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Interview with Wei Zhu, Founder & CEO, Igloo

With the aim of creating simple and honest digital insurance products, Igloo, a Singapore headquartered insurtech has definitely proven itself and has grown rapidly in the recent years. Wei Zhu, Founder & CEO of Igloo shares about how he first embarked on this journey, how he is making use of technology to change the insurance industry and his plans for expansion.
  1. What is the story behind Igloo (formally known as Axinan)?

    We were using Igloo as our consumer brand. Our mission is to provide a safety net for everyone, especially in Southeast Asia and I think you can see that there is a lot of people that could use affordable insurance. We had over 50 million insurance transactions throughout Southeast Asia at the end of 2019, benefiting millions of customers. It is our dream to really pursue and provide simple and affordable insurance for all the people in Southeast Asia. I come from an initial tech background and I've been in the tech industry for more than 20 years. When I was first looking at where I want to pursue my new venture, I remembered reading one of the articles from TechCrunch years ago that really resonated with me about how through my own journey I can see that there are many traditional industries that have been working in its own style for many generations, and the changes such as the adoption to technology was not nearly as fast as some of the other industries that I've worked on. So I thought immediately that this was an opportunity for somebody like me with no prior insurance experience to try to get into one of the oldest industries and see what we can do with technology and software changes. Insurance is a very attractive industry for me because it fits two of the goals, firstly it is one of the oldest industries in the world. It has been there for thousands of years and modern insurance has been around for the last few hundred years. To be honest, not a whole lot has changed in the last hundred years even though the insurance industry is hugely important to the economy. Globally, it's a 5 to 6 trillion-dollar industry. So if we can apply technology to make even a small change, the impact to people, impact to society could be huge and that's something that excites me and that's why we started Axinan.

  2. Can you share more about the recent Series A+ funding that was closed in April 2020? What are some of the plans for the newly raised capital?

    We are very excited and humbled to be able to close a new round of funding amidst the COVID-19 crisis. It was definitely a timely fundraising needed to strengthen our leadership position in Southeast Asia as an insurtech. This year, we're getting into new markets such as Vietnam and we're going to expand in Thailand and the Philippines. This money will enable us to enhance our technology and help us further our plans. We are a full stack insurtech and we utilize the core value chains of a traditional insurance process so that we include things from the distribution at the front end to management at the back end, to risk assessment and fraud detection. For example, our technology is utilized on making claims highly automated so customers can get a fast, easy and comfortable experience and it enables us to use technology to reduce various fraud cases. We use our computer vision and machine learning technology to quickly detect the condition of devices such as smartphones, so that we can now easily filter out customers that are currently holding on to a broken device and yet trying to buy digital protection insurance. We also use technology to filter out fake stores that are trying to sell products online but don't actually ship anything and yet file claims for damages. Our technology helps us to make the insurance process simpler, faster and reduces the cost for consumers if we are able to filter out fraudulent claims. The funding that we are getting for this round is really going to help us strengthen our position and help us double down on our development of technology and expansion of our engineering team.

  3. What challenges do you think insurers in the SEA market are facing as a result of Covid-19?

    COVID-19 is causing a negative impact throughout the regions and the world, and it definitely has impacted the insurance industry as a whole. One of the interesting things that you would notice is that because of the travel restrictions as well as people having to work from home, the focus is now on how to make almost anything digital. The traditional insurance model is largely offline and we have come to realise the importance of digital insurance and the importance of moving insurance online to complement the traditional models. I think in the long term, that is going to have a positive impact for the insurance industry and especially for insurtechs that are helping the whole industry to move forward with an online based insurance model. We are definitely working hard alongside our partners to make that happen faster. Our technology enables our commercial partners on all sorts of digital platforms and helps our consumers with access issues. Our big data risk assessments are also going to help make online claims easier and faster. I think Igloo is well positioned to provide that accessible, desirable and simple insurance for the masses.

  4. Many start-ups have ceased operations or have had to pivot because of Covid. How has Covid impacted your business and what is Igloo's business continuity plans?

    Covid-19 definitely has impacted us in various ways. For example, we had launched some successful travel insurance products towards the end of last year, and it was going very well. It was going amazingly well until COVID-19 happened. After that, the travel insurance sites really hit a nosedive along with all the top industries. But luckily for us, we have a very diversified portfolio. Our main pieces of work are with our various e-commerce partners and our hard work with them are paying off despite COVID-19. In fact, April was our best month on record and it looks like we're going to beat our April numbers in May. I think we are lucky that we are in an industry where technology is going to be one of the strengths for us. Our team throughout Southeast Asia are working from home and we are adapting how we work in this COVID-19 situation. As a nimble tech start up, it is important that we're able to adapt to this changing condition quickly. Another example is that we are already planning to get into the health insurance this year, and the COVID-19 situation has made us accelerate the process. As a result, we've already launched a COVID-19 based product in Indonesia and we're expanding that to the Philippines as well.

  5. We heard that Igloo has some exciting expansion plans in the works. Could you share more?

    I think 2020 is definitely an exciting year for us. We are expanding to Thailand and the Philippines, and we recently launched products in Vietnam. In addition to expanding to different markets, we're also getting deeper and into more verticals and diversification with our product lines. I think this year you will expect to see us having various product launches and engagement with new verticals, specifically telco operators, banks and non-banking financial firms. We're working with our telco and financial partners to create new products while some other products are derived from our existing partner pipelines. We recently have been granted a patent that enables us to use technology to quickly and reliably detect the condition of a smartphone before we issue an insurance policy. That has enabled us to be able to extend insurance coverages to all sorts of devices, especially to what we call the “used devices”. Probably 90 to 95% of the telco customers have phones that are existing and not brand new ones that they have just bought from the store. Traditionally, it will be very difficult to offer insurance for their customers’ devices, unless you can assume the condition of the phone is new. However, 90% of the existing e-commerce customers don't have that luxury so how can telco companies extend coverage to such devices? Our patented technology, advanced systems and machine learning will be able to give customers affordable insurance for their devices. That sums up one great example of our integration with many of our new partners, be it in telco or banks. From there, we can start expanding into other insurance areas, whether in personal protection, personal accidents or in health.

  6. Igloo started out by offering transit insurance. How has your product line evolved since then? Are there any recent product innovations that you would like to share with us?

    We got into a variety of areas since we first started with transit insurance for e-commerce, and that is still a very significant portion of our business. That part of our business allows us to interact with millions of customers, and through that distribution channel, we are able to provide micro insurance to our customers, amounting to a huge volume of transactions. We extend insurance coverage from distributors, to a loss and damage of a shipment and a variety of other hazards for e-commerce logistics. It was only from last year that we started expanding to device protections, from mobile screens to the whole phone and then to other electronic devices as well such as televisions and even getting into furniture and other areas of protection plans. At the same time, we are also rapidly expanding our travel insurance product lines and we partnered with some of the big insurers and it went pretty well despite COVID-19 happening. We have also expanded into personal insurance, including personal accident insurance where we use a whole bunch of big data analysis, to be able to help us identify and recommend the right type of insurance products for customers. Together with our partners’ digital platform, we are able to provide micro insurance that is affordable and tailored towards a customer's particular situation.