Giant Google’s investment arm has purchased a minority stake in Applied Systems, a provider of insurance technology and cloud-based software for independent agencies.
The investment in Applied Systems is being made through CapitalG, the growth equity investment fund of Google’s parent Alphabet, which has also financed companies including Lyft, Airbnb, SurveyMonkey and Zscaler.
Neither side is disclosing financial terms of the deal, which closed about 10 days ago, before the public announcement.
Applied Systems CEO Reid French confirmed that Google/CapitalG will become minority investor, while adding that Google/CapitalG’s financial stake is significant. “It’s not small,” Reid said of the investment during an Oct. 16 conference call. “They made a legitimate commitment … it’s real money.”
Funds managed by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman are retaining majority ownership of Applied Systems, while CapitalG is joining JMI Equity and Stone Point Capital as a minority investor.
Applied Systems wasted no time in reassuring its clients, independent insurance agents, that they should welcome, not fear, Google’s involvement with the firm.
What Applied Gains
In return for the Alphabet/Google/CapitalG investment, Applied Systems gains access to Google expertise in areas including artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital marketing, according to the company.
French asserted that Google would not tap into any of Applied Systems’ insurance data residing in the cloud or within various customer applications.
“If you were going to be misinformed, you might say Google entered this partnership to get access to all the insurance data that exists in Applied’s cloud or customer applications. The short answer is none of them have any rights to our customer data,” French said.
The agency software company sees Google’s participation as a good opportunity for agents.
“There are many agents that have wanted to have greater access to high technology. The vast majority will view this, with the facts, as super-duper positive for Applied and for the industry,” French said.
CapitalG’s Gene Frantz said in prepared remarks the company views Applied Systems as “a pioneer in the industry” that transforms “the way insurers, agents and customers do business on the cloud.”
He added that the company looks forward “to bringing some of the world’s leading experts at Google and Alphabet [together] to drive innovation within the global insurance ecosystem.”
Google has pursued involvement in the property/casualty insurance industry before, most prominently in 2015-2016 through a failed experiment selling auto insurance online via its now-defunct Google Compare site.
This time, the search engine giant is investing in technology specifically focused on agents and brokers.
Should Agents Fear Google?
French said that Google/CapitalG wouldn’t be interested in Applied Systems if it wanted to reduce or do away with the P/C insurance industry’s reliance on agents and brokers. “They wouldn’t have made the investment if they did not anticipate this continuing,” he said.
French acknowledged that Google will be learning about the insurance industry through this deal, but said the deal, for it to be successful, will need the current network of agents and brokers. In turn, the technology infusion that Google will bring will benefit everyone, he said.
“Our industry deserves the ability to use that kind of technology and I think it sets us up really, really well for the next digital age of insurance,” French said.
French added that Applied Systems hasn’t decided where all the money will be used just yet, or specifics about where the company plans to apply Google technology in its products and systems, but it will gauge customer interest first.
“We will talk to our customers and see where they are most interested in search – is it Gmail, AI, machine learning?” French asked. He added that the company will continue to spend liberally, more than $60 million next year, on research and development independent of the Google deal.
Applied Systems, a privately-owned company, has grown considerably since launching in 1983. It produced $194 million in revenue in 2012 and that figure has grown robustly, reaching $331 million in 2017, according to numbers from the firm. Through the 2018 third quarter, Applied Systems has generated $388 million in revenue.
Part of that growth has come from expanding globally, with locations now in Canada, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. More than 1,500 people work for Applied Systems, according to the company’s web site.
In 2013, Applied Systems was acquired by investment funds advised by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman from the private investment firm Bain Capital in a transaction valued at approximately $1.8 billion. JMI Equity, a private equity firm that focuses on software and technology businesses, invested alongside H&F.
In 2006, Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in Applied Systems from Vista Equity Partners in a buyout that was reported to be worth $675 million. Long-time Applied Systems chief executive Jim Kellner retained a major stake in the company. Kellner remained as CEO until September, 2011, when French was appointed CEO.
This is an edited version of a story that originally was published by CarrierManagement.com.
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