Exclusive: ‘Uncharted territory’ – Mike Eksteen, Uncharted in “The Insurtech Magazine”
Mike Eksteen is Chief of Growth and Product at an insurtech that allows every actor in the value chain, whatever their stage of digital transformation, to collaborate across one platform. It’s ‘not rocket science’, but it does allow the industry to seek out brave new worlds
It’s fair to say that consumers don’t view insurance firms as technological pioneers; they don’t expect them to be as intuitively helpful as Google or infinitely satisfying as Amazon. In fact, we tend to have a grudging relationship with cover holders, which is transactional at best.
And, because of this historic interaction model, insurers have not needed to be at the cutting-edge of IT. At a time when many other businesses have migrated from legacy systems to mobile and Cloud solutions, for example, insurers remain some of the largest users of mainframe technology.
Times, however, are changing – and changing fast. The insurance industry is rapidly evolving away from being heavily reliant upon ageing technology stacks, inefficient workflows, fragmented distribution and limited access to quality data.
For Mike Eksteen, chief of growth and product at Uncharted, the Singapore-based insurance-as-a-service platform, the goal is digitisation and simplification of the insurance product process. But first, he says, insurance needs to accept that the industry is one that consumers prefer not to have to think about or deal with.
“It’s a tough thing to swallow, but people don’t want to interact with insurance companies. They just don’t, and I think the faster insurance companies understand that, the better for the end customer. Rather, the way that they would like to consume insurance is through their existing lifetime or lifecycle journeys,” he says.
As part of his job to drive a worldwide growth strategy for Uncharted, Eksteen has established a ‘product-led layer within the company’. The product in question is the Uncharted Cloud, a bunch of services that enable product development, underwriting and digital distribution across insurance transaction flows.
“From an insurance standpoint, building out the technology, the open API framework, to then make that product available and integrated into a frontend environment, like a bank, or a distribution endpoint, or a partner, just makes absolute sense,” he says. “It allows accessibility for the customer; you’re not asking them to drop whatever they’re doing and go to a separate insurance experience, which, no matter how good the user experience is, none of us really enjoys.
“So, these partnerships are absolutely crucial, not only to grow an ecosystem environment, but also to push insurance into the future – that combination with a bank or other distribution endpoint, which could be a Google or Amazon because they understand how to manage clients, they understand customer service, they have all the technology deployed to do that and they do all the work to acquire the customer. A secure data framework set up within that, then allows the insurer to access that customer and provide the product within a journey that is frictionless.”
There are several ways in which underwriters, who develop and risk assess a product, the carriers, who customise and price it, and product distributors can use the Uncharted Cloud, whether they’re searching for an end-to-end solution or just looking to supplement part of an existing system or process.
“It enables the carriers, on one side, to make their products available through digital distribution, and also to test and sandbox products,” says Eksteen. “It enables them to, in some cases, innovate outside of the internal security frameworks around the product, with price testing and so forth.”
“On the other side, it allows brokers to access a digital insurance product from the Uncharted platform and then use that to distribute into their frontend; or the actual frontend distributor to embed that product deeply into their existing user journeys. And when I talk about the product, I’m talking about the product end-to-end, not just the policy; it’s the policy, the servicing, the claims, all of that packaged into their API frameworks. It’s about the ability to then expose this, without needing to go through massive integrations every time. It allows the insurer to really focus on the product, the portfolio management and risk management. The things they do really well.”
Fundamentally, Uncharted is about allowing everyone in the insurance value chain, whatever stage of digital transformation they’ve reached, to communicate effectively with each other.
“If you look at insurance transactions flow, the biggest bulk still runs between the insurance carrier and the broker environment – traditional brokers and new-age brokers, like managing general agents (MGAs). For these two to come together takes massive deployment and integrations, as they are already focussed on their own transformational programmes.
“This is where Uncharted comes in,” says Eksteen. “All we are interested in doing is enabling that digital transaction flow and making it more efficient from, firstly, a cost point of view, but also from a time point of view; for these companies to speak to each other. It’s not rocket science.”
Adopting this model to reach consumers, he says, could not only free up capital to allow the insurance industry to become an even more powerful force than it already is, but the data it generates will also enable it to focus on designing hyper-personal, hyper-local products.
“These types of ecosystem partnerships create access to insurance products that have never been seen before, on a mass scale. They allow the insurance company to collaborate with the frontend distribution platform, like a bank, that already understands that customer, and can then start to build specific products and services around that customer, according to their needs and life stage.
“In a lot of cases, the insurance company doesn’t know where a consumer is in their life stage; it’s trying to sell them a product that doesn’t necessarily fit what they need. Where I think you’ll see success in future, is where a company starts to understand what types of products to serve and serves them to consumers at exactly the right time. The technology is an enabler for that, it’s a tool, but all the technology in the world can’t create magic for you if your product is just not relevant for the customer.”
That comes from relationships and data.
“There is enough data out there to understand customer needs, but also, I think, understand hyper-local needs,” adds Eksteen. “Every market is completely different. And, with this post-COVID environment we’re in, everything becomes very locally driven. You need to understand the geographic environment where these customers are operating, too.”
Since its launch in 2017 by co-founders Nick Macey and Joachim Baecker, Uncharted has grown swiftly across Asia, Europe, North America and Africa, boosted by the acquisition of fellow Singaporean insurtech Swift in early 2020. That gave it a proprietary core insurance system to inform technology development for its distribution platforms. The acquisition was swiftly followed by a $5.8million Series A funding round to power global expansion.
“Insurance is pivotal to everything we do,” says Eksteen. But he believes it should be developed and sold intelligently. “You just cannot keep on serving products for the sake of serving products.”
There is a bigger picture here, too.
“If you have a more efficient transaction flow within insurance, there is evidence that there is a good percentage point of premium being charged that is freed up. Insurance companies are central to the capital markets and, if they are able to unlock cost efficiency, there is a case to be made for the industry to utilise some of that to, number one, pass on to the client, but also to take a much bigger stand on things like climate change. That allows us to completely relook at the insurance model – and that is definitely within our long-term vision at Uncharted.
“We are not competing here with the carrier and the broker,” stresses Eksteen. “We are looking to partner and enable – it’s as simple as that. By doing so, hopefully, in future we can enable a new model of revenue flow, profit flow and commission flow, and, ultimately, utilise some of that to build a better world.”