Building Newfront's Tech Platform: An Interview with Josh Lewis
By Benjamin Lotan | Published June 12, 2019
At Newfront, “Product” is the bridge between our engineering team and the rest of the business. As Head of Product, Josh works to understand what our brokers, account managers, and clients need and translates those needs into features we can build into our agency management platform.
Our mission is to empower brokers to better serve their clients, and our technology is one way we deliver on that goal.
What’s your background, and why join Newfront?
Originally I’m from academia. I have a Ph.D. from UC San Diego where I studied machine learning, and before joining Newfront I worked at a couple of enterprise AI companies — most recently Alpine Data where I was VP of Product.
After Alpine was acquired, I was looking for a really meaty domain where technology and data science could be applied to great impact. When I met our founders Gordon and Spike, I became convinced that insurance was exactly the kind of problem domain I was looking for. It also helped that I was immediately impressed by their professionalism and the amount they had accomplished in a very short time. I could tell that even in its early state Newfront had momentum and a unique perspective on the industry.
What is Newfront building?
We’re building an agency management platform for three main constituencies: our clients, our account managers, and our brokers. Ultimately this platform will allow us to be much more operationally efficient than a traditional brokerage while delighting our clients and brokers with the modern software quality and usability we’ve all come to expect.
What are some specific uses of the platform?
For clients we make common insurance tasks simple — things like understanding your coverage, tracking claims, and managing certificates of insurance. We also greatly improve the renewal process by storing and reusing client info across applications.
**For account managers (AMs) **we automate away busywork like filling out ACORD forms and certificates so that they can focus on high-value activities like client interactions and marketing complex risks.
For brokers, we provide a holistic view of their book, including automated tracking of all actions that the AMs and their clients take. We also make it easy for them to submit new business and collect the basic information we need to start marketing a risk. Lastly, we give them access to cutting edge client acquisition tools.
Tell me about the tech team’s workflow.
As a team, we’re very focused on how we can help the rest of the company. Exciting problems for us are not necessarily the intellectually challenging ones (though we run into plenty of those), but rather those that result in a significant improvement in day-to-day experience for our clients or brokers.
Our team is divided into "product pods" where each pod is composed of a product manager, a designer, and several engineers. The pods are independent and implement features from conception to completion. We also have a core technology team that works on deployment, telemetry, continuous integration, testing frameworks, and other team-wide concerns. All our groups work on a weekly sprint cycle, and most days we have multiple production releases.
How does Newfront think about technology?
In keeping with our mission to empower our clients and brokers, we believe our technology should be built-in service to the people here. Some companies are technology-driven — these companies and their markets exist because of a novel technology. The insurance market has existed for a long time without us and there are hundreds of successful brokerages. What we’re doing is fundamentally shifting the economics of being a brokerage by building best-in-class technology, again in service of empowering our people. This economic shift, enabled by a top-tier engineering organization and our startup mindset and drive, makes us unique in the industry.
How does Newfront’s approach differ from industry standards or other brokerages?
We have hundreds of years of insurance experience across our AM and broker teams, so we really are born from and part of this industry. However, we’re also a technology company, so we sit at a powerful intersection. Many of the technology companies in the insurance industry are trying to reduce the human component, and frankly, they may not fully understand its importance, the importance of the broker/client relationship and expert service from an experienced account manager. So we’re reinventing what it means to be a brokerage while following the same fundamental model and some of the best practices developed over many decades.
What has surprised you about the insurance industry?
I was kind of bracing for things to be a bit dry, but I’ve actually been blown away by how colorful and dynamic the people in this industry are. Part of what I love about this job is just getting the chance to hang out and chat with the brokers and AMs as I learn more about insurance.
Any major goals your team is currently working on?
We’re building out support for polished paper products, like summaries and proposals that you feel proud to hand off to a client. We’re also in the early stages of untangling the hairball that is billing in this industry. We think it’s an area where we’ll really be able to help save time and confusion for all parties. Long-term there’s a ton of exciting stuff we can do around automation, data science, and a converged experience for all our user constituencies.
Thanks, Josh. Can you leave us with any closing thoughts?
My PhD experience taught me that to tackle really big problems you have to decompose them and then take some first steps––even if you don’t have the full path to the solution mapped out. That experience is coming in handy in the vast, complex problem domain that is the insurance industry. Already we’ve taken some meaningful steps and cast some more light on the road ahead.