Electronic Chat with Martin Burlingame
Laura Mazzuca Toops | October 18, 2019
Martin Burlingame is CEO at Commercial Insurance Group LLC dba Bigfoot Insurance, an MGA and program administrator supporting underwriters and independent insurance agents. Based in Colorado Springs, Bigfoot specializes in niche markets including contractors and other hard-to-place risks.
How did you first get into the insurance business?
I was in the high-tech industry when the market collapsed in the early 2000s. I did a self-assessment and determined that I was best suited for real estate or insurance and I decided I wanted my weekends free!
You have had an interesting career: from the U.S. Army, independent insurance agent, and tech guy. How has each of these jobs influenced your current position?
My time in the army helped me develop the ability to delegate and to prioritize tasks. This has served me well as I moved into insurance and handling the new technology applications that we develop. Success is about being able to focus on what makes money and can be achieved within the established time frame.
What do you enjoy most about working with specialty lines insurance?
Every day is different. We’ve had days where we get shrimp farms, explosive factories, weird products, and the homes of movie stars -- each one unique and requiring a different thought process.
What do you predict will be the biggest insurtech trend affecting the property/casualty insurance industry over the next few years?
The implementation of gig economy products across the entire insurance ecosystem. We’ve launched multiple insurtech products to handle the gig economy and they gain traction quickly as people become early adopters
What are the trends outside of the insurance industry that will have the biggest impact on your business – e.g., the growth of medical marijuana, growth of Airbnb-type gig economy, booms and busts in construction, blowback on e-cigarettes, etc.?
Marijuana continues to be the driving force for insurance change. It’s a new product which forces the creation of new forms, exclusions, applications, and types of insurance. Booms and busts will continue and the e-cigarette market remains hard to insure but marijuana, CBD, and hemp continue to explode. Agents have to be able to insure bakeries, candy manufacturers, lotions and oils manufacturers, grow facilities and all kinds of new uses for these products.
I love the name Bigfoot. Any special significance to the cryptid reference?
We handle hard-to-place policies with hair on them. If you are having issues finding a carrier we can help!
The imminent demise of the independent insurance agent has been predicted – wrongly – for years. However, between M&A and shifts in the industry, it is true that the number of independent agents has been dwindling for awhile. How can independent agents use insurtech to thrive in today’s challenging environment?
Everything is about speed to market. We’re in discussions with multiple market segments about innovative ways to provide insurance to their product distribution models. This requires nimble, independent insurance agents who can handle complex problems and adapt quickly. For example, we had our tiny home program up and running within 90 days of Identifying a need. Larger agencies could not pivot that fast, and captive agents could not bring the carrier selection to help address the problem.
What do you enjoy doing outside of insurance? Any special hobbies or activities?
I love to travel, cook and run. I’ve got two kids in high school/college and we’re active with Young Life and our church. This year we are hosting a Polish exchange student and we spend most days of the week shuttling between kids’ games, events, and activities.
Talent retention and recruitment has traditionally been an issue for the insurance industry. What is your company doing in this area?
We offer a competitive benefits package with a salary range that is in the top 25% locally. We’re constantly exploring the addition of new benefits to help recruit and retain new employees. Over 50% of our team is millennials, so we have added remote offices, work-from-home, pet adoption time off, and most recently we’re looking at enabling employees to use vacation time to pay off student loans. We do quarterly fund raisers (I pick one quarter and each team picks another quarter) – we’ve done breast cancer, school books, clothing drives, and had an axe throwing contest (at pictures of the senior leadership) to raise money for back-to-school backpacks. We also do monthly pot lucks to bring everyone together and the company pays for licensing and certification.
Any words of wisdom to industry newcomers?
We’re in a fun industry where everything is changing. Be able to go with the flow and adapt. Always review your quarterly expenses and income and focus on what makes you money. Most importantly, the new shiny object is not always the best thing to focus your time on.
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The Email Chat is a regular feature of the ITA Pro magazine and website. We send a series of questions to an insurance IT leader in search of thought-provoking responses on important issues facing the insurance industry.
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