Soon after American International Group (AIG) announced plans to shut down its commercial insurance technology platform experiment, Seraina Macia (pictured) turned disappointment into opportunity.
Macia was CEO of the abruptly ended AIG subsidiary Blackboard Insurance. Rather than let disappointment turn into defeat, Macia and many of her Blackboard team went on to launch a new venture – Joyn Insurance – a commercial insurance MGA now doing business in 28 states and the District of Columbia following a recently announced expansion.
“We do get along well, and we call ourselves the accidental entrepreneurs,” said Macia, who is co-founder and CEO of the new venture. “It’s been a great ride. I’m really thankful and appreciate the team that’s behind me.”
The start-up, founded by Macia and her team in late 2020 and launched officially in summer 2021, focuses on commercial insurance for small and middle market customers. Joyn describes it as a company that leverages data and technology to provide a better experience for brokers and clients. The foundational technology is cloud-based and data-centric, with machine learning-augmented underwriting for each customer “until it needs to be handed up to humans,” Macia said. Customer experience subsequently shapes this process over time, she said.
Joyn’s latest expansion is a significant one, Macia observed.
“It’s a big deal. Every state that we add increases our opportunity to onboard more brokers, get more distribution and more business in the door,” Macia noted.
She added that the company will essentially be a national operation by late 2022.
Macia’s experience in the old-school insurance industry is substantial. She was previously CEO of Hamilton Insurance US, which AIG acquired in 2017 as part of the deal that brought then-Hamilton CEO Brian Duperreault to the company to help modernize and revamp its operations. AIG renamed its new tech-enabled insurance subsidiary Blackboard Insurance and promoted it as a start-up designed to “reimagine and transform commercial insurance through digital technology, data analytics and automation.” It focused on the middle market, which industry insiders have often considered underserved.
The platform launched commercially later in 2018 and there were some advances, but AIG quietly announced plans during the 2020 first quarter to place Blackboard into run-off, recognizing a $210 million pre-tax loss as a result. Blackboard’s wind-down concluded by mid-year, at which point Macia said she and her team began to act on the idea of continuing with a new start-up MGA that would target small and medium-sized businesses and benefit the brokers who serve them. Initial hires began in October 2020. Macia said she put up her own money to fund early salaries and software development, with the idea of ramping up quickly.
“If we had waited longer, some of the key people would have gone,” Macia said. “I had to take that personal [step] and said ‘OK, I’ll put money into this company. We will get investors and balance sheets lined up so let’s make sure we secure the team.’”
Joyn’s initial rollout in July 2021 focused on E&S property coverage in a handful of states. Its expansion includes general liability and excess cover in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, and general liability only in Georgia.
About 25 people work for Joyn and are all based virtually. Most are former Blackboard employees and colleagues. Some came on board immediately after Blackboard ended, and others worked other positions elsewhere and then returned, Macia said.
Among Joyn’s recent hires/Blackboard returnees: Uwe Schoberth as chief distribution officer back in September. Most recently he served as global head of distribution at Lloyd’s. He held a similar role at Blackboard before that, as well as QBE Group, XL Group (now part of AXA) and elsewhere. Macia’s prepared remarks as part of his hiring announcement stated that “his energy for building a business from scratch makes him even more of an asset.”
As an MGA, Joyn is partnered with SiriusPoint, which is also a founding investor in the company. SiriusPoint is providing insurance capacity and also helping with its strategic direction. Joyn has not disclosed how much financing it has raised, but it is in the double-digit millions range, Macia said. She added that Joyn will likely go back to the market to solicit more venture investment sometime this year.
“As we grow we need to add more staff and continued investment in technology as well as data,” Macia added.
The company’s name – Joyn – has two meanings.
“It means [it is] insurance you want to join forces with. We’re all focused on the ease of doing business and really addressing industry pain points,” Macia said. “The other [meaning] is the word ‘joy’. We really want to help transform the insurance experience into a more joyful one.”