London, 23rd June 2016: The air was electric, as a storm brewed above the city. Despite the tangible tension in the air, my only thought was getting to a cafe near Hyde Park. I was meeting with a renowned insurance expert to discuss an ambitious project I was working on: codenamed Coya.
Like many others that day, I did not imagine that the Brexit referendum had a realistic chance of dividing the continent. It seemed surreal. I passed it off as divisive clickbait serving political agendas like the racial division tactics I knew from African politics. But this was England, a colony built on merging cultures over centuries. Never here...Right? Well at the time I was deliberating whether to launch Coya in the UK or Germany. My answer was clear the next morning as I traveled back to Berlin. Germany, whom I associated with inclusive values and stability in Europe, would be Coya's future home.
Coya is a digital full-stack insurer challenging the industry. We have removed friction across the value chain to create holistic insurance experiences. Our insurance is designed directly around customer’s needs. We envision insurance as a trusted guide at our customer’s side. To achieve our vision, we needed to rethink the insurance value chain and connect directly with customers to understand and predict their needs. This, however, was practically impossible to achieve without an entire greenfield approach.
Traditionally, insurance brokers and agents pass individual policies to their insurers to underwrite. Insurers then pool the policies' risks together to reserve funds from the premiums to pay out expected future claims. The basic problem with the traditional model is that the value chain is divided between too many interest groups and interests that are not always aligned. From sales brokers and agents to underwriting, support, claims, and governance. Every stakeholder is operating in a separate system with separate goals and understanding of the customer.
This approach served a purpose in the pre-digital age. But the divided process means there is limited understanding of the customer. And where there is a lack of understanding, a lack of trust will most often follow. Customers making claims on their policy are treated as guilty until proven innocent; a trust paradox develops. The customers are expected to trust their insurer. Yet the insurer does not trust the customer! How could they; they never had a holistic view of the customer. Brokers saw customers as commissions. Insurers saw policies as risks. And no one has a real idea who the customer is. This is a big and complex problem to solve but it's not impossible to address. Technology has enabled the reunification of insurance with the customer and is rebuilding trust through closer relationships and more transparent experience.
Digitally re-uniting the insurance customer with sales, support, and underwriting is fundamentally changing the industry for the better (in our view). Yet the idea of unification creating a safer and more prosperous state is obviously not new at all. Jan Smuts (1870-1950) was the first president of South Africa and a thought leader in holism theory and practice. I can’t help but take inspiration from his learnings myself, having lived my early years in a divided South Africa and been lucky enough to experience the dawn of democracy there. He proposed that unification leads to a stable state - just like droplets of water joining to form a single pool.
His work helped shape global unification movements, where he was the only person to sign both the League of Nations and United Nations formation agreements. The world has seen the most prosperous era since humanity's existence over the last 70 years. Unification has been a core driver of this peace and prosperity. In Africa, we have a philosophy of humanity called Ubuntu based on the premise that “I am because we are”. It embodies the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. I can only imagine that Mr. Smuts was in some ways himself inspired by Ubuntu in his thoughts of unification.
Berlin, 1st February 2020: Britain has officially separated from the European Union today. But I remain optimistic that technology and pan European collaborations will keep us connected in the future. We have many more problems than insurance to solve alone: housing, hunger, disease, climate change and more. But history has shown us one thing over and over again. By uniting, not dividing, we have the power to create change.
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