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5 Questions with Insurtech Influencers – Sabine VanderLinden

We continue the series of interviewing insurtech influencers. We have already published stories with Robin Kiera, Paolo Cuomo, Rick Huckstep, and Ed Halsey, so don’t forget to check out these, too!

Today, Sabine VanderLinden is sharing her point of view. As a Co-Founder, CEO, and Managing Partner of Alchemy Crew, Sabine has over 20 years of experience in insurance. She is a pioneer in building innovation ecosystems, a multi-award winner, and a top 50 insurtech influencer.

Sabine considers the biggest obstacles for insurance start-ups to be a constant need to convince the insurer business of their ability to execute, a challenge to recruit the right team, and willingness to be extremely patient as long-term relationships are inherent in the industry. In her eyes, the top areas where insurtechs are building disruptive innovation are healthtech, property and homeowner platforms, mobility-related tech businesses, and cybercrime. Continue reading to find out more.


Please name three of the most promising insurtech start-ups in 2021. Why are these exactly?

The world of insurtech is moving so fast that it is hard to name the top three insurtechs without getting myself into trouble for not calling on some up-and-coming businesses that I very much care for. Many of these businesses have evolved and are doing some fantastic work to digitise ways of doing business or build entirely new propositions that are able to fulfil the demands of underserved market segments.

In 2015, over $40 billion was invested into the insurtech sector. During the first quarter of 2021, over $4 billion has also been invested within the insurtech space. This number is far higher than in any previous first quarters over the past five years.

To answer the question:
in terms of total funding, top insurtechs include healthtech disruptive players such as Oscar Health, Bright Health, and Clover Health. These businesses have raised billions of dollars done IPOs or are planning to do so in the future;
1) in terms of retail insurance disruption, I would include Hippo and Lemonade within the homeowner insurance space, Root Insurance and Zego in the motor and mobility spaces, Toss in the payment, and WeFox in the distribution space;

2) in terms of recent business model disruption, some of the most exciting European brands include Canopy, Laka and Ki insurance.

What is the biggest obstacle for insurance start-ups that holds back market disruption and meaningful change? 

Whether insurtech or not, start-ups, in general, must appreciate and understand the interaction and cultural dynamics within specific sectors and geographies. Top market players have welcomed industry challenges and worked around those. Some of the obstacles that insurance start-ups have experienced, include:

1) convincing the insurer business of their ability to execute. Technologies remain enablers. While some of the best techs are coming to market to address highly complex issues, the tech must still solve customer demands and internal operational challenges. It is primordial for growth ventures to continuously evaluate the market players’ situation and ensure that they meet privacy and security requirements;

2) recruiting the right team. Once a start-up has proven its solution-market fit, we often recommend start-up founders to consider long-standing experts within the insurance sector when building their core and adjacent teams. An expert with the ability to navigate the tumultuous and complex insurance landscape is often seen as an asset;

3) patience. Insurance is made for those willing to invest in long-term relationships. It often takes many more months than in other sectors to yield a deal within our highly risk-averse insurance industry.


If you were to establish your insurance start-up, which problem would you solve and why?

This is a tricky question to answer, as I often share with early-stage start-ups to make sure that they only focus on one problem at a time. Narrow problem definition, which concentrates on one major industry challenge within a specific customer market, is always more effective than going for multifaceted issues.

Today, the world of insurance has significant challenges to solve post-crisis. This includes recognising the importance of the UN SDGs and inclusive finance while aligning the right metrics to evaluate and measure a new set of criteria. This means an appreciation for underserved market segments, sustainability, transition risk, and ethical technology deployment. These are highly challenging issues to solve, and we have already started to unpack ways to solve those problems.


Which insurtech fields will be the most impactful and attract funding in 2021?

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that investments are now flowing back into insurtech following the past 12 months of uncertainty. Fund managers who could not invest in new ventures during 2020 still need to generate the financial returns promised to their investors and limited partners. This is the reason why we have seen an uptick in investment this past quarter.

The top four areas where insurtechs are building disruptive innovation include the following.

1) HealthTech. After five years, this area remains one of the top-funded business model types in insurtech. Over $5 billion has been invested in health-related insurtechs leveraging digital platforms and channels to serve customers more effectively.

2) Property and homeowner platforms have done well too. These would include Hippo, Kin, Lemonade, and ecosystem builders within the property space such as Canopy that are bringing new digital solutions to the marketplace. Top insurtech players have received over $2 billion in investments over five years.

3) Mobility-related tech businesses will remain a crucial area of focus as we use large and small vehicles in a variety of ways to address the gradual move to a new world of mobility. Laka, Metromile, Root, and Zego aim to manage that change. Leading market players have raised over $1 billion in funding too.

4) Cybercrime affects so many different parts of the ecosystem. While not always genuinely reflective of the challenges faced in life and business, the new solutions deployed will need to consider cyber risk prevention within their core design.

The future of insurance: what makes you hopeful, what worries you? 

2020 made digitisation top of mind for many market players. Some were already geared with the tools and technologies to move to a remote working world quickly. Many were not.

The pandemic has exposed poor customer experiences and engagements and forced poor performers to re-evaluate their approach and the partnership and technology choices. I believe that insurers have learnt from the complex situation, and many are now understanding the value of digital transformation.


Co-founder, CEO, and Managing Partner of Alchemy Crew, a venture validation and commercialisation lab using open innovation, ecosystem thinking, and parallel experimentation techniques to accelerate the curation, validation, and commercialisation of digital services supported by disruptive business models. Sabine has over 20 years of experience in insurance. She was the CEO & co-founder of Startupbootcamp InsurTech (UK) & Hartford’s InsurTech Hub Accelerator (Hartford, CT, USA), where she worked with over 30 corporate insurers, accelerated 70+ growth ventures, helping them raise over $100m in funding.  She is a pioneer in building innovation ecosystems, a co-editor of bestseller The INSURTECH Book, a multi-award winner, and a top 50 insurtech influencer.

She was appointed as an Honorary Senior Visiting Fellow of The Business School (formerly Cass) in early December 2020 for her insurtech business model disruption work.

Follow Sabine on: LinkedIn and Twitter.