Paul Tyler

Meet the CMO of Nassau Re – housed in the iconic Boat Building in downtown Hartford – as he talks about what it takes to run a small, customer-centric, startup-shaped team inside a big insurance company.


Paul talks about several organizations in his interview. Here are links to those items of interest:  


KATIE LUKAS 1:08 This is Katie Lukas, I'm talking to you from Cronin for the CTX podcast. On this episode, we will be featuring the CMO of Nassau Re, who is Paul Tyler. And he's coming to us to talk about some really interesting ways that they have created a bit of a startup culture within a larger organization and how that plays out in the insurance sector, which is pretty important here in the heart of Connecticut. So Paul, could you introduce yourself and give us a little bit of background?

PAUL TYLER 2:16 Yeah, certainly, Katie. And so it's a pleasure to be here. I am the Chief Marketing Officer for Nassau Re and I've been here in the Hartford area for I guess a little over two years now. And it's a complex story we're trying to tell – the story inside of the story is, Nassau Re really is what we describe to people as 165 year old startup. We started – the company was launched in 2015, I actually work with some of the founders at a previous company, they saw tremendous change taking place in the insurance space and saw that there were a number of companies with very storied histories that had a chance to be you know, hopefully great again, right? So they put a fund together and acquired Phoenix and then a couple of companies down on Constitution. Phoenix is really the flagship organization where most of our talent has come from and really provided us with a platform for growth.

KATIE LUKAS 3:24 That's fantastic. And when we talked previously you told me a little bit about how you have a small team working within this this organization. I'd love to hear you talk about how you're able to integrate customer feedback using that small, nimble team and sort of what your philosophy is on how you're responding to market needs and customer needs and customer journeys.

PAUL TYLER 3:48 Certainly I would say turning around insurance company is not for the faint of heart. The insurance businesses is hard enough as it is and once a carrier ends up in a little bit of difficulty, it takes a lot of time to fix some of the basic things - the balance sheet, the operations, the expense, the cost structure — and you know we have a really good group of people doing that. Up until maybe the last six months I really was one of the few people thinking about what the future might look like. It's an interesting organization – the chief marketing officer is one of those few people who will kind of live on the edge you have to look forward — there's not much not much behind you to work with, so it's exhilarating but it's also scary a little bit. And what we've had to do is really build a sort of a new brand, a new connection with existing agents, existing policyholders as efficiently and cost effectively as we possibly can. So, really had to approach this as though we're really running a startup organization. Which is exciting, I think, for people who are in the insurance space. When I talked to my colleagues, and they hear what we're doing, they say, "I wish I could be doing this!" I tell them well, be careful what you wish for. Because I think, it's been a little bit of pull, some people in from the outside who are very good, but then also find talent—sort of hidden gems inside the organization, people who really have just been waiting for that opportunity to step up. And maybe they have some skills and areas that had nothing to do with their day job, but we can pull them into working on some of the newer projects.

KATIE LUKAS 5:42 So let me touch on that a little bit. Because one of the things we hear in Connecticut is that workforce development can be challenging at times. We are smaller state, we're sandwiched between New York and Boston, and that can be a talent drain for us. So I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about how you do that, how you identify those people, or how you bring those people in when you need to?

PAUL TYLER 6:08 I think looking at Hartford — it really is a glass half empty or half full. Yeah, I mean, it is between Hartford it is between halfway between Boston and New York, which actually makes it in some ways is easier to get people to to come up, drive up, commute, potentially relocate to this area. We really have not had a hard time attracting great talent. Yeah, and I want to say that across the company. A lot of the core functions. I think the strength Hartford has is we've actually got a lot of deep insurance expertise here. I've worked in the Boston Market and if I sort of sit back and look my insurance career has been in the Boston area, New York, Maryland, DC and the Des Moines area.

KATIE LUKAS 7:00 [So that's all over]

PAUL TYLER 7:01 Yeah - Des Moines is an interesting compare and contrast—there are a lot of similarities with Des Moines where I think we all benefit from the fact that there are a lot of people here who know what an actuary is and does. Understands what the filing process is for the product. I think that probably the biggest gaps are some of those gaps that you're filling for a lot of companies, which is — is digital, right? I think the whole technology environments change so quickly the way consumers are coming, that if you're kind of sitting here in Harford, you're saying, well, I want to hire somebody to do digital marketing. I want to do this and—why aren't they just streaming in? I think this is sort of happening in a lot of different markets. If you're not, don't happen to be in Silicon Valley or Flatiron District in New York, and everybody's kind of faced with this challenge - Do you hire, bring somebody in train them in your industry, do you find somebody who's good knows the business and work with them to learn the process? I think that's the challenge I think we're all kind of facing here.

KATIE LUKAS 8:08 Yeah, I completely agree there. And there's also even a longer view which is—do you partner with educational institutions, do you partner with vocational organizations to start to develop that pipeline, but then you're looking at a result that's maybe 5 to 10 years down the line. So, it's definitely a complex question. And I'd also like to speak to that digital aspect, because your website is a very dynamic, living organism.

PAUL TYLER 8:37 Thank you!

KATIE LUKAS 8:37 From what we've heard, and what we've seen, so I'm really interested to hear how you operate on that scale, but that nimbly — and how you respond to customer demand and customer feedback and input, You are in an ocean liner, in many ways, and us speaking of righting the ship, but alongside that you have this little speed boat, that's really making some very nimble speedy moves. So, if you could speak to that a little bit, I think that would be fascinating.

PAUL TYLER 9:11 Yeah, sure. Sure. Just to sort of give you a little bit of the scale that we're operating right now, we currently have probably have 12 public websites running this point — not only for our insurance company, but smaller insurance companies and some of our subsidiaries. Yeah, we're probably doing at least I would say, two or three builds a week and pushing them out. The it's been exciting, it's been, it's, it's been fun. I think part of what we've able to do is when there is a necessity to be lean and do things quickly—people are willing to open their approach broadly. So of course, I have learned every time I go from — I got moved from a company I certainly try not to make the same mistakes. I'll make different ones! I think it was, what's worked with this one is—we took our time, you know, it may not seem like it, I think for some of my colleagues and to some other companies. But our first foray into digital is really just, we got to put up a face to the the community that looks modern, speaks to sort of the change that takes place. And to be able to sort of start working as quickly as we did we had to get the IT department to be exceptionally supportive, working on Amazon Web Services, to use a ton of open source tools and technologies [That can be a challenge.] Yes, you know, what's GitHub? What's a content distribution network? So we've really, we try to do it very smart, where we customize as little as we possibly can and adopt frameworks very systematically, that can be leveraged— if you look at our tech stack or our martech stack, you'd see a ton of open source frameworks. You'd kind of look at this thing and say, Okay, I get it, yes, we have Salesforce, we have some interesting marketing automation tools. But if you kind of dug beneath it — and this is kind of where, unfortunately, you kind of have to get the nitty gritty to do this — common CSS styling sheets, common build frameworks, RAM, and, a common code environment. So everybody's had to have two or three or four skills. I do marketing, but I've had to know a lot about code. The people who are doing a lot of the coding have got to understand where the marketing is. Now the feedback has been very quick and very fast. We've actively embraced surveys. [Fantastic. Yeah.] So, we have a contract with a company that does we — everyone who comes to a call center, survey them and you go to our website, you will see every one of our results: bad, good—mainly good, thankfully—response. So, trying to be a., transparent as we possibly can. And let people see if they give us feedback. We do make the changes. We've really involved a lot of people in the company to give us feedback around what didn't work. In that environment, what were the pain points, right. So a lot of listening internally, and then a lot of subtle listening, because as much as you'd like somebody to write a post to give you feedback—somebody says feedback is a gift, but you don't get them very often. And usually, it's somebody who's very angry. And maybe a third of the time, it's not really—it's not about us, it's more about them. So we've had to listen really carefully and really, kind of develop listening skills that are digital in nature. Where people go and how long on site, you know, site time, bounce rates, click through rates. I'm—this is all been very, very progressive? What are the key segments that people were looking for, as we sort of add more the marketing automation, you know, for the Katie of this world, are we engaging them this month better than we were last?

KATIE LUKAS 13:45 So, it sounds to me, and what's really interesting is that you've basically looked at building a platform, because you're talking across a range of areas here. You're talking about technologies, you're talking about individuals, you're talking about skill sets. So, you know, it really does seem like, whether planned or unplanned, this has become a platform for reacting to and acting on behalf of your customers. And that transparency aspect of it is a little bit special, also. It's not something you see much in an industry like insurance, it's not something you see much in anything in that kind of big business sector. So, I'd love to hear a little bit more about it. Was that challenging in your organization to push some of those efforts through? Did you have to break down barriers? Or was it just, "okay, I'm going to go ahead and do this."

PAUL TYLER 14:44 Yeah, Katie, it was step by step by step? I mean, as, you know, customer experience? It's not a three month project, right? It's like a three year march. And, trust me at the end of the three years you still have more work to do. Now I'll try to think of a story for you. I would say, first people were kind of incredulous that we'd want to do this. Why are we putting this up? Well, gotta explain why ratings and reviews actually matter more today than they ever did for insurance carriers. And I think managing through the fire drills—email goes off, and oh, my gosh, we got a one star rating. You know, I think the first one we got was probably two years ago, probably year and a half ago. And you would have thought the building was on fire! And I think if you're going to do something like this, you got to be able to take a deep breath and calm people down and work with this. So we had one go off. And this actually has happened a couple times, and now rather than the five alarm fire, it's normal, like a one. And then doesn't last. So this really was a false alarm, but yeah, the attorneys jump in and say, wait a second, we're going to respond in a giant letter and post this up and cease and desist, and, like, no.

KATIE LUKAS 16:17 The exact opposite of the right thing to do here.

PAUL TYLER 16:21 There's embarrassment on the service side, "oh I can't believe this happened!" I'm like, "it's okay. It's good, bad feedback is good, right?" Today, not only for our feedback. So it's been, it's been very interesting. I will tell you in the insurance space for years now—I can speak on the life and on the annuity side, it's different on the property and casualty side—you have a lot of clients there, but, if I'm an agent selling you insurance, and the first thing I'm trying to do—this is going back, I don't know, 50 years, right? The first thing I'm trying to do is pull out this metaphorical big, thick book from AM Best, pull out the ratings. Give you "this company is a triple A plus, minus, whatever. Yeah, let me flip to the back. And I'll explain to you what this means." And it's kind of astonishing, when you start to go direct to consumer, it's just people don't know what it is, right? You know, they're, they're more concerned about what, what they find on Yelp. So we're seeing some really quick changes in terms of perception, what a brand means to somebody,

KATIE LUKAS 17:33 Right? Completely different. And I love what you just said that, the bad feedback is good. It's like, you start to think of it as an individual, if you're a person, if you're a student at school, or if you're an employee; if you never get criticism, then how can you improve, there's no way to learn from those mistakes. And I think that, we're starting to see organizations that are better able to accept that, but it's still at the beginning of that change, we have organizations that don't want to be on social because they're afraid that they might get a negative comment posted about them. And we're like, yeah, you're going to get negative comments, that's just the nature of the beast, but it's how you react to that, that defines you as an organization, not whether or not somebody doesn't like you, because no matter who you are, there's going to be somebody out there that has something negative to say.

PAUL TYLER 18:28 So, Katie, what strategies have you found most effective in getting organization to accept this?

KATIE LUKAS 18:33 It's really a range. And I would say, those strategies tend to have to be specific to the organization. But sometimes we just try to get them to do a pilot and start to see—or even some offline user research or customer research, where we can bring people into an interview, for example, where we're talking to individual constituents, users, customers, that kind of thing. And so they can actually start to hear the nuances of the feedback, because it's not all just one star, five star, when you are able to process that input, you get a lot of really interesting, nuanced and subtle information that you're totally going to miss if you never talked to the customer, if you never listen. And so once organizations start to kind of twig to that, that having their ears open is actually going to mitigate risk, it's going to give them avenues into opportunities that they otherwise would not have, that tends to start to turn the ship around a little bit. But it's gradual, just as you said, it's not three months, it's three years or 13 years, or, you know, however long it is. So you told a little bit of a story, and I'm wondering if you have any specific projects that you are doing right now, or that you have done that you might want to speak to in terms of in this space in Connecticut, and customer experience, anything like that? That would be great.

PAUL TYLER 20:01 Sure. We're continually learning, you know, one of the challenges in our business in we sell insurance through independent agents. Independent agents have choice, and they have not just choice between three carriers for particular client, they may have choice among 15. So why did they pick us? And there's a lot of cost involved. When you think of how much does it cost for us to get an agent to the point where they're going to sell a case, it's a very, very large sunk cost, between the marketing, the recruiting materials, so now we're talking about how we have a good experience with that first case that comes through? A very high percentage, this is this is typical across companies like ours, a very high percentage of agents mainly write one case every two or three years. So, how do you get them back for actually have like, one of these agents, you know, if we could get 10% these agents for our second case, there's enormously high ROI. So how do we do this? Our company like most has been - the onboarding experience is...horrible. Thankfully, agents still like us, and they send business to us but you know, you're typically receiving emails like, "Katie, thank you very much for becoming an agent with our company. You are now heretofore known as Agent 5716. Please report to our agent portal, sign in for registration and complete the process.

KATIE LUKAS 21:41 It's like joining the military!

PAUL TYLER 21:46 The first question you could ask is, well, what's your producer number! Okay, so we said, okay, how can we reimagine that a little bit? What if we could actually get you to get to know our people, which, you know, I personally believe, especially in this business people are the brand. I'd love to say, it's our building. We have a nice building.

KATIE LUKAS 22:05 Yes, you do! It's a beautiful building. The boat building in Hartford, for anybody who doesn't know.

PAUL TYLER 22:08 Yeah, but it really is the people so and we've had some people who've stuck with this company for, you know, through hard times, and good times, are very, very dedicated to consumers. And I think we, we personally think this company does a really good job of providing service for, for many of our policyholders and our agents. How do we tell our story? So, we've actually, you know, we launched them now, when you get this just literally flipped the switch a couple weeks ago. A drip email campaign. So, you will get, we will onboard you now with video emails. And get to know, six of our — everybody from people you actually could be talking to, when you're putting your first case to, you know, our had a new product or right persons responsible for sales, people who drive our sales desk. So this is going to be real interesting experience. Oh, by the way, at the end, or we got a survey: tell us how we did. I fear the feedback here will be very rough, because these agents are not shy.

KATIE LUKAS 23:18 No, they're not. And they're not necessarily used to this, so it'll be interesting to hear the reaction—I'm fascinated to hear— you better report back because we're gonna be really interested to hear.

PAUL TYLER 23:31 Well, the first two weeks — great open rates, good click through rates, the proof will be over the next six months, do we see more of them coming back? So that's kind of what we're doing. Oh and, by the way, when we hear the feedback, can we really make some changes.

KATIE LUKAS 23:46 That's a really good point. And I think the onboarding experience ... gets lost in the shuffle a lot of times, which is a little bit astonishing from, from a customer experience point of view, it's your welcome mat, right? It's the, it's the foyer of the experience, you could work for years on developing a fantastic product. But if the user—whether that person is a customer on a consumer level or a business—if they open the door, and it's just a wreck, that first impression is terrible. So, I love the fact that you're focusing on that.

PAUL TYLER 24:23 Yeah, well, we're trying to reimagine, what that the experience should be across the board. Now, again, I humbly know — of probably, 10 of our great ideas we'll end up you know, running one of them, but you kind of look across the industry; we've been in under such cost pressure, for how many years, 20 years, you know, 2008, 2009 was a very stressful period. But what do? Your policy looks like, it's tissue paper in some package, you want to throw in a trash can. Delivering a policy used to be a very big experience, you think about it, and now it's, it's something that you probably would not even want to open. And it may look like the dog chewed it up by the time you get it. Frankly, having seen what comes through, you know, think back... have you been to Disney recently, any reason to go to Disney? No, but I have been, and I know a fair amount about it with the bracelets... Bracelets, my kids, my wife loves it. They've just done some tremendous stuff. You sign up and what shows up at your house before—you have this big box, you open it up, oh, the kids pick the colors, oh they want them! You've already kind of started that trip before you get here. We need a little bit more of that in the insurance space. So how do we—how do we create some experiences that are—we can't send big boxes with bracelets. But if we could do that, what would it be? Katie, you did a tremendous thing for your family. You're probably never going to benefit from this life insurance. But they may. And they will thank you. So what's in that box, you open up?

KATIE LUKAS 26:06 That's a really interesting—I love that line of thinking. Because I think particularly in life insurance, it's almost going the opposite direction, it's become so commoditized, it's all price and cheapness and fastness. And there never is that sense of, Oh, I accomplished something, I have done something. So, that's a really interesting idea, sort of introducing that experience to the to the person maybe 20 years before the actual experience occurs. So that's some really interesting thinking there. We touched on this a little bit, but I do want to return to the subject of working in Connecticut and working in Hartford. From my perspective, Hartford specifically, and Connecticut in general, are in some really interesting times, with all the pluses and minuses that come along with that. There's a lot of turmoil, to put it bluntly, politically, particularly economically. But there's also just some phenomenal efforts by groups ranging from big government groups, to organizations like yours, to grassroots groups that are doing some terrific work and really getting some traction—Limebike and the iQuilt Plan, and UCONN TIP and just tons of people doing great stuff. So I'd love to hear how you feel about working here in Hartford. And what you see as both the opportunities and the challenges.

PAUL TYLER 27:35 Sure, I've had a tremendous experience here over the last couple of years. And I would say timing was great. I came at a time and ended up connecting with CT Innovations and a number of my colleagues, in there with some of the other carriers, and we all kind of work together on a number of things in our particular space, kind of all I would say, sort of emerged organically...

KATIE LUKAS 28:05 There's an explosion in insuretech right now.

PAUL TYLER 28:05 There really is. So I worked with a consortium to bring Startup Bootcamp to Hartford.

KATIE LUKAS 28:13 Oh, fantastic. Yeah. I love them. They're doing really good things. Yeah.

PAUL TYLER 28:17 Sabine [Van der Linden] and her team are doing tremendous things. We worked with the state and actually won a million dollar grant to help subsidize that for others. Fantastic. Yeah, it was it was a great opportunity. We brought all of the accelerators in. It was not only good for people in community to see the accelerators, but also it's interesting: it put Hartford on the map for the accelerators. I think it would have been more of a fly over city here. Shana [Schlossberg] has done a tremendous job at Upward Hartford. She's creating a culture. Stacey Brown at XL Catlin had been just wildly impactful and made an unbelievable contribution to the community. So I say, you feel some really interesting signs of life coming in here. You don't drive up and see the building cranes, at this point. So I think we got a couple cranes coming. We know something's happened.

KATIE LUKAS 29:22 I think it's almost like early spring. I was born in Hartford. I grew up in Connecticut. So I was there from the end of the good times through some really rough times. I'm hoping we're at the end of the winter, and we're really looking at some just remarkable traction, that's starting to happen, and all the organizations and the individuals you mentioned are a huge part of that. And so, that's really good to hear. Building on that a little bit, I'm interested in what you think is in store for us—what's in the future for customer experience, specifically in insurance, because it's an interesting industry. And I think it's one that's inscrutable to a lot of people that are not intimately involved with it. And people who maybe didn't grow up in Hartford it just feels like a monolith. I'm really interested to hear what you perceive as the future for CX in insurance.

PAUL TYLER 30:31 I think it's, Katie, unbelievably fruitful in the future, I think—huge opportunity. I look at the innovation taking place in the startup community. And I think they've all identified some very interesting problems and come up with some very unique solutions. Now, most startups fail. And the insurance business is just so hard. I mean, you know, FinTech—we make FinTech looks simple.

KATIE LUKAS 31:01 So I think there's a huge opportunity because needs are not going away. I do think there are people who say, Oh, this is the dotcom bubble of 2000. But it's not going away. It's not going away by any stretch. I think that it's gonna take a lot of work to make change. Seth Godin, said on one of his blogs, "if you change the form, if you can change it for me, you can change the world." I mean, boy, we have a lot of forms to change. Absolutely true. Yeah. More forms than anything. There's so much opportunity just in untangling the red tape and forging through the bureaucracy and what forms, those are going to take over the next, you know, five or 10 years I'm not sure any of us can really perceive.

PAUL TYLER 32:01 I think for somebody who wants and has the fortitude to focus in the space for the next three to five years. I think it's going to be exceptionally rewarding—as you know, you've been on the front lines, it's—literally, man. When you say change the form, it's hard. You can say, look, you put the box here. And that's why nobody's filling it out and ask questions here. Okay, well, I gotta take the log, I gotta take compliance...

KATIE LUKAS 32:29 Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

PAUL TYLER 32:31 But the payoff can be tremendous. Huge.

KATIE LUKAS 32:33 Yeah. And, you know, sometimes it is simple changes, and sometimes it is sea changes. There really is a question of scale there, sometimes you get to take the form and fix it, and see a huge lift whether it's a digital form or paper form. And then there are some times where you have to look at the entire beast and all of those spaghetti around it and say, Okay, well, how can we approach this Gordian knot in a way that's going to make sense? And, both of those questions, I think, are totally valid in this space. There's really problems at both sides of that spectrum.

PAUL TYLER 33:05 Yeah, the positives I see are a lot of CEOs are talking the talk about customer experience. What we need to focus on, focusing on the customer. I think we in the business just have a responsibility not to over promise on this front, because I think customers aren't going away, customers like to be treated fairly, it's just—how do we keep this sea level engagement going? And I think, you know, we just got to be cautious in promising things to people. So that funding keeps going. Support keeps coming. We are able to seek out talent.

KATIE LUKAS 33:42 That's a really accurate statement, I do see a lot of people, particularly in my line of work, who walk into a room and promise 10 times ROI, or there's really big promises when the guts of it is really that, that incremental, what you're going to get out of this, is actually organizational change, it's linking your organization to the customer in a way that you've never had before. And it becomes a feedback loop that can transform your product, can transform your organization. And that's a really different promise than coming in with a bunch of PowerPoint charts and saying, you know, we're going to make you $10 million in a month. So that's a really good point. And it also segues very beautifully into my last question for you. It's almost like you've set me up here, Paul. Which is: do you have any advice? We have a lot of organizations here, we have very small organizations like the ones at the accelerators, we have the Travelers and the Cignas and the Nassaus of the world that are on the other end of that, do you have any advice for any of those organizations who are looking to become more nimble, looking to become more able to respond to customer feedback in a really dynamic way?

PAUL TYLER 34:54 I think number one is: listen, you know, we talked, you and I both talked about this, you have to listen. Listen means to customers, it means listening to people on the frontlines, on the phone. It means listen to a lot of people around the organization who really, really care. I think that's the the first piece of advice. The second is, let me say, have a very strong opinion on this stuff. But hold it weakly. You know, be able to adjust to the organization. And listen, because sometimes what seems obvious in one company is absolutely inappropriate in another. So I think you have to, you have to be flexible, adaptable, you gotta be able to understand; listen, it would be wonderful, have a perfect process, but you've got to be able to accept the imperfection. The as you mentioned, makes incremental change. Yeah, I think a ton of patience and a ton of being willing to spend time educating people quietly, not massive big high-profile mediums where you can win some advocates but also help people understand what's possible.

KATIE LUKAS 36:17 I love that. I love that phrase, that "strong opinions held weakly." That's a really powerful phrase. Because it comes with it, it brings with it an element of humility that I think is necessary to be a truly customer centric organization. I think the world doesn't need that many Gary Vaynerchuks. We need a lot more people who are willing to go in there and listen and be patient and try to understand not just the customer, but also the people in the room. Because out without that balance, you don't get anywhere. So this has been fantastic. Paul, thank you so much for coming. I think we have just a tremendous episode.

PAUL TYLER 36:58 Thank you, Katie. This was fun.


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