Highlights “If you think about it from a macro perspective, health and insurance are very much intersected. And at its core, we believe that insurance is one of the largest contributors to any health strategy.” “And the approach that we take is having a local platform. It really allows us to enable the entire […]

S03E07: Adrit Raha, CEO of Symbo on driving digitalization in Southeast Asia and India’s insurance industries through insurance-as-a-service

Highlights

  1. “If you think about it from a macro perspective, health and insurance are very much intersected. And at its core, we believe that insurance is one of the largest contributors to any health strategy.”
  2. “And the approach that we take is having a local platform. It really allows us to enable the entire onboarding training…and ultimately the fulfillment of a policy issuance process for this channel for the specific part that we are working with. And the beauty of all of this is we are able to do it very quickly. So the go-to-market and the speed to market with regard to deploying a product and a platform can be within weeks.”
  3. “There’s a fundamental problem with what I call friction, which is it’s an inefficient way of transacting with partners and with clients. And then you’ve got this complete ability to digitize that. So wherever you’re seeing the transformation really happening, it’s towards the last mile. And what I mean by the last mile is how do you look at the actual interaction and transaction between your intermediaries and your end customer…And I think that’s really where we are seeing the Symbo platform playing a part.”
  4. “There is a new area that I get really excited about, which is how do you think of relevant bite-sized products? And we call that point-of-need. And we’ve had some success working with brands in really enabling that strategy. But that’s really about how you look at a low ticket, couple of dollar-type products relevant for the customer at the time they are actually going through a purchase journey.”
  5. “Not easy, I think that’s fundamentally, the point I’d make in a market like India. I think what it does allow us to do though Samir is to really learn from the complexities of scale, the complexities of how you truly deploy technology, deploy solutions, and then see if there’s an opportunity to replicate some of that in markets across Southeast Asia, which are actually similar.”
  6. “I think this is the future, this attachment approach, products looking at large scale distribution channels that have that customer loyalty already, I think this is going to be the future and I love giving the example of how Apple and Apple Care have really dominated the market in this space…It’s gotta be a no-touch solution, not a low touch, but a no-touch solution.”
  7. “So that’s where the magic happens, which is what you don’t see as the customer. And it’s really about having a very slick local platform with key API structures. Our APIs are key to what we do and that’s what forms our playbook. So our API allows us to plug into any point-of-sale platform.”
  8. “From our perspective, we want to leverage large-format phygital partnerships in the region because we believe the physical component is here to stay in our region, and using digital platforms enables the seamless distribution of insurance. That’s really what we want to do — build large format, phygital partnerships.”

In this episode we have on call with us Adrit Raha, co-CEO and co-founder of Symbo Insurance, Singapore-based platform offering digital, market-ready solutions for Southeast Asia and India’s insurance providers, brands, affinity and end customers. Following Symbo’s Series A and acquisition of digital healthcare solutions platform Vivant — where Adrit is CEO — we’ve invited him to come on the show to talk more about digitalization in the insurance industry in Southeast Asia, especially from the incumbents or traditional players’ point-of-view. Let’s dial in to Adrit’s call with Insignia Ventures principal Samir Chaibi, whom you may know from our previous episodes with fintech founders. 

Timestamps

01:17 Introduction to Symbo;

01:52 Behind the acquisition of healthcare platform enabler Vivant;

02:59 Working with insurers beyond healthcare;

04:10 Insurance-as-a-service;

05:59 Point-of-need micro-insurance distribution;

07:09 Enabling traditional players to break into micro-insurance;

08:21 The benefits of operating both in India and Southeast Asia;

09:37 Symbo playbook for enabling insurance-as-a-service;

11:33 End-customer response to point-of-need distribution and future of attachment approach to insurance;

14:06 API integration enabling seamless, no-touch user experience;

15:26 Future of Symbo;

17:53 Adrit’s Rapid Fire Round;

Transcript

Samir: Hey Paulo. Thank you so much for the introduction. Super excited to welcome Adrit to On Call with Insignia. Hi Adrit, how are you? 

Adrit: Hi Samir, and thanks Paulo for that super introduction. It’s like it’s all done, right, the introduction. So appreciate that. And then Samir, very good to be on the call. Thank you. 

Samir: Fantastic. So I would start with a basic request for our listeners here.  Could you maybe introduce a little bit of what Symbo is doing [and] has done in the past? And then we can kick it off from there. 

Adrift: Yes, of course. So in summary, I’d say Symbo is, in its broadest sense, an InsureTech platform. What we do is really work with partners across Southeast Asia and India supporting agents, DPA’s, brokers, brands, corporates, and ultimately anybody that needs to enable their insurance distribution, that is really what we do in summary. 

Samir: Great. Fantastic. So as Paulo said, I want to congratulate you again on the recent Series A. Tell us a bit more also about the acquisition of Vivant. What are the potential synergies with these acquisition and how do you think this would shape the future of Symbo?

Adrit: Yeah of course. Thank you. We are super, super excited that we were able to close our raise. As part of that, we went ahead and acquired Vivant, which brings a very comprehensive and highly complementary digital health offering to our existing platform. We also see that Vivant’s client base across India and Southeast Asia was extremely complimentary in nature. And these were some of the reasons why we found the merger and acquisition to be very appropriate. And of course, if you think about it from a macro perspective, health and insurance are very much intersected. And at its core, we believe that insurance is one of the largest contributors to any health strategy. The question that you asked was around what was the process and why did we do it. One of the things is we had some common investors as well that sat on the board of both platforms. And of course, me being based here and coming from the world of insurance as well played a significant part to bring the businesses together. 

“If you think about it from a macro perspective, health and insurance are very much intersected. And at its core, we believe that insurance is one of the largest contributors to any health strategy.”

Samir: Got it. Makes a lot of sense. If you take a step back and think about Symbo as a platform, so health is a big part of it, as you just mentioned, but I would love if you could talk a little bit about how you guys are working with the insurance incumbents first and maybe some of the other platforms you’ve engaged with.

Adrit: Yeah, of course. So Symbo works very closely with incumbents. We recently partnered with one of the largest multinational insurers in Indonesia and Malaysia. It’s just an example where we’ve been able to use our low code technology platform and deploy that for the incumbent insurer to enable an agency distribution strategy in Indonesia and an affinity distribution strategy in Malaysia. And the approach that we take is having a local platform. It really allows us to enable the entire onboarding training…and ultimately the fulfillment of a policy issuance process for this channel for the specific part that we are working with. And the beauty of all of this is we are able to do it very quickly. So the go-to-market and the speed to market with regard to deploying a product and a platform can be within weeks. And that’s really the power of working with Symbo. 

“And the approach that we take is having a local platform. It really allows us to enable the entire onboarding training…and ultimately the fulfillment of a policy issuance process for this channel for the specific part that we are working with. And the beauty of all of this is we are able to do it very quickly. So the go-to-market and the speed to market with regard to deploying a product and a platform can be within weeks.”

Samir: Got it. So within our region Southeast Asia, there’s been a recent focus or highlight on what we call banking-as-a-service. Folks coming in and trying to change the tech stack of the large banking incumbents, what you’re doing with insurance incumbents is rather similar. But my question is how are insurance incumbents thinking about their stack? And what part of that are you guys coming in to improve, to bring them into the 21st century, and to enable them to launch those agents or affinity-based programs in a better way?

Adrit: Let me take a step back. I love the question around banking and the comparison to what’s happening in the banking world. I believe insurance still has a long way to go before it becomes sexy. If you think of banking, banking has evolved to a point of what I would consider reasonably sexy. So I think with that thesis of mine, and then your question is valid, it’s what are incumbents really doing? And where is the disruption happening? And when you look at traditional incumbents and having come from one, I used to be at AIG and RSA as Paulo mentioned, the technology platforms that are currently there are extremely old, extremely clunky. There’s a fundamental problem with what I call friction, which is it’s an inefficient way of transacting with partners and with clients. And then you’ve got this complete ability to digitize that. So wherever you’re seeing the transformation really happening, it’s towards the last mile. And what I mean by the last mile is how do you look at the actual interaction and transaction between your intermediaries and your end customer. And then how do you make that moment of truth when a customer needs to claim for their policy, how do you make all of that really efficient, and how do you make that frictionless? And I think that’s really where we are seeing the Symbo platform playing a part. That’s also where we’re seeing a lot of insurance companies focusing their digitalization strategy towards.

“There’s a fundamental problem with what I call friction, which is it’s an inefficient way of transacting with partners and with clients. And then you’ve got this complete ability to digitize that. So wherever you’re seeing the transformation really happening, it’s towards the last mile. And what I mean by the last mile is how do you look at the actual interaction and transaction between your intermediaries and your end customer…And I think that’s really where we are seeing the Symbo platform playing a part.”

Samir: And to drive the point a bit deeper here, what insurance products or distribution touchpoints are those insurance focusing on right now, and how are you enabling them to reach those? 

Adrit: So you’re obviously seeing the traditional products. You’ve got the P&C retail products as I call it, which is your property and casualty as a section under general insurance. And your usual suspects are motor, health, personal accident and these are sort of the large categories that we typically see insurers wanting to digitalize. There is a new area that I get really excited about, which is how do you think of relevant bite-sized products? And we call that point-of-need. And we’ve had some success working with brands in really enabling that strategy. But that’s really about how you look at a low ticket, couple of dollar-type products relevant for the customer at the time they are actually going through a purchase journey. And how do you then ensure that that is completely frictionless because otherwise the costs don’t make sense and those products could be anything. Those products could be products like shoe insurance, vision insurance, spectacle insurance, marathon insurance. And these are some of the innovative products that we introduced in a market like India, to sort of explore that space.

“There is a new area that I get really excited about, which is how do you think of relevant bite-sized products? And we call that point-of-need. And we’ve had some success working with brands in really enabling that strategy. But that’s really about how you look at a low ticket, couple of dollar-type products relevant for the customer at the time they are actually going through a purchase journey.”

Samir: That’s really interesting. I think most of the audience would be familiar with some of those microinsurance products being pushed by platform, like if we take China as an example, we have ZhongAn there. That is doing something similar and they’ve started with airlines, e-commerce, and the likes, right? Is this a reaction of the insurance incumbents to those platforms? Is this a way for them to be able to compete on a level playing field?

Adrit: Great question, Samir. I think it’s a combination of a few factors. You’re seeing a drive of digitalization that’s happening on the back of COVID. You’re seeing that digital distribution, in general, is moving from traditional channels to what we call this world of ecosystems. This world of commerce in general, where in markets like India and Indonesia, you’re seeing what I would call O2O which is the online to offline, or perhaps phygital, which is physical and digital distribution networks really beginning to play a part. So to your point, it’s a component that the insurers are thinking about in terms of diversifying their distribution channels. And it’s the right time. We’re seeing the disruption having happened with COVID and using technology as a core component to digitalize the process for these phygital points of interactions, is where some of the future of insurance distribution lies.

Samir:  Understood. And since you have your hands in two different ecosystems, talking a little bit about geographic difference is interesting here. What do you think fundamentally are the differences from a product and distribution perspective between India and Southeast Asia? 

Adrit: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the nuances of working in a market like India, which is over a billion people it’s huge in terms of its geographical scale. You’ve got multiple states representing multiple cultures, multiple languages. Not easy, I think that’s fundamentally, the point I’d make in a market like India. I think what it does allow us to do though Samir is to really learn from the complexities of scale, the complexities of how you truly deploy technology, deploy solutions, and then see if there’s an opportunity to replicate some of that in markets across Southeast Asia, which are actually similar. We see very similar markets here. When you look at Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, these are markets that come with complexities of scale, of size, of similar profile of demographics. And I think that’s where we’re really looking to leverage the two. Now, without a doubt there are differences. And we need to be very conscious of local cultures and local markets. And that’s something we always pay attention to when we start exploring new markets.

“Not easy, I think that’s fundamentally, the point I’d make in a market like India. I think what it does allow us to do though Samir is to really learn from the complexities of scale, the complexities of how you truly deploy technology, deploy solutions, and then see if there’s an opportunity to replicate some of that in markets across Southeast Asia, which are actually similar.”

Samir: You just mentioned the challenge of scaling across markets and maybe across products, for your insurance partners. Can you talk a little bit about one relevant example of where Symbo can come in and help that scale issue for your insurance incumbents. How do you help them with that? 

Adrit: Of course. So I think, you know, I’ve already given one example of how we worked with a large insurer in markets like Indonesia and Malaysia to take their distribution strategy to market in just a few weeks. So they were able to, in essence, take a product or multiple products to the Indonesian market, offering that through their traditional agency channel, but completely digitalized in the sense that the product was an app-based product that allowed their agents to be onboarded, trained, view the product and ultimately transact to their customers. Now I’ll give you a second example. And I think this is a really fun example that we see a lot of traction in. We were able to go to an existing brand, and really through our playbook that we’ve developed is to enable their insurance distribution strategy very quickly. Now, this was India’s largest spectacle retailer, and we were able to go to them, introduce a spectacle insurance product, which we were the first to market, with the platform being at its core, connecting the insurance company and the point-of-sale platform allowed us to actually offer a seamless customer experience, both on the policy issuance and the claims side. Now what this does is, it has four core impacts. The brand is able to introduce a new category to the market. The brand is able to drive incremental fee revenue. The brand suddenly starts seeing customer loyalty because the customer has to come back in case there’s a problem with their particular product, spectacles in this case. Where do they go if it breaks? They go back to the brand. And lastly, they start seeing an increase in their average order value. So it really becomes a unique holistic value proposition for a brand to be able to introduce a new category and drive revenue. 

Samir: That’s really interesting. And I think fundamentally just listening to you describing that effort with that spectacle marketplace, what’s interesting to note is that I feel like behind the vision of Symbo is that future where whatever you’re buying, whatever the asset size or the price of that asset that you’re buying, there should be an insurance product attached to it, right? You shouldn’t be going to two different places and have to go through cumbersome sales processes and filling up forms. Wherever you buy your car, there’s a Rodrian insurance waiting for you. And that’s the case, generally speaking, that should be the case for your house, that should be the case for your phone, there should be the case for spectacles, for your shoes, whatever you’re buying. What are you telling your clients that this future is going to happen no matter what, and they should be on board with it? 

Adrit: You’re seeing examples at the global level. You’re absolutely spot on. I think this is the future, this attachment approach, products looking at large scale distribution channels that have that customer loyalty already, I think this is going to be the future and I love giving the example of how Apple and Apple Care have really dominated the market in this space. And I used to have some exposure to that through my old work, but really it’s about going to the partners, the brands and understanding what their problems are. That’s the starting point. You’ve got to go in and say, “Okay guys, what is your fundamental problem right now? What are the components that you’re not able to solve for, from a perspective of customer engagement, potentially customer loyalty, potentially warranty or damage?” And at that point, you fall back and start curating a product that is relevant for that particular client or particular category. And that’s how we really influence the decision for them to look at us as a key partner. So when you start with solving a problem, you then end up having the right kind of outcomes. And we are seeing market-leading attachment rates. We’ve given you examples of, or at least from my perspective, I’ve seen examples of attachment rates in the most traditional sense of travel insurance, where it’s typically anywhere in the range of 20 to 25%. And on a good day. We’re seeing double that in terms of attachment rates. And we’re seeing that because ultimately we believe we’re solving a core problem for the brand and a core problem for the end customer. And then, as I said, the other key component has to be that this entire process is solved through a seamless technology platform. It’s gotta be a no-touch solution, not a low touch, but a no-touch solution. And to your point, Samir, when a customer buys something, they shouldn’t be filling up proposal forms. They shouldn’t be giving more information. It should all be readily available, pulled in real-time, and communicated to the customer in real-time. And that’s really where we’ve seen some of the earliest success points. 

“I think this is the future, this attachment approach, products looking at large scale distribution channels that have that customer loyalty already, I think this is going to be the future and I love giving the example of how Apple and Apple Care have really dominated the market in this space…It’s gotta be a no-touch solution, not a low touch, but a no-touch solution.”

Samir: This point around no-touch insurance is very interesting and it has a lot of implication in an industry where you have to do a lot of underwriting outside, you have to define a price for this policy, you have to manage a claim processing, aside from it, you have to be able to manage your brokers. You have to be able to manage your agents. So when you start thinking about doing micro-insurance for so-and-so products, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, what the client sees? Tell me a little bit about how you guys at Symbo are reinventing what’s behind like the rest of the insurance stack. 

Adrit: Yeah. So that’s where the magic happens, which is what you don’t see as the customer. And it’s really about having a very slick local platform with key API structures. Our APIs are key to what we do and that’s what forms our playbook. So our API allows us to plug into any point-of-sale platform. Our APIs are already plugged into the insurers, allowing for real-time policy issuance. And all of that is then subsequently plugged into a communication layer, which means when the end customer buys in this example, a product, in real-time, they get a message saying, “Dear Samir, thank you for your spectacle purchase. Please click here to activate your policy, or please click here to download your policy.” And all of that is done in real time, but that’s only possible if the backend or the API connectivity is absolutely seamless. And that’s what we pride ourselves on.

“So that’s where the magic happens, which is what you don’t see as the customer. And it’s really about having a very slick local platform with key API structures. Our APIs are key to what we do and that’s what forms our playbook. So our API allows us to plug into any point-of-sale platform.”

Samir: And so what’s next in that product stack? What remains to be developed for you? What would take the Symbo products to the next level? 

Adrit: Yeah, we’ve got a few things in the pipeline. I’m happy to share a couple of things. As I mentioned, one is how do you replicate a playbook like this with multiple large format partners in a market like India and we are in talks with the same category as spectacle. So we’re looking to do more in the spectacle space, of course. But then we’re looking to see similar products that wouldn’t need much amendment to a playbook. So we’re now embarking on a journey to look at shoes. And we’ve got a few large format partners that are ready to go there and largely the construct of the playbook, the technology platform, the process, and even the product is largely the same. And that’s really what we want to do. How do you replicate that? And the reality of this strategy is once we’ve done that, one of the things that we’re really keen to now begin to explore is to pick a category, like say spectacles, and look at scaling that globally. And that is sort of our next phase of thinking, which is partnering with an insurer that can support us globally, ensuring the technology is robust enough, that can be rolled out in a seamless, slick API-led manner, and ensure that that is completely built into a playbook that can be replicated instantaneously in any country. So that’s really what we want to start looking to do.

Samir: So if you put all of this together, what would Symbo look like in the next five years? 

Adrit: That’s a great question, I wish I had a crystal ball. But I think we’re really excited to be in the space. I believe insurtech disruption is at its tip only. And I think we are in the right space in the right region. Let me give you two data points and then I’ll tell you what I think we are going to be. We’ve seen insurance penetration in this region to be nowhere less than two to 3%. We’re seeing insurance growth rates anywhere in the 10 to 12%. That just demonstrates that the opportunity is humongous. From our perspective, we want to leverage large-format phygital partnerships in the region because we believe the physical component is here to stay in our region and using digital platforms enables seamless distribution of insurance. That’s really what we want to do — build large format, phygital partnerships. We want to enable the right kind of bite-sized products. We want to solve the problem of friction. We want to solve the problem of under-insurance and ultimately financial inclusion, because we believe that these are areas to impact. And impact in the right way by driving distribution, growing distribution, and then scaling it across the region. 

“From our perspective, we want to leverage large-format phygital partnerships in the region because we believe the physical component is here to stay in our region and using digital platforms enables seamless distribution of insurance. That’s really what we want to do — build large format, phygital partnerships.”

Rapid Fire Round

Top 3 Skills of a CEO?

Vision, clear communication and having a collaborative approach. 

Leader / CEO you look up to?

That lots by the way. But I think I’m going to go with Jack Ma. It really resonates with sort of the way he’s approached the complex construct of China [and] the fact that he was turned down a lot of times. If you read his history in terms of the number of jobs that he was turned down from, and I think it just demonstrates the kind of perseverance someone needs to have to be a leader. 

Favorite book/podcast/movie?

Let’s go with the movie. I want to go with something fun. I want to go with Jungle Book and I want to go with the 1967 version. I think it’s the one movie that I watch with my kids, so it works really well. [The 1967 version] just takes me back to my childhood and it’s something that I watched when I was a kid and I really find that it’s a great, honest movie that you can watch with your children. So it’s a lot of fun.

Childhood dream? What did you want to be when you grew up?

I think at some stage I’d probably wanted to be a pilot. I think most kids go through a phase of wanting to fly something or fly themselves. So I think at that point, a pilot.

Biggest misconception insurance players have about digitalization?

They think it’s the holy grail. They think digitalization will solve all their problems. The reality is it won’t. There are a lot of other things to really think about, the process being one of the key things, adoption being another, but typically, you know, people in the incumbent space would think that digitalization solves everything, but it doesn’t. 

What favorite item at home would you have insured if you could for free?

I actually have home insurance, thankfully. But if I had to get something insured, I think I’d like to get my dog insured. He’s a bit old and I think it’s very difficult to find insurance for a 13 and a half-year-old pug.

Favorite Southeast Asian delicacy?

I think you can’t go wrong with the chicken rice in Singapore. I think it’s one of the best you’re gonna get. And I know there’s a competition between Malaysia and Singapore, but I’m going to have to say that the chicken rice here is fantastic. 

Go-to activity to de-stress?

Running. I’ve used the time through COVID to recalibrate and really spend between two to three times a week going for a run. And that really clears my head. 

Anything you’d like to plug or share to our listeners?

We’re really excited we’ve closed our Series A raise and obviously thanks to you guys for being part of that. The big thing to watch for now is we are approaching what I call the disciplined pursuit of doing less, with focusing and doubling down on our core strategy of platform and affinity and you’re going to see a few announcements of some large partnerships, both across our platform and affinity space and we invite anybody who is interested in that to reach out and have a chat with us. 

Anything you’d like to ask Samir?

What does Insignia look for when you invest in early stage ventures? 

Samir: We simply put a picture of you during our meeting and we say, “Oh, you essentially need to have the quality of this guy. You need to figure it out yourself.” That’s our benchmark, essentially. So the bar is extremely, very, very high, obviously. 

Thank you so much Adrit for coming on On Call with Insignia. Thanks to my co-host Paolo for this episode. I appreciate you taking the time to walk us through the Symbo story and then how you are changing the life of insurance incubators around the world.

About our guest

Adrit Raha is co-CEO and co-founder of Symbo Insurance. He was also CEO of Vivant, which was acquired by Symbo, a fellow AJ Capital incubatee. Prior to leading Symbo and Vivant, Adrit has had more than a decade of experience working at leadership positions with leading global insurance organizations AIG and RSA and financial institutions like Wells Fargo Financial. He completed his Bachelors in Arts at Knox College and received his MBA from the University of Strathclyde.

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