CONTRACTOR MATH: SOLVING FOR CERTS
Using AI and machine learning to automate
certificates of insurance management processes
By Lori Widmer
“I would encourage others in
our industry to really embrace the changes
brought on by emerging technologies. … Get engaged.”
Executive Vice President
IMA Financial Group
On any construction project, all contractors and subcontractors must provide a certificate of insurance (COI). No matter what size the project is, the COI is a must-have item. In most states, a COI is a prerequisite to earning a general contractor license. City and local governments often require a COI of any contractor working in their jurisdiction.
Even a small project can have concrete, steel, electrical, plumbing, engineers and architects and any number of contractors and trades on the job. With each one needing a COI, managing that process has been an exercise in frustration for many a project lead.
Without the right insurance documentation, projects get delayed and worse; should a contractor’s COI expire or not be in place either before or during a project, that can become a costly claim for the project owner or lead contractor.
A way to solve that particular pain point for contractors and construction industry brokers is exactly what prompted John Fohr to design and launch TrustLayer, an automated insurance verification technology solution that automates certificate management.
Founded in 2020, TrustLayer addresses vendor certificates, but can also manage W9s, attestations, ACORD 25 forms, and other contracts. Apart from verifying coverage, TrustLayer gives users the ability to verify in real time a vendor’s insurance validity, check exclusions, and review coverage expiration dates.
When CEO Fohr and his co-founder, Vincenzo Acinapura, TrustLayer’s chief technology officer, decided to develop the TrustLayer product, neither had worked in the insurance industry. Fohr was an investor in a consulting company and Acinapura worked as a software engineer. But it was Fohr’s personal investment interest in construction and real estate that brought the problem to the forefront.
In 2019, Fohr and Acinapura were brainstorming ideas and realized that there was a way to automate the certificate management process and to bring a better layer of oversight to the insurance piece of a construction project. After conversations with friends in the construction industry, Fohr and Acinapura put together their first mockups of TrustLayer.
When they showed them to their friends, Fohr recalls, the response was immediate. “We said ‘Hey, does this sound like this would solve your pain points?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, can we buy this.’”
Early in 2020, Fohr and Acinapura joined BrokerTech Ventures (BTV), which brings together brokers, insurance providers, and startups to advance industry technology. There they tried out their idea on some of the larger insurance brokers in the country. Fast forward three years: “We’re working with most of the large top-100 brokers in the country at this point, and 24 of the largest insurance brokers and carriers in the country actually invested in us,” Fohr says.
Not just invested in, but a number of brokers worked with the company to beta test and give feedback on the development of the infrastructure. It’s one way the company is different from past attempts to build an automated insurance verification system.
The biggest differentiator: TrustLayer is building with the broader insurance industry alongside 60-plus of the top 100 brokers and major carriers. Previous products by other companies were often associated with a specific broker or carrier, which made it unattractive for other brokers to use.
After a decade-plus of digital transformation for the insurance industry, now seems to be the moment when everyone is aligned around the issue of COIs, and TrustLayer is bringing them all to the table.
In the near future, TrustLayer’s functionality is expected to include a way to share and validate coverage digitally. Currently, the company is working with their broker and carrier partners to do just that.
In fact, the engagement with BTV is how TrustLayer came onto the radar of IMA Financial Group (IMA) and Mark Ware, executive vice president and national director of IMA’s Advanced Industries Specialty. Ware has a dual role of working on the brokerage side of the business at IMA, as well as being a key member of their innovation team that is actively engaged in sourcing, piloting and implementing insurtech platforms. IMA is also a member owner of BTV.
Part of his role is overseeing the relationship with BTV and evaluating the 100 or more applicants that apply each year to be a part of the BTV accelerator program. It was during the BTV selection process for the 2020 cohort that Ware and his colleagues were first introduced to TrustLayer. “Their platform resonated with me right out of the gate, even before I had the opportunity to engage with the TrustLayer team,” says Ware.
What impressed Ware was the need TrustLayer was addressing. “One of the areas that’s always been the bane of the industry for both broker and clients is certificates of insurance.” And here was a platform that digitized the experience and made it simple to track and manage that unwieldy process. He immediately had the certificate compliance team from IMA look at TrustLayer because “it will drive extreme efficiencies for IMA and our clients.”
The simplicity of TrustLayer’s functionality is the selling point, says Ware. “You simply input your client’s contractual insurance requirements for their vendors and subcontractors, and then upload certificates of insurance as they are received into the platform, and it verifies whether or not a vendor’s insurance program meets their contractual obligations. No more manually managing the process with spreadsheets.”
Not only does Ware say that the TrustLayer product delivers as advertised, but he also says it has become a significant advantage in winning and retaining clients. A sizable number of IMA clients are on the platform and it has been transformative for them. The team at IMA demonstrates TrustLayer to clients and its ease of use, how users can see reports and understand which vendors or subcontractors are carrying the right coverage and which are not, unlocking efficiencies and in turn saving costly project delays.
“It’s a significant value add for clients and a time saver for our associates,” Ware adds. “Our certificate compliance unit is selling an additional value-added service, allowing us to take this task off the desk of our clients and saying, ‘We’re going to take this off your hands and we’re going to manage it for you via TrustLayer.’ That makes the process a lot easier.”
Making the management of COIs easier has been a multi-layered benefit for IMA. The overall user experience, says Ware, is getting high marks. “It’s very highly thought of within IMA, as well as with our clients and with the investment community that is supporting insurtech.”
A larger reason for that interest could be TrustLayer’s willingness to work with customers. “They made changes to meet our needs,” says Ware. Onboarding, he says, was made easy thanks to “a proactive team of dedicated professionals and an account manager that understands IMA’s needs and modifies the platform to make sure our needs are met, and always available to help us.”
In return, IMA continues to work with TrustLayer to build the next iteration of automated insurance verification technology, helping pilot an enhancement to insurance carrier real-time connectivity. The entire relationship, Ware believes, is pushing the insurance industry forward and out of the dark ages. “Using TrustLayer has really improved our deliverables and how we interact with our clients, further driving IMA’s value proposition.”
It’s the reason Ware is focused on the insurance industry taking a more proactive approach to technology. “I would encourage others in our industry to really embrace the changes brought on by emerging technologies,” says Ware. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to try it. Get engaged.” n
Lori Widmer is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor who specializes in insurance and risk management.
BrokerTech Spotlight offers a look at insurtech offerings from startups that have partnered with BrokerTech Ventures (BTV), a convening platform for brokers, carriers and wholesalers, and tech firms, and includes insight from other BTV member owners.