U.S. insurance technology startups are numerous and still very much in their early years. As is common with an emerging fintech segment, investor and public interest in the space is high despite the risky nature of startup investing. The insurtech space had a recent gauge of public investor interest with the IPO of lead aggregator EverQuote. While the IPO priced above its expected range, the stock’s performance since then has been lackluster, a disappointing sign for others looking to go public. But many startups are still many years away from that goal, and there might be more investor appetite for different business models. Unlike Netflix and other companies that have caused wholesale disruption in various industries, many insurtech startups are working with incumbents rather than trying to replace them. Incumbents are avid investors in insurtech companies, and the digital agency model relies heavily, for now at least, on partnerships with established underwriters. Of the different insurtech business models, digital agencies and underwriters continue to attract the most funding and therefore form the focus of our report. Though many facets of their business model are not revolutionary, they have added meaningful innovation in some key areas. Certain business lines appear more ripe for innovation than others. In private auto, for instance, the direct distribution model already has a firm foothold and therefore seems less vulnerable to disruption by startups. S&P Global Market Intelligence projects that premiums written in the direct response channel will exceed $90 billion by 2022 and that they will account for more than 30% of overall U.S. auto premiums. But if the direct model can be applied to other lines, such as small business insurance or life insurance, that might produce a more dramatic challenger to the incumbent writers of those lines.
Interest in the U.S. insurtech space has spiked in recent years, fed by a large crop of startup companies. It is too early to assess how successful most insurtech startups and their investors will be as many companies are only a few years old at this point. In S&P Global Market Intelligence’s coverage universe, the median age of U.S. insurtech companies — based on the year they were founded — is seven years. But the recent spate of startups is even younger than that. The years 2015 and 2016 were a particularly bountiful time; companies founded in those two years alone account for roughly 22% of the coverage universe.
Appetite for disruption
One of the textbook examples of industry disruption is Netflix, which drastically reshaped the distribution of entertainment, first through its DVD mail service and again through its on-demand streaming service. These changes brought about the demise of in-store video rental giant Blockbuster, which reportedly had the chance to buy Netflix for only $50 million in 2000.
We do not foresee the same kind of seismic changes coming for much of the U.S. insurance industry, since the fundamental distribution model is not changing. The startups covered in this report — both digital agents and fullstack companies — are proponents of the direct distribution model, selling policies directly to consumers via their websites and/or mobile apps. But this is far from a novel concept. Areas of the insurance industry have embraced online, direct-to-consumer distribution for some time.
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The projections reflect various assumptions regarding premiums, losses and expenses. They are a product of a sum-of-the-parts analysis of individual business lines that is informed by third-party macroeconomic forecasts, historical trends and recent market observations that include first-quarter 2017 statutory results and anecdotal commentary about market conditions. Projected results are displayed on a total-filed basis and are not intended for application to individual states, regions or companies. S&P Global Market Intelligence reserves the right to update the projections at any time for any reason.