As the pandemic forces insurers to reassess processes and technology, we ask insurtech pioneer Dr Richard Theo, founder of the first health insurance PCW, ActiveQuote, and Rod Jones, its Head of Partnerships & Marketing, for their prescription for success
When was the last time you compared health insurance products with pamphlets? Can you even remember spreading out those glossy leaflets, trying to decipher the different services and offers? If you prefer to compare online, then you have one man to thank: Dr Richard Theo. Back in 2009, Theo founded ActiveQuote, the first online health insurance price comparison website (PCW). Today, it might seem obvious, but back then it was groundbreaking.
And the story of how it emerged is a classic tale of entrepreneurship: humble beginnings, gritty determination and infectious innovation. Headquartered in Cardiff, Wales, ActiveQuote is an independent broker of health and protection insurance products with a market-leading health insurance comparison website that now allows customers to tailor-make policies. We spoke to Theo and ActiveQuote’s head of partnerships and marketing, Rod Jones, to learn from the company’s experience as an insurtech disruptor. Here are their five fundamentals for creating a stellar solution.
Create something that solves a problem
Whatever line of innovation you’re in, there’s a tip that comes in handy, time and time again: sell the problem you solve, not the product. Think of your most-used mobile app (Google Maps, WhatsApp, Tinder perhaps) and, odds are, it transformed something that you found to be boring, awkward or time-consuming into a much better experience. For ActiveQuote, the idea was sparked by an irritating problem. There was nothing in health insurance that compared to what consumers were able to do with car insurance. “Deep frustration can become an entrepreneur’s inspiration,” says Theo.
“The online world had emerged and yet, when it came to buying health insurance, there was nothing really online that helped you at all. There was no comparison that exposed all the detail of the differences between products.” Theo began coding, setting up in a small space behind a physiotherapist’s office, finding ways to address that issue. “I seized on the idea that there was no decent comparison of health insurance products and set about innovating and doing the technical work to try to create a price comparison for health insurance that would work for people.” Keeping in mind the problem you’re trying to solve is key to avoid wasting work or creating something gimmicky, he says. “There is sometimes a danger of innovating for the sake of innovating and losing sight of what the customer actually wants,” adds Jones.
Partner-up wisely and be friendly with your neighbours
Firms who choose their partnerships strategically become more than the sum of their parts by offering customers competitive products and better user journeys.
For Jones, these relationships are crucial. And, according to him, for a partnership to be successful, both parties need to understand each other’s weak points, as well as their strengths. “Working in partnership with insurers is key. If we can understand their challenges and concerns, we can then work collaboratively to develop a customer-to-insurer solution,” says Jones.
Over the years, ActiveQuote has teamed up with some impressive industry leaders, including MoneySuperMarket and GoCompare. Wales is a hotspot for insurtech innovation, hosting some of the UK’s giants. Being in the neighbourhood has meant that ActiveQuote was able to easily buddy-up with some of the biggest names and take advantage of the latest innovations early on. “Because of the proximity, I was probably very tuned in to the success and ability of price comparison websites,” adds Theo.
Understand your customers’ buying process
When Jim Morrison sang ‘people are strange’, he wasn’t joking! Many an economist has bashed their head against a keyboard over how totally irrational
and illogical we are. But firms that take the time to really get to know their customers and untangle some of our behavioural tendencies have an advantage.
Theo elaborates: “Although we had the vision of building a purely online experience and we developed a fantastic comparison engine, the truth is nobody would fill it in and buy it online because they still had too many questions. They needed advice around their personal health conditions and history. We realised that we weren’t going to do enough business if we relied only on online sales. So we had to quickly pivot and turn into a traditional broker that follows every enquiry with a phone call.” Taking note of what ActiveQuote’s customers wanted and needed meant that Theo was able to transform weaknesses into strengths. ActiveQuote even used this behavioural quirk to create additional relevant products. “In many ways, the follow-up calls turned into the USP for the company,” he says. “There were a number of other products that we later moved into, which required that degree of additional advice.”
Don’t stop improving
Ten years from now, no insurtech wants to be described as ‘very 2020s’. Keeping the customer journey fresh is just as important as maintaining the quality of the product. It’s something that ActiveQuote is keen to stay on top of. “A key challenge to address with any kind of online quote or application journey is customer drop-off,” says Jones. “Traditional, form-based application pages are fine for desktops. However, with the increase in mobile usage, a mobile-specific journey was imperative, especially with complex products such as health insurance.”
So, ActiveQuote developed its own conversational user interface (CUI) to address the issue. “The uplift in customers completing the journey was huge,” says Jones. “And, when it was evolved further in partnership with MoneySuperMarket, we discovered that, even adding in additional questions, the drop-off concern was mitigated.” Over the years, ActiveQuote has added brokerage services and a range of additional products – including the ability for customers to tailor-make policies that suit them. Whether it’s a new partnership or an in-person chat, it’s all about consistent, incremental improvements.
See the opportunities within challenging environments
“After any crisis, whether it’s the financial crisis of 2008 or the coronavirus crisis in 2020 – although it can feel terrible when you’re in the thick of it – there are lots of businesses that come to life as a result of the change in the economy,” says Theo. “It’s like a phoenix from the flames or those flowers that thrive after a forest burns down”. So, what opportunities, in his view, might be emerging at the moment?
“One thing that’s happened as a result of coronavirus is that there’s never been a better time for people to embrace advice via video chat and video calls. Before this, there were things for which people still demanded face-to-face interaction. That’s changing.” Virtual appointments could literally transform the face of health. “Eighteen months ago, virtual GPs were struggling to take off,” points out Jones. “Today, most customers would want a virtual GP.” And there, he believes, disruptive insurtech has another new role to play: “We can help to educate and to reassure.”
This article was published in The Insurtech Magazine: Issue #4, Page 26.