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  • Andrew Work

Fintech O2O Insurtech: Upstarts and Heavyweights Learn to Live Together

Packed crowd at Fintech O2O: Insurtech

Insurtech players seem to know how to work together. The need for a regulatory shield means the new tech players know they need to work with the heavyweights.

The lawyers were doom and gloom and the entrepreneurs are building a better world. It was dueling optimists and pessimists at the Fintech O2O Insurtech event on Tuesday at Cyberport in Hong Kong. But no one was eating dinosaur carcasses at the insurtech confab.

The massive (>1,000,000sq ft) Hong Kong technology hub hosted over 200 people at the Fintech O2O Insurtech event. Insurtech entrepreneurs showcased their tech, regulators showed up to hear from industry and the global heavyweights of insurance waxed eloquent about the future they were building.

AIA’s Regional CEO Gordon Watson put in a surprise appearance, showcasing the importance senior insurance leaders in Asia are putting on making sure they are not only keeping up, but keeping ahead. The startups were the stars though.

The Fintech O2O: Insurtech panel, joined by NexChange CEO Juwan Lee

The stars

Hubert Tose of Convolab showcased their chatbots, designed by an AI heavy team including ex-IBM Watson people. They are already powering insurance company offerings in Hong Kong, China and Thailand from behind the scenes. Bob Charles of CXA outlined how their solutions were already being deployed to help customers not only get better life insurance, but lead healthier lives. Their previous round of $25 million USD of funding was funding their growth - with more to come as they prepare to conquer the world. Cyberport resident SeasonALife sent Michael Chan, a roboadvisor that is helping customers to quickly make smarter decisions about their insurance - and their lives. The actuarial heavy company is quick to reveal online that, in their profession, men without women die earlier - while women will find that living with a male partner reduces their life expectancy. Ouch.

That little jolt to the male ego didn’t deter investors and heavyweights mobbing the startups in the networking session that followed, alternately trying to learn from them and poke holes in their business model.

Lapman Lee on his feet as Christine Cheung of FWD gets on the mic

Heaviest of heavyweights

Global players were also keen on the cutting edge of insurtech. David Ng, Director of Commercial Digital Strategy of AIA, was undeterred by questions about brokers going broke - in short, being driven out of the business by technology. He sees technology as a means of enabling brokers, by reducing the drudgery of paperwork, leaving them free to spend more time on high value services to clients.

He spoke separately and on a panel with fellow practitioners. Lapman Lee, Managing Director (Compliance and Regulatory), Duff & Phelps, led a top notch panel of innovators to talk about what they were doing in the space. Christina Cheung (Assistant VP, Digital Commerce) of FWD Life Insurance discussed their driving app, Driveamatics, that can reduce premiums (post-purchase) by up to 30% as a reward for good driving. Marine Boris, Head of Innovation and Partnerships, AXA China was excited about the research being done in their labs in San Francisco and Shanghai that had the potential to transform the industry.

“Big data analysis and AI could lead to insurers knowing more about clients than they know about themselves and maybe even create whole new swathes of community that could be completely uninsurable."

The lawyers sounded the major words of caution. “There are also potential dangers in respect of how data is used!” says Bird & Bird Partner Padraig Walsh. He admitted that while more data is generally good, identified that privacy problems, data leakage and even political problems could arise. Big data analysis and AI could lead to insurers knowing more about clients than they know about themselves and maybe even create whole new swathes of community that could be completely uninsurable. Taking care of these people could fall back on the government and create civil discord.

He and University of Hong Kong associate professor Gary Meggitt both had words for Hong Kong’s Commissioner of Insurance, John Cheung, bravely sitting in the front row. Mr Walsh thought that he was the best regulator in Hong Kong - although he didn’t set the bar very high (‘The only regulator that doesn’t hang up when a Bird & Bird partner calls). His more serious compliments on their spirit of engagement (genuine!) came with a call for more transparency and communication from the regulator.

Later in the evening, Associate Professor Meggitt echoed that call. He called for much more transparency and communication if Hong Kong was going to move ahead of regional competitors and even lead on the global stage. He walked the talk though, by inviting the industry to Hong Kong University to speak and recruit, claiming they were AWOL on campus and losing out on the recruitment of more aggressive industries that came onto campus.

While in other branches of fintech, the camps split on those who think they will eat the carcass of finance dinosaurs and those who aim to serve them, there seemed to be a much more collaborative spirit among the startups and heavyweights in the insurtech space in Hong Kong.

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