David Riker '93
The number of dot-com businesses is growing exponentially, it seems, and Trinity's alumni office continues to receive news of graduates successfully pursuing Internet-based business. In this online issue we share with you David Riker's success story.
- Once upon a time, people seeking home, auto, or other kinds of insurance had to find themselves a local agent, who worked for a large monolithic corporation and who could describe and interpret that company's complicated policies. The claims process might involve multiple phone calls to the agent and long periods during which the customer worried about the status of his or her claim.
Today, there is an alternative. Through eCoverage, an online firm that sells auto insurance products without offices or agents, customers can purchase insurance within a few minutes of filling out a simple online questionnaire and, in a simplified processing system, file and track claims via the Internet. Cutting out overhead costs and eliminating the agent as a go-between, eCoverage seeks to save customers both time and money.
Described by some as "the Amazon.com of insurance," eCoverage boldly heralded its arrival on the insurance market in September of 1999 with advertisements containing the tagline, "The industry is history." While the country's insurance giants have not exactly rolled over, there is no question that the innovative, upstart start-up has begun to change the way people think about insurance and the way insurers think about themselves.
Says eCoverage founder and Chairman David Riker '93, "We have woken up an industry that could be characterized as the most bureaucratic and slow-moving industry of all." Featured in nearly 200 major press articles in its short life, eCoverage boasts a formidable "blue chip" board that speaks to its stability, despite its rapid growth. And the traditional insurers are taking notice. Not wanting to be left out of the online market, they are grappling with technology challenges and other issues related to conducting business on the Internet. To date, only a few other insurers actually sell insurance online. Some allow online submission of applications, for example, but in most cases consumers cannot manage all their insurance needs through a Web-based account and must still work within the traditional agent-carrier system.
Riker notes that eCoverage is different from the firms that are now trying to play catch-up. It was created from scratch, not simply as an insurance company, but as an Internet insurance company. At its inception in September of 1999, eCoverage sold online auto insurance in California by partnering with the Pacific Specialty Insurance Company. As its business model evolved, eCoverage made an agreement to buy an existing insurance company that was licensed in 48 states and created its own re-insurance company (eRE), making eCoverage a risk-bearing entity with greater control over the policies and services available to customers. Today, eCoverage is still selling only auto insurance through its Web site, but the company has plans to develop home-owners, renters, and other insurance lines in the future.
An English literature major at Trinity, Riker says his college friends will remember that he talked quite a bit about wanting to start his own company. "It's always been a lifelong passion for me," he says. Attracted to Trinity for the strength of the economics program, the future entrepreneur ultimately chose to major in English. While Riker never had to write a credible business plan for his English courses, he does credit such faculty members as Dirk Kuyk with teaching him, through literature, to assimilate large amounts of information and to analyze and understand each author's intentions. "That has been the foundation of everything since," he reflects today. Recently, Riker has put his energy and experience to work for his alma mater by accepting a seat on Trinity's Board of Fellows.
After graduation, Riker went to work for the Boston-based Genzyme Corporation, where he helped develop an Internet-based insurance payment system. In 1996, he founded his first company, Riker Networks, which offered a way for investment bankers and institutional investors to communicate via an interactive network. Unable to gain approval for the system from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Riker shut down that company and plunged headlong into developing a business plan and gaining financial support for his new start-up, eCoverage.
Today, Riker devotes most of his time to managing eCoverage's strategic partnerships with other online companies, such as E*Trade and Quicken. These distribution partners will help steer customers to eCoverage's Web site.
While eCoverage still has a long way to grow before it fulfills Riker's vision for it, he says, "No company to date has launched and gone national so quickly. I'm very proud of our aggressive strategies."
-- by Leslie Virostek
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