Interview: Humphrey Bowles, Guardhog

Humphrey Bowles

Despite having to abandon his last business venture, Humphrey Bowles re-entered the insurance market with an insurtech proposition, Guardhog, to serve the sharing economy.

Bowles’ previous on-demand broking business Belong Safe went under within just three months of launching. The co-founder of Guardhog said that he has learnt a lot from the failure of his last venture. Jumping in too fast and partnering with the wrong people were just two of the things that led to Belong Safe being shuttered. 

In October 2016, Bowles and his partner Andrew Boldt launched Guardhog after finding a gap in the market for insurance for the sharing economy. The new proposition allows people who temporarily rent their homes via Airbnb to buy insurance as and when they need it.

The start-up is backed by Hiscox, which underwrites the policies, and has been bootstrapped by its founders – Bowles is hoping for optimum success from the new business.

CV

2016 to present

Guardhog 

2016

Founder of Belong Safe 

2012 to 2015

Head of new business at One Fine Stay 

2009 to 2012

Consultant at Protiviti

What have you learnt from the failings of Belong Safe?  

The old business failed due to not scaling as quickly as we should have done, which led to capital draining, presenting the age-old problem of running out of money. This was coupled with the founders having different ideas on how to cope with this, which led to a lack of chemistry. And education like that is priceless. I would say people should be very careful about who they go into business with and meticulously plan out all the financial implications and business interest.

We got into a fairly twisted web of being involved with a big broker and a number of other insurers, we lacked a cohesive plan of how we could build the company. The positive side to this is we now know what to do and what to avoid.

Do you think that traditional insurers would be able to tap into the sharing economy as well as start-ups have?

Incumbents have huge resources at their disposal, so if they wanted to target this niche area, they could. Fundamentally, traditional insurers can do what they want but there are questions as to whether they can attract the top talent and whether the sharing economy is mainstream enough to dedicate resources to it.

Traditional models of insurance don’t fit the models of the sharing economy and that takes a really innovative approach. It would be quite difficult for large insurers to find the expertise and it all comes down to the culture. In the insurance industry, traditional insurers offer year-round policies and this isn’t how the sharing economy works. Start-ups are a lot more nimble when it comes to the flexibility of their cover. It would take years for big insurers to be able to offer the sort of technology that works in the same way as start-ups.

What are your goals for Guardhog?

Immediately, we want the business to be recognised for what it is doing at the moment and we want to be the go-to sharing economy insurance provider. We want to be an independent pillar for both platforms and individuals. The sharing economy is still in its infancy, so there’s a lot more innovation to come and we want to grow alongside it.

Five words

  • Philosophy
  • Dream
  • Work hard
  • Persist

Hobbies

  • Cooking
  • Home-sharing enthusiast
  • Scuba diving
  • Hiking

Is insurtech just hype or is it here to stay?

Insurtech is here to stay. We are lagging behind fintech but we will catch up. Even despite Brexit, London will remain the insurtech capital of the world for at least 10 years. We have a broadly supportive regulator, so there is no way that this is just hype because the infrastructure is there in order to see this through.

If there is justifiable hype, it’s around making insurance sexy – that’s definitely not going to happen. That is why we are looking at practical sizes of distribution and making our products accessible and thorough.

How can London remain an insurtech hotspot despite a divorce from the European Union?

Tough times create fresh possibilities. Brexit won’t have any immediate effect on insurtech in London because it is likely to be quite a long process in terms of negotiations. The talent here will be protected and no government wants to lose its workforce. We have a lot of insurers and reinsurers based in London, so ultimately that will be where the sense of the market will remain.

Does the on-demand element of this type of insurance have a negative effect on customer loyalty?

There are a lot of positives to on-demand insurance. We live in an on-demand world in the sense that we consume things as we want them and when we want them. It has become the most demanded industry and insurance is hopping onto that bandwagon.The point of on-demand insurance is essentially: why would you want to buy a year-round policy when you are only dipping in and out of that cover?

Guardhog allows customers to get insurance at the click of a button and we then automatically provide them with cover as and when they need it; it means customers are putting their trust in us.

We’re building a much more loyal customer base than any other insurer because of the element of trust and peace of mind. No one likes purchasing insurance, so by making insurance easier for the customer to purchase, you ultimately build a loyal audience.

As a start-up, do you fear that incumbents will eventually be able to do what you do, but with more reputation and capital behind them?

If all the incumbents decided to focus on the sharing economy, they would obviously have more resources behind them to be able to do so. But the likelihood of them doing this independently is very unlikely. It would make more sense for them to buy a start-up like Guardhog and then put capital behind that.

The biggest challenge for niche players like Guardhog is distribution and the cost to get to scale in a consumer market. The success stories will come from insurtechs partnering with incumbents to deliver the best of both worlds.

What road did you decide to go down in terms of funding?

We decided to bootstrap the business rather than to seek funding from outside sources. Funding the business this way isn’t glamorous at all, but it gives us the freedom and control over what we want Guardhog to be. Being funded by venture capitalists was an option but we felt as though we would risk losing sight of the business. However, now that we have a clear idea of what our businesses is, seeking outside funding seems like a sensible option for turbo-charging the company.

You took part in the Financial Conduct Authority’s regulatory sandbox, how did this help your business?

Our experience in the FCA sandbox was good and we found it very quick. We worked closely with an advisor who understood our objectives and could help us make our proposition compliant. We were fully regulated within six weeks of our application being accepted and the programme allowed us to simply figure out what our business would look like once it went live.

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