Root CEO shares UK market expansion plans

Why the UK knows what it wants after burning its fingers experimenting and trialling

Root CEO shares UK market expansion plans


By Mia Wallace

Though an electronic engineer by qualification, a software engineer by background and an entrepreneur by profession – at heart, Louw Hopley (pictured), CEO of Root, sees himself first and foremost as a builder. That urge to create has been the through-line of his career to date which has included time spent supporting some big Fortune 100 companies, he said, and it was what sparked his interest in joining the insurance market and supporting its ongoing innovation journey.

It was during the recent Insurtech Insights Europe conference that Hopley spoke with Insurance Business to discuss the next steps for this tech-led SAAS platform as it gears up for expansion across the UK market.

Founded in South Africa in 2016 by Hopley and later joined by his co-founder Jonathan Stewart, Root has gone from strength to strength, he said, its fundamental proposition of making it easier for companies to launch new products and embed their services into other channels finding a natural home in the market. Its development has been aided by the growing realisation across the market that insurance needs to catch up when it comes to servicing consumers in the way they expect to be serviced.

“We found there were a lot of technical barriers stopping people from actually achieving those goals,” he said. “Now there are insurance barriers too – both actuarial and regulatory – but when it comes to tech implementation and getting a company to embed insurance, there are infinite technical roadblocks they run into. And people in insurance don’t generally know how to speak the language of tech, so we help bridge that gap and reduce those barriers.”

Root’s ground-up approach to figuring out where technical bottlenecks are building within businesses looking to launch new products and open new distribution channels has seen the business scale-up rapidly. Today, he said, the firm has over one million active policies on its platform, with 52 products live and a team of almost 50 supporting the next wave of its expansion.

Hopley noted that expanding into the UK is an organic development for the business for a range of reasons, not least the practical considerations of a shared language, strong travel links and a comfortable timezone difference. When Root first came knocking at the door of the UK market, he said, the shared roadblocks and challenges faced by market players in the UK and South Africa quickly became apparent.

“In addition, regulatory-wise, the market in South Africa is pretty much a carbon copy of the UK market,” he said. “And I think we’re lucky in terms of our timing in entering the UK market. There’s been an insurtech wave here for the last half-dozen years where a lot of consumer-centric brands have entered the market while the larger incumbent insurers have all started realising that embedded is a thing – and a trend they want to play into.

Everybody’s focused on embedded, it’s one of the top three priorities for just about every insurer, to do something with embedded. And we just happen to have an offering geared for that and the right platform with the right success stories behind it to come into the market and do that. So, we’ve been experiencing a strong pull from the market because this is something they’re trying to achieve and we can help them achieve it.”

What sets Root’s offering apart, from Hopley’s perspective, is the platform’s inherent flexibility. It’s very much an ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’ offering, allowing people to create new products and new distribution channels in a low-code, low-risk environment where the platform evolves to fit their requirements as opposed to their requirements having to compromise in order to fit on the Root platform.

Hopley highlighted that there is a real appetite across the UK insurance market for a platform able to combine flexible products with accessible distribution – and do so at pace. Part of this is driven by the maturity of the market, he said, and the fact that market players know what it is they want even if they require support in fully realising that. Insurance companies have invested a lot in technology to date, they’ve tried and tested a wide range of solutions and they know where the gaps are.

“People have burnt their fingers experimenting and trialling a lot of different solutions, so they know what they want and what they don’t want,” he said. “Whereas if you go out to a lot of other markets, say the emerging markets, it’s all so new and people don’t know what they don’t know.”

For him and his team, the number one focus for 2023 is on doubling down across the UK market. Root is expanding quite a lot into the patch, he said, and is hiring to scale up that expansion. This is a mature, established platform which has been proven over time to work very well for the benefit of clients – the goal now is to share that message across the UK marketplace and develop the presence of Root in the UK.

“It’s about re-establishing that we’re here, and then at the same time building strong distribution partnerships,” Hopley said. “We’re a partnership and ecosystem player. We find big organisations and we help them add value and create value – and use that to push ourselves into the market. So, we want to build a lot of partnerships here with some of the big players. That's 2023, beyond that we’ll see what’s yet to come. We do have global ambitions, but it's step by step.”

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