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  1. IA Advantage Podcast
  2.  » New Option for Small Agencies: Broker Buddha

New Option for Small Agencies: Broker Buddha

Chip’s guest this week is Jason Keck of Broker Buddha. Chip & Jason discuss some shared history and their evolving insurtech perspectives. Jason also reveals news of an affordable new solution from Broker Buddha specifically designed to help smaller independent insurance agencies with five or fewer customer-facing employees.
Published: May 3, 2023
Podcast Jason Keck Broker Buddha

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Transcript:

Chip: Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the IA Advantage. My name is Chip Bacciocco, and if you’re joining us today, you are likely one of the tens of thousands of independent agency channel insurance professionals working all across America, doing the noble work of protecting the futures of millions of families and business.

Some housekeeping before we get started. This program is made possible through the support of TrustedChoice.com and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, The Big “I”. Today’s broadcast will be made available to over 300,000 IA professionals across North America via the Trusted Choice independent agency network.
As always, before we start, I want you to make sure that your agency’s digital profile on TrustedChoice.com is complete and up to date. We crossed a major milestone last summer, over 1 million referrals and leads delivered to independent agents across the U.S. And of course, Google continues to crawl our agency directory every hour.
Having a complete and professional agency profile on TrustedChoice.com ensures that your agency is being properly recognized and showcased on the nation’s most important online agency directory.

I am very excited today about the program. I am welcoming an old friend, a stalwart supporter of independent agents, and the CEO and co-founder of Broker Buddha, Jason Keck. Welcome Jason!

Jason: Chip, thanks for having me. Excited to be here. Looking forward to the conversation.

Chip: You bet. I’m so glad we decided to do this because we hadn’t, as we talked a little before we hit the record button, it’s been a little while since we talked, but we date back quite a ways. You were an attendee at one of the Elevates. Which one was it?

Jason: That’s right. 2018 I think we met in Cleveland and it was my introduction to the IA channel and it was fascinating. It was a lot of love for what we were doing, and I learned a lot at the conference.

Chip: Yeah, that was a fun one. There’s a lot of funny stories about the Cleveland show. We went way over budget, for example, on the AV. Way over budget. Like, stupid money on the AV. But we had a great time, and it was a really, really successful event. We had record attendance; I think we were 800 and something agents and amazing speakers and participants like yourself. And I know I thanked you back then, but I’ll thank you again and it was good to meet you back then.

Jason: Yeah. Enjoyed being there.

Chip: Awesome. So before we get started, I know you have some news to share today, which is why I’m excited to have you on this program. I think the timing is perfect. But, I want to get some backstory first. So, for anybody in the audience that isn’t familiar with Broker Buddha, and I doubt there are too many, but just to give everybody a good starting point, what does Broker Buddha do?

Jason: Yeah, happy to share. So in the insurance industry, insurance clients today demand a flexible digital online experience from their agents that inspires trust and loyalty. But crafting that experience from the ground up is complex, expensive, and requires a lot of technology capabilities that few agencies possess. And so, for leading insurance agencies and independent agents who are committed to high-quality service, we give them a digital client engagement platform to streamline submissions and improve customer loyalty — ultimately delivering their brand promise online.

Chip: Awesome. And, as I said before, I really like backstories. I think the journey is the fun part of every adventure. The destinations are good too, but journeys are where you find yourself. So I want to know what inspired you? Because you founded it in 2017, so what inspired you back in those days to say, “I know! I want to create this company and devote my life to it.”

Jason: Yeah. Well, look, I started my career in my twenties in large corporates. I worked at Accenture and Nextel, and I learned how companies operate and of course, being young and confident, I looked around and said, “you know, I’m sure I could do this better,” right?

And so then in my thirties, I decided to join some smaller companies more in the consumer mobile space. I was at a small company called Shazam that obviously grew into a major global brand. I started a couple of my own mobile app businesses. I spent some time at Tumblr and tried to help bring that brand back. And ultimately just fell in love with the journey of building a business from the ground up.

And around the time I was getting sort of disenchanted with the path that Tumblr was going on, I started sniffing around the New York City incubator scene to see if there were any ideas or concepts that were developing, maturing, and needed a leader. because I, at the time, was excited about the but kind of less passionate about a particular idea.

And so in New York City there was an incubator called Interplay. And they had been incubating a digital agency called Founder Shield. And Founder Shield had had a ton of success in building their business with a very simple concept. They decided to put applications online. Crazy, crazy idea, right? And, they were serving mostly tech companies. So the idea of an online submission experience seemed to make sense. There weren’t any other tools on the market. And so they, they actually had started building the functionality themselves in-house and ultimately decided that they the industry needed this technology. It didn’t exist and they were using it successfully. So why not create a business around that? So the incubator asked me to help co-found what became Broker Buddha to take the concept that Founder Shield used to grow and bring that concept to agencies around the country. So that was 2017. And I didn’t know a whole lot about insurance, but I, I sort of leaned on the team at Founders Shield and the incubator to teach me about that. I brought sales, marketing, product and technology. And that was the founding story.

Chip: You know, what they say about people that enter the insurance industry. They stay forever. So…

Jason: I mean, it’s, it’s a great place, frankly. Right. My wife jokes because she’s like, “Oh, you used to be cool. You used to be in music, right, with Shazam and now you’re in insurance.” But I tell her, I was like, “You know what? There are a lot of problems to solve. There’s a huge demand.” I said, “The people in the space are actually very approachable, like relative to the music and tech space where you get a lot of the great people, but also people who take themselves very seriously. People in the insurance space are very approachable. They tend to be very engaging, easy to talk to.” And she laughs when I tell her that I have more fun at the insurance conferences than I do at the old tech conferences. But that’s hand on heart the truth. So, yeah, I’ll be here for a while.

Chip: Well, good. We want to have you for a while. There’s not too many 12-year-olds —if I’m ever asked to go give like a career day speech or whatever to younger folks, whether they’re 12 or 17 or 20 or whatever — there’s not too many people that say, “when I grow up, I’m going to be an insurance professional.” It’s just not a thing. But, when they discover it, they go, “Wait a minute.” This is, you’re right, problem-solving… And at the end of the day too, the underlying product is really noble. You know, at the end of the day, insurance saves people when they need to be saved, right? It rescues them from a bad situation. So it’s a noble profession and whichever part of the industry you’re in, you’re doing good and people tend to stay.

So speaking of staying, I was talking to Chris Cline, who’s the executive director of ACT, recently and we were talking about what we always talk about — what’s going on in the insurtech space and different leaders. He and I have been organizing some different panel events to try to encourage agents to adopt technology and so forth. And we were talking about guys that were real veterans in this space and your name came up and we were like, “Jason’s just been he’s, he’s dogged, he’s been here since 2017 and he just keeps making progress.”

And so since you have, I guess you could disagree with that, but if you don’t…

Jason: No, of course not. We’ve been making a lot of progress, so.

Chip: Good. Good. But you’ve, you’ve had a unique perspective that means, right, which means you’ve seen how much has changed since 2017. And I would just love to hear your comments on how do you, how do you think the insurtech landscape for independent agents and brokers has evolved since 2017?

Jason: Yeah, when I think, when I think back to that first Elevate conference, right? I remember there was a room with Reid Holzworth from TechCanary, and the Ask Kodiak team was there, Mike and Allen. I don’t think Tarmika existed or maybe they had just started at that point. They were sort of pretty fresh.

Chip: No, he was not there. You’re right. No.

Jason: And so there were a couple of these companies in the room who were making an impact. They were getting a lot of appetite. They were clearly onto something. And so when I look at the landscape now, right, so TechCanary got acquired, Indio got acquired, Tarmika got acquired, Ask Kodiak got acquired. So you’ve certainly seen Applied gobbling up a lot of the players. Vertafore acquired just acquired RiskMatch, I think around that time. So there’s the trend, I would say, the trend in insurtech hasn’t changed in the sense that once you get to a certain scale, Vertafore or Applied is going to step in and make an acquisition.

And I would say as a result of that, there hasn’t been a lot of fundamental shifts in the IA landscape, right? The management systems either have or own most of the major players. Zywave is kind of boxing their way into to kind of a third spot there. I don’t think they’ve completely found their home in the space. They’ve got a really nice niche for some of their products, but not yet, I don’t think, in the AMS space.

So, I think I’ve seen a lot more in insurtech, frankly, bubbling up around the carrier side of things. There’s either because there’s more dollars there or a less fragmented market. And so there’s been a couple of interesting new players. We participated in BrokerTech Ventures, which I think is a fantastic ecosystem that they’ve helped bring along companies like TrustLayer, ourselves, and a few others. So I’m seeing activity in the space, but not as much as I’m seeing on the carrier side.

Chip: No, I, I totally agree with that. And I think, as I said before, the journeys are as interesting as where we think we’re going. All the twists and turns that we make on the way. I was talking to an executive at a major IA carrier within the last week. I won’t say which one. Probably not appropriate. But they were at a BrokerTech Ventures meeting and they were commenting on how much they continue to see good innovation coming. They themselves are making investments that insurance company, other insurance companies are making investments in those and those companies that, BTV is you know, supporting. And it’s for the reason you state, right? They’re kind of hoping to be there when the diamond comes out and is all polished and shiny and they see a lot of potential. And maybe it is the supposition they do have extra dollars, they have extra people and resources. Not as easy in the agency space.

Jason: Well broker techs are pretty… Fascinating story. We were in the first cohort, we were part of an application process and we were fortunate to be selected. The infrastructure they’ve put in place now, I think there are pitches and demos now. I mean, they get so many applications and they’ve got real rigor around selecting great companies, and you know, you could see that in the companies they select every year. So I think that’s a good sign. At a minimum they’re creating some pull here, right? Or at least creating a nexus of where some of these IA focused insurtechs can go to both get capital and support and grow. So I think that’s a great sign.

Chip: Absolutely. So we talked a little bit about the evolution, sort of in the past. Let’s, let’s kind of look at the present, if you don’t mind, and a little bit into the future.
What do you see happening, or what do you think needs to happen in the present day and in the next year or so? What do you see that’s better, different, whatever, from before?

Jason: Yeah, I think when there’s more influx of products and businesses, all boats are going to rise, right? It’s going to force companies to get better. It’s going to give agencies options that are maybe better for them. And I think it’s going to create opportunity for both the businesses in the space and the agencies in the space.
One of the things that we focus a lot on is around change management because my naive assumption coming into this space is that you build an amazing product and people will figure out how to use it and be successful.

And you know what I learned, what I’ve been learning, is that the change management aspect of technology adoption is at least 50% of the problem. Right? And I would almost advise people out there, if you’re building products, keep it as simple as possible and focus as much on the adoption and the process of rolling it out as you do on the product itself. Because you know, there are a lot of people who need help and tools and they are trained very explicitly on using their management system and Outlook and try not to go anywhere else, is sort of the, the guidance in the space. So if you, if you’re looking for wholesale adoption of something, just, just go really narrow, get really simple.

I tell you my story from Shazam is get one thing right. At Shazam it’s just press this button and, and listen to the song, and you get the name of the song. So the closer you can get to that as an entrepreneur in the space, I think the more success you’re going to have.

So what I see happening right now is there is a critical mass of tools and technologies. There is signal from the larger players, the Vertafores and Applieds, that these tools and technologies are important. But it does take time to get familiar with them and adopt them.

And so there’s, as you guys are doing, there’s a push to drive that. And I think that’s important.

Chip: Yeah, it is. And thanks for mentioning that we’re trying to push that. We really are, along with our partners at the Big “I”. We’ve hosted one insurtech event already this year for independent agents. Then the main theme was, “Be brave. You have to work on adoption. You have to work on the change management challenges within your agency. That’s the way forward.”

I actually made a joke that I learned years and years ago during my part of the presentation in January, which was, I had a mentor that told me… how did he say it? He said “Silicon is easy, carbon is hard.” And I was like, 28. I was like, what? What does that mean really? Cryptic? I went away all confused and here’s what he meant. And he was an older guy. So silicon, what, what he meant by that was technology is not the problem that, that’s the easy part. Carbon, the human being, is the hard part. So yep, that’s what we’re working on, trying to encourage agents to embrace all this stuff. Not recklessly, but just find the bite you want and try something, learn from it, iterate, improve. And yeah, we’re, we’re on the same page there for sure.

The latest rage, of course, in this space, and we don’t have to spend a whole lot of time on this, but I would like your thoughts, and it’s not in our space necessarily, but it’s just in the overall technology and innovation world is artificial intelligence and ChatGPT has captured the, the world’s imagination. I played around with it. I had it write a jingle for me, which it did. It was actually a pretty good there’s just a lot of, so it’s drawing attention. It’s getting people thinking about this. What do you think about it? What do you think when you think about AI and how it might impact what we do?
Jason: Yeah, I think ChatGPT has created a lot of attention around AI. I mean, sorry, a lot of, let’s just say a lot of like global attention around AI. I think for the last five years in the tech and VC community, there’s been a lot of attention around AI for sure. But then there’s like the ChatGPT-specific flavor of it, right? And so I have a couple thoughts about it.

I think first of all, ChatGPT is great for just getting people familiar with what AI can do, right? And that’s obviously one application of it and I think they’ve done a great job of, of kind of exposing the, the usage of it and the, the utility of it. Right? Hey, you can go and just ask it any question you want. You’re going to get almost like a conversational response as opposed to a Google list of search results that you kind of have to navigate through to find answers. So it’s, I don’t know, in some ways it’s a little bit like, like Google Search 2.0, right? Which I think is, is saying a whole hell of a lot as it relates to insurance and insurtech.

I think you really have to think about like, what’s the application of AI. So in the classic startup VC pitch, people would throw the word AI in their pitch just to get the VC’s attention. And I always found that a little bit of an eye roll when I would see that because unless you’re really specific about the application of the AI and how it solves a specific problem, the fact that you’re using AI is sort of irrelevant. And sort of following on from that is that AI is artificial intelligence is something that requires learning, right? Intelligence is you do something, you learn from it, you grow, you do something again. You learn from it, you grow. And so one thing that I don’t know that people fully understand is that, AI still requires a human in the loop to sort of train the intelligence, right? Because the intelligence has to learn and in order to learn it has to be taught. In order to teach you, more often than not, need a person to say like, “Is this right or wrong?” And so I think the awareness that AI needs to be trained and that humans need to be part of the process is something that could be advertised and promoted because you can’t, even if you have a problem and you want to throw AI at it, you’re still going to have to have people in the mix to kind of teach it, whether it’s doing a good job or not.

So huge potential, not a turnkey, like AI’s going to solve the problem. You got to really think about how to apply it and how to train it.

Chip: So, yeah, I completely agree. It’s an amazing verb that lacks a noun. That’s probably not a good analogy, but, it’s got these capabilities, but it doesn’t know anything.
And so you’re right, it needs a body of knowledge and obviously some of that can be written and it can consume written materials, but it also needs human help. Especially in our business, which is complicated.

Jason: Yep. Yeah, and for what it’s worth, I think in my six years in the space, blockchain was the first thing that sort of came up and it was going to change insurance. And blockchain in my view is just a better way to store information. And so unless that solves a specific problem, blockchain’s not much better than a normal database for storing information. I think AI is different in the sense that AI can very explicitly be used to solve different problems. You just have to know what problem it needs to solve and then go and train it as necessary.

Chip: So, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
So let’s get to your news because that was the main reason I wanted to make sure we had it this week. And this is why you’re in the rotation now and I’m really glad you came on. So, you have some news for the average independent insurance agent, the smaller organizations of which there are thousands and thousands, as you know. And many of them in the Trusted Choice network. And so, share.

Jason: Yeah, that’s, that’s exactly right. Yeah, and I guess this is sort of an evolution from the story I shared earlier, which is the background story. When we started Broker Buddha, I didn’t know a lot about insurance. I went out and talked to 50 insurance agents about the way they do submissions. And I got 50 different answers, right? And so I put on my consulting product manager hat, and I said, “I’m going to build a product that can be configured to use the in, in 50 different ways, wherever you want it done.” And then I went back and I sold that to a bunch of small agents saying, “Hey, you can, you can use this to grow and compete with the big guys.” And what we learned is that small agents are, are great insurance agents and they’re good hustlers. But the idea that they would invest in configuring and setting up a product was, was a bit of a leap. They wanted it to work just like they wanted it to work right out of the box.

And so while we got a lot of early interest and adoption engagement was relatively low and churn was relatively high. Turns out that larger agencies really are good at setting up and configuring software and training their people on how to get things done. And so I wouldn’t say we pivoted, but we focused on a different segment of the IA channel, really your kind of larger agencies that had infrastructure for rollout.

We had a lot of success. The product got a lot better, the usability got a lot better. And so we finally got to a point earlier this year where we said we feel like the product’s in a good enough place where we can bring it back to the smaller agents. And between the UX and UI improvements and some of the change management infrastructure we had, we feel like we could really make a difference in that channel.

And so we introduced a special pricing option for small agents. Really focused on agents who have five or fewer customer-facing employees. And we set a fixed price for the product on an annual basis that we thought was very approachable and a significant discount off of our normal pricing.

So, that announcement went out a couple weeks ago. The pricing is $3,000 a year for an agency with up to five insured-facing employees. And it’s, we think it’s very approachable and we think you can have a lot of success using it to work with your customers.

Chip: That is a very approachable price. I totally agree.
I’m always amazed at as you know, because we’re both in the same business in some ways it’s hard to know what is the right price for different products. And especially for those smaller agents, because they obviously have smaller budgets. Finding that right entry point for them can be tricky. But if you can find the right entry point, obviously they’ll be loyal. As we certainly know at TrustedChoice.com, we have lots of agents that have been premium subscribers with us for going on 10 years.

Jason: That’s great. That’s awesome.

Chip: Yeah, it’s really great. It’s really great.
I’m definitely encouraging all the Trusted Choice agents to check [Broker Buddha] out. Are there any videos or a demo available for these agents to see what it does a little bit more intimately?

Jason: Yeah, earlier this year we did a major overhaul of our website and on a lot of the solutions pages, you could see kind of little, little guided walkthroughs of how some of the functionality works.
But otherwise they’re welcome to send us their information. We’ll schedule a video walkthrough and a demo of the platform and talk you through how it can be helpful.

Chip: That’s perfect.
All right, well, you get the last word, you get to say…You know what didn’t we cover? I forgot. We never talked about how you were the Chief Morale Officer in your past. So maybe we’ll do that next time if you want.

Jason: Yeah, we could skip that. I mean, well we could skip that one, but I guess it probably points to my love for throwing parties and having a good time and maybe why I’ve enjoyed being in the insurance industry so much is just working with great people.

So but yeah, I guess I would say in terms of a message to leave with people out there is that you know, insurtech 2.0, which is the sort of enabling technologies of insurtech have been around for probably five or six years now, and it, it feels like it’s a great time for agents have gotten comfortable with the awareness of technology.
There’s a lot of interest in technology and there’s a lot of appetite for taking advantage of it. And so I would, I would, I guess, maybe invite anybody listening to this show who might be curious about how we can help, to get in touch and also to be confident that not only does the technology work and can help you, but we’ve got resources in place to support you through the change management and adoption.

I actually give a presentation at some insurance conferences. It’s called “Change is Hard: Three Steps to Insurtech Adoption” because change management is no joke. It’s actually based on the five stages of grief, which is kind of interesting learning that I discovered when I was developing this presentation. Because the technology is a shock to the system. You’re, you’re giving up something that you’re very familiar with, which is the way you used to do things, and you’re adopting something new, which is hard. And there’s a, there’s an emotional journey that people go through to get there. We will help you on that journey and we’d love to help you join hundreds of agencies out there who are using our platform to give their clients a better experience.

So you can find us www.brokerbuddha.com. You could email me at Jason at brokerbuddha.com. And we’d love an opportunity to show you what we can do to help.

Chip: That’s perfect, and I’ll, I’ll let everybody know now that we’re hoping to be able to invite you to the next Big “I” InsurTech Summit and have you share more about the challenges of how we all need to adapt and embrace and the change management issues. I love the reference to grieving, but we’ll talk about next time and on the panel.

Jason: That’s awesome. Awesome. Well, thanks for having me on the show, Chip.

Chip: This has been fun, Jason. Really fun. Thanks for coming on.
I want to thank my guest, Jason Keck, the CEO and Co-founder of Broker Buddha.
As always, I’m going to remind everyone, please take a few minutes, look around. We are living in the golden age of insurance innovation. Enjoy it. I want to thank all the folks that make this program possible, including Central Insurance and Encova, Main Street America, Safeco, Selective, State Auto, Travelers, Westfield, and of course the Big “I”.

One more reminder, please check out your agency profile or your IA company profile on TrustedChoice.com. Your digital footprint matters now more than ever.
Thank you everyone. This has been the IA Advantage and I am Chip Bacciocco signing off. Have a safe and prosperous week everyone.

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