Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in insurance and to spread awareness of the career opportunities within the industry. This month Kris Maccini, director, social media, Triple-I, interviewed Demetrius Gray, Founder & CEO of WeatherCheck.
WeatherCheck, an insurtech that analyzes weather data to help insurers predict severe weather impact to properties, was a finalist in 2019’s Resiliency Innovation Challenge.
Demetrius shared insights for building and growing his innovative business, and how he’s advising on severe weather prep amid the pandemic.
Name: Demetrius Gray
Current Role: Founder & CEO
Years at WeatherCheck: 3.5
Tell us about WeatherCheck? What led you to found this company and build your career in insurance?
I was a storm contractor. I chased hailstorms across the continental United States. Most of my work was around understanding insurance losses, and it gave me an intimate knowledge, which I used to create WeatherCheck. While there are numerous weather-related sources, there wasn’t a great place to assess whether something was damaged or not. For example, would an event at a particular property rise to the level that the insured should file a claim?
The insurance industry today is already thinking about creating efficiencies in the claims process. We allow property owners to sign up on WeatherCheck, type in any address in the country, and it exposes severe weather loss associated with that property. We work from the premise that informed people make informed decisions. At our core, WeatherCheck works to give people quality information so that they can make the right decision at the right time.
We’re in the middle of a significant global catastrophe. How has this impacted your business and conversations around severe weather?
When the shutdown started happening [throughout the stay at home orders], we had conversations with emergency managers around the country on what does emergency management look like for people at home. Normally, they would be at their office and those structures are built and fortified better than the average single-family home in the country. What we have seen is an increase in overall hazard-related deaths this year. The 2020 tornado season has killed more people than it has in the past few years because people are sheltering in place at home and risk is greater. We are preparing for these insights now, and we expect to see even greater risks heading into summer heat waves.
There is also an infinite question about the current infrastructure. Normally, people are placed into shelters post event, but that infrastructure has been displaced largely because the volunteers have been displaced. The inverse of that conversation is that the risk has been shifted to commercial enterprises and hotels. If the hotels are closed, then it’s where do we shelter people who have been displaced? We’re encouraging community partners to have conversations with stakeholders around planning, including reopening hotels for evacuations quickly.
Over the next year, what is top of mind as you grow your business?
Partnerships are important. We have been working with partners across all sectors to continue to grow the product itself. How do we help individuals who don’t necessarily understand their risks or the policies that they’ve purchased to get what they need? The way we’ll do that well over the next 12-24 months is by partnering with stakeholders who also have interest in that same asset. Whether that’s mortgage companies, cities, or banks–that’s where we’ll be focused while continuing to represent the interests of the insurers.
What setbacks have you faced in building your business and how did you move past them?
We’re the only black-owned meteorology company in the entire country. You get a whole lot more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’ and those answers are based on unconscious biases. We had to be very honest with ourselves about what are bias characteristics–whether it’s race, gender, location–and we had to decide in the business plan how we were going to overcome those biases. For us, it meant that maybe venture capital (VC) wasn’t going to be a strong path for us because the data doesn’t prove out that they would invest in a woman or minority-run company. We built a profitable business with strategy based on data and that also influenced what the product looked like.
Through this process, we decided to go direct to policyholders. The data showed us that policyholders are largely unbiased and that they want what they want when they want it. If you have what they want, they will forgo internal biases to make their buying decisions. By focusing on the data and taking out the emotion, it allowed us to see viable prospects up front.
What are your goals for the future in terms of where you want to take your career and your business?
In the future, I could see WeatherCheck offering other products and services to get the insured at a place of homeostasis that is far better than what it is today. If we look at the number of individuals who are underinsured for flood or underinsured for fire–the system really sits at the nexus of being able to drive some of that. We’ll probably see some unique boutique offerings come out of selling new insurance products geared at solving those challenges. We’ll be driving better data to continue to inform decisions. We’d like to empower agents and brokers throughout the country to do an even better job of keeping the insured better informed. Agents and brokers will play an impactful role in continuing to drive value. It is very personal when people have a loss from an event and that personal pipeline is a far better approach than a chatbot or AI.