Ascend launched a little over a year ago focused on its insurance payments platform. Since then, the fledgling insurtech start-up has raised a substantial amount of cash.
The company pulled in a $30 million Series A financing at the end of January and $9 million in earlier funding. It also secured a $250 million lending commitment designed to streamline commercial and personal lines of insurance loans.
Ascend’s founders are likely driving the robust venture capital interest as much as its technology. Co-founder and co-CEO Andrew Wynn (pictured) co-launched home maintenance and care start-up Sheltr in November 2018, which was acquired by Hippo Insurance in October 2019. He stayed on another year at Sheltr, which its acquirer renamed Hippo Home Care as a separate entity. Ascend co-founder and co-CEO Praveen Chekuri is also a co-founder of Sheltr and veteran of Hippo and led engineering efforts at both places.
Focusing on automating insurance payments for his new venture was both a sensible and compelling target, Wynn said.
“Payments are a dated, time-consuming and labor-intensive process for the industry,” Wynn said. “By modernizing how the “spaghetti web of money movement in the industry currently operates, Ascend will reduce the operational burden of these processes, improve the insured experience and increase margins for all players: agencies, brokerages, carriers” and more.
Wynn describes the platform as having a couple key technology elements. There’s a reliance on no-code software, which depends more on graphical user interfaces and configuration instead of traditional computer programming, leaving what he said is an easier process for programmers and non-programmers alike. Application Programming Interfaces [APIs] are also part of the equation – software that lets two applications talk to each other.
“Our payments APIs and no-code products power our insurance payments end-to-end,” Wynn said “from the online point of sale with flexible payment methods.”
There’s also “paperless premium financing” woven into the system, he noted, “built in to check out to the automation and distribution of commissions and carrier payables.”
According to Wynn, Ascend is designed to be “extremely easy” and intuitive for users.
“Independent agents, brokerages, online sellers and distributors can sign up on our platform and begin using our payments platform within a day,” Wynn said. “For their customers, [it’s] even easier than that – an easy-to-understand checkout process that offers all the flexibility customers are used to when making any other online transaction.”
In addition, he noted, Ascend’s platform supports online billing, with premium financing and automated carrier payables.
Ascend’s targeted customer base is wide ranging, including independent agents, I-brokerages, online sellers and any commercial insurance distributors wanted to consolidate their billing options into one system, Wynn explained.
Clients don’t pay to sign up. Rather, Ascend collects fees from processing transactions and interest from premium financing loans.
Ascend claims to have developed some early, significant traffic for its technology.
“Ascend is working with hundreds of insurance distributors who have seen increases in policy purchase conversions due to the reduced friction with our simple integrated checkout flow,” Wynn said.
He added that customer adoption of financing has more than doubled in some cases, from less than 40% before they tried Ascend to 80% once they did.
What’s more, according to Wynn, millions of dollars of policies have been transacted through Ascend. The average value of those policies has been nearly $10,000. Additionally, he noted, more than 60% of transactions are premium finance loans with the remaining number – just under 40% – being policies paid in full.
Chekuri said in prepared remarks issued with Ascend’s $30 million funding announcement that the new financing would help meet “an enormous surge in demand over the last six months” since the company formally launched its technology into the marketplace. Money will be used to hire “dozens” of new employees, Wynn said, in areas including product, marketing/sales and engineering.
Founded in 2021, Ascend currently employs 18 people in San Francisco, New York and Columbus, Ohio.
Its post-funding expansion is designed to help accelerate growth and improve technology feature sets such as integrations with industry-dominant agency management systems. Ascend’s mission is to also ensure that its full roster of product features can be easily accessed in APIs so customers can use the product to maximum effect.
“Our goal is to help make the process of purchasing and selling insurance easier for all involved,” Wynn said. “Insurance is such a large and critical industry that if we’ve made a real dent in that in five years, we’ll be happy.”