People of Pathpoint: Q&A with James McKernan
James, you joined Pathpoint at our early stages. What brought you to Pathpoint?
When Alex and the other founders were starting Pathpoint, they reached out to me for help finding someone to lead the engineering team. Initially, it was purely an advisory role. However, as I learned more about the opportunity, how underserved E&S is by technology, and the caliber of the founders and investors, it quickly transitioned from "I can help you find this person" to "I want to be this person" and it sort of just progressed from there.
You’ve been in a few different markets building technology. What aspects of these industries, including wholesale insurance, inform how you design and build for Pathpoint?
E&S certainly has its unique characteristics that make it quite different from, say, consumer internet. But in the end, it's always about understanding how your users operate and what problems you can solve for them with technology.
One of the biggest differences that immediately comes to mind is that our agents in the small business segments, which are our core customers, might not have many risks through the natural course of their business. This makes a lot of sense. They may have just a few in a month. Now, we're seeing that this may change as our agents learn more about how they can place E&S in general, but it's really very different from a business where they come to you many times in the course of a day. However, it's always about putting the customer first, so we identified this early on and built around that idea.
In your opinion, explain what Pathpoint’s technology is and why it is so core to the business. What is “special” about it?
We execute at an incredible speed, deploying changes to the platform multiple times daily. This is more common in other industries, but I believe it is one of the significant ways we brought a Silicon Valley ethos to delivering value for the E&S market. We've built it into our process to be responsive to customer needs, so we have a better chance of delivering the correct agent value.
"I like to think of our technology as granting superpowers to our agents, account managers, and underwriters..."
How do you maintain technology in a highly transactional and operational environment? How does the team continue to innovate while constantly tinkering with and improving fundamental pieces?
Everything we do is to deliver value to our agents and partners. Therefore, even improving the fundamental pieces needs to be driven by the idea that it will increase our ability to deliver value. For example, we're rebuilding the architecture that our app uses to calculate our aggregated appetite. This helps our agents know if we're a fit for their clients. We didn't just decide to do this because it needed an update; the needs of the business drove our plans over the coming months to bring more insurance products onto the platform.
In your opinion, how does AI automation benefit the average insurance agent? What’s the one thing you wished Pathpoint’s clients understood about the technology that powers Pathpoint?
In some ways, current AI technologies have a lot to offer insurance. At its core, these technologies excel at processing unstructured text data, which is pervasive in insurance, especially E&S. Therefore, features around that seem to be the most solid.
Pathpoint is investigating AI, and currently, most of the effort is to gain conviction that such systems' strengths are sufficient to significantly enhance the agent experience. They're so new and different that the cost of building them is quite high, so there needs to be a corresponding increase in value delivered to agents. Simply cobbling together a chatbot and labeling it "now with AI" isn't our approach.
To answer the second question, I like to think of our technology as granting superpowers to our agents, account managers, and underwriters, but these individuals will always be in the loop. So, I hope our agents understand that we're still here to assist them, even when our technology requires some refinement to reach where we all want it to be.
" We believe in empowering human account managers and underwriters, even with AI in the mix."
What’s an API, and why does it matter?
API stands for Application Programming Interface. It is commonly referred to by software engineers when discussing how one program or piece of software communicates with one or more other programs. Websites and mobile apps, to name a few, continuously use APIs to deliver features and utility to users.
APIs are prolific in all types of software engineering. It's a bit challenging to condense such a broad topic, but perhaps I'll speak more specifically about Pathpoint's technology. We've built much of our service on APIs created by our carrier partners. We work almost exclusively with insurance carriers that have not only invested in web portals but also made the APIs that these web portals use available to companies like Pathpoint. This is how we deliver instant quotes to our agents. We also use APIs for taxes, for example.
"Have high expectations for the software systems you use."
Where do you see E&S insurance go in terms of automation within the next five years?
As the world changes, E&S is expanding to meet demand as risks are moved out of the admitted market. This growth will drive technology solutions in both breadth and depth. In terms of breadth, you'll see more kinds of risks and more adjacent tasks being automated. As mentioned above, we believe in empowering human account managers and underwriters, even with AI in the mix. From an in-depth perspective, the TIV of the kinds of risk will grow, expanding into parts of the E&S market that have traditionally been thought impossible for technology.
As an engineer, what are vital tips you have for agents when working with technology?
Have high expectations for the software systems you use. Pathpoint has brought the modern web to E&S—that's the baseline now, so hold us and other service providers accountable for delivering an experience and value that is modern and easy to use, just like other sites you use daily, because that's where these technologies should be now.
Follow Pathpoint on LinkedIn to see what else James and the engineers at Pathpoint have in store for E&S in 2024!