How We Got Here From There

By: Todd Ruplinger | Chief Platform and Innovation Officer

What happens when you comingle an industry that dates back several millennia with technologies that even 20 years ago were unheard of?

The primal instinct to protect one’s loved ones is a central element of the human experience. The life-insurance industry, which exists to address this desire, has not made it easy for people to do this. The data shows that many – too many – who ought to be insured have not secured adequate (or any) protection, in large part because the process is so darn daunting.

This has long been a problem in search of a solution.

It was not my life’s ambition to be an insurance broker back in the late 1980s when I was playing football at Boise State. I majored in criminal justice, envisioning a career in law enforcement. An uncle, who worked in financial services, suggested a detour to the sales team at Northwestern Mutual. Northwestern was well-established and a great place to learn the insurance business. But even back then it was clear to me that the insurance industry was chaotic, woefully inefficient and many practices were legacies of earlier days. When I worked for Northwestern, the company advocated a “one-size-fits-all” life- insurance solution: Whole Life. It was viewed as the be-all, end-all cure for everything, perhaps even the common cold.

I learned in those early years that a lot of things just aren’t in your control, no matter how diligently you apply yourself.

I had been counting on my Idahoan work ethic to take me far. But I learned in those early years that a lot of things just aren’t in your control, no matter how diligently you apply yourself. I moved over to John Alden/North Star Marketing; shortly afterward, the economy started to fumble. When word trickled down in 1997 about a downsizing, it was incentive for hanging out my own brokerage shingle wholesaling insurance.

Life (Insurance) in the Bad Old Days

There’s no other way to describe the clunky, clumsy, redundant, inefficient, annoying, time-consuming intrusive process involved in writing a life-insurance policy back then, except by the acronym PITA. Every policy required a 30-page fact-finder application (up to 6,500 data fields!) and then another 30+ page internal form. The medical forms required answers to up to 4,000 questions – for real. All this paperwork would go into a manila folder. When, in 1990, U.S. banks started selling insurance, paperwork expanded further; policies purchased in a bank or from a broker-dealer asked for an additional five pages with another 200 questions.

Then we’d send a nurse or trained medical professional around to examine the client, either at home or the office. Blood and urine were collected.

After all that, the application would disappear into underwriting for three months.

And then, maybe, the policy would be priced and consummated.

The process was so onerous it was no surprise at all to me that many who should have been carrying life insurance weren’t. We would sell these policies and then try our customers’ patience – and tie up their time filling out forms that asked the same questions over and over. And then ask for bodily fluids on top of it.

Perhaps simplifying this routine might just be the impetus for people to move life insurance to the top of their financial-planning punch list.

This became a mission for me. In 2006, I put it in motion.

That spring, my buddy Matt Muta, a brilliant web technologist and e-business expert, was footloose for a few months.

I invited him to camp out at my firm, Mountain Financial, and build a platform to streamline the life-insurance application process. Matt recruited two members of his programming team to help. Over the next year, Matt created the architecture for the platform, which the developers and I then brought to life. Matt went off to Microsoft; today he works for Delta and is a valued member of Covr’s advisory board.

It’s hard to remember how revolutionary this was just a decade ago. We harnessed the power of technology to make the process easier and less painful for both us and our clients. What was equally innovative was we were actually investing in this resource. Our peers in the brokerage world were content to just make more money each year and put it in their own pockets, rather than reinvesting it into the business.

We harnessed the power of technology to make the process easier and less painful for both us and our clients.

Looking back at what we were doing then compared to today, it seems positively Flinstonian. We’ve continued to revise and improve the process of applying for and obtaining life insurance and are busy getting the word out that this is not your father’s life insurance. Right-pricing also helps. For sure, it’s painful to put hard-earned money into a product you’ll never enjoy while you’re alive. But life insurance is not about you – it’s about your loved ones, making sure there are adequate resources available when you’re not there to provide them.

The Catalyst for Change

One way or another I am determined to drag this ages-old industry with its deeply entrenched roots into the 21st century.

The key to this is technology.

I’m talking about technology that streamlines the application process, reducing (perhaps even someday eliminating) paperwork and enabling a quicker turnaround in underwriting.

Technology benefits both the client and insurer alike. It takes full advantage of the power of data analytics, always-there mobile platforms, social media and of the potential to accurately and quickly complete transactions that once took months.

As we all are aware, the pace of change has accelerated, and will continue to in the days to come. I’m not all that old, but when I consider I filled out forms that used carbon paper when I started in this business, I realize I have been witness to a virtual revolution. Better yet, I’m a part of it. My firm, Covr, has the mission and the power, I believe, to make it easier for people to protect the people that matter most to them.

I am the Chief Platform and Innovation Officer for Covr, a new player in the centuries-old life insurance industry. Covr is reinventing the insurance experience, using new technologies to make it fast, accurate and simple.

I invite you to follow The Covr Story as it unfolds.

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