Talent and Technology: Kalispell-based insurtech firm WaterStreet supports customers and employees through continuous improvement

Bernadette Johnson, Software Engineering Manager, center, has worked for WaterStreet Company for three years and enjoys the laid-back atmosphere of the Nerf-friendly office. Photos by Katy Spence.

By Katy Spence

Tucked in a large (and often Nerf-dart littered) building in southern Kalispell, WaterStreet Company takes a serious approach to making its employees and its clients happy. The company provides a software platform and managed business services to Property & Casualty Insurance companies.

CEO and founder Gregg Barrett summed up WaterStreet’s approach to product and culture saying, “One of our tenets is constant, never-ending improvement.”

Barrett, an insurance executive with extensive experience in Property and Casualty, founded WaterStreet in 2000 with the intention to help businesses in his space reduce costs and increase efficiencies. As the technology of the day shifted into the cloud, the new company grew with it, evolving from a two-employee niche services operation to the 82-employee firm it is today. In 2019, WaterStreet was named a Top 10 Policy Administration Provider by Insurance CIO Outlook.

Everyday life in the office

Bernadette Johnson, Software Engineering Manager, has worked for WaterStreet for three years. Originally from Belt, Montana, Johnson said her Montana connection got her foot in the door for a 25-year software career with CFI (now D&H) in Portland. She always kept her eye on jobs in Montana, where she could be closer to family and free from two hours of daily commuting.

After working for a corporation, Johnson said the WaterStreet position forces her to wear a few more hats than she’s used to, but the agile nature of the smaller company means things get done a lot faster.

“It’s been very challenging, but I love the job,” Johnson said. “You can get things done like no other without any political overhead. You just move so fast.”

Originally from Belt, Montana, WaterStreet Senior Software Manager Bernadette Johnson said her Montana connection got her foot in the door for a 25-year software career with CFI (now D&H) in Portland. She always kept her eye on jobs in Montana, where she could be closer to family and free from two hours of daily commuting.

WaterStreet takes a consultative approach to their all-in-one WaterStreet Insurance Platform, which helps insurance companies manage interactions with their customers. Barrett said this approach is very purposeful, as many companies sell software but don’t put in the effort to ensure that its clients are fully benefiting from it.

WaterStreet’s solution is dedicated teams that work with specific clients on both the developer side and the customer service side. With the right people on the support team, not only will the client have the right product, but they’ll know how to use it in the best ways.

“You have motivated people dedicated to your account that can help you leverage that software and say, what’s the solution for you? What’s the workflow for you? What is it that’s really troubling to you today that you need to slay? And then that’s what we focus on,” Barrett said.

The teams are spread throughout WaterStreet’s large office, which is undergoing renovations. When they bought this building in 2014, Barrett didn’t anticipate that the company’s growth would soon fill the much-larger space.

WaterStreet CEO and founder Gregg Barrett says his mutli-screen setup is essential to follow both work projects and the stock market.

“We thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing is huge, we’ll never fill it,’” Barrett said. “We filled it in 18 months.”

Along with some building and parking lot projects, Barrett said the goal is to create a positive workspace for his team. The in-progress break room is set to get more of a lounge vibe, complete with shuffleboard and ping-pong so employees can take a break or have more relaxed meetings.

This is all part of the employee-centric atmosphere that Barrett strives for. Johnson added that WaterStreet also emphasizes employee growth and education. New employees take basic insurance training so they can better connect with their clients in the P&C insurance world. On Wednesdays, WaterStreet buys a catered meal for lunch-and-learn discussions and highlights the Employee of the Quarter with praise and a $250 check.

The company also offers access to a variety of classes that employees can take to support or grow their careers. Passing a class earns the employee a two percent raise and an additional $200 check.

Nathan DeSpain, Business Analyst Manager, said he’s excited to learn more about blockchain and how it can apply to insurance technology.

“There’s processes and programs that help me understand insurance in a new way,” DeSpain said, adding that he will attend Blockchain seminars that WaterStreet will pay for him to take.

WaterStreet strikes a good balance between having the benefits and support of an established company with the agility of a smaller one, DeSpain said.

“It’s like working for a 20-year-old startup,” DeSpain said. “It’s something that’s been around for a while, but on the flip side, purely innovative… I’ll be here as long as I can be.”

 

Behind the scenes

WaterStreet Company utilizes teams to help their clients navigate the platform and work with their customers.

Despite working in such a niche market, WaterStreet clients bring a range of challenges to the company.

For example, one project aims to ease some of the end user’s interactions with their insurance company. Whether it’s empowering the consumer to submit video insurance claims at the time of an incident or allowing them to start a live session with an insurance representative right away, the result is less paper and a more efficient experience for both the insurance company client and their customers.

Barrett added that visiting insurance companies is vital to maintaining that meaningful connection between WaterStreet and its clients. A handful of team members will take a couple of days to visit the client, reflect on the past year, and look ahead to the coming year’s goals.

As WaterStreet nears its 20-year anniversary, Johnson said there are exciting developments in the works, including a new software architecture that will help easily integrate WaterStreet’s platform into older and more complex systems, as well as open doors for new projects.

“Everything is nicely layered, which you could use for any system,” Johnson said. “We could certainly use that same architecture for anything that we’ve ever envisioned.”

Barret added that the company is currently working on its fourth generation of software, which will yield an entirely new platform. The coming years will also see an expansion in WaterStreet’s tech department and in their solution reach, as well as whole services API expansion, he added.

Throughout their rapid growth and product development, Barrett has held to the company’s core tenet.

“We never think software is written and done” Barrett said. “It’s a living, breathing organism, software is. And so you have to keep improving, you have to keep growing.”

 


About the Author: Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and has an Environmental Journalism Master’s Degree from the University of Montana.

About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an nonpartisan nonprofit association of more than 375 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information, visit MTHighTech.org or subscribe to our biweekly newsletter.

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