Jamie Hale, CEO and co-founder of digital life insurance company Ladder, looks like he’s always smiling. Even as he dives into stats, there’s a smile in his voice.
When Hale was 11, his father died unexpectedly. His father’s life insurance policy allowed him and his mother and brother to stay in the same community and be supported by family and friends.
“Life insurance gave us emotional resilience and it gave us financial resilience,” he says. Hale attended Harvard Business School and pursued a career in investment banking. But he wanted to combine his financial know-how with making an impact. Around the same time, his co-founder Jeff Merkel left his job at Google and struggled with the process of getting a life insurance policy. hall; his wife, Laura; Merkel; and Jack Dubie, a former Dropbox engineer, decided to create Ladder in 2015.
Life insurance has been sold in the United States since the 1760s, but digitization has been slow. According to a 2017 report of McKinsey & Company, 90% of life insurance policies in the United States are sold through agents or a broker rather than directly from a company, and for traditional life insurance companies, up to 40% of their costs are captured in their core processes, such as relying on commissions to agents, leaving less room for flexibility.
Fast forward to 2020 and 54% of Americans were covered by life insurance, but getting life insurance can be an insanely slow and unfathomable process. Typically, after applying for life insurance, each individual must be insured or assessed for their level of risk so that the company knows how to price its policies — a process that can take up to a few months. Ladder belongs to a group of digital life insurance companies such as Haven Life Insurance, Bestow and Ethos Life, which are trying to disrupt the life insurance industry by offering digital underwriting that allows customers to be approved in minutes.
Ladder distinguishes itself in particular by offering flexible coverage. Customers can easily add or decrease the amount of coverage they want and see their payments increase or decrease accordingly, although customers who want to increase their coverage will have to sign up again. “Life insurance policies can be very inflexible,” says Hale. “It can be a challenge if you want to reduce the coverage. We wanted to solve that problem.”
He notes that it’s harder for traditional companies to provide this kind of flexibility because so much of their costs are tied up in the adoption process. Hale owes Ladder’s flexibility to its high customer retention rate. “We’ve only lost 3 to 4% of our customers a year,” he said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Ladder has seen an increase in customers, especially millennials looking to protect their families in uncertain times. At the end of last year, the Palo Alto . company announced it had raised $100 million in Series D funding from lenders led by Thomvest Ventures and OMERS Growth Equity. By 2022, annual growth will triple. Ladder has spent more than $42 billion on coverage and the number of employees has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic.
Today, Hale’s biggest challenge is growing Ladder while maintaining a focus on employee culture and processes. “Life insurance is an act of love,” he says. “You’re not doing it for yourself. You do it for your family.”