Brett Smith: Co-founder, Black Bear Life

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My Native Admission Statement: Brett Smith is an innovator, entrepreneur, and co-founder of Black Bear Life – a next-generation life insurer that is delivering coverage to a new generation in minutes without the burden of traditional underwriting. Brett’s insurance career spans over 23 years where he has held diverse executive and management positions in the primary, secondary, and tertiary markets for life insurance.

How did you get into the industry?

I began selling life insurance in college back when training consisted of someone throwing you a phone book and saying, “good luck”. This sparked my desire to create customer-centric products that financial professionals could deliver in a quick, easy & transparent fashion. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t available and the industry was not ready.

Any emerging industry trends?

Big Data is the new DNA of most industries today, especially in the insurance industry. AI can produce a coherent analytics and technology strategy that addresses all aspects of the business, both value creation, and differentiation. Also, the next generation of successful insurance workers must possess a unique mix of being technologically adept, creative, and willing to work at something that will not be a static process but rather a mix of semi-automated and machine-supported tasks that continually evolve.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The life insurance industry is one that has been slow to act on innovation, technology, and change of any kind. This causes challenges but also the opportunity to develop a life insurer from the ground up using best practices and technologies to deliver a great experience for all stakeholders. This industry is highly regulated, capital intensive, and it requires vast domain knowledge so it has caused many new entrants looking to other areas of insurance that have a lower barrier of entry.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

After seeing some other start-ups in this space make huge mistakes with their business models, I realized it was time for someone with life insurance experience to innovate and deploy a financially responsive, iterative and sustainable company that can help move this industry forward.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Black Bear Life is looking to develop strategic partnerships that will enhance and expand our product offerings. It’s vital to continually innovate and create additional value propositions to our customers. Historically, the life insurers only stay involved with the customer through the point of sale; however, we feel that it’s vital to stay connected with our policyholders throughout the life of the contract. We do this through our charitable giving, our rewards programs, and continually adding value to our customers.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

I want our customers to feel that Black Bear Life is more of a partner than just another financial institution. Yes, we are delivering them a product, but we also care about the personal & financial health of all our customers. This is the very reason we are careful to partner up with companies that share the same customer-focused values.

How do you motivate others?

You need to understand what people want at a deep level. It’s important to constantly adapt to their needs and what they want out of their career and the organization. This is directly correlated with keeping the communications lines open with every employee. This results in a more wholistic company where collaborative thought and transparency yields more creative perspectives.

Career advise to those in your industry.

The industry is quickly evolving with new technology, so it is of utmost importance that the industry veterans continue to educate, train and become literate with the new technologies. As more and more legacy insurance companies adopt these new technologies to stay relevant, their “legacy employees” run the risk of getting left behind and potentially losing their jobs if they do not adapt.

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What makes me the best version of myself?

My high school, Avon Old Farms’ motto is apropos: “Aspirando et Perseverando”

What are my aspirations?

I am trying to help carry the life insurance industry out of the dark ages. I created NYC Insurtech which is a meetup group where we bring together industry leaders, thought leaders, startups, investors and insurance enthusiasts in an effort to bridge the gap between Insurtech entrepreneurs and the investment community. Without new startups and their technology, the industry would remain idle. Most legacy insurers will not innovate, update technologies or spend money on digital transformation initiatives until their market share is threatened by new market entrants.

15-20% of financial professionals will be retiring over the next 5 years so we feel like our products will help the brokerages reduce agent turnover, allow the new class of agents sustain a career, and give the industry a simple and easy tool that their customers will love.

My Biggest Success?

My children will always be at the top of this list but from a professional standpoint, Black Bear Life will be my greatest achievement, until the next chapter begins.

My Motto?

You can’t navigate the future until you understand the past.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." - Mahatma Gandhi 

My Favorite People/Role Models?

My grandfather, Jim Smith, was a great innovator and inventor. He didn’t just have good ideas, he executed them.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Lake Tahoe for the skiing, community and the incredible scenery.

My Daily Thoughts:

Goal of the Day: Learn something new and meet new people.

Thought of the Day: Goals without good habits are useless

Action of the Day: Creating future business activity

Deed of the Day: Help at least one person a day

A Day in My Life:

What do you love most about Your City?

New York has the world’s most diverse population that allows you to meet great people, learn about different cultures, and eat the best food from every country from around the world.

Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?

Favorite restaurants are Keens & Mastro’s Steakhouses.

Pepe's Pizza in New haven, sorry NY!

What are you doing at:

6:00 AM – Getting up to speed on industry news reading the Coverager insurtech newsletter.

10:00 AM – Tackling the most important tasks of the day.

12:00 PM – Gordon Gekko said, “Lunch is for wimps” and I tend to agree.

7:00 PM – Fooling myself into thinking that I am finishing up the day.

11:00 PM – Planning for tomorrow & winding down.

What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?

I lead a fasting-focused lifestyle, so I drink “Snake Juice” which is a combination of Himalayan sea salt & potassium chloride in Evian water.

Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?

Spotify & Audible

What should everyone try at least once?

Visit the Four Seasons in Bora Bora.

Where do you enjoy getting lost?

Skiing in an obscure area of a mountain or heli-skiing to make the first and only tracks on the mountain.

My Pic of the Day:    

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Heavenly, Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada Border

What Else to Know?

AllyWatch article.