Our captivating edition, “The 10 Most Remarkable Insurtech Leaders to Watch, 2023,” aims to recognize the efforts of business leaders in the insurance sector and their meteoric rise to success by presenting them and their teams with widespread industry recognition for navigating hurdles through cutting-edge business strategies.
We are thrilled to spotlight Mr. Chris Cline, with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s (the Big “I”) Agents Council for Technology (ACT), for successfully safeguarding the growth of his program with his breadth of experiences and passion for the independent agency channel. He joined the Big “I” team in 2022 and took over as Executive Director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT). In this role, Chris is charged with carrying on the incredible work of his predecessors while leading the charge in positioning ACT and the industry to best embrace and maximize technology in the future. He is a seasoned industry professional with more than 25 years of expertise in the insurance industry, making him a significant industry resource for topics such as perpetuation, mergers and acquisitions, culture, agency operations, marketing and sales, data and analytics, and more.
CXO Inc Magazine recently interviewed Chris Cline to gain a better understanding of his leadership and how ACT became a go-to source for independent insurance agents seeking tech guidance.
Chris Cline’s Unique and Diverse Journey: At a Glance
In his prior carrier roles, Chris led a team focused on the entire independent agency life cycle and has experiences ranging from graphic design, marketing, sales, employee training, compliance, and personal lines underwriting leadership. Chris developed a passion for the independent agency channel and helping agencies across key strategic areas such as perpetuation, hiring, culture, DE&I, data/analytics, the customer, information security, and technology. He was also the inquisitive and thought-provoking host of the award-winning podcast, “Closing the Gap” and the 2021 recipient of the Independence Bell Award, presented by the Ohio Insurance Agents for his contribution to the insurance industry.
Chris’s debut book, “The Inertia of Legacy,” was released in October 2023. He describes the scientific concept of inertia in the book and how it can be leveraged in helping individuals and businesses define, manage, and leave the legacy they desire.
Chris earned his degree in graphic design from the University of Akron.
An Overview of the Agents Council for Technology
As part of the Big “I,” the Agents Council for Technology brings together member agents/brokers, partner carriers, and partner technology suppliers to identify and provide thought leadership on key technology topics that impact the industry.
With this goal, the Council leverages a workgroup model in which experts from each stakeholder group meet to work more deeply on a given topic. The objective is always to offer thought leadership, provide insights, advice, and tools to independent insurance agents and brokers so they can better understand their technology options, how to mitigate risk, and/or how to use technology to enable their competitive business strategy.
ACT workgroups offer a combination of white papers, workflow designs, forms and templates, best practice manuals, podcasts, webinars, keynote speeches, industry events, and conferences as technology resources for member agencies, carriers, and technology partners.
Over the years, ACT and the workgroups have focused on a wide range of technology opportunities and challenges, such as t-filing and downloading, and moving on to more modern topics like cyber, customer experience, data, API/connectivity, and AI.
A Fortunate Accident
Chris Cline initially had no plans to pursue an insurance career. Early in his career, he was looking for work as a graphic designer when a mentor told him about an internship opportunity at a local insurance company. All he understood about insurance at the time was that he needed to send his agent a check each month! But that internship worked out very well, and Chris fell in love with the company and had so many wonderful opportunities to learn and get exposed to many facets of this incredible industry.
Overall, even though Chris was not originally particularly motivated to enter the industry, his collection of remarkable experiences has greatly influenced the incredible pride he feels in being a part of it.
Technology as a Business Enabler
While Chris is incredibly excited about what some recent tech has enabled and where we are going with technology in solving legitimate pain points and creating the potential for new capabilities, he believes it is important to realize—or to re-realize—a couple of key points:
• People, Process, and Technology: Volumes have been written over the years about how essential it is to comparably focus on people and process when considering transformative change. Failure to do so makes any tech implementation far less likely to succeed.
• Fundamentals: How the industry does things has actually changed quite a bit over the years and will change more in the future. But in reality, what the industry does has remained remarkably constant. Insurers identify risk, understand risk, price risk, sell, service, and indemnify customers post loss. And they must remain financially stable to allow the fulfillment of their obligations to customers.
It may seem counter-intuitive inside the insurtech space to stop and have these conversations, but Chris is deeply passionate about how important it is to remember the industry’s “why” when choosing and using tech to evolve what and how it does the things necessary to bring the why to fruition. Chris is proud to be a part of these conversations and to help agents/brokers and carriers think about how they prioritize tech investments and also help tech companies understand where they can add the most value and how to think about scaling their solutions.
Diversity and Inclusion: Part of the Mission
At the Big “I,” in the area of technology where Chris and ACT are most focused, they are driven by the need and goal to get the right technology tools in the hands of all of its members, regardless of where they are in their technology journey. And they are doing that in several ways.
As an example, they provide tools to assist the organizations in remaining compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), allowing member agencies to better serve clients with disabilities. More generally, to help independent insurance agents embrace diversity and inclusion in their businesses and create a stronger competitive advantage, the Big “I” is providing the Inclusive Agency Training Series, which was created by and for them. These training modules have been developed to help agencies start the process of consciously fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.
The Dynamics of Independence
Chris points out that while independence is amazing and is also at the core of what makes the independent agency system so great, it does create some inherent challenges across a variety of areas. Technology is no different. With 40,000 independent agents, a couple thousand insurers, numerous technology solutions, 50 state regulations, and each of the companies in all stakeholder groups looking to differentiate in their own unique ways, finding truly uniform solutions can be a very real challenge.
It has somewhat become sport to take shots at the insurance industry for being slow or even resistant to change. And there may be some valid arguments in support of that commentary. However, while market conditions ebb and flow, agents and brokers are faced with current market headwinds that clarify the importance of fundamentals and how they must ultimately remember their role in the community and economy. The need for insurers to remain financially strong does create a level of inherent conservativeness that can be viewed and cited as a challenge when trying to drive more innovation and tech adoption.
What the Future Holds
When questioned to impart some information about the future outlook of ACT, its visionary leader asserts, “Professionally, I would like the ACT and the Big ‘I’ to become even more prominent and at the forefront in helping our members and the industry make sense of emerging technology issues and opportunities, to be strategic in how they deploy new technology to solve meaningful problems, and to facilitate greater collaboration and standardization across all stakeholders. Personally, I just released my first book called “The Inertia of Legacy.” I am incredibly excited to see where that may go and deeply hopeful the book makes an impact on the people who read it.”