When it comes to living your brand, Sammy Rubin of the three-year-old insurtech startup Yulife is something of a gold standard.

After building an insurance exchange with his late father straight out of university and establishing a life insurance brand for Vitality, a burned out Rubin returned from a six-month sabbatical in the USA in 2016 – where he learnt yoga, changed his diet, and met his wife, who was running a wellness centre in Arizona at the time – determined to build a digital life insurance product that would reward lifestyle changes like the ones he had recently committed to.

Yulife CEO Sammy Rubin (second from the left) and the rest of the team
Yulife CEO Sammy Rubin (second from the left) and the rest of the team

Taking out life insurance, typically, is not the sort of purchasing decision that people make with any level of enthusiasm. On the one hand it tends to be a tiresome administrative exercise that involves a lot of paperwork and parting with your hard-earned cash. On the other it forces you to confront your mortality, neither of which are many people's idea of fun.

"Life insurance has long been a problem and isn't a loved industry," Yulife founder and CEO Rubin told Techworld late last year. "Most companies have been focused on death and when people die and that isn't something people want to address. We want to create a brand that is much more about life and protecting people when the worst happens but also inspiring them to live their best life today."

It's a typically polished mission statement, but Rubin is clearly serious about shifting the perception around taking out a life insurance policy.

Yulife customers are currently limited to businesses themselves as all policies are aimed at groups, from life insurance to critical illness and income protection on a simple per-employee subscription model. The startup claims to have 100 customers already and all policies are underwritten by AIG life.

"We are focused on businesses as that is where there is a lot of change and where wellness is needed as they seek wellbeing strategies," Rubin explained. "Yulife is only working with companies right now. We go into the company to use tech and gamification to build a culture of wellbeing."

Changing behaviours

The result is a mobile application that includes various game-like interfaces to incentivise activities like walking more or spending time to focus on mindfulness, with daily 'quests' and challenges navigated by a host of cartoon characters.

Much like Rubin's old employer Vitality pioneered by linking health insurance to the policy holder's health and wellbeing, all tracked by wearables, Yulife wants to directly incentivise life insurance through a reward scheme – with customers able to earn 'yucoins' by walking, or completing mindfulness challenges with partner apps like Calm. These can be exchanged for airline miles or discounts with major retailers like Amazon.

"When you go into a company they may not know who the life insurance provider is so they are disengaged and we are turning that into product that people live every day," Rubin said.

The product itself is clearly inspire by mobile games and the company CTO and cofounder Josh Hart is a gamer and experienced mobile app designer himself. There are even opt-in company-wide leaderboards to further incentivise employee engagement.

"As a teenager and growing up Josh was always obsessed with games," Rubin said. "I grappled with how to use technology to help people change behaviours, which is very difficult, and lots of solutions just sit on the shelf and are nice in theory but in practice there is a take up gap between knowledge and action with wellness. We know that most this time of year."

"I always wanted Yulife to be not just physical but really holistic, so mental health was an important part and there will be taboos around that but it is something we want to approach," Rubin said when asked if there is a certain level of British conservatism to overcome with the app.

Truly personalised life insurance

Yulife raised a seed round of £3 million led by Local Globe in 2018, and then a £10 million round Series A led by Creandum in May 2019, giving the business enough cash to start expanding rapidly, especially in the sales and marketing departments.

In terms of product, Rubin says he wants to increasingly focus on personalisation of the offering in 2020.

"That's a huge change for the industry, we have data scientists and collect so much data and are learning so much now and we want to build a whole new risk model as that actuarial model hasn't changed much since smoking was introduced as a factor in the 1960s," Rubin said. "This will take a number of years but will be a more dynamic risk model based on lifestyle."