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How Automation Is Affecting Insurance

Jon Godfread

Plug and Play is an international innovation platform that has tech centers in 26 locations around the world. They recently announced that they are coming to North Dakota. This tech accelerator will play an integral role in helping fund ag tech companies to get off the ground. North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread was a crucial part of getting Plug and Play to the state. While most people probably don’t think about it, insurance is an industry that’s going to be heavily affected by automation. We talked with Godfread to discuss what’s being done to prepare for the change and what Plug and Play coming to North Dakota means for the state. 

Q: Tell us about Plug and Play. What do we need to know about this?

A: Many people across the state and in the region are familiar with tech accelerators, which exist to provide consultation and seed money for new ideas and technology thereby accelerating their growth. Plug and Play is different than your normal accelerator. Plug and Play is more of an incubator on steroids. With their model, they leverage partnerships with thousands of corporate partners across the globe and bring business and technology together. At the end of the day, Plug and Play has access to the largest corporate partners and cream of the crop in startups. It’s a win-win and it’s coming here to North Dakota.

Having an established, world renowned incubator with global partnerships could change the landscape of our entrepreneurship ecosystem. An unintended benefit of being North Dakota’s Insurance Commissioner and Chair of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Innovation and Technology Task Force is that I am experiencing the Plug and Play model firsthand as it is home to the largest InsurTech Accelerator in the world.  While the entity has 26 locations worldwide, it became apparent their business model is missing one piece.  

The missing piece was a vertical focused on AgTech and a presence in the heartland of America. As we all know, North Dakota is home to a robust startup community driven by organizations such as Emerging Prairie. I reached out to a delegation of folks across North Dakota and coordinated a trip to California to allow them to see Plug and Play firsthand and begin exploring a partnership based on agriculture innovation with North Dakota. 

This region has been founded on innovation and entrepreneurship. Our agriculture heritage has ingrained in us a sense of hard work and the ability to adapt and solve problems. Plug and Play will be another tool to take our economy to the next level. Partnering with Plug and Play provides an avenue to partner with global leaders in innovation and creates a showcase of our capabilities in North Dakota. As our state emerges into a national and international player in the energy and agriculture arena, it is imperative we utilize this momentum to create economic diversification to other sectors of our economy.

Plug and Play here will focus on, but not be limited to, agriculture technology. This is an important opportunity in North Dakota as our agriculture community is known for continuously innovating to stay ahead in its global marketplace. Plug and Play will allow that innovation to reach new heights and diversify what’s possible in our advanced agriculture economy.

Q: What do you hope this will do for our state?

A: Plug and Play is an unprecedented opportunity for our state and region to advance our leadership in developing and commercializing agricultural technologies (AgTech). Partnering with the largest innovation platform in the world will create new opportunities within the North Dakota and the regional startup community. While the focus is mainly on AgTech, the global Plug and Play network creates connections to other sectors important to the North Dakota economy such as energy, transportation, unmanned systems, data management and health care, which are essential for our region’s growth and development. 

For me, one of the most important components of this initiative is the opportunity to accelerate economic diversification and to build an ecosystem of innovation funding in North Dakota. The creation of this vertical in North Dakota will bring new capital, new players and new opportunities to our startup community in the region. A key challenge for our region is attracting capital to support our entrepreneurial community. Plug and Play locating in North Dakota will support the entire region and is a chance for our region to engage in the global conversation on innovation.


Jon Godfread
Jon Godfread
North Dakota Insurance Commissioner

Fun Fact
Guinness World Records’ recently named Robert Cornegy Jr., a New York City councilman, as the world’s tallest male politician. However, Godfread disputes this claim as when he played basketball for the University of Northern Iowa, he was nearly 7 feet tall.


Q: Automation will create a whole host of new problems when it comes to insurance. What’s being done now to address those problems?

A: The term, “problems” is not quite accurate. I believe the insurance industry is experiencing growing pains as it is generally a slow mover in adapting to technology. Insurance is not something a person thinks about every day but when it’s needed, we are glad it’s there. Technology and innovation continue to drive significant change in the economy and how people “work” is going to change over the next decade. But as opposed to a threat, it is a fascinating opportunity.   

I am fortunate to chair the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Innovation and Technology Task Force, which is charged with keeping insurance regulators up to speed on innovations in the marketplace. As part of our mission, we are looking for ways to adapt to the new technologies and create solutions to the inevitable bumps while upholding consumer protections. Already, work is underway to evaluate existing laws and develop strategies and a vision of changes to make sure we can keep pace with market. 

As we all know, this transition will likely be too slow for some and too fast for others. I think of how horse and buggies were disrupted by the automobile. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the problems of the day focused on how cars and horses can co-exist on the same roadway, and how do we insure these new automobiles. (Yes, insurance existed back then!) By 1912, automobiles outnumbered horses making the horse and buggy obsolete. Today, we cannot remember a time without cars or our current system of auto insurance. We are on the forefront of a new era, this time between manned and unmanned vehicles and I am willing to bet if we look 10 to 20 years into the future, our insurance system will look different. 

Q: In terms of insurance, what are some things that the average person might not think of when it comes to automation?

A: An example is autonomous vehicles. How will this type of transportation be insured? If two driverless cars collide, how is fault determined? Similarly, in the not-to-distant future, autonomous vehicles AND driver operated cars will share the road, changing a model that’s existed for over a hundred years. While these are some challenges, other technologies bring about opportunity.  

For instance, automation, unmanned systems and artificial intelligence will decrease claims processing times. After a storm, companies will deploy drones to assess damage quickly. This will shorten the adjustment period, enable faster payments and get recovery started faster for consumers. Automation will enhance the accuracy of rating risk with drone-deployed, detailed mapping. A company will accurately rate your property, leading to better quotes and fewer gaps in coverage. Technology is a tool and, at the end of the day, it should equally benefit the consumer and the industry.

Learn more about Godfread and the Insurance Department at nd.gov/ndins

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