(Michael Greene at Guidewire Connections 2021. Photo by author.)
Entrepreneur Michael Greene had a very bad day some years back after his car slid on black ice in rural Massachusetts. The resulting accident led to therapy, which in turn necessitated ongoing interactions with the insurance industry that were not exactly therapeutic. Out of that adversity came the idea to create Hi Marley, the Boston-based AI-based SMS texting platform company of which Greene is co-founder and CEO. “I came out thinking that the insurance industry could be better by turning its communications from reactive to proactive,” he says.
Greene was no newcomer to insurance, having co-founded Futurity Group, a software and services company dedicated to performance analysis, monitoring and improvement of P&C claims operations, acquired by Aon (London) three years after its founding in 2010. As a result of the acquisition, Greeen joined Aon as a partner, co-leading the firm’s insurance and claims practice.
At the time of his recovery, Greene saw positive signs with InsurTech ventures such as Lemonade and Root helping to reshape the business. However, also observed that over 40 percent of the public continued to distrust the insurance industry. He and his colleagues arrived at a philosophy that communication is the foundation of trust, adapted the insight to insurance and came up with a simple conclusion. “Insurance is like a grumpy old uncle, and if we can get this grumpy old uncle communicating better, the industry can gain trust,” Greene explains. “The fundamental thing is communication is foundation of trust; trust is the foundation of love, and if we want to make insurance lovable, we need to make this grumpy old uncle a good communicator.”
Hi Marley’s approach to muting the grumpy part and emphasizing the avuncular is to provide what nine out of ten consumers prefer: effective text messaging. Insurers invest a great deal in enterprise software in the form of core systems, ERP and CRM, Greene observes. However, he adds, for all the benefits of such systems, they leave out a key engagement or communication layer.
Founded in 2017, and securing its first customer—West Bend Mutual (West Bend, Wisc.)—in that year, Hi Marley began serving the insurance industry with texting for claims as its first use case. The company sought to combine the simplicity of text communications with the inherent complexities of claims handling. In this respect, Greene says, Hi Marley’s knowledge of the property/casualty industry was fundamental. “You can take a claim and start with an FNOL bot and then hand it over to a physical damage adjuster, maybe a bodily injury adjuster, or to determine salvage for a total loss,” he explains. “Simple bi-directional texting won’t support that use case.”
The complexity of a single claim is multiplied by the potential interactions of the thousands of parties in a large complex ecosystem of insurers, agents, adjusters, service providers and other entities, Greene elaborates. “Insurance isn’t a single company; it’s a complex communications fabric, and the parties have to be able to connect,” he says.
Intelligent Texting across the Insurance Value Chain
Today Hi Marley provides intelligent communication well beyond claims, across the entire insurance value chain. There are other engagement layer providers, and of course other industries have their complexities. However, Greene stresses Hi Marley’s property/casualty industry focus as its primary differentiator for carriers. Specific capabilities that set Hi Marley apart include its Collaboration Hub, which allows omni-party messaging. “Most carriers pick us because of that,” Greene says.
Another obvious differentiator is insurance-specific data, according to Greene. “We focus on compliance-related data, but we also have insurance-specific metrics, such as cycle time, C-sat score and sentiment analysis captured,” he relates.
“Imagine a claimant getting upset, talking in broken English and saying they were going to get an attorney,” Greene adds. “It turns out their primary language is Spanish. Asked about language, the customer selects Spanish, and the dialogue continues on a much better footing.”
Greene identifies “Coaching Networks” as third differentiator. The term, coined by Hi Marley investor Gordon Ritter, refers to an adaptation of machine learning as a complement to—not a replacement of—human intelligence. In practice, this means having focused, specific data sets that prompt potential actions for service professionals to take—for example, to send a link with preferred body shops to help a claimant resolve their claim quicker.
The Hi Marley name is a differentiator of a sort, as all brands are. As to its origin, Greene says that the “grumpy uncle” trope relates to the movie “A Man Called Ove,” based on a novel by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. That led to the company’s mantra of “Simple, loveable protection”—but not yet a name. As Greene obsessed about that, he recalls one of his co-founders saying, “Mike, leave me alone—I’m trying to make a product!”
After the untimely death of a mutual friend, the co-founders took comfort in listening to some upbeat music. One of the tunes was Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” probably better known for the lyric, “every little thing gonna be all right.” For some reason, this led Greene to think of a dog as a brand mascot. In response to that thought, Greene’s colleague said, “I know! Call it ‘Bob.’
Wiser counsels prevailed and agreement followed on the naming of the platform, as well as the company’s industry-specific focus. “We believe an engagement layer has to be industry focused, so we are 100 percent P&C focused,” Greene comments. “Our whole team wakes up thinking a about our carrier customers and their policyholders. We like to say we care as much about their policyholders as they do.”
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