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芝加哥成为美国保险科技创企首选地

去年,芝加哥获风投支持的保险科技创企数有所上升。其中有些创企提供综合险,一些简化了某项程序。

撇开其市场定位不谈,保险科技企业在芝加哥蓬勃发展,合情合理。伊利诺斯历来是全国最大、最有影响力的保险企业所在地,如位于诺斯布鲁克的Allstate、布鲁明顿的State Farm。这两家保险企业均售卖家庭险、车险及寿险,运营80余年。

消费者也熟知这些企业。我们经常看到Allstate广告中Dennis Haysbert告诉观众他们"所托良人"。

但就同一批消费者而言,其对Kin Insurance、Clearcover、DataCubes与Snapsheet等旨在简化保险程序的本土保险科技创企却相对不太熟悉。而这些创企在过去四月累计筹得资金3000万美元。

风险资本企业TechNexus创始人兼普通合伙人、伊利诺斯技术协会执行主席Fred Hoch表示:"(芝加哥)已经或可能成为技术与保险领域前沿中心。"

芝加哥保险科技热潮可归功于该地技术社区的发展繁荣。此外,该地区劳动力资源丰富,孕育了保险科技创企。许多保险科技创企创始人成立自己企业之前曾在该地区保险企业任职。除Allstate与State Farm外,Zurich、CAN与Aon也位于芝加哥。该地人才集聚,多人在此扎根。

Harish Neelamana是DataCubes的首席产品官,加入该创企前曾在Zurich与Allstate任职。他表示:"可供我们挖掘的人才储备相当丰富。这些人才大多曾在保险企业就职,但因认为可用别种方式提供保险服务而离职。也就是说大多数此类人才期望在芝加哥发展而非另择它地。"

人才崛起

这些新兴企业有的力图颠覆行业,与传统保险企业相抗衡,如Kin与Clearcover。DataCubes与Snapsheet等企业则与传统保险企业合作,与其息息相关。

1. Kin

Kin成立于2016年,该公司从零开始创制了一种保险软件系统,使其可根据卫星图像、公开记录等资源迅速做出承保决策。Kin的联合创始人兼CEO Sean Harper称,该软件系统不仅使整个保险程序更为迅捷,还省去了许多分销与监管成本,因而对消费者来说通常更为便宜。

Kin虽位于加利福尼亚,但目前仅面向佛罗里达推出其服务。Harper称,此举原因在于佛罗里达是飓风频发地因而属风险较高市场。但Kin已计划在2018年底将业务推广拓展至全绝大多数人群。

上月,Kin从Commerce Ventures与Chicago Ventures等投资者处募得资金400万美元。Kin在芝加哥河北岸区公司有18名雇员。Harper称Kin与Allstate、State Farm及Nationwide形成直接竞争关系,因为其与这些公司提供的服务同质但更佳。

2. Clearcover

无独有偶,Clearcover也正力图与保险商抗衡。Clearcover成立于2016年,创始人Kyle Nakatsuji曾在位于威斯康星麦迪逊的美国家庭保险集团(American Family Insurance)担任风投师。Clearcover刚刚于9月中旬募得1150万美元融资。该创企采用人工智能技术帮助消费者高效购买车险。Clearcover宣传称,与Allstate与State Farm等传统企业相比,其可为消费者节省50%的费用。

与Kin类似,Clearcover省去了实体店、高昂广告费用与老旧技术等监管成本,因此可提供低价保险。

3. Snapsheet

而Snapsheet与Clearcover及Kin的营商模式略有不同,该公司选择携手现有保险企业。Snapsheet是最早落户芝加哥的保险科技创企之一,成立于2010年,比Kin、Clearcover还要早六年。Snapsheet由CEO Brad Weisberg与董事长C.J. Przybyl共同创立,该公司为保险企业提供了平台,使其顾客可使用智能手机摄像头虚拟申报车险。

Przybyl说道:"我们创建了一整套技术,可实际帮准运营商使用各种技术以消费者所期方式处理索赔申请。我们公司完全助其转变了思维方式与工作流程,使其得以吸收和应对此种虚拟方式。"

Snapsheet有50多位顾客,400多名雇员,7月融资1200万美元,共计筹资超4300万美元。

4. 其他平台

除Snapsheet之外,成立于2016年的DataCubes同样也直接向保险企业售卖服务。Neelamana表示其并非要颠覆保险业,而是要革新承保流程。DataCubes目前仅有15名雇员,但今年9月从Seyen Capital与MK Capital处募得资金250万美元。

保险科技创企资金充沛,人员不断拓展,且具备技术导向思维,传统保险企业是否受到威胁?

TechNexus说道:"毫无疑问,长期来看他们确实受保险科技创企的威胁。但因其所有的资金额庞大,所以并不会在一夕之间感受到这种威胁,而长期来看则毫无疑问。"

Allstate技术之举

早在2011年,Allstate就收购了Esurance。Esurance是最早在线售卖保险的企业之一。Allstate收购之举清楚地表明:Allstate意识到要维持其在保险业的领军地位就必须先发制人。

去年,Allstate成立了科技创企Arity,在商品市场大楼外,距Allstate总部一小时车程外的芝加哥郊区运营。Arity目前有约300名雇员,旨在利用从智能手机与车辆处获取的大数据"革新驾驶员安全",助力评估驾驶员风险。Allstate自然使用Arity用作自用业务判断,同时Arity也为其他保险企业提供服务。

创立Arity是否是Allstate应对保险科技热潮的方略之一?Arity的CEO Gary Hallgren认为未必见得。

Hallgren说道:"我并不这样认为,反而更倾向于将其视作助力转变交通运输方式的契机。Allstate成立Arity是因为我们处在行业前沿,有着全新的定价方法与承保方式,且有七八年的经验。"

除成立Arity外,Allstate为保持技术前瞻性还另有其他动作。今年8月,Allstate推出QuikFoto后便解雇了全国500多名员工。QuickFoto程序可使遇车险投保人自行拍摄车辆损毁照片并使用应用上传。听起来很像Snapsheet?其实就是Snapsheet的翻版。

市场内保险科技创企越来越多,其中有些创企正力图取代传统保险企业。凭借Arity与QuickFoto,AllState正大步跃进,以在此市场中保持竞争力。竞争并不仅局限在芝加哥范围内。

CB Insights统计数据显示,2016年美国全国保险科技创企募得资金17亿美元。其中位于纽约的Lemonade提供租住险与住房险,主要为居住在城市的人群服务。Lemonade在其网站宣传称,其有19%的客户从Allstate转投而来,16%的客户来自State Farm。

Lemonade迄今已募得资金6000万美元,该创企运营一项人工智能驱动的应用,可迅速低价地处理保险索赔。租住险为每月5美元以上,住房险每月25美元起。此外,Lemonade将为使用索赔资金捐给客户指定的慈善项目,消除了该公司保有客户资金获利的利益冲突。Lemonade在纽约、伊利诺斯、加利福尼亚、得克萨斯与新泽西均有业务。

Lemonade战略通信主管Yael Wissner-Levy说道:"保险应当也可能有不同的面貌。我们看到了许多转机。"

转变乃大势所趋

消费者对保险业的认知不断发展,传统保险企业若想保持业绩,就必须跟上消费者的脚步。

Kin的CEO Harper说道:"传统保险企业必须加以适应,必须进行升级,这将有利于消费者。这才是资本主义的要义。"

某些转变适应之路与Allstate的轨迹类似,即成立自有数据与技术工具以简化保险程序。

State Farm表示,其意识到投资者正流入这一行业,该公司正采取行动维持其竞争优势。

State Farm发言人Missy Dundov在对Inno的一份声明中说道:"随着行业的发展与客户需求的不断转变,State Farm竭力成为保险业领军创新者。我们深知管理奉新业务将需跟随此中变化而调整转变。我们着眼大局,即如何适应这种变化并持续为客户创造价值。"

位于芝加哥的另一家保险公司CAN的代表表示,如无意外,保险科技企业为客户体验设下了新的标准。

这是否意味着将有收购行为发生?Schneider表示有可能。但与银行、保健、汽车等任何主要行业相同,收购是项似乎永不停歇的市场趋势。

Hoch表示:"任何这种规模的企业,要想应对革新,就必须进行内部检视,随后收购技术。若其不依此法或因循守旧,他们会凭借长久的地位与庞大的资金支撑不少时日,但终将改变。到某一节点,所有人都有可能出局。"

Over the past year, Chicagoland has seen an uptick in the number of venture-backed insurance tech startups. Some of them provide comprehensive insurance, while others simplify only one part of the process.

But regardless of their niche, insure-tech companies are having a moment in Chicago, and it makes sense. Illinois has a history of being home to some of the nation's biggest and most powerful insurance companies, like Allstate in Northbrook and State Farm in Bloomington, both of which have sold home, car, and life insurance for more than 80 years.

And consumers are familiar with these companies. How many times have we seen Dennis Haysbert in an Allstate commercial, telling viewers that they're "in good hands"?

But many of these same consumers are much less familiar with Kin Insurance, Clearcover, DataCubes, and Snapsheet, local insure-tech startups that work to simplify insurance. Cumulatively, they have raised $30 million in funding in the past four months.

"[Chicago] is likely to become, if we're not already, the center of anything going on with technology and insurance," said Fred Hoch, the founder and general partner at venture capital firm TechNexus and the executive chairman at the Illinois Technology Association.

The insure-tech boom in Chicago can be attributed to the growing and thriving tech community here, but it's also a breeding ground for insure-tech startups because of the region's workforce. Many founders of these young startups worked at an insurance company in the area before launching their own venture. Besides Allstate and State Farm, Chicago is home to Zurich, CNA, and Aon. The talent was already here, and much of it has stayed.

"We have a strong talent pool to draw from," said Harish Neelamana, the chief product officer at DataCubes, who previously worked at both Zurich and Allstate before joining the startup. "And they tend to be folks who have worked in insurance and are coming out of those companies because they feel things can be done differently - that means that most are looking to build in Chicago, versus elsewhere."

The rising talent

"Insurance right now is clearly an industry that needs to be disrupted," Hoch said. "So, it's just a natural evolution that as we as a community grow, as we evolve and mature, companies are starting to pop up."

Some of those companies, like Kin and Clearcover, are trying to disrupt and compete with insurance companies as a whole, while others, like DataCubes and Snapsheet, work with insurance companies and depend on their business.

Kin, founded in 2016, has built an insurance software system entirely from scratch that allows them to make underwriting decisions quickly based on data from satellite images, public records, and other sources. This not only makes the entire process much quicker, but also generally cheaper for customers because Kin has eliminated many distribution and overhead costs, said Sean Harper, cofounder and CEO.

"Most insurance companies are running off very old technology," he said. "But we have a very modern and flexible system. It's good at ingesting these huge amounts of data and applying an algorithm to it to make good decisions."

Though Kin is based in Chicago, it currently only offers its services in Florida. Harper said that's because Florida is a riskier market since it's in a hurricane-heavy region. However, it has plans to expand to most of the country's population by the end of 2018, Harper said.

Just last month, Kin raised $4 million from investors including Commerce Ventures and Chicago Ventures, and the company employs 18 people in its River North offices. Harper says Kin competes directly with Allstate, State Farm, and Nationwide, because it does what those corporate firms do, but better.

"We compete directly with them for their customers," Harper said. "We're a faster, more customer-friendly, more efficient version of them."

Similarly, Clearcover, founded in 2016 by Kyle Nakatsuji, a former VC at American Family Insurance in Madison, Wisconsin, is also trying to compete with insurance providers. The startup, which just raised $11.5 million in mid-September, uses AI to help consumers efficiently buy car insurance. It advertises that it can save people up to 50 percent compared to legacy firms like Allstate and State Farm.

Much like Kin, Clearcover can offer insurance at a cheaper price because it eliminates overhead costs like brick-and-mortar offices, expensive ads, and outdated technology.

Compared to Clearcover and Kin, though, Snapsheet has a slightly different business model, one that depends on existing insurance firms. Snapsheet is also one of the first insure-tech startups in Chicago as it was founded way back in 2010, six years before Kin, Clearcover, and others.

Founded by Brad Weisberg, CEO, and C.J. Przybyl, president, Snapsheet provides a platform to insurance companies that allows their customers to file automobile claims virtually using their smartphone camera.

"We've built a whole suite of tech that actually helps the carriers process these claims the way customers want to process them, using any form of technology," Przybyl said. "Our organization completely helps them change their mindset and their workflows to be able to absorb and handle this virtual channel."

Snapsheet, which has more than 50 clients and about 400 employees, raised $12 million in June, bringing its total funding to more than $43 million.

Like Snapsheet, DataCubes, founded in 2016, also sells its services to insurance companies directly. Neelamana says it isn't in the business of disrupting the insurance industry, just the underwriting process.

"Our goal is to help the carriers," Neelamana said. "Our intent is not to go up against them and start selling insurance policies."

DataCubes has only 15 employees right now, but raised $2.5 million this September from Seyen Capital and MK Capital.

With all the funding, personnel expansion, and tech-forward thinking from insure-tech startups, are legacy insurance firms threatened?

"No question - they're threatened by it long-term," TechNexus' Hoch said. "Not overnight, because they have huge pools of cash, but long-term - absolutely."

Allstate makes tech moves

Back in 2011, Allstate acquired Esurance, one of the first companies to sell insurance over the internet. It was a move that made one thing clear: Allstate knew it had to be proactive in remaining a leading insurance company.

And just last year, Allstate launched Arity, a tech "startup" that operates out of the Merchandise Mart, about an hour away from Allstate's headquarters in the Chicago suburbs. Arity, which now employs about 300 people, was designed to "revolutionize driver safety" by using big data from smartphones and vehicles to help evaluate the risk of a driver. Allstate, of course, uses Arity for its in-house operations, but Arity also works with external insurance companies.

But was launching Arity part of Allstate's defense to the insure-tech boom? Not necessarily, according to Arity CEO Gary Hallgren.

"I view it less that and more as an opportunity to help transform transportation," he said. "Allstate launched Arity because we're sitting at the forefront of this industry with a new way of pricing and a new way of doing insurance, and have been doing that for seven or eight years."

In addition to Arity, Allstate has made other moves to remain tech-forward. Just this August, Allstate laid off more than 500 people around the country after launching QuickFoto, a program that allows policyholders in car accidents to take their own photos of car damage and submit them through an app. Sound a lot like Snapsheet? That's because it is.

With Arity and QuickFoto, Allstate is making strides to remain competitive in a marketplace that is becoming more crowded with insure-tech startups, some of which are aiming to take its business. And competition isn't isolated to Chicago.

On a national scale, insure-tech startups raised $1.7 billion in 2016, according to CB Insights data. One of them is New York-based Lemonade, which offers renters and home insurance, mainly for those living in cities. The company advertises on its website that 19 percent of its customers switched from Allstate and 16 percent from State Farm.

The startup, which has raised $60 million in funding to date, powers an artificial intelligence-based app that processes claims quickly and cheaply. Renters' insurance starts at $5 per month and homeowners' starts at $25 per month. Additionally, Lemonade donates any unused claim money to a charity of the user's choice, eliminating their conflict of interest with keeping customers' money as profit. It operates in New York, Illinois, California, Texas, and New Jersey.

"Insurance should and can be different," said Yael Wissner-Levy, director of strategic communications at Lemonade. "We see a lot of switchers."

Change is inevitable

As consumer perceptions of the insurance industry continue to evolve, legacy companies will have to keep up with them if they want to remain in business.

"They're going to have to adapt," Kin's Harper said. "They're going to have to up their game, and it's going to be good for the consumer. That's what capitalism is."

Some of that adapting could be similar to Allstate's trajectory - launching their own data and tech-based tools for simplifying insurance.

State Farm says it is aware of the innovators entering the industry and that the company is taking steps to retain its competitive advantage.

"As our industry and the needs of our customers continue to change, State Farm strives to be a leading innovator within the insurance marketplace," said State Farm spokesperson Missy Dundov in a statement to Inno. "We understand our business of managing risks will need to adjust and adapt to this changing landscape. We are focused on the big picture - how we can adapt to these changes and continue to deliver value to our customers."

And representatives from CNA, another Chicago-based insurance firm, say that if nothing else, insure-tech companies have created a new standard for customer experience.

"Insure-tech has given a new focus and talent at the space, and is creating more ideas, more quickly," said Joel Schneider, the assistant vice president of business process optimization at CNA. "Some of the companies you see out there are really highlighting what they're doing and creating that new expectation for everybody. It creates more clarity around what the future needs to look like and how we start to build toward it."

Could that mean acquisitions down the line? Schneider said it's possible. But just like in any staple industry, whether it's banking, health care, or automotive, acquisitions are a market trend that never seem to stop.

"In order for any company of that size to deal with disruption, they have to look at what's going on internally, but then also acquire technology," Hoch said. "If they don't and just stay with the old model, they'll live for a long time because they've been around for a long time and got a lot of cash, but things will change. Everybody goes out of business at some point."


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