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. A 2019 Diversity VC report showed that ethnic minorities are under-represented in venture capital and women are under-represented in senior roles. Another 2020 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.