PROFILE: ENTREPRENEUR BEN WEBSTER
This insurtech pioneer keeps finding new ideas for businesses that solve people’s basic problems.
Insurtech entrepreneur Ben Webster predicts a future in which incumbent insurers work in partnership with start-ups, but he also warns there is still some way to go.
Webster, a speaker at ANZIIF’s Insurtech Conference in February, has founded three insurtech companies — Insured By US, Agile Underwriting Services and 365 Roadside Assistance — and leads the Insurtech Australia Working Group. He says the frank, off-the-record conversations he has with incumbents show that they realise their internal structures stifle innovation and that they need to partner externally.
Insurtech start-ups are often advised to become authorised representatives (AR) of a larger insurer or to work with an incumbent and use a product that the incumbent has already developed. But Webster says difficulties often arise from such arrangements.
‘I had a number of products go live with some global incumbent general insurers, but they were all chopped in the space of two months, for internal political reasons,’ he says.
‘By giving away the weighty compliance overhead, you’re also giving away the value chain. You can’t innovate with the underwriting product — you’re driven by what the [insurance partner] provides you.’
Despite the challenges, Webster asserts there are examples of strong partnerships out there, such as Munich Re’s Digital Partners, whose model he describes as ‘ahead of the pack’.
Some start-ups have managed to take back more of the value chain as their business models solidify, he notes. Examples include Cover Genius, as well as Bought By Many in the UK.
TRAINING FOR MANAGEMENT
Webster says he was lucky to get his start in insurance as a team member at World Nomads and Travel Insurance Direct, both of which were highly innovative companies before the word ‘insurtech’ existed. ‘We built Travel Insurance Direct from nothing to go live and beyond,’ he recalls.
Despite his parents’ conventional occupations — his mother a primary school teacher and principal, his father a partner in a mid-sized accounting firm — they gave him many of the tools for a start-up life. His father encouraged him to visit the firm. ‘I didn’t realise when I was young that I was picking up management style and management tips from my father,’ he says now. ‘He is very approachable, always had the respect of his staff members. But they saw from his diligence and conscientiousness that he set a high standard.’
Webster married those standards to an entrepreneurial spirit and started his own digital services consultancy after leaving World Nomads. From there, he moved on to risk and insurance. ‘I think I am attracted to problems and challenges that most people aren’t,’ he says.
For him, that is more likely to mean an unglamorous business like roadside assistance, rather than a hot social media start-up. For instance, he admires Accident & Health International and its former CEO, David Epper, who sold his business to CGU in 2015. ‘I like stories about people you may never have heard of, running great businesses that are flying under the radar.’
When you first start ‘you stay awake worrying about making payroll’, he says but difficulties change over time. His biggest challenge has been a co-founder leaving: ‘It’s like a marriage ending.’
Insured By Us realises the opportunity that Webster and his co-founders saw to roll out travel insurance more quickly than competitors.
‘The data and metadata that we collect in our data warehouse helps underwriters modify and hone their product over time, and drive better pricing and outcomes for customers,’ Webster says.
As he wanted to be a dad who is an active presence in his children’s lives, Webster’s company is ‘remote first’ to provide all staff with flexibility.
‘We have teams in 11 time zones around the world; even the team here in Sydney only comes into the office about two days a week,’ he says.
Webster still interviews a variety of customers each fortnight, as well as underwriter pricing administrators and agents who use the platform. That data is the driver of new ideas. But, he says, he keeps finding new data that upsets previous interpretations. ‘Insurance,’ he says, ‘is an ever-evolving puzzle that I will never solve.’
TWO- MINUTE BIO
Insured By Us and Agile Underwriting Services
Founder and co-founder
Webster’s professional life has seen him apply an entrepreneurial spirit to numerous ventures, spanning the worlds of UX, data, marketing, start-ups and insurance.
University of Sydney, BA, Philosophy, Literature
Beyond the day job
Webster is a lead at Insurtech Australia, a not-for-profit division of FinTech Australia, which focuses on insurtech start-ups, insurers, accelerators and investors.
My ANZIIF moment
Webster was a speaker at ANZIIF’s Insurtech Conference in Sydney in February this year.
His father Robert Webster: the accountant allowed his son to visit his firm, where he learnt valuable management skills.