Two narratives about how recovery from the COVID-19-driven economic downturn will play out are competing in the business press – the Federal Reserve’s and that of the financial markets.
Market economists typically forecast wider changes in quarter-over-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) than their counterparts at the Fed. But the current discrepancy is wider than it has been in decades. This is creating so much confusion in financial news that a recent edition of Squawk Box discussed the extent to which “markets seem reluctant to believe the Fed’s policy goals.”
The markets see recent GDP growth as closely aligned to stock market performance: a dramatic drop in the second quarter of 2020 and an equally dramatic recovery from third-quarter 2020 to third-quarter 2021.
The Fed sees GDP as driven by structural economic considerations that move only gradually from quarter to quarter. As a result, the Fed estimated a smaller drop in GDP for second-quarter 2020 and a slower recovery ever since.
Over the last year, the Fed view was proven right multiple times.
“Triple-I’s forecasts fall within the consensus central banks view, as represented by the Fed for the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the large insurance markets we follow,” said Dr. Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist. He said the expectations gap comes down to three economic considerations:
Fiscal stimulus and GDP growth: Fed and market economists disagree about the extent of the relationship between fiscal stimulus and growth. When generating GDP forecasts, all economists assign a “multiplier” to quantify the impact of government spending on GDP growth. Market economists tend to assign larger multipliers than central bank economists. Given the historically high fiscal stimulus of the last 12 months, market economists expect historically high GDP growth.
Shifts in economic output: They also tend to weight quarterly data differently. Fed economists focus more heavily on quarter-to-quarter trends, and market economists on changes within quarters. The COVID-19 economy upended how certain activities are carried out and reduced the comprehensiveness of quarterly data. For market economists, this led to overestimating the decrease in activity in the second quarter of 2020 and now overestimating the increase in first and second quarter 2021.
Timing: The Fed and markets agree broadly about GDP growth but disagree on timing. Both expect a comparable amount of growth between now and 2023 but, for the reasons above, allocate it differently across 2021, 2022, and 2023. Market economists allocate most of the growth to 2021, while Fed economists spread it over the 2021-2023 period. This has led to the Fed forecasting higher growth in 2022 than some markets economists.
By James Lynch, Chief Actuary, Senior Vice President of Research and Education, Triple-I
You’ve probably been reading news stories about rising inflation, and auto insurance has been pulled into the picture. But that is a little misleading.
Auto insurance rates aren’t soaring. They are returning to normal, pre-pandemic levels.
Consumer prices in April were 4.2 percent higher than a year ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday, and its report picked out auto insurance as one of the areas that had “a large impact on the overall increase.”
Auto insurance rates were 2.5 percent higher in April than in March and 6.1 percent higher than a year ago.
That doesn’t mean, though, that the cost of auto insurance is skyrocketing. Remember that a year ago – April 2020 – insurers were busy returning billions of dollars to consumers because of the drastic change in driving patterns the pandemic brought on.
Those givebacks – which eventually totaled $14 billion – drove down the price of insurance, and the official inflation numbers reflected that.
Now driving patterns are returning to pre-pandemic norms – more or less. People are driving somewhat less than before, but they are driving faster and are much more likely to tinker with their smartphones or practice other distracting behaviors.
Premiums are reflecting the new normal, and in terms of the cost of insurance, that looks a lot like the old normal. The price of insurance, using BLS indices, is virtually unchanged from pre-pandemic levels – 0.01 percent higher than it was in March 2020, when the pandemic/recession began.
Currently residing in Chicago, Leong shares her insights on how technology and big data are changing the actuarial career path and insurance landscape. She speaks about her team’s work at Zurich and how data science and analysis have helped to improve claims models. In addition, Leong shares the CAS’s initiatives to actively support diversity, equity and inclusion in the insurance industry.
Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan currently serves on the CAS board of directors.
You’ve been able to live around the world: Australia, the UK and now the US. What moves in your career did you make for that to happen? What piqued your interest in actuarial studies and the path that led you to data science lead at Zurich?
I decided to become an actuary very early on in my career. I grew up in Australia, and when I was in high school, I knew I was good at math and I was looking at what professions that would lead to. Actuarial naturally sprung up as it does for a lot of people who are good at math, but it looked like a really rewarding career and a rewarding profession.
A lot of Australians like to take a year off university and do backpacking around the world. I took a year off, went to London and got my first actuarial job, working six months at St. Paul. With that money I backpacked around Europe for a year. Then I went back to Australia, finished my degree, and my first job out of school was in London. I just had the itch to go back, and the actuarial profession is a good one if you enjoy traveling.
Then my boyfriend-now-husband got a job in New York, so that’s why I moved to the States. I never actually thought I would live in America, and it’s been more than a decade.
Would you be able to share a project that you’re currently working on at Zurich?
I have a team of data scientists at Zurich, and we build models for three different groups: For underwriting, to help us with risk selection and pricing; for claims, to work on better claims triage and finding claims fraud; and then lastly for our customers to help them better manage and understand their risks.
We have done a lot of work in claims. For example, we have built a claims model that alerts us if a workers’ comp claim is going to become complex, and if it would benefit from having a nurse to review that case and manage it much more proactively. That has really benefited Zurich in terms of outcomes. It has also benefitted our customers and their employees in terms of getting back to work and regaining their health. It’s been a win-win all around.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced in using data in relation to privacy, regulations or bias?
This is a very big topic for not just the insurance industry, but also more broadly, as big data gets bigger and artificial intelligence continues to advance. Something that we do for all of our models is talk to legal, compliance and privacy. They do a thorough review of the models before we actually put them into production, to make sure that from the data and the algorithm viewpoints, we stay true to our principles within Zurich. A few years ago, Zurich released a data commitment to the general public and to our customers about the kind of data we will and will not use so we take that seriously.
Are there any implications that you’re seeing that the pandemic has had on data analysis?
Yes, definitely. A lot of the analysis that’s done in insurance relies on the history being somewhat predictive of the future, and frankly, all data analysis relies on that because data is by definition, historical. So anytime you try to make a prediction from data it is relying on historical fact, and obviously the pandemic really upended that. How do I look at this data and use it to make predictions of the future? It is less clear, and we’ve had to rely much more on judgment, and we’ve had to really think outside the box about the different types of data we should use now to try to make predictions of the future.
Congratulations on your presidency of the CAS. Why did you join CAS and what led you to being elected as president?
When I initially joined the CAS in 2005/2006, I volunteered for the organization. About a third of our members volunteer in some capacity, which is tremendous for any society – that’s a very high rate. I find that the actuarial community is just a great community.
One of the benefits of volunteering for the CAS is having the chance to grow your leadership skills. Before long, I was chair of one of the seminar-organizing committees. That was a really good experience in terms of leadership for me, early in my career.
I was given the suggestion by my boss, about seven/eight years ago now, that I should be on the board of the CAS. It had never crossed my mind, honestly, that I would be even eligible for a job like that. The CAS has a nominating committee, who called me and asked me to run. Then I got a call, maybe two/three years later, asking if I would consider running for president. I’m so honored to have this role.
There’s a three-year plan to create unicorns. Are you seeing any impact so far? Is this resonating a lot within CAS and the industry?
Last November at our annual meeting, we released a new Envisioned Future and a three-year plan. Our new Envisioned Future says “CAS members are sought after globally for their insights and ability to apply analytics to solve insurance and risk management problems.”
Now that might not sound like much, but if you think about what it used to say, something like “the CAS advances the practice and application of actuarial science,” we made the change to be more evergreen and more actionable. We will do whatever analytics needs to be done, and we will do it to solve business problems in insurance, and this will evolve over time.
What this means is that the actuary of the future needs to have three key skill sets. First, they need to be great at analytics, the kind of analytics you need to solve the important insurance problems of today. Second, they need to be great at problem-solving. Actuaries are good at solving the core problems in insurance, pricing, reserving, capital modeling. But more and more with big data, there are new problems you can solve. The example I gave before – is this claim going to become complex, would it benefit from having a nurse? Those are new problems you can now solve with data and analytics that you probably couldn’t have done before. The third area is the domain knowledge in terms of P&C insurance.
That is the unicorn. That is the actuary of the future, having all three key skill sets.
How are you attracting a more diverse body of students to pursue actuarial or related studies? How are you trying to attract different types of people and different ways of thinking to the CAS and to the insurance industry in general?
One of the pillars in our strategy that we released with our Envisioned Future is to diversify our pipeline. We have various initiatives to look to do that. One thing is we are pushing forward in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, and we recently put out some metrics on our website. Right now, for example, 23% of our members are Asian, under 2% are Black and under 2% are Hispanic. The diversity from the Black and Hispanic point of view is not where we want it to be, and we have a goal of increasing that to about 5% to 8% of our new members in the next five to 10 years. We put a stake in the sand in terms of how we want our racial diversity to improve.
A few years ago, we engaged a consulting firm to figure out what is holding us back in terms of having more diversity. One of the things they identified is just finding out about the profession early in your life is going to be key, because a lot of people in various racial and ethnic groups are not really finding out about the actuarial profession when they need to. So we’ve been doing actuarial high school days, visiting diverse high schools to talk to them about the actuarial profession.
We also have a scholarship program for these underrepresented groups, where we will pay for exams given a few qualifying criteria, because we know that the cost of the exams can also be a hindrance, especially when you’re still in school and you’re not earning any money. To get an internship, you need to have three exams under your belt, but they cost money. It can be tough, so we’re seeing what we can do to help.
What challenges have you had to overcome, as a woman and a person of color in the insurance industry?
I’m very big on self-improvement, and I have tried to develop myself in a way to be successful in this environment.
If I think about my upbringing, it was different as an Asian person growing up in Australia. When I was in high school, I was on the track team and I had wanted to be in the relay. There were only four people in the relay, and I wasn’t picked as one of the four, even though I was probably the third fastest person in the school. I thought that this was just unfair and favoritism. I told my mom, “This is really unfair; you’ve got to do something about this,” and she told me, “Don’t complain; just do what you’re told. Don’t stick out.”
That really jarred with me then and still now, thinking back on it. That highlighted the difference in culture. As I’ve been navigating my way through predominantly Western work culture, I have worked pretty deliberately to think differently and to acquire skills that would help me in this kind of work environment.
Colonial Pipeline Co. operates a 5,500-mile system that transports fuel from refineries in the Gulf of Mexico to the New York metropolitan area. It said it learned Friday that it was the victim of the attack and “took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations.”
Individually, the event demonstrates the threat cybercriminals pose to the aging energy infrastructure that keeps the nation moving. More frighteningly, though, it is yet another example of how vulnerable the complex, interconnected global supply chain is to disruptions of all kinds – a message that isn’t lost on risk managers and insurers.
The DHS described the attack on an unnamed pipeline operator that halted operations for two days. Although staff didn’t lose control of operations, the alert said the company didn’t have a plan in place for responding to a cyberattack.
“This incident is just the latest example of the risk ransomware and other cyber threats can pose to industrial control systems, and of the importance of implementing cybersecurity measures to guard against this risk,” a CISA spokesperson said at the time.
Not just energy companies
It isn’t only energy and industrial companies that need to be paying attention. According to cyber security firm VMware, attacks against the global financial sector increased 238 percent from the beginning of February 2020 to the end of April, with some 80 percent of institutions reporting an increase in attacks.
“Cyber is an existential issue for financial institutions, which is why they invest heavily in cyber security,” says Thomas Kang, Head of Cyber, Tech and Media, North America at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS). “However, with such potentially high rewards, cybercriminals will also invest time and money into attacking them.”
He pointed to two malware campaigns – known as Carbanak and Cobalt – that targeted over 100 financial institutions in more than 40 countries over five years, stealing over $1 billion.
An ACGS report shows technical failures and human error are the most frequent generators of cyber claims, but the financial impact of these is limited:
“Losses resulting from the external manipulation of computers, such as distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) or phishing and malware/ ransomware campaigns, account for the significant majority of the value of claims analyzed across all industry sectors (not just involving financial services companies).”
According to the report, regulators have turned their attention to cyber resilience and business continuity.
“Following a number of major outages at banks and payment processing companies, regulators have begun drafting business continuity requirements in a bid to bolster resilience.”
Not just cyber
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world a lot of lessons, not the least of which is how vulnerable the global supply chain – from toilet paper to semiconductors – is to unexpected disruptions. Demand for chlorine increased during 2020 as more people used their pools while stuck at home under social distancing orders and homeowners also began building pools at a faster rate, adding to the additional demand. Such disruptions can ripple through the economy in different directions.
Business interruption claims and litigation have been a significant feature of the pandemic for property and casualty insurers.
When the container ship Ever Given got wedged in the Suez canal – one of the most important arteries in global trade – freight traffic was completely blocked for six days. Even as movement resumed, terminals experienced congestion and the severe drop in vessel arrival and container discharge in major terminals aggravated existing shortages of empty containers available for exports. The ship’s owners and the Egyptian government remain locked in negotiations over compensation for the disruption, and the ship is still impounded.
Spurred in part by this event, the Japanese shipping community is considering alternative freight routes to Europe, both reliant on Russia: the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Northern Sea Route. Neither option is devoid of risks.
In an increasingly interconnected world, there is no bright line distinguishing man-made from natural disasters. After all, the Ever Given grounding was caused, at least in part, by a sandstorm. April’s power and water disruptions that left dozens of Texans dead and could end up being the costliest disaster in state history were initiated by a severe winter storm.
A resilience mindset focused on pre-emptive mitigation and rapid recovery is called for in both cases. There is no “either/or.”
“The U.S. experienced a record-setting hurricane season in 2020 and the early forecasts say 2021 is going to be an active one, too,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. “During National Hurricane Preparedness Week, everyone who lives in a hurricane-prone community should take a few moments to ensure you have adequate financial protection for your property and possessions while also taking steps to make your home or business more resilient to the impacts of wind and water. History has proven that virtually every community along the Gulf and East Coasts have faced the wrath of what is a hurricane’s catastrophic damage. And now with even more Americans living in harm’s way, it is even more critical for consumers and communities to take action.”
National Hurricane Preparedness Week starts on Sunday, May 9, and continues through Saturday, May 15. The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30.
Review Your Insurance Coverage Make sure you have the right type – and amount – of property insurance. The Triple-I recommends you conduct an annual insurance review of your policy(ies) with your insurance professional.
“You should ask your insurance professional if you have the right amount of insurance coverage to rebuild or repair your home, to replace its contents, and to cover temporary living expenses if your property is uninhabitable,” Kevelighan said. “You should also ask about flood insurance, which is an additional coverage to a standard homeowners and small business insurance policy. Nearly 90 percent of natural disasters involve flooding.”
The best place to start the insurance review process is by reading the declarations page of your policy. This one-page information sheet offers details on how much coverage you have, your deductibles and how a claim will be paid.
Standard homeowners insurance covers the structure of your house for disasters such as hurricanes and windstorms, along with a host of other disasters. It is important to understand the elements that might affect your insurance payout after a hurricane and adjust your policies accordingly.
Protect Your Vehicles Comprehensive auto, which is an optional coverage, protects your vehicle against theft and damage caused by an incident other than a collision, including fire, flood, vandalism, hail, falling rocks or trees, and other hazards. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. drivers opt to purchase comprehensive coverage.
Make Sure Your Possessions are Adequately Protected Imagine the out-of-pocket cost of repurchasing all your furniture, clothing, and other personal possessions after a hurricane. Whether you have homeowners insurance or renters insurance, your policy provides protection against loss or damage due to a hurricane.
Creating an inventory of your belongings and their value will make it easy to see if you are sufficiently insured for either the replacement cost or cash value of the items situated at your residence. When you create a photo or video catalog of your home’s possessions, it will also help expedite the insurance claims process if you sustain damage from a storm.
Make Your Property More Resilient Invest in items that will harden your property against wind damage, such as a wind-rated garage door and storm shutters. The Triple-I also recommends you have your roof inspected annually by a licensed and bonded contractor to make sure it will hold up to high winds and torrential rains.
Preparing a hurricane emergency kit with a minimum two-week supply of essential items such as non-perishable food, drinking water (1 gallon per family per day) and medications for every family member. Also make sure you have adequate supplies and medications for your pets.
Creating an evacuation plan well before the first storm warnings are issued.
Hailstorms are among the most destructive weather events, with hailstones ranging in size from a pea to a grapefruit. When these frozen missiles plummet from the sky, damage to cars and buildings can be severe.
Steve Bowen, a meteorologist at Aon and director of the broker’s Impact Forecasting unit, has said hail can contribute as much as 50 percent to 80 percent of severe convective storm losses in any given year, with tornadoes, wind and flooding providing the rest.
An April 28 storm that included apple-size hail in in some parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth region caused close to $400 million in insured losses, according to the Insurance Council of Texas. Spokesperson Camille Garcia says the loss estimate is based on 32,000 car and homeowners claims sent to insurers through May 3. Most came from Tarrant County and the city of Keller. Once roof inspections are completed many more claims are expected.
State Farm alone paid out $474.6 million in hail claims in Texas in 2020, according to the company’s most recent Hail Damage report.
While you can’t prevent hail from failing on your property, you can lessen the possible damage by putting vehicles in the garage and moving patio furniture under cover. Close blinds and curtains to prevent broken glass from blowing inside and possibly causing injuries or damage.
If you do experience hail damage, your auto and home insurance policies will cover it. Take lots of pictures of the damage and submit your claim as soon as you can.
If contractors come knocking on your door, hold off on signing repair contracts. Do your due diligence, deal with reputable contractors, and get references. Consult your insurance adjuster before signing any contracts.
Caitlin Durkovich, special assistant to President Biden and White House National Security Council senior director of resilience and response, discussed the administration’s climate and resilience priorities at Triple-I’s National Town Hall (highlights video below. Click here to view full event).
She and Paul Huang, acting associate administrator of resilience for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), met virtually with Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan and Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist.
“Resilience is a very important theme of this administration and of the priorities we have,” Durkovich said, elaborating that this includes preparation for and response to both natural and man-made events. The objective is to learn from every incident “so we don’t just bounce back but bounce forward.”
Referring to the administration’s infrastructure and clean-energy goals, she said, “We’re anticipating what the world is going to look like 20 to 30 years from now, given the life span of our built infrastructure.”
Durkovich noted that there are several longstanding hazard-mitigation and hazard-response programs spread across multiple agencies.
“I think we have the opportunity to bring at least the federal community together to look at some of those programs and think about how we can modernize them, just like we’re modernizing infrastructure,” she said.
This will help communities “build back better” after an event.
But it’s going to take more than federal government to bring this about. Communities will have to be very involved, she said, adding, “It’s not just state and local planners, but it’s infrastructure owners and operators, it’s the finance side of the house, who are needed to work through some of these hard challenges before, so after an emergency, when money becomes available, you’re ready to make some significant changes.”
And as we invest in electrified transportation infrastructure, she said, “we have to make sure that infrastructure is resilient to power outages, to storms, and when we’re in the middle of a mass evacuation it can accommodate hundreds of thousands of people.”
Despite having to think about everything that could go wrong (what she described as “healthy paranoia”), Durkovich was upbeat: “It’s amazing to be having these conversations about designing resilience in at the beginning, instead of bolting it on at the end.”
FEMA’s Paul Huang echoed Durkovich’s enthusiasm for a “whole of government” and “whole of community” approach to resilience.
“We’re going to have to rethink how we do things,” he said. “We have programs that have always been around. They’re good programs, but it’s not enough. We have to think bigger and more creatively.”
Huang talked about a new FEMA program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), that support states, local communities, tribes and territories in developing hazard-mitigation projects, reducing the risks they face from natural disasters. “We’re hoping to see new ideas from industry, working with local and state government, to say, ‘This is something we can try together in partnership to get a bigger bang for our buck.’ “
By Marielle Rodriguez, Social Media and Brand Design Coordinator
Triple-I’s “Insurance Careers Corner” series was created to highlight trailblazers in insurance and to spread awareness of the career opportunities within the industry.
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and this month we interviewed Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO of London-based insurtech, Tapoly. Although Janthana lives in the UK, we believe that Asian heritage should be celebrated no matter where you live.
Founded in 2016, and backed by Lloyd’s of London, Tapoly is Europe’s first and fastest growing insurtech, providing on-demand flexible commercial insurance products for SMEs, freelancers, the self-employed and the gig economy. Recognized as Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards in 2018, Tapoly’s mission is to make insurance simple, accessible, and flexible.
We spoke with Kaenprakhamroy to discuss the role of AI and technology in her business, the boom of the sharing economy, and what the traditional insurance industry can learn from insurtech.
Tell us about your background and your interest in building a business. What led you to your current position and what inspired you to found your company, Tapoly?
I was born in and come from a small part of Thailand, grew up in Sweden, and have lived in London for the last 20 years. I have roots in different parts of the world, which has shaped my international way of thinking. I feel like I don’t fit a specific stereotype and can blend into different cultures.
I’m an accountant by trade and have worked in investment banking for almost my entire career. In late 2016, I decided to quit my job and build Tapoly. We provide technology solutions and insurance products locally in the UK as well as in Asia.
I was never sure what I wanted to do until I came across a problem in 2016 when I was trying to buy insurance for my short letting over the summer, which you can only do for about 90 days a year. In 2016, no insurance companies were serving the types of products for the short letting space. Ever since then, we’ve been developing technology solutions and products to cover this massively underserved market within the micro, SME, and freelancing space.
What is your organization’s mission? What role does tech and AI play in your platform?
Our mission is very simple – we want to able to provide an insurance solution online that is quick and easy for people, in the most convenient way, which is one thing in the commercial lines space that’s not very well-developed. Most companies are buying insurance through their brokers, rather than online directly. We wanted to make commercial lines products easier and less time-consuming for customers to access, without making them answer several questions that they may or may not know how to answer.
If you offer insurance online directly, then the underwriting decision must be prompt and that can only be achieved when you have data on your customers. There is data that traditional insurance companies aren’t using, for example, social media data, which can be cross-referenced with [the customer’s] profile. It’s all about augmenting data to amplify or make customers profiles more prominent for underwriting decisions – it’s something insurtech is doing well. Insurtech would allow data to flow from the point of the customer buying insurance to the point of the underwriter making the decision – this makes the process more seamless and transparent.
A lot of what we do at Tapoly is data analytics. It’s not only for risk selection and underwriting alone – it’s also for customer acquisition and marketing. Customer segmentation is very important, and you can only do it with a certain level of good-quality data on your customers.
What do you see as the biggest pain points for customers within traditional insurance that insurtech can better solve?
Customers in the market segment that we serve, which is microbusinesses and freelancers, have three main pain points. One is the price, especially for customers who do ad-hoc jobs which are not part of their core competency or core activity. Second is the convenience – the ability to fill in a simple questionnaire and get insurance quickly. Third is the availability – some products are not available for some freelancers. For example, a group of freelancers doing construction work in a certain environment are less likely to get certain insurance products due to their high risk profile.
Within the gig economy, there are job titles that are outside the norm and that don’t fall inside traditional insurance categories. We need to revamp the list of professions. In insurtech, we see gaps in coverage [in certain industries]. For example, marketplaces where the underlying risks may be different depending on what level of services and products the platform is providing. Another example may be the evolution of some professions, e.g. “virtual assistants”, where they may in some cases provide basic accounting services, which would previously be performed by certified professionals, because accounting is also moving online. There’s a lot of mismatch between the way insurers categorize their customers and the profession that customers recognize themselves as, and the ability to buy insurance automatically in the most convenient way.
Do you see innovation and transformation happening in the traditional insurance space?
I think the insurance industry is well-aware of the need for innovation and many companies are at the beginning of innovating, but innovation takes time. While we recognize the need, it will take time to implement. As a startup, we don’t have a hierarchical structure or have as many constraints. We can build anything we want without waiting for the approval of senior management. What insurtech can bring is the speed to market, the ability to adapt, and to implement changes and help insurers prove the concept in the most cost-effective way.
In what ways has COVID-19 impacted the sharing economy and your business? What are your predictions for the growth and trajectory of the sharing economy?
A 2015 PWC report showed that revenue from the sharing economy was $15 billion in 2013 and would reach $335 billion in 2025. That’s a phenomenal increase in the market within 12 years. I think the COVID-19 pandemic really accelerated the sharing economy. There are so many businesses that did fantastically well during the pandemic, including businesses in logistics and delivery, and the insurtechs that are operating in that space. From the product delivery, customer-facing side, we didn’t have a problem because we were already set up to operate online. However, it did impact our customers and some of them didn’t renew their insurance or either postponed or changed their policy.
In terms of opportunities, there are many insurance companies or intermediaries that have started to think about innovation. COVID-19 has really accelerated that thinking because tech has become a big hurdle. There are a lot of operational challenges among larger insurance companies that are not set up to sell insurance digitally. That is something insurtech can take advantage of because we are already set up to do this.
Let’s talk about diversity in VC funding and entrepreneurship. A2019 Diversity VC report showed that ethnic minorities are under-represented in venture capital and women are under-represented in senior roles. Another2020 Extend Ventures report shows that female entrepreneurs receive just a fraction of available funding that male founders do. Were there any initial challenges in founding your company and attaining funding, and how did you overcome these obstacles? Are there any present challenges of being an Asian- and woman-owned business and founder?
In the beginning, not raising enough funding can cause a slowdown in your growth. Even with the best ideas, it’s hard to scale your business without capital. I certainly think that the confidence in a woman in running a business could be improved in the VC space. There are a lot of stereotypes and unconscious biases that people apply to their decisions. The VC space needs to work on being self-aware and educate themselves around these issues especially when judging a first-time entrepreneur. There is also uncertainty and a lack of data on startups that make it difficult for VCs to validate and invest in, on top of gender stereotypes.
My biggest daily challenge is finding enough capital to be able to grow my business. The difficulty for early-stage founders is balancing your own interests with the investor’s interests and figuring out how much you want to raise versus how much you can raise. To overcome this problem, we usually find strategic investors that can add a lot of value.
What are your goals for 2021 and beyond? Where do you see the traditional industry heading in the next few years given the pandemic?
We’re preparing for hockey stick growth in 2021 and want to exponentially grow our company in 2022. My aim is to raise enough money to be a larger team and to have the capacity to manage that level of volume and growth.
I think the traditional insurance industry will evolve slowly in the next couple of years. A lot of insurers have been badly hit due to COVID-19 because of claim costs and loss of investments. It would take a couple of years before we recover fully, and hopefully insurtech will still be relevant within this space. At least if anything, insurance companies will be spending more on innovation to reduce their claims and operating costs.