Podcast 54. The Platform Players: Part One - Novidea, Salesforce and their partners

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One of this year's top topics for insurance and technology is platforms - and we are going to hear a lot more about them in the next year. Startups have been finding it hard to get the attention of insurers, and experience is showing that most insurers are not really set up to nurture early stage companies. Insurance technology platforms provide a way for insurers to more easily access data, analytics and the related services they need to improve efficiency and engagement - and for technology companies to get to insurers. Our event on 22nd October at The Steelyard featured companies talking about their platforms and their ecosystems. In this, the highlights from the first half of the event, Matthew is on stage with our sponsor Novidea, their platform Salesforce and their ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) Conga and Financial Force.

You can link through to a summary of the event here - and see photos and details of all the speakers. Look out for the remainder of the evening that included Guidewire, ICEinsurtech, AXA, DMS and RiskBook.

We're delighted to be bringing you this podcast with support from the Insurance Insider. For a free copy follow this link -  http://campaigns.insuranceinsider.com/instechlondon/

Listen here to podcast 54. It is also available on iTunes, Spotify and Podbean.

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Transcript for this podcast

00:18 Matthew Grant: Hello, this is Matthew Grant and welcome to the InsTech London Podcast. Now, for those of you that don't know us well, InsTech London is the largest community of people from insurers, start-ups, technology companies, service providers and investors working together to help insurance companies and corporations of all types from all around the world benefit from innovative ways to measure and reduce risk. For today's podcast, we are bringing you highlights from our event on platforms and ecosystems recorded at the Steelyard on the 22nd of October. We had another packed room of over 200 people, and in this, which is our first section of our recordings from the event, we have an example of an insurance platform that is starting to make an impact across insurance.

01:07 MG: Broker technology provider, Novidea and Salesforce were on stage, along with a couple of Salesforce's ISV, (that's independent software vendors), Conga and FinancialForce. Salesforce is particularly interesting and a bit unusual because it's a company that's come from outside of insurance and it builds on its existing business applications to help companies get the benefit of their existing solutions. In our next session we'll be talking to some platforms that were grown with insurance, both big and small. We're delighted to bring you these podcasts with the support of Insurance Insider. We consider them one of the most reliable sources of news about the global commercial specialty and reinsurance markets from around the world.

01:53 MG: Well, Ben, all these people are here tonight, thanks to your sponsorship. So I think we first of all say, thank you very much for your sponsorship and your fine choice of wine and food that I know is going to come.

02:03 Ben: Absolute pleasure.

02:04 MG: Could you just tell everybody what it is that you do as an organisation?

02:08 Ben: We're a broking and platform supplier. We build all our platforms on Salesforce and we really focus on all things that Salesforce is good at, which is the data analytics, the workflow, automating as much as we possible can.

02:22 MG: It would be helpful for us to understand a little bit more specifically about how you fit into the Salesforce environment.

02:28 Ben: We're focussed in the broker and MGA space, and it’s really important for us to be part of an ecosystem such as Salesforce where we can start working with other business areas, general ledgers, and FinancialForce, Conga is going to be here tonight, Asperato, payment gateways. And the idea is that when brokers and business people are making decisions, you don't just bring to bear the information available in that one platform, you bring to bear all of the information within that ecosystem and turn it into insight for them.

02:56 MG: And when you launched Novidea, you presumably had choices of platforms out there. What was it about Salesforce's functionality and the reach that you decided to go with them?

03:07 Ben: Yes, so we started off not wanting to create a broker platform, but wanting to create great analytics and insight. I knew the best starting point is a CRM. You start with a CRM and it naturally wants to pull all of the information together in a customer-centric way. You then build on that platform with blog. We've done that over the last 10 years, really deep IP functionality within that industry or niche, then in doing so that creates something that really delivers for our customers.

03:34 MG: Well, Frederico, just a couple of questions to you. And Ben, I'm going to come back to you, but I think you're the first person we had on stage that actually had a tower named after the company. We haven't had Donald Trump in yet. But who knows?

03:46 Frederico: We paid for the privilege. Yes.

03:47 MG: But Salesforce Tower, so tremendous. So you're working with Novidea, that's primarily brokers and MGAs but what does the landscape look like for you?

03:57 Frederico: We do work with carriers, with MGAs, with brokers, also with insure techs. I think especially it's worth mentioning with companies from all sizes. We're not just an enterprise-focused company, we also work with a lot of the insure techs and the small nimble companies out there.

04:12 MG: So on that one, because a lot of people here are at early stages. Clearly, Salesforce has got a lot of functionality. But what is the realistic entry point for somebody who's looking for a platform to work with in terms of number of users or fees, how you would characterise it?

04:27 Frederico: We have different price points, depending if you're a small company or a large company, but also what I really think is that at its core, Salesforce is a platform. Salesforce started off as a CRM about 20 years ago and now has evolved to do a lot more, so things like marketing, things like service. So I think whatever the need is that you have, there's probably something that Salesforce can do for you, I'd like to say.

04:50 MG: Okay. And we do a special deal here, where if somebody's less than two years old, sorry, their company's less then two years old, they can join us for free. Do you do anything like that to encourage people to join you?

05:02 Frederico: Not yet. Not yet, that's a good idea though.

05:05 MG: Good. Good idea. Or if you want to join the Salesforce environment for free, then just email Frederico because it might be...

05:12 Frederico: Don't quote me on that.

05:12 MG: But don't forget, you heard it here first. So Ben, just back to you. Can you talk a little bit about the clients you've got on your platform and how they're using Novidea and Salesforce?

05:25 Ben: When we're choosing the platform we built onto, we want to make sure that we could scale. And that's a real nice thing about being on the cloud, and I say this is the way we set it up. So we have clients like Howden, we're just on 16 countries now, all over the place, every continent pretty much, which is great. Front office, back-office, all the CRM, the full broking processes, everything, MGAs. But because of the cloud technology, we can scale it right down. We've got MGAs, three users doing very niche business.

05:58 MG: Frederico, just a question back to you then. In terms of where the clients operate, do people have to sign up for Salesforce as part of their main CRM? Or do you have a packaged offering for insurance companies where you don't need to have the whole deployment but you can focus it on the insurance applications?

06:14 Frederico: Yes, that's a good question. And actually just bouncing on that, we've just launched last month our first insurance-specific product called Financial Services Cloud for insurance and basically the idea is to do a lot of the customisation that would have needed to be done for say, an insurance carrier to run their business on Salesforce. We've done it ourselves on the back of high demand from our customers. So we're not going after policy admin systems, we're not going after any of that. The idea is really just to be the slayer, what we call system of engagement that sits on top of your system of record and it brings up the right information, at the right time to the right person. And actually LV was on the beta for that. They were one of the beta testing companies and happy to say that they are now on Financial Services Cloud for insurance.

07:04 MG: When you deal with your partners, is the expectation that they would be exclusive with you, or exclusive in some way? How does that work?

07:14 Frederico: We look for partners with whom we can collaborate and they really contribute to the value that we can bring. So typically, Novidea for example, are very complementary to us. When we talk to brokers it really makes sense for us to go to market together and we've been doing that successfully.

07:30 MG: Okay, but if the Describe Data team, who I know are here tonight, if they wanted to come and run their model on your platform, would you say to them, "Well, it's either you’ve got to sign up with Salesforce," and that's it? Or are they allowed to go and find other routes to market through other platforms out there?

07:49 Frederico: No, I mean they're free to do as they please. I think the beauty of Salesforce is that you can take data from other platforms as well. And if you want to just use Salesforce for your distribution, say for your agents for example, you could do that while using other systems in the background. And many people do that, and that's absolutely fine.

08:06 MG: Ben, a question for you. So when your clients want to onboard Novidea and you've got Salesforce, how much do the Salesforce team need to get involved in that? Do you handle the front-end or do you have to work pretty closely for each client?

08:18 Ben: So we're very much on the hook for delivering ourselves, which we've done successfully for 90 odd customers, and we also work delivery partners.

08:25 MG: Say, Frederico, as we're in the London market, one of the challenges I think we know is actually deployment of technology, simplicity, client engagement. What's the balance between what you do for the some personal lines versus the commercial and commercial specialty market?

08:43 Frederico: So, to be honest with you Matthew, we've done work mostly, I would say on the personal lines as opposed to commercial lines so far, and I think that is reflected in our product as well. But especially given the importance of the London market this is something that we're looking closely into, both from a product perspective, but also from a go-to-market perspective. We do have a few joint customers, for example with Novidea, but it's something that we're looking to develop further.

09:10 MG: Okay. Well, good, we look forward to having you back when you've managed to tackle some of those thorny problems, and I'm sure there's lots of people out here who can tell you what their thorny problems are. But just before we bring in a couple of your partners, is there anything Frederico you're looking for from this community in terms of technology, analytics or data that you'd like to ask for?

09:29 Frederico: Yes, actually this is a very good question. I do think that as we try to penetrate the London market and commercial lines in general, I think we need to work with all of you in the room in a partnership and really try to see how we can help you. It's very much a two-way discussion, and sometimes it's the simple things that we know very well that we're able to help others with. Some people actually use our platform to do a lot of the things that they used to do the old way, like underwriting for example. You can actually build an underwriting tool on Salesforce. It is possible, not many people know about that.

10:02 MG: Thanks, okay. Well, just going to invite your partners up on stage. So Ben, I've got to ask you to go to naughty seat on the end there so we can give these guys... Come in, Frederico. We'll let you stay on one of the comfy ones.

10:13 Frederico: Okay.

10:13 MG: So you now have Kieran and David from Conga and FinancialForce. So Frederico, just another acronym we've got here. Would you talk about ISV, if we could just explain what an ISV partner is first of all?

10:27 Frederico: By ISV we mean independent software vendor. As I mentioned, we have over 5000 of them on our platform. So we really came up with the idea of having this ecosystem of partners who build on a specific platform. Apple has done the same thing in the B2C world, and we do that very much in the enterprise world.

10:47 MG: Kieran, I'm going to turn to you first of all, tell us a bit about Conga.

10:51 Kieran: Yes, thank you. First of all, Conga, one of the longest running ISVs on the AppExchange. Salesforce is the system of record, so they own the data and data is king. And what Conga do, we take that data and we then create documents and produce those documents that they are used within the insurance industry from KYC documents to invoices, to quotes, to contracts, you name it. We do that across the platform. So we work in partnership with Novidea. When they have to create those different accelerators and documents for their customers, they use the engine of Conga, using the data and the system record within Salesforce.

11:35 MG: So your technology is taking data and putting it together to create documents. Do you do anything with all the nasty documentation that comes in in PDFs and other formats and actually extract that and make a digital version of it?

11:48 Kieran: No matter what the format or context, we take the data from Salesforce and we can produce that, whether it's Word or in PDF or whatever format that the customer requires. And it produces those documents in those pixel-perfect rich text documents that the customers want. If you're a contractor, you've got 100,000 customers with a contract, and you change the terms and conditions of that clause library, and they're hanging over that clause library you can see in real time where they are, and then you can change that, or you can reach out to the customers and find out why they're hanging over that clause library. So it's producing that format to allow them to... It's all about facilitating the customer and maintaining downtime, so making sure there's no downtime.

12:29 MG: But you still haven't cracked the problem that people are still getting either paper or scanned-in paper documentation in the marketplace?

12:36 Kieran: We still have that. It's hard to believe after all these years that they're still... Word came out 40 years ago and they're still using Word, but they're still printing out the documents.

12:47 MG: David, just like to hear a little bit about FinancialForce and how you're working with Novidea and Salesforce, maybe Conga as well.

12:56 David: We felt that when Salesforce was going gangbusters, taking a platform as the business platform for many, many businesses globally and they were doing the front office work with the CRM and the sales cloud, we said, "Well, at some point, any business must want to do its finances on that ecosystem as well." And so that's what we do. Our core product is the financial ledgers, the sales ledgers, the purchase ledgers, and all ledgers that sit there in the ecosystem, and we write what's called natively to the platform. So we do only sit on the Salesforce platform and when our 800 people headquartered in the States. So, in terms of then how we've started to work here, our business has primarily been providing these financial systems to business services companies in general.

13:43 David: And most recently we've started to look at the insurance market in conjunction with people that really understand that market, and when we went to look at that we say, "Well, who's looking at the front office? Where is the front office being managed? Let's take what you guys are doing then." And surely when they're putting in their applications, at some point, financial transactions need to flow. Why should they flow off the platform? Why not flow them in the platform so that we're all on one common data set? And as stuff moves together on one common data set, one of our most recent clients that we've brought on board have taken your front office and brokerage system, our core financial ledgers and old money sales ledgers and purchase ledgers, but also our analysis tools, which are actually Salesforce's analysis tools. We can inherit a great product called Einstein, which basically provides really top notch analytics, machine learning moving into the AI world as well.

14:43 David: We get that for free by being on their platform, and so when we're providing a solution alongside these guys here, those analytics work across all the platforms. They analyse the data that's in the sales ledger, which actually is shared with the customer record that's on the Salesforce CRM and shared with the brokerage record as well.

15:01 MG: So if I understood that correctly, I think now, you said you made a choice or you developed as a early stage company with Salesforce. So you don't work with any other platform, is that correct?

15:12 David: Correct, yes, we made that choice.

15:13 MG: Yes.

15:14 David: And we've been building using what's called the force.com platform as our development environment. And so we can use, as a result of that, not only do we work them seamlessly with other ISVs, so when we work in supply alongside Conga, all of the financial transactions that need to be digitized into documents, invoices, their statements, debt chasing letters, they're all just flowed straight into these guys' technology. Yes, we can't go and sell to someone who hasn't got Salesforce, yes.

15:45 MG: Right.

15:45 David: But the benefits of selling to clients who want that one single platform to our mind outweighed significantly the other options.

15:54 Kieran: And just to add to that. That's the beauty of working with Salesforce. When you're using FinancialForce and Novidea or Conga, you actually don't even know you're using it because it's all seamless.

16:04 David: Yes.

16:05 Kieran: It's on the one platform using the same data sets, apart from logos popping up now and again you actually don't know that you're using multiple systems.

16:12 MG: It feels a little bit like, and correct me if I'm wrong, it's kind of all or nothing for your clients. So you're saying you're going to work with Salesforce therefore you've got FinancialForce, you've got Conga, but your clients can't really pick and mix in terms of how they want to work. Is that how you're thinking about the world of insurance?

16:32 Frederico: Well, I think once we have Salesforce there, you can pick and mix your ISVs, that really complements the platform, and that's really the point that I was making earlier around Salesforce being a platform, and that's really how we see ourselves. We have our own products that we built like the CRM, like our marketing tools and so on, and we also have all these partners that build on top of our platform, and they integrate seamlessly. Imagine having two data sources. Imagine having two CRM systems that don't really communicate with each other, that's just making your life more difficult. So it is, in that sense, I think you are making a choice when you're choosing a CRM platform. Some companies have more than one CRM platform, I don't... Whether I think that's the right way or not, probably not.

17:17 MG: I was smiling when you said, "Imagine having two systems." I think there's some companies out there, they've got hundreds of systems.

17:22 Frederico: Oh, yes, no.

17:22 MG: So they’d love to just to have two systems, but where I'm going with this…I suspect by individual company they'll have different departments or different lines of business that they're using, use Salesforce on one place or use something somewhere else..?

17:34 Frederico: Yes, that's correct. What we see though is often Salesforce starts... Let's say for example, in a small division somewhere... I often mentioned this, but BBVA, the Spanish bank, is one of our largest customers globally, and we first worked with them in their commercial bank in Mexico. That's where we started and sales was kind of expanded across the organisation because as people saw what could be done with Salesforce and they saw the benefits of having different lines of business, different parts of the business as well from sales, marketing, service and so on, on the same platform, then really that's how we grew, and that's pretty much a blueprint that we've followed ever since. It's fairly rare to have a big bang transformational project with Salesforce without any previous presence there and that's just the way we've been working.

18:22 MG: Got it, good. So David, you've got some of the sharpest minds in the world listening to this here in the room, or listening when we record it. What would be your request for help as you build out FinancialForce?

18:37 David: We've come into this market relatively recently based on business services as our knowledge base. Our requirement is to understand increasingly that more idiosyncratic parts or unusual approaches to financial transaction management that will make our solution even more appropriate for this market. So it's around the business processes, the data that's required. We're looking to start to build that knowledge in-house, on top of our basic knowledge of the core financial management systems, which is pretty extensive, over 10 years.

19:08 MG: Good. Well, there are lots of idiosyncratic processes in this market so you'll have no end of learning there. And Kieran, same question for you, how would you like to have all input in terms of data or analytics?

19:20 Kieran: Well, we have our own AI engine within Conga, but I think we have a great cooperative of SIA complementary ISV partners here and we work with Salesforce. I think what we spoke earlier on at the beginning of the night with Frederico and we said we could possibly have on a forum, whether it's a financial services forum together, where we look at the key trends that are happening in the industry. Maybe have a quarterly forum, where we come together and look at how technology can accelerate that and address the issues that are happening within the industries, especially within financial services. So, I think we... There's a lot of top leadership in the room here tonight, so I think if we can get that combined brand power along with Salesforce and the complementary ISVs, I think we can come somewhat way to alleviate a lot of those challenges.

20:10 MG: Thank you, right. And so we have some time for some questions from the audience.

20:13 James: Hi, I'm James. I use Salesforce so I think it's like a rocket, it's like dynamite. Where can I find out more about it and learn some applications of Salesforce that I don't currently use? I remember using it in a really basic CRM context but it's really working for me.

20:34 Frederico: Okay, okay. Well, first of all, thanks for being a customer. I think there must be many of you in the room. Actually, every other conversation I have with a friend or an acquaintance it's at the point where Salesforce comes up. It's often, "Oh, I'm a customer. How can I use it better?" So, actually, to answer your question, I think the best place to start is probably to look at what we call Trailhead, which is our free e-learning platform. It's entirely free, and you don't have to be a Salesforce customer to be on it. It's fun because we actually created this ‘gamified’ experience so you can earn badges. So it's really fun.

21:10 Kieran: Just one more thing there as well. On top of Trailhead, Salesforce has an amazing thing called HSUS. HSUS is an acronym for how Salesforce uses Salesforce. And they invite customers in on a monthly basis and they show how they use Salesforce on a daily basis from sales to marketing to finance to every aspect of the business. So that's called how Salesforce uses Salesforce. So that's a good way to go in.

21:41 MG: We were delighted to have Novidea as our sponsor for this event and as one of our annual gold sponsors. You can find out more about them and, in fact, everything else we're up to at InsTech London, including dedicated pages to all our events from the last two years at www.InsTech.london.

Listen here to podcast 54. It is also available on iTunes, Spotify and Podbean.