Insurance for the out of the ordinary

Steven Mendel, 06 Jun 2016

Bought By Many is a free, members-only service based in the UK that helps people find insurance for the out of the ordinary. Its motto is “Insurance made social.” The company creates groups for people who need niche personal insurance - eg travel insurance for people with diabetes or pet insurance for owners of French bulldogs. It then uses social media and search engine optimisation to find people to join. The company negotiates with insurers on behalf of its more than 150000 members. The result can be coverage for people who previously could not get it or standard offerings at better prices.

How does Bought By Many work?

We use a combination of search and social media to group together people who have similar insurance needs. We then take that group requirement out to the insurance industry and negotiate on behalf of group members to strike a better deal than they could get on their own. A better deal might be better pricing, it might be more tailored benefits, or it might be both of those things. Once we bring the offer back to the group, individuals buy directly from the insurer on the better terms that we negotiated for them.

We are focused on the long tail of insurance demand. It is similar to the way that Amazon thinks about the long tail in music and book demand: where historically your local bookseller might have had thousands of books on the shelves, Amazon has millions.

The vast majority of insurers are focused on the short tail. So if you are looking for mainstream car or home insurance, you are very well served in countries like the UK. You can go to a direct seller, or you can go to a broker, and you will get pretty much the same policy from any of them.

What do insurers think about all this?

When we have a conversation with insurers, we ask them, “In which areas do you want to write more risk?” You would think that was a relatively easy question to ask an insurer. Many insurers just say, “Bring us lots of business. And if you can bring it cheaply, that’s great.”

Increasingly, insurers interpret that question in one of three ways. Some insurers look at it from an underwriting perspective, and they say, “We really like this area of risk and we have a very clear understanding of it from an underwriting perspective, so if you could bring us more business in that area, we’d be really happy.”

Some insurers look at their existing book of business, and they say, “We’re really happy with our current mix of business, but our current distribution model is inefficient. If you can bring us that same mix of business, but from a more cost-effective channel, we’d be much happier.”

And some insurers are looking at their business from the perspective of Solvency II, a European Union directive that regulates the amount of capital an insurance company must hold to reduce the risk of insolvency. Solvency II says that the more diversified an insurer’s book is, the less capital it needs to hold; the more concentrated it is, the more capital it needs to hold. We’re seeing lots of opportunity to help them increase diversification. Once insurers identify the areas where they currently have gaps, if we can bring them exposure in those areas, they can hold less capital across the whole of their book.

For whatever reason, insurers often come back to us with long lists of areas where they think we can bring business or where they would like to have more business. So that's the supply side of our equation.

What are some of the other benefits to insurers?

We work with insurers to change what they bring to members and to allow people to benefit from our lower acquisition costs. Broadly, we’re saying to insurers, if you currently pay 30 percent to a broker for business, take that 30 percent and divide it into three. Put 10 percent into the pot for our members to get a better benefit, give us 10 percent, and keep 10 percent for yourself, because we want you to want to do this business.

We also drive renewals. Renewals are an important part of this industry. What happens if people don’t renew? At some point in the future, their premiums will go up. Actually, it’s a win-win situation for people to renew, presuming they have the right policy in place. When it comes to renewals, we make sure that we’ve still got the right deal in place, and then we actively encourage people not to shop around but instead to renew. If they want to shop around, they can, but they will still find it’s the best deal going.

Can you offer some examples of groups you’ve served?

We were approached by the chief executive of a large cancer charity that had a big problem among its members. When people are in remission, they can buy travel insurance. But if they are currently undergoing any form of treatment, even if that treatment might be just once a year, it’s almost impossible to acquire travel insurance. For a person who is undergoing chemotherapy, for example, an oncologist might tell her that she won’t be having another treatment for another four weeks and the best thing to do would be to get some sun on a vacation. In the past, we have helped an insurer develop a policy specifically for people who are undergoing treatment.

Another example is pugs. The dogs are the most stolen pets in the UK. They are perfectly sized for sticking in a handbag, and they cost £2,500 each. We heard from many people that pet policies pay around £600 if your pet gets lost or stolen. So we worked with a big pet insurer to tweak their policy slightly, such that the payout is £2,000 if your pug gets stolen. There’s also a £2,000 reward you can advertise for its safe return, and you can spend £2,000 advertising the reward, as well. This has proved hugely popular.

How do you identify these opportunities?

We analyse more than half a billion lines of UK insurance search data, examining what people are looking for when they search for insurance. We have a clear understanding of what people are typing into a search engine when they are looking for insurance. Increasingly, people are being much more specific about what they are looking for. Instead of saying that they are looking for home insurance, they might say they are looking for thatched-roof home insurance.

Search engines are getting better at understanding how to deal with those slightly unusual searches, whereas two or three years ago, they had no answer. In fact, Google reported recently that 15 percent of all searches on any given day have never been done before.

We look to see what people are searching for, and our algorithm can analyse how successful that search is likely to have been. With these two pieces of information—volume of search and success of search—we can identify unmet insurance needs. We then look at a variety of social media to learn what people are talking about in the insurance space. Out of that, we create what we call our “taxonomy of demand,” which is a very long list of places where demand is not being met. We’re finding a big opportunity space.

We also have built connection layers into the big social platforms and use these to gain an understanding of what individuals are passionate about or what they have issues with, when it comes to insurance.

How do you bridge what the market wants and what insurers want?

We take the supply side and we compare it to the demand side that we’ve identified. Where there’s overlap, we create groups. We have more than 270 groups that have been formed since we started in September 2012, with more than 150000 members spread across those groups. We’re working with 24 UK-based insurers.

Once we identify the groups we’re going to launch, we use a combination of search and social media to bring people into those groups. If you remember, we know what people are searching for. That means we can create content designed to hit the Google analytics search algorithms. Consequently, we score very highly on Google analytics for more than 6000 insurance search terms. We collect the different things that people are searching for and put them into the group. “Pet insurance and French bulldog” might be one.

We also acquire customers by talking with them on Facebook. This is very much about changing the way people think about insurance. We want people to engage. We want people to talk to us. We want people to talk to each other about insurance. Only then are people going to find the offering that works best for them.

Insurers often think people are not interested in insurance. People look at it once a year, and they groan when they have to do it. They’re not interested beyond that. And to a great extent, that’s true. But increasingly, people are happy to talk about insurance, because if they’ve got a problem, they know there are others out there with the same problem. They’re happy to share that problem in the hope and expectation that someone will help them solve it.

Once they’ve joined our groups, we also actively encourage people to bring other people they know into the group. It’s a one-click process to invite friends on Facebook or Twitter. If someone has diabetes and is looking for travel insurance, you can be pretty sure that person will know someone else with diabetes, and that person might eventually want travel insurance.

How do you prioritise the groups you serve?

There are three routes for an individual to get us to launch a group. The first and highest-priority space is where an insurer has a very interesting angle on something and we can find sufficient demand that satisfies the supply.

The second priority is if we can find massive discontinuities in demand—for example, if there’s massive demand and not a lot of supply, or supply is very poorly served for that demand. Take the case of young drivers. We will lobby for the industry to change to better serve that market.

The third priority is a form on our website that asks, “What insurance are you looking for?” Every now and then, we get some interesting replies. For example, someone asked us to create insurance for quad bikes, also known as all-terrain vehicles. You cannot insure a quad bike in the UK if it’s not a road-going vehicle. The vast majority of quad bikes in the UK are not road-going vehicles because they’re driven on beaches or on private land. As a result, they’re not insured. We’re working to find an insurer to provide coverage for this member, who incidentally got 450 people in her club to join a group of people who want insurance for quad bikes.

Where will you take the business in the next year?

Last year, we launched in China on a white-labelled basis with PingAn, and we are now working towards launching into a number of other jurisdictions on the same basis utilising our knowledge and capabilities in social and mobile to the benefit of consumers in other countries. White labelling occurs when a product or service produced by one company (the producer) is marketed and rebranded to make it appear as if the seller had made it.

We have been investigating how we can improve our members’ experience during their insurance journey and have been experimenting using the insights afforded to us through the appropriate use of social data. For example, we can now accurately predict which of our groups a new member will join - before they sign up - based solely on their Facebook profile.

Separately from this, we are also keen to start offering more tailored products that better meet the needs of each group’s members and we are working hard to make this a reality as well.

Author

Steven Mendel

CEO & Co-founder, Bought By Many

Steven has over 25 years’ deep and diverse experience in the financial services industry - as a qualified actuary at AON, as a strategy consultant at McKinsey, and as a business leader at Barclays Wealth and Close Brothers. Driven by a desire to change financial services for the better, he has previously set up an art finance business for Christie’s, and founded an investment consultancy to make asset-based advice available to all pension funds.

Steven founded Bought By Many (www.boughtbymany.com) to shift the balance of power in insurance. He feels strongly that the insurance industry treats corporates better than individuals, and that it’s time for that to change. He is disrupting the world of insurance, through the innovative use of search and social media. He is married with three kids, and has a passion for cycling, his sax, and for the charities he supports.

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