Blog: Seven Asian insurtech start-ups to watch in 2017


Despite the US being seen as the pre-eminent center for insurtech investment, it in no way has the monopoly on all the good ideas.

This was evidenced by my blog last week where I looked at six start-ups to watch in the UK insurance market.

Today I am throwing the spotlight to Asia, in particular Hong Kong and Singapore, to feature seven companies here that are worth keeping an eye on in 2017.

In terms of start-ups, Asia has already seen a number of very high-profile entrants gain traction very quickly, not least Zhong An, the joint venture between Alibaba, Tencent and Ping An that is already valued north of $8bn (£6.45bn).

Elsewhere, Chinese peer-to-peer player Tong Ju Bao, comparison sites Go Bear [Singapore-based], Now Compare and Compare Asia [both Hong Kong-based] have made their mark, while Hiscox acquired one of the earliest insurtech plays in the region, Direct Asia in 2014.

Not included here because it has already gained a level of traction, but worth keeping tabs on is OK Direct - strapline 'Auto insurance reinvented'. A start-up that claims it is the "only mobile application in China using smartphone-based telematics to collect users' driving behaviour for its risk models". It has also introduced such diverse lines as parking ticket insurance, car wash insurance and traffic jam insurance.

Backed by IDG Partners, the potential in its market is underlined by the fact it already claims to have half a million customers and 600 million kilometres (373 million miles) of data since opening for business in 2014. By contrast, UK early telematics mover Insure the Box last year celebrated three billion miles of data and has 120,000 policyholders since launching in 2010.

Already this year Aviva, Hillhouse Capital and Tencent Holdings have agreed to invest in and develop Aviva Hong Kong to create a digital insurer to compete with the traditional agent model.

Further afield, Australian-headquartered IAG has unveiled plans to open an insurtech hub in Singapore called Firemark Labs to "work with top talent, start-up, research and technology partners to co-create products and services that will improve customer experience across Australia, New Zealand and Asia".

Here are seven other digital firms that could be reaping large insurtech investment in the future.

1) E Direct (trading as Frank) [Hong Kong]
Pitch: Asia's leading online insurance platforms. The right insurance at the right price

What we know:
E Direct is a Hong Kong-based holding company that has two subsidiaries operating under the Frank brand in Thailand and Taiwan, selling motor insurance in both domains and travel in the later.

It also operates a development centre in Portugal, with a team of over 20 engineers and product specialists, responsible for building the core insurance platform.

Tapping into the cuddly animals as a brand mascot trend that has worked so well in UK for the likes of Compare the Market and Churchill - and Go Bear in Singapore - E Direct is using a penguin, explaining it embodies ‘the core values' of the company: "It is a friendly, cheerful, and unwaveringly loyal animal, huddling together to protect its flock. Under the water, the penguin shoots through at high speeds with ease."

Founder and managing director Charlotte Bruce was previously co-founder and vice-president Asia-Pacific at Quandoo, a commerce platform for restaurants acquired by Recruit Holdings, Japan in 2015. Previously she held roles as head of planning, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Groupon based in Berlin and regional vice-president based in London.

Another senior person involved with impressive digital credentials is chief product officer Marshall Kim, who was a member on the leadership management team for Ebay Australia and New Zealand, before joining E Direct.

A sign of intent is underlined by the fact it is recruiting for around 20 roles at the moment including everything from a head of offline marketing and branding to product manager to SEO manager across Hong Kong and Taiwan.

2) Fitmyles [Hong Kong]
The pitch: The world's first health currency. Earn Fitcoins for all your healthy choices, big and small.

What we know:
Currently beta-testing ahead of its 2017 launch, Fitmyles revolves around an app that rewards people who lead a healthy lifestyle, tracking physical movement and healthy eating, and then converting them into a digital currency called fitcoins that can be exchanged for goods and services.

The brain behind the business is self-confessed Liverpool fan Chirag Jagtiani, who has a track record in wearable/connected device space having previously founded Spot N Save, a wearable gadget, that connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and can send out an SOS in case of any emergency, and Fitkat, an activity tracker that tracks your steps, calories and water intake.

3) Insurance Market [Singapore]
The pitch: We help you to protect yourself and your loved ones

What we know:
Insurance Market is a Monetary Authority of Singapore-licensed, online insurance broker that, based on its most recent seed funding in January 2016, is valued at $6m.

According to its site, Insurance Market has developed a web-based comparison and purchase platform that uses intricate automated rating and analysis models to evaluate policies. This, Insurance Market claims, enables it to personalise choices with regards to policy coverage, excess, terms and conditions, exclusions and other variables.

Co-founder and CEO Otbert de Jong includes ABM AMRO and PWC on his CV, before he became managing director of Metis Consultancy, a business that aims to develop and invest in concepts that "contribute to fair and efficient client dealings by making use of the possibilities of today's technologies".

Fellow Metis colleagues Jeremiah Tan (chief technology officer) and Kum Seng Wong (chief financial officer) helped de Jong set up Insurance Market in 2014, and have brought in Simon Machell, formerly CEO of Aviva's UK and then Asia-Pacific arms, as a non-executive.

4) Inzsure [Singapore]
The pitch: On-demand corporate insurance solutions where you have control

What we know:
Inzsure aims to use blockchain platform Ethereum to help its customers place policies "in record time" and pay claims "faster than you would believe possible".

The start-up adds that current paper-based contracts need multiple signatories, and take a lot of time. But through Ethereum, Inzsure can offer ‘smart contracts' that automate and deliver real-time signings in a paperless environment.

Among those involved are CEO and co-founder Steve Tunstall, who is also general secretary, Pan Asian Risk & Insurance Management Association and Asia Ambassador for the International Insurance Society. An Asian industry veteran of 30 years, his previous roles include head of compliance, insurance, legal and risk at Cathay Pacific and vice-president of risk for Genting's Singapore & Resorts World Sentosa.

What's more, he has been ranked the number one influencer on the Instech Power 100.

Co-founder Robin Lee has worked for various startups in Silicon Valley, hedge funds on Wall Street and most recently Datarama, a regtech firm specialising in digital due diligence. He is also a wing chun kung-fu practioner, a professional songwriter (including two years with Sony UK) and a registered actor with the American Screen Actor's Guild, according to his biography.

Among those on Inzsure's advisory board are David Cabral, the managing director of Artemis Speciality and a founding member of Endurance Specialty Insurance, and Gaurav Rekhi, founder and CEO at Home On, a start-up built around home automation, highlighting the depth of expertise involved in the business.

5) Inzurer [Hong Kong]
The pitch: Insurance comparison, advisory, and sales with AI underwriting and pricing in Asia

What we know:
No that is not a mistake; we have Inzurer as well as Inzsure, an Anglo-Hong Kong venture that is very much positioning itself as an aggregator for local markets in Asia, focusing on among other lines motor, travel and home insurance.

The difference being that Inzurer aims to make the insurance-buying process easier and quicker using an app, while promising better customer service through either human or artificial intelligence interaction.

Co-founder and CEO Tim Berry graduated from Oxford University, Cass Business School and is a fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries UK. According to his biography he specialises in product pricing, actuarial financial reporting and has worked in direct marketing of insurance products in Asia. He was also a lead developer of Orbit actuarial software.

Partner Joe Yiu is described as "a serial internet entrepreneur" having founded several online businesses.

In contrast to those involved with Inzsure, Inzurer's site boosts its founders "have more than 10 years' experience in [the] insurance industry", which might not sound much, but in insurtech terms is probably a lifetime compared to some start-ups.

6) Roojai [Thailand]
Pitch: A simple promise leads all our actions: Always there when you need us!

What we know:
Direct Asia continues to have a considerable impact on the Asia insurtech scene outside what it is doing itself. Co-founder and former managing director Simon Birch has teamed up with BHL to launch the sock puppet-fronted Singapore motor and travel insurer Budget Direct. While in Thailand, Nicholas Faquet, the former Hong Kong CEO and COO of Direct Asia, has launched online brand Roojai.

He is joined by former Direct Asia colleagues Sylvain Charroin (head of business intellgence), Sarin Thomas (senior developer) and Patrick Le Roux (CIO) at the start-up.

A licensed broker, regulated by Office of Insurance Commission, Roojai has partnered with Krungthai Panich Insurance, a subsidiary of the Krungthai Banking Group to "bring new technologies to the car insurance market from purchasing to claiming".

The business has been very public with its aims in attracting 250 000 policyholders by 2020, giving it a 3% market share, using a marketing strategy that combines digital and social media.

Linked with this the business has its launched its own brand mascot ‘Roojai Kangaroo' that it claims symbolises both speed and energy.

7) Seasonalife [Hong Kong]
The pitch: An online platform for Millennials to research, compare and purchase insurance. Stay tuned.

What we know:
Seasonalife key aim is simple, to be "the first insurance robo-adviser in Asia".

By codifying knowledge of people's needs, how insurance products actually work, and bringing in institutional-level risk management techniques, the founders of Seasonalife are seeking to offer "high-quality advice that can be scaled at a much lower cost compared to traditional distribution channels".

"Our mission", the start-up adds, "is to be people's ‘private actuary' to help make insurance simple and friendly again."

Seasonalife presently offers term, medical and critical illness cover, with travel among those products being considered for future release.

The business was founded by Michael Chan who has worked for EY, Lehmann Brothers and PWC in New York; and Fred Ngan, who has previously spent time in London, Chicago and Toronto as a consultant with Oliver Wyman and then EY. The pair have most recently both been employed at Coherent Capital Advisers in Hong Kong.

dic-logoPost already runs the successful Digital Insurance Collective in the UK as a meeting place for like-minded insurtech specialists from both incumbent and start-up players who want to #wakeupinsurance.

If you work in the Singapore and/or Hong Kong/other Asia-Pacific markets and are interested in joining - or indeed sponsoring - an Asian version of the Digital Insurance Collective for 2017 please email [email protected] with your details.

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