customers, for us and our industry. It enables insurers to reach more business owners with protection they need to safeguard their livelihoods and pursue their dreams to serve and employ people in their communities.”

Mark Breading, Partner, SMA.

Westrate characterizes the Bold Penguin acquisition as “another investment” in American Family agency owners. “They are trusted insurance advisors, and especially with small businesses, which require a broad product suite and tailored solutions,” he says. “The Bold Penguin platform will take our agency owners’ ability to fulfill that role to the next level.”

“Exchanges and platforms like Bold Penguin are focused on reducing the friction between insurers and agents – especially in finding new markets and placing business,” comments Karlyn Carnahan, Head of Property Casualty for Celent’s North American practice (Boston). “While agents have seen the value of addressing this gap since the initial launch of Bold Penguin, increasingly, insurers are also placing more emphasis on finding new ways to access new markets. The acquisition of Bold Penguin by American Family demonstrates the value of continuing to focus on solving the problem of agency/insurer interaction and  the potential growth opportunity they see in the broad set of solutions provided by Bold Penguin.”

Ilya Bodner, CEO, Bold Penguin.

Committed to Partners

Bold Penguin’s leadership explains the acquisition as an opportunity for the company to leverage the scale and financial stability of American Family, allowing it to accelerate its digital capabilities while remaining independent in how it operates and expands its exchange.

“We remain committed to our partners and their individually unique use of our platform,” comments Clarke. “Our teams, capabilities, security, reliability and approach to handling every organization leveraging our solution with utmost regard is something we are proud to maintain.”

“We are grateful for our tremendous staff and support from all our partners—insurance companies, brokers, agents, advisors and backers,” comments Bodner. “They are the reasons we have been able to accomplish so much in such a short time—and we’re just getting started. Helping streamline the insurance experience for small businesses inspires us, and this transaction will super-charge our growth and service to partners even more, while fueling visionary, long-term work.”

The Rising Importance of Digital Strategy

Jeff Goldberg, EVP, Research and Consulting, Novarica.

The insurance industry has realized the importance of a digital strategy that covers more than just custom built portals that work as point solutions for each type interaction, according to Jeff Goldberg, EVP, Novarica (Boston). “Instead, what’s needed is a comprehensive rethinking of all of the enterprise processes that cover both internal users and external communications,” he recommends. “Nowhere is this more important than the interactions and communications between agents/brokers and carriers, where they need to facilitate appetite confirmation, ongoing discussions, and data transfer for the rate, quote, bind process.”

‘Companies like Bold Penguin have been helping to streamline these areas, and the acquisition of Bold Penguin by American Family demonstrates that insurers are not just looking to take advantage of third-party options but looking to invest in growing the space between agents and insurers,” Goldberg adds.

Given Bold Penguin’s acquisition by an insurer, questions remain to be answered on how independent the company remains and how and whether Bold Penguin will continue to serve a range of insurers now that it sits under the American Family umbrella. “No matter how it evolves, there is value both in an individual insurer’s connection to the agency and broker marketplace or in more general exchanges that support many-to-many broker and insurer relationships,” Goldberg concludes.

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