After blazing a trail with Insure The Box, Mike Brockman (pictured on the right) is looking to turn the telematics business model on its head with new venture ThingCo. Insurance Edge caught up with Mike as he prepares to launch ThingCo in Autumn 2018.
IE: Why ThingCo and why now?
MB: Why am I starting again? I ask myself that question and I guess the answer is twofold; first, the hurdles to starting a new insurtech venture are so much less severe now than ten years ago. You don’t need to build an IT department, buy servers or cloud space, you can simply pay-as-you-go with Amazon Web Services instead. There is also a very different insurance landscape now, with more venture capital support for new ideas, and more consumer interest. But the other crucial factor is that black box usage is set to switch around completely, from young to old.
IE; How exactly, and why?
MB: For years telematics was a solution for young drivers, and in the early days it was fairly basic in terms of the tech that underpinned it too. Location, speed, time of day or night– that was about it.
But now we have a chance to completely transform the FNOL process via telematics, plus reward ALL drivers, of any age, for managing their own safe driving lifestyle. What’s more, the new technology, coupled to GDPR offering consumers genuine ownership of their data, which means that any driver can carry their NCD, in the shape of their telematics score, with them as they move from one insurer to the next. No more requesting proof of NCD by post or email!
IE: Obviously ThingCo is some months way fromn launch, but what can you tell us about it in terms of its features in advance?
MB: We’ve been in development on this project for two years now. In that time frame, it’s changed as it has developed and so has the market. From being a purely B2C proposition, I can now see a great potential in fleet sales for us. The tech is evolving rapidly too with features like ADAS, which is a kind of halfway house towards self-driving cars; built-in sensors, connectivity to smart road infrastructure, night vision, video cameras and so on.
One of the really exciting features about ThingCo is the sound and voice alerts. You can get beeps and pings warning you about particular hazards on say, a regular commute or school run. Or you can ask the voice `in the box’ to mentor, and coach your driving style. The driver can talk to the device as well, ask it to set a variety of alerts, depending on your driving habits or route.
IE: So have you been testing a prototype ThingCo box yourself?
MB: Of course, and the funny thing is that when I use my wife’s car, which doesn’t have the telematics package in it, I really miss it; all the alerts, the voice interaction, everything. You really get more involved in the drive itself and that can only be a good thing for road safety generally and the insurance industry in particular. We really see the greatest potential take-up as being in the over 55 age group, because we are offering a journey assistant, plus back-up if an accident occurs. That fear of `what if’ can put a lot of older drivers off making longer journeys, on unfamiliar roads.
IE: Do you think older drivers can find modern traffic conditions intimidating and worry that any accident may end up costing them lots of time and money, even when they are fully insured?
MB: All our research suggests yes, that is the case. The stress involved in the FNOL process from the moment a car hits yours, is huge. So ThingCo offers hard-wired evidence first of all, the tricky matter of blame can be established within seconds as speed, video clips, braking force, road positioning, conditions – everything – is uploaded to the insurer at the scene. Then ThingCo activates rescue and recovery, a sort of triage process kicks in immediately and again the telematics can help the insurers understand the likely injuries, distance home for drivers and passengers and so on.
IE: What will be the benefit for fleet managers?
MB: Another facet of our R&D process with all this is setting up a kind of ThingCo driver club, of around 50 drivers. This is so we can track driving behaviour and how the telematics is genuinely transforming driving patterns. People like the idea of lowering their score and therefore lowering their insurance costs.
The more data we have as an industry, the more accurately we can quote when it’s renewal time, which will solve one of the greatest pain points for consumers. We can also use the data history to calculate NCD and Excess, which when you multiply across a fleet of say 100 vehicles, makes a big difference.
IE: Is the biggest saving potentially for the consumer, or the industry?
MB: It’s hard to say right now, because the tech itself is still improving, so for example on rural or poorly maintained roads the ADAS cameras can’t read the faded white lines, or understand road signs hidden in hedges. The savings to be had by managing your own driving score over a lifetime behind the wheel are huge, but equally, there’s a big saving for every insurer or claims specialist dealing with FNOL. The delay in deciding blame, and all the admin that goes with that `he said, she said’ stuff, is perhaps the greatest saving in time and money for the insurance industry in the last 20 years.
IE: So when can expect ThingCo to launch?
MB: We want this product to be absolutely spot-on when it launches. It has to have the wow factor, or the industry will remain sceptical that telematics can get out of its under 25 niche. We are aiming for a launch in November, with lots of testing and trials happening this summer.
IE: Mike, good and luck and thank you for your time.