IPipeline, the Exton-based insurance app maker that counts New York Life, Nationwide, and Mass Mutual as clients, has more than tripled sales, to nearly $200 million a year, and boosted employment by one-third, to 600, since it was purchased by Chicago investment firm Thoma Bravo LLC from Radnor-based NewSpring Partners in 2015.
There’s more room to grow in the slow-changing insurance automation business, says Tim Wallace, who as CEO has guided the company under both private-equity owner groups.
Part of the recent growth came from acquisitions, funded by iPipeline’s deep-pocketed owners. In its third deal in the past year, announced Wednesday, iPipeline bought TCP LifeSytems — it won’t say what Thoma Bravo paid — and added that company’s life insurance and investment software and 100 employees.
Is smartphone-based policy work enough to sustain rapid growth? And what about experiments by Nationwide and other insurers, through the Institutes, the Malvern-based insurance certification and research group, to simplify insurance claims through blockchain ledgers that can verify data from multiple parties simultaneously? Promoters say blockchain-based systems could speed and secure insurance claims, contracts, payments and communications, saving expense and reducing risk, compared with current systems.
“We are watching blockchain closely. It can have a big impact on life insurance settlement and on annuities,” Wallace said.
But “most of the innovation we are planning in the next year or two is still really focused around mobile phones,” using applications backed by remote, cloud-based servers, he said.
There’s good reason to expect that won’t change soon, Wallace adds: “One thing about blockchain technology, it requires a lot of collaboration. We deal with leading firms all over the world. But collaboration hasn’t been one of this industry’s strengths. For each company, their underwriting [risk estimates and pricing calculations] is their secret sauce. They don’t want to be spreadsheeted,” or made to reveal all the steps they take in estimating prices or claim payments, he told me. “That is how they differentiate themselves. Blockchain may show things they would like to keep private. It’s good for anything companies don’t want to share.”
Wallace said iPipeline’s growth continues to accelerate precisely because much of the insurance world still operates on paper.
“For seven years we have seen major growth in electronic applications. We probably have the largest market share in our field. We work with 70 carriers, handling more than two million of what we estimate are three million electronic applications a year [industry-wide], out of 15 million applications total [electronic and paper]. That means a majority of the industry is still doing applications for life insurance and annuities on paper. This industry is 20 years behind the mainstream.”
Wallace will mark 10 years with the company this spring. He says he’s comfortable with Thoma Bravo, which has owned a string of Philadelphia-area tech companies, including Radnor-based Qlik, a $600-million-plus yearly-sales company that the firm bought for $3 billion from its public investors, and took private in hope of cutting costs and boosting sales, in 2016.
The iPipeline boss says the company is also pleased with its two-year-old Philadelphia satellite office, which now employs more than 30, mostly “recent grads of Temple and Drexel, and from New Jersey.”
The Philadelphia tech labor pool “is very tight. But it’s also tight on the West Coast. And it’s tight in Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Fort Lauderdale, all the places we have offices,” largely through earlier acquisitions. While in each town software labor is almost as scarce as in Silicon Valley, at least in Philly, as in other secondary tech centers, “the wage scale here is a lot lower.”