Digital Trailblazer | Insurance Business America

Rooney Gleason brought a wealth of tech knowledge when he signed on to lead Argo’s US grocery and retail unit. Today, he keeps a close watch on how technology can help clients reduce their losses.

This article, republished with permission, originally appeared on pages 20-22 of Issue 6.08 of Insurance Business America.

Four generations of insurance brokers preceded Rooney Gleason’s 30-year career in the industry. Currently the president of Argo Group’s US grocery and retail division, Gleason had a great-grandfather who started an insurance agency in the early 1900s, which his father and uncle were leading by the time he joined the family business in 1988.

Straight out of college, Gleason initially spent a few years with a Lloyd’s of London insurance broker before coming back to the Gleason Agency as a commercial insurance producer for large risk management accounts. That’s where he developed expertise in supermarket risk management and was eventually exposed to Grocer’s Insurance Company, owned by Argo Group.

“The Gleason Agency had a real focus in supermarkets and had developed a patented product called GleasonESP – electronic slip/fall prevention,” Gleason says. “We brought that to Grocers’ Insurance Company and they said, ‘That’s great; you can use it on your accounts.’”

Leading with technology

With ESP in its arsenal, Gleason Agency stood out from the competition and started writing coverage for supermarkets up and down the East Coast. When Gallagher bought out the Gleason Agency, Gleason set out on his own, technology in hand.

“I decided that I would play the entrepreneur,” Gleason says, “and instead of joining Gallagher, I left and took Gleason Technology and really focused on perfecting the technology and getting the technology out to retailers across the country.”

“What we’ve done is come up with a whole platform of technology that really makes us incredibly different than our competitors … It’s made a huge impact on both the frequency and severity of losses that we see coming out of our supermarket clients.”

During a fundraising round, Gleason Technology caught the interest of Argo Group, whose US president, Kevin Rehnberg, became a board member. Eventually, Rehnberg asked Gleason to join Argo to help clean up its US grocery and retail division. Almost immediately, Gleason got Argo out of small commercial business, where the company was selling insurance to owners operating just one or two grocery stores.

“All of those experiences – technology, brokerage and Lloyd’s – really served me and put me in a unique position to say, let’s get out of this stuff that is killing us, which was small commercial grocery stores and restaurants, and let’s focus truly on the niche we really know how to serve,” Gleason says. “And with that niche, let’s try to figure out a way to get our brokers to understand that we have true added value in the technology.”

Empowering Argo’s brokerage partners by putting technology right at their finger-tips has been one of Gleason’s main priorities as the head of the specialty insurance unit.

“We had to get back to really doing special things for our target niche, and that is, in my mind, really transitioning the company to a technology-driven risk management approach that we don’t see very many people quickly latching onto,” he says. “What we’ve done is come up with a whole platform of technology that really makes us incredibly different than our competitors. Those components include not only Argo Risk Tech, which is the automation of compliance activities at the store level, but also first notice of loss reporting on the same platform that is done with a smartphone or a tablet or online.”

Through that system, if there’s an incident at a supermarket or restaurant, the client can simply pull out their phone, take a few photos of the damage, add any additional information and submit it so the claims adjusting can begin right away. The software also alerts grocery stores when it’s time for a regular inspection. The platform will then deliver metrics that allow a supermarket retailer to enforce their normal operating procedures and achieve a higher level of compliance.

“It’s made a huge impact on both the frequency and severity of losses that we see coming out of our supermarket clients,” Gleason says.

The insurtech boom

With such a sharp focus on technology and its applications for clients, Argo spends a lot of time vetting solutions and bringing them to market. While the company develops tech products internally through its Argo Digital division, it also seeks out opportunities in the rapidly growing insurtech space.

“We’re always looking at how a company would be positioned to help us reduce our total cost of risk, improve our processing [and] deploy AI to data sets,” Gleason says, adding that keeping an eye on openings for investment is part of that evaluation. “We look to be a strategic investor in pretty much everything we’re looking at.”

In the three years since Gleason came on board at Argo, he has been amazed at the growth in the number of solutions out there with practical uses for Argo’s grocery and retail customers.

 

“Anything we can do to bring a solution to our client that allows them to easily and sustainably reduce their number-one cause of loss – that’s what we focus on every day.”

“It’s fascinating for me to see all of these different startup companies that evolved in everything from AI to drone deployment to new management-type systems and rate/quote/bind/issue systems,” he says. When Gleason and his team are sorting through tech propositions, they zero in on the technology’s ability to reduce the cost of the transaction and address the cause of loss.

Both the retail/supermarket industry and the insurance industry are experiencing radical changes and the threat of disruption, which makes Gleason’s work of staying on top of evolutions in tech doubly complex.

“What we’re doing is leading with technology here and saying, ‘We don’t even want to talk about the insurance until we talk to you about technology,’ which is a very different conversation for a carrier to have with a broker,” he says. “Anything we can do to bring a solution to our client that allows them to easily and sustainably reduce their number-one cause of loss – that’s what we focus on every day.”

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