LEADERSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Brent Williams, CEO of Benekiva, Talks AI, Investment and Innovation
LEADERSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Brent Williams, CEO of Benekiva, Talks AI, Investment and Innovation
Brent Williams entered the insurance industry 20 years ago, and since then, has accumulated a wealth of experience in insurance and financial services consulting.

Throughout his career, he has always focussed on the importance of building strong relationships and creating a collaborative approach between the software provider/client to ensure project success. 

In 2016, he branched out on his own and founded Benekiva – a configurable SaaS technology platform that transforms the end-to-end life claims and servicing experience. 

As the Founder, CEO, and President of Benekiva, Williams is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, technologist and team builder. He also recently accepted mentorship positions at MIT, Drake University, and TechStars Iowa where he will advise and guide VMS students on their entrepreneurial journeys. 

We caught up with him to find out more.

How did you get involved with the insurance industry, first of all, and what’s your story? 

I have yet to meet a single person that was destined to come into insurance. It’s one of those industries you fall into. It was not my initial plan, but through family connections, I joined a major carrier and realized its potential. However, I encountered recurring issues, which inspired me to find a better way. Initially, I sought a solution for myself and my clients but couldn’t find one, so I began researching and developing Benekiva.

What prompted you to move on from that, explore the entrepreneurial root and launch Benekiva? 

I extensively researched the pain points and struggles of various stakeholders involved in the claims process, including carrier staff, policyholders, beneficiaries, agents, and advisors. Our focus was to provide a smartphone-based solution that improves the experience for all parties. By gathering feedback from over 150 claims and servicing staff and 400 carrier claims staff, we continuously evolve the platform to address their challenges.

How did you scale the concept  and bring it to market so successfully? 

Through my work as an educator at colleges in Iowa, I began researching the challenges faced by carrier claims staff. I compared their pains and problems with those experienced by policyholders, beneficiaries, agents, and advisors. It became clear that our solution should enhance the experience for all parties involved in the claims process and be accessible through a smartphone. We’ve engaged with over 150 claims and servicing staff at carriers, as well as over 400 carrier claims staff, to gather insights and continuously improve our platform based on the pain points and struggles expressed by carrier staff, policyholders, beneficiaries, agents, advisors, and other stakeholders in the claims process.

So it’s constantly evolving and troubleshooting, essentially? 

Yes. Many people ask when our platform will be complete, and I’ve always had the same answer. A platform like this should constantly evolve and never be considered complete. To achieve that, it requires careful architectural design that enables us to gather input from carrier clients and external users, and then implement enhancements that address their specific needs and issues.

What were the toughest challenges you faced launching a startup during this time? Were there any major stumbling blocks? 

The naysayers. Dealing with skepticism from others was a significant challenge. Many discouraged me from building a claims system, but I trusted the insights from end-users who urged me to proceed. Additionally, assembling the right team was crucial. At Benekiva, we prioritize a healthy company culture and rely on personal recommendations from existing employees when hiring, which has proven successful.

You are passionate about having a healthy company culture with a strong team. Tell us about that

One of the biggest struggles for a startup like Benekiva is finding the right team – the right people. Finding the right team is a major challenge for startups like Benekiva. Surrounding yourself with talented individuals, even if it means giving up company ownership, is crucial. Our strong company culture is built on the belief that good people attract good people. Policing each other’s work ensures we all strive for excellence. Remarkably, we’ve grown to nearly a hundred employees across seven offices without hiring from external networks. Every employee has been referred by someone already within Benekiva. Our monthly town halls serve as an opportunity to discuss open positions and make hires based on personal recommendations. This approach has proven highly successful.

Insurtech is embracing AI – and now Generative AI. What’s your take on this, and how is Benekiva utilising it? 

We have been using AI for a while, identifying valuable use cases and expanding their implementation. AI helps us extract data from invoices and death certificates, streamlining the claims process. We also leverage AI to enhance the carrier’s use of technology by integrating external analytics and decisioning engines with our platform. This synergy enables us to provide even better insights and value to carriers.

What’s your perspective on the current investment space – and available opportunities for startups?

There are two approaches to raising capital: stage-by-stage or securing upfront funding for scalability. At Benekiva, we chose the latter, aiming to build a business rather than spending excessive time solely on raising capital. We obtained sufficient upfront funding for five years, allowing us to overcome the insurance industry’s lengthy sales cycle and gain traction.

In terms of your five-year runway, what new things can we expect from Benekiva?

We recently launched Portals 360, a configurable portal system catering to all parties involved in claims and servicing processes. Additionally, we are introducing Intake 360, which utilizes ChatGPT technology for automated responses while providing opportunities for human interaction. This omnichannel approach and integration of AI enable a seamless and personalized claims experience, taking customer service to the next level.

What inspires you in Insurtech today? 

The opportunity created by the collaboration between incumbent insurance carriers and insurtech companies is truly inspiring. When capital and the drive to solve industry problems combine, significant advancements occur. This partnership approach, rather than a confrontational dynamic, is what propels the industry forward.

Interview by Joanna England

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