Meet Robby Burton, Owner of Burton & Company. He’s one of the foundering members and pilot agencies of b atomic. In this episode, he’ll share his vision for the future of the independent agency and some key insights he’s already achieved through Neon.
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Robby Burton 0:00
Yeah, it’s a good segue into this conversation today that you talked about the people, right? Yes. Because, you know, everything, everything about what we’re doing involves technology. But I think in the end, what makes us different is the fact that we’re fully integrating people into it. And to talk about some of the challenges of the big systems that are out there in the world. And to overcome that hurdle of like, fully incorporating and adopting, getting into daily life requires, you know, human interaction, right. And so far, like our systems, especially in insurance, they don’t, right. They don’t take that extra step. Yeah.
Syd Roe 0:51
What when you say
Syd Roe 0:54
bringing in more of that human piece like What do you what do you mean exactly? by that? I mean, because I think when a lot of people hear the word technology or new tech stack or, you know, tool or whatever agency management system, then, you know, it’s automatically like, well, what happens to the agent? You know, where’s the agents value if technology is coming in and doing my work for me? Like, I
Robby Burton 1:27
think that’s, that’s like 100% valid fear, right? It’s a concern, it should be on everybody’s mind. Because, you know, if we don’t do this, it’s gonna be done to us. I think there’s, you know, I think everybody understands that to some degree. So when, you know, when I think of, you know, what does it mean that we’re plugging sort of people into the system. It’s almost like a complete inversion of the sort of pyramid or distribution of data. You know, instead of collecting data from, you know, hundreds of millions of inputs and How to get all flow through one central point and then get redistributed. You know, this is more of a shared network, where, you know, not only is it appropriate for insurance, but you know, sort of any independent distribution system, whether that be you know, dealerships or franchises or agencies or whatever you want to call it, you know, any independent distribution network can if they choose to share and do it in a smart way, you know, then can offer the same type of convenience systems that the Big Data houses, you know, bring into our lives. So that’s what I mean by excuse me by bringing in and incorporating humans into the into the equation is that, you know, if it’s decentralized, then you know, the way to access the system and access the convenience is the deal with your local professional. Yeah.
Syd Roe 2:58
I saw the video I published yesterday. It was interesting. I had a couple people reach out. And I guess I just assumed that everybody understood this, and I shouldn’t have. But the video was, you know why agents should own their data? And the assumption is that they don’t currently, that was my assumption, everybody knows that they don’t currently own their data. Why is it that that agents don’t know that? They don’t currently own their data?
Robby Burton 3:32
Yeah, I think maybe this is maybe this is a different perspective. Um, I think sort of ends up in the same place is that, you know, of course, I own the rights to the data in my own agency, right. But no, because we are an independent network. None of us by ourselves, have the mass to utilize it in a big way. Right. So you know, I can’t you know, I have 15,000 policies on the books that burden a company, that’s t not enough instances, to draw insight on a large level, right. So I can’t bring based on my own data sets, you know, this sort of broad convenience to my customers, you know, integrated into smartphones, and, you know, IoT, and all the things we know are coming down the road or that are already here. But I can’t do that with 15,000 policies. So, you know, yeah, I own my data, but I also give license to my vendors to use it. So they own it in aggregate, they don’t own it, but they, they have rights to it in aggregate, which is, you know, entirely more powerful. So, the difference in utilization and ownership would be, I guess, the switch there is that if we agreed to own it together in aggregate and utilize it together, then it becomes a powerful tool, as opposed to just a small piece of the puzzle.
Syd Roe 4:57
I want to step back for a second by the way I really appreciate that. You laying that out, because and that’s a whole another video I gotta make because if I, if I have that many people asking me about it it’s clearly a misunderstood, you know, piece of the industry, the fact that I mean, I guess, when you hear something like, you know, Google coming into the space, and they’ve already tried to come into the insurance space before, they’ve tried to build a couple years ago, they tried to build a comparative Raider with Google compare. And they modeled it off of what they had built over in Europe, and assumed that because they got it to work in Europe, that they could get it to work in America, and then quickly realized that that was not the case, because the systems work so differently, and, you know, had they hadn’t built out the relationships with all the different players here. So that was one piece of it. And then the other piece was that they were finding that consumers While they would get the information and empower themselves through Google compare, they weren’t fully utilizing the tool they would stop before, you know, binding. Because they, with Google compare some of the care, they did have a relationship with some smaller carriers where they could go, quote, to bind completely on the platform. And the most of the time that consumers weren’t actually doing that they would want to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, which we already know. So, you know, they’ve already tried to come in through that space. And then the other piece of it, you know, was obviously they were killing their, they were cannibalizing their advertising sales. So insurance in terms of you look at the landscape of PPC insurance spends a ton of money on, you know, paid advertising on Google. So if now they’ve created a product that isn’t being fully utilized. There now. They’re using real estate that, you know, opportunity cost could have been paid for by some insurance carrier or broker or, you know, agent. They’re kind of shooting themselves in the foot there in terms of revenue. So they got out of it. And then, of course, though, tried to find a way back in and we found, you know, find out that they’re coming in through the tech space, which is just so smart. And we don’t know the details of that, right. I mean, I, I haven’t sat down with Google executives and said, Hey, what’s going on? Why exactly did you guys partner with this technology company? But you know, there’s always guesses and one of my, one of my curiosities is, I wonder if there’s some sort of data sharing going on there. Because we all know that Google is one of the most knowledgeable platforms on the planet, right besides Facebook and Amazon. They just know so much because of all the answers. information they collect. So why wouldn’t they want to, you know, enter the insurance space through that, through that same way? I think
Robby Burton 8:09
I think that’s important. I mean, you know, let’s just assume that everybody what everybody’s doing the right thing, and exactly what they say they’re going to do and not do. And that there’s no sharing going on with any of the large data, corporations, you know, like the big thing, the big four data companies out there in the world, that there’s no pass back and forth from our vendors to them at this moment. But, you know, we’re one check away from that being a reality at any point in time. And even to maybe take it a step further, you know, what we’re talking about is transferring risk, right? Just in general across the board. And, you know, the race is on for a company that collects behavioral data, and just fully integrated systems data, you know, because like, you know, To your point, your video, all of the data that we all are creating all day long every day. Right? And that, that data is not built right now into risk profiling, pricing, and in the business of transferring that risk, but it will be, right. And so, you know, I would, I would argue the race is on right now today to take our traditional, you know, risk profiling information, integrate that with all of the digital information that’s available to us in the world, and then start to change the way it’s distributed. So, you know, when you talk about neon, maybe that’s really at the core of what we’re doing is that we’re, we’re incorporating and integrating all of the data that’s now available to us in a variety of ways into those same risk profiles for each and every, you know, consumer out there that needs to protect their home or their business or whatever and start that build those models out in a smart way. Because that delivery system, you know, surely think 1010 years down the road. I mean, if there’s data available, and you can charge, you know, charge less money and make more money, somebody’s going to do it. Right, the system will continue to get better one way or another. You know, so for me, it’s like really exciting to think that you could take, you know, insurance agents, which you wouldn’t expect to be on the, on the front edge of this necessarily, and say, you know, what, we can build a system that empowers local professionals in any industry. In two, we can start to collect and merge these different forms of data and create a better way to transfer risk for our customers, right. And those are, those are big things that we’re trying to do, right. But there’s nobody in a better position that I could think of to do it.
Syd Roe 10:58
So and I love it. So I watched a
Syd Roe 11:02
webinar that Salesforce gave with a company an insurance agency called goose head insurance, which they’re utilizing the Salesforce platform as well inside their agency. And they’ve, they have a franchise, they’ve got like 400 locations. Now they’ve been around for like, I think 11 or 12 years, but their big. You know, focus is technology, technology, technology, efficiency, speed,
Syd Roe 11:28
you know, targeting etc.
Syd Roe 11:32
What went on during the webinar, one of the things they talked about where the different areas that the different reasons that carriers cared about artificial intelligence and machine learning, I mean, as you’re building out, because I know you’ve done a lot of work internally, to help build out pieces of neon. And as you’re talking with your carriers, what are the things that they’re most interested in like, when you You bring up neon or you don’t need them to do certain things. What are they? What are they? What are they shy away from? What are they like really interested in?
Robby Burton 12:09
All of us have our strengths and weaknesses, right? And so for me, I hope what I bring to the table is like, there’s some understanding of the bigger forces at play here. And then the willingness to get in the trenches and actually fill this stuff out and stuff and digitize all of the logic of an insurance agency records a lot of work that has to be done, when it comes to applications of your use cases applied to our relationships and making those better. Um, you know, every time I think about it, I think I’m like 10 steps behind Seth, because I think that is one of his gifts, no question. But you know, and so we’ve kind of let him take the lead in that department. But, you know, we love building out. I’ll give you an example. from last week. We built out some reporting from the behavior data inside of our own agency to say, you know, Kurt, if you slice it by carrier, how often? And how, and how for how long are we touching the policies for each carrier. And then you can compare that to revenue, and sort of get a different cost perspective. And a different way to analyze your relationship. That was, you know, this was one carrier pays you more than another doesn’t necessarily mean you make more money off of that book of business, but we don’t really know those things, right. And those are, those are things that are becoming apparent as time goes on for us.
Syd Roe 13:35
So what you’re saying is essentially, you could have a higher commission from one carrier, but because the weight of servicing responsibility is greater, the margins are lower.
Robby Burton 13:49
And we don’t know those things, right. Yeah,
Syd Roe 13:51
right. Right. So the mission isn’t just me. Yeah.
Robby Burton 13:58
Syd Roe 14:01
I’m more interested in what you have to say. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Robby Burton 14:05
No, you hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly it. Right. So when we go to analyze our margins and make business decisions, right, that intelligence is, is something that the amount and the type of intelligence is wholly new to us. So, you know, we can sit around for hours and hours, hours a days and think about all the ways this could affect our relationships with our carriers. Because it’s boneless, right? It truly is endless, but all of them sort of speak to the same thing, and that is absolute transparency. You know, there’s going to be fear on both sides. That right, where, you know, the transparency will scare the carriers to a certain extent. But I’ll tell you right now that it scares me too, right? Because everything we do will be laid out for them to see. There’ll be no there’s no place for closely held information with these types of systems, right. So you know, but with long alongside that fear does come You know, the opportunity, share and get better is something that’s so new and so excited?
Syd Roe 15:04
Yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve noticed about, you know, not just Seth, but the whole pilot group that this is a group of people who isn’t, we’re not doing this to point fingers. Right. I mean, Seth told me about a meeting he had with his a couple carriers, you know, two or three weeks ago, that was a very transparent and honest conversation and could have gone not so great, because he was, you know, making transparent some issues that he was having with some with certain carriers, but it was all done in the spirit of look, you know, if we’re causing if there’s some friction at some point in the ecosystem, you know, whoever it’s coming from, it affects all of us, because ultimately, it affects the customer. And let’s figure out how to remove that friction, right. And so it’s Almost like, you’ve really got to get into this, like team mentality and not well, because of the name above the door, you know that the name of the doors who I work for, and not the person walking in the door? And it’s like you got to refocus on who’s, you know, if there’s friction. How is that, whether it’s coming from me or somebody else? You know, how is that affecting everyone else? And how do we just fix it? Right? How do we move forward so that we can all you know, better serve our customers and make more money?
Robby Burton 16:34
All the way or do we need to pay attention to this and work it out? Maybe identify issues that were we didn’t know that were even there, right. You know, there’s lots of information that’s a great process and, and that’s a perfect guiding principle, right? if we maintain one of our guiding principles is what’s best for the consumer. And that that will always steer us in the right direction. And I would offer another one too, is that you know, we have to make Tina Hi, always on what we’re doing on true evolution. Right? So if we’re always 100% on the same page that what we’re doing is truly evolving our industry. And you don’t have to worry about the reward or exactly knowing everything before you get to the end. Right. You just, you know, we know we’re in the right place, if we’re taking the steps to evolve us in such a way that we do a better job. Yeah,
Syd Roe 17:25
Robby Burton 17:27
So where that goes with AI for carriers? I mean, I’m not the guy to ask. I mean, I know that as we start to integrate all this behavioral data, that they’re gonna want it, why wouldn’t I want it, you want it? They want it, everybody’s going to need to do it. So if we can, if we can help get them a little bit closer to that finish line and integrate some of that data, that data into their risk modeling, then they’ll get better. But the details of that I’m not I’m not your guy. I’m not I’m not an artificial intelligence expert, by any means.
Syd Roe 17:57
Well, let me ask then about your journey internally then with, you know, with your team and at your agency. When did you guys start thinking, like you do now. And if it’s always been that way, I mean, a holy crap, you’re amazing. But I would love to know what that journey was like if there was a shift mentally. And then you know, also, once the shift happened if there was one, like what was it difficult to start, you know, piecing this stuff together and thinking through it and building it out.
Robby Burton 18:37
been that way we were we were extremely traditional, up until 2005 versus 1891. We, you know, we’re good agency of good people a good place to work. We were forced to get out of our comfort zone a little bit because of economic conditions in our area, Southside Virginia, so Sort of notorious for, you know, industry leading posts in the post NAFTA area, right. So we’re left with a lot of displaced workforce and different economic issues. So we branched out through acquisitions and probably spent about 10 years or so from say, oh, five to 15, kind of in that mode and learning how to do that well and growing that way, and we did a hopefully a decent job of that. So a more of a regional presence now, I took over in 2015. And this one from one of our first conversations, but when I took over, it was a, you know, a way different mentality for me, I was concerned on the service things inside of the business and then and then when, you know, when they, you know, Bob handed me the keys, so to speak. You know, I went out and just read everything I could read in 2015. I mean, if that was the first time you later read a lot of trade information in the trade magazines, it was like the end And he channel was going away in a few weeks. And it scared me to death, right? Everything was about disruption about it sure tech is gonna swallow this whole. So for me, it switched in 2015, we got real serious about looking at our options and, and we’ve been on that journey ever since we went into the Salesforce environment in 2017. You know, and so we decided to sort of break off from the pack, and do our own thing and try to be part of, you know, part of something different and part of the solution that you know, that, like I said, would truly evolve what we’re doing.
Robby Burton 20:38
Here we are.
Syd Roe 20:39
So you met Seth, after you went, you started moving down this path, right, because I remember one of our first conversations you were explaining how he had sort of really concentrated on more the front end piece of neon and you were really focused on more of the back end piece and then you guys met and it was like, wherever you All my life
Syd Roe 21:02
like peanut butter and jelly, I
Robby Burton 21:03
I don’t want to have to learn all the things you’ve learned and I’m sure they don’t want to have to do all this stuff. So, you know, let’s not do that and let’s just get it that’s what we’ve done and that’s, you know, the coolest part of this group is that everyone I’ve talked to not just staff not just me not just you everybody if they have something that would help you with no strings attached and so yeah, I mean, when I went it was it was it elevate right in 2018 I heard SSP met him the next morning.
Robby Burton 21:36
And you know, we’ve been on this mission ever since.
Syd Roe 21:39
I love to hear that elevate was a was kind of like the, you know, the thing that got you guys together that just that makes me really happy to hear. I want to make sure you heard me and I’m going to tell you what I said.
Robby Burton 21:53
Okay, so on the notes of what I said, Hey, man, you left my brains on the floor. No, I need I need to know more about what you’re doing. Yeah. I just had to get his attention, right. Lots of people talking. I got