20 years ControlExpert

"A New Era"


“No business plan in the world could have explained, what actually has happened here during the last two decades”, says founder of ControlExpert Gerhard Witte on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the claims service provider in Langenfeld, Germany. He also said that the “hybrid model” human-machine will last even when five years time, claims worldwide will be settled fairly within 24 hours.


From left to right: Rüdiger Hackhausen (managing director ControlExpert), Dr. Andreas Witte (managing director ControlExpert), Gerhard Witte (founder ControlExpert) with his wife Petra Witte, Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart (Minister for economy, innovation, digitalization and energy of the state North-Rhine-Westphalia), Nicolas Witte (managing director ControlExpert), Achim Berg (president Bitkom) and Dr. Karl-Walter Gutberlet (former member of the advisory board of ControlExpert)


On Thursday, June 23rd, ControlExpert invited around 100 guests to its headquarter in Langenfeld, Germany to have a look back at the first 20 years of the company. Everyone who was invited, said CE-founder Gerhard Witte, played either temporarily or permanently a part in the success of the company. They also had in common that they “are not only business partners but also had become friends” who believed in the visions of CE and therefore provided valuable support in taking claims settlement into a new, digital era. “A New Era” was also the motto of the 20th anniversary to visualize this “turning point” of a path from paper-based claims documents to digitized and automated processes with AI support.


Personal thanks from the minister

Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart, minister for economy, innovation, digitalization and energy of North-Rhine-Westphalia, stated right at the beginning of the event what importance the company which is operating in 27 countries worldwide with 800 employees even at its location in Germany, where until today, the headquarter is located has. Pinkwart thanked the Witte family explicitly for their engagement and personal commitment. In his greeting speech, he put ControlExpert on one level with the R&D successes of Bosch and their safeguarding of autonomous driving. He also explicitly mentioned ESCRYPT, a spin-off from 2004 of the Horst-Görtz-Institute for IT Security (HGI) at the Ruhr-University in Bochum as well as the Max-Planck-Institute for Cyber Security that was founded in 2019, also in Bochum. ESCRYPT is the new market leader in automotive cyber security. Still in this year, the company is to move into a completely new development center on the former Opel site in Bochum.


Pioneer with clear visions

“All of these specialized companies are highly interesting for venture capitalists but are also important to the region North-Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) so that we are no longer associated with coal and steel.” That was an important statement for the minister. Future and progress also need an origin, Pinkwart continued. NRW “has unbelievable skills, especially in digital topics, sharp minds at the research institutes and universities, many start-up companies as well as outstanding large companies that have developed in the last decades within the digital field. The Witte family which we are celebrating today, together with their company ControlExpert and its employees, fundamentally belong to these visionary pioneers.”


Additionally, the state government is, according to Pinkwarts words, “highly confident that you, as a driver for technology and as an innovative company, will continue your outstanding development worldwide from this location. You are an example for the innovation state North-Rhine-Westphalia. Thank you for your performance and good luck for the next 20 years.”


From an appraiser office to a worldwide operating company

Referring to the current majority shareholder Allianz, CE founder Gerhard Witte assured the political guest that CE and the Witte family are “local patriots” and like to work in NRW despite “Munich also having its beauty.” Mr. Witte continues that all present guests are “part of the story and part of the founding phase.” The CE story started at a time where Gerhard Witte was, among other things, busy with checking insurance documents in his own appraiser office: “An always recurring, monotone task where I started thinking of how to simplify it. The first approach was a paper sheet – some kind of summarizing test report, which the insurers seemed to forward directly to their clients and realized that the realization ratio was higher.”


Start with HUK-Coburg, Allianz and R+V

The actual success story started with the insurance company HUK-Coburg and was continued soon after by Allianz. Despite the fact that many insurers showed a lot of skepticism at first – for example, Allianz had next to its research institute AZT around 500 own appraisers – the entry to straight-through processing and automation of glass damage claims followed very soon. As an active enabler, Gerhard Witte mentioned the Allianz claims management director at the time, Dr. Karl-Walter Gutberlet and his claims manager Michael Wagner as well as the claims manager at the time from R+V, Manfred Budel. “After that, insurers kept calling us one after another and that’s how we founded ControlExpert.”


Necessary fortunes and coincidences

Company founder Witte is convinced that “ControlExpert could never have been established with a business plan. There were a lot of coincidences in the beginning and above all there was a lot of trust from different people.” He called the longtime authorized signatory and sales director of CE, Jörg Breuer, a trained lawyer, as one of many fortunes for the company. This contact has also happened rather by chance through the appraiser and father of Breuer.


“Some people called me nuts”

“As soon as we actively started dealing with topics such as automation, Artificial Intelligence and other digital topics, some people thought I was nuts”, Witte elaborates self-reflected in his 20-year-recap. “Back then I already had that vision that there must be a way to detect a damage from a photo. Unfortunately, it took us 19 years but in the end it worked out. The important thing is that you believe in your visions, otherwise it all won’t work.”


From leasing companies to car manufacturers

In the course of his speech Gerhard Witte mentioned his contact to General Electric, which resulted in fleet assignments (Maintenance, repair, operational safety etc.) for the whole association of brand-independent fleet and leasing companies (e.g. Leaseplan, Deutsche Leasing, Athlon, Arval etc.). The available data (part prices, working value specifications and so on) had to be requested one after another from the car manufacturers, as the checking processes were totally different from insurance companies. “That was a very complex way”, on which partly they only were able to convince the OEMs with the help of the dealership associations. “Otherwise, we would not have been able to check the processes for the leasing companies.”


The manufacturers themselves joined later as customers. Gerhard Witte addressed Wolfram Knobling (Opel in the past, Citroen today) personally, who was present at the event. Knobling was very soon convinced: “If you want to work for us and do the warranty check, you obviously need our data.”


Suddenly 7 trucks with mail – everyday

The collaboration with the customers became closer and more extensive, which Witte explained vividly by the example of Allianz: “We offered Allianz to receive all of their paper mail for the sake of process acceleration so that we can look for the things we need for ourselves. What I didn’t know at that time was the fact that everyday seven trucks with mail from Allianz would arrive here. Unbelievable amounts, which is why we first of all organized a forklift and transport trolleys to be able to open and scan all cases into the Allianz-system by noon. Only then we could start to check them ourselves.”


“Not everybody liked us at the beginning…”

The advantage of taking on a challenge like this is that the “client trusts you with everything. That helped a lot, also when it came to closing business with other insurance companies”, says Witte. What also was challenging was that, next to the invoice checking, “we had to deal with legal matters with associations and lawyers. Especially appraisers didn’t like it at all – and also the claims handlers from the insurers were not really happy about us. To be fair, this must also be pointed out.”


Expertise from everywhere

Along with the topics digitalization, automation and AI, CE also addressed statistics and probability calculations with discriminant analysis and other techniques. Some products such as the “Tool Analyzer” or “Quick-RKÜ” were far ahead of their time, according to Witte. Even when they started with damage detection in photos “digital photos did not really exist yet which is why we started by scanning the pictures.” What all developments had in common was that “they cost a whole lot of money.” Nevertheless, they never stepped back from their own ideas and even collaborated with universities in Zurich and Australia on the topic of image recognition.


Dog & cat the same as door and fender?

Coincidences also played a role here and there: “When Google for example was able to distinguish between a dog and a cat, it was clear to us that we would be able to distinguish doors from fenders and other car parts. That was our starting signal for building an own research and development department.”


27 countries don’t come “just like that”

Building the business was not “just like that”, says Gerhard Witte. Customers that are also operating internationally, also have their share in the success of CE as well as the employees in today 27 countries, in which the company itself is now positioned. With Kai Siersleben, during his active time in the management of AUTOonline “we occasionally had this little competition of who has acquired more new countries. We traveled a lot and got to know many new customers and new cultures”, says the CE founder.


The future for the hybrid human-machine model

Digitization and automation has “always re-grounded the company because it’s a hybrid model where the humans continue to play an important role: Without humans, nothing would work. And also the machines would reach its limits at some point. If you trust the machines too much you are never well positioned. You have to take care that everything remains in balance with each other”, Witte is convinced.


In anticipation of his son’s Nicolas speech, he concludes: “If you want to settle every claim worldwide within 24 hours, there is a lot in this sentence: You will need a big, strong team. There is a lot you have to take into consideration and take action regarding data, car manufacturers, insurance companies and a fair handling with repair shops.”


“800 ControlExperts work on the 24-hour-world”

Nicolas Witte, who, together with his brother Andreas and Rüdiger Hackhausen, currently forms the management-board-trio of ControlExpert, picked up the 24-hour regulation: “800 ControlExperts do their best every day to come closer and closer to this vision.” But the 24-hour world “will never work as long as ControlExpert is at the end of the process. We therefore have developed new products which are involved much earlier in the claims process and ensure from the start that no mistakes are made.”


End-2-End Claims management

Todays’ product portfolio covers the whole claim value chain of CE’s customers. With the current end-2-end claims management, CE already starts with a digital product in the FNOL process “where we have built in so much intelligence that decisions during FNOL can be made without human involvement.” With this “we can already today settle a claim without a human, claims handler, appraiser or lawyer – fast and fair. That’s exactly what we have taken on in our vision”, says Nicolas Witte.


“In 5 years reality”

Already today, some customers of CE are able to “settle about 10 percent of their claims, which are submitted online or via an agency, completely automated and without any human interference.” However, this is still far away from what is possible, as products will become more customer friendly and the used technology will improve in the future. This will also increase the integration of e.g. sensor data from vehicles. For the 25th anniversary the company wants to reach the vision of a same-day claims settlement and Nicolas Witte is “absolutely convinced” about this.


“It’s a shame, that we weren’t able to save the Ahr-valley”

Achim Berg, president of the IT and digital association Bitkom, operating-partner of the worldwide operating growth investor General Atlantic and former CE advisory board chairman, was the first keynote speaker of the day. His last visit in Langenfeld was three years ago “where we talked a lot about digitization, decarbonization and many other topics. Three years are an eternity, today everything is completely different again.”


That does not only apply to technologies but also the life circumstances. Berg mentioned the “brutal war at our doorstep” as well as the current global food crisis, the energy crisis, the Chinese lockdown, permanently disrupted delivery chains, lack of skilled workers, inflation, the “distortion of the Bitcoin” etc. “That worries us but I think we can still manage that.”


A crucial part for this is digitization: It simplifies and extends our lives. In a direct comparison with Ukraine, he praised the innovation power of the local government and the people living there who managed to “get all vital matters on their phones with the easiest methods – even information about the nearest air raid shelter.” Creativity in terms of digitization can bring people “much further”. This is why the Bitkom president said it was “a shame for us that in 2021 we weren’t even able to save the small Ahr valley from a flood-catastrophe.” Turning point therefore means for Achim Berg to “stop political procrastination” in different areas.


Clear criticism of politics

Bitkom has proved with a study from 2021 that digitalization saves 133 tons of CO2 per year. Thereupon, the Federal Ministry for Environment has commissioned “an expensive counter study which proves the exact opposite.” Berg states, clearly annoyed: “If it takes 16 years for a digital health card, if digitization of the administration is a multi-generation project or if Denmark is 20 years ahead of us in education, then I really have to ask myself: When do we really plan to make a move?”


“Competition outpaced at a breathtaking speed”

ControlExpert, on the other hand, is a “prime example for diversity and an example that economy can be much more successful without politics. You just have to try things out.” Years ago, CE had already all future working material such as a 3D printer, VR glasses and much more. CE has “left behind its competitors at a speed that was almost breathtaking.” But despite all that, Achim Berg says that at CE, “the people and a humane, fair dealing with each other” is what counts. That may not be underestimated and is “one of the biggest achievements of Gerhard Witte.”


The course correction from the CE advisory board

In his well-known, well-read and equally whimsical manner, the former Allianz executive board Dr. Karl-Walter Gutberlet has finally dealt, as another keynote speaker, with the history and development of the Langenfeld-based company, that was given the well-known name with the Euro-sign by Gerhard Witte and Kai Siersleben. With many literary evidence, Gutberlet took the audience on an almost 20-minute, entertaining recap and outlook. He stated clearly, that a “critical intervention from the advisory board” (which he was part of back in the days) was unavoidable, as the CE stakeholders needed to change their business policy because they apparently liked to “donate” their services in the early days.


The ”New Era” continues

After the speeches, everyone was well informed why “A New Era” has begun in Langenfeld, how powerful ControlExpert masters the orchestration of automated claims process internationally and how it confidentally finds its way to realize a “fair claims settlement within 24 hours worldwide” up until the 25-year anniversary in 2027.



This article was originally published by AUTOHAUSonline (https://www.autohaus.de/nachrichten/schadenbusiness/20-jahre-controlexpert-a-new-era-3193507), 27.06.2022, Author: Walter K. Pfauntsch; Translation by ControlExpert