Insurtalk with Ron Rock: Will Ohio emerge as the US insurtech leader?
Insurtalk with Ron Rock: Will Ohio emerge as the US insurtech leader?
This week we spoke with Ron Rock, Senior Director at JobsOhio, about insurance disruption and the future of work – and the State of Ohio.

In partnership with Jobs Ohio.

Ron Rock wants insurtechs to take a look at Ohio. 

Rock is Senior Director for insurance and insurtech for JobsOhio – a non-profit promoting innovation and investment in the midwestern state. 

In recent years, the state has become synonymous with the modern economic realities of the US. A renewed political focus on the post-industrial Midwest has revealed that traditional industries have steadily declined. 

For Rock, this economic realignment presents a major opportunity – in a post-pandemic America, the old constraints of geography, and traditional attachments to the West Coast, are weakening.

In his view, the state is emblematic of a larger American success story in the first chapter of the insurtech story. By actively investing in insurance innovation, the US has taken the early lead in this emergent market. 

The pandemic has upturned the old rules of geography in tech

Rock says that the pandemic has presented an overhaul not only of how we work, but where we work – and he says that companies will have to take notice. 

“The hurdle of an unrealistic commute is no more. Although the world is getting somewhat back to normal, I think that the way we work is forever changed and we’ll stay with a hybrid type of model,” says Rock. 

Employees who would have previously congregated around certain hubs, such as Silicon Valley and New York City, might look twice at a cramped and expensive apartment now that their entire working life has been crammed inside it. 

As new players emerge in this space, Rock expects that the culture of flexible working will shape company culture from the ground up. 

Insurance firms by nature do not need a huge amount of immediate capital investment up front, so can be set up more nimbly than other financial services startups – combined with the lower operating costs of companies no longer needing to keep every employee in the office, there is no reason for talent pools to remain geographically narrow. 

But these tides were shifting already

The monopoly that Silicon Valley has had over the startup tech industry has been giving way for several years. 

We have seen major players in the tech space move out of Silicon Valley – Elon Musk moved Tesla to Texas in 2020, saying that California has “too much influence in the world”; in the same month, Oracle made the same move.  

Fintech, and subsequently insurtech, startups have bucked the trend of West Coast domination. Lemonade, the first major insurtech, is based in New York.

Rock points to another US insurtech story – Root Insurance. Founded in Ohio, Rock sees the firm as emblematic of why Ohio makes so much sense. The state has competitive tax rates, with no corporate tax or state tax on R&D investments. 

Rock says that without these constraints on R&D investments, “every dollar a company invests in becoming more innovative is fully impactful”. 

Insurtechs can hold their own against looming tech giants 

While it has become fashionable to suggest that auto insurtechs are under siege from a rise of inhouse EV insurance teams, Rock suggests that the best way forward is for emergent automotive players to simply partner with insurtechs. 

“Tesla and Rivian are fantastic examples of the data world in which we live. They are also somewhat extreme – for now,” says Rock. 

Top players in the EV space may have direct access to their own data, but insurtechs are producing broader and more representative behavioural data with analytics specialism within insurance. Rock expects that the gap in technological ability between incumbent tech firms and rising insurtechs will increasingly shrink. 

A major part of the insurtech story so far has been the emergence of inter-industry partnerships and ecosystem growth in insurance. 

Rock believes that, by focussing on both innovation – from investment in data analytics, cybersecurity and blockchain technology – to process efficiency, insurtech startups can continually make the argument for market leadership in insurance innovation.

Matt Kenyon is a content producer at Insurtech Insights.

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