Efforts to reclaim extorted money must go hand in-hand with regulations on insurers.
Automating insurance claims is a big business, and the world of AI is coming at it ‘full pelt’. The latest is Akur8, an insurtech automating insurance platform whose ‘Transparent AI’ product is trying to eat into the incumbent large business of Willis Towers watson, among others.
It’s now closed a Series B funding round of $30m led by an undisclosed investor. This brings its total funding to $42m. The round is to support international expansion.
Akur8 is used by actuaries and pricing teams to make faster decisions about insurance claims.
Customers include AXA, Generali, and Munich Re, specialty insurers Canopius and Tokio Marine Kiln, insurtechs Wakam and wefox, as well as mutualistic player Matmut.
Samuel Falmagne, co-founder and CEO of Akur8 commented: “We are happy to announce the closing of our Series B funding round and are grateful for the support we have seen from our investors. This latest milestone will enable us to accelerate the transformation of insurance pricing even further, fuel our international expansion in the US and APAC, and equip P&C and health carriers with a state-of-the-art, integrated pricing solution that we have been building and refining tirelessly.”
Julien Creuzé, Partner at BlackFin Capital Partners Said: “The BlackFin team is thrilled to see Akur8 continue to spread its wings and deploy its next-generation pricing platform across insurance carriers worldwide. We have built a great relationship with the Akur8 management team and it’s a pleasure to welcome new investors and continue this journey with them.”
The round will help the company bolster the predictive AI and machine learning algorithms that power nSure AI’s “first of its kind” fraud protection platform. Prior to this round, the company received $550,000 in pre-seed funding from Kamet in March 2019.
The Tel Aviv-headquartered startup, which currently has 16 employees, provides fraud detection for high-risk digital goods, such as electronic gift cards, airline tickets, software, and games. While most fraud detection tools analyze each online transaction in an attempt to decide which purchases to approve and decline, nSure AI’s risk engine leverages deep learning techniques to accurately identify fraudulent transactions.
nSure AI, which is backed by insurance company AXA, said it has a 98% approval rating on average for purchases, compared to an industry average of 80%, allowing retailers to recapture nearly $100 billion a year in revenue lost by declining legitimate customers. The company is so confident in its technology that it will accept liability for any fraudulent transaction allowed by the platform.
nSure AI’s founders Alex Zeltcer and Ziv Isaiah started the company after experiencing the unique challenges faced by retailers of digital assets. The first week of their online gift card business found that 40% of sales were fraudulent, resulting in chargebacks. The founders began to develop their own platform for supporting the sale of high-risk digital goods after no other fraud detection service met their needs.
Alex Zeltcer, co-founder and chief executive, said the investment “enables us to register thousands of new merchants, who can feel confident selling higher-risk digital goods, without accepting fraud as a part of business.”
nSure AI, which currently monitors and manages millions of transactions every month, has approved close to $1 billion in volume since going live in 2019.
This morning, Anna Heim and Alex Wilhelm dug into the EU insurtech market, interviewing European VCs and collating the biggest recent rounds to take the temperature of the waters across the pond:
- Alex Timm, CEO, Root
- Dan Preston, CEO, MetroMile
- Luca Bocchio, partner, Accel
- Florian Graillot, investor, Astorya.vc
- Stephen Brittain, director and founder, Insurtech Gateway
Several European-based insurtech startups entered unicorn territory this year, such as Bought By Many, which offers pet insurance; London-based Zego; and Alan, a French startup that raised a $220 million round.
According to Brittain, EU startups in this sector are “still at the very early stages of innovation,” having only shown “a fraction of what’s possible” in a market that is “as large as banking.” Interestingly, he predicted that AI will play a larger role in the future as companies deploy it for fraud detection, improved customer experiences and processing claims more quickly.
“We are fully expecting the next generation of AI-driven business to unlock real-time risk analysis, pricing and claims resolution in the next few years,” he said.
Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch; I hope you have a safe, relaxing weekend.
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
What do these 4 IPOs tell us about the state of the market?
Earlier this week, The Exchange assessed the looming Monday.com IPO before reading the tea leaves about that flotation and three others to sum up the overall state of the market.
So what do the Marqeta, Monday.com, Zeta Global and 1stDibs debuts tell us? We may have been too conservative.
Toast’s Aman Narang and BVP’s Kent Bennett on how customer obsession is everything
On a recent episode of Extra Crunch Live, we spoke to Toast founder Aman Narang and Kent Bennett of Bessemer Venture Partners about how they came together for a deal, what makes the difference for both founders and investors when fundraising, and the biggest lessons they’ve learned so far.
The episode also featured the Extra Crunch Live Pitch-Off, where audience members pitched their products to Bennett and Narang and received live feedback.
Extra Crunch Live is open to everyone each Wednesday at 3 p.m. EDT/noon PDT, but only Extra Crunch members are able to stream these sessions afterward and watch previous shows on-demand in our episode library.
AI startup investment is on pace for a record year
“The startup investing market is crowded, expensive and rapid-fire today as venture capitalists work to preempt one another, hoping to deploy funds into hot companies before their competitors,” they write. “The AI startup market may be even hotter than the average technology niche.”
But that’s not surprising. The Exchange was on it.
“In the wake of the Microsoft-Nuance deal, The Exchange reported that it would be reasonable to anticipate an even more active and competitive market for AI-powered startups,” Alex and Anna note. “Our thesis was that after Redmond dropped nearly $20 billion for the AI company, investors would have a fresh incentive to invest in upstarts with an AI focus or strong AI component; exits, especially large transactions, have a way of spurring investor interest in related companies.”
Their expectation is coming true: Investors reported a fierce market for AI startups.
Dear Sophie: What is a diversity green card and how do I apply for one?
I started a tech company about two years ago, and ever since I’ve dreamed of expanding my company in the United States.
I would love to have a green card. Someone mentioned that I should apply for a diversity green card. Would you please provide me with more details about it and how to apply?
— Technical in Tanzania
How to start a company in 4 days
Pulley founder and three-time YC alum Yin Wu offers a tactical guide to getting a startup running in four days. Yes, just four days.
“The logistics of setting up a startup should be simple, because over the long run, complicated equity setups and cap tables cost more money in legal fees and administration time,” Wu notes.
Read on for guidance on how to get your business going in less than a week.
Health clouds are set to play a key role in healthcare innovation
Innovaccer founder and CEO Abhinav Shashank and CTO Mike Sutten write in a guest column that the U.S. healthcare industry is in the middle of a massive transformation.
This shift, they write, “is being stimulated by federal mandates, technological innovation, and the need to improve clinical outcomes and communication between providers, patients and payers.”
Improving healthcare now means we need to process tremendous amounts of healthcare data. How do we do it? The cloud, which “plays a pivotal role in meeting the current needs of healthcare organizations.”
What SOSV’s Climate Tech 100 tells founders about investors in the space
SOSV’s Benjamin Joffe and Meghan Hind round up a “who’s who” from the venture capital firm’s SOSV Climate Tech 100, a list of the best startups addressing climate change that SOSV has supported from the very beginning.
“What can founders learn from the list about climate tech investors? In other words, who invested in the Climate Tech 100?” they ask.
The fintech endgame: New supercompanies combine the best of software and financials
Now that we can transact from anywhere, a new, hybrid class of software companies with embedded financial services are scooping up consumers — and investors are following the action.
Using data from a Battery Ventures report about “the intersection of software and financial services,” this post examines why these companies can be so hard to value and offers a framework for better understanding their business models and investor appeal.
After 30 years, ‘Crossing the Chasm’ is due for a refresh
Geoffrey Moore’s “Chasm,” a framework for marketing technology products that has been one of the canonical foundational concepts to product-market fit for three decades, needs a bit of an upgrade, Flybridge Capital’s Jeff Bussgang writes.
“I have been reflecting on why it is that we venture capitalists and founders keep making the same mistake over and over again — a mistake that has become even more glaring in recent years,” he writes.
Bussgang goes on to consider the Chasm — and propose tweaks for thinking about market size in the modern era.
If money is the ultimate commodity, how can fintechs — which sell money, move money or sell insurance against monetary loss — build products that remain differentiated and create lasting value over time?
And why are so many software companies — which already boast highly differentiated offerings and serve huge markets— moving to offer financial services embedded within their products?
A new and attractive hybrid category of company is emerging at the intersection of software and financial services, creating buzz in the investment and entrepreneurial communities, as we discussed at our “Fintech: The Endgame” virtual conference and accompanying report this week.
These specialized companies — in some cases, software companies that also process payments and hold funds on behalf of their customers, and in others, financial-first companies that integrate workflow and features more reminiscent of software companies — combine some of the best attributes of both categories.
From software, they design for strong user engagement linked to helpful, intuitive products that drive retention over the long term. From financials, they draw on the ability to earn revenues indexed to the growth of a customer’s business.
Fintech is poised to revolutionize financial services, both through reinventing existing products and driving new business models as financial services become more pervasive within other sectors.
The powerful combination of these two models is rapidly driving both public and private market value as investors grant these “super” companies premium valuations — in the public sphere, nearly twice the median multiple of pure software companies, according to a Battery analysis.
The near-perfect example of this phenomenon is Shopify, the company that made its name selling software to help business owners launch and manage online stores. Despite achieving notable scale with this original SaaS product, Shopify today makes twice as much revenue from payments as it does from software by enabling those business owners to accept credit card payments and acting as its own payment processor.
The combination of a software solution indexed to e-commerce growth, combined with a profitable payments stream growing even faster than its software revenues, has investors granting Shopify a 31x multiple on its forward revenues, according to CapIQ data as of May 26.
How should we value these fintech companies, anyway?
Before even talking about how investors should value these hybrid companies, it’s worth making the point that in both private and public markets, fintechs have been notoriously hard to value, fomenting controversy and debate in the investment community.
Branch Insurance, a startup offering bundled home and auto insurance, has raised $50 million in a Series B funding round led by Anthemis Group.
Acrew, Cherry Creek Holdings and existing backers Greycroft, HSCM Bermuda, American Family Ventures, SignalFire, SCOR P&C Ventures, Foundation Capital and Tower IV also participated in the round. With this latest financing, Columbus, Ohio-based Branch has raised $82.5 million in total funding since its 2017 inception.
With so many players in the insurtech space, it can get tough distinguishing the various offerings. Branch claims that it is unique in that it is able to provide customers with “an instant insurance offer” for bundled home and auto insurance “within seconds” using just a few pieces of information.
Co-founder and CEO Steve Lekas began his career at Allstate, where he went on to hold roles in underwriting, technology and product management. He then went on to build Esurance’s first online home insurance business.
But in the back of his mind, Lekas yearned to figure out a way to make insurance more accessible for more people. And so he teamed up with Joe Emison, and Branch was born.
“The industry is structurally flawed and it harms consumers. Complicated policies, rising costs and marketing warfare all contribute to a vicious cycle that results in overpriced insurance,” said Lekas. “We are a full-stack insurance company transforming the way people think about their home and car insurance.”
Branch, he claims, is the only insurance company that he is aware of that can bind insurance through an API, and the only one that can bundle auto and home insurance in a single transaction.
Another way Branch is unique, according to Lekas, is that it can be embedded into the buying experience. In other words, the company has partnered with companies such as Rocket Mortgage and ADT to integrate insurance at the point of sale in their products. For example, if a person is closing on a home, they have the option of purchasing Branch insurance at the same time.
“Every home or car policy starts with another transaction,” Lekas said. “Insurance is a product that exists only because of the other transaction. It’s never before been possible to embed in that primary purchase before.”
This distribution model means that Branch shells out less to acquire customers and thus, it claims, is able to offer premiums for a lower price than competitors.
“In just two clicks, a consumer can have home and car insurance or just home and we’ll cancel the old insurance on their closing date, and transmit all the data to their existing mortgage,” Lekas said.
Branch also offers its insurance direct-to-consumer and through agencies.
The company plans to use its new capital in part to accelerate its rollout across the U.S. so that it can sign more such partnerships where it can embed its offering. Currently, Branch has more than 30 partnerships of varying sizes, and is “adding more every week” as it launches in more states.
“It’s really hard to move quickly,” Lekas said. “The system is built to make you move slowly. Every state regulator has to approve individually and independently with their own rules.”
Lekas predicts Branch will be available in more than 80% of the U.S. before the year’s out.
Branch has seen increased momentum since its $24 million Series A in July 2020.
Specifically, the startup says it has achieved a 435% growth in its partner channel, 660% growth in active policies and a 734% increase in active premium less than one year after its last raise.
Anthemis Group Partner Ruth Foxe Blader notes that Branch marks her firm’s first investment from its new growth fund.
Blader says she has invested in insurance innovation over the past decade, and is particularly attracted to insurtech businesses that represent three things: significant technology and data science innovation; significant product innovation and significant cultural innovation.
“Branch easily ticks those boxes,” Blader told TechCrunch. “Branch’s products are both embedded and bundled, making them less expensive and more convenient to purchase, and less likely to leave customers with critical protection gaps.”
The startup, she added, effectively combines data science and technology to create “unique, automatic product bundles.”
With what it describes as a “built-for-savings” structure, Branch said it has created connected home discounts as well as programs that reward members for making referrals and practicing safe driving behaviors, for example.
Branch also has formed a nonprofit, SafetyNest, to help those who are un- or underinsured.
The state’s insurance regulator endorsed proposals that could reshape the real estate market, the latest sign of climate shocks hitting the economy.
German startup Wefox has raised a $650 million Series C funding round led by Target Global. Following this funding round, the company has reached a post-money valuation of $3 billion. Wefox is a digital insurer focused on personal insurance products, such as household insurance, motor insurance and personal liability insurance.
“It’s much more than we wanted to raise initially. It was a very fast process and essentially we were oversubscribed by 4x or so,” co-founder and CEO Julian Teicke (pictured left) told me.
In December 2019, the company reported a $1.65 billion valuation. And the company says today’s funding round is one of the largest Series C rounds of all time — and likely the largest Series C round for an insurtech company more specifically.
“Almost all of the big existing investors are participating,” Teicke said. OMERS Ventures, G Squared, Mountain Partners, Merian, Horizons Ventures, Eurazeo, Mubadala Capital, Salesforce Ventures, Speedinvest, CE Innovation Capital, GR Capital and Seedcamp are all participating once again in this Wefox founding round. New investors include FinTLV, Ace & Co, LGT and its affiliated impact investing platform Lightrock, Partners Group, EDBI, Jupiter and Decisive.
“Not only have we raised a super large amount but also in a very fast time. It took us a total of four weeks to get all commitments in,” co-founder an CFO Fabian Wesemann (pictured right) told me.
Wefox believes it can now iterate and generate more and more revenue as it scales — it just needs capital to reach the next level. “We’re tackling that $5.2 trillion industry that has been stuck in the pre-internet era. We nailed how to disrupt it in our core market,” Teicke said.
But what makes Wefox different from legacy insurance companies? Wefox isn’t a direct-to-consumer insurance company. Most insurance products are still sold by agents and the startup believes this isn’t going to change anytime soon.
That’s why Wefox has 700 agents selling Wefox products exclusively. It also partners with associate brokers — around 5,000 can distribute Wefox products.
“While the rest of the industry seems to say that human agents are dead, we think they’re more relevant than ever,” Teicke said.
In 2020 alone, the company generated $140 million in revenue. If you look at Wefox Insurance, the company’s insurance carrier, the company reported a profit for 2020. As for the group, “we’re going to show overall profitability by 2023,” Wesemann said.
That fast growth rate combined with a clear path to profitability means that Wefox has an ambitious roadmap. As a full-stack insurance company licensed in Lichtenstein, Wefox can passport its license to other European countries. The company is currently live in five markets right now and is working on expanding to Italy soon.
In addition to new markets, Wefox plans to sell new insurance products — property and casualty insurance, pet insurance, health insurance, life insurance… If you’re thinking about an insurance product, chances are Wefox is already working on it. “This year we’re launching around 20 new insurance products,” Teicke said.
While distribution is managed decentrally with local agents talking with local customers, insurance products are managed centrally. The startup prioritizes products by revenue potential and goes down the list one product at a time.
Finally, Wefox has ambitious plans when it comes to reducing administrative costs. The company has been investing in automation so that common processes are handled by an algorithm. Currently, 80% of its processes are handled automatically. It’s a never-ending process as you have to adapt your processes when you launch new products.
Wefox is also working on prevention. The company has put together an AI team in Paris to prevent bad things from happening in the first place. As always with insurance companies, it’s all about optimizing every layer and every step of the customer journey to build a product that stands out from what’s already out there.
Here in the U.S. the concept of using driver’s data to decide the cost of auto insurance premiums is not a new one.
But in markets like Brazil, the idea is still considered relatively novel. A new startup called Justos claims it will be the first Brazilian insurer to use drivers’ data to reward those who drive safely by offering “fairer” prices.
And now Justos has raised about $2.8 million in a seed round led by Kaszek, one of the largest and most active VC firms in Latin America. Big Bets also participated in the round along with the CEOs of seven unicorns including Assaf Wand, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Insurance; David Velez, founder and CEO of Nubank; Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO Kavak; Sergio Furio, founder and CEO of Creditas; Patrick Sigris, founder of iFood and Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass. Senior executives from Robinhood, Stripe, Wise, Carta and Capital One also put money in the round.
Serial entrepreneurs Dhaval Chadha, Jorge Soto Moreno and Antonio Molins co-founded Justos, having most recently worked at various Silicon Valley-based companies including ClassPass, Netflix and Airbnb.
“While we have been friends for a while, it was a coincidence that all three of us were thinking about building something new in Latin America,” Chadha said. “We spent two months studying possible paths, talking to people and investors in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, until we came up with the idea of creating an insurance company that can modernize the sector, starting with auto insurance.”
Ultimately, the trio decided that the auto insurance market would be an ideal sector considering that in Brazil, an estimated more than 70% of cars are not insured.
The process to get insurance in the country, by any accounts, is a slow one. It takes up to 72 hours to receive initial coverage and two weeks to receive the final insurance policy. Insurers also take their time in resolving claims related to car damages and loss due to accidents, the entrepreneurs say. They also charge that pricing is often not fair or transparent.
Justos aims to improve the whole auto insurance process in Brazil by measuring the way people drive to help price their insurance policies. Similar to Root here in the U.S., Justos intends to collect users’ data through their mobile phones so that it can “more accurately and assertively price different types of risk.” This way, the startup claims it can offer plans that are up to 30% cheaper than traditional plans, and grant discounts each month, according to the driving patterns of the previous month of each customer.
“We measure how safely people drive using the sensors on their cell phones,” Chadha said. “This allows us to offer cheaper insurance to users who drive well, thereby reducing biases that are inherent in the pricing models used by traditional insurance companies.”
Justos also plans to use artificial intelligence and computerized vision to analyze and process claims more quickly and machine learning for image analysis and to create bots that help accelerate claims processing.
“We are building a design driven, mobile first and customer experience that aims to revolutionize insurance in Brazil, similar to what Nubank did with banking,” Chadha told TechCrunch. “We will be eliminating any hidden fees, a lot of the small text and insurance specific jargon that is very confusing for customers.”
Justos will offer its product directly to its customers as well as through distribution channels like banks and brokers.
“By going direct to consumer, we are able to acquire users cheaper than our competitors and give back the savings to our users in the form of cheaper prices,” Chadha said.
Customers will be able to buy insurance through Justos’ app, website, or even WhatsApp. For now, the company is only adding potential customers to a waitlist but plans to begin selling policies later this year..
During the pandemic, the auto insurance sector in Brazil declined by 1%, according to Chadha, who believes that indicates “there is latent demand rearing to go once things open up again.”
Justos has a social good component as well. Justos intends to cap its profits and give any leftover revenue back to nonprofit organizations.
The company also has an ambitious goal: to help make insurance become universally accessible around the world and the roads safer in general.
“People will face everyday risks with a greater sense of safety and adventure. Road accidents will reduce drastically as a result of incentives for safer driving, and the streets will be safer,” Chadha said. “People, rather than profits, will become the focus of the insurance industry.”
Justos plans to use its new capital to set up operations, such as forming partnerships with reinsurers and an insurance company for fronting, since it is starting as an MGA (managing general agent).
It’s also working on building out its products such as apps, its back end and internal operations tools as well as designing all its processes for underwriting, claims and finance. Justos’ data science team is also building out its own pricing model.
The startup will be focused on Brazil, with plans to eventually expand within Latin America, then Iberia and Asia.
Kaszek’s Andy Young said his firm was impressed by the team’s previous experience and passion for what they’re building.
“It’s a huge space, ripe for innovation and this is the type of team that can take it to the next level,” Young told TechCrunch. “The team has taken an approach to building an insurance platform that blends being consumer centric and data driven to produce something that is not only cheaper and rewards safety but as the brand implies in Portuguese, is fairer.”
Obie, which has developed an insurtech platform for landlords, has raised $10.7 million in a Series A funding round led by Battery Ventures.
Thomvest Ventures, Funders Club, MetaProp and Second Century Ventures also participated in the financing.
If this sounds like a niche offering, that’s because it is. Obie’s software specifically targets small-to-medium size apartment landlords who own single-family rentals and/or larger apartment buildings.
Chicago-based Obie — which also went through the Y Combinator program — says its platform stands out because it offers instant quotes (by instant, they mean in about three to five minutes). The company also claims to save policyholders up to 25-30% compared to other insurance premiums. Over the past year, Obie has secured insurance for over $3 billion worth of property.
Obie co-founders (and brothers) Aaron and Ryan Letzeiser have taken their respective backgrounds in insurance and real estate private equity to build out the Obie platform. They are operating under the premise that despite being the largest class of real estate investors in the U.S, this group of landlords “is significantly underserved.”
“Generally SMB landlords have been ignored in the market, and there’s 11 million of them,” Aaron said. “And we beat target premiums, on average, by 31.7%.”
The demand appears to be there. According to the pair, Obie saw its premiums climb to about $1 million in its first 12 months of being in business. Over the last 12 months, that number has climbed to about $10 million.
In conjunction with its funding announcement, Obie also announced today the extension of its property and casualty insurance to all 50 states.
So, how does it work? Landlords and investors answer a series of questions on Obie’s site. The platform extracts a few data points from client responses, which its technology then combines with public and private data points such as the proximity of the landlord to the property. (This can be an indicator of how quickly a landlord can conduct proactive and preventative maintenance and general attentiveness to tenant issues.)
Once Obie runs its analysis, the platform uses a “proprietary” algorithm to match an application to carriers based on what they describe as “risk-appetite” profiles. For example, some carriers don’t want to cover properties built before a certain year. The platform then provides the landlords and property owners with a quote. If they’re OK with the quote, landlords can be “immediately underwritten,” according to the company.
At its core, said Ryan, the brothers want to make Obie “the easiest way for landlords to get the insurance that they need.”
The company plans to use its new capital to expand upon its product and “really try to own the entire vertical.”
“Historically, we’ve been an agency-based business but we are in the process of putting together our own product that is slated to roll out right at the end of the second quarter,” said Aaron. “Very similar to Lemonade and Hippo, and we’re doing it with a large insurer that’s backing us.”
In other words, Obie believes it has validated its brokerage model in the market and is now planning to use the data it’s been able to gather to become its own carrier. The company expects the rollout to take time, so until it gets approval in all 50 states, it will partner with other carriers.
“Our goal at the end of the day is to go from agency to eventually carrier,” said Ryan. “This is a tried and true path. Next has done it. Hippo has done it. Lemonade has done it.”
The brothers believe their backgrounds allow them “to speak the same language” to their clients.
“We have lived the pain points of our clients so we can understand how the price of the premium of coverage experience plays into the overall business strategy,” Aaron said.
Battery Ventures’ Michael Brown, who has taken a seat on Obie’s board, agrees the embedded nature of the startup’s offering gives them a competitive advantage.
“Allowing their end customers to buy professional liability or general liability or commercial auto right from the vertical software that is servicing their business is really interesting and a great distribution channel for Obie,” Brown told TechCrunch. “Landlords can go direct or through their channel partners.”
Brown says Battery — as long-term investors in the insurance sector — was also attracted to the fact that Obie is focused on commercial lines rather than personal because the firm believes “they are larger markets, less competitive and can probably drive higher value just given the overall size of the premiums involved.”
An estimated 41 million Americans say they need life insurance but have yet to purchase coverage. Despite this awareness among consumers, the Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association estimates a $12 trillion coverage gap, with about 50% of millennials planning to purchase coverage within the next year.
There’s latent demand for life insurance currently unaddressed by much of the financial services industry, and embedded finance can be the solution. It’s imperative for companies to consider product lines and partnerships to expand markets, create new revenue streams and provide added value to their customers.
There’s latent demand for life insurance currently unaddressed by much of the financial services industry, and embedded finance can be the solution.
Connecting consumers with products they need through channels they already know and trust is both a massive revenue opportunity and a social good, providing financial resilience to families at a time when they need it most.
Why bundle life insurance?
The concept of digitally bundling financial products in a packaged offering to a customer is certainly not new — but it is for the life insurance space.
Embedded finance uses technology and operations infrastructure to offer products and services through entities that may not be financial institutions at all. Think of embedded finance like on-demand shopping; customers benefit from both the transaction (buying financial protection for their families) and the convenience it provides (from whatever platform they are currently engaging with).
Similar to how Amazon saves shoppers 75 hours a year, bundling life insurance gives consumers back time in their day and can improve their financial health.
A warming planet holds potential risks for home prices, investments, banking and other aspects of the global economy, the government said.
Telemedicine, in its original form of the phone call, has been around for decades. For people in remote or rural areas without easy access to in-person care, consulting a doctor over the phone has often been the go-to approach. But for a large swath of the world used to taking half a day off work just for a 15-30 minute doctor’s appointment, it may seem like telemedicine was invented only last year. That’s mostly because it wasn’t until 2020 that telemedicine, in its myriad forms, debuted into the mainstream consciousness.
It’s impossible to predict how healthcare institutions will operate post-pandemic, but with so many people now accustomed to telemedicine, startups that provide services around virtual care continue to be poised for success.
Telemedicine has faced an uphill battle to become more relevant in the U.S., with challenges such as meeting HIPPA compliance requirements and insurance companies unwilling to pay for virtual visits. But when COVID-19 began raging across the globe and people had to stay home, both the insurance and healthcare industries were forced to adapt.
“It’s been said that there are decades where nothing happens, and then there are weeks when decades happen,” said StartUp Health co-founders Steven Krein and Unity Stoakes in the company’s 2020 year-end report. That statement couldn’t be truer for telemedicine: Around $3.1 billion in funding flowed into the sector in 2020 — about three times what we saw in 2019, according to the report. A health tech fund and insights company, StartUp Health counts Alphabet, Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz as some of its co-investors.
Now that people see the benefits and conveniences of “dialing a doc” from the kitchen table, healthcare has changed forever. It’s impossible to predict how healthcare institutions will operate post-pandemic, but with so many people now accustomed to telemedicine, startups that provide services around virtual care continue to be poised for success.
The state of telemedicine
Major players in the field now look at the state of healthcare as, “before COVID and after COVID,” Stoakes told Extra Crunch. “In the post-pandemic world, there’s a significant transformation that’s occurred,” he said. “It’s all accelerated; the customers have shown up. There’s more capital than ever and consumers and physicians have adapted quickly,” he added.
In the U.S., healthcare is first and foremost a business, so while there are treatment approaches that have long been proven to improve patient outcomes, if they didn’t make sense financially, they weren’t instituted at scale. Telemedicine is a great example of this.
A 2017 study by the American Journal of Accountable Care showed that telemedicine can be quite useful for managing healthcare. “The use of telemedicine has been shown to allow for better long-term care management and patient satisfaction; it also offers a new means to locate health information and communicate with practitioners (e.g., via e-mail and interactive chats or video conferences), thereby increasing convenience for the patient and reducing the amount of potential travel required for both physician and patient,” the study reads.
But as we’ve seen, it took a global healthcare emergency to drive widespread adoption of virtual healthcare in the U.S. Now that investors recognize the potential, they are increasingly pouring money into startups that promise to take telemedicine to the next level. Some of the investors backing these newer companies include StartUp Health, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia, Alphabet, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, U.S. Venture Partners, Maveron, First Round Capital, DreamIt Ventures, Human Ventures and Tusk Venture Partners.
Cervest – a startup with a platform that claims to quantify climate risk across multiple decades and threats down to the asset level – has raised a $30 million Series A round led by Draper Esprit. Previous investors Astanor Ventures, Lowercarbon Capital (Chris Sacca), and Future Positive Capital also participated in the round, and were joined by new investors UNTITLED, the venture fund of Magnus Rausing, and TIME Ventures, the venture fund of Marc Benioff. Cervest’s total funding now stands at $36.2 million. It previously raised $5.2M in 2019.
Cervest’s competitors include Jupiter Intelligence, which has raised $35M to Series B level, but Cervest claims it has a more data + AI approach.
The company will use the new funding to expand in the U.S. and European markets through its freemium model
It’s widely accepted now, with unpredictable weather patterns and clear climate “weirding” that these weather events are of huge risk to trillions of dollars of physical assets.
Cervest says its “Climate Intelligence” platform has been built through peer-reviewed research over the five years and combines public and private data sources (i.e. NOAA, ECMWF, CMIP6), machine learning, and statistical science to come up with a view of climate risks to assets.
‘EarthScan’ will be its first product, giving enterprises and governments a view on how flooding, droughts, and extreme temperatures can impact the assets they own or manage,going back 50 years and looking forward 80 years.
Iggy Bassi, Founder and CEO of Cervest said: “Climate Intelligence is Business Intelligence for managing climate risk. Climate volatility has thrown us into a new era where Climate Intelligence needs to be integrated into all decisions. Organizations that fail to do so risk being blindsided by climate events such as the recent floods and fires in Australia, the droughts in Europe, and the winter freeze in Texas. Much of the spotlight is on decarbonization today. While this is absolutely necessary, it is not sufficient to build asset-level resilience.”
Vinoth Jayakumar, Partner and Fintech Practice Lead at Draper Esprit added: “Climate Tech has grabbed a lot of attention recently, with good reason… Cervest’s pioneering approach to quantifying risk, in a way that was never before possible, means we can better understand the economics of the problem and bring real-world market solutions to bear.”
When disaster strikes, costs pile up quickly. Flood waters can wipe out the foundation of a home or building, just as much as wildfires can burn down the walls or the entire structure. For residents and business owners, rebuilding and rebuilding quickly is crucial: they ultimately need some place to live and offer services, and they often can’t afford to be shut out for extended periods of time.
Of course, the need for speed among consumers hits the brick wall that is the insurance industry and government’s timeline for dispersing post-disaster insurance claims and aid. It’s not uncommon for federal aid to take months or even years to arrive, and insurance companies can often take months as well to process claims, particularly after large disasters like hurricanes where thousands of claims arrive simultaneously.
Dorothy is a startup that is aiming to bridge the gap by offering, well, gap loans to users who already have existing private insurance or federal flood insurance policies. The idea is to extend cash as quickly as possible after qualification, and then Dorothy gets paid back when a claim is later processed. Much like other advance cash startups in other sectors, Dorothy takes a fee based on the size of the loan.
The company’s underwriting model assesses the likelihood that a claim will be approved given the details of a particular disaster and the user’s insurance policy.
Arianna Armelli and Claudio Angrigiani founded the company last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, naming it for the character from the Wizard of Oz who repeatedly said “there’s no place like home.” They met each other in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and explored different ways to solve the challenges of disaster finance.
Armelli, for her part, had experienced these challenges firsthand in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. She was an architect, and her office in Manhattan had to be evacuated. She returned a few days later, but over time, realized that many of her friends still couldn’t return to their homes even weeks after the hurricane had passed. She volunteered with recovery efforts, and I “went house to house in the Rockaways to remove drywall from their basements,” she said.
She continued her career, spending nearly six years as an architect and urban planner, and that training drove some of her early ideas about how to improve post-disaster recovery. “I thought the answer to these problems was designing better infrastructure and long-term sustainable solutions with planning,” she said. “After six years in planning, [I] realized these were 40-year projects.”
After meeting Angrigiani, the two explored ways to make the insurance system better for end users. They began by investigating how better flood data could help insurance companies underwrite better policies and process claims faster. They realized over time though that the insurance industry was quite sclerotic, and that a third-party provider of better flood predictive data wasn’t going to have a large impact on outcomes.
As COVID bared down on the world, they then explored business interruption insurance. Using their technology for disaster prediction, they saw an opportunity to offer “a financial supplementary product for businesses,” essentially a “credit line product that is offered to commercial business owners similar to a credit card,” Armelli said. That idea eventually morphed into the company’s current product offering targeting property owners, both businesses and individuals, with the same sort of gap loan to solve immediate cash-flow problems.
Dorothy participated in the latest cohort of Urban-X and closed a pre-seed round this past February. The company has raised a $250,000 debt facility to further test out its gap loan product, and it has 25 qualified customers in its pipeline. It’s early days, but an interesting new bet on how to make insurance actually useful when people face some of the toughest moments of their lives.
It’s just one of a new crop of startups that are building new offerings in a world increasingly filled with massive disasters.
When Art Agrawal was growing up in India, a car ride was a rare treat, and car ownership was a dream. When he moved to the U.S. and bought his first car, he was shocked by how much it cost and how difficult it was to maintain a car.
In 2012, he co-founded a company called YourMechanic that provides on-demand automotive mobile maintenance and repair services. Over the years, the challenge of helping consumers more easily find car insurance was in the back of his mind. So in 2017, he teamed up with Lina Zhang and Musawir Shah to found Jerry, a mobile-first car ownership “super app.” The Palo Alto-based startup launched an AI/ML-powered car insurance comparison service in January 2019. It has quietly since amassed nearly 1 million customers across the United States as a licensed insurance broker.
“Today as a consumer, you have to go to multiple different places to deal with different things,” Argawal said. “Jerry is out to change that.”
And now today, Jerry is announcing that it has raised more than $57 million in funding, including a new $28 million Series B round led by Goodwater Capital. A group of angel investors also participated in the round include Greenlight president Johnson Cook and Greenlight CEO Timothy Sheehan; Tekion CEO Jay Vijayan; Jon McNeill, CEO of DVx Ventures and former president of Tesla and ex-COO of Lyft; Brandon Krieg, CEO of Stash and Ed Robinson, co-founder and president of Stash.
CEO Argawal says Jerry is different from other auto-related marketplaces out there in that it aims to help consumers with various aspects of car ownership (from repair to maintenance to insurance to warranties), rather than just one. Although for now it is mostly focused on insurance, it plans to use its new capital to move into other categories of car ownership.
The company also believes it is set apart from competitors in that it doesn’t refer a consumer to an insurance carrier’s site so that they still have to do the work of signing up with them separately, for example. Rather, Jerry uses automation to give consumers customized quotes from more than 45 insurance carriers “in 45 seconds.” The consumers can then sign on to the new carrier via Jerry, which would even cancel former policies on their behalf.
“With Jerry, you can complete the whole transaction in our app,” Argawal said. “We don’t send you to another site. You don’t have to fill out a bunch of forms. You just give us some information, and we’ll instantly provide you with quotes.”
Its customers save on average about $800 a year on car insurance, the company claims. Jerry also offers a similar offering for home insurance but its focus is on car ownership.
The company must be doing something right. In 2020, Jerry saw its revenue surge by “10x.”
For some context, Jerry sold a few million dollars of insurance in 2019, according to Argawal. This year, he said, the company is on track to do “two to four times” more than last year’s numbers.
“There’s no other automated way to compare and buy car insurance, because all the APIs are not easily accessible,” he said. “What we have done is we have automated the end to end journey for the consumer using our infrastructure, which will only scale over time.”
Jerry makes recurring revenue from earning a percentage of the premium when a consumer purchases a policy on its site. So it’s partnered with carriers such as Progressive, Lemonade and Root to make that happen.
“A lot of the marketplaces are lead-gen. A very small percent of their revenue is reoccurring,” Argawal said. “For us, it’s 100% of our revenues.”
Down the line, Jerry wants to become a carrier itself, but is realistic in that it will take time to get licensed in all 50 states, so it expects those relationships to continue for some time.
Goodwater Capital’s Chi-Hua Chien notes that the insurance space has historically been a very challenging category from a customer experience perspective.
“They took something that has historically been painful, intimidating and difficult for the customer and made it effortless,” he told TechCrunch. “That experience will more broadly over time apply to comparison shopping and maintenance, too.”
Chien said he was also drawn to the category itself.
“This is a competitive category because 100% of drivers need to have auto insurance 100% of the time,” he said. “That’s a large market that’s not going to go away. And since Jerry is powered by AI, it will only serve customers better over time, and just grow faster.”
When it comes to mistaken judgments, there is more than one kind of error.
Planck, the AI-based data platform for commercial insurance underwriting, announced today it has raised a $20 million growth round. The funding came from 3L Capital and Greenfield Partners, along with returning investors Team8, Viola Fintech, Arbor Ventures and Eight Roads.
This brings the New York-based startup’s total raised to $48 million, including a $16 million Series B it announced in June 2020. Planck said it currently works with “dozens of commercial insurance companies in the U.S.,” including more than half of the top-30 insurers. It will use its new funding to build its U.S. team, expand into global markets, and add products for new business segments. Ernie Feirer has also joined Planck as its head of U.S. business. He previously held leadership roles at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, building data analytics solutions for property and casualty insurance carriers.
Planck’s database, which includes online images, text, videos, reviews and public records, allows it to give insurance providers real-time information that helps them determine premiums, process claims and give SMEs faster quotes. It covers more than 50 business segments, including restaurants, construction, retail and manufacturing, and can deliver analytics by simply entering a business’ name and address.
For example, if a healthcare business is seeking to buy or renew an insurance policy, Planck can give underwriters information such as the type of equipment used, what kind of drugs it prescribes and the type of surgeries it performs.
In a statement, 3L Capital principal Paige Thacher said, “Commercial carriers and brokers can no longer afford to rely upon traditional data sources as they prospect, assess risk and monitor a small business insured’s changing exposure during the policy life cycle. The new imperative is to leverage AI and machine learning technologies to dynamically harvest business insights from the insured’s digital footprint.”
Sensor data from smartphones and wearables can meaningfully predict an individual’s ‘biological age’ and resilience to stress, according to Gero AI.
The ‘longevity’ startup — which condenses its mission to the pithy goal of “hacking complex diseases and aging with Gero AI” — has developed an AI model to predict morbidity risk using ‘digital biomarkers’ that are based on identifying patterns in step-counter sensor data which tracks mobile users’ physical activity.
A simple measure of ‘steps’ isn’t nuanced enough on its own to predict individual health, is the contention. Gero’s AI has been trained on large amounts of biological data to spots patterns that can be linked to morbidity risk. It also measures how quickly a personal recovers from a biological stress — another biomarker that’s been linked to lifespan; i.e. the faster the body recovers from stress, the better the individual’s overall health prognosis.
A research paper Gero has had published in the peer-reviewed biomedical journal Aging explains how it trained deep neural networks to predict morbidity risk from mobile device sensor data — and was able to demonstrate that its biological age acceleration model was comparable to models based on blood test results.
Another paper, due to be published in the journal Nature Communications later this month, will go into detail on its device-derived measurement of biological resilience.
The Singapore-based startup, which has research roots in Russia — founded back in 2015 by a Russian scientist with a background in theoretical physics — has raised a total of $5 million in seed funding to date (in two tranches).
Backers come from both the biotech and the AI fields, per co-founder Peter Fedichev. Its investors include Belarus-based AI-focused early stage fund, Bulba Ventures (Yury Melnichek). On the pharma side, it has backing from some (unnamed) private individuals with links to Russian drug development firm, Valenta. (The pharma company itself is not an investor).
Fedichev is a theoretical physicist by training who, after his PhD and some ten years in academia, moved into biotech to work on molecular modelling and machine learning for drug discovery — where he got interested in the problem of ageing and decided to start the company.
As well as conducting its own biological research into longevity (studying mice and nematodes), it’s focused on developing an AI model for predicting the biological age and resilience to stress of humans — via sensor data captured by mobile devices.
“Health of course is much more than one number,” emphasizes Fedichev. “We should not have illusions about that. But if you are going to condense human health to one number then, for a lot of people, the biological age is the best number. It tells you — essentially — how toxic is your lifestyle… The more biological age you have relative to your chronological age years — that’s called biological acceleration — the more are your chances to get chronic disease, to get seasonal infectious diseases or also develop complications from those seasonal diseases.”
Gero has recently launched a (paid, for now) API, called GeroSense, that’s aimed at health and fitness apps so they can tap up its AI modelling to offer their users an individual assessment of biological age and resilience (aka recovery rate from stress back to that individual’s baseline).
Early partners are other longevity-focused companies, AgelessRx and Humanity Inc. But the idea is to get the model widely embedded into fitness apps where it will be able to send a steady stream of longitudinal activity data back to Gero, to further feed its AI’s predictive capabilities and support the wider research mission — where it hopes to progress anti-ageing drug discovery, working in partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.
The carrot for the fitness providers to embed the API is to offer their users a fun and potentially valuable feature: A personalized health measurement so they can track positive (or negative) biological changes — helping them quantify the value of whatever fitness service they’re using.
“Every health and wellness provider — maybe even a gym — can put into their app for example… and this thing can rank all their classes in the gym, all their systems in the gym, for their value for different kinds of users,” explains Fedichev.
“We developed these capabilities because we need to understand how ageing works in humans, not in mice. Once we developed it we’re using it in our sophisticated genetic research in order to find genes — we are testing them in the laboratory — but, this technology, the measurement of ageing from continuous signals like wearable devices, is a good trick on its own. So that’s why we announced this GeroSense project,” he goes on.
“Ageing is this gradual decline of your functional abilities which is bad but you can go to the gym and potentially improve them. But the problem is you’re losing this resilience. Which means that when you’re [biologically] stressed you cannot get back to the norm as quickly as possible. So we report this resilience. So when people start losing this resilience it means that they’re not robust anymore and the same level of stress as in their 20s would get them [knocked off] the rails.
“We believe this loss of resilience is one of the key ageing phenotypes because it tells you that you’re vulnerable for future diseases even before those diseases set in.”
“In-house everything is ageing. We are totally committed to ageing: Measurement and intervention,” adds Fedichev. “We want to building something like an operating system for longevity and wellness.”
Gero is also generating some revenue from two pilots with “top range” insurance companies — which Fedichev says it’s essentially running as a proof of business model at this stage. He also mentions an early pilot with Pepsi Co.
He sketches a link between how it hopes to work with insurance companies in the area of health outcomes with how Elon Musk is offering insurance products to owners of its sensor-laden Teslas, based on what it knows about how they drive — because both are putting sensor data in the driving seat, if you’ll pardon the pun. (“Essentially we are trying to do to humans what Elon Musk is trying to do to cars,” is how he puts it.)
But the nearer term plan is to raise more funding — and potentially switch to offering the API for free to really scale up the data capture potential.
Zooming out for a little context, it’s been almost a decade since Google-backed Calico launched with the moonshot mission of ‘fixing death’. Since then a small but growing field of ‘longevity’ startups has sprung up, conducting research into extending (in the first instance) human lifespan. (Ending death is, clearly, the moonshot atop the moonshot.)
Death is still with us, of course, but the business of identifying possible drugs and therapeutics to stave off the grim reaper’s knock continues picking up pace — attracting a growing volume of investor dollars.
The trend is being fuelled by health and biological data becoming ever more plentiful and accessible, thanks to open research data initiatives and the proliferation of digital devices and services for tracking health, set alongside promising developments in the fast-evolving field of machine learning in areas like predictive healthcare and drug discovery.
Longevity has also seen a bit of an upsurge in interest in recent times as the coronavirus pandemic has concentrated minds on health and wellness, generally — and, well, mortality specifically.
Nonetheless, it remains a complex, multi-disciplinary business. Some of these biotech moonshots are focused on bioengineering and gene-editing — pushing for disease diagnosis and/or drug discovery.
Plenty are also — like Gero — trying to use AI and big data analysis to better understand and counteract biological ageing, bringing together experts in physics, maths and biological science to hunt for biomarkers to further research aimed at combating age-related disease and deterioration.
Another recent example is AI startup Deep Longevity, which came out of stealth last summer — as a spinout from AI drug discovery startup Insilico Medicine — touting an AI ‘longevity as a service’ system which it claims can predict an individual’s biological age “significantly more accurately than conventional methods” (and which it also hopes will help scientists to unpick which “biological culprits drive aging-related diseases”, as it put it).
Gero AI is taking a different tack toward the same overarching goal — by honing in on data generated by activity sensors embedded into the everyday mobile devices people carry with them (or wear) as a proxy signal for studying their biology.
The advantage being that it doesn’t require a person to undergo regular (invasive) blood tests to get an ongoing measure of their own health. Instead our personal device can generate proxy signals for biological study passively — at vast scale and low cost. So the promise of Gero’s ‘digital biomarkers’ is they could democratize access to individual health prediction.
And while billionaires like Peter Thiel can afford to shell out for bespoke medical monitoring and interventions to try to stay one step ahead of death, such high end services simply won’t scale to the rest of us.
If its digital biomarkers live up to Gero’s claims, its approach could, at the least, help steer millions towards healthier lifestyles, while also generating rich data for longevity R&D — and to support the development of drugs that could extend human lifespan (albeit what such life-extending pills might cost is a whole other matter).
The insurance industry is naturally interested — with the potential for such tools to be used to nudge individuals towards healthier lifestyles and thereby reduce payout costs.
For individuals who are motivated to improve their health themselves, Fedichev says the issue now is it’s extremely hard for people to know exactly which lifestyle changes or interventions are best suited to their particular biology.
For example fasting has been shown in some studies to help combat biological ageing. But he notes that the approach may not be effective for everyone. The same may be true of other activities that are accepted to be generally beneficial for health (like exercise or eating or avoiding certain foods).
Again those rules of thumb may have a lot of nuance, depending on an individual’s particular biology. And scientific research is, inevitably, limited by access to funding. (Research can thus tend to focus on certain groups to the exclusion of others — e.g. men rather than women; or the young rather than middle aged.)
This is why Fedichev believes there’s a lot of value in creating a measure than can address health-related knowledge gaps at essentially no individual cost.
Gero has used longitudinal data from the UK’s biobank, one of its research partners, to verify its model’s measurements of biological age and resilience. But of course it hopes to go further — as it ingests more data.
“Technically it’s not properly different what we are doing — it just happens that we can do it now because there are such efforts like UK biobank. Government money and also some industry sponsors money, maybe for the first time in the history of humanity, we have this situation where we have electronic medical records, genetics, wearable devices from hundreds of thousands of people, so it just became possible. It’s the convergence of several developments — technological but also what I would call ‘social technologies’ [like the UK biobank],” he tells TechCrunch.
“Imagine that for every diet, for every training routine, meditation… in order to make sure that we can actually optimize lifestyles — understand which things work, which do not [for each person] or maybe some experimental drugs which are already proved [to] extend lifespan in animals are working, maybe we can do something different.”
“When we will have 1M tracks [half a year’s worth of data on 1M individuals] we will combine that with genetics and solve ageing,” he adds, with entrepreneurial flourish. “The ambitious version of this plan is we’ll get this million tracks by the end of the year.”
Fitness and health apps are an obvious target partner for data-loving longevity researchers — but you can imagine it’ll be a mutual attraction. One side can bring the users, the other a halo of credibility comprised of deep tech and hard science.
“We expect that these [apps] will get lots of people and we will be able to analyze those people for them as a fun feature first, for their users. But in the background we will build the best model of human ageing,” Fedichev continues, predicting that scoring the effect of different fitness and wellness treatments will be “the next frontier” for wellness and health (Or, more pithily: “Wellness and health has to become digital and quantitive.”)
“What we are doing is we are bringing physicists into the analysis of human data. Since recently we have lots of biobanks, we have lots of signals — including from available devices which produce something like a few years’ long windows on the human ageing process. So it’s a dynamical system — like weather prediction or financial market predictions,” he also tells us.
“We cannot own the treatments because we cannot patent them but maybe we can own the personalization — the AI that personalized those treatments for you.”
From a startup perspective, one thing looks crystal clear: Personalization is here for the long haul.
If the pandemic has been good for anything it’s been good for the therapy business and for startups targeting mental health, with VCs kept very busy signing checks. To wit, here’s another one: Madrid-based ifeel has bagged €5.5 million (~$6.6M) in Series A funding, led by Nauta Capital.
The startup was founded back in 2017 — initially as a consumer-focused therapy platform — but last year it pivoted to a hybrid business model, tapping into demand from businesses to offer staff emotional support during the public health crisis. So it’s available both to individuals via monthly subscription or as part of employer’s or insurance provider’s cover
It says that pandemic pivot has resulted in 1,000% growth in its b2b business.
Companies it’s signed up to offer its platform to their staff include AXA Partners, Glovo and Gympass.
“We have a total of 400K users on the platform (b2c and b2b),” says co-founder Amir Kaplan. “We have 100,000 eligible covered who have access to ifeel as a benefit (through our insurance and wellness partners or direct with ifeel).
“The 100K grew 10x from September 2020 and is the largest trend we are experiencing these days. Employees of 100 companies use ifeel on a weekly basis.”
ifeel’s platform delivers both live therapy sessions with licensed psychologists but also provides users with self-care tool such as daily mood trackers, recommended exercises and activities to expand the support available.
“By combining self-care and guided therapies, ifeel maximises engagement and retention of its users — with 90% reporting improved emotional and mental well-being after using ifeel,” it claims.
The startup is using AI technology in the self-care portion of its platform — to recommend “the most relevant” content or exercise to its users, per Kaplan. But he also says it’s looking at using the tech to assist the therapist practice by developing dedicated tools inside the platform.
ifeel has an international founding team, hailing from three countries (Israel, Italy and Mexico), and says its main markets so far are Spain, France, Brazil and Mexico. While its b2b and insurance network coverage extends to 20 countries and four languages (English, Spanish, French and Portuguese).
With so much competition in the mental health tools space — from mindfulness apps, to internet-delivered CBT programs, to therapy platforms — how does ifeel see itself standing out?
Kaplan suggests it has an advantage of being “global from day one”, and also flags a “strong technology integration focus” which he says has allowed it to plug into insurance companies and wellness players — to become a “main service provider”.
“Very early we partnered with global leading companies and we support them in many countries (compared to specific country players like in Germany and UK,” he tells TechCrunch. “The platform approach is different from ‘online therapy’ companies or ‘mindfulness apps’.
“We want our users to manage their emotional well being on our platform no matter the need. In this way we create millions of engagement events that are customized to the user’s needs and allow users over time to use different parts of our platform in different life situations.”
While insurance providers continue to get disrupted by startups like Lemonade, Alan, Clearcover, Pie and many others applying tech to rethink how to build a business around helping people and companies mitigate against risks with some financial security, one issue that has not disappeared is fraud. Today, a startup out of France is announcing some funding for AI technology that it has built for all insurance providers, old and new, to help them detect and prevent it.
Shift Technology, which provides a set of AI-based SaaS tools to insurance companies to scan and automatically flag fraud scenarios across a range of use cases — they include claims fraud, claims automation, underwriting, subrogation detection and financial crime detection — has raised $220 million, money that it will be using both to expand in the property and casualty insurance market, the area where it is already strong, as well as to expand into health, and to double down on growing its business in the U.S. It also provides fraud detection for the travel insurance sector.
This Series D is being led Advent International, via Advent Tech, with participation from Avenir and others. Accel, Bessemer Venture Partners, General Catalyst, and Iris Capital — who were all part of Shift’s Series C led by Bessemer in 2019 — also participated. With this round, Paris and Boston-based Shift Technology has now raised some $320 million and has confirmed that it is now valued at over $1 billion.
The company currently has around 100 customers across 25 different countries — with customers including Generali France and Mitsui Sumitomo — and says that it has already analyzed nearly two billion claims, data that’s feeding its machine learning algorithms to improve how they work.
The challenge (or I suppose, opportunity) that Shift is tackling, however, is much bigger. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a non-profit in the U.S., estimates that at least $80 billion of fraudulent claims are made annually in the U.S. alone, but the figure is likely significantly higher. One problem has, ironically, been the move to more virtualized processes, which open the door to malicious actors exploiting loopholes in claims filing and fudging information.
Shift is also not alone in tackling this issue: the market for insurance fraud detection globally was estimated to be worth $2.5 billion in 2019 and projected to be worth as much as $8 billion by 2024.
In addition to others in claims management tech such as Brightcore and Guidewire, many of the wave of insuretech startups are building in their own in-house AI-based fraud protection, and it’s very likely that we’ll see a rise of other fraud protection services, built out of fintech to guard against financial crime, making their way to insurance, as the mechanics of how the two work and the compliance issues both face are very closely aligned.
“The entire Shift team has worked tirelessly to build this company and provide insurers with the technology solutions they need to empower employees to best be there for their policyholders. We are thrilled to partner with Advent International, given their considerable sector expertise and global reach and are taking another giant step forward with this latest investment,” stated Jeremy Jawish, CEO and co-founder, Shift Technology, in a statement. “We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible when AI-based decision automation and optimization is applied to the critical processes that drive the insurance policy lifecycle.”
For its backers, one key point with Shift is that it’s helping older providers bring on more tools and services that can help them improve their margins as well as better compete against the technology built by newer players.
“Since its founding in 2014, Shift has made a name for itself in the complex world of insurance,” said Thomas Weisman, an Advent director, in a statement. “Shift’s advanced suite of SaaS products is helping insurers to reshape manual and often time-consuming claims processes in a safer and more automated way. We are proud to be part of this exciting company’s next wave of growth.”
It was way back in 2018 that Omni:us appeared to disrupt the insurance market by applying AI to this most legacy of all industries. It has now gone on to raise $44.1 million. In a similar vein, Shift Technology in France has raised $100 million.
Now a UK startup aims to do something similar, but this time it will be coming out of the key market of the UK, where the insurance industry is enormous.
Sprout.ai is an insurtech startup that use AI to help instance companies to settle claims within 24 hours. It’s now raised £8m/$11m Series A round led by Octopus Ventures. The round was joined by existing investors, Amadeus Capital Partners, Playfair Capital and Techstars. It was Seed funded buy Amadeus in 2020.
Sprout.ai supplies global insurers, such as Zurich, with a product that applies NLP and OCR to insurance claims (which might involve such as handwritten doctors’ notes for instance) to enable them to be resolved faster, in not a dissimilar fashion to Omni:us and SHift. Sprout.ai says it now has deployments in Europe, South America and APAC.
Niels Thoné, CEO of Sprout.ai, said in a statement: “Sprout.ai’s mission is to revolutionize customer service within global claims automation. Our innovative and industry-leading AI claims engine is poised to solve the current market inefficiencies, allowing insurers to focus on customers in their moments of need.”
Nick Sando, early-stage fintech investor at Octopus Ventures, said: “We are often at our most vulnerable when we submit insurance claims, and it doesn’t help when we then have to wait another month for it to be processed. Sprout.ai empowers insurers to process claims in a fraction of the time, creating much better outcomes for customers when they need it most.”
As we can see, the market is hotting up for this kind of service, so it will be interesting see if these startups end up ‘land-locked’ to their language markets or not. Certainly, I can see M&A opportunities for whoever starts to lead the pack.
Africa’s insurance market stands at a 3% penetration rate, per a McKinsey study in 2018 comparing six insurance regions on the continent. If the South African market is excluded, this number drops to a measly 1.12%.
Unlike other parts of the world, most African insurance providers neglect the importance of tailored and affordable insurance products to the average African consumer. Lami Technologies, a startup out of Kenya armed with $1.8 million in seed money, is looking to change that.
The round was led by Accion Venture Lab, a seed-stage investment firm that supports financial services targeted at underserved markets. Other VCs that participated include AAIC, Consonance, P1 Ventures, Acuity Ventures, The Continent Venture Partners and Future Africa.
Low insurance uptake in Africa is somewhat due to the traditional distribution of insurance policies. They customarily rely on brick-and-mortar channels to sell and process policies. This takes a long processing cycle and has poor customer satisfaction and higher distribution costs.
Sequentially, the ways premiums are paid is affected. From the McKinsey report in 2018, the total gross written premiums (GWP) in Eastern Africa was $3.3 billion. In comparison, South Africa did $48.3 billion worth of GWP that same year.
For this reason, CEO Jihan Abass founded the company in 2018 to democratize insurance products in Kenya.
“For us, the main problem we wanted to solve was that 97% of Africans don’t buy insurance. We were trying to understand the methodology behind that, especially in Kenya where there are over 50 insurance companies but the penetration level is 2.4%,” she told TechCrunch.
“The driving force for us was making insurance widely available. We felt that building the technological infrastructure to facilitate the distribution of insurance was the best way to increase the penetration level in Africa.”
But selling directly to consumers would be a meticulous process as they rarely buy insurance from trusted organizations, let alone a third-party company. So Lami adopted a B2B2C approach to leverage the trust already built by platforms that converse with customers daily and innovate around it.
Via an API, it allows businesses like banks, startups, and organizations to offer digital insurance products to their users. The product can also be used by partner businesses to manage their own insurance needs.
Some customers like Stanbic Bank in Kenya use Lami’s API to run insurance operations; HR platform WorkPay makes insurance products available to the businesses using its platform. With over 20 insurance writers, the company is also launching an insurance marketplace on e-commerce platform Jumia.
Users can get a quote for motor, medical or other tailored insurance products through its API. They also can customize the benefits and adjust the premium to suit them, get their policy documents and access claims.
Typically, it takes about 90 days for claims to be processed for an average African insurer. Abass said Lami has reduced this to a week — it is one way the three-year-old company has developed trust with customers.
Another challenge that Lami has been able to overcome is getting insurance companies onboard. According to the CEO, transitioning from a traditional way of offering insurance to digital distribution channels only worked because Lami began to show early the value of customer experience and journey which requires getting the right insurance to the right customer at the right time.
This is what makes Lami stand out, Abass continued. It co-designs products with its underwriting partners. And approaching design in this manner helps the businesses to offer unique insurance products to their underlying customer base.
She illustrates an offering with a bus-booking platform where passengers’ insurance points are calculated on a per-trip basis. It counts when they board the bus and stops when they alight. She believes an innovative process like this will take the continent’s insurance play to a more desirable place.
“I think there’s huge potential in the insurance industry. Despite the low penetration, the annual market is worth more than $60 billion a year. I think people are starting to open their eyes to insurance as opposed to other financial services.”
Since its inception, the insurtech startup has sold more than 5,000 policies. It has partnered with more than 25 active underwriters, including Britam, Pioneer and Madison Insurance. These underwriters help distribute more than 30 products from medical and employee benefits to motor and device insurance.
Lami will use the seed investment to hire more people, improve its technology and grow its presence across Africa.
Accion Venture Lab is placing a bet on Lami’s embedded finance play. Here’s what its African director, Ashley Lewis said of the investment. “… By embedding customized insurance within businesses that customers know and trust, Lami is making insurance accessible for underserved populations in Africa and enabling them to build financial resilience.”
Lami’s investment also represents a spark in a Kenyan tech ecosystem where being both an indigenous and female founder is an incongruous mix. A study in 2019 showed that Kenya had the strongest presence of expat co-founders of any of the Big Four tech ecosystems. While the country has a better female co-founder representation than other countries (1 in 4), the percentage of those from Kenya is about 12%.
There are just a handful of female founders who have raised million-dollar rounds. Though Abass sits comfortably in this illustrious club, it took thick skins and confidence in her product to get in.
“The funding landscape in Kenya is generally biased towards male founders and in East Africa, especially to foreign founders. So it was a lot harder to get investors excited and onboard with us. For us, we’ve built something quite exciting, although it took some time. One key thing why we wanted to make this publicized is so other female founders can see that there’s an opportunity to do the same too,” she said.
Once the uncool sibling of a flourishing fintech sector, insurtech is now one of the hottest areas of a buoyant venture market. Zego’s $150 million round at unicorn valuation in March, a rumored giant incoming round for WeFox, and a slew of IPOs and SPACs in the U.S. are all testament to this.
It’s not difficult to see why. The insurance market is enormous, but the sector has suffered from notoriously poor customer experience and major incumbents have been slow to adapt. Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology. And the pandemic has cast the spotlight on high-potential categories, including health, mobility and cybersecurity.
Fintech has set a precedent for the explosive growth that can be achieved with superior customer experience underpinned by modern technology.
This has begun to brew a perfect storm of conditions for big European insurtech exits. Here are four trends to look out for as the industry powers toward several European IPOs and a red-hot M&A market in the next few years.
Full-stack insurtech continues to conquer
Several early insurtech success stories started life as managing general agents (MGAs). Unlike brokers, MGAs manage claims and underwriting, but unlike a traditional insurer, pass risk off their balance sheet to third-party insurers or reinsurers. MGAs have provided a great way for new brands to acquire customers and underwrite policies without actually needing a fully fledged balance sheet. But it’s a business model with thin margins, so MGAs increasingly are trying to internalize risk exposure by verticalizing into a “full-stack” insurer in the hope of improving their unit economics.
This structure has been prevalent in the U.S., with some of the bigger recent U.S. insurtech IPO successes (Lemonade and Root), SPACs (Clover and MetroMile), and more upcoming listings (Hippo and Next) pointing to the prizes available to those who can successfully execute this expensive growth strategy.
Electronic health records (EHR) have long held promise as a means of unlocking new superpowers for caregiving and patients in the medical industry, but while they’ve been a thing for a long time, actually accessing and using them hasn’t been as quick to become a reality. That’s where Medchart comes in, providing access to health information between businesses, complete with informed patient consent, for using said data at scale. The startup just raised $17 million across Series A and seed rounds, led by Crosslink Capital and Golden Ventures, and including funding from Stanford Law School, rapper Nas and others.
Medchart originally started out as more of a DTC play for healthcare data, providing access and portability to digital health information directly to patients. It sprung from the personal experience of co-founders James Bateman and Derrick Chow, who both faced personal challenges accessing and transferring health record information for relatives and loved ones during crucial healthcare crisis moments. Bateman, Medchart’s CEO, explained that their experience early on revealed that what was actually needed for the model to scale and work effectively was more of a B2B approach, with informed patient consent as the crucial component.
“We’re really focused on that patient consent and authorization component of letting you allow your data to be used and shared for various purposes,” Bateman said in an interview. “And then building that platform that lets you take that data and then put it to use for those businesses and services, that we’re classifying as ‘beyond care.’ Whether those are our core areas, which would be with your, your lawyer, or with an insurance provider, or clinical researcher — or beyond that, looking at a future vision of this really being a platform to power innovation, and all sorts of different apps and services that you could imagine that are typically outside that realm of direct care and treatment.”
Bateman explained that one of the main challenges in making patient health data actually work for these businesses that surround, but aren’t necessarily a core part of a care paradigm, is delivering data in a way that it’s actually useful to the receiving party. Traditionally, this has required a lot of painstaking manual work, like paralegals poring over paper documents to find information that isn’t necessarily consistently formatted or located.
“One of the things that we’ve been really focused on is understanding those business processes,” Bateman said. “That way, when we work with these businesses that are using this data — all permissioned by the patient — that we’re delivering what we call ‘the information,’ and not just the data. So what are the business decision points that you’re trying to make with this data?”
To accomplish this, Medchart makes use of AI and machine learning to create a deeper understanding of the data set in order to be able to intelligently answer the specific questions that data requesters have of the information. Therein lies their longterm value, since once that understanding is established, they can query the data much more easily to answer different questions depending on different business needs, without needing to re-parse the data every single time.
“Where we’re building these systems of intelligence on top of aggregate data, they are fully transferable to making decisions around policies for, for example, life insurance underwriting, or with pharmaceutical companies on real world evidence for their phase three, phase four clinical trials, and helping those teams to understand, you know, the the overall indicators and the preexisting conditions and what the outcomes are of the drugs under development or whatever they’re measuring in their study,” Bateman said.”
According to Ameet Shah, Partner at co-lead investor for the Series A Golden Ventures, this is the key ingredient in what Medchart is offering that makes the company’s offering so attractive in terms of long-term potential.
“What you want is you both depth and breadth, and you need predictability — you need to know that you’re actually getting like the full data set back,” Shah said in an interview. “There’s all these point solutions, depending on the type of clinic you’re looking at, and the type of record you’re accessing, and that’s not helpful to the requester. Right now, you’re putting the burden on them, and when we looked at it, we were just like ‘Oh, this is just a whole bunch of undifferentiated heavy lifting that the entire health tech ecosystem is trying to like solve for. So if [Medchart] can just commoditize that and drive the cost down as low as possible, you can unlock all these other new use cases that never could have been done before.”
One recent development that positions Medchart to facilitate even more novel use cases of patient data is the 21st Century Cures Act, which just went into effect on April 5, provides patients with immediate access, without charge, to all the health information in their electronic medical records. That sets up a huge potential opportunity in terms of portability, with informed consent, of patient data, and Bateman suggests it will greatly speed up innovation built upon the type of information access Medchart enables.
“I think there’s just going to be an absolute explosion in this space over the next two to three years,” Bateman said. “And at Medchart, we’ve already built all the infrastructure with connections to these large information systems. We’re already plugged in and providing the data and the value to the end users and the customers, and I think now you’re going to see this acceleration and adoption and growth in this area that we’re super well-positioned to be able to deliver on.”
The investment landscape for insurtech startups is off to a hot start in Q2 2021. Since the end of the first quarter, we’ve seen several players in the broad startup category announce new capital, including Clearcover, Alan, Next Insurance and The Zebra.
But, as anyone who’s familiar with startups that offer insurance-related products and services knows, the sector is enough of a mixed bag that one needs to segment down to get clarity on how constituent companies are performing. So while Clearcover’s $200 million round from last week, Next Insurance’s $250 million round from the first of the month and Alan’s $220 million round from yesterday are interesting, this morning we’re going to focus a bit more on The Zebra’s side of the insurtech house.
The Exchange explores startups, markets and money.
The Exchange divides insurtech startups into three categories: neo-insurance providers, insurtech marketplaces and insurtech enablers. (You can see why we need to segment the insurtech genre!)
Briefly, neo-insurance providers are companies like Root, Metromile and Next Insurance, which use technology to underwrite and sell insurance in an updated manner; these companies also often have optimized mobile experiences.
Marketplaces like The Zebra, Gabi, Insurify and others provide a way for consumers to better identify their insurance options. And, finally, there are companies like AgentSync, which fit neatly into our third category of firms that help other companies in the insurance business digitize their operations or otherwise modernize.
Insurtech marketplaces came back into our view when The Zebra put together a $150 million Series D earlier this month and released a host of metrics regarding its growth, and Insurify dropped the news that it is partnering with Toyota.
This morning, let’s discuss insurtech’s 2020 as a whole, peek at some preliminary 2021 venture data and then dive deep into what we’ve collected regarding growth among insurtech marketplace players. The Exchange has data and other details from The Zebra, Insurify, Wefox and more.
Covering longitudinal progress of specific startup categories is one of our favorite things to do. So, please, walk with us!
2020 to today
PitchBook data regarding the insurtech category in 2020 underscores how large the startup niche has grown. Per the data company, $18.3 billion was spent last year on insurtech startups across venture capital, private equity and M&A activity. That was a billion dollars under its 2019 result, but given the pandemic’s onset, 2020’s final result is somewhat impressive — who expected insurance investing to hold up during an unprecedented global catastrophe?
This year is proving lucrative for the insurtech market, at least from a venture capital perspective. Normally I’d make a joke about how unprofitable some neo-insurance providers are at this juncture, but because our focus is elsewhere, bringing up the fact that, say, Lemonade’s adjusted losses in the final quarter of 2020 were around 150% of its revenue is kind of irrelevant. So we won’t!
French startup Alan has raised a $220 million funding round at a $1.67 billion valuation (€185 million and €1.4 billion respectively). Coatue is leading the round with Dragoneer, Exor, and existing investors Index Ventures, Ribbit Capital and Temasek also participating.
Alan has been building health insurance products from scratch. When I first covered the company back in 2016, the startup had just managed to get approval from regulators to become an official health insurance company.
Since then, it’s been a not-so-slow and steady growth story as the company now covers 160,000 people. Overall, Alan generates over €100 million in annualized revenue. While most of that revenue is spent back on claims, it’s an impressive revenue trajectory.
Like other insurance companies, Alan has some capital requirements to comply with health insurance regulation. Alan has to raise more if it wants to insure more people. But that’s just part of the story as the startup still had enough cash on its bank account for the next 12 to 18 months.
“The context is that we managed to end the year 2020 very strong, finally — and I say finally because it’s been stressful until the last minute,” co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve told me.
Alan managed to meet its goals and international expansion finally started to take off. Many startups try to raise when they’re in a strong position. You shouldn’t wait until you have your back against the wall and that’s exactly what’s happening here.
“We thought it was the right time and we had multiple term sheets. Even though valuation is really good we first looked at a partner that has a really long-term vision,” Samuelian-Werve said.
With today’s funding round, the company can iterate on its core product — health insurance — and everything that makes Alan a super app — a single app that lets you access several services. In France, employees are covered by both the national healthcare system and private insurance companies. Alan sells its products to other companies so that their employees are automatically covered by Alan contracts. It’s a sort of B2B2C play.
9,400 companies have opted for Alan in France, Belgium and Spain — the company’s home market remains its main market. Clients include WeWork, Deliveroo, JustEat, Vitaliance and Big Mamma. By 2023, Alan wants to reach 1 million members.
In order to gain more customers, Alan is betting on three pillars — product innovation, customer satisfaction through additional services, and expansions to new verticals and markets.
When it comes to product innovation, Alan has designed a modular insurance builder. Small companies can subscribe to Alan in a few clicks. Big companies can tweak every single parameter to build the right insurance package for them.
After that, the company tries to make it easy to manage your health insurance. You’ll soon be able to automatically manage sick leaves, change the employee affiliation status, etc. As for employees, the company has always promoted a transparent offering. For instance, you should know how much you’re going to pay out of pocket when you see a doctor. You can see a map of doctors around you and how much they charge on average. This way, there’s no surprise.
Alan also tries to reimburse you as quickly as possible. If it’s a straightforward claim, the startup tries to analyze and categorize your claim as quickly as possible and then issue an instant SEPA transfer. 75% of claims are reimbursed and available on your bank account in less than an hour.
These core product features definitely contributes to customer satisfaction. But Alan is expanding beyond insurance products with several additional services that should increase retention. For instance, you can chat with a doctor, get medical advice for your baby’s health, get a free meditation app subscription, start a telehealth appointment via a partner, talk with someone about your mental health, etc.
Those services contribute to turning Alan into a super app for your health. Essentially, as soon as you’re insured by Alan, you become a member and can access all those services without additional charges.
Eventually, Alan plans to launch a personal care guidance service to help you contact the right healthcare professional based on your health issue. In Spain, Alan can already book appointments for you.
Finally, Alan plans to reach new customers through aggressive expansion goals. The company plans to hire 400 people within the next three years and expand to other industries with tailor-made insurance products, such as retail, wholesale and manufacturing.
While the company is still going to focus on France, Belgium and Spain in the near future, it is looking at opportunities across Europe. So let’s see where Alan is going to expand next.