Coherent’s Growing Momentum: IIR Talks with CEO John Brisco

Brisco talks about the company’s origins in insurance, how its Spark solution is helping carriers, and how the technology fits with the hybrid-work model.

(John Brisco, CEO and Co-Founder, Coherent.)

The low-code/no-code movement has moved with considerable rapidity offering alternatives to solving some of the risk and cost challenges associated with core insurance systems. The news this week of Coherent’s (Hong Kong) Series B fund raise gave an example of one of the player in this realm that has grown rapidly in a short time. Coherent’s Spark SaaS solution converts spreadsheet business logic of any complexity into ready-to-use APIs, with the aim of making building business software as fast, approachable, and cost-effective as using Excel. The company got its start in the insurance industry, tackling the notorious problems associated with moving and governing logic historically trapped in spreadsheets. Coherent currently has over 60 clients in insurance and banking. With Series B funding of $75 million announced this week, the company says it will continue to grow its insurance industry business while building on the traction it has gained in other financial services verticals. In addition to expanding in banking, capital markets and asset management, the firm will use the new capital to grow businesses in locations around the globe. Having gotten to know the firm earlier this year, IIR saw the funding round as an opportunity to catch up with Coherent CEO John Brisco.

Insurance Innovation Reporter: How did Coherent get started in the insurance industry?

John Brisco, CEO, Coherent: Throughout my career with some of the world’s largest insurers, including Manulife, QBE, EY and AXA, I saw enormous opportunity around improving the connectivity of the business logic –such as actuarial models, pricing/re-pricing calculations, and commission rules—sitting inside Microsoft Excel, which insurers use daily to run critical business operations across every department. Seeing first-hand the challenges that insurers have in bringing their intellectual capital to life was the catalyst to create a solution that will help insurers accelerate their digital transformation and realize the value of their existing assets.

IIR: Can you share examples of how Coherent has helped insurers?

JB: UPC Insurance [St. Petersburg, Fla.]—a property and casualty insurer with multiple lines of business, including homeowners, landlord/seasonal, condominium, flood, renters, and commercial residential—was looking to achieve continual re-rating with higher speed and accuracy, but at lower cost and with far less effort. Coherent Spark re-rated UPC’s entire book of business per state monthly. Spark also enabled UPC to re-rate its portfolio on the fly—whenever the environment, regulations, or markets change—all in under 10 minutes, compared to the old process, which used to take three weeks.

Newly launched TRUE Property Insurance [Tampa, Fla.], which serves homeowners and small businesses in catastrophe-exposed regions, wanted innovative technology to help them enter the market and grow rapidly. With Spark, TRUE was able to: Optimize time and cost related to product development; rate risk effectively with a comprehensive, multifactor calculation; enable each agent to run accurate quotes in the field in real-time, from any device; ensure accurate, competitive pricing; and attract new policyholder members swiftly, in the market significantly faster than they would have been.

IIR: Could you give an example from outside the property/casualty realm?

JB: One of the top US retirement plan recordkeepers is using Coherent Spark to transform how they price and sell defined contribution retirement plans. Within days of signing their license agreement, they loaded their complex retirement pricing algorithm into Spark and integrated it for their New Business team via Salesforce. Coherent Spark provided easy integration using Open API standards. This enabled the recordkeeper to build an advisor-friendly quick quote and proposal on their sales platform at an unprecedented speed, as they were able to externalize complex calculations and business rules to Spark. Spark has helped them save 7 to 10 days in the sales cycle.

IIR: Coherent has talked about how its technology supports the hybrid-work era. Could you elaborate on that?

Prudential Financial (Newark, N.J.) selected Coherent Spark to help drive efficiencies in the way the insurer gets product to market, according to Matt Taloni, the company’s Head of Software Engineering. “As we continue to explore emerging business opportunities across new digital platforms, it was imperative we decoupled ourselves from reliance on traditional core systems,” Taloni comments. “Spark gives us the simplicity of Excel with the sophistication of modern API architectures.”

JB: Coherent Spark supports new ways of working for agile businesses, with more teams working from home and—as is the case within our own global teams at Coherent—completing tasks asynchronously rather than together in a conference room. In this environment, business and IT teams need to effectively collaborate, iterate and deploy software, but the current resources that are typically available make this a very difficult process. As with many professionals in the hybrid-work world, these teams are faced with big goals and targets, so are looking for solutions that will allow them to focus more on impactful projects for the business, rather than being bogged down with maintenance work on existing systems.

With Coherent Spark, these teams now have the ability to build software without any manual coding, enabling coders and non-coders alike to complete projects quickly and focus on the impact to the business. In this way, Spark helps businesses keep up with another trend that goes hand-in-hand with the hybrid-work era: According to Gartner, 80 percent of technology products and services will be built by non-technology professionals by 2024. However, most no-code and automation tools have complexity or number of rules limits, forcing users to revert to coding, or Excel. With Spark, we’re helping more business teams within the insurance industry become part of the no-code revolution. By equipping both technical and non-technical knowledge workers with our no-code platform, subject matter experts can configure their logic directly in Excel and avoid the long cycle of writing specifications, testing and iterating on IT implementation. With only a few hours of training on Spark, we empower anyone who can create Excel models regardless of complexity to create ready-to-use APIs and see their ideas come to life within moments.

IT teams can then easily use these APIs and connect to other applications within their existing technology landscape. The logic conversion process is no longer an expensive, complex and specialized task, but rather a task that teams can complete in just a few minutes.

Spark also supports governance and auditability, which are essential to the insurance industry, especially with more teams working remotely from their home offices. Coherent Spark ensures business logic is versioned, tested, and access-controlled; it offers full audit trail logging of tests and runs. This helps businesses mitigate the risk of employees working off of spreadsheets saved to their desktops without adequate checks and balances, and potentially introducing manual errors to essential business processes. Our technology gives businesses the speed, accuracy, and confidence they need every day. 

IIR: In the wake of the Series B round, what’s ahead for Coherent with regard to its ongoing work in the insurance industry?

JB: Our goal is to make Coherent Spark ubiquitous in businesses of all sizes across various industries. For the insurance industry, we plan to continue to expand our U.S. operations, including product engineering, sales, and marketing. Additionally, we will be onboarding additional services partners, and deploying out-of-box connectors with leading enterprise and SaaS solutions. We aim to give insurers of all sizes a market-leading solution to help solve industry problems, help carriers achieve efficiency and boost ROI in all areas of their businesses. This spans across the insurance value chain from product development, sales, transactions, claims, all the way through customer servicing and engagement.

Coherent Raises $75 Million Series B Led by Maverick Capital

Anthony R. O’Donnell // Anthony O'Donnell is Executive Editor of Insurance Innovation Reporter. For nearly two decades, he has been an observer and commentator on the use of information technology in the insurance industry, following industry trends and writing about the use of IT across all sectors of the insurance industry. He can be reached at AnthODonnell@IIReporter.com or (503) 936-2803.

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