The Building of ReSpark

Don Stephan (Lead Developer) ReSpark

Guest Blog from Don Stephan, Lead Developer at ReSpark

Hey all. Don Stephan here, lead engineer for ReSpark. The team wanted me to explain a bit about how and why we’ve built ReSpark. The article below isn’t meant to delve into nitty gritty engineering details, but to share the overarching framework that guides how our team designs and thinks about the product. If you have any questions or want to talk more, please feel free to schedule a demo with us!

 

Groundwork

The early stages of any product are the most critical. You need to prepare for known complexities and be agile enough to accommodate unknown complexities when they arise — and they always do. I started laying the groundwork for ReSpark’s initial build in the winter of 2020. Our incubation team (Bema Technologies) had clients asking for a Policy Administration System (PAS) and with our experience in the insurance space, we decided to give it a go.

A PAS is a relatively simple platform. Most of it is transactional and document driven, which means it records data and simply shows that data back to you in meaningful ways. It does, however, have some tricky bits. These points of complexity will make or break a project based on how you choose to approach them.

We had two cruxes in ReSpark: 1) solving for a dynamic ratings system that could work across different types of insurance products; and 2) creating a robust quote/policy documentation generation system. We’ll expand more on how we chose to approach these problems after explaining why a PAS is integral to your insurance program.

 

Choosing a PAS

A policy administration system is core to the operation of any insurance program. This is especially true for high volume, direct-to-consumer offerings. Choosing a PAS is not a decision that should be made lightly! It is the centerpiece of your operation, serving as the source of quote creation, policy issuance, policy administration, claims administration, payment ledgers and reports.

The problem with a lot of PAS software is a lack of transparency. They represent themselves as a SaaS product, when in reality they are an enterprise solution. Enterprise solutions require heavy development lifts and customization to get a program off the ground. The extensive initial investment of time and money work like a bait and switch. You’re stuck with them, so you’ll continue to pay the high commissions and back-end fees that come next.

Our initial goal for ReSpark was to make a platform that was customer centric and customizable to the end user, without heavy involvement from the ReSpark team. Transparency in the early stages of the client onboarding process was very important to that mission. In short, we think that the product should speak for itself and leave clients free to focus on what they’re good at.

 

Our Approach

As I alluded to above, designing a PAS system isn’t all that complicated. As long as you’ve got a good architecture, organized data models, and a clear understanding of the featureset you want to offer, it’s a simple platform. The majority of the platform is transactional data. Data comes in, is processed and/or modified, then represented to a user in ways that are meaningful and assist with workflow. A lot of developers overcomplicate this process. If something is becoming too challenging or too complex, you’re probably approaching the problem in a flawed way.

Nonetheless, there are always challenges that require elegant solutions to bring a product to prominence. Our first challenge was dynamic ratings. We asked ourselves questions like, how are car and pet insurance related? What if one client wants to sell cyber insurance and another homeowners? We realized that diverse product offerings differ in how they produce numbers on a quote, but they share a similar pattern. A client enters information, this data heads into a blackbox, and out comes a result. The blackbox is what we had to design.

We solved this with a mix of javascript workers and editable environments that let you control how these processes function. The same goes for document generation. Creating policy schedules, custom endorsements, policy wording, etc. is tricky. To keep it simple, we used a similar approach of workers, with fillable PDFs to allow you to generate the document needed for a quote and policy.

Once we solved those challenges, the rest of our platform fell into place. The result was ReSpark, a novel approach to the quote-to-bind process, with a robust client-facing API for custom integration, and a modern UI to allow for self-management of your program.

 

What We Learned

You might be wondering if hindsight is making all of this sound like bunnies and rainbows. From my previous experience building an insurtech product, I knew I had a good understanding of the platform’s needs and for the most part this was true. As a software developer (or any kind of engineer really), it’s important to be confident. I understood the foundation of everything we needed to do.

However, this confidence can’t be overpowered by ego. It quickly became apparent that there were some gaps in my knowledge. I’m a firm believer in accepting when I’m wrong, being transparent when I don’t understand a concept, and being diligent about asking questions to grasp the complexity of a solution. This mindset is something I strive to share with my fellow teammates at ReSpark. It is ok to not know something. It is not ok to not speak up about it. Few people are able to lock themselves in a room and come out with a perfect product. Real feedback from clients, teammates, friends and industry professionals will drive a product closer toward excellence.

A lot of the ReSpark platform has been molded by our early clients and I cannot thank them enough for their wisdom, creativity, and willingness to be transparent when something doesn’t feel quite right. This mantra is something you will hear from us over and over again.

 

What’s Next

Any product launch is scary, but we did it and have proven the platform works. We have thousands of dollars of premium flowing through ReSpark each day. Let’s make this number hundreds of thousands or even millions. We want to keep marching forward, one happy client at a time.

With our strategic investment from Insurtech Gateway, we’re excited to bring our platform to a broader audience. Whether you are a startup or established business, check out ReSpark to see if it could be right for you. We’ve got some cool stuff being cooked up in the oven and look forward to showing you what we can accomplish together! Let’s see where this wild ride takes us.