Keough runs a 90-year-old independent insurance business and industry player with more than 1,000 employees and more than $260 million in annual revenue. The Iowa-based company serves business and industry leaders nationwide in areas including personal injury insurance, workers’ compensation, casualty insurance, risk management and loss control.
For more than a decade as chairman and CEO, Keough has used his position to help expand Holmes Murphy’s embrace of technology and innovations that bring new ideas to the table.
Three years ago, Keough and Holmes Murphy co-founded BrokerTech Ventures (BTV), a broker-centric insurtech startup incubator that also supports seed funding and startup opportunities for brokers, dealers, and carriers. M3 Insurance was a founding partner of BTV, which now includes 15 top insurance companies, 14 global insurance carriers and 48 retail and insurtech startups, including many who have passed through BTV’s annual program. BTV has also expanded its broadcast programs to Israel and Latin America.
‘The lens of the client’
Holmes Murphy and M3 founded BTV with the idea of empowering insurance businesses to “enable technology to get insurance,” Keough said. He also said that brokers are a logical tool to help identify new technologies that can help many companies.
“As insurance brokers are the lens of the customer, our understanding of our customers and their risks and their services. [and] our relationships with insurance companies may be poised to help these technology companies make connections, provide proof of concept and accelerate their success through our network,” said Keough.
BTV helps select startups through what Keough calls five pillars. There is an annual acceleration program; opportunity to start investing; focus on innovation through conferences and programs, fundraising; and the ability to use social media.
Dealing with needs
Instead of leading Holmes Murphy, Keough explained that he focuses on making sure that the customer’s needs are met, and the technical preferences flow from there.
“My job is to make sure that our company has the opportunity to provide solutions to our customers,” he said. “They want to be, obviously, informed about the risks they have and try to do everything they can to avoid them, and a risk management company looks outside the box to bring solutions to our customers.”
The same philosophy applies to BTV, identifying insurtech and other startups that will help Holmes Murphy and the industry work better for their clients.
“We’re trying to take what we learn and apply it to our businesses, but we’re also trying to help find things that we believe will help all of our businesses and improve our business. [them] forward,” Keough said.
Holmes Murphy grew other startups before helping launch BTV, which Keough said gives the company a reputation for innovation and large-scale initiatives that can impact cultural change at a company.
“For our firm at Holmes Murphy, we got people at the customer service desk to start thinking about [the idea that] maybe there’s a better way than what we’re doing,” Keough said. “The change in mindset is very helpful in how we serve customers.”
A new cycle
Some industry experts say that the insurance industry has made great strides in technology. In Keough’s view, the industry is slow to adopt new technology and may be just getting started with what it will achieve in the digital age.
“Technologists, entrepreneurs believe that we are on the cusp of innovation, so there can be a lot of efficiency. [and] … more technologies that are expected to grow in the market,” Keough said.
Technologies that help improve the customer experience are worth following closely as companies move forward, he said.
“We continue to see technological advancements that make our customers more prosperous and seamless. What we’re most excited about are the solutions that identify our customers’ risks sooner and lower their costs faster,” said Keough.
An example of this, he said, would be technology that helps keep workers’ benefits or property/casualty insurance coverage exclusive to Holmes Murphy’s employees and customers.
“The technologies used to achieve this are diverse and constantly evolving,” he said.
In the near future, Keough hopes to focus more on integrating technology to work better in tandem, especially when it comes to data.
“In the future, you’re going to have open data, which our customers can easily access,” Keough said. “You’ll see free information that can be used in a variety of ways.”