A new Hong Kong insurtech, Seasonalife, has just introduced a tool to let independent brokers compare insurance products, which the founders see as the first step to a comprehensive business model akin to robo-advisory for insurance.
The comparison tool also has the potential to impact how insurance products are sold in Hong Kong: they tend to be complex and opaque structures wrapping insurance around an investment or savings vehicle. Seasonalife’s dashboards provide visually simple, apple-to-apples comparisons.
“Agents are sometimes shocked to learn the products they’re selling aren’t competitive,” said Fred Ngan, co-founder, who demonstrated the graphics to DigFin. (Ngan will be speaking at the AMTD-Lendit fintech conference in Hong Kong on July 10 – so you can ask him about this new business in person.)
The web-based dashboards debuted in May, and the company wants to focus on getting the 80,000-plus independent agents, brokers and financial planners to adopt it. However, Ngan says this is just the first step. The company is still wondering when and how to also market it to tied agents, who could use it for market research.
Further down the line, the company wants to branch into other functions. Product comparison sits between financial planning on one hand, and execution transactions on the other. Seasonalife’s executives envisage the platform extending into these areas.
What about the boast that it is Asia’s ‘first robo-advisor of insurance’, as seen on company website blurbs? “That’s the long-term vision,” Ngan said.
The company spun out of a consultancy, Coherent Capital Advisors, set up in 2013 by Eric Forgy. Ngan, an actuary with EY experience, and Michael Kwan Yu-chan, an actuarial consultant from PwC and EY, joined the firm in 2015. Coherent helps the asset-management arms of insurers achieve better risk-adjusted returns. Along with traditional asset-liability matching, Coherent’s advice also involves technology and innovation.
The company is funded by Coherent’s consulting business, and is strategically backed by HK X-Technologies, a venture investor and incubator backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital’s Neil Shen and Tencent’s Pony Ma.
“Seasonalife was created to focus on distribution and the front office,” Ngan said. “What’s on a CEO’s mind? Creating new sales channels and adding revenue.” One way to do that is empowering the people selling products, which is what Seasonalife’s platform aims to do.
Apples to apples
Unlike other digital comparison platforms in the market, such as CompareGlobal, Seasonalife is a B2B model, aimed at brokers, not end customers. Much of the work that went into designing the dashboard was making it possible to have a similar basis for comparing products sold by a variety of insurers.
It operates on a Software as a Service subscription model; brokers who buy the service give the company the various PDFs and other documentation of the products they are authorized to sell. The dashboards include not just all of the insurance features, but a clear way of comparing the savings and investment sides, including breakevens, payout values (both guaranteed and non-guaranteed), and fees.
For now, Seasonalife isn’t marketing their product. Ngan said he couldn’t tell what cost of customer acquisition looked like at this point, and is relying on word of mouth, at least for now. The independent agent world in Hong Kong is fragmented. There is only one broker with a large number of agents (Convoy Investment Services); other incorporated groups employ no more than 200 agents, and most have fewer than 50.
What will insurance companies think of this, particularly if the best-known brands turn out to have relatively poor products? Ngan’s other business, Coherent, still consults with many of them, in Hong Kong and regionally. He says CEOs support what he’s doing because he’s promoting the insurance business among brokers. But, he adds, “We’re still small.”
That said, he also says Seasonalife’s biggest competitor right now are in-house tools for product visualization and sales that insurance companies develop.
He and his partner prefer to move methodically, rather than race into new businesses with Seasonalife. “We’re actuaries – being cautious is in our genes,” he said, adding there is no plan to seek additional funding.
This article was amended to state that Coherent Capital was established by Eric Forgy in 2013.
This article originally appeared on July 8, 2017.