2020 was a year like no other, so it should come as no surprise that we aren’t just going to be able to pick up where we left off as the pandemic eases. That is even truer with regard to the high-risk, high-reward world of investing in insurtechs. To use a football metaphor, 2020 was a year full of “broken plays.” Now that conditions are beginning to settle, we need to look at 2021 as a “rebuilding” year; more of a reset than a resumption of what was.
Narrowing Focus; Fewer, Larger Checks
Crunchbase data shows that there were almost 60 insurtech funding rounds in the final quarter of 2020, lower than the 65 transactions in the same period in 2019 but much higher than the paltry 36 transactions in the second quarter of 2020. Equally revealing is that almost half of the rounds in the last quarter of 2020 were for $10 million or more, reinforcing a longer-term trend toward fewer startups receiving higher amounts in a confusing and uncertain business environment.
In markets like these, investors will become even more pragmatic and disciplined, narrowing their focus to more mature insurtechs displaying measurable traction and to those whose products and services are higher on the insurance industry’s adoption curve.
According to S&P, the industry faces a combined ratio over 100 in 2001 – the first time in three years – because of the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. In response, carriers will focus on insurtech that is relatively easy to deploy, that can reduce expenses and that boosts productivity and efficiency. Carriers will increasingly invest in, and acquire, these innovative companies to guarantee prioritization of attention to their needs while also keeping these valuable innovations out of the hands of competitors. Some insurers are reducing pilot program exploration in less certain technologies to maintain their focus on those with shorter-term potential payback.
Favored target technologies include:
- big data aggregation, analytics and processing
- no code/low code, which provides access to information management directly to line of business heads
- artificial intelligence, including robotics process automation, computer vision, machine learning and natural language processing
- AI-enabled chatbots
- technologies and platforms that accelerate carrier-broker information exchanges and expand distribution channels to drive business product sales.
- end-to-end digital claim platforms and ecosystems
- digital claim payment solutions for policyholders, providers and vendors, which are seeing unprecedented uptake across all P&C lines as faster, lower-cost and contactless market demands continue to swell
- telematics programs, which are enjoying broader-based adoption in both personal and commercial lines as new and more compelling business models beyond just pricing discounts are enabling carriers to expand into new demographic segments and increase profitability by reducing customer acquisition, risk and claim costs.
See also: 11 Insurtech Predictions for 2021
Less Favored Technologies
Insurtechs that are likely to find it more difficult to attract investment in 2021 will be those that require greater implementation effort, create more organizational disruption and carry longer payback periods. These include:
- AI voice
- augmented and virtual reality
- smart assistants
Creative Exit Strategies
Some of the more mature insurtechs may find their investors seeking exits, especially those funded by venture capital firms, which have traditionally had five- to seven-year investment horizons. We should expect to see more strategic acquisitions of these companies by insurance companies, some of which were also early investors through their corporate venture capital arms.
Recent transactions of this nature include:
- American Family’s acquisition of Bold Penguin (which had recently itself acquired xagent and RiskGenius)
- Aon’s acquisition of small business commercial quoting platform CoverWallet
- Brown & Brown’s acquisition of CoverHound, a digital property/casualty insurance marketplace, and CyberPolicy, CoverHound’s small business subsidiary
- National General’s acquisition of Syndeste, an insurance technology company focused on the flood insurance market using comprehensive data and analytics, before being itself acquired by Allstate
- Prudential Financial acquisition of direct-to-consumer platform Assurance IQ
- and, in two “turnabout is fair play” transactions, insurtech Hippo acquired insurance carrier Spinnaker, and newly minted SPAC Porch acquired insurer Homeowners of America
Other effective exit strategies for insurtechs will be IPOs (initial public offerings) so long as the stock market remains frothy and investors value future projections more than recent results. Beneficiaries of this channel in 2019 include Lemonade and Root. Hippo is rumored to be exploring the public market, as is Metromile, which is planning to do so through the newly popular SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) vehicle. A type of “blank check company," a SPAC is created specifically to pool funds to finance a merger or acquisition opportunity within a set timeframe. Many investors have been exhibiting extremely irrational exuberance for the SPAC phenomenon, which now includes some specializing in re/insurance and insurtech opportunities.
See also: Has Pandemic Shifted Arc of Insurtech?
In fact, investment firm Cohen & Co. launched its first SPAC with a specific insurance, reinsurance and insurtech remit in early 2019. Its second re/insurance SPAC has entered into a planned combination with insurtech Metromile, which will effectively take that company public. As is evident, the insurtech species will continue to thrive in 2021 in spite of and because of the pandemic, just with several differences. As in nature, adaptation is essential to survival.