BizCover, the Sydney headquartered online insurance service, has expanded into South Africa. The move adds to the insurtech’s offerings in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and will be known locally as Bi-me (Business Insurance Made Easy). The insurtech sees the South African commercial insurance market as a prime candidate for a digital transformation.
“Our expansion into South Africa was one of opportunity,” said Michael Gottlieb (pictured), BizCover’s CEO.
He said his company’s international success requires two key ingredients: insurer support and distribution opportunities. BizCover is launching its platform in partnership with Hollard Insurance Company and Discovery Insure.
“Both these businesses have amazing footprints and brands in South Africa,” said Gottlieb who founded BizCover in 2008 with business partner Gavin Donner. At that time, Gottlieb has said, it was the only insurance company in Australia selling commercial insurance to small businesses through an online contestable platform. For the first time in Australia, the platform allowed customers to see the cost of different insurers’ policies side by side.
Today, BizCover says it has more than 170,000 SME customers globally and many thousands of brokers, accountants and financials using its online platform. The company is also a member of the Austbrokers Network.
Gottlieb said his firm has spent years iterating and improving processes and technology. He said his insurtech now has a scalable and flexible full lifecycle technology platform with streamlined and automated processes, including supporting sales. He said the key to expanding into South Africa was the ability to deploy Bi-me with speed and efficiency.
“To do this we needed exceptional collaboration between BizCover and Bi-me across technology, operations and marketing. The Bi-me team executed brilliantly and the entire process of obtaining local licensing, hiring a team, localising the platform and setting up operational processes took 10 months,” he said.
In a news release on the launch, Richard Enthoven, managing director of Hollard Holdings Australia said BizCover’s South Africa expansion represents, “a massive opportunity to disrupt a very traditional and sizeable industry that has not yet embraced technology.”
The local head of the venture, Francois Potgieter, ex-COO of Hollard Insurance and a non-executive director of Discovery Insure, agreed.
“With around 2.25 million small businesses in South Africa, we see huge potential to disrupt this space and allow SMEs to compare, buy and manage their insurance, online and in real time,” he said.
However, as a country that is often described as both a both a third and first world country, there are numerous challenges. Internet access is relatively high. According to some estimates, between 60 and 70% of South Africans are active internet users. However, about 25% of the population lacks reliable access to sanitation.
Despite those contrasts, Gottlieb said the country’s insurance market has many insurance practices and standards in common with several other geographies around the world. For an insurance business, said Gottlieb, the biggest challenge in South Africa is that commercial insurers are still very traditional with legacy technology.
“Convincing them to embrace a new way of servicing their customers is difficult. Not only did we need to convince insurers of the need for digital distribution, but we also needed to work with them to make their process customer centric and relevant for an online world,” he said.
The BizCover CEO sees South Africa as a technically capable nation with an extensive and reliable internet and a digitally advanced population.
“They arguably have the most innovative and forward-thinking insurance sector globally. The challenge will be to educate the business community that there is now a better way to compare, buy and manage their insurance,” he said.
Nearly 15 years ago Gottlieb was presenting similar arguments to some of Australia’s then recalcitrant insurance leaders.
“This was the same challenge we had in Australia and we will be sharing our learnings with the Bi-me team to help them navigate this challenge,” he said.
He said pivotal in the success of Bi-me is early adopters who can create momentum.
The BizCover CEO is no stranger to South Africa. More than 20 years ago, Gottlieb’s early career as a physiotherapist brought him into close contact with the country. For the 1998 FIFA World Cup he cared for South Africa’s players as the team physio. In the early 2000s he started Mega Capital Insurance Brokers with business partner Donner. BizCover followed in 2008.
On November 11, the same day as BizCover announced its South Africa launch, that country’s last white president, FW de Klerk, died in Cape Town aged 85. As president, De Klerk freed Nelson Mandela from prison and helped oversee the dismantling of apartheid.