TechExec: Marcus Broome, Chief Platform Officer at Whitespace
September 5, 2020 Greg Brown
In this TechExec interview, we talk to Marcus Broome the Chief Platform Officer at Whitespace, an insurance software business
Greg: Marcus, thanks for speaking to us. For those that don’t know you how would you describe Whitespace?
Marcus: We’re a well established insurance software business that just over a year ago launched a platform to support the trading of digital insurance risks. Our initial focus has been on the London market, where we’re the only data-first trading platform for risks of all types. We have grown very strongly in London and now have more than 100 clients, but we are also making inroads into other markets, including Bermuda and the US. Wherever there is offer and acceptance of complex risks – and perhaps some negotiation in between to agree on terms and conditions – there is a role for Whitespace.
Greg: How did Whitespace come into being?
Marcus: We’ve been around since the 80s with a consistent focus on the commercial insurance market. We first came to prominence building systems for Lloyd’s members’ agents, back in the day when the capital was fully provided by names (private individuals). It got to a point where we supplied 100% of members’ agents in the market. We had a charmed start. As the market started to introduce corporate capital (c. early 90s) it became clear that we needed to diversify. The company got into the development of core capabilities such as claims systems and pricing systems. We were typically doing individual, bespoke software projects. Complex projects were our forte.
Since 2015 we’ve been working closely with brokers and underwriters to bring carefully designed new technology into the Lloyd’s and London Market. We got involved in the London Market TOM (the precursor to ‘Future at Lloyd’s) where we were asked to run proof of concepts for a trading platform.
That was the precursor to our current Whitespace trading platform.
Greg: What do you believe makes you different from others out there?
Marcus: Looking at the Whitespace trading platform we believe we win in four ways. First, depth of knowledge of the market we’re serving. There are a lot of ventures out there that are not nearly as well versed in the way that business is done. We’ve been in the market for nearly forty years. Second, we’re a highly technical company. We believe that our software development expertise is at the top end of what you’d find at companies much larger than us. We have a real strength in high-powered programming.
Third, our platform is truly data-first. Unlike other document-first platforms [N.B. PPL is currently document-first] we turn everything our clients do on the platform into data. For example, not only does this allow you to easily search on the platform for say a client name, you can also see insights into what others have searched for. This is incredibly powerful as you can start to see market trends – something that’s not possible with a document-based system. The same is true of the risk submission data – it’s all codified into the platform.
Finally, we put great emphasis on user experience. There’s no requirement for the market to use our platform so it has to be better than what’s available. The insurance market has not been given consumer grade experiences by their technology suppliers. Most insurance market people are using better personal tech than they are using at work. Our decision to develop “mobile first” and of course to pass Apple’s approval process gives us a user experience that gets consistently good feedback.
Greg: You seem to have had explosive growth in the last 12 months. What do you think has driven that?
Marcus: We’ve been primarily focused on the Whitespace trading platform. 12 months ago we didn’t have a single customer for it. We were going through the awful business of presenting it to clients, they’d get excited and then ask the dreaded question: ‘who else is using it?’. Then as interest grew a leading broker, Price Forbes, decided to put all their business through it and that gave carriers the confidence that sizeable business would be going through the platform.
We really benefited from the market talking about the software and encouraging other players to use it. You know the saying in politics, that you want to be “in the room where it happens”? We’ve often found the opposite to be the case. The most effective sales meetings we have can be where there’s no one from Whitespace in the room – where a current client shows it to a potential client.
We also offer try before you buy. Clients are happy to test it and 100% of people that tested it have come on board.
Also, over recent months, the growth of remote working has accelerated our growth. A platform like ours enables people to carry on their business effectively when they are not able to transact in a traditional face to face way.
Everyone misses the face to face approach [N.B. Lloyd’s reopened the trading floor this week.]. But crikey there is a cold efficiency to this software that enables people to do way more than they thought possible. And because it is also mobile it supports face to face business wherever and whenever that happens.
We now have in total 113 clients on the platform and that’s growing almost every day.
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Greg: Your platform clearly supports the Future at Lloyd’s etrading ambitions but you aren’t the preferred platform. What’s your relationship with Future at Lloyd’s?
Marcus: In July we secured “fully recognised” status by Lloyd’s in its list of etrading platforms. This is really exciting for us as it gives us more status in the market and we’d love to be more involved with the Future at Lloyd’s.
That said, there is a very big market outside Lloyd’s and London that we are also working very hard to move into.
Greg: What does the future hold?
Marcus: Fundamentally now that we have a good base of customers, we’re focusing the majority of our efforts on making the platform more attractive and easy to use. It’s our aim that people should smile when they are using it.
We also realised that our platform is well suited to complex risks wherever they may be transacted. By focusing exclusively on London, we’d miss out on three-quarters of the market for complex risks including the non-admitted or E&S market that never leaves America’s shores. We’ve therefore put a foothold into the US market. We signed up two clients in the US in our first few months without any US presence or concerted effort. We will continue to push that over the coming months.
Global reinsurance is also another big opportunity, particularly in Europe and Bermuda. We are looking into that space too.
Finally, we’re also looking at how we can help clients more broadly than just the placement. We are currently considering functionality to help clients manage and settle premiums end to end. We don’t believe we’re that far away from driving significant efficiency in moving money around.
The Oxbow Partners view
Whitespace seems to be a rare breed of vendors that has both a long history in the industry whilst also being able to deliver modern technology. Particularly when they sit in the complex end of the market this balance is critical.
Some might argue that Whitespace are designing for an outdated world – with high touch relationships – that will soon be automated. I don’t see it that way at all. Firstly, even with significant disruption and digitisation this part of the market is complex and requires a deep understanding of risk; human intervention will be required for the foreseeable future. Second, their data-first approach sets them up well for a future when simpler parts of the market are more automated. Whilst the world is changing Whitespace appears to have the technology aligned correctly.
Whitespace’s Lloyd’s engagement, whilst slow to start, is growing. This hints at Lloyd’s opening up more around their approach to technology (something we explored in a post on the Lloyd’s blueprint last year). Arguably by being on the side-lines they can focus on building the best possible products and exploring new markets (e.g. US) without being distracted.
Whitespace has clearly ridden the wave of digitisation that in recent months has been forced on the market. We look forward to seeing them grow from strength to strength in future.