Can insurance giants compete with FinTechs?

Marnix Zwart, serial insurance industry innovator, shares the future trends he’s excited by and – crucially – what he thinks Aegon can do to stay ahead of the competition – both new and traditional.

Marnix Zwart, Senior Vice President Product and Business Development GoBear

Marnix Zwart, Senior Vice President Product and Business Development at Aegon's Asia joint venture partner GoBear, and former co-founder of Aegon's innovation test-bed - insurer Kroodle, shrugs off the notion that he's a 'serial innovator', preferring to think of himself as a 'builder'.

"So many FinTechs are in operation because banks and insurance companies haven't moved toward online, app and mobile business at the speed the consumer has," he says. Most insurers are held back by legacy systems, traditional agency channels and a potential channel conflict.

Over the past two years, through his work with GoBear, Marnix has spoken to almost every major insurance company and bank, and believes that "Aegon is one of the most advanced of the big insurers in terms of mentality, and methods, but must improve its time to market and product development.

"Unlike more mature businesses, FinTechs start development with the assumption that consumers will go online. That's why maintaining your account online and carrying out transactions is so important. I don't believe regulators are holding insurers back, they just need clear explanations."

50 Best innovators

Earlier this year Marnix attended DIABarcelona, a two-day conference which connects 'insurtech' innovators to stimulate the digital. At the event GoBear was selected as one of the '50 best innovators'.

Launched in Singapore last year, GoBear has already expanded into five more Asian markets. Marnix puts this success down to being the only unbiased metasearch engine for financial products anywhere in the world. "Other comparison websites collect commission from purchases. However, if you go to Tripadvisor or Kayak for instance, you search on one website, and buy on another," he says.

Modular approach

"For a lot of people in Asia, this is the first time they have encountered financial services and our aim is to keep it simple. We show the commission charges – which can be as high as 50% – and tailor searches to suit the budget.

"Increasingly you will see modular products," says Marnix. By way of example he points to TROV, an on-demand insurer which insures specific items, like an iPad, car or a bike, based on photographs sent from your phone.

Other innovators that have caught Marnix's eye are FinanceFox and Knip. "These are good examples of the revolution in distribution and conversational search. The end user has no idea they are 'talking' with an aggregator engine – but in setting up your profile and answering 'chat' you get a personal response based on thousands of possibilities. A call center agent simply can't compete against that.

Robo advisors improving daily

"These 'robo advisors' are constantly learning. The conversation is open, you don't have to go to the website or pick up the phone," says Marnix, "and you would never know you are not chatting with a human being."

Marnix points out that the minute Facebook announced it would be offering conversations in Messenger, GoBear started building conversational search in Facebook. It will also launch a GoBear shop on Asian chat app, Line.

Cultural shift

Though he admits that change and agility can be more easily adapted in a small company compared to a large global insurer like Aegon, he says the first step toward innovation is to "believe that it's possible.

"It can be easy to accept the first 'no' you receive. There are set backs all the time, but you need to seek out like-minded people with the same vision."

Innovation tips from GoBear

  • Always adapt. GoBear constantly tweaks and improves. "We do not just launch a product once" says Marnix.
  • Open to all. Everyone who joins GoBear is asked to bring in interesting apps or websites they like even if they are not finance related.
  • Brainstorming. GoBear holds a monthly innovation session for all to discuss new topics and ways to improve.
  • Keep it fresh. Everyone at GoBear spends between 5-10% of their time on new things and idea development.
  • Always test. Measure and Test everything
  • Get feedback continues from users. Localize and improve all the time