Investors view insurance as staid and ripe for disruption

Start-ups are attracting a wide range of backers
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As fast as entrepreneurs have been coming up with insurtech ideas, investors have been rushing to fund them.

Much of the backing is coming from traditional venture capitalists who see insurance — with its large, well-established incumbents and well-worn products — as fertile territory for disruption. 

“There have been more investors in the past year than there have in previous years,” says Matthew Wong of CB Insights, which analyses start-up fundraising. “You are seeing investors that have entered the VC ecosystem that weren’t around a few years ago. There are also fintech-focused investors such as Nyca Partners.”

The other big source of funding for start-ups is large insurance companies. “Quite a few of them are forming venture arms,” says Mr Wong. “Some of them see it as a financial opportunity but a lot are looking for strategic benefits. They are also investing in complementary technology such as connected devices.”

By investing in start-ups, insurers hope to have an early look at technology that could change the industry, while getting the opportunity to experiment with new products or services. By owning a stake in the start-ups, insurers also put themselves in a strong position to make an offer for any companies they see as particularly promising. 

Among the big US insurers that have established venture arms are MassMutual, Transamerica and American Family, while the big non-US names with venture arms include Axa, Allianz, XL and China’s Ping An. 

They have been busy in 2016. According to CB Insights, insurers made 27 investments in 2014 and 61 in 2015. This year they are on track to push that to 79. They are also getting more daring. While investments two years ago were fairly evenly split between early and late-stage funding rounds, this year the early stages have dominated. CB Insights points out that insurers have been particularly enthusiastic investors in companies developing technology for connected devices.

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