German automaker BMW has chosen two-year-old London-based insurtech company Wrisk to be its sole insurance partner in the UK after the company recently completed a ten-week stint in its innovation lab.

It is a case study in the unexpected benefits of entering a corporate innovation programme, with Wrisk entering as a wildcard candidate last year and ending up with a commercial agreement to be the sole insurance provider distributed by BMW's financial services arm in the UK.

© Wrisk
© Wrisk

As a result the carmaker is ending an existing partnership with a legacy insurance provider, and any insurance sold directly via BMW or Mini networks in the UK will now be via a platform designed by Wrisk, including the possible reintroduction of seven day free drive away insurance.

Wrisk is one of a number of insurtech startups looking to simplify the process of buying insurance, predominantly through a mobile app and by better use of customer data. It is underwritten by Great Lakes, a subsidiary of Munich Re, and is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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It aims to provide customers with a single platform for all of their insurance policies, with transparent access to the information insurers keep on them with what they call a Wrisk Score. The BMW insurance product will be offered through a web-based platform however.

What is Wrisk?

Wrisk cofounder Niall Barton told Computerworld UK that BMW was looking for an "insurance partner to grow with their changing customer needs, so a 10-week programme ended with a letter of intent to be the first major customer for our digital platform. That was a huge moment for us to have a client with that reach backing our vision."

Barton brings years of insurance experience and his cofounder Darius Kumana is the techie, having formerly been head of digital at insurer Markel International.

"Going to buy a new car is exciting, but the process of insuring it is less exciting, so we are trying to change the dialog there and make it easier and more intuitive to do that in a mobile way," he added.

Barton notes that the nature of car ownership is changing, with shared ownership and ride hailing services on the rise thanks to the likes of Uber and ZipCar. "So [BMW] needed insurance to move with that and saw more flexibility with our platform and ability to wire in telemetry and various data points," he said. "So who knows what the world ahead looks like, but they wanted to know they had a platform and an organisation that would move fast and work with them responsively."

Interestingly the agreement initially included a clause that would limit Wrisk to work only with BMW group when it comes to automative insurance distribution.

This has since changed though, as Barton explained: "They originally were so excited they wanted an exclusive deal. Then late last year they said: 'we want to be the first customer but we want you to succeed and not hinder you as a distributor'. So they removed that clause and I thought that was classy." According to Barton, Wrisk is already in discussions with another carmaker.

Modernising insurance at BMW

What really impressed BMW was Wrisk's ability to cut out some of the more tedious steps in the insurance process for new car owners.

Philip Kerry, sales and marketing director at BMW Financial Services admits that the insurance part of the financial services arm for BMW had been in decline for some time, so the opportunity to refresh this offering for customers was clearly a compelling one. "Wrisk was refreshing and had lots of new ideas and we are on that journey with them now, " he added.

Steve Cann, general manager for insurance solutions at BMW Financial Services added: "Our partnership with Wrisk is a great example of how we are harnessing innovation at BMW. The market for vehicle insurance is changing dramatically. We have worked closely with Wrisk to come up with ways as to how we can future proof these services. The result is a platform that offers on-demand services and products that are hyper-convenient for the customer."

Naturally investing all of its faith in a newcomer took a slight leap of faith from BMW.

"The key barrier for us is that it is always easier to work with an established company, so dealing with a startup is a bigger risk, but we weighed up the benefits of what that can bring to customers and certainly Niall's thinking was fresh and it was a good fit for us," Kerry said.

It's clearly too early to say how successful this tie up will be for either party, but BMW has shown an immense amount of faith in the startup by going all in with this agreement.

What is clear at this point is that BMW is less enamoured by the current Wrisk product proposition as it is by the talent and vision of the team behind it.