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  1. IA Advantage Podcast
  2.  » Writing Their Own Script: Coterie’s Unique Vision of the Future of Small Commercial Insurance

Writing Their Own Script: Coterie’s Unique Vision of the Future of Small Commercial Insurance

Chip sits down in person with friend and "intrapreneur", Bobbie Collies, VP of Distribution at Coterie, about the company's very innovative approach to small commercial insurance in support of independent agents.
Published: September 15, 2022
Bobbie Collies of Coterie

For more information:


Chip Bacciocco: Hello everyone. And welcome to another edition 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 businesses.

Some housekeeping before we get started. This program is made possible through the support of 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.

And as always, before we start, I want to urge you to make sure that your agency’s digital profile on is complete and up to date. We crossed a major milestone last month. 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 ensures that your agency is being properly recognized and showcased on the nation’s most important online agency directory.

I am excited to be in person with someone I’ve been wanting to have on the show for quite a while. Please welcome my good friend, Bobbie Collies, Vice President of Distribution at Coterie. Bobbie, it’s good to see you here. How long of a trip was it?

Bobbie Collies: Oh, it’s only about an hour for me, Chip.

Chip: An hour from where? Which part of the great state of Wisconsin do you hale?

Bobbie: I’m in the Fond Du Lac area.

Chip: Ah, so if if Milwaukee is the Paris of the Midwest, which I always say, what is Fond Du Lac?

Bobbie: I don’t know how to answer that question.

Chip: You see, I caught her off guard. Some other exotic location…

Alright. It’s great to have Bobbie in the office. And before I get into her story too much about her personal story and career and lots of things like that and why we’re here talking today, more importantly, I just wanna ask her to share a little bit about Coterie share what some, I know a lot of agents know exactly who you guys are, but some might not. So what’s Coterie?

Bobbie: So the Coterie story is today, Chip, we operate as an MGA, but technically as a full stack carrier. The mission behind Coterie from our CEO and founder, David McFarland, was really let’s change the paradigm in micro and small commercial. We’ve all lived it in our careers. There’s a, just a lot of antiquated processes that take a lot of time. And over the years we found that micro and small commercials, very hard to make a buck, make the economics work. So Coterie’s here really to bring speed, simplicity and service to this market for both independent agents and some nontraditional markets trying to basically put Coterie insurance in the purchasing path of consumers, wherever they wanna buy. And most consumers are leaning towards independent agents still today, right?

Chip: Absolutely. And that’s why we are partners and have been partners for a while. Coterie is a partner. And we’re, we’re very glad to have you. You’re here today to talk about ways we can partner together in, in expanding ways.

But I wanna hit on what you hit on a second ago. So for a lot of us insurance veterans, we tend to categorize things, right. You’re an agency. Or you’re a wholesaler or you’re an MGA, or you’re a, an underwriter, you’re a, you’re a, an admitted market. You’re a non-admitted market. We have all these categorizations, right? And I think what’s interesting, you know, you, you briefly described it, you know, as an MGA describing to be a full stack carrier, but. Another thing I think’s unique about you and I should stop talking and let you talk about it, but the way that you approach underwriting in a minimalistic way, how does that fit into the model and share a little bit more about how you’re not like most other companies?

Bobbie: Yeah, so the Coterie model is really based on data, Chip, and what we’re doing with that data is pulling in a whole bunch of different data points from different third party data sources into an automated underwriting model that internally we call Sleuth. So if Sleuth is doing the underwriting based on the data that we have really speeds up the process, right? That’s the first piece is speed. So we’re ingesting the data based on a name and an address in our dashboard, and we’re spitting out a bindable quote within seconds. So it’s pretty cool, because if you think about most agents, they won’t spend the time on micro, small commercial because it costs them too much money to get to even a bindable quote, if you can get it with a name and an address today and get a bindable quote within seconds and probably close a deal within minutes it makes the economics worth it.

Chip: And that’s where you’re headed. Like two questions to get a quote.

Bobbie: Yes, yep.

Chip: That I heard about that a few months ago from you. And I was like, wow, that would be amazing. That’s one of those holy grails I’ve been in the insurance business a long time. I’m starting to see some of these things we thought would never happen happen. And I’m really excited. I’m like cheering you guys on. I wanna see that. I would love to see that for independent agents everywhere.

Bobbie: Yes, it’s fantastic. And, like, the possibilities as the data model gets more sophisticated as the machine learning learns more about the data. We’ll be able to swim upstream eventually.
So I, I’m not gonna say we’re gonna be able to get to a middle market quote to buying within seconds. But we’ll definitely be able to take ingest more complex risks and potentially we are at a minute market today, potentially some non-admitted stuff in the future. So there’s, there’s tons of potential just based on the data that we’re, we’re collecting.

Chip: I’m already thinking maybe like, cuz you mentioned machine learning and I’m wondering that technology combined with what you’re doing in terms of aggregation of data through the Sleuth. I’m imagining we do this show again in a year, year and a half. And maybe you could share some of the amazing stuff behind that technology.

Bobbie: Yeah, that sounds let’s fun. Let’s do it.

Chip: We’ll put it on the calendar. Jenn, put it on the calendar. Alright. Well, a news item and I wanted to make sure I inserted a lot of insurtechs this year are going through some downsizing. I know Coterie also went through one. You wanna share some perspectives on why that’s a good thing. Where that’s going?

Bobbie: Yeah, I think it, you know, when the market was great there was a lot of investments being pushed into the insurtech world. And then when the market turned it, I think the great thing about it is it really put us in a position to have an extreme, intentional focus. Right. It’s really easy to try to be all things to all people, Chip, when you have the resources available. And so, while it’s unfortunate that we lost some really great people in the, in the grand scheme of things, Coterie is a better company and all of those great people because of the job market, where it is today, we’re able to land jobs very quickly and we helped with the placement of them. They’re all happy doing things that they’re excited about now. And, and Coterie is very focused on profitability and growth moving forward. So we can continue to have just this long runway for our agents and our, and our partners.

Chip: Yeah. I, I I’ve been following the news and like I said Coterie is not alone. I think it’s a very natural part of any innovative process to have you know, upscales and down scales and, and adjustments, constant tacking. So I think it’s a very healthy thing. And as you said, brings, brings some focus and it’s anybody that didn’t expect that kind of a cycle. You know, wasn’t really focused or understanding what innovation requires.

So we, we obviously already told the audience that you are here today in person. Which is great. So you’re seeing our Milwaukee office tell everyone it’s really fancy.

Bobbie: It’s really fancy, even though weird room that’s in the back.

Chip: Even the weird room. Yes. For those of you don’t know, we have a weird room. It’s not anything inappropriate, but come visit us and we’ll show you would be good for a haunted house.

But anyway, you’re here today in person, cuz we’re talking about partnerships. Do you wanna share or tease the audience? Any, any, any of the items we talked about and how we might expand our partnership?

Bobbie: Yeah, I, well, I think what’s great about what we’re both doing is there’s there’s a lot of potential for us to innovate with the independent agency channel. And if you think about what the industry’s doing right now is we’re really going through a revolution into a more digital world, right? That’s why insurtech is even a term. And I think part of the reason why Trusted Choice exists is because you’re trying to help agents through that revolution, help them figure out how do I use digital within my agency to continue to grow and stay relevant, right. As consumers’ behaviors change.

So we talked a lot today about how do we use more integrations, right, to leverage that automated underwriting. How do we get quotes in the hands of agents, more agents, Coterie quotes, in a speedy manner. Are there ways that we can embed our experience with Trusted Choice and maybe some Trusted Choice agencies in order to kind of push those leads out, maybe with a pre quoted lead. So there’s a lot of potential for us to do some really cool things that will be just a win-win- win, Trusted Choice, wins, Coterie wins, and our agents win.

Chip: I totally agree. It was a great conversation. And I literally have in, in front of me here, six different items that we’re thinking about partnering on in very innovative ways, as you said, for the benefit of our organizations and independent insurance agents across the country, which is great.

So I, I’m always interested to hear about everyone’s personal journey. You know, my own journey, anyone that’s in the insurance industry, no one ever planned out their career. I’ve noticed that maybe other, other industries, people plan careers and go exactly the way you think they will when you’re 24. It’s pretty unusual in our business. You know, you kind of find your way and it’s like an adventure as you go. So I always like to hear what’s your story? What, how did, how did you come to this role at Coterie? What’s your, what’s your journey?

Bobbie: Yeah, so I started straight out of college in the insurance industry as a commercialized underwriting trainee for society insurance in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.
I spent the first 15 or so years of my career in commercial lines, societies, obviously small commercials. So ton of background there in the underwriting side. And then eventually it made it to Secura Insurance and Secura is kind of the impetus of my engagement in insurtech. Okay. I was fortunate enough to be asked to lead a strategic research project while I was there and how is technology going to impact distribution in the property and casualty industry in 2016? And so I went through that process, tons of research. And I saw where the industry was going. I’m like I’ve had enough of this underwriting thing, lots of predictive modeling going on kind of the same old thing. No offense, underwriters. Like I learned a lot, but I was ready to move on and I saw the technology and the distribution was really going to be where strategy work was going to need to be done within our industry and just trying to push us forward. Right. I think even 11 years into my career, there were still agents sending endorsement requests on carbon copy paper in snail mail. Right? And so today, if you think about how far we’ve come in a very short period of time it, it really encouraged me to say, “okay, I, I wanna help with the industry forward now level set on that.” Most of the carriers out there are pretty old legacy carriers and it’s hard to move fast and I’m not a very patient person.
And so when I had the opportunity to join Coterie to really impact our industry, change how we do business and make the lives of our agencies easier, I was super excited and jazzed. And so I have extreme passion behind this because of my underwriting experience in small commercial. And just wanting to, to provide the solution, which seems on the surface so easy to do, but so hard to execute.

Chip: Yeah. Well, and, and I think it’s a great story and of your journey and it’s a lot, a lot like others. I suppose in the insurtech space from the inside of the industry, that we are naturally innovators, I think it’s clear that you are a, a recognized thought leader. For example, the last time I saw you in person you were on stage in Boston, talking about where things were going. You wanna share a little bit about what you guys were talking about that day that was in InsureTech Boston. It was in June. May ?

Bobbie: Yeah, so there, we had a panel just talking about the, the future of commercial lines insurance. And one of the things that really stuck out to me was there was the debate. It was fantastic. We had audience participation. Mostly because Ryan Hanley was there and I basically recruited him too to participate. Thanks, Ryan, if you’re listening.

Chip: Oh, he’s listening. He’s always listening.

Bobbie: He’s like Alexa.

But, we started debating on whether or not commercial lines could become more commoditized, like personal lines and really what it comes down to is the model that Coterie’s building, right? The, the more accurate and sophisticated we can get with the data that we’re ingesting, the better off our machine learning’s going to be with automated underwriting. So my opinion is as we get more sophisticated with data, as we get more sophisticated with our machine learning, the more complex risk we’ll be able to ingest and produce a, a bindable quote more quickly in the market.
And could that mean commoditization? Maybe? But we all know that commercial risks are complex and the need for a trusted advisor is always going to, going to be there.

Chip: Yeah. Obviously I’m fully invested in that exact idea and, and I think it’ll be great for agents. I think technology’s gonna take away a lot of the mundane things. It’s gonna be great for, for underwriters as well, to take a lot of the uncertainty and so forth, but it’s gonna let them lean forward on, on areas that are more important to them and let them really exercise their expertise.

Bobbie: Risk management and sales, right?

Chip: Yep. Risk management and sales — the things we thought we were getting into this business to do, we’re gonna get to do more of. I totally agree.

I wanted to go back to one thing on your personal bio and whatnot, I noticed you had the word “intrapreneur” in your bio. And I have, I gotta admit to the audience, I’ve seen that word once before. And it was in my bio years ago. And so I know what it means. Why don’t you share? I think it speaks volumes to what you do. Share why you say that.

Bobbie: Actually that term came to light. I had a leader that I reported into who basically described me as that during one of my reviews. I’m like, “what do you mean? Like, Garth, what are you talking about? I’m an intrapreneur?” That you are an entrepreneur that’s operating within the constraints of a corporate company, right? So you’re trying to drive new ideas. You’re trying to push the, the business forward. You’re trying to think differently about the business, but you’re basically two chicken to go out, start something on your own. Which, honestly, another reason why I joined. Can I learn what to start, what it takes to, to, to bring a startup? And maybe eventually want to do that on my own because it, the passion exists. Right? I just don’t have the knowledge yet and that’s, that’s part of my journey with Coterie and I’m thankful for that.

Chip: Yeah, no, I think as I said, our industry is full of really qualified, talented intrapreneurs. They’re just not calling themselves that. And uh, I hope that this podcast encourages all of them. You can do a lot of innovation from within an organization and in some ways it’s more fun. It’s more challenging.

Bobbie: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I totally agree.

Chip: Ask the people I worked with at Gallagher. I drove ’em crazy.

So alright. Let’s see. I got, I think I had one more question and it’s more really about the future. So where are, share a little bit about work Coterie’s going for the next few years. What do you wanna share in terms of that vision? What should agents be thinking about?

Bobbie: Yeah, we’re we just went through some strategic planning last quarter as a startup, our, our tail is not, or our, our runway isn’t quite as long for planning as it would be with the legacy carrier. So we looked at what, what does Coterie look like at the end of next year? And, and really our extreme focus right now is how do we continue to leverage the independent agency channel? Bring them this value. Right? I think the, the winning aspiration we put out there is we want to be, I’m gonna steal a line from Ohio State and I, I’m not a big Ohio state fan, obviously growing up in this state. But we want to be THE most sought after micro small commercial market in the marketplace, just because of the speed, simplicity and service that we bring. So that’s really what we’re, we’re working towards. We’re iterating on things like batch rating. We talked about that earlier. We’re iterating on things like how do we improve our service and digitize that in a way that our agents and our policyholders are going to both appreciate. And then also the data model like that that’s the big piece, right? Continuing to get better on the data that we’re, we’re bringing in so we can use that to not only make business decisions, but also help our refine our underwriting and our rating on the back end.

Chip: That’s very exciting. And, and I, I could have Bobbie on here for like another hour, but that we don’t, it’s not the right format for that, but I can assure you they’re working on a lot of really exciting things and is looking forward to being part of that partnership for a while.

Anything, any last words you want to share or anything at all?

Bobbie: Yeah, if you’re more, if you’re interested in Coterie, you’re gonna, we’re gonna be at ITC in a couple weeks here, out in Vegas. We’ll have a cabana by the pool. So if you wanna stop by, we’ll have a team of a bunch of folks that can answer any questions you might have.

We tend to show up at trade shows too. So if you happen to see us please stop by and get some more information. Typically our, our, our best two guys, Richard and Troy, are doing our trade shows and you’ll definitely be entertained by their personalities. But yeah, or, you know, what, if you wanna reach out on for a contract, please do that. Or reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. We’re happy to have a conversation about what we’re doing and how it might benefit your agency.

Chip: That’s perfect. Well, I know I will be at least one of the people at the cabana at InsureTech Connect. So I heard they’re giving out are the t-shirts gonna be there?

Bobbie: I don’t know. They might be.

Chip: Come by. We won’t ruin the surprise, but they have some really cool t-shirt ideas. You should check out.

All right. Well, I wanna thank my guest, Bobbie Collies, the VP of Distribution at Coterie.

As always, I wanna remind everyone listening, take a few minutes each week and look around. We are living in the golden age of insurance innovation. Enjoy it, soak it up. I wanna thank all the folks that make this program possible, including Central Insurance, Encova, Main Street America, Safeco, Selective, State Auto, Travelers, Westfield, W R Berkley, and of course the Big “I”.
And one more reminder, please check out your agency profile or your IA company profile on Your digital footprint matters more than ever in the post- COVID era.
Wanna say goodbye, Bobbie? Say goodbye.

Bobbie: Bye, guys. Thanks, Chip, for having me too.

Chip: You bet. It was a pleasure. Thank you everyone. This has been the IA Advantage and I am Chip Bacciocco, signing off. Have a safe and prosperous week, everyone.

As always, I want to remind everyone listening, take a few minutes each week and look around. We are living in the golden age of insurance innovation. Enjoy it. Be part of it, soak it up. I want to thank all the folks that make this program possible, including Central Insurance , Encova, Main Street America, Safeco, Selective, State Auto, Travelers, Westfield and the Big “I”. And one more reminder, please check out your agency profile or your independent agency company profile on Your digital footprint matters more than ever in the post COVID era. Thank you everyone. Thank you again to my guests. This has been the IA Advantage and I am Chip Bacciocco signing off.

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