Protective Insurance: Embracing the art of the possible

Jeremy Johnson, CEO, describes the company’s tech transformation, customer-focused service and why problem-solving is at the heart of its business

At its most fundamental level, insurance is an industry predicated on risk management, customer service and trust. Few companies understand the interconnection of these principles better than Protective Insurance, and even fewer have an equivalent level of the experience, engagement and commitment necessary to transcend these precepts and deliver superior results. Founded in 1930 and headquartered in Carmel, Indiana, USA, the company is a transport insurance specialist for trucking fleets of all sizes, licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and all Canadian provinces. With a long-standing heritage, a portfolio of diverse products, services and solutions, it has been and continues to be a strong partner for an equally essential industry, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeremy Johnson, CEO, joined Protective Insurance in May 2019 following several years in executive positions at some of the world’s most prestigious insurance organizations. “Because it’s a smaller company (Protective has approximately 500 employees), it’s a much more intimate environment and it feels like one person can really make a difference,” Johnson explains. “It's a pretty revered brand and, because of our client-centric, relationship-oriented approach, Protective Insurance is very well respected both by our distribution partners and by our customers, trucking fleets.” Despite starting with the company only last year, Johnson says that his first exposure to truck insurance actually occurred earlier in his career. Recognizing that it was an intricate, data-rich opportunity, he gained a particular fascination with the sector which continues to this day. “There's just so much data that, with the right attitude, you can really envisage a different approach, one that can really make the roads safer. We've got a lot more work to do in order to seize that massive data opportunity, but we have a great foundation, momentum and a vision.

For Johnson, this interest in the possibilities of data analysis goes back to one of his former bosses, who instilled in him a passion for ‘the art of the possible’ - a spirit of inquisitiveness and innovation that isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo or explore new directions. “Unless you're prepared to ask really intriguing questions, the data just exists in a vacuum,” he states. Facilitating this approach meant a new, tech-driven transformation of Protective Insurance was necessary as, like many companies with decades of experience in the market, the business was rife with non-integrated legacy systems. “The linchpins were moving to the cloud using Microsoft Azure to build a ‘data lake’ and embracing an analytics-first commercial auto underwriting platform built for us by TSIQ. We have a partnership with a company called Roots Automation, who’ve provided us with self-learning digital bots, and we have a great partner in Majesco whose approach to microservices and ‘plug and play’ style system modules really align with our technology vision.” In addition, Johnson explains that there will be numerous, more mundane but no less crucial changes happening behind the scenes that will affect the company’s ability to scale as well as ingest, harmonize and analyze data.

However, increased technological sophistication is only a component of Protective Insurance’s successful formula. What really sets it apart, as Johnson intimated, is its cultural emphasis on employee engagement and building strong customer relationships. “People genuinely enjoy working here,” he states. “In fact, we recently celebrated one member of staff’s 50th year with us. We are a specialist and know our customers well; we have a shared dedication and excitement about our mission: making roads safer.” The importance of this client connection took on even greater proportions at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March. In order to ensure that it was meeting its customers rapidly shifting concerns and priorities, Protective Insurance reached out to understand how best it could lend assistance. The answer, Johnson claims, was rather ironic. “We asked them, ‘What can we do for you?’, expecting an answer that would revolve around digital technology. However, the overwhelming reply was, ‘We need hand sanitizer’.” Partnering with a local distillery, Protective Insurance was able to purchase and distribute hundreds of gallons of sanitizer with logistical assistance from the American Trucking Association. 

Despite this response, the company was more than adequately prepared to meet the technological challenges of the pandemic too. Having analyzed the pre-lockdown situation and modelled for various operational contingencies, Johnson says that Protective Insurance “didn’t miss a beat” throughout the transition, even though it was still undergoing a major tech transformation at the time. “We had tested some things and taken some dry runs, but you never know until you're actually in that environment,” he explains. “I think there was a lot of fear and trepidation as to whether our employees could effectively manage our customer relationships, pay claims, take submissions and communicate effectively while working from home.” Enabled by the company’s technology team, which provided the bandwidth necessary for sustaining an equivalently high standard of customer interaction virtually, Johnson reports that staff were emboldened and empowered to succeed. “I think we're going to be in this environment for quite a lot longer. Therefore, Protective Insurance will continue to invest in other tools that can make our employees’ lives more comfortable when working remotely.”

To further develop this tech familiarity among its staff, Protective Insurance hosted a ‘virtual’ fair on relevant tech-based subjects. Presented to employees by employees, the company hopes to augment its transformation through learning and communication to highlight the importance of change. “Employees can go through the many modules that make up the Technology Transformation Fair and learn, for example, what the cloud or a data lake is, and why and how that matters to us,” Johnson explains. “I'm fully confident that 100% of our employees will take the time to look at the modules that are of most interest to them.” Educating staff is an important part of his ‘embracing the art of the possible’ concept, and, as data analytics continues to play an important role in insurance’s digital transformation, knowing how to extract results will be critical. “You build all this infrastructure and you gain the ability to look at the data, but how do you get the right minds to ask the right questions?” Johnson asks. “What are the questions that will allow us to get a game changing advantage? I think there’s a colossal amount of momentum behind unlocking the value of data.” 

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Achieving this goal is Protective Insurance’s primary aspiration, “We want to be our customer's most valued transportation insurance provider.” The company’s worth is defined by its ability to manage risk, save clients money and make the roads safer; 2021 is a year in which it hopes to fulfil this mission with tech-enhanced vigor and partners equally committed to surmounting the challenges of delivering superior service. “I think we're going to be valuable to all of our stakeholders; not just our customers, but our shareholders, employees, reinsurers, vendor partners and technology partners, who are all important to us.” Engaging with ‘possibility thinking’ and adopting an ‘always moving forwards’ mentality will maintain Protective Insurance’s competitive edge, which has already seen it triumph over other, less-imaginative companies in the space. Finally, Johnson concludes with a declaration of pride for his employees’ hard work and engagement with the corporate mission: “Our existing customers value us and many more now want to work with us. We couldn't have got into this position without 500 committed, experienced and able employees. I’m super proud of what we’ve achieved.”

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