Insurtech firm Acko is in talks to raise $200 million, we report exclusively, in a round that will propel the company into the unicorn club. We explore why the sector is booming in India and around the world.
Also in this letter:
- Govt-Twitter spat could escalate over map
- Bus aggregator Shuttl likely to shut down
- Quadria to invest $400-500 million in India
Why insurtech is booming worldwide and especially in India
‘Insurtech’ is short for technology-led insurance startups. It’s a subset of the larger fintech sector, at the intersection of insurance and technology, where companies focus on manufacturing, distributing and aggregating insurance policies.
For ages, insurance has been sold as a push product by agents in India. Now one can buy insurance cover using mobile apps. There are also insurtech startups that specialise in actuarial or risk discovery models. Some up and coming insurtech firms in India are Digit, Acko, Policybazaar, Plum and Coverfox.
Acko, in talks to raise $200 million, is sure to raise eyebrows, as the funding will also propel the five-year old firm to the much-coveted unicorn club. Digit was valued at $1.9 billion earlier this year. Insurtech Plum raised $15.6 million last month, in a round led by Tiger-Global. Policybazaar has stated its ambitions to go public.
Why is insurtech booming? Experts believe that increased occurrences and documentation of both global and hyper-local catastrophes—think Beirut explosion, Cyclone Amphan, Australian wildfires, and of course, the coronavirus pandemic—has irreversibly changed risk perception in the minds of consumers.
While traditional insurance firms have borne the brunt of these catastrophes, they have acted as tailwinds for the sector as well. In India specifically, there is an unprecedented surge in demand among consumers for health and term life insurance—a trend mirrored in Southeast Asia and Africa. Even segments that were earlier obscure in India, such as property insurance, are seeing a massive demand, according to industry experts.
In fact, according to Boston Consulting Group, property and casualty (P&C) insurance was the highest-funded category of insurtech in 2020, mopping up $3.4 billion, or about 45% of the total funding. It was followed by health insurance ($2.1 billion, 29%), multiline insurance ($1.6 billion, 22%) and life insurance (about $300 million, 4%).
The ease of pricing one’s own risk, paying a nominal fee that can assure a much larger payout, and the convenience of buying insurance through an app make insurtech one of the most promising sectors in India.
Global buzzword: In 2020, the growing sector attracted deals worth over $7.5 billion globally, as per a BCG report, making it one of the fastest growing sub-sectors in fintech. This momentum is expected to increase significantly in 2021.
Insurance as a concept is new to several consumer markets in the world, including India. Those that have been following China and the jaw-dropping growth of Zhong An, a pioneer in this space, would understand the potential.
Mega funding rounds: This has resulted in a sharp surge in demand among risk investors for a piece of these companies. Insurtech sector is seeing huge funding rounds across the world like never before.
The three largest rounds in 2020 were, according to BCG:
- A $500 million Series E round for Bright Health, which offers individual, family, and medical plans in 43 markets across 13 states in the United States.
- A $500 million private equity round for UK-based Ki Insurance—a fully digital and algorithm-driven insurance syndicate incubated by Brit, Google, and University College London.
- A $350 million Series E round for US-based Hippo, a digital insurer offering insurance products for homeowners.
Other investments of prominence in recent times also include a massive $650 million round by Berlin-based Wefox, valuing the firm at $3 billion. Besides fundraising at high valuations, young insurrection firms are also going public in the US.
Last year, SoftBank-backed Lemonade Inc. went public and has a market cap of $6.5 billion. Others like Palo Alto-based home-insurance tech startup Hippo is planning to go by merging with a SPAC or special purpose acquisition company, valuing it at $5 billion.
The one company to have defined the online-only insurance segment is China’s Zhong An, after which similar platforms have emerged in the US, Europe and in India.
Govt’s spat with Twitter could escalate over map
The ongoing dispute between the government and Twitter could escalate further after it emerged that the social media platform’s website showed Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh as separate countries and not part of India.
The microblogging platform later removed the distorted map.
An official, who did not wish to be named, said the government is contemplating taking action on the issue. “This is the second time Twitter has shown the wrong map of India. Earlier it had shown Leh as part of China,” the official said.
Recap: Last November, the government had issued a notice to Twitter for showing Leh as part of Jammu and Kashmir and not the Union Territory of Ladakh.
The government alleged that depicting Leh as part of J&K was a “deliberate attempt by Twitter to undermine the will of the sovereign Parliament of India which had declared Ladakh as a Union Territory of India with its headquarter in Leh”.
Twitter vs govt: Twitter briefly locked Indian IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s account on Friday, citing US copyright infringement laws, and warned his account could be suspended if he posted more copyrighted videos. We reported on Monday that the music federation that made the complaint said that “unlike other social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube”, Twitter has not taken a license for music content.
- On May 31, Twitter told the Delhi High Court that it was appointing Dharmendra Chatur as its interim grievance redressal officer, as required by the new IT rules. Chatur quit his role yesterday. The company has now appointed Jeremy Kessel, its global legal policy director, as its grievance officer for India. The new rules, however, require the person to be resident in India.
- Last month, Twitter tagged certain tweets by BJP leaders containing a forged document as manipulated media. This sparked a huge controversy, with the government accusing Twitter of not complying with the new IT rules.
Tweet of the day
App-based bus aggregator Shuttl is shutting down, sources say
App-based bus aggregator Shuttl is the latest company to be laid low by the pandemic. The Gurugram-based startup is shutting down, sources told us, as demand for transportation services remains depressed.
Shuttl, which was backed by Amazon, is reported to have laid off a big chunk of its team. Last year, too, the company had fired around 40 people and cut salaries to stay afloat.
In a tweet thread on Sunday, Shuttl co-founder Amit Singh said the company has taken a “tough but practical call” that takes the best care of its team, customers, partners and shareholders.
“The call is to join forces with another entity. An entity that’s less impacted by Covid & can better tide over these challenging times. We are in serious discussions with some companies, Indian & International, to merge to become a stronger force,” Singh tweeted.
Mobility sector in the doldrums: Even for large ride-hailing platforms like Uber and Ola, the pandemic has been tough. After a recovery following the first wave last year, ride-hailing volumes were increasing gradually but were again hit hard by the second wave.
In May we reported, citing RedSeer data, that the mobility sector clocked around 78 million rides in March, 69% of what it had recorded in pre-Covid-19 months in 2019. The sector is expected to see a further drop of 30-40% in demand in the coming months, the report said.
Quadria Capital to invest $400-500 million in India in next two years
Quadria Capital plans to deploy $400-500 million (Rs 2,972-3,670 crore) in India over the next 18-24 months, said a senior executive at the firm. The largest healthcare-focused fund in Asia, it has announced two investments in Indian companies in the past week.
- Last week, the fund invested Rs 450 crore in disposable hygiene products maker Nobel Hygiene. On Monday, it said it would be investing $100-120 million in Encube Ethicals, a contract development and manufacturer of topical drugs.
The latest funding round will see existing investors Multiples Alternate Asset Management Pvt. Ltd. (Multiples) exit Encube, which is now valued at around $800 million. The deal involves $15-25 million of primary capital, which the company will use to launch a new line of products.
The promoters have also sold some shares in the company to take some money off the table. With this deal, Quadria will be a significant minority partner with almost 25% stake in the company along with its co-investors.
Other Done Deals:
■ Jitendra Gupta’s neobank Jupiter has acquired Y Combinator-backed money saving app Easyplan. This is the company’s second acquisition after Mitter.io in 2019 and will allow Jupiter to expand its customer base and enhance its saving and investment capabilities.
■ Mastercard has invested an undisclosed amount in Instamojo, a Bengaluru-based digital solutions provider for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The investment is aimed at digitising and scaling millions of MSMEs and gig workers by helping them set up online stores, accept digital payments and reach out to customers.
■ Fleet management solutions company LocoNav Inc. said it has raised $37 million in a Series B funding round led by Quiet Capital, Anthemis Group and Sequoia Capital India. The funds will be used to expand to other markets, build additional partnerships and channels, and make strategic acquisitions.
Once Acko’s $200-million fundraise is confirmed, it will join the following companies as the 14th Indian startup unicorn of 2021.
Kerala High Court dismisses petition seeking ban on WhatsApp
The Kerala High Court has dismissed a writ petition that had called upon the central government to ban WhatsApp for allegedly not complying with the country’s revised IT rules.
What was the petition? Filed by software engineer Omanakuttan KG, the petition said that false information is widely circulated on the platform and that it is used for various criminal activities, and that WhatsApp must be compelled to share information that would help trace the source of unlawful activities.
The bench of chief justice S Manikumar and justice Shaji P Chaly, however, said it was premature and that it should be the job of investigating agencies and courts to decide whether messages from WhatsApp could be used as evidence or not.
The rules: The IT Rules 2021, which came into effect on May 26, mandate that “significant social media intermediaries” such as WhatsApp should be able to trace the origin of any message sent on its platform that the government deems problematic.
WhatsApp, however, has said this traceability requirement would force it to keep track of every message because it cannot predict which ones the government will want it to trace. This would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermine people’s right to privacy, “effectively mandating a new form of mass surveillance”, it said.
WhatsApp sued the government in the Delhi High Court last month over the new IT Rules. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad later claimed the government had no intention of violating the privacy of individuals.
Another important development: The Delhi High Court refused to stay the new IT rules, which also seek to regulate digital media. It was hearing a petition by The Foundation for Independent Journalism (The Wire), Quint Digital Media Ltd. and Pravda Media Foundation (Alt News). The court has now listed a plea for stay before the roster bench on July 7.
WhatsApp’s new India payments head: WhatsApp has officially announced the appointment of Manesh Mahatme as head of its payments business in India. ET had reported this move in March.
Mahatme was previously director at Amazon Pay India, leading its product, engineering, and growth teams. He’s also had stints at Airtel and Citibank, and over 17 years of experience in the digital financial services and payments industry.
Nasscom chairperson on what’s driving IT growth
A rising appetite for digital transformation, more focus on automation, and industrialisation of artificial intelligence is driving the growth in Indian IT sector, Rekha Menon, chairperson of Nasscom said in an interview.
Menon, who is the first woman chairperson of Nasscom, discussed a wide range of topics including the ongoing debate between the government and social media platforms, the roadmap of the IT lobby group and cultural challenges that might arise out of remote work.
Govt vs social media: While compliance is vital, there is also a need to understand the challenges in the current rules or legislations and decriminalise offences, Menon said. “This will require a strong industry-government partnership to build the right processes and a sustainable and robust framework for higher accountability”
Sustaining growth: Talent and skill development must become a national priority. “We need to reimagine the future of work for our industry, drive business model reinvention to bolster business continuity, and expand ecosystem partnerships to drive value creation for our clients’ businesses”.
Other Top Stories We Are Covering
Wipro-Boeing partnership: A Wipro Aerospace unit is acquiring the manufacturing facilities of Boeing supplier TECT Aerospace Group Holdings for $31 million, as the Indian IT firm looks to deepen its engagement with the US aircraft maker.
Exotel-Ameyo merger: Cloud telephony company Exotel and contact centre software provider Ameyo have entered into a definitive agreement for a merger, as the two firms look to join forces to address the fast-growing market for cloud-based contact centre services.
Social commerce push: Firework, a business-to-business (B2B) short-video platform based in the US, has launched a live stream e-commerce solution that allows businesses and brands to sell products through live shoppable videos and live streams on their own websites.
Global Picks We Are Reading
■ Facebook goes boring. Yes! (NYT)
■ Republicans’ new plan to tax Big Tech (Axios)
■ Fired by bot at Amazon: ‘It’s you against the machine’ (Bloomberg)