“One of the biggest changes is we’ve graduated from what we could call Main Street small insurance agencies … to two different types of customers,” said Ascend co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Winn (pictured).
Much larger insurance agencies – among the 100 biggest US agencies and brokerages, have signed on as new customers, Winn said. The startup is also selling now to carriers and wholesalers, who collect payments in lieu of the agents. In addition, Ascend has hired more people (staffing is now at 20) and is following a longer-term integration strategy.
The technology investment downturn hasn’t directly impacted Ascend because it secured significant funding and hasn’t needed to raise new financing, according to Winn.
“We have years and years of capital and are getting more efficient every month,” he said.
Still, the company has pivoted a bit in response to the changing investment market.
“We have noticed the winds changing and have reacted accordingly. We slowed down hiring and have been really deliberate about our cost of growth,” Winn explained. “We work to drive efficiency in our growth that we may not have done otherwise.”
Winn said the company would push for efficiency and level-headed spending anyway, but market conditions are “a good reminder to be sage with the funds we have.”
Strategy = integrations
Typically, agencies rely on agency management systems and carriers use policy administration systems. According to Winn, Ascend is targeting both potential customer bases by integrating into both system types.
“We’ve spent a significant amount of time working to integrate with various existing software [systems] that are off the shelf,” Winn said. “We have a bunch of those as well as [many] specific bespoke integrations on a one-off customer basis.”
The longer-term goal here, Winn said, is to “productize” as many integrations as possible so they can be off the shelf. By doing so, Winn said, the process becomes fairly easy.
“If you work with XYZ software company, we already have the building blocks needed and we can typically do a little bit of configuration to your workflow. Every business is specific, and we wouldn’t want to be making [a client] conform to the way we’ve built it,” Winn said. “But we have the vast majority of the building blocks in place.”
If that’s not the case, and a client has a custom system, Ascend relies on open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to help build more elaborate integrations.
“We have completely open APIs – very good API documentation – sandboxes where we can together build this integration,” Winn said.
Existing tools, short integrations
Ascend doubles down on the idea that agent and carrier clients should use their existing management systems with the company’s software causing as little process change as possible. The idea is that both should work in tandem easily.
“We want them to use the existing tools that they know how to use … so they can see tech is not an enabler,” Winn said. “To minimize the effort needed [in using] a tool like Ascend is critical so they can focus on their [insurance] business. That’s why we integrate into their systems.”
Integration times can vary, ranging from just minutes to at least a few weeks, depending on whether clients choose an off-the-shelf or custom option.
“If you use one of the off-the-shelf integrations – which we have with [agency management systems], you can get started and actually start using the integration in as little as 10 minutes,” Winn explained.
Bespoke integrations can take longer.
“We’ve had some clients do their own custom integrations in as little as a week, but more typically it’s six to eight weeks,” Winn said.
Heading into the end of 2022, Winn said that integrations are key to Ascend’s strategy of “meeting our customers where they are.”
While Ascend has primarily focused on agency management systems, it is expanding further into integrating with policy administration systems that carriers use.
Ascend also plans to build its agency management system integrations even more, to be integrated with a large number of the off-the-shelf options by year end.