Take a minute to watch some of the advertisements that you would normally fast-forward over when catching up on the shows on your DVR. You’ll notice that in many of these ads, companies are trying to get you to associate their brand and its products with a place or an activity that makes you happy and makes you feel good. Don’t believe me? Think about every Corona ad you’ve seen in the past decade. Extremely good looking people, all sitting around a bonfire on some white sand Mexican beach drinking beer-flavored water and enjoying an evening that many of us would happily trade our mundane existences for – even temporarily.
But what about insurance companies? Most of their ads – even the more entertaining ones – are about trust, or about taking care of their customers – and very few include beaches and parties. Or, they’re about price – how you can get coverage at a discount in contrast to other insurance providers. And there’s probably a very good reason for that – one that expensive market research and focus groups have probably identified. But if I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s because insurance is something that people really only buy because they’re fearful of what will happen if they don’t have it.
People interact with their insurance companies just a few times – when they’re shopping for a policy, when they’re paying their insurance premiums and when they’re filing a claim. None of those three things would be considered “feel good” activities, and one of those three things only occurs when something really bad happens. But insurance companies are trying to change that – and they’re looking to do so with technology.
Of the many insurtech solutions that insurance companies are embracing, the Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the most interesting, and the one with the most potential for fundamentally changing the relationship between insurers and policy holders. Using IoT devices, insurance companies are looking to become more proactive, and alert policy holders of dangers before they become problems and generate claims.
The result is a potential shift in the role of an insurance provider in the life of their policy holders – becoming more like a Batman-esque silent guardian and less of something that’s there to cover the tab when things blow up.
In fact, there is so much potential in insurance for IoT devices and technologies, that some IoT companies with consumer products are looking to former insurance executives to help them grow their business. One of those companies is Phyn, a maker of intelligent water systems.
Phyn recently hired Mariel Devesa, the former head of innovation at Farmers Insurance, to help lead their corporate growth. We had the opportunity to speak with Mariel about why she’s a good fit for Phyn, and how insurance is changing thanks to new technologies. Here is what she had to say:
Insurance Tech Insider (ITI): What is Phyn? What do Phyn’s intelligent water systems do?
Mariel Devesa: Phyn is a leader in intelligent water solutions that help people protect their homes, conserve water and save money. Our mission is to help the world “speak the language of water” by protecting your home from leaks, eliminate unnecessary water waste and conserve water.
Built on a decade of R&D, Phyn is backed by Belkin International, a global leader in consumer technology, networking and the Internet of Things, and Uponor, a leading supplier of plumbing for residential and commercial spaces worldwide.
We launched our first product earlier this year, the Phyn Plus, smart water assistant + shutoff. Installed directly on a home’s main water line, Phyn Plus uses high-definition pressure sensing to detect leaks anywhere in a home, from one single location. The product alerts you the second a leak is detected, mitigates costly water damage through automatic shutoff, and diagnoses potential problems in your plumbing system before they become an issue.
ITI: Why is your background in insurance a good fit for a consumer product company like Phyn?
Mariel Devesa: Focusing on the consumer as well as mitigating risk are key drivers within Phyn, and aligns similarly to the work that I led within insurance. I have always believed in creating win-win scenarios which will be the same at Phyn — benefits that apply to consumers, insurers, and other 3rd parties. Creating an offering that provides insights to consumers while saving money, mitigates water losses for an insurer, and increases retention we think is a winning plan.
ITI: Why would insurers be interested in Phyn’s products and getting the company’s solutions into the homes of their policy holders?
Mariel Devesa: Water damage accounts for almost half of all property damage claims with insurance companies paying $9.1 billion in water damage annually. Water loss is one of the largest perils from a cost perspective for an insurer. Not only from the pure cost side, but also the inconvenience on the consumer side in cost and reparation time.
We believe we can consistently identify leaks down to .1 gallons per minute (pretty small) while providing consumers insights on their home.
As another example: water pressure into one’s home is a potential indicator of a higher likelihood of a material plumbing problem. With Phyn Plus, we can provide those insights, in addition to the ability to shut water off remotely if there is a problem.
ITI: How do you envision insurance companies getting Phyn’s solutions into the homes of policy holders? Do you envision a situation where insurers distribute them to customers, or do you envision a system where insurers will offer discounts and incentives to policyholders that use solutions like Phyn’s?
Mariel Devesa: It can be both or a mix of the two. There is no doubt that the financial return in preventing damage is there. In many instances, consumers don’t know such a product exists. For forward leaning insurers that are looking to interact with consumers in a new way and provide insights and be proactive, Phyn is an option that should be looked at.
ITI: Prior to joining Phyn, you were head of innovation at Farmers. During your time there, what were some of the major IT and technology initiatives that the company implemented? What were the benefits of these solutions?
Mariel Devesa: During my time at Farmers, I’m proud to have launched cutting-edge, first in industry programs – from being the first mainstream carrier to launch a rideshare offering, as well as the legislative framework clarifying insurance requirements in rideshare, to being the first carrier to include phone distraction in the pricing of the telematics offering, to working with startups in creating offerings for new business models to name a few. The benefits included being first in market as well as creating differentiated products that provide an advantage.
ITI: During your tenure in the insurance industry, how has the industry’s approach and embrace of new innovations and technologies changed?
Mariel Devesa: Most in the industry have acknowledged that change is coming and have realized that doing things the same way as the last 100 years isn’t necessarily going to work moving forward. I believe those that see past today and look toward the future and truly embrace change can grow and thrive.
ITI: In addition to IoT solutions such as those being sold by companies like Phyn, what are the other hot technologies being explored by insurance companies today? Why are they important? What benefits can they deliver to the both the companies and their policy holders?
Mariel Devesa: I believe that it needs to get back to the consumer. If it simplifies their life, provides useful insights, and prevents issues from happening– then the technology adds value.
For an insurer, benefits include: the ability to use product as proxies for target demographics, improved retention, new revenue for previously unwritten business, loss mitigation, and pricing insight advantages.
ITI: How do you see technology and innovation changing the relationship between insurers and their policy holders in the future? Will insurers continue to just be the company policy holders call when something goes wrong, or do you see that relationship changing and evolving?
Mariel Devesa: The relationship between insurers and policyholders will evolve. With IoT, there is and will continue to be a plethora of data. Consumers are more open to sharing data if they get something of value in return. Providing insights and preventing future pain has value, and when done right can create a meaningful differentiation.
ITI: If our readers are interested in acquiring Phyn’s intelligent water systems here in the U.S., where can they find them?
Mariel Devesa: Currently, consumers can go to our Website to find an installer to purchase Phyn. Exciting updates and enhancements will be announced throughout the year.