Brolly may have only graduated from incubator Entrepreneur First in September, but this startup already has ambitious plans to give customers a single place to view, manage and buy insurance from their mobile.
To really shake up an industry rife with inertia and outdated products Phoebe Hugh, cofounder and CEO at Brolly, aims to go back to the days where your insurance broker knew what you needed and helped you to manage an insurance portfolio, before the days of price comparison sites and online portals.
Instead of connecting you with a human broker though, Brolly uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Hugh, a psychology graduate from the University of Manchester, left her job at insurance giant Aviva in March 2015 and enrolled in the prestigious Entrepreneur First programme, joining the sixth cohort a year later in March 2016. There she met her cofounder, CTO Mykhailo Loginov.
She had become jaded by an industry that only ever seemed to “unlock a whole host of frustrations” in customers, and which had not yet produced a successful new consumer brand or startup focusing on doing things differently.
Hugh explained that before the internet all insurance was managed by brokers “who would manage everything".
“The products haven’t changed. So people end up not getting advice anymore, they are trying to figure stuff out and end up under insured or buy stuff they don’t need.”
In short: management of insurance policies has become fatally fragmented, “so there is no portfolio visually. Everything comes through your email or paper or an online portal, there is no join up,” she told Techworld.
“The biggest issue that results from that is inertia, so you end up leaving things and you end up paying double, because you aren’t rewarded for loyalty, you are reprimanded. This is characteristic of how the market is today and what we wanted to do at Brolly was cut through that.”
The first step was getting an app off the ground. This soon became three interlocking products, all housed in the Brolly app.
In Hugh’s words: “The app originally was designed to focus on the biggest issues consumers were facing, and we grouped them into: understanding insurance, managing insurance and buying insurance.” These became the Brolly Advisor, Locker and Shop.
With the advisor Hugh wanted "to create an advisor which based on what you put in you get valuable output to help you understand where you might have gaps in cover".
In practice you provide the app with information such as lifestyle and financial attributes, and then give the app access to your inbox so that it can scrape your existing policy documents into the locker. Now the algorithm takes over and “spots where you have gaps, like income protection insurance, explains what it is and asks would you like to get a quote?”
The locker is "the hub, it’s where customers manage everything they have and anything they buy goes in there and anything that isn’t they can be advised on".
In the locker customers can access documents, contact providers, see how much they are paying and upcoming renewal dates. Any gaps can be advised upon and then, once it comes online later this year, products can be bought in the shop.
The last piece of the puzzle is the shop, which Hugh says is the most demanded feature. It is currently being tested with beta customers and is set to become available to the public in the summer. Brolly will start by offering home, motor and travel, with more product lines to come.
Hugh wants the shop to be "extremely fast and fully self service, so a couple of taps to get your policy. It is about convenience, there is not a huge focus on getting the cheapest policy, it is more customers that value quality products and want a fast way to buy something outright".
The shop will also learn more about you and even “if they don’t need a quote today it gives us the ability to look around in the background to push notifications to the user to suggest the best time to switch, so it is trying to be that proactive advisor in someone’s pocket,” Hugh summarised.
Brolly will take a commission on any products it sells through the app and the insurance providers in exchange get access to high quality customers, according to Hugh.
“Due to the relationship we are building with our customers we really have a deep understanding of their lives, we know this homeowner has two cars and children and likes to travel and it is delivering an entire holistic person and insurers see tremendous value in being able to tap into good quality risk and stripping out fraud,” she said.
This personal profile isn’t handed over to the insurer but is anonymised. Hugh explained: “Pricing today is focused on product lines not the individual, and it is using actuarial models rather than holistic pictures of people.
“So an actuarial model for the entire customer base whereas we use machine learning techniques to get right down to personalised risk models. That is where the value of our data lies.” She added the Brolly platform is poised to incorporate data from wearable devices and car telematics in the future too.
Insurtech is set for a bumper year, with KPMG already predicting that 2017 is the year the nascent industry will "come into its own".
If Brolly is going to take advantage of this it will need to get the shop up and running and ramp up customer acquisition. Hugh is already looking at the ways UK challenger banks have taken a transparent, community-first approach to get early adopters on board.
Brolly will almost certainly have to contend with a raft of imitators soon enough. To date Hugh believes that most startups have focused on smaller pieces of the puzzle than an all-in-one solution. The question will be if Brolly has bitten off more than it can chew.