“I would differentiate digital transformation from digital innovation. We are strongly focusing on the latter” -Sabine VanderLinden

From Collaboration to Co-creation: InsurTechs’ Next State of Play Sabine VanderLinden, CEO, Startupbootcamp InsurTech

Robin, it was a pleasure seeing you at ITC2018. It was invaluable opportunity for gaining a good summary of the trends and market views for the year ahead. Thank you for now giving me a chance to add some learning’s to your acclaimed blog.

 Having shared one of the first InsurTech accelerator programs in Europe, and being involved within the InsurTech space for over three years now, I hope I have a few interesting insights to share. 


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To start with, what are the top 3 books you would recommend those interested in innovation and collaboration should read and what are the top 3 tech gadgets one needs to own?

Working with both start-ups and corporates, my team and I review an overwhelming amount of research materials. I would undoubtedly recommend the InsurTech book (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy  and in Spain) which I co-edited and which has been authored by an amazing group of writers, able to bring exceptional actionable insight. However, beyond this I would highly recommend: 

  1. The Future of Competition, C.K. Prahalad & V. Ramaswany (available in Germanyin the US, in the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain): Published in 2004 after six years in the making, this book is a valuable source of inspiration for current digital trends. The authors argue that the roles of the corporation and the consumer converge, creating new sources of value from networked market participation. Four building blocks are required to achieve co-creation: dialogue, access, risk assessment and transparency.
  2. The Corporate Startup, Viki, Toma & Gons (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain): Big companies need to innovate or die. We have seen so many cases where this statement is so true. Large firms need to unlearn bad habits ingrained from the past. This book provides strategies, tools and techniques to deliver innovation from within. Another recent article underlying this ethos is The End of Bureaucracy by Gary Hamel.
  3. Venture Deals, B. Feld and J. Mendels (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain): This is a fantastic reference material relied on by our 600+ accelerated startups, and 50+ accelerated InsurTech startups, on how to manage VCs, gain focus and be founded. 

Like many readers of your blog posts, my top tech gadgets include an iPhone (available in Germany, US, UK, France, Italy and Spain), an iPad and a pair wireless headphone. They enable connectivity which is unsurpassable. I would, however, futuristically, also recommend a piece of smart-jewellery, clothing or shoes.  The likes of Apple and Nike are in the early stages of development, but I can see them being invaluable items for the future. 

As a renowned InsurTech rockstar how do you manage fame, followers, and friends?

Thank you very much for the recognition, particularly as there are so many worthy *InsurTech Rockstars*!

When my audience was focused on Europe, it was of course more manageable. However, the very nature of a fan-base means that at some point it will scale borders. As we have opened up to a more international focus, with it has come a growth in the sheer volume of insurers, startups and investors reaching out to know more about the movement, our work and points of view.  To give some idea, I have 1000 backlog messages on social media alone.

As a result, I have had to make some changes to meet the needs of my growing audience whilst still retaining focus and value. By nature, I will always be responsive and central to the engagement with our followers. However, I now rely more on a team of like-minded individuals who can support me getting my messages, communication and engagement across, without me spinning too many plates! 

This allows the best of both worlds. I can focus on instrumental content, engagement and discussion, whilst also achieving what I want in terms of taking care of my team, global travel and of course, being with friends and family. 

So as concerns the three F’s:

Fame: Though the term doesn’t sit easily with me, we absolutely focus on engagement and inspiration. We want companies to act and innovate. Our name can help this. However, more important is nurturance to enable them to accept guidance, benefit from insight, and accept recommendations.  

Followers: My followers are primarily found on LinkedIn & Twitter. LinkedIn provides an ideal platform for meeting deep business engagement needs, whilst Twitter is an avenue for spurring people on and keeping in the loop.

Friends: Conversely, Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp are where I meet at a ‘friends’ level. Have you seen my food pictures?! Here is my social side. Being French, this tends to revolve around my love of food and extremely good wine. So when I’m not stuck on a plane, I always make time to put my cordon bleu trained skills to work for my friends. 

What is your analysis of the #insurtech ecosystems between Europe and the US?

As many know, we have two main programs at this stage: Startupbootcamp InsurTech London and Hartford’s InsurTech Hub Accelerator

There are approximately 40% of InsurTech startups coming from the US, and 30% coming from Europe. The UK delivers the most significant number of emerging new ventures across EU markets, in fact, three times more than other EU markets.  

Interestingly, as European insurers look for new mechanisms to re-invent the way they do business, there seem to be more European start-ups emerging every day. These startups are largely focused on solving challenges across the operations, the value chain, and business models, while also leveraging data from adjacent industries. European investors tend to be more cautious with their investment approaches, offering often smaller ticket sizes than US investors.

Differences include:

  • Culture & Ecosystem: Back in early 2015, I read one of many US articles, stating that Insurance was ripe for disruption. There is a higher risk tolerance in the US, due to a stronger investment culture, an opportunistic attitude to investing and ability to invest in large deals. This means that the startups can get higher value investments. In Europe, investors prefer to see proof of traction before putting their money forward. This is a fascinating difference culturally which impacts the whole industry.
  • Regulation: The European regulators, and in particular the UK’s FCA, has encouraged innovative thinking with the Regulatory Sandbox. The US has 50 regulators to convince. This makes for a very different regulatory playing field.

Still New York, despite its heavy regulatory framework, has seen many well-known startups emerged including: Oscar, Lemonade, PolicyGenius, Slice Labs, Jetty, Blueprint Income, Adapt Ready, Heaven Life, Sureify among others. 

On a personal note, I feel extremely privileged to be working with Commissioner Wade in Hartford, Connecticut. Commissioner Wade has been extremely forward thinking, helping us to determine how best our startups could align to the US regulation.

  • Market Makers: I very much like this quote from Liam Gray within my team: “Investors are making the market in the US, while insurers make the market in Europe”.

This sums up how the two markets are working to bolster each other. It is true that what makes a difference for any startup, is the funding they receive to get started and to scale. This has been far greater in the US than it has ever been in Europe. 

However, to grow sustainably, these businesses (particularly the B2B ones) need the reinsurers, insurers and brokers with all the skills and resources they have to offer across the insurance value chain.

It’s a wonderful balance.

  • Shift from front office to back office: In the first year of the program, a lot of startups focused their attention on the customer engagement layer. As they learnt more about the challenges faced by insurance companies, they gradually shifted their attention to other operational layers of the insurance business: the value chain; and now the full business model.

It will take time to really refine those business models that will have a massive impact on the insurance market. We have started working on those. And it is a really fun and exciting arena.

More can be found within this article we commissioned Tom Flack to co-write with me, while leveraging our internal primary and secondary data.

How are they responding to advent of new strategies, business models and emerging technologies? What new trends and used cases do you usually see in the environment?

I have been shaping an article on From Insurers to InsurTechs: The business models the business models that will shape insurance in the future, which I shall release during the course of the next few weeks. Here are some of my insights:

Many insurers are still working out how InsurTechs are affecting their value chain. Other, more advanced, players are trying to determine those business models which will completely recast the future of insurance. Among the many opportunities that are emerging, four business models seem to be taking central position:

Predictive: Where the strategic access, storing and mining of data allow the modelling of new behaviors which are capable of facilitating the design insight-driven solutions that are optimized, metered, analytical and real-time.  

Digital Mutual: Leverage the power of social ties to deepen experiences, reinforce a company’s authenticity, and encourage users to share common interests, activities and values.

Embedded: Provides capabilities that integrate within one’s business environment but also with the business environment of others to ease unique transactions. The capabilities operate as a series of components that speed the long-term benefits to be achieved from alliances.  

Radical Simplification: Simplify the way customers (or the business) do things by giving them tools that they did not use before. The goal is to simplify lifestyle and experiences.

What is your analysis of how the market and investors are responding to the #insurtech new business approaches? Are there still enough resources for early-stage insurtech startups?

My personal view is that too many investors and corporate venture capital funds are focusing their efforts on investing on more mature startups. This results in an equity gap for the earliest stage businesses, which is going in to the funnel. 

Also, many investors realize that if they are not known by the startups they are interested in, when these startups look for future funding, they may not be considered as potential investors at the later rounds/ stages. So this is where the dichotomy lies.

2018 has turned out to be an interesting year, but also a year symbolising a potential shift too.  $13bn+ will be invested in InsurTech startups to date. We are expecting 2018 to be the largest most invested year to date, with $4bn estimated investment. 

What I can see is that investors and insurers are regrouping to identify strategic investment which will deliver the right financial returns. We are seeing an interesting combination of drivers that are often seen as mutually exclusive.

In September of this year, I hosted a panel discussion at the Insurance of Internet conference with five investors, from early stage to late stage. Investors included: Chris Baker from Angel CoFund; Maxime Mandin from Blackfin Capital; Juliette Souliman from Octopus Ventures; Reece Chowdry from RLC Ventures; and Carmelo Spano from Start-up Funding Club. You can find the points of view that were discussed here.

Many traditional players struggle to adapt to the rapid change we witness today. How likely are they to embrace digital transformation? What are the most challenging hurdles? How do they overcome these? What can we expect in the next years? 

What do you think could flip things around?

I would differentiate digital transformation from digital innovation. We are strongly focusing on the latter. 

Digital transformation is the process of solving traditional problems with digital technologies.

Digital Innovation is the process of translating ideas into products and services that meet today and future customers’ needs.

To explain this better, this chart has proved very useful at many keynote presentations:

Organisations that are looking at innovation strategically and seriously need to consider 6 pillars of innovation and a combination of activities. They must combine a portfolio of incremental activities and disruptive activities.

As I took the stage at ITC2018, to discuss the topic of Disruption from Within, I felt very privileged to welcome on stage four experts in this area. Two were incumbent players and two were startups:

  • Dan Johnson – Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer & Head of Innovation – The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.
  • Beth Maerz – Vice President Customer Experience & Innovation Personal Insurance – Travelers.
  • Mylea Charvat – CEO and Founder – Savonix. 
  • Krish R Krishnan – CEO & Founder – Zasti.

We addressed the topic of disruption from within and whether this is indeed possible. You can find fascinating insights, recommendations and conclusions from our discussion in this article

Co-creation will become the main way the insurance sector, as well as many other industries, look to create sustainable value within their economies. In fact, I would argue it is impossible to create these businesses, solutions and innovation in any other way. We simply need the differently skilled and knowledgeable customers and partners in order to design, develop and launch acutely relevant product and service offerings. 

My social and personal responsibilities? 

Right now, I have a number of specific goals:

  • I am driven to give opportunities to talented entrepreneurs. This is made possible through our innovation programs and through internships within our international businesses and teams. We know young talents love our culture, and the flexibility we have developed. We’re passionate about helping them start and own their projects whilst developing their strengths.
  • I am avidly supporting PwC’s #TechSheCan & #womenintech initiatives. It is an important project aimed at identifying tomorrow’s female tech leaders, as well as understanding the issues they face. Supporting future women leaders to scale barriers, and work successfully despite current biases, is invaluable work if we want to harness the real talent of the future.
  • I am enthusiastic about educating my wider audience using simple to understand and relevant content, which will inspire many generations to come. Knowledge, foresight and forward thinking are all important to me. And when I wake every day, I remember to ask myself how I can make a difference.

What would you recommend young starting professionals?

Be curious. Be different. Be maverick. Challenge the status quo.

I recently had a call with the daughter of an executive friend located in Switzerland who is graduating from a top French business school. She was trying to work out how to select an internship that would matter for future employers, be beneficial for herself, but also that would balance a theoretical education with the right business knowledge. 

We talked about the options she was considering. One of them was with La French Tech working closely with Japanese and French startups! Then I had to be pragmatic and tell her to spend some time looking at three industries of her choice. Within these, I suggested that she needed to examine the market, the customer and technological changes occurring right now within those. Through this it is possible to work out some key patterns. 

I advised her, as I would anyone in the same situation, that these should be her platform to think about what to do next whilst enabling her to be unique. 

Certainly, the fabric of the corporate entity is changing at such fast pace and opportunities will therefore increase for young driven professionals. The key is spotting the patterns which are pretty similar across different industries. 

Some will want to jump on the start-up bandwagon whilst others will want to help large enterprises with their digital transformation and innovation journeys. There is undoubtedly a huge amount to do. And it is unlikely to look like today’s working environment or today’s job.

More about Sabine:

She is the CEO for Startupbootcamp InsurTech as well as a partner at Rainmaking, the home of Startupbootcamp InsurTech and Hartford InsurTech Hub. She works with leading insurers, investors and mentors, to bring the innovation of cohorts of startups to market and help corporate entities deliver effective innovation strategies via Rainmaking. 

Her career started at Lloyd’s of London, over 20 years ago. Through progression and learning, she gained operational and growth strategy expertise and was responsible for advising 100s of well-known financial services institutions when working for IBM, FICO and Pegasystems. 

Outside Rainmaking, she advises and coaches small businesses via her venture called, The Proposition Circle. She is a co-editor of the first crowdsourced c Book (available in Germanyin the USin the UKin Francein Italy and in Spain), which was published by Wiley on May 11, 2018. I am a top 50 InsurTech influencer. She is a board member for TIA Technology.

To Sabine, from all of us here in Digitalscouting – a big thank you and wishing you all the best!

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