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  1. IA Advantage Podcast
  2.  » Semsee: Making the Case that Nothing is Impossible for the IA Channel

Semsee: Making the Case that Nothing is Impossible for the IA Channel

Chip sits down with Philip Charles-Pierre, CEO of Semsee, to talk about the past, present and future SEMCI technology platforms and what it all means for independent agents and IA companies. Plus a side conversation about what’s behind the HUB / Bold Penguin acquisition of Insureon! Pull up a chair.
Published: March 14, 2022
IA Advantage Podcast Philip Charles-Pierre

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Transcript:

Chip: 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 future of millions of families and businesses. 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 Agency Nation, and the Trusted Choice independent agency network. As always, before we start, I want to urge you to make sure that your agency’s digital profile on TrustedChoice.com is complete and up-to-date. We welcomed our 36 millionth insurance shopper in December and Google is now crawling 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. Likewise, for our insurance company audience members, we maintain a digital profile of every IA insurance company on TrustedChoice.com, which is also being seen by millions of insurance shoppers and crawled by search engines every day. So please make sure your company profile is accurate and up to date. Joining me today on the podcast is my good friend, Philip Charles-Pierre. He is the well-known CEO of Semsee. He has exciting news to share, and I want to welcome him. Welcome, Philip.

Philip: Thank you, Chip. It’s absolute pleasure to be here.

Chip: I am so glad we are doing this. I remember thinking that we should have done a podcast. We were together. If you’ll remember at Fenway Park, that thing that was organized by Ask Kodiak. Remember that?

Philip: I do remember that it was a lovely day. Uh, I would say hallowed ground, but as a Yankee fan, I don’t think I’m allowed to say that, right?

Chip: No, you’re not allowed to say that that’s a good point, but it was a, it was a fun day. And I remember going home from that thinking I’m going to have Philip on the podcast and that was like two years ago.

Philip: Yes, indeed way before the pandemic

Chip: Apologies. And of course, the pandemic got in the way. And then, and then again, I remember thinking we should do a podcast when, when our companies launched some functionality together last April, we did some work comp quoting together, and that would’ve been a good time. But you know what? We’ll seize the present. Now must be the right time to do it.

Philip: You know what? The timing is, right. The timing is right.

Chip: All right. Well, before we get started into all the details, why don’t you tell everyone just a little bit about who you are, your background, how you got into Semsee, and what Semsee’s mission is in the world.

Philip: Absolutely. Thanks a lot and happy to be on this podcast with you. So, you know, I’m relatively new to insurance, but I have to say I absolutely love it. And I think a lot of what I’ve done in the past has prepared me for this. A lot of my work has been in building companies and technology for agents, whether it be travel agents or real estate agents. A lot of what I have done and what I’ve worked on is building technology to enable them to sell more travel or to be better at selling real estate. And in this scenario with Semsee, being able to sell more effectively, enabling them to sell more small commercial insurance. And so that, that’s what I bring to it. I have a passion for really building technology that helps people help other people.

Philip: I’m not interested in disintermediating. I’m not interested in disruption in that perspective. What I’m interested in is how do we help really interesting businesses, really fundamentally important businesses be better, be more efficient so they can do more of it. And so what we do at Semsee ultimately is we’ve built a platform that really enables an agent to efficiently, quickly, and I think intelligently, figure out who has the best coverage for their small business owner. And then what we do is we help them connect to the carriers that fit that bill so that they can, with one application, get multiple quotes back. We help them analyze it and understand it and then essentially sell it. But the flip side of it is that also helps the carriers because we’re helping the carriers get to the risks they want in real-time on this point-of-sale solution that we call Semsee.

Chip: So, and I can’t help but note and call out the fact that your name, Semsee, is sort of based on the old acronym. Would you explain a little bit for people that might not have heard the acronym what that was and how they’re tied together?

Philip: Absolutely. And you were one of the first who called me out on it, which I thought was really funny and interesting. So SEMCI, S-E-M-C-I, Single Entry Multiple Carrier Interface, has been around for a long time in terms of a concept or a dream, depending on who you ask. And we were thinking long and hard about different ways and different things to name our company. And we realized, and I realized, very quickly, look — at the core of what we do at Semsee, you know, the single entry, multiple carrier interface, but why not sort of use that and sort of change a few letters around. And so we changed it to S-E-E for SEMCI because we want to help both the agent and the carrier see everything. And so ultimately we decided to go with that name because it sort of sounded the same and it had a similar meaning. But I think it actually connotates even more than the initial thought of SEMCI.

Chip: Yeah. Well, there’s no doubt that, I used to say it was sort of the holy grail, you know, if you go back 20 years ago or something, and it was one of those unachievable ambitions of our industry and people like you have proven that that’s not the case. And in fact, you’ve sort of taken it to the next level. So I really like the name and I really like the history behind it. And I think it evokes what you’re trying to say. So I mentioned a little earlier that our first formal collaboration between our two companies was launching some workers’ compensation quoting— or really it’s premium indications that we’re generating, they’re not bindable quotes. But, we’re doing that together. Our system calls your API at Semsee. We do some magic in the background and we present premium indications to consumers visiting TrustedChoice.com. And it’s all powered by Semsee. Then our real goal there at TrustedChoice.com is to engage that shopper and of course, then, introduce them to the right Trusted Choice insurance agent to help them finish the quote. So that’s one of the things we do with you. You do lots of things. I wonder if you would share some of what you guys have added in terms of technology, technology partners, carrier integration partners. There’s been a lot going on for the last year. Why don’t you share?

Philip: Yeah, thank you. There has been. And first of all, we really appreciate the partnership and it’s been really fantastic work with you and your team not only designing this but executing on it. I know that, and I hope you all feel the same. But in the past year, we’ve been really busy. So we have been adding a number of carriers and what’s interesting is we have every national carrier on the platform today. But what we have been starting to do by the request of our agencies is adding more of the regionals and the mutuals and the MGAs onto our platform. We’ve started to add other lines of business, such as Cowbell, and cyber or package products.

Philip: We’re also fine tuning the agent experience on our platform. We’re really laser focused on making sure that the platform is as easy, but yet robust as possible. So whether that means enabling an agent to filter out questions that may or may not be important to the carriers that they’re interested in, to being able to then partner with folks like an Acrisure or an SIS or an FCA who are all either co-branding or white labeling our product and use us as an execution layer. It’s been a pretty busy year. And actually in the past day, we launched what I think is probably our biggest and most ambitious project, which is, we now enable an agent to quote multiple locations on our platform. So not only is this dream that you mentioned starting or is becoming a reality, but we’re diving deeper into it, right, by adding more and more complicated risks within the platform to enable an agent to do their job that much better and that much easier.

Chip: Yeah, that’s really cool. And as I said before, I remain impressed by how quickly the pace continues as you guys continue to add capabilities. And so do other companies in the space. It’s no longer unachievable, now it’s just how cool is this going to get, and how quickly can we get there? So speaking of that I think most of our audience would know you have two significant and pretty well-known competitors. Bold Penguin, for example, Tarmika and you know that I am friends and I’ve known, just like I know you, I know Ilya, I know Raghav, I think they’re both good friends of the IA channel and all three of you guys are doing interesting things. But how would you compare yourself? How would you suggest that agents and insurance companies think about Semsee? What makes you guys unique? What’s different about Semsee from the others?

Philip: Absolutely. And I would agree, obviously, with you about IIlya and Raghav. They’re really good folks who’ve built, I think, really, good strong companies. But I also think that there is a difference, right? I think, you know, where there’s a rage around embedded insurance these days, there’s a rage around marketplaces. There’s a rage around companies who are creating API platforms for carriers to make it easier for them to distribute. We’re none of those things. We’re also not an AMS or a CRM. We squarely sit with the agent. We are building a product that is just about the agent, meaning we wan to make their lives as easy as possible to quote all the commercial risks that come across their desk, whether it’s a BOP or workers’ comp or some kind of a cyber product or something much more unique than that.

Philip: We want to help them classify that business. We want to help them understand who’s got appetite across a number of carriers, whether it’s carriers that they access or that they’re accessing through a network or a wholesaler that we work with and they work with. And we ultimately want to help them get quotes and get them easily and compare them, and ultimately obviously sell it to their small commercial. And so for us, the difference, I think, is that we are squarely sitting on the agent’s desktop or iPad or phone helping them sell small commercial. We’re not interested in embedded insurance. We’re not interested in becoming a marketplace in that regard or selling leads or working through leads. We’re really about the agent who has hustled his or her way to getting risks, to come trust them and helping that consultative sale.

Chip: I clearly think that sticking to that core may be one of the best things you can do. I think it’s so hard to know for all of you guys how big of a footprint do you take? What kinds of features do you add, or in your case, perhaps don’t add? And we’ll see how that plays out, but I like that you guys are unique and you’ve taken your own stance and I’m sure it’s working in many cases. So speaking about working. You guys have some buzz going on with the fact that you just raised some additional funds in a Series B round. I assume that’s good news. I assume that’s a signal that you guys are proving your model and you’re looking to scale faster. Can you comment a little bit on the Series B? Why did you do it? How’s it going? What are you going to do with the funds and how should agents and insurance companies expect to see you evolving coming out of this?

Philip: You know, absolutely, we’re incredibly excited, first, and we’re excited by the fact that our existing investors, including D.E. Shaw, have put more money in but we’re just as excited that we have a new investor to join our cap table. 01 Advisors, who are led by Dick Costolo and Adam Bain, the former COO of Twitter. And what they see in us is what we see in ourselves, frankly, which is building this platform that utilizes both technology and data to better serve the agent. And as it evolves, being able to propagate that into additional features, additional functionality and additional opportunities for the agent and ultimately the carrier. And so what that means in reality is it allow us to scale much faster in terms of adding carriers to our platform, being able to add new lines of business, including specialty lines of business, into our platform.

Philip: It also means being able to be more holistic with the agent experience on our platform from onboarding all the way through through binding. And so you’re going to see it manifested, I think, in the next few months in more carriers, more lines, and then more features that’ll really enable the agent to do even more business on Semsee. So multi-location was the first example of how we’re going to accelerate and dive into really complicated stuff, but ultimately complicated stuff that’s going to make the life of the agent that much easier.

Chip: Cool. And congratulations, I think that’s really exciting news. And, and as I said, it’s definitely gotten some additional buzz in the marketplace. And then there was another interesting sort of news episode that came out last week. It’s also in this space, and it was a little different, and I wanted to get your reaction to it. And that was the announcement that Hub International and Bold Penguin are joining forces to purchase Insureon — which we both know a lot of the people involved but I did not have early warning about that one — but I do think it’s a very interesting deal. What, what do you think about it?

Philip: Yeah, it’s interesting. I actually caught wind of this in December and somebody asked me some of my thoughts and opinion on it as they were going through this. And what I think is interesting is I think on the surface I think there are people who are going to say, what does this mean, or speculate, right? I think this deal, frankly, is about three things. One it’s about getting talent in a time where getting talent is both important, but incredibly difficult and obviously expensive. And I think this deal gets that. Second, it allows one of the parties to access a tool to expedite their strategy in going direct or having an embedded strategy. And I think that sometimes it’s just easier to buy a way into the marketplace than to build. And then thirdly, that dovetails into the fact that it allows them to have ready-made customers that they can leverage and then accelerate that with some of their existing customers who are not yet on that platform. And so that’s how I feel about that deal in those three ways. It’s talent, expediting of a strategy with an existing platform and ultimately also about customers.

Chip: Yeah I see that too, and it reminded me, I got a little bit of a flashback. There were some elements of this that reminded me of Travelers’ acquisition of SimplyBusiness.com a few years ago.

Chip: Some reminded me of Aon’s acquisition of Coverwallet a year and a half, two years ago, whatever that was.

Philip: That’s right.

Chip: So again, you’re right. It’s sort of an organization saying, well, you know, we do this part, maybe it’s traditional brokerage, maybe we should have a virtual broker also on our enterprise platform, we need that expertise, that talent, that capability, maybe we also need the underlying technology. And fact that they teamed up Hub International and Bold Penguin, and they’re sort of going to split the assets going forward, I don’t know, I thought it was very creative.

Philip: That is the unique part. And I think you have to give Hub a lot of credit for at least, whether you call it admitting or being realistic, that they can do this and yet not absorb something that they may have trouble absorbing, which is the technology platform. And why not have another party who’s good at technology absorb that and then still work with them, but yet maintain the ability to use the platform, use the strategy and leverage its customers? It is, sort of, you scratch your head at the beginning. You’re like, how is this going to work? But on paper it makes a lot of sense, right? And obviously executing, it will be difficult like any other acquisition, but on paper, it certainly makes a lot of sense because you’re essentially being very nuanced with what you’re acquiring and how you’re going to leverage it so that you’re essentially not paying for the fat you’re never going to use.

Chip: Right. Yeah. I was really impressed with that part of it. So we’ll see how it goes. Like I said, we both know a lot of the people involved and we wish them well and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. So I want to move on to another topic, which is the fact that we are right now together working on yet another initiative, which is a survey that we’re doing jointly independent insurance agents around commercial insurance and technology. Can you share a little bit with the audience about what we’re doing in that survey and what we’re hoping to learn?

Philip: Absolutely. And we’re really thrilled to be working with you all on it. And frankly for us, we try to keep a pulse on what agents want, what agents do, what troubles them, what makes them excited, what makes them interested in both technology, but also how they’re thinking about their business and the market outgoing in terms of what the future looks for them so that we can better build, whether it be technology or strategy, tools to help them get there. For us, it’s about understanding and focusing on commercial lines specifically so that we understand and find out how do they get business? What do they do with the business? What are the things that they may need in terms of opportunities in order to be able to better serve contractors or dentists or restaurants, or what have you. And so that makes us really excited. And I think for us, there’s going to be a lot of learnings in terms of what we could do better and what we can build for the agent. My hope is that for the industry, frankly, there’s more of a, “okay, this is where we’re going and, and now what can we do to better of this market and better serve these really important folks in the industry?”

Chip: Yeah. I tell you what I’m looking forward to, and it happens every time I’m involved in a project like this, is I’m looking forward to being surprised about something. Alright? I’m looking forward to being wrong about some assumption. I usually look at the questions and I go, “well, you know, it’s going to be 60/40 this way, and it’s going to be…” Yeah. And then when it comes back, if I’m wrong, I’m always just like, “that’s cool, I like being wrong.” And then after I kind of absorb that, like a month later, I notice we come out with some new feature perhaps on our platform on TrustedChoice.com, and you may feel the same about yours, right? We’re going to learn something. We’re going to make an improvement and independent agents and independent agency companies will benefit. So, absolutely. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Philip: And I think what I would say too. I love what you’re saying about learning, right? For me, if I were to take a different word, I would say surprised. I can’t wait to be surprised with what they say, right? Because by being surprised, it’ll sort of awaken for me some creative juices to say, “wow, this is either a problem or an opportunity.” And then how can we realistically help them with something they’re saying that just has taken me off guard. It’s not very dissimilar than a good workout or a funny joke or something. If it sort of strikes at the right moment, but it surprises you, it allows you to really grow from it.

Chip: Yeah. I’m excited. Whatever we don’t expect, that’s the part that’s going to be fun. We’ll see what that is. So when will this be complete and distributed? And we have a URL for any agent that wants to fill it out before it’s done, is that right?

Philip: That’s right. We’ll have it later this spring. And folks should go to go.trustedchoice.com/survey. Let me say it again, go.trustedchoice.com/survey. And we would absolutely love to get your feedback and your thoughts. The one thing to know is that when you go to that URL, you fill it out, we’re going to learn something, but at the end of the day, you are going to benefit as an agent.

Chip: Absolutely. As you said, later in the spring we’ll share all the results. So everybody can be surprised if they so choose to do so. Well, Philip, you get the last word. Is there anything else you want to share? Anything else you want people to know about what you’re doing, where you’re going? Whatever you want.

Philip: You know I think could only share this with someone like you, who I have a lot of respect for, is I can’t believe I’m in this industry and I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having. I know that’s sort of a weird thing maybe to end the podcast with, but I’m just having a blast. I’m having a blast because I’m learning a lot. I am surprised a lot. The challenge is amazing, but it’s also important and I just love that. And, I think it’s an exciting time to be in this industry. It’s an exciting time to do what we’re doing, whatever facet. I love that there’s different people doing of things, whether they’re competitive or not competitive. I also love the fact that we’re all starting to realize that we could cooperate and still be competitive and it’ll work. And part of it is to drive the industry to a better place. So, I’m sort of just thrilled to be in this position. I feel very fortunate and I can’t wait for the next 12 months and hopefully it won’t take us a very long time to do a podcast again.

Chip: Absolutely. It’s my fault that we waited this long and I’m glad, that we did it this time because this was a lot of fun. And thanks for your comments. I totally agree. There is a, there is an esprit de corps among most insurtech leaders that we’re doing good things, that we get to live in an exciting time. And we are for the most part collaborators. Yeah. We’ve got to compete every now and then but it’s in good sport and we’re all aiming in the same direction. So, glad to be part of it. Glad to have you as part of it. And thanks for being on the podcast. So you enjoyed it? You’d do it again?

Philip: Can we do it tomorrow?

Chip: Jenn would say, no. You see, Jenn’s our producer. She’s in the back going, “‘no, no, no, I’m busy.” But we’ll have you on soon. Thanks for coming on.

Philip: Thank you so very much. And I appreciate your efforts too, Jenn.

Chip: She won’t talk. That’s what producers do but we’ll thank her later. Well, I want to thank my guest, Philip Charles-Pierre, the CEO of Semsee for coming on the show today. As always, I want to remind everyone listening, take a few minutes each day and look around. We are living in the golden age of insurance innovation, as Philip just proved. Soak it up, enjoy it. You’ll get to tell your grandkids about 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, Agency Nation, and The Big “I”. And one more reminder to please check out your agency profile or your IA company profile on TrustedChoice.com. Your digital footprint matters more than ever in the post COVID era. Thank you everyone. This has been the IA Advantage and I am Chip Bacciocco signing off. Have a safe and prosperous week

 

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