Sébastien Malherbe, Breathe Life’s Chief Product Officer, shares his life-insurance journey from his perspective as a design pro who loves to solve big problems.
Q: Why did you decide that the business of insurance was the right next step in your career?
I’d recently finished a stint with Intel/McAfee after its acquisition of my prior employer, PasswordBox. For the first time in my career, I was in a position to take a break…to step back and think about what I wanted to do next. In fact, my wife and I had planned to do some traveling.
Then it happened! Life insurance.
A few folks in my network were looking into opportunities to modernize life insurance, specifically connections of mine at Diagram Ventures and my former colleague from Intel/McAfee/PasswordBox, Ian Jeffrey and Jean-Nicholas Hould. These folks are all super smart and talented, so I met with Ian to learn more although, at that time, I hadn’t really considered the intersection of technology and the insurance industry.
But the more time I spent educating myself about the life insurance industry, the more intrigued I became. I started to see pain points that great design and technology could potentially fix. As a result, I started to get really excited about the opportunity!
Solving problems is my passion, so I apologized to my wife (who knows me well enough to not get mad), canceled our trip, and jumped in with Ian and the team to pursue solutions. That was two years ago now, and I haven’t regretted a second of it.
Q: What were the problems you saw when you looked into the life insurance industry and began thinking about the opportunity?
I approach any new industry from the point of view of the customer, so I put on my life insurance consumer lense and found complexity at every term. The products are complicated which makes self-education difficult and the purchasing process is cumbersome and time consuming. We – the consumer – have become accustomed to simple, digital experiences like using Google and Amazon. I saw a real opportunity to make the experience of buying and selling life insurance simpler and easier for consumers.
Another thing that struck me as I did my research was that its evolution has been slower than other industries. For example, in FinTech disruptive technologies and business models have been tested for more than a decade. Real innovation has been slower to emerge in the insurance industry. As a designer and entrepreneur, I couldn’t wait to roll up my sleeves and start attacking these challenges.
Q: What have you learned about the industry since Breathe Life was founded, any surprises?
I think the hardest learning was that the inherent complexity built into the industry’s products and processes can make change very difficult. I’m used to taking an iterative approach to improvement, and that’s hard to do in an industry that isn’t used to working this way.
The good news is that these attitudes are shifting, and more life insurance carriers are open to having these discussions. Covid-19 has made conversations about consumer behavior and expectations just that much more important.
At Breathe Life, we’ve been fortunate to find client partners that believe in our vision and are willing to try new things to improve their businesses. We’ve been able to prove that even small changes can have big results. I find this encouraging as someone who wants to solve big problems: the industry is starting to respond.
Truth is, it has to – the pressure to change is coming from all sides. Consumers aren’t inviting agents into their homes to discuss needs, they don’t want to spend months waiting to get a policy, and they simply don’t understand why it’s so complicated.
At the same time, the insurance agent population is aging and the next generation of producers don’t want to spend the majority of their workday pushing paper and struggling with outdated technology. Insurance carriers actually have a unique opportunity to use modern platforms like Breathe Life to both simplify the consumer experience and energize the advisor experience.
We’ve seen a number of $100 million+ funding announcements and successful IPOs across the InsurTech space, and traditional insurance carriers have taken notice. The new guard is leading by trying to provide consumers with a better, more modern digital experience. I feel strongly that Breathe Life is in the right place at the right time with the right technology to help carriers deliver the consumer-first insurance experience of the future!