Clean up in the insurance aisle

Just the other day some colleagues and I were discussing, debating really, our favorite products. Mine? Clorox® Wipes. Call me a neat freak, but they are a product I love. Clorox Wipes® are a great buy: they’re convenient, leave no residue, smell great and are incredibly easy to reach for when a mess comes up in my busy home.

Behind my favorite product is undoubtedly a complex process of bringing together the right combination of design, functionality and formula. What I take off the shelf looks and performs with simplicity, but I know that it’s not that easy. I know because I spend my days as a designer of a different kind of product: insurance policies.


Inside the Berkley One product lab


I’ve spent the last 30 years working in the insurance industry and the last two as the leader of product management at Berkley One. While there are many things I’ve learned, what I know for sure is that great products are designed that way. They are created with a great deal of thought, research, collaboration and experimentation.

In the Berkley One product lab, we’re focused on designing solutions for individuals to help protect their homes, cars, valuables and families every day. We’re delivering a promise in the policy that we will be there when our clients need us. Delivering on that promise means thinking about the words in our policy that define our coverage, the way we will handle a claim, the services that we will provide and the policy that we will present to the client. To get it right, we listen, study, gather data and ground our thinking around client needs.

Feedback drives our product design. We seek it from across the Berkley One organization—and beyond. Importantly, the independent agents we work with are in the lab with us. They help us to understand marketplace trends and client needs. For instance, our agents helped us identify an opportunity to create a simple solution for insuring trusts and LLCs for clients who use them as vehicles for estate planning. The solution we created makes the process easier and helps ensure that all parties involved have the right coverage.

As we develop products at Berkley One, our focus is on simplicity, transparency and using feedback to make our solutions better. These principles help to steer our product decisions and the solutions we ultimately bring into the market.


Getting my hands dirty


Except for a short stint in retail during my freshman year of college, I’ve spent my entire career working in the insurance industry, learning the ins and outs of insurance products. My very first job, while still in high school, was in the file room for a property and casualty insurance company. We used to marvel at the mailmobile, a self-propelled file and mail delivery robot we called Chauncey. He was, to us, at the forefront of technology.

Two years ago, I was presented with the opportunity to join a personal lines startup, now called Berkley One. We had no products, no system, no forms or policy templates, and no lab—yet. Having worked only for established companies in the past, and my last one for 18 years, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into. What I did know was that most of the 50-plus operating units that make up Berkley were, like us, mostly home-grown, and that the people I interviewed with were energetic and passionate about what this new venture would bring.

I was right to take the leap! Together with my Berkley One colleagues, I designed our suite of products including Homeowners, Auto, Excess Liability, Collectibles and Travel (with some new things in the pipeline!). I contemplated what “high touch and high tech” means for personal insurance at Berkley One (it’s far more advanced than Chauncey) and how that impacts the products we create and deliver. And I’ve worked with an exceptional group of people and learned quite a few things along the way.


Don’t be afraid of the mess


When you work for an established company, it’s typical to have a set job with a structured list of tasks and responsibilities. In a start-up, where everything is new and the number of employees is small, you get the opportunity to try on many hats. You’ll get to do many new, different things that are not necessarily in your job description. You’ll find that some things will not fit you as well as others, but in the end you may discover new skills and paths to follow that you would not have otherwise tried.

Looking back, I couldn’t even attempt to count the number of things that I’ve been able to try in the past two years. From drafting policy language and evaluating vendors to visiting Departments of Insurance and providing input into the design of our system, the opportunities to step in and add value have been endless. And, the satisfaction of being able to see the fruits of my labor from a new angle has been incredibly rewarding.


Everyone pitches in


We’ve come a long way from a handful of employees gathering in Greenwich, Connecticut to first talk about our product development process to today, where more than 60 employees around the country are working collectively to bring our vision to reality.

Each new employee that has joined our team has added to our strengths and perspectives. We’ve learned, taken feedback to heart, listened to others’ opinions, changed things when they didn’t work, celebrated successes, laughed a lot and asked the tough questions needed to make us better.

When I step back and think of our early meetings, where we asked questions like: which state should we launch in first? or what language should we include in our first draft of our auto policy?, it’s remarkable to think of how we have evolved. In two years, we launched four core product lines in our first state—then added two more states—and added a brand-new travel product to our repertoire. And we’re hard at work, thinking of what’s next for the client and planning new products to meet their needs. It’s the sum of everyone’s contributions that has gotten us where we are.


Being a trusted solution


At Berkley One, we share a commitment to not rest on our laurels or settle for the status quo. It’s one of my favorite parts of working in product management here. We continue to look at things from a fresh perspective to create new products and services that resonate with our clients. At our core, we’re here to provide the best insurance options we can and to create exceptional experiences for our clients.

What, in my view, makes our products and experience special? You might have guessed it. Our insurance solutions are reliable, easy-to-use and simple—a lot like my favorite standby.

Eileen Opitz is Senior Vice President, Product Management at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).