Women in star­tups

Women-founded in­sur­ance star­tups are rare, but the ones that do ex­ist are demon­strat­ing the value of their orig­i­na­tors' unique ex­pe­ri­ences.

Digital Insurance - - CONTENTS - BY SHARON GOLD­MAN

The gen­der gap in in­surtech is wide, but women lead­ers are clos­ing with in­no­va­tion

The in­sur­ance in­dus­try, known more for its risk-averse pro­file than its ap­petite for dis­rup­tion, has be­gun to fun­da­men­tally shape-shift over the past decade. A great deal of that change has come thanks to in­surtech star­tups that are chang­ing the game by bring­ing new tech­nolo­gies to the in­dus­try. How­ever, as in other tech­nol­ogy sec­tors, as well as the in­sur­ance in­dus­try it­self, the statis­tics around women lead­ers in the in­surtech space are un­der­whelm­ing. A re­cent study of 535 in­surtech com­pa­nies worldwide by Eva Genzmer of the Ger­man in­surtech Friend­surance found that just 4% — 20 in to­tal — were founded by women. “In­sur­ance isn't dif­fer­ent than any heav­ily male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try,” says Sne­jina Zacharia, founder of the AI-based dis­tri­bu­tion in­surtech In­su­rify. “What's key is that suc­cess­ful young women who have raised money have to be true to them­selves. They can be more suc­cess­ful be­cause of their abil­ity to be more in­tu­itive with the way they run their busi­ness, build prod­ucts and im­prove the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence.” Zacharia be­came in­ter­ested in the in­sur­ance in­dus­try while try­ing to man­age a claim for a mi­nor auto ac­ci­dent in her last year at MIT. “I was shocked how frag­mented and dis­jointed the car in­sur­ance cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence is,” she ex­plains. “I spent hours talk­ing to dif­fer­ent agents, fill­ing out on­line forms, and an­swer­ing the same ques­tions over and over. I felt the user should be able to make de­ci­sions on their own based on data they pro­vide.” Many in­surtechs are, like In­su­rify, fo­cused on the cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence, says Kar­lyn Car­na­han, who leads the P&C in­sur­ance prac­tice for Ce­lent. “There are star­tups fo­cus­ing on dis­tri­bu­tion, an­a­lyt­ics or op­er­a­tional

ser­vices; the in­sur­ers who are in­creas­ingly part­ner­ing with the star­tups; and the in­vestors, in­clud­ing in­sur­ers, who see the po­ten­tial to make a lot of money in this space,” she says.

The rea­son in­surtech has moved front and cen­ter is be­cause as a ver­ti­cal, the in­dus­try is ripe for change, adds Donna Peeples, a Dig­i­tal In­sur­ance Women in In­sur­ance Lead­er­ship hon­oree in 2014, when she was chief cus­tomer of­fi­cer for AIG. She agrees that in­surtech is push­ing the in­dus­try's cus­tomer in­ter­ac­tion for­ward.

Now, she is chief cus­tomer of­fi­cer at Pypestream, a cus­tomer mes­sag­ing startup that counts in­sur­ance as one of its ma­jor in­dus­tries, putting her on the ground for the in­surtech revo­lu­tion. Peeples of­ten rep­re­sents Pypestream at ma­jor in­surtech events, with her in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence adding cred­i­bil­ity to the com­pany's mes­sage.

“End users are de­mand­ing bet­ter ser­vice, more con­sis­tency and in­creased trans­parency in com­pa­nies they do busi­ness with,” she says. “In their minds, Ama­zon makes it easy, why shouldn't my in­sur­ance com­pany?”

Though Peeples agrees the num­bers for women in in­surtech are “dis­mal,” she be­lieves that doesn't mean that women should be afraid to throw their hats in the ring. In­surtech is driv­ing in­dus­try changes that rep­re­sent sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ties for all en­trepreneurs, she says.

“I think about my two daugh­ters and how I want them to grow up to be fear­less and not be afraid to ex­pand their plat­form, take on more re­spon­si­bil­ity and de­liver re­sults,” she says. “It's ex­cit­ing and an honor to be a part of what is hap­pen­ing, with the pos­si­bil­i­ties to make peo­ple's lives bet­ter.”

Car­na­han agrees. For in­no­va­tors in the in­surtech space, in­sur­ance has a great deal of mar­ket po­ten­tial if the cur­rent model can be dis­rupted, and those who pro­vide ser­vices for in­sur­ers have the abil­ity to im­pact a large mar­ket, she ex­plains. In ad­di­tion, in­sur­ance lends it­self to creative uses of tech­nol­ogy as the prod­uct is gen­er­ally data-based and ser­vices can of­ten be dis­trib­uted through tech­nol­ogy. “We don't have parts that need to ship,” she says.

Like any startup, how­ever, the big­gest chal­lenge is speed to mar­ket — get­ting rev­enue be­fore run­ning out of run­way. In­sur­ance car­ri­ers tra­di­tion­ally have a very slow sales cy­cle and don't usu­ally make fast de­ci­sions, while there are of­ten is­sues get­ting new tech­nolo­gies in­te­grated with ex­ist­ing ap­pli­ca­tion ar­chi­tec­ture.

The other chal­lenge is the cul­ture of many in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, in which car­ri­ers are more com­fort­able with tra­di­tional pro­cesses and are more likely to use new tech­nolo­gies af­ter they've been proven.

“In­surtechs that are most likely to be suc­cess­ful are those that un­der­stand in­sur­ance and are able to ar­tic­u­late a mes­sage about the true ben­e­fits that will ac­crue to a car­rier; those that have a process that al­lows a car­rier to quickly test with lit­tle in­vest­ment; and those that have clear proof points about the ben­e­fits,” Car­na­han says.

So while women — and men, for that mat­ter — who tackle the in­surtech sec­tor must have a great idea, there's also a hu­man side to the story. Pa­tience and em­pa­thy are key to build­ing suc­cess­ful busi­nesses.

“A lot of peo­ple might read about overnight suc­cess sto­ries in TechCrunch, but a lot of com­pa­nies don't make it, or it takes 15 years be­fore it's a prof­itable busi­ness,” says Jen­nifer Fitzger­ald, co-founder of the on­line life in­sur­ance bro­ker Pol­i­cyGe­nius. “You have to make sure you have a good sup­port net­work.”

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