Nicholas Piel, CEO at Surfly: How we’re making automation personal
Anyone who tried to work and collaborate remotely in the last year will have noticed that most solutions have drawbacks. Screensharing can be unsafe, connecting to legacy systems can be difficult. For Nicholas Piel, CEO at Surfly, the new way of working was a huge opportunity.

Piel says; 

  1. The pandemic has created a willingness to overhaul old systems, and Surfly offers technologies that make remote work much easier.
  2. There are customer bases who value being helped and guided. To do that safely you need a way to share and collaborate remotely.
  3. Surfly’s focus on enabling personal experiences doesn’t mean they are opposed to automation – even in a post pandemic world, there’s room for a personal touch.

What problem did you set out to solve when you founded Surfly?

I first founded Surfly to augment online self-service experiences with real-time, personal advice, all fully online. I noticed a trend towards a strong focus on self-service, which ignores the fact that for a lot of products and services you need real human guidance in order to have a successful deal. This is especially important for complex products or services like life insurance, which is generally sold and not bought. 

And now, this is more relevant than ever before because of the difficulties associated with providing face-to-face advice amid ongoing pandemic restrictions. Because we solve this exact problem with our co-browsing solution, we have shown tremendous growth in the past few months by enabling thousands of advisers worldwide to make their online interactions personal and human with the help of our technology.

How have you seen insurance carriers’ needs change during the pandemic?

For many incumbents, the online infrastructure is a combination of different services glued together with APIs. You can think about online insurance portals that combine external policy creation tools, illustration applications, health questionnaires, payments and signature applications. Major carriers are concerned with how long it takes to plug in and plug out new solutions and how these solutions interact with legacy systems that are still in place. 

But the pandemic has definitely driven willingness to overhaul old systems and move to new tools, and that’s an exciting opportunity for both incumbents and insurtechs. Our API-first approach also addresses many common concerns, because our co-browsing solution is secure and easy to implement as a technology layer. It also integrates well with existing tools, like chatbots or email.

Another trend we’ve seen is a major uptick in the demand for new features that shorten the online sales cycle and keep the entire journey in one place. This is one of the problems we’re solving with our new Document Editor and E-signing functionality, which carriers are now using to turn their own platforms into start-to-sign solutions. I am very excited about this because we can now offer a way for insurers to keep the whole process in one browser tab, and it eliminates the stress, time and hassle of finalising policies remotely or using a bunch of different tools. 

How have insurers like AXA been able to expedite the insurance process with Surfly?

AXA was able to use our co-browsing technology to instantly connect over 1,000 agents to new and existing customers via their existing online platform. Given the current global environment, the ability to connect with customers as if you are sitting side-by-side is no longer a ‘nice to have’, but a strategic imperative. Since AXA agents were not able to meet with their customers in person, they used Surfly’s technology to recreate that meeting experience remotely without requiring customers to download additional software, and to enable them to create and finalise policies from start to finish. 

The key reason AXA picked our solution was security, as they determined screen-sharing to be unsafe for their specific use case; another reason was the speed at which they could deploy our solution in production. Compared to other co-browsing, our unique middleware approach makes it really easy to deploy, to the point that AXA was able to later change their internal payment provider without changes to the backend. 

This ‘works out of the box’ approach made it easy for AXA to quickly enable more effective, useful communication in their own platform by augmenting their existing flows with our solution, and so to expedite the insurance process.

Being unable to meet face-to-face has driven up demand for digital interaction solutions. How relevant do you think remote work tools will be from now on?

If anything, remote technology like co-browsing will be in even greater demand after the pandemic is over, because ease of use and the immediacy of digital is what customers will now expect from their online experiences. Although the pivot to digital experiences was driven by the pandemic, expectations of online service have changed permanently. And as companies around the world go fully remote, there will always be a need for that personal, human touch. Perhaps even more now than ever before. 

Remote work tools are also one of the only ways to actually still be productive in these times and beyond; companies need technologies like ours in order to continue remote work efficiently, and in our experience that need is growing everyday. The companies we’re working with recognise the value of genuine human interaction in self-service experiences, and that’s driven by both customer demand and global trends.

You come from an AI background, but Surfly’s offerings focus on the human touch. How do you feel about insurance start-ups like Lemonade, which have automated the entire process?

Because of my degree in AI and Surfly’s focus on enabling personal experiences, I often feel that it’s expected of me to hate the idea of automation. But I think automation and ‘human digital’ technology like co-browsing go hand-in-hand, and there are definitely use cases for both (sometimes even in the same organisation). Different markets have different needs, and for Surfly it was a matter of finding the right clients with a customer base whose satisfaction is linked to being personally helped and guided. Lemonade caters to a different audience for which automation provides value, but the human touch is critical for the audiences that we serve. 

Companies use our technology to innovate quickly and efficiently, and our strong rapports with these companies help us to get to the heart of their needs. Our approach to service is also extremely personal, as we focus on building long-lasting relationships with our clients and enabling them to do the same with their customers. 

Nicholas Piel was interviewed by Kristoffer Lundberg, CEO at Insurtech Insights.

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