Author: ACT News Staff
AVYST founder and CEO Marc Still, a former investment banker, initially saw an income opportunity in the independent agency channel, but he soon learned there was a wide-open space to improve data use and agency efficiencies. We asked Marc what motivated him to enter the IA channel, what AVYST brings to it, and why ACT seemed like a good fit.
ACT News: How did you get your start in the insurance industry?
Marc Still: I would characterize myself as a recovering investment banker. In 2012, I bought an independent agency in Denver and partnered with its owner, Gail Salazar, to grow the business. My business partner Paul Voorheis and I liked the property/casualty side of the agency business because of its consistent and predictable annual cash flow. It felt like it was a good place for us to invest. We've been investors in all sorts of industries, including municipal solid waste companies, medical firms and even a BBQ sauce company.
We were attracted to Gail's operation because they had developed some basic technology that facilitated partnerships with others who sold financial products—like life and health and real estate. These partners had built-in relationships, and it was an easy add-on for them to partner with us, refer their clients to us, and share in the P&C commissions. We felt like we had discovered a better marketing mousetrap to grow the business. That concept gave birth to AVYST.
ACT News: So how did AVYST get going?
Marc: What led to the creation of AVYST in 2016 was that our marketing efforts in the agency went better than expected. On certain days, we would have as many as 40 new referrals. It was then we discovered that, while there were great legacy companies that helped you manage your business once you sold the policy, there was little to no technology that could enable our agents to effectively speak to 40 new prospects every day. Nor was there any technology available to help our team understand the requirements of our 55 carriers. We wanted to add real value and give those potential clients coverage choices in a timely fashion. We were frustrated with the inefficiencies and limitations of business development workflows in the sales process.
Carriers and other business partners have numerous requirements. There are so many disparate pieces of data that must be collected, assembled and submitted using systems that don't talk with each other.
AVYST eForms Wizard emerged as our first of many solutions to help insurance professionals accurately and thoroughly collect data—even when offline at a client site, for example—and get to insurance carrier markets quickly. Whether you are in a client's manufacturing facility or speaking to your client from your office phone, eForms Wizard is always on.
ACT News: Who are your customers?
Marc: We're connecting all stakeholders around the insurance industry to seamlessly and securely share data. Large and small insurance companies. Wholesalers and MGAs. Agents and brokers. Trade associations and technology user groups. And even other technology partners.
So far, we have more than 8,000 agencies that are initial adopters of eForms Wizard. The day-to-day users of our products are producers, account managers and CSRs. We are also adding carriers and MGAs to the platform at a rapid pace. They want a better way to receive submissions that are accurate and require fewer touch points for their underwriters.
ACT News: How is AVYST different from traditional insurtechs?
Marc: I started as an industry outsider. You think at first you can implement brand new technology easily. But this is a trillion-dollar legacy industry where change doesn't take place quickly. You've got to offer something today to quickly integrate in real time, or you won't make any progress.
Unlike other insurtechs, we were built from inside the insurance industry. Our investors are industry insiders not looking to disrupt or eliminate the agent. Rather, we believe in enabling the independent agent and broker channel, because it's the best option for the insurance consumer.
I don't want legacy folks to be threatened by me; I want them to partner and rely on AVYST. Our recent Orange Partnership with Vertafore is a real-life example of our commitment to this belief.
ACT News: Why are you involved in the ACT community?
Marc: Five years ago, when I started to look at this business, one of the first people I met was Ron Berg. As I recall, he was with an insurance carrier at the time. We've been involved in and around ACT since then. It seemed to me that [ACT] gathered the real thought leaders together…and ACT really does things. That's what we want to do at AVYST too. We want to do some things today and tomorrow that make a real difference.
ACT News: As an outsider-turned-insider, what's your impression of this industry?
Marc: The average consumer served by the independent agent community doesn't know how dedicated the industry's participants really are. These agents really care about their customers. They are nice, dedicated folks working hard to help every consumer have as risk-free a life as possible. The more I met the industry people who are working hard to improve technology, the more confident I felt in knowing that what we developed would be welcomed with open arms. These are the kind of people I want to work with.