The sea is a powerful master. It teaches patience, perseverance and timing. If you underestimate any of these elements, the sea will always win. In the world of business development, I’m constantly reminded I need to balance my instinct to push hard, full throttle open, to promote a great product - insurance for boaters, by boaters - with the patience and grit required to develop strategic relationships over time. And at the right time.
I worked in a wide variety of industries prior to joining the Ahoy! team, and I’ve come to realize that the fundamentals of business development are similar, no matter the product or industry. It’s a professional skill, one that I’ve honed over the course of two decades, first learning those skills as a young naval officer. You need to fully understand what each side will gain for the long-term success of any partnership.
Ahoy! has two main categories of strategic partners. First, our technology partners, enable us to enhance Ahoy’s offering and accelerate our product development and time to market. This includes partnering with mobile apps and online platforms to connect with their communities and develop technology solutions to increase boat and boater safety, and a better customer experience.
The second category is distribution partners, which includes both traditional and non-traditional distributors. Let me give you some examples of how we build meaningful alliances. Independent insurance agencies, brokers and insurance aggregators - are traditional distribution channels. Among them are all-purpose insurance agents, let’s call them “generalists,” who offer a range of property and casualty (P&C) insurance including home, car, and boat policies. There are many players in this space. You also have “specialized” partners in areas like recreational marine insurance. Traditional distribution channels are obvious partners because they benefit from offering new products and features to their customers alongside their existing insurance portfolio, while from our side they help widen Ahoy!’s distribution network. We see our relationship with our growing network of external insurance agents as one of the most strategic routes to market and we put a lot of effort into building long-term partnerships with them.
Non-traditional distribution partners include boat manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers, financing companies, and lenders, to name a few. As the market is often fragmented, it’s sometimes more challenging to identify and recruit these partners. Let’s take a lender. As part of the boat purchase, many people will finance their boat, but you can’t close the financing without showing proof of insurance. So it makes sense that if you offer the customer an insurance policy at the point of purchase, the transaction process is shorter and smoother.
Ahoy! strives to make the policy purchasing process as simple, efficient and automated as possible. This is what we do for the direct-to-consumer channel, and our goal is to do the same with our partners. A key strategy of Ahoy! is building an embedded insurance program, integrating the purchase of a boat insurance policy into the partner’s existing selling process.
For this to succeed, we must leverage existing information in the partner’s system, such as customer data and asset information (boat details). The system already includes the same information that Ahoy! needs in order to issue a quote for a new policy. The challenge is accessing the relevant information in real-time to allow the partner to provide a quote on the spot. One of the capabilities Ahoy! has developed is an open, API-based, system that enables different types of technical integrations, to fulfill the promise I mentioned before, of making the buying experience simple, efficient and automated. Ahoy’s capabilities here are significantly ahead of the market. Many insurance companies use legacy systems, and developing open systems would require massive investment. For most insurers, recreational marine insurance is not their core business and therefore they are unlikely to make these large investments for this category. This is a key differentiator of Ahoy! and a strong selling point.
In addition, we help streamline the process for the partner. Instead of sending a customer to find someone to issue a policy, we offer the option not only to see the boat insurance quote in real-time, but the customer can also then buy the policy on the spot, ticking off another box needed to complete the financing process and buy the boat. In most cases, Ahoy! doesn’t even require a boat survey. Real simple.
If you’re a boat dealer, for example, you sell the customer a boat, upsell them services, maintenance, extended warranty, financing, and now you can also offer insurance. We enable our partners to provide full service to their customers and the opportunity to have 360 customer ownership. Another win for our distribution partners is an additional revenue stream based on a revenue-sharing model.
For the customer there is also a huge advantage – it means a one-stop shop. You can leave the boat dealership with everything you need to start enjoying your boat.
Ahoy! is still testing the waters in expanding our partnerships. We must be flexible and ready to adapt to changing market needs and conditions. This is another lesson I am continually learning from the sea. I’m a passionate swimmer, especially in long-distance open water swimming, which often involves rough conditions, strong currents and unknown obstacles. Recently I stepped out of my comfort zone and challenged myself to learn kite surfing. Unlike many other sports, where you add more power to go faster, kite surfing is all about technique and finesse. If I apply too much power to the kite, I’ll crash headlong into the icy water. I’m still learning about this delicate balance, to be patient and find the right timing. Both in and out of the water.