How a Thirst for Challenge Binds This Team Applying AI to Insurance and Beyond

For these colleagues at Acrisure, leveraging each other’s strengths and expertise powers their work.

Written by Stephen Ostrowski
Published on Aug. 17, 2021
How a Thirst for Challenge Binds This Team Applying AI to Insurance and Beyond
Brand Studio Logo

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with dual degrees, Claire McAfee’s post-collegiate job search was buoyed by a desire to find a role with ample opportunities for learning. Since coming aboard Austin-based Acrisure Innovation as a software engineer a year ago, McAfee has not only found that those learning opportunities have materialized but that she and her team members are well-positioned to make a significant impact in risk distribution.

“We have a lot of autonomy. People’s voices go a long way here,” McAfee said. “We pivot from one thing to the next quickly, and we have the resources to propel us in the direction we’re trying to go.”


team members sitting around an office table


At high-growth insurance broker Acrisure, team members said they are developing a large collection of mapped business and individual risk data and are using AI to transform prospecting, retention and client service for their network of Agency Partners — the brokers who make up Acrisure’s global distribution network.

Seasoned technology veteran and Principal Product Manager John Cathey said those tech tools can help augment customer acquisition efforts to complement human expertise.

“A machine is never going to take the place of an actual insurance producer who someone trusts — who they can go to as an advisor and as a partner as they grow their business,” Cathey said. “But we can leverage all the tools and the new methods to empower brokers by giving them a deeper knowledge of their clients’ needs.”

Technology can enable industry pros to scale their talents and get a clearer picture to inform decision-making. Just ask Distinguished Researcher Danny Jachowski, a Stanford Computer Science alum who spent nearly a decade as an algorithmic trader. 

“Identifying which opportunities are going to be the best — delivering the best coverage, the best price, best experience for their customers — is going to be different. With AI across all of our data, brokers get a clearer picture of customer needs than ever before,” Jachowski said. “We can help draw insights and present them back to our brokers to help optimize customer experience and reduce workload.”

As Acrisure Innovation — one of our own 21 Austin Companies To Watch In 2021 honorees — continues to grow, members of the team outlined how they’re able to make meaningful contributions at the entrepreneurial organization.


The Origin of Acrisure Innovation

Last summer, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based broker Acrisure — a global fintech and one of Business Insurance’s top 10 insurance brokers in the world — announced its acquisition of the insurance component of AI-focused company Tulco LLC. The ultimate byproduct: Acrisure Innovation. Today, the business is working to propel Acrisure’s offerings within - and beyond - the insurance industry.


First off, what drew you to Acrisure?

McAfee: When looking for my first job out of school, I wanted to go somewhere where I could learn as much as I could and understand as much of the tech-stack as I could learn. With its focus on technology, Acrisure definitely hit both. I’m able to touch a lot of different projects in different parts of the stack.

Cathey: The idea of leveraging AI and tech to bring the financial services industry into the next generation really interested me. Acrisure is focused on more than just the commercial insurance space. Acrisure is making major investments in tech as well as its customer solution set. I don’t have a finance background, so I felt like there was something new to learn every day — and great people for me to learn from.

Jachowski: I was looking for something that had interesting problems to solve, and somewhere I would be able to create an impact in an industry. For example, every business needs insurance in order to operate. Reducing premiums by a percent might be the difference between them operating or not. Technological enablement can create a large impact across many different businesses, which is why we’re taking our capabilities across the broader financial services space.


We have a lot of autonomy. Peoples’ voices go a long way here.”


How would you say the insurance industry has leveraged or has not leveraged AI? How does Acrisure plan to change that?

Cathey: The insurance industry as a whole hasn’t leveraged a lot of the tools that are available today. There’s an opportunity for us to get smarter about how we help our agents acquire new businesses, how we find great leads or prospects and connect them to agents who we believe are going to be great advisors to them and how to give them the best guidance and solutions. AI offers a way to blend the traditional ways of operating with advanced insights to help propel the industry forward.

Jachowski: There’s a huge opportunity for insurance brokers to optimize workflows. We’re also trying to learn from our brokers so that we can automatically generate insights and help them validate their observations or identify new insights into their clients. Our AI technology allows us to model what other, similar customers have bought and if those are needs that our customers might have. This enables us to compare coverages and pricing to get the best products into the hands of customers who need them the most and meet their exact needs. At the end of the day, it enables our Agency Partners to interact more meaningfully with our clients.


Expanding Their Expertise

Acrisure is also using its data- and AI-focused approach to power its move into the financial services arena. The organization’s vision is to become a broad financial services distributor, where insurance is one of several offered client solutions across the financial services industry. That strategy was evidenced by the recent announcement of a newly formed Asset Management division of the company, which President and CEO Greg Williams described in a release as “the first step in driving our innovative, tech-enabled solutions beyond our core insurance service.”


How would you describe the organizations approach to leveraging and deploying AI?

Jachowski: We’re building an artificial intelligence system that allows us to create diverse models. This enables our researchers to have impact in a lot of different areas and look at a lot of different problems – both in back office and front-end operations. We’re not just building singular, AI solutions for an isolated issue; we’re building an ecosystem that allows us to create impact more broadly.

On the AI side, we’re not working in ivory towers. We’re embedded in the teams. We develop our technology to constantly update based on real-time feedback to establish customer and client centricity. We have to work in tandem with the teams in order to ensure this feedback loop runs smoothly.


Leading the Growth Charge

Acrisure’s investment in innovation is fundamental to its growth. In March 2021, Acrisure announced nearly $3.5 billion in a capital raise led by BDT Capital Partners. The investment — which Carrier Management recently noted accounted for more than half of all insurtech funding in the first quarter of the year, citing a report from Forrester — set the company’s valuation at $17.5 billion.


What do you think makes the talent pool at Acrisure notable?

Cathey: Everybody is incredibly humble, willing to share their knowledge and time, and collaborate. I also feel like we have a lot of psychological safety here. For example, when we have our retros, we can talk about what didn’t go well. People leave their egos at the door, and we have constructive conversations about what we can do next.

Jachowski: We look for people who like to grow. Even though we have some of the top tech top talent in our respective areas, everyone is still growing both vertically and horizontally by having colleagues who excel in different areas.

McAfee: In addition to people here being smart, humble, intelligent, and hard workers, the people are likable and fun to be around. We try hard to foster a culture like that. It’s a really fun place to be.



Lastly, what are some of those specific moments when you know that you’re making an impact with your work?

Cathey: I treasure the direct user feedback. When I hear from a broker about how this helps them close a deal, grow, or achieve a goal, that feels like a win to me, because I just helped somebody do their job in a way that maybe they couldn’t have done six months ago.

Jachowski: We want to be optimizing the experience for brokers. Are they acquiring more customers? Are their customers’ average premiums getting better? Are their coverages getting better? We’re measuring all of those and more to see the impact we’re creating.

McAfee: When we demo a product to producers, and we hear them say, “This is what I’ve been waiting for,” or “When is this going to go live?” — that’s what’s really exciting to me. When we see that excitement to use a tool, it feels like we’ve achieved what we’re going for.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via Acrisure Innovation.

Hiring Now
Gaming • Information Technology • Mobile • Software • eSports