RPS tech exec drives hard toward digitization goal

The company aims to reach aim by 2025

RPS tech exec drives hard toward digitization goal


By Mark Hollmer

Risk Placement Services’ Ryan Collier (pictured) has an ambitious goal: to transform the company into a fully digital operation by 2025.

For Collier, the company’s chief digital officer, the progress toward that goal never goes quick enough.

“I don’t think there is a chief digital officer in the industry that’s patient,” said the 6-foot-8 Collier, a genial straight-shooter and former college basketball player (he was a four-year starter at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska). 

“We will become a digital company by 2025,” Collier said. “My goal is to accomplish that. We need to move faster.”

RPS is one of the nation’s largest specialty insurance products distributors – a wholesale broker and MGA, among other focuses. It is owned by global insurance broker Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

RPS has close to 3,000 domestic employees, and Collier has served as chief digital officer since April 2016, the first person at the company to hold the title, his LinkedIn profile noted. He’s been with RPS a lot longer, having joined in August 1999 as president and national practice leader for the executive lines division within RPS, a division he founded within the company. He still runs that division today.

What it takes

Collier explained that he views his mission as chief digital officer as one focused on re-engineering the company’s “entire process” and modernizing it.

“My job … is to look at it from a different lens and try and re-engineer it to be much more user friendly, because, historically, the insurance industry has not focused on the customer and that’s been hundreds of years in the making,” Collier said.

What that means, he said, is a big focus on customers and RPS employees and carrier partners with a goal of bringing them a better process.

When Collier first became chief digital officer, he recalled, the industry was relatively far behind in terms of technology, and he felt frustrated with the lack of improvements and efficiencies in the system. There was no major effort at that point to revamp or redesign processes, with a focus instead mostly on daily operations, he said.

The process for cyber insurance, for example, took 90 days between giving a client an application and a finished policy, with a 12-page application and multiple questions.

“My whole job – my whole focus – was to change the process,” Collier said. “We were able to take that 90-day gestation period with a very bad user experience down to about 90 seconds and a very streamlined, friction free experience.”

Improvements included taking dozens of questions on the cyber insurance application and whittling the number down to four, through the creation of an online, digital e-commerce platform.

Years to go

While RPS has improved, Collier said its digital transformation will go on for years, by necessity.

“You cannot flip a switch. We’ve got too many systems,” Collier said. “We’ve got to get better on our connectivity, as does everybody. That’s connectivity among ourselves, connectivity with our carriers, connectivity with our retail partners … it’s not an indictment on RPS. It’s simply we have a tech stack that allowed us to do the status quo. Now we’re transitioning that tech stack to be more proactive rather than reactive.”

Part of that effort, according to Collier, involves enhancing how and how often the company relies on data to make key coverage decisions.

“Data can be used as a weapon of mass destruction for you and for your benefit, or against you and against your benefit,” Collier explained. “I choose to have data as our ally [and] asset, to allow us to be proactive in understanding which risks are better risks, who should buy what, where and when, and how much of that they should buy.”

Collier said the company is also working with insurtech partners, focused on areas including maximizing data in customer relationship management systems and predictive analytics. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are also technologies the company is exploring.

“Insurtech has a complementary aspect to it, bringing new ideas, fresh and clean perspectives,” Collier said. “But we’re not going to be solely dependent on insurtech [however] – that’s just a part of our future.”

In the end, Collier said, he and his team continue to take chances and push for improvement and innovation, such as the division’s improvements of the cyber insurance buying process. Making that possible, he said, is the entrepreneurial spirit at RPS that gives Collier room to experiment and try things.

“They give me quite a bit of leeway in order to try to design the company [technology] the way it needs to be designed,” Collier said.

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