Exclusive: ‘A league of their own’ – Hannah Duncan, Wales in “The Insurtech Magazine”

Wales isn’t just good at rugby, it’s an all-important Number 8 in the insurtech scrum. Hannah Duncan sing its praises.

The Guinness Six Nations 2020 saw many eager fans gripped to their seats. Nowhere more so than in the famously rugby-obsessed nation of Wales. From 360-degree daffodil hats to impromptu Bread Of Heaven  performances, the Welsh take their national sport seriously. 

Something else that this country has cocooned and nurtured as its own, perhaps surprisingly, is its thriving insurtech ecosystem. The nation has characteristically blended insurtech with sporting values, approaching it with unrivalled community spirit and gritty determination. As a European centre for insurance aggregator platforms, including  Moneysupermarket, GoCompare and Confused.com, and key hub for tech research, Wales has kept its eye firmly on the ball. 

Driving forward together 

The rules of play for Welsh insurtech are strikingly close to the rules of rugby. Each player passes back to the next, and they all move forward together. Collective knowledge-sharing across government, schools and business is what’s setting the country apart. In government boardrooms, the word ‘tech’ pops up again and again across research papers, policies and funding. Becoming a digital leader is not an optional extra, it’s a national priority. If Wales doesn’t continue to outpace tech developments, more than 26 per cent of its workers will find themselves out of a job by the 2030s, according to Future Advocacy.

The Welsh government has made it clear in its 2019 paper, Delivering Economic Transformation For A Better Future Of Work, that the focus needs to move from ‘coal mining to data mining’. Devolution has made slow progress, but as the country gains more control over its future, industries such as insurtech are booming with the extra attention.Everyone is getting involved. Becoming digitally fluent is fast becoming the focus across schools and colleges. The ever-expanding range of insurtech internships and education for young people is compelling. 

2020 kicked off with Bangor University in North Wales launching a new research facility dedicated to developing 5G technology. The Digital Signalling Processing Centre is on a quest to transform wireless internet. And then there is Cardiff University’s extraordinary Data Science Academy. The department is merging maths and computer science to rocket-propel cyber security and artificial intelligence into the future.

From a stocky scrum half to a whippet-like wing, there’s a place for everyone in rugby. Perhaps that’s the reason why so many people enjoy taking part, with Wales having nearly 90,000 registered players, which is astonishing in a population of just three million. It’s a similar story away from the pitch, as there’s room for all shapes and sizes in this bustling insurtech epicentre. Whether your company is little or large, agile or bulky, all you need is an occasional dash of bravery and you’re part of the team. 

Look in one direction and you’ll see it’s a breeding ground for plucky, innovative startups. The Development Bank of Wales offers life-changing investments for promising innovators, while organisations such as FinTech Wales are relentless in providing free advice and skilled tech workshops. It’s this blend of consistent support and funding that is instilling confidence in the sector. It’s hardly surprising, then, that more than 90 digital startups have made Cardiff their home (according to Tech Nation) since 2017. Only last week, the usually quiet seaside town of Llandudno was shaken by a vibrant Emerging Tech Fest to boost and propel ambitious new founders. 

“We quickly identified the key areas we can improve that will add resilience and growth for the sector in Wales,” says Gavin Powell, general secretary of FinTech Wales. “Of those areas, the need to enhance the pipeline of innovation and next-generation products is key. We are already in a programme of work with companies and academics in Wales to make impactful changes to that mechanism, which will definitely give the sector in Wales a competitive advantage.”

Looking to the other extreme of the pitch, you’ll notice insurance giants such as the FTSE 100 company Admiral and its subsidiaries, Elephant and Confused.com. Together, they make up the largest tech employers in South Wales with a combined 7,000-strong workforce. Atradius is another hefty example. This global trade credit insurer planted its feet firmly in Cardiff in 2004. Welsh insurtech has heavyweights, newcomers and everything in between.

Exploiting open spaces 

Last September, Cardiff-based startup Coincover launched the world’s first cryptocurrency insurance. Eyes widened across Silicon Valley as the UK Department for International Trade unveiled the game-changing product. But it was more or less another day in the office as Wales boasts a long-standing tradition of insurtech innovation. 

The launch of Confused.com in 2002 pioneered a new  comparison platform industry globally. Locally based competitors such as Moneysupermarket and GoCompare popped up like daffodils.

 “Confused.com came up with a solution to a problem that affected millions of people – the process of ringing around an endless number of insurers to compare car insurance,” says its CEO Louise O’Shea. “The system was broken and we used technology to fix it. We’ve recognised that comparing insurance isn’t just a problem for people in the UK and have now launched platforms across Europe, Asia and Mexico, forming the world’s largest network of comparison platforms.”

Bursts of innovation spark new insurtech supply and demand. Another example, Comparison Creator, pioneered the first business-to-business software to support the data comparison movement.

“Wales is a small country but we pack a punch when it comes to being passionate and loyal,” says Stephen Jones, CEO of Comparison Creator. “We thrive on working together to create more value for our users. With the evolution of price comparison sites, innovation has led us to collaborate with four of the largest examples in the UK, three of them Welsh businesses. By working together, we can deliver excellent service and products, so we’ll always ‘keep up with the Joneses’.”

Community spirit 

Sheep jokes aside, the Welsh have a few characteristics which make them stand out. Naturally friendly and inquisitive, their desire for community has been the perfect catalyst for insurtech. These companies find the market gaps as it’s in their nature to connect with neighbours. Brewing ideas over a brew, or more likely picking brains over a Brains (that’s a Welsh beer to the uninitiated), creates an extraordinary support system. One example is ActiveQuote, which launched a world-first comparison site for health insurance that allows users to customise their own plan, and went on to build partnerships, including a second with Moneysupermarket last year to create an unrivalled health comparison site. 

“Innovation and collaboration are key to growth,” says Rod Jones, ActiveQuote’s head of partnerships and marketing. 

Little countries like Wales don’t often get to be on top of the world. When you only have three million people and a history that’s been dominated by a rather pushy neighbour, it’s trickier to stand out. But a red shirt and an oval-shaped ball gave a small nation the opportunity to have global victories… and by God, did it take it! It’s the same story with insurtech. Somehow, against all odds, this little country has produced an ecosystem of sophisticated insurance firms. It’s blended tech with its rugby-like passion and unyielding community spirit to create the extraordinary. The future of insurtech looks bright for this ambitious nation.

 


This article was published in The Insurtech Magazine: Issue #3, Page 26 & 27.

 

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Hannah Duncan Wales

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