Tag Archives: Brian Hemesath

Startups Take a Seat at the Table

In an industry where experience matters, and where specific domain knowledge has traditionally been prized above all other things, startups are increasingly being included in strategic conversations, and given a seat at the insurance table. Insurtech startups are bringing important emerging technology innovations and smart business solutions to a stalwart industry, and interest and investment in insurtech is climbing steadily. With the pace of change and competition increasing, as well, leading industry incumbents are beginning to pursue collaboration with fresh partners and platforms.

Age Is Just a Number

There is no right age for launching a startup, or for undertaking an innovation initiative, but many naively assume that younger is always better. In fact, some mix of experience in the industry being targeted along with an innovative idea and entrepreneurial state of mind are likely the best combination.

The Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) in Des Moines, for example, provides support to insurtech startups worldwide through a mentoring system that matches industry professionals with startups for a chance to better focus product-market fit. The average age of program participants working from Des Moines has increased each year since inception in 2015. The average age was 35 in the first year. It bumped one year to 36 in 2016, and jumped to 40 in 2017.

See also: Will Startups Win 20% of Business?  

This mix of new voices and seasoned experts proves that innovation doesn’t have to come exclusively from one generation. Leveraging industry knowledge and experience with ideas from newcomers can lead to great things when attacking problems worth solving.

Everyone Needs Mentors

Over the course of three cohorts at the GIA, a shift has occurred in the amount of insurance experience the entrepreneurs had coming into the program. In 2015, only a couple of participants had worked in the industry. Now, in 2017, the pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum, and almost every member of the cohort has worked in insurance at some point during his or her career.

However, this prior industry experience hasn’t diminished the impact the GIA’s mentors have on any given startup’s evolution. The amazing pool of mentors who have raised a hand and taken a front seat in helping these early-stage InsurTech startups navigate a complex industry remain critical to the program’s success. Although the mentor role is largely to guide and advise, almost all of the GIA’s more than 100 mentors have reported learning as much from the startups.

Collaboration Is Key

There are six companies currently participating in the 100-day GIA program from a combination of the United States, Canada, Germany, and Serbia. The ideas and products offered by these InsurTech startups differ, as do the technologies powering the innovation, but these startups are all entrepreneurs who understand the vast opportunities within the insurance sector.

Moving to the main stage, GIA’s InsurTech startup cohort members gain a seat at the table this Spring during the fourth annual Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines. Sitting alongside peers in one of the global hubs of the insurance industry, these startups will be able to both learn from seasoned industry experts and share wisdom as well.

See also: 5 Challenges Facing Startups (Part 5)  

The Global Insurance Accelerator experience will culminate in a panel discussion at the Global Insurance Symposium which will discuss lessons learned, and provide an opportunity to network with leaders from around the industry. This experience will allow GIA’s cohort to better understand the industry so transformation can continue from the inside out.

Collaborative efforts like these will not only allow insurance industry players to remain relevant and competitive, but to transform the insurance industry by meeting customers’ needs through new and improved methods.

Observations From InsurTech Week

InsurTech Week 2016 hosted by the Global Insurance Accelerator in Des Moines was a great experience. It is quite interesting to see the energy, excitement, new ideas and investment in the insurance industry. Brian Hemesath and his team at the GIA have done a great job of harnessing this activity and being a positive force for change in the industry.

There are two themes I would like to highlight. The first is that the ingenuity and sheer variety of the startups is astounding – and will ultimately be a great thing for the industry. The second theme, and perhaps the more subtle one, is that there is a collegial atmosphere and a common sense of purpose about the role of insurance in society and business.

See also: Insurtech Has Found Right Question to Ask  

Variety and Ingenuity

The 11 insurtech startups participating in this InsurTech Week are a microcosm of the larger movement. A few examples are illustrative.

  • Abaris – an innovative, direct-to-consumer solution for retirement planning, starting with income annuities.
  • Insure A Thing – an idea for a revolutionary new business model for insurance that includes making payments in arrears (post-claim).
  • Denim – a social media ad platform for insurance with a vision to ultimately reimagine marketing and distribution.
  • ViewSpection – a mobile app for DIY property inspections to help to inexpensively provide more information to agents and underwriters.

The other participants also had innovative solutions for various lines of business and addressed key business issues in insurance today. They are: Ask Kodiak, Gain Compliance, Montoux, InsureCrypt, Elagy, CoverScience and Superior Informatics.

Some are in the early stages. Some originated outside North America and may or may not enter the market here. Some may not even be approved by regulators in their current form. But that is true of the broader set of the hundreds of insurtech companies that are active today.

The main point is that there is a great deal of innovation here, and many of these companies will play a role in the evolution of insurance, one way or another.

Collegial Atmosphere

The founders and investors in insurtech companies certainly desire to make money. Insurers that are engaging with these firms hope to gain competitive advantage. But in keeping with the culture of the insurance industry, there is also a great atmosphere of collaboration and even a sense that there is a higher purpose.

I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but there is a sense of altruism here – a sense that there are great opportunities to make the world a better place. Many of the insurtech companies see opportunities to improve safety in homes, in businesses, in factories and on the roads. The potential to significantly reduce accidents and deaths is tangible. Providing new services and capabilities to enhance lifestyles, improving individual well-being and just making it easier for customers to do business with the industry are also common purposes.

There is a spirit of cooperation among insurers, insurtech and other industry players, even in cases where companies are competitors. Not to criticize other industries, but insurance is about a lot more than selling a widget and making a buck.

See also: Calling all insurtech companies – Innovator’s Edge delivers marketing muscle and social connections

A Bright Industry Future

Overall, I believe this is cause for optimism for the insurance industry. It is not easy to transform from today’s business models, processes and systems into a future that embraces all the new ideas coming from insurtech. But many in the industry are now actively involved in building strategies, experimenting with new ideas and technologies, launching ventures and generally being willing to think differently.

While many industries are being disrupted, insurance is more likely to morph into a better version of itself, with incumbent players learning from and partnering with new players.

A Word With Shefi: Inoma at WeSavvy

This is part of a series of interviews by Shefi Ben Hutta with insurance practitioners who bring an interesting perspective to their work and to the industry as a whole. Here, she speaks with Hesus Inoma at WeSavvy.

Describe WeSavvy in 50 words or fewer:

WeSavvy is a digital insurance platform that gives customers cash back on their insurance premiums when they walk, run or cycle. WeSavvy’s mission is to give back customers control over their insurance premiums.

Why WeSavvy?

We believe the current insurance model is broken. We need to shift the current model from one of indemnification (payout in the event of a claim) to one of loss prevention and control. This can only be achieved by changing the current industry model from one that penalizes to one that rewards the customers for positive behaviors. If we take the healthcare industry in the U.S. as an example, between 2010 and 2015 premiums have increased by more than 26%, leaving customers completely powerless and at the mercy of year-on-year increases. WeSavvy showcases a better way to transform the healthcare insurance industry, by giving the customer full control of healthcare expenses.

How did you decide to pursue the idea of WeSavvy?

I’m passionate about the digitalization of insurance, yet WeSavvy is personal to me. Back in 2012, I was overweight, and my 2013 New Year’s resolution was to lose weight. I unleashed the power of my community to support me through my journey, and I successfully lost weight throughout 2013 and became very healthy. However, my health insurance premiums went up in 2014, and there was no way for me to effectively communicate my personal journey to my insurer. That’s when I decided, in late 2014, to quit my job and build WeSavvy, a platform that grants the insurer the ability to personalize quotes and empower policyholders to gain back control over insurance premiums.

What’s in a name?

I wanted a name that reflects our core beliefs that “We” as a community [friends, family, network] can leverage technology and be “Savvy” tackling the obstacles placed in front of us in relation to insurance.

Describe your typical client:

In everything we do at WeSavvy, we keep the policyholder [our end customer] in mind. Our current business model is B2B2C [business to business to consumer], where we leverage current networks present within the insurance industry to reach the policyholder. Our clients are insurers and agents looking to meet the expectations of the next generation of customers, whether millennials or digital natives.

What does competition look like?

We’re often compared to Vitality. The difference between WeSavvy and Vitality is the tangibility of our rewards mechanism. We want to ensure customers receive tangible rewards, which increases their disposable income. Vitality’s main focus is the insurer, and [Vitality has] partnered exclusively with one insurer in every new market it has entered. What happens to the other insurers and agents? Our focus is to service the market as a whole and all participants of that market. Our technology will be available to every insurer or agency that would like to better serve its customers. We will leave our user experience for another day!

You took part in the Deloitte Digital Disruptor; what did you learn? 

The biggest lesson I’ve learned was that the industry wants to embrace innovation, but, at times, the internal infrastructure and culture is not there to move at a pace of a start-up. Insurers that create the internal infrastructure and culture to move at the required pace will be the ones that reap the biggest rewards.

You’re currently taking part in the Global Insurance Accelerator; lesson learned?

We’ve perceive the main insurance hubs as being London and New York, and it turns out that Des Moines is a hidden gem for our market. The concentration of insurance companies in Des Moines is mind-blowing. Des Moines is truly “Kicking ass, taking names and selling insurance” [to quote the city’s slogan]. I’d advise any insurance company that is thinking of setting up an innovation lab or is looking to work with start-ups to reach out to Brian Hemesath and see what he has created here. The conditions for a start-up to succeed are truly embedded in this 100-day program.

Where do you see WeSavvy in five years?

WeSavvy will be the catalyst in transforming how the insurance industry is perceived. Insurance is an awesome product, but it has failed to communicate its true value to the customer. Insurance is one of the best mechanisms of risk transfer, and it forms the bedrock of every developed society. I see WeSavvy growing from strength to strength, year on year, and moving into other insurance products, which have failed to engage and resonate with the customers. We have no exit strategy, for the simple reason that, if I exited from WeSavvy, my next venture would still be in insurance; and I love what WeSavvy as a company stands for: personal and social empowerment. You never know, we might IPO one day!

Best life lesson:

“Your Health is your wealth” is one of my best lessons as it taught me [after my mother passed away for cancer] that if there’s anything we could do to extend our time with our loved ones in this life, we should do it!

To see more of the “A Word With Shefi” series, visit her thought leader profile. To subscribe to her free newsletter, “Insurance Entertainment,” click here.