The biggest insurtech fundraise so far in the UK was secured by a pet insurer in the middle of a pandemic. So what has Bought By Many got that other’s haven’t? We asked its Chief Commercial Officer Charlotte Halkett.
Back in 1890, a Swedish gentleman by the name of Claes Virgin had the idea of insuring horses and other animals that ploughed the country’s fields and pulled its carriages. An instant hit, his policies were based on the understanding that working animals were financial investments worth protecting.
But Virgin’s policies didn’t die out with the soon-to-be-overtaken handsom cab. Rather, they evolved to cover Sweden’s growing population of pets. The world’s first protection for a pooch was written there in 1924. Fast forward almost 100 years and Swedes lead the world in indemnifying their emotional assets: 60 per cent of their pets are insured and it’s a market that UK-based Bought By Many is intent on getting its paws on. But that’s just the start. Having this year closed the biggest UK insurtech fundraise to date, its sights are set on pet lovers across the world.
The fact that the value of a pet is not measured in the cost of its replacement or repair, but by the affection in which it is held, defines its approach.
“Motor insurance is a stress purchase, because you’re told you have to get it, and I’d describe home insurance almost as a fear purchase. But pet insurance is different: it’s a love purchase,” says Charlotte Halkett, Bought By Many’s CCO. “I’ve been involved in insurtech for the last 10 years and pet insurance is unlike any other personal and casualty (P&C) line of business. It’s the way people buy it, the way they think about it, the way you have to think about their customer journey. The usual concept of an insured item doesn’t really work in pet insurance.”
Having begun life offering niche cover in multiple sectors, Bought By Many began to focus its energies on pets in 2017. It amassed some 40,000 comments from owners that helped pinpoint exactly what they wanted a pet insurance policy to fulfil and built this insight into its digital DNA. It continues to genetically improve the business, which leverages both its tech and its people to create an intensely customer-focussed hybrid model that is quite different to that of its – generally much larger – rivals.
“It’s all about using our informational advantage, as an insurer, to realise ‘this is the cover that people genuinely need’,” says Halkett. “We focus on simplicity, in terms of being able to buy the product, being able to understand the product and being able to make a claim. We also take a different approach to pre-existing conditions, the age of a pet and prices on renewal. Bought By Many has never charged more for renewing customers than new business and that’s incredibly unusual in the insurance world, but it’s all about standing up for what we believe is right in insurance, and how we would want to be treated as customers – which a lot of us are.
“We think about the pet parents we have as being members of the Bought By Many family, and ask ourselves ‘what does great mean?’ at every stage: at onboarding, when they make a claim and, sadly, if the pet passes away. It’s all about creating a really different experience. In order to do that, we have to think about the way the product is set up from the beginning, not just about delivering a great experience if somebody has to make a claim or a call.”
Soon after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bought By Many ran a survey among customers to see what their biggest fear was with regard to their pets, and responded to their top two concerns. Firstly, although there’s no evidence that pets can pass on or contract the virus, it reassured customers that their pet would be covered in the event that evidence changed. Secondly, as many pet owners couldn’t get annual health checks for their pets because vets stopped routine work, Bought By Many confirmed that missed health checks during the pandemic would not impact their policies. It was also the first pet insurance provider to partner with the FirstVet app, offering customers free video consultations with vets, and it set up the Dogcast podcast to help keep them positive, hosted by sports commentator Clare Balding.
Meanwhile, its Cloud-native architecture allowed it to transition smoothly to home working the moment UK businesses were advised to do so under COVID-19 containment measures. It dropped just one call in 800 that day, while others struggled to maintain service levels. Pandemic-related news somewhat swamped the announcement that Bought By Many had closed a Series C funding round, which had seen the business courted by six suitors. It eventually settled on a growth and equity investment of £78.4million, led by America’s FTV Capital, which counts several major underwriters among its network, giving the deal additional strategic value.
It’s not hard to see why Bought By Many attracted such interest at a time of investor uncertainty. Sales of its cat and dog policies have increased by more than 150 per cent in the last year so that it now covers 200,000 pets in the UK and Sweden, where it’s been active since late last year. The pandemic itself has driven business – at least, so far. There was a big uptick in young animal policies as owners took new-borns on early to avoid the risk of them getting caught in lockdown, while it’s also benefited from a worldwide increase in the number of pet adoptions.
Pet parents’ first choice
While the spike in demand those two trends created may well flatten as lockdown eases, the award-winning approach to customer service enabled by Bought By Many’s digital agility, won’t. Halkett is particularly proud of picking up first prize at the 2019 Moneywise Awards.
“Bought By Many wasn’t even in the drop-down list of insurance providers customers could pick,” Halkett recalls, “so 30,000 customers voted on this award, and our customers, bless them, typed in our name in order to make us the Most Trusted Pet Insurance Provider in the UK. “We use our own proprietary technology to make things simpler for customers,” adds Halkett. “We are really focussed on
the customers’ pain points, at every single stage.
Most of our interactions are online, because we make that very simple for customers, but pet insurance is an emotional purchase, so sometimes they really do need to call. We have a very different ethos within our service centres, which is about being unscripted. We recruit our fantastic call centre staff for their empathy above all else, with the heavy lifting all performed by our technology.”
When Bought By Many, which is underwritten by Great Lakes Insurance SE, entered the market, it was the first UK pet insurance provider to offer online claims processing, and the first to remove the 14-day waiting period to claim for switchers. With the recent injection of cash by investors, Halkett says, it will ‘be looking for really innovative ways to expand within the UK and internationally and think about the next generation of what we’re doing’. “It’s all about being the world’s most-loved pet insurer, and that journey’s very exciting,” she adds. While, in the UK, 30 per cent of pets are insured, in the US it’s less than three per cent and in the two fastest-growing markets – India and China – pet insurance is just as rare. If Bought By Many can get a foothold beyond Europe it will be like a dog with two tails.
Wherever they are, Halkett is keen for customers to see Bought By Many less as an insurer and more as a ‘risk partner’, working with owners in the best interests of their pet. And it explores every data avenue it can to make that relationship the best it can be. Using data to offer early-warning advice and good care practices to reduce risk is a trend increasingly seen in other areas of the market, specifically in health insurance.
The first fitness trackers for pets linked to an insurance product became a feature of the UK market last year. Would Bought By Many consider using them? “I’m an actuary, by background, and nothing gets me more excited than being able to delve into completely new sources of data,” says Halkett. “So, yes, we’re absolutely going to be investigating them, seeing what would be useful and more helpful for our customers. If I can find things that will help them keep their pets healthy and happy for longer, that will make me really excited. If I can say ‘you have a six-year-old Labrador. Doing this or using these sorts of things might help keep your pet running around
with you for longer’, then I’m absolutely going to be doing that because that’s when insurance can move beyond just being there for those superhero, rescue-you moments. “What’s really important in all this is that we don’t lose sight of what we’re trying to do, which is fantastic customer service.”
This article was published in The Insurtech Magazine: Issue #4, Page 8.