, Singapore
Surer co-founder, Derren Teo.

Surer creates digital ecosystem for the siloed insurance industry

The startup wants a B2B2C environment with multiple parties bringing in different expertise.

It was a shared passion for technology that brought together the founders of an insurtech startup, Surer—Gordon Tay, Renfred Tay, and Derren Teo—to begin their journey towards a 'surer' way for insurance firms to do business.

Gordon, who was inspired in his time working at PropertyGuru and Carousell to build his own business, first brought the idea to Derren. Derren was his college classmate who also happens to work in the insurance industry. During their regular catch up with each other, Derren lamented about the many inefficiencies and pain points in the industry that he believed could be resolved with technology.

It was then that Gordon and Derren decided that this was something they could do—modernise a traditional-leaning industry. However, they still needed someone with prior experience in running a startup from scratch. That was when they roped in Gordon’s brother, Renfred, who coincidentally was just about to exit a vendtech startup he was an angel investor of. Thus, Surer was born.

Established in September 2020, Surer aims to bring a very much siloed and offline industry online. It is a digital ecosystem that works very similar to how they would interact with each other but supercharged with tech and automation to help eliminate process inefficiencies, streamline communications, and ensure better product distribution 

In a quick interview with Insurance Asia, Derren Teo talked about how the time is ripe for Surer to take the stage as the insurance industry grows more adaptable to technology.

What is the story behind your name?

The words that were always hanging on our lips were "How do we help the insurance industry be surer about their business?" and then it dawned upon us that it was a no-brainer that the firm needs to be called "Surer." It basically encapsulates our vision and mission which is to help the industry be "surer" about providing insurance using technology. Not to mention, it is of course also a word play on in*surer*! 

With plenty of other insurtech in Asia, what does Surer have that they do not?

We are focused on building a digital ecosystem that serves parties creating (the insurers) and distributing (the intermediaries) insurance products—we run a business-to-business-to-consumer or B2B2C model—as opposed to many other insurtech companies which either focus on an aggregator model, going direct to the consumer, or as a vendor building siloed enterprise solutions. With this digital ecosystem of multiple parties bringing different expertise to the table and supercharged with technology, it allows us to orchestrate and drive this network to foster greater efficiency in collaborations. This also enables us to include non-traditional players, e.g. merchants who can easily dip into Surer to package relevant insurance with the products they are selling thus creating or expanding a new distribution channel and giving rise to a new type of intermediary. 

To further elaborate, there are also other insurtechs in the market that we do not see as competitors even though they might appear so at first glance. These are the online brokers who create products underwritten by the insurers and then list and sell them directly to consumers through their own online platform. Examples of these companies include the likes of MoneySmart, PolicyPal, PolicyBazaar, PasarPolis, and PolicyStreet. 

Surer and these online brokers are complementary to each other. There are two ways in which we can help them. First is they can list their existing products on the Instant Quote Marketplace on Surer and leverage the Surer intermediary force as an additional distribution channel in addition to their online channel. Second, a visit to these sites will show that their product range is limited and confined to simple general insurance products (usually personal lines). These players can expand their range and move into the space of more complex products but only with an intermediary force and the best way to do so is to expose these new complex products to the intermediary force on Surer. This was in fact, what we have done. We have a confirmed partnership and are launching soon with a young online broker called Windward Brokers and are working with them on a similar complementary level. 

Outside of Southeast Asia, we have seen similar models that have proven hugely successful. Specifically, WeFox in Europe and Turtlemint in India. We study them closely and see them as role models to a certain extent.

How do you think the digital trend affected the growth of insurtech in Asia?

Prior to the pandemic, digital transformation, in my opinion, has always just been a buzzword; always mentioned but not much tangible action or execution. The pandemic, whilst unfortunate, has accelerated the urgency for digital transformation and in the past, close to two years, we have seen insurers, intermediaries and other relevant parties in the industry become a lot more receptive to leveraging technology to improve their business.

What this has done is give rise and impetus to insurtech firms, and more specifically, solutions like Surer, where as mentioned in a previous answer, focus on connecting parties via a digital ecosystem. For solutions like such, having the technology is one thing but having all parties see value, participate and work together is a mindset that we have seen to have shifted since the dawn of the pandemic. 

With that, we are starting to see that the digital trend is now in the direction of inclusiveness and collaboration rather than what was previously, parties building their own siloed systems. It is due to such a direction that we now see a much more vibrant insurtech community.

What markets do you think has the most potential for insurtech?

Specifically for Surer, we have earmarked Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as markets we will expand into. We are also seeing an interesting trend happening in emerging markets, like Indonesia, where there are a rise in demand for commercial insurance by micro, small, and medium enterprises—the premiums for such insurance products may be small but the volume is huge—who are being served predominantly by the intermediaries. We see opportunities for insurtech like Surer to be able to thrive in such markets as well if the factors are right.

You mentioned expansion, do you have any particular reason why you chose these markets?

When looking at potential markets for Surer, we have two core criteria: first, is the size in terms of gross written premiums transacted annually for general insurance or non-life or commercial insurance. Malaysia’s size is around $4b, Hong Kong at $3.9b, and Taiwan at $6.7b.

The reason for such, and why we mentioned general insurance specifically is because we have seen the potential of this space, in particular the underserved small and medium enterprise (SME) segment. For example, in Singapore, 70% of SMEs are uninsured or underinsured. When it comes to general insurance, the most effective distribution channel has still been the intermediary or a physical salesforce. 

Second, the market is predominantly still reliant on the intermediary or a sales force as a core distribution channel. For example, in Malaysia, for general insurance,  in terms of gross written premium, is that of the agent/broker at close to 80%.

The reason for this is because we believe that intermediaries will always remain crucial in the insurance purchase journey, especially in complex insurance usually relating to commercial lines. Even in tech savvy markets in US/Europe, research has shown that over 70% of such insurance is researched online and purchased offline through the intermediary.

We believe insurtechs has a role to play in supercharging the intermediary vis-a-vis the role they play with the insurer (as a distributor of their product) and their client (as an advisor)—this is still something that is lacking and relates back to the digital ecosystem we mentioned above where parties like intermediaries can operate and leverage tech to work with insurers more seamlessly and vice-versa.

You have recently raised $1m, what are your plans for this?

We have a product roadmap planned out that allows us to increase our value proposition to intermediaries and insurers and are looking to hire key roles that allows us to deliver on this roadmap.

What is in store for the future for Surer?

We are currently working with more insurer partners, not only to onboard their products with an instant quote functionality but also to enable such products to allow for customisation where advisors can now elevate their offerings to cater to varying needs of their client with bespoke covers as well as allow for payment of premiums to be a "straight-through" process where once an advisor has digitally shared cover and quotation details of a product, their clients can then make payment directly with the insurer to confirm their take-up.

We also plan to add auto-policy information storage for products sold through the instant quote marketplace.

We are looking to announce the launch of a partnership similar to what was described above with a major insurer and will share more in the weeks to come and is also concurrently developing a brand new version of Surer where users can expect a revamped user interface, smarter functionalities like auto-population of proposal forms, stronger client management features and an upgraded dashboard with a "digital assistant" to remind advisors on outstanding tasks and recent activities.

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