Avi and Shefi Ben-Hutta are the siblings behind Coverager. In this podcast episode, they explain how their three pillars—news, knowledge and network—have helped them become the insurance industry’s go-to source for intel and analysis.

Highlights

  • Coverager started as a newsletter and has expanded to include industry research and a data platform, as well as in-person events held in New York City.
  • Each week, Coverager looks for activity (or lack thereof) among approximately 500 companies to uncover the story that isn’t told in press releases—and share analysis to help other industry players refine their approaches.
  • What started as insurance-specific coverage now includes products and applications that could be leveraged by insurers to extend their value proposition to customers.

In addition to weekday emails, Coverager also publishes long-form pieces that provide deeper analysis into industry trends, opportunities and red flags.

How insurtechs are changing insurance

Season two of the podcast focuses on players in the insurtech industry. Scott Walchek talked about the importance of micro-pivots to Trov’s success, InsureTech Connect chairman Caribou Honig talked about how incumbents and insurtechs can work together, and Anthemis VC Ruth Foxe Blader looked at next steps for insurtechs.

Seeing insurance opportunities, with Coverager

In this episode, we pull back the curtain on the folks at Coverager—the email newsletter that lands in most insurance professionals’ inboxes at 8pm Eastern. Coverager is the brainchild of Shefi Ben-Hutta, and she and her brother Avi now run it together.

In this episode, we’ll look at the method and madness behind Coverager, how they’ve become a trusted source of insurance news—and what they’re seeing in the insurance world today.

Welcome back to the Accenture Insurance Influencers podcast. I’m your host, Eagranie Yuh. I’m excited to speak to two guests today, Shefi and Avi Ben-Hutta, the co-founders of Coverager. Welcome to the podcast.

Shefi Ben-Hutta: Thank you. Good to be here.

In case someone isn’t already familiar, how would you describe Coverager to someone who has never heard of it or seen it?

SBH: It’s the easiest way—the most convenient way—to stay on top of what’s happening in insurance, specifically insurance innovation.

And it looks like there are a couple of prongs to Coverager. I’m most familiar with the email newsletter, but it looks like you’ve expanded to include a community of members. There’s also Coverager research, and you host webinars and in-person talks. Can you talk about the many prongs to Coverager?

SBH: We operate with three pillars in mind… it’s News, Knowledge, Network. We started with an email newsletter: every day at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, people get a write-up of what is happening in the space. We later developed that into monthly meetups, typically in New York City. We also added a research component: you can imagine, we sit on all this data and sometimes we’ll just take a few steps back and analyze what is happening. We also have a data platform, which helps us stay in the know. So all of that leads to the data and research component.

Right. I definitely want to dig into some of those pieces but I wanted to more about each of you and how you got started in the space. Shefi, I understand that you’ve worked both within an incumbent insurer as well as in an insurtech company. How did those two pieces come together and help you do your work at Coverager?

SBH: I’ve worked for an agency, for a start-up and for an insurer. It definitely gave me––and still gives me––a perspective. I can speak all languages, I would say. So it helps with the mindset with understanding different parties, the challenges, the opportunities. I think my favorite time was working for a start-up; I think that was my most meaningful work. But overall it just lends to the objectivity of Coverager.

Great. And Avi, what you what are you bringing to the equation?

Avi Ben-Hutta: I don’t have an insurance background. My background is as an advertising guy, copywriting to be more specific. And when Shefi started, I observed, then she approached me and I drew back, and she approached me again and I drew back again, but eventually I joined. It was a hard process to learn about insurance,

but having that consumer perspective, as a consumer first, can really help you understand what insurance is about.

SBH: To add to that, I actually begged. It was actually our mother that stepped in and said, “Why don’t you give this a shot?” because Avi thought––and what a lot of people in this industry think––is that it’s all about insurance expertise and that he wouldn’t be able to contribute.

Mind you, oftentimes he’s the one that sets the tone and helped us coin [our tagline] “Insurance under the influence” and it’s good to have a different perspective. And now he knows insurance just as well as I do, especially how the whole customer journey works, and the behind the scenes, and the value chain. It’s not rocket science. You just have to have a heart. You have to want to understand this.

It’s very interesting how we work. We argue a lot. Sometimes I come in with, “This is not going to work,” or to say, “No, it’s not going to be acceptable.” But keeping this mindset, there’s a lot of dialogue and this is what we’re also seeing now happening with insurtech and with new entrants, so it plays really well into the space.

Do you feel like in some ways it gives you an advantage because you do have this slightly naïve perspective––and I don’t mean that in a negative way––as opposed to the industry echo chamber that can happen where you know too much and you lose perspective of the bigger picture?

ABH: Well you know, Lemonade said that to succeed you need to be ignorant, and made a lot of people upset. I wouldn’t say we’re ignorant. We just think that not everybody thinks about insurance the way insurance professionals do. And that we’re living in a digital world where more and more people are going online.

Access to information is easier. It’s much easier to buy something. It’s obviously much easier to cancel and the insurance has a problem. And the biggest problem insurance companies have is the lack of relationship—and that’s a recipe for disaster in a digital world.

We look at that and I wouldn’t say we take the worst-case approach. We’re definitely optimists and we believe in insurtech and in the whole movement. We believe that the first step is to think as a customer. So I think that’s our advantage, where we kind of have that insurance and not-insurance background and good things come out of that.

I subscribe to a lot of industry news, but I have to say Coverager is one of the few ones that I actually look forward to reading. And you say at the bottom, “This email is a quick read, but it took a long time to write and that’s why it’s so good.” So I’m curious, why do you think that Coverager, the email newsletter, has resonated with people?

ABH: We have this motto that we live by, that a squirrel is just a rat with good PR. Every morning we wake up and we see the news––and we obviously get approached by a lot of PR companies, a lot of insurance companies: “Hey, here’s a piece of news” or “Hey, we just launched a new product.” So we’re definitely happy to provide the coverage, that’s why we’re here for. But we always go beyond because PR sometimes is one thing and reality is a little different.

And I think that’s the approach that we bring. People appreciate the fact that we go the extra mile. A lot of times we go through the workflow. A lot of times we’ll dig and look for customer reviews and what’s really happening. When an insurer is saying it’s 100% digital, but at the end of the flow you have to call a number, that’s not really 100% digital.

We try to bring the most accurate news and as we’ve gained a lot of data and covered a lot of stories, we’re able to connect the dots and say, “Well, they say they were the first, but not really–– a company launched before them and this is what happened.” So that’s how we try to cover the news.

SBH: And it does take a really long time to write. I think we spend at least a full day working on the email. We think it’s the flagship product, what lends us to other businesses and other services. We love the fact that we’re able to keep people in the know—and in response they keep us in the know. We’ve got this cycle of really great core followers that absolutely love and care about this industry that chime in and help us tell a good story. So to those listening, thank you. I think they know who they are.

I think one of the features that I appreciate is this willingness to go beyond the PR and actually say, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s not exactly true,” but in this slightly snarky tone that insurance is not it is not very well known for. I’m curious how that came about, this very distinctive voice of Coverager. Was that intentional or is that just how it happened?

SBH: That’s so easy. The two of us are Israeli. No BS, no lingo, no vocabulary that we don’t know how to pronounce. We’re very simple. Tell us so that we understand.

This is one of the things that I also tell people, especially start-ups pitching us: “If I can’t understand you, then try a different angle.” Keep it simple. The consumer wants simplicity. So why complicate it with all the jargon?

I mean, we’re witty. We like humor. I believe that it’s really hard to read insurance news. I do not enjoy every press release that I read and sometimes I read them three times to understand what they’re saying.

So the whole idea is: we are insurance professionals. We have to know this stuff. What’s the fastest way to get through it? We do it because we need it for our jobs. We need it to make good decisions. We need to know who to partner with, who to invest in. But come on––nobody reads insurance because they love insurance. There are ten other things that I’d rather read or listen to. So that’s how the whole tone of voice came in. After eight hours of reading insurance news you have to develop a sense of humor in order to get through the day.

A previous version of Coverager, it was called Insurance Entertainment wasn’t it?

SBH: Yeah. I’m so bad with names. That was my idea before Avi joined. I was starting out, nobody really knew who I was and I needed to make a splash. So insurance entertainment was exactly that. And I remember some people would approach me and say, “Are you selling insurance in the entertainment industry?” I said, “No, not quite.” But I kept on and it was shortened to IE and I think originally it was black and pink because I thought I would attract a female audience. That didn’t happen. Avi came to the rescue and came up the name, which in the beginning I didn’t even like, because I thought, “What’s Coverager? It’s a made-up word.” But worked so well.

ABH: We are the only insurance newsletter in the world—or insurance news website—that is one name.

SBH: According to our research.

ABH: I mean you have Insurance Journal, the Insurance Insider, Insurance Thought Leadership, the Digital Insurer, Insurtech News. Show me another insurance news site with one name.

SBH: Coverager.

There you go. It sounds like you’re getting pitches from PR firms and I imagine you’ve also got a number of places where you’re seeking out information. How do you know what’s relevant? Or how do you decide that today we’re going to focus on this, this and this? Versus, we might hold on to that; I feel like that’s going to develop into something. How are you making those editorial decisions?

SBH: It’s part order and part madness. The madness is that we’re all over the place. We like to touch everything. We review absolutely every website. We go through different online forums for indications something new is coming. But we also have a database and there is a methodology. We know who’s emerging. We know companies that we haven’t written about in six months, although we feel that there is supposed to be activity.

I think all that leads to this daily email. We feel the market, people talk to us. That’s one area. And then the second, we still have a list of 500 companies or whatnot that we go through once a week to make sure we still have our hands on the pulse. We are really hands-on.

It’s such a simple answer—and this is probably the second-most asked question that we get after, ”Are you married?” But the answer is, it’s so hard to do because it takes a lot of time to go through these websites. But that’s how we find out if somebody has been inactive, because insurers will not say, “I gave up on this initiative.” It’s one thing to launch a PR campaign when you’re successful, but there isn’t that same transparency when something hasn’t worked.

We’re not here to say, “Oh, you failed. Boo.” No, we’re here to educate. Don’t go that route because everything is so new. I mean three years ago, it was all about customer expectations, insurance engagement. Now we’re a lot smarter about these things because we’re seeing well, it’s not really working. So what can we do?

Coverager is about the opportunity, who you should partner with, what should be your mindset. When has insurtech delivered and which insurtechs do you need to look beyond? It’s all these things we want to be on top of.

ABH: Shefi mentioned madness. Today was a great example, because today Haven Life announced a partnership with a start-up by the name of Timeshifter. It’s an app that helps defeat jetlag. It tells you exactly what to do: when to close your eyes, when to expose yourself to light.

A few months ago we came across Timeshifter and said, “How is this relevant to insurance?” We wrote about it because we thought it would be a great partner for a travel insurance company or a policyholder perk. And today, three months later, Haven Life announces a partnership.

Yes, insurance is important but we’re really living in a world where industries are coming together and companies are going way beyond their core offerings, and we think insurance companies should do the same. And Haven Life made that a reality today. So we’re happy to see that the things we write about, people agree with and do something about it.

SBH: And that too has been the evolution of Coverager, because traditionally we were all about pure insurance news. When we started to see that insurance news is kind of repeating itself—it’s not offering the value that we think it should—we started to expand.

I remember it was a big conversation for us, because we don’t want to be everything to everyone. That’s not the role that we want to play. We understand insurance; we want to deliver value to insurance professionals.

What we’re doing now is basically covering the world for insurance professionals. We thought that maybe some subscribers would turn away because they’re so used to insurance being delivered in silos: insurance for life, insurance for claims, insurance for P&C, and all of a sudden we’re covering something else. They’re not turning away, they’re actually embracing it. So I think it shows the evolution of the industry as well.

Are you able to comment a typical reader of your newsletter?

ABH: We reach carriers, so insurers, reinsurers, start-ups, VCs, technology companies. For start-ups we typically reach the founders. When it comes to insurers, we’ll reach C- level, from CEO to COO, CIO, CMO. To get an email for insurance Monday through Friday at 8 p.m. and to open it, you really need to care about what you do and you really need to be a person that is willing to learn more.

These are the people that actually care and lead their companies, and are here to find the next answer, or the next partner, or the next investment, whatever it is. So we reach a nice group of people.

One thing that I appreciate about Coverager is that it hits the sweet spot between very topical stuff, as well as longer-form pieces where you really dig into something. More often than not you say, “Hey, the emperor has no clothes.” I still remember a piece from 2017 that said “Insurtech is not well,” and I was impressed by that because I don’t think a lot of people were saying that at the time.

Can you talk a little bit about that balance between timely news and deep think pieces?

SBH: If the email takes a long time to write, these thought leadership pieces… I think Avi’s latest piece about Root was probably three or four weeks of research, waiting for comments and making sure that your gut feeling is as you think it is.

ABH: I also had to learn about baseball, which I knew nothing about. So that was really the hardest part. Baseball. Which I still do not understand.

SBH: There are no rules with what Coverager will put out. It’s just a matter of timely, relevant content. So if something happened and we have an opinion about it, then we will share it. We’re not here to share an opinion that’s necessarily different from the crowd, but an objective opinion. So there’s no agenda. We don’t have this one big sponsor or an insurer that pings us so we’re afraid to say what we really feel. By now we’ve earned our respect in terms of people understanding this is just our professional opinion.

Insurtech is Not Well should have been a red flag to folks at the time because it talked about how insurtechs were promising to be direct-to-consumer and consumer-facing. It was so easy for some to just go B2C and then B2B2C because you know what, “Maybe I can sell my platform to an insurer. The insurer already has scale.” Well, it doesn’t work that way. Typically with companies, if they have to please more than one audience, it just makes it harder to be successful. So we see our role as calling out what feels wrong—or maybe there is proof that is wrong—because we cover it on a daily basis. And obviously we come across a lot of failures. We don’t want to be an echo chamber; I mean, where’s the value in that?

ABH: For example, some of our readers could be from start-ups that are trying to raise money, and some of them could be agents that everybody’s saying are going to be replaced in a few years. If you think of a lot of insurtech start-ups, they’re basically agencies with fancy websites. And to see all this money going into very few companies, sometimes as an agent you could doubt yourself. Maybe you think, “I don’t have a place anymore,” or maybe, “My time has come to an end,” but it’s really not true because a lot of it is bells and whistles.

And a lot of people have entered the insurance space and not with bad intentions––definitely not. But I think they underestimated how difficult it is to get people excited about insurance. There is a reason why we’ve seen disruption in ride-sharing, why we’ve seen Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, Netflix, Amazon––all of these products and services are things people use frequently.

Insurance is not the same thing. People do not use insurance; it’s not a product that was meant to be used. So you can be the coolest, hip start-up and you’ll have a problem because the consumer is saying, “Okay, well so what? I don’t know who my insurance company is but I’m not interested in yours.”

We’re seeing that now and we always want say, “They raised a lot of money, but they’re not living up to their potential or what they promised that they would do.” Because as Shefi said in the beginning, everybody can put a nice PR for a cool launch or a new product, but when the bad stuff happens, people are silent.

We want to say, “Well this happened and it’s okay. People fail, and they move on and they get better.” So you can feel better about yourself, whether you are a start-up founder that has a hard time pushing forward, or you are an agent, or you are an insurance company that secretly did a project and it completely failed, and you’re like, “Oh boy, was it just me?” No, it wasn’t just you. There are other people that are going through the same things.

That’s a great point. Thanks to both of you for making the time to speak with me.

SBH: Thank you.

Summary

  • Each weekday at 8pm Eastern time, the Coverager newsletter lands in the inboxes of its subscribers, which includes C-suite leaders within incumbents, insurtech founders and other key industry players.
  • Coverager’s expansion outside insurance-specific coverage—to highlight related products, for example—has been well-received by readers and is indicative of the industry’s appetite to expand outside traditional services.
  • Coverager’s long-form pieces are intended to shed light on industry trends or company spin that warrants a closer look.

For more guidance on how insurers are adapting to market conditions:

Tune in next time as Shefi and Avi talk about shifts in customer behaviors, the rise of the modern insurance consumer—and how incumbents can respond. In the meantime, you can catch up with previous podcast episodes here.

What to do next:

Contact us if you’d like to be a guest on the Insurance Influencers podcast.

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