Insurance tech firms angling for market share

Peer-to-peer insurance firm Bandboo to offer unemployment and retrenchment products

The fledgling field of insurtech is no longer a sleepy backwater of the fintech world.

The term refers to tech-based solutions focused on shaking up the insurance market - and a small but growing group of local start-ups is angling for a share of the pie.

One is peer-to-peer insurance firm Bandboo, founded last year and set to launch two products - unemployment insurance and retrenchment benefits - this month.

"We were looking for underserved areas and realised there is a gap here - while people are looking for a new job or looking to gain new skills, they might need some financial help," said chief operating officer Ou Zhiqi.

While Bandboo's unemployment insurance is targeted at workers who have been laid off, the retrenchment benefits scheme is for companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

It aims to "help them carry out fair and responsible retrenchment without incurring an excessive financial burden during their restructuring".

From left: Bandboo's chairman Chee Chun Woei, co-founder and CEO Ashley Kee and co-founder and chief operating officer Ou Zhiqi. Bandboo's unemployment insurance is targeted at workers who have been laid off, and the retrenchment benefits scheme is for companies. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Consumers pay a monthly membership fee as well as an insurance premium to be part of Bandboo's peer-to-peer insurance platform.

If a worker covered by its unemployment insurance gets retrenched, he will receive three months' salary capped at a total of $18,000, spread over five months.

Bandboo uses blockchain technology - also known as distributed ledgers - to record membership fee and premium payments, as well as payouts, so transactions are visible to all members.

"Our mission is to enable fair and transparent insurance coverage for everyone at the lowest possible cost," Mr Ou added.

Bandboo is not regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). Whether an entity falls under MAS regulation depends on whether it is carrying out regulated activities, a MAS spokesman said.

"In general, entities that perform the role of an insurer by taking on the insurance risks in exchange for premiums, or an insurance intermediary by arranging insurance policies between their customers and insurers, will be regulated by MAS."

A platform which allows individuals to come together to insure each other for certain risks, and does not perform the role of an insurer or an insurance intermediary, will not fall under MAS regulation, the spokesman noted.

Another company making waves in the insurance tech sector is digital insurance app PolicyPal, which became the first financial technology firm to join the MAS "regulatory sandbox" in March.

The programme allows both start-ups and large financial companies to experiment with new products and services in a controlled environment.

PolicyPal is a mobile app which digitises and collates users' insurance policies, giving them a convenient digital folder of their policies.

The platform also analyses a user's existing insurance coverage and suggests improvements.

"We aggregate all of a user's policies and can then analyse them to see whether they are under-insured or paying too much," said founder and chief executive Val Yap.

Users can also purchase policies on the platform, including life, mobility (for cyclists and skateboarders), travel and mosquito insurance. There are plans to roll out a wider range of products in the coming months, Ms Yap said.

Established insurers are starting to sit up and take notice of developments in insurtech.

AIA, MetLife and NTUC Income are among those running accelerator programmes or innovation centres here with the aim of working with start-ups to devise new products and services.

NTUC Income, which launched its accelerator programme last August, has picked nine start-ups - including PolicyPal - to participate in an 11-week programme that started in January.

The sector also got another boost last week when insurtech firm Singapore Life announced that it has raised US$50 million (S$70 million) in a funding round.

This is the largest-ever Series A funding round raised by a Singapore-based insurtech company, the firm said.

The investments came from Hong Kong-listed integrated financial technology group Credit China FinTech Holdings through its subsidiary Impact Capital Holdings, and British-based investment firm IPGL.

The funding will be used to support the company's growth.

Singapore Life has applied to the MAS for a direct life insurance licence, according to a stock exchange filing by Credit China FinTech Holdings.

It intends to provide life insurance products, standalone term insurance with associated riders, investment-linked plans, and wrappers and endowment assurance.

Singapore Life said it is waiting for approval from the authorities to share more details about the company.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline Insurance tech firms angling for market share. Subscribe