Keith Lim had just sold off his first start-up, a mobile payments platform, following a five-year stint with Moody’s Analytics’ Singapore, and was left with a lot of free time. He was thinking of what to do next when tragedy struck his family.
“My dad fell sick – he had cancer,” Lim told Insurance Business in an interview. “I realised he did not have any insurance protection, even while working. I learned a lot of people out there do not have sufficient insurance because they think that their employer is already providing them with insurance. But when they retire, that insurance will also expire.”
It was that incident that led him to found Hearti Labs, a Singaporean insurance technology (insurtech) firm, in 2015.
“I felt that insurance is important, and that’s how I started Hearti,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that consumers are able to take care of their own insurance needs.”
Lim shared that getting Hearti up and running was no easy task. As a technology start-up, the company’s staff had to figure out almost everything, including product design, on their own with little to no precedent. The firm also had to apply for a licence and find insurance companies to partner with.
In 2017, Hearti partnered with its first insurer client, Sompo Insurance Singapore, and created the Ask Sompony chatbot – it had taken almost a year to convince Sompo to come onboard.
“Insurance companies are not very big on technology,” he explained. “There’s a lot of dependence on agents and it’s very much a human relationship business. It took some time for them to understand how we could help them.”
With regard to intermediaries such as brokers and agents, Lim believes that they are in danger of being left out of the evolving insurance industry if they refuse to adapt to the advent of insurtech.
“In the digital world, customers can go online and transact directly with the insurance company,” he said. “Brokers and agents will face a lot of challenges if they do not upgrade their skills and business into a technology platform”
On the other hand, insurtech can also help intermediaries, according to Lim. Through what is called an online-offline model, an agent or broker can harness the services of a chatbot, which can serve customers even in off-hours such as at night.
The chatbot can then organise a profile for the human agent with all the information needed for the agent to follow up in a human-to-human conversation. The chatbot makes it easier for the agent to understand the data and make necessary conclusions or actions.
“It becomes an assistant of the agent,” said Lim. “It will not replace them, as some complicated products require more in-depth consultancy services that the human agent can provide.”
Insurtech is also changing how consumers see insurance, said Lim. Non-mandatory insurance products such as travel insurance, are currently more of a selling process than a buying process. But through technology, insurance is being transformed into a utility with an on-demand model, where consumers can turn it on when they need it, then off when they no longer need it.
“For example, I want to go to Korea to ski and my trip will be for just five days,” Lim said. “I can buy skiing insurance, then when I get there, I press a button on my smartphone’s app to switch it on, then switch it off after my trip. It’s very flexible.”
Aside from artificial intelligence and machine learning, Hearti is researching blockchain technology to benefit products such as travel insurance, where payouts can be made whenever a flight delay is registered, even without the customer filing a claim.
According to Lim, another use for blockchain is serving relatively unbanked populations in Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, through offering microinsurance policies.
“The future is very exciting for Hearti,” he said.