The fintech interview: Part 3 Wrisk

This is part three of a series of interviews with finetch firms to shed some light on the kind of digital services available to enterprise IT directors via this growing sector.

This interview is with Wrisk, a company which falls within the insurtech part of the fintech sector. It provides flexible insurance to suit peoples’ lives with the customer considerations at its heart and all delivered through the latest digital tech.

I have written about Wrisk before as it has already announced a big enterprise customer in the form of BMW in the UK. The German car maker’s UK arm is using Wrisk to offer insurance policies to customers of BMWs and Minis when they buy through its UK dealers.

Wrisks insurance industry backer is Munich Re which provides the insurance finance.

I spoke to co-founders Darius Kumana and Niall Barton about the origins of the company and what the future might bring.

Kumana was a tech consultant with experience in multiple industries. He had done roles in a diverse range of companies looking to disrupt their sectors through digital technology and new business models.

But it was when he was working in the insurance sector that he had a moment of clarity. “When I was eventually dropped into insurance it was a bit like being in my grandmother’s attic. My eyes lit up and I thought as there was clearly so much opportunity for [tech disruption],” he said.

He also realised if he was going to achieve what he thought was possible in the sector he would have to be inside it so he joined a specialist insurer as head of digital.

“I took the company on a bit of a transformational journey, but what I quickly noticed was that changing the technology in isolation wasn’t enough.” He said you would hit inertia partly as a result of culture, legacy and a general reluctance to try anything new.

“So if I wanted to make real change I realised I couldn’t do it as a consultant and couldn’t do it as part of a big company,” he said.

That is when he realised he would have to go it alone or at least find like minds. That he did at an insurtech dinner at the end of 2015 when he met Niall Barton, an insurance industry veteran, and the idea of Wrisk was born soon after.

The company’s first prototype, in sketch form, was ready a few days after the idea.

Barton said the company was a result of the combination of the founders’ deep insurance and tech experience.

“Insurtech is a very complex part of fintech because you are selling a product on trust which is highly regulated,” he said.

They hired a company called Adaptive Labs to run a two week sprint to see if the idea could work. “I needed to know if this really made sense,” said Barton.

When they realised it did they shared a sole desk and drummed up some early investment from friends to enable them to put together some early prototypes.

Barton said to build the product was more complex than they originally imagined, with over £5m raised and a product built even before it has launched.

Although the company targets insurance companies with its service it was designed with the consumer of the insurance in mind. To that end the early days they spoke to consumers about what they didn’t like about insurance products. Kumana said: “You would get all manner of emotion and insight going right across the value chain. Including the buying process, the claims process and the fulfilment process”

He said that as a result it was very hard to know where to start. But there were some recurring themes such as customer confusion about how insurance products are priced. “Customers did not always have reason to believe in the pricing, so we wanted to do something about that through transparency.”

Another bone of contention consumers among was the fact that the whole insurance industry was set up in silos so as an individual you end up having lots of different policies for different insurance. Car, buildings, home, and gadget insurance etc. Kumana and Barton believed in the concept of the insurance being linked to the person.

“These ideas we had early on but quite naively because bringing things like this to reality in a regulated industry is really very hard,” said Kumana.

But he said the concept of tying insurance to the person has been the “the North Star” of everything the company has done.

Wrisk, which now has 38 full-time staff, began recruiting people in the Spring of 2016, only a few months after the concept was hatched. Kumana said initially people would be writing code for Wrisk after their day jobs. “We used people that thought the idea was good and believed in it.”

Barton said it is important to note that Wrisk thought about customers of insurance first before approaching the insurance industry.

But eventually Wrisk spoke to Munich Re, which became the main backer. “Munich Re had no channel conflicts, wanted to push change, is international, said they liked our products and then agreed to back us in the UK, Europe and the US.”

“This was our hyperventilation moment number one,” he added. This was the late summer of 2016.

Barton said this is when the hard work started: building the solution, working our distribution and then getting regulated.

“There are a whole load of considerations that most people in the tech space are not used to,” said Kumana.

Wrisk was chosen by BMW UK in 2016 to be part of its Innovation Lab, where it helps startups understand business opportunities.

Kumara said the company was interested to find out more about the car insurance space but did not know at the time that BMW was looking for a partner to take its insurance offering into the digital age. By the end of the programme they had an agreement with BMW UK. Today all new insurance sold by BMW UK with cars goes through Wrisk. It replaced insurance giant Allianz on that particular deal.

Wrisk is now working with BMW in the US as part of its Innovation Lab.

Wrisk’s main focus is on working with large enterprises that want a different way to engage with their customers. BMW is its first such corporate customer in this B2B2C model

Wrisk is also available through the Apple App Store for content insurance.

Read previous fintech interviews here:

The fintech interview: Part 1 Taina Technology

The fintech interview: Part 2 CreditLadder

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