Insurtech, poised to disrupt the insurance industry, was one of the hot topics in corporate innovation in 2017. One startup from Singapore has been in the spotlight after graduating from the Singaporean regulatory sandbox : PolicyPal, an online platform for people to organize and understand their insurance policies, all in one place. The startup powered by artificial intelligence provides a gap analysis and helps its clients to know how to be better covered and to compare and buy insurances. PolicyPal works hand in hand with many insurance providers and just got a license to sell their own insurances as well. During the Millennial 2020 conference last October, we’ve interviewed its CEO and co-founder, Val Ji-hsuan Yap.
IEV: What are the main pain points that Policypal is solving?
Traditional insurance buying is a long and tedious process. It includes comparison, understanding of the claim filing process, etc. Once you get your policy, you still have to figure out when to pay premiums and when it expires. We provide the tool to manage all of that, through the app and “push” notifications.
Usually, people tend to have friends or family members as their insurance agents to submit their claims if something happens, but if the person changes job or leaves the industry, the claim management becomes way harder. With PolicyPal, the claim filing process happens on the platform which takes out this issue.
To the insurance companies, we provide a solution to increase their reach. Most of Asian countries have an ageing population and we work together to increase the insurance penetration to ensure people are covered. At the same time, insurance companies won’t have to invest more to offer their service on the platform and will increase their engagement with the consumers, normally left to the agent. It makes the whole process a lot more seamless.
IEV: Do you analyze data from your consumers?
Yes, we anonymize the data we collect and share some of it with our partners for us to come up with better products. While usually products are developed and recommended to the customers, we try to focus on what the customer is looking for, by meeting up and gathering their insights first. For instance, when we started, we were focused on mobility insurance coverage. Recently, we developed a new product which is a bicycle insurance, because we discovered people were interested in covering not only themselves but the bike for which they had paid a lot. These are insights we got from customers’ feedback. It wouldn’t be possible if the information was delivered to a physical agent.
IEV: How long did it take you to develop the app and the AI behind it?
We developed our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in 10 weeks in April last year (2016) and started testing it in July.
IEV: Are you already selling insurance yourself?
We started about a month and a half ago, as we just got our insurance license. We are partnering up with insurance companies to co-create new insurance products leveraging on new technologies. Blockchain, for example, will enable us to automate claim processing thanks to smart contracts. Today, this process is still very manual and we never know how long the process takes, it could be a few days or several months. We’re trying to make this whole process automated, so that our customers not only can manage policies, buy new policies and then also get their claims paid out easily. We recognize that this will take some time so we will still require humans to double check for complex claims.
IEV: Do you think you’re a threat to traditional insurance companies?
More insurance companies are setting up labs and willing to work with startups. They would ask the question: is this startup a disrupter? An enabler? An enemy or a friend? We do think we’re friends as we work together with insurance companies to see how technology can improve their process or help them tap into a new market.
IEV: Are you threatening agents then?
We still have a hybrid policy on life insurance. We work with AXA and Aviva as there is still a lot of people required for KYC. Eventually, it will all migrate online but it takes time.
IEV: You graduated from the sandbox, what did it bring you?
When we just started, people wanted to buy insurance online but we couldn’t do it, as it requires an insurance license. The license is highly costly in capital and compliance. We decided to apply to the sandbox as our platform provides a new channel and an innovative insurance policy scan technology. Around the end of the 6-month trial in June, we were already looking at getting the license. We got it two months after graduation.
IEV: What did you have to change in the company to get the license?
The business model didn’t change but we needed to work on documentation. As an insurance broker, we would need a lot more KYC and AML checks. We learned that even though we grow fast, we still need to take into account all the financial information that we need to keep track of.
IEV: Are you operating in Singapore only?
Yes, but we’re looking at scaling next year. For the moment we’re quite tied up with Singapore and we just got our license. We’re already in talks with insurance companies in the region and we’ll focus on Asia, as the region has a huge potential, with its ageing population.
IEV: What other technologies are you looking into? Voice recognition?
Blockchain is definitely our focus today, as it will enable us to automate claim management through decentralized smart contracts.
Voice recognition is not a focus for now, even if Chinese users use it a lot. Our customers in Singapore are still more comfortable with writing. This decision will be very market dependant.