In insurtech circles, 2021 was like a prized vintage, with record-setting investment and valuations. A year later, however, the economic climate is not cooperating, with many of those same successes struggling to sustain. This has made the continued growth of Columbus-based Branch, an insurtech startup that can bundle home and auto insurance in a single transaction, all the more impressive.
Extending from Olive to Branch
Columbus has led Midwest cities in producing unicorn success stories of late, the first being CoverMyMeds when it was acquired by McKesson for $1.1 billion in 2017. It was Ohio’s first-ever unicorn, but not its last. Root followed in 2018, becoming the largest IPO in Ohio history, and then in 2020, healthcare artificial intelligence firm Olive rose the ranks. Branch is now the fourth unicorn in five years, an impressive feat for a state – let alone a singular region – that didn’t have the track-record long ago.
Branch’s highly automated quote writing process is simple, allowing new members to qualify for policies in just a few minutes. In June 2022, Branch secured a $147M Series C round, pushing it into envied territory among entrepreneurs at a valuation of $1.05 billion.
Branch operates like many insurance companies in that members pay premiums and Branch pays out for approved claims. Where the company differs from other agencies is in its structure as a reciprocal exchange and a Public Benefits Corporation. This structure leaves the company without incentive to increase premiums, and every incentive to provide a quality customer experience.
With the support of multiple partnerships in the Columbus Region, Branch is experiencing strong growth nationally. Since opening for business in 2017, Branch has been made available in 32 states, making it one of the fastest growing property and casualty insurance agencies ever to do business. Regulatory delays withstanding, the company expects to be available in all 50 states and D.C. by the end of 2023.
As CEO Steve Lekas told TechCrunch about the firm’s momentum, “The funny thing is, even though we’re four years younger than the insurtechs that preceded us, I think we’ll be the first one to get to cash flow positive by a stretch.”
The Latest Sapling in a Forest of Fintechs
Branch’s success is the latest in a string of highly successful startups in the local economy and further validation of the growing fintech hub the Columbus Region has become. It is home to established players like Nationwide, State Auto and Grange Insurance, as well as significant operations for State Farm and JPMorgan Chase, the latter of which maintains its largest global technology center here. The Central Ohio area has also been highly attractive for sector startups and scale-ups alike, from homegrown Root, Lower.com and Bold Penguin to fast-risers like Sweden’s Klarna and California’s Upstart.
Columbus’ appeal for fintech and insurtech companies goes beyond the available capital for startups and the lower business taxes that make it enticing for secondary or HQ2-type operations (for example, Upstart’s HQ2 is now larger than its San Francisco HQ1). Between 2010 and 2020 employment in Columbus skyrocketed 11.7% while state employment remained flat. And the city is an amalgamation of talent from different backgrounds, with 42% of those who move to the Region being college graduates.
This youthful population, whose millennial concentration ranks in the Top 10 nationally, is one of the drivers behind the Columbus Region ranking as one of the best values in CBRE’s Tech Talent Scorecard. A combination of cost, culture and a tight tech community are among the reasons the area has led the Midwest in job, population and GDP growth for years.
Replenishing the Soil Through Diversity
As much of a magnet as Columbus has become within the Midwest on top of its thriving young, educated population, Branch has continued to find new ways to fill its talent pipeline and ensure diverse perspectives.
Branch recognizes that while the aptitude for software development exists in Columbus, many potential hires do not have much — if any — experience in the tech world. This is why the company instituted a development boot camp to organically find people in the community without any experience in insurtech, train them and hire them. Since instituting the boot camp, Branch has brought on 10 people as paid interns and employed 7 full-time developers. For a company of just over 400 employees, that’s not insignificant.
With the simplicity of its automated systems, Branch can instead lean on employees to solve tougher challenges, such as how to ensure customers feel their needs are being met. The insurtech believes that diverse, multicultural teams outperform homogenous ones when it comes to complex, difficult tasks.
The company publicly releases its diversity report and strives to create a culture of transparency. Everyone within similar roles at the company receives the same base pay, eliminating concerns about pay equity. Additionally, Branch uses local recruiting firms to build diversity not only at entry levels, but in leadership as well.
With ethos like that, it’s a breath of fresh air that has this company sprouting new growth in an industry otherwise navigating through some murky times.
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