Stuart Bruce is in the business of making business easier, and that can be a daunting goal in the highly regulated worlds of insurance and finance. But Bruce has done it before and is doing it again by harnessing innovation—not just new technology, but how technology is applied.
Bruce is founder, president, and CEO of Policy Billing Services (Policy Bill), a Toronto-based financial services firm that provides independent insurance brokers the ability to offer their clients payment options similar to those offered by large insurance carriers. That includes credit-card payment and premium financing.
with Stuart Bruce
1. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
We challenge each one of our staff members to think for themselves and to be comfortable doing that, and especially to challenge senior management, because we don’t have all the answers. Titles don’t come with all the answers. At Policy Bill, we listen to our clients and listen to our clients’ clients.
2. Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
What we’re aiming for is to be the payment platform of choice for insurance brokers.
3. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
Over the past couple of decades, we’ve tended to look at innovation as purely technology, and I think more and more it’s how we apply technology. Innovation really happens when you challenge the process and change the status quo. Sometimes you use technology to accomplish that, and sometimes you don’t.
4. How do you cultivate innovation among your workforce?
We treat everyone individually and encourage a very open and honest dialogue among our staff. There are no wrong answers or wrong ideas.
5. What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Continuously challenging how things are in the marketplace and listening to clients. It’s not just one individual creating the ideas; it’s the structure of the organization. It’s the whole way the company works that challenges people and creates ideas among everyone.
“What we offer is to pay the premium up front on behalf of the client, and then the client pays us monthly,” he says. “The broker has their money up front from us, and we collect each month from the client’s bank account. By taking over the payment process, the broker can focus on their core business, which is the management of risk and placement of insurance coverage for their clients.”
Bruce is a chartered accountant and, at just 42 years old, already has an estimable record as a financial-services entrepreneur. After earning a business degree in 1995 from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, he launched his first premium finance company, Insurance Pay Canada Inc., in 2001. He grew it to 400 brokers and sold it, in 2007, to the Australian banking giant Macquarie Group.
“I stayed with them for a couple of years to run the company, and then I moved on when I saw a change in the marketplace with insurance brokers wanting a more defined and consistent method of receiving payments from their clients,” Bruce says.
Policy Bill was launched in 2011 and closed out 2012 with 700 brokers across Canada. “We’ve had tremendous growth, and much of that has come from two innovative products,” Bruce says. “One is our Policy Bill Connect service, which provides an easy point-of-sale payment plan for brokers to pass along to their clients. The other is our web quoting and submission tool, which makes it easy for the brokers to offer payment plans directly to their clients.”
Policy Bill’s payment systems are proprietary and are developed and rolled out with a staff of just 10 people.
“We have a relatively small team, and everyone has the freedom to think for themselves,” Bruce says. “I think that provides us with the ability to generate innovation. Certainly having control of our own technology leads us to be able to execute on that innovation.”
Bruce sees plenty of room for growth in the business. While the firm has captured 700 brokers, there are several thousand more spread across Canada. As for direct client users, it currently has transactions with 3,000 and could easily grow to a 10,000-user market. With consistency across jurisdictions, the payment programs could be offered in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Unlike his earlier business, Bruce has no plans to cash out of Policy Bill.
“I enjoy the relationships I have and the conversations I have with insurance professionals across the country,” he says. “My drive is to have an ongoing operational business. That’s what I’ve always wanted, and this certainly meets all of the criteria for me personally. My shareholders and I are very keen to see this as a long-term commitment. I’m a relatively young guy, and starting businesses is a hard thing to do. I would rather see it flourish and be a part of it for a long time than sell it.”