Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|April 7, 2022|10 Minutes|In Risk and Glory

Billionaire Tomorrow

Naked Insurance dresses with investment for more disruption.

Since we interviewed Naked Insurance it has girded itself with armour in the shape of multi-million dollar investment. The company, which launched in 2018, uses AI and automation to reduce premiums and lower the costs of insurance. It is set to disrupt the industry further with a Series A investment round worth R160 million (around $10 million); its largest investor is Naspers, Africa’s biggest company by market cap and one of the largest technology investors in the world. The company’s tech investment vehicle Naspers Foundry invested R120 million (Around $ 8 million), as part of its R1,4 billion commitment to grow South Africa’s early-stage tech ecosystem.  “South Africans are in general underinsured when it comes to short-term personal insurance. While this is often due to price, consumer distrust and complexity have led to a misunderstanding of insurance,” says Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, the South African CEO of Naspers.Naked has also secured investment from Yellowwoods and insurance giant Hollard.

The new insurance that likes to do things naked.

Spurred on by 15 years of frustration working in the South African insurance industry, three former consulting actuaries banded together to start out on their own without a stitch of clothing - metaphorically speaking.

For most South Africans, insurance up there with paying tax – a grudge purchase. Just ask Sumarie Greybe, that spent 15 years working as a consulting actuary in the short-term insurance sector in the grudge frontline.

“Nearly every day, I saw first-hand how traditional insurance companies were struggling to meet the needs and demands of modern customers. Not only did I hear many stories about why consumers distrust insurance companies and products, I also observed why insurance companies found it so difficult to transform their customer experience,” she says.

According to her, the insurance industry is out of touch.  It has too much money invested in being too heavily invested in the way things were, infrastructure and tech. They are simply out of step, she says.

Greybe’s experience wasn’t isolated and when she came across two other insurance veterans Alex Thomson and Ernest North they knew they were on to something. So, in 2016, they decided to band together and take a leap of faith to start their own company.

“It made me excited about the opportunity to change how the industry works, even though it was a really big step to leave a comfortable corporate career behind,” she says.

“We recognised a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvent an industry so that it serves the interests of consumers. We wanted to start a new insurance business based not only on the latest technology, but also a more fair and transparent approach. The goal is to restore trust in insurance and to make life easier for customers.”

Together with a team of in-house developers, data scientists and designers they started building Naked in November 2016. The idea was as simple as its name. Strip insurance of its finery and make it cheaper.

But it wasn’t as easy as that.

Nearly every day, I saw first-hand how traditional insurance companies were struggling to meet the needs and demands of modern customers. Sumarie Greybe, co-founder Naked insurance.  We recognised a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvent an industry so that it serves the interests of consumers.

- Sumarie Greybe

“One major challenge we needed to solve—beyond the complexity of the algorithms for claims and quoting—was offering a user experience that was intuitive to the customer, without a call centre agent or broker to guide them. We decided to use a chat interface and in-house messaging platform to access the data we needed from the customer while also making it easy, transparent and quick for customers to engage with us,” she says..

“We started from scratch in the design of our systems and processes, building them to offer the same seamless self-service that customers get from the likes of Uber or online banking.”

It took them nearly two years to develop. But once they stepped into the market, their naked approach took off and the awards rolled in, winning the MTN app of the year in 2019.

“In April 2018, when we launched with comprehensive car insurance, we were roughly 10 team members and today we are a team of 32. Since we do all development work ourselves, most of our team are software developers or data scientists.”

Key to their success has been leveraging smart technology. Their products, which are underwritten by Hollard Insurance, use automation and AI to streamline processes from quoting, to claiming, to generating a proof of insurance letter without needing to speak to a call centre.

Instead, you get to speak to ‘Rose’, their AI chatbot that guides you to getting an insurance quote in about 90 seconds.

Apart from the time saving, with the AI automation also comes operational cost-savings. This Naked passes on directly to the consumer through lower premiums.

“Innovation isn’t just about technology. We have also spent a lot of time thinking about how the traditional insurance business model incentivises consumer-unfriendly practices.”

One example Greybe uses is how insurance companies traditionally profit when they pay out less in claims. Instead, Naked keeps a fixed portion of all premiums to cover running costs and some profit. The rest of the premiums go into a pot to pay claims. Any money left over at the end of a year, goes to charities of the customers choice. This means the company can’t benefit from fewer claims and have no interest in making claims difficult.

“This unconflicted business approach means our incentives are not linked to how much we pay out in claims each year, and that changes everything in insurance,” she says.

It was in 2020, when the world was turmoil thanks to Covid-19, where their adaptability and technology really helped them stand out. Thanks to South Africa’s lockdowns people were stuck at home driving less and claiming less. While some insurance companies were offering discounts, Naked allowed clients to pause 90% of their premiums.

“We already introduced our innovative CoverPause feature when we launched in April 2018. We knew that there are many customers who don’t drive every single day and believed that they should not need to pay full comprehensive cover on the days they’re not driving.”

The feature along with more people using apps to work remotely contributed to the company growing by “more than three times”, co-founder Thomson told Business Insider South Africa.

Naked remains squarely focused on growing in the South African market. According to Greybe, the insurance provider plans to build on its early success by growing its customer base and continuing to innovate.

“Our mission is to build insurance that people love. It might sound like a strange ambition, given that most people talk of it as a grudge purchase.”

And that’s the naked truth about Naked.

Overall, Africa’s insurance industry is valued at about $68 billion (R in terms of gross written premiums (GWP) and is the eighth largest in the world—although this is not equally distributed across the continent. South Africa, the largest and most established insurance market, accounts for 70% of total premiums, reports Mckinsey.

According to KPMG’s The South African Insurance Industry Survey 2020, just the non-life insurance industry reported GWP of ($7.4 billion) R110.6 billion in 2019.