Metromile; The Pioneers of Digital Engagement Insurance

This post originally appeared on The Digital Insurer. It was written by Rick Huckstep, Chairman, The Digital Insurer. Rick is an InsurTech thought leader, keynote speaker, advisor and investor to tech start-ups. Not yet a Metromile customer? Visit metromile.com/insurance to learn more about our pay-per-mile insurance and get a quick quote.

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Imagine a world where the insured has a continuous digital engagement with their insurer. Where the “insurance product” is a value add service that offers more than just financial protection. In this world, the insurance brand becomes “sticky” and churn becomes a function of product development, not promotional pricing. In fact, price is no longer the only buying criteria. This is the world of Metromile, the pioneers of digital engagement insurance.

To find out more for InsurTech Insights, Rick Huckstep spoke with Dan Preston, the CEO of pay-per-mile auto insurer, Metromile.

Value Trumps Price

Metromile were ahead of their time when it comes to digital engagement. This is the world of insurance protection where customers buy insurance cover because of the on-going value it provides, not just because of the price it is offered at.

In recent times, the buying of insurance has become associated with searching for the cheapest price. Online buying guides advise customers to always shop around for the best price and never auto-renew. Even the Regulators force statements on renewal notices to advise customers to shop around. This is commoditization in all its glory!

Which is good for consumers, right? Maybe at the point of sale, but when insurance is sold below premium, it means someone else is paying for it. Until renewal time, when premiums are increased significantly.

All this does is irritate the customer, further diminish trust in insurance and cause the customer to start all over again looking for a new insurer! What a waste of time and effort for everyone!

The Case for Digital Engagement in Insurance

The big problem in any price-only driven market is that cost of sale is a killer. Price points only ever go down, sales and marketing costs don’t (not at the same pace anyway), and this continually squeezes the whole supply chain. In the intermediated world of personal lines insurance, the addition of friction and inefficiency simply compound the cost (and margin) issue for insurers.

No matter how hard the insurer tries to build and promote a trusted brand, the uncertainty of premium pricing always undermines it.

The building of brand loyalty takes time and insurers don’t hang on to customers long enough to do so. For traditional insurers, their only opportunity to show value is through the claims experience. However, all too often, the insurer fails to seize the day and ends up disappointing the customer.

And yet customer feedback clearly shows they want more in the way of value. And are willing to pay for it!

Turning the Insurance Product into a Lifestyle Product

The advances in digital technology in the last decade have given insurers the means by which they can create “sticky” insurance products. Once they’ve “won” a customer, they can now hang on to them. They use enabling tech such as telematics, mobile apps, wearables, IoT devices to create ways of connecting and engaging with customers continuously.

The adoption of this enabling technology gives insurers the ability to dynamically improve risk ratings, to personalize premiums and adjust policy conditions on an ongoing basis. The traditional approach of a single, point in time questionnaire can be replaced by an ongoing assessment and review approach enabled by these new technologies.

As a result, we’ve seen the introduction of digital engagement products based on new sources of data, personalized to the specific risk conditions of the customer. These new technologies enable insurers to radically shift from being the provider of an enforced product to a provider of a value added service.

As Maria Ferrante-Schepis writes in Flirting with the Uninterested, “Insurance companies, when you really think about it, are not just in the protection business. They are in the ‘lifestyle continuity business.’”

Digital Engagement Insurance In Action

Great examples in Life and Health are Vitality and Oscar along with InsurTech platforms such as Fitsense and Sureify. Here, wearable devices combined with mobile apps enable digital engagement with the insurance brand to promote a healthy lifestyle. In so doing, the app becomes a lifestyle product, part of the customer’s daily routine. This makes it a lot harder to churn come renewal time.

In Home, the adoption of IoT devices has done more than (just) create a means for digital engagement. The IoT enabled smart home moves the insurer into the Loss Prevention space. Now, insurers can build insurance products that are focused on preventing the loss altogether. Prevention is always better than cure, right!?

Metromile Are the Pioneers of Digital Engagement

Metromile represents everything that defines #InsurTech as we know it today, and yet they pre-date the social media tag by half a decade! Metromile is a 7-year-old U.S. auto insurer I first wrote about back in 2015. Their business model is based on a pay-per-mile insurance product which they then wrap with other services to enhance the car ownership experience for their customers.

To enable continuous customer engagement, Metromile use tech in the form of the Metromile Pulse (a device that plugs into the car’s on board diagnostic port) and a smart driving app on the customer’s mobile. They recently announced Series C and D investment rounds that took the total money raised to $205m. It’s an impressive sum that puts them in the InsurTech fundraising upper quartile.

The thing that struck me about Metromile is that they don’t say anything about “insurance” when they describe what they do. Here’s what they say “About Us” on their website.

At Metromile, our mission is to empower drivers by creating a more connected and informed car ownership experience.

By taking our deep understanding of data and transforming it into information and services that make having a car less expensive, more convenient, and smarter, we aim to make the urban car experience as simple as it can be. And for some, we hope to make car ownership a possibility where it wasn’t before.

They’ve literally taken an insurance product and turned it into a lifestyle product!

Leveling the Playing Field for Low-Mileage Drivers

When it comes to auto insurance, the main risk factor is how often drivers are on the road. If you’re not on the road then factors such as claims history, driving behavior or condition of car, are insignificant. In the case of auto, this means those that don’t drive very much subsidize the higher mileage drivers. This is because traditional auto insurance products take a blunt instrument approach to assessing driving time.

Metromile say that customers can save on average $500/year on auto insurance (which is roughly 40-50% of the typical cost of insurance). You will see something similar in the UK from Cuvva. They claim their Pay-as-you-Drive insurance can save drivers up to 70% of traditional insurance premiums.

Creating Value that Every Insurance Customer Gets

In a recent call I had with CEO Dan Preston, I asked him about digital engagement and the Metromile model. He told me, “There are typically 3 interactions the insurer has with their customers. When they sell a policy, when they renew and when they receive a claim. There’s nothing in those interactions that adds value. Even the claims process is so full of friction that it becomes an unpleasant experience for the customer. It’s the place where NPS goes to die!

“When we started Metromile we quickly learned that customers want more than just a good claims experience. They want value through digital engagement.”

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Here’s the thing that Metromile figured out early (and earlier than most). By creating value over and above the insurance product, they create value that EVERY Metromile customer benefits from, not just those that might go through a successful claims experience.

Dan explained, “We set out to build Metromile into more than just an insurance business. We wanted to help our customers manage the cost of running a car. This includes everything from maintenance and regular servicing, to parking and speeding tickets.

“One of the early features on the app was a feature to help drivers avoid parking tickets by informing them of street sweeping schedules. We took publicly available data in the San Francisco area and laid that over our customers’ movements. Using the app, we were able to direct customers to parking areas that would not risk parking tickets. Some customers reported that the savings in parking fees more than paid for the cost of our insurance!”

As Metromile moved into new jurisdictions, they found that the data they wanted and needed to support the value-add services in the app were not always universally available.

Dan explained, “Ultimately it became a data collection exercise for us to collect data unique to the car and the driver as we went into new areas. In many places, the data we needed was in PDF format. We found ways to extract the data and still provide the features in the app.”

Metromile’s Win-Win Through Value and Loyalty

This is the real point of digital engagement – creating a win-win.

The customer gets value from the digital engagement with a lifestyle product (and tangible benefits such as less parking fees!). And insurers see less churn, better (risk) data about customers and a greater sense of loyalty/connection/trust.

This is where behavioral economics kick in. It is this sense of trust and loyalty that directly links to lower levels of claims fraud and embellishment. None of this would be possible in a traditional auto insurance product. Metromile has exploited technology to enable this digital engagement. The key is the Metromile Pulse; a dongle that customers plug into their car to read the on-board telematics data and connects to the mobile phone and the Metromile app.

This allows Metromile to know when the car is being driven and when it is not. In turn, this allows Metromile to price on a per mile basis for insurance, turning it off and on accordingly

Metromile’s AVA Delivers an Automated Claims Experience

Metromile’s latest tech addition enables an automated claims experience. At the time of an incident, data captured by the app and the dongle is used by Metromile to settle a large number of claims. Many of them automatically and instantly.

They can do this because they are not waiting on a claims adjustor to collect information to support a claim. Instead, through the customer’s Pulse device, Metromile is able in many cases to verify and validate a claim without human intervention. In these scenarios, there is no reason to not pay a claim instantly.

The turning point for Metromile came about a year ago when they became a fully licensed carrier. Dan told me, “We’ve been handling claims in-house for about year now. In that time we’ve launched AVA, our AI claims assistant and the most exciting product launch to-date at Metromile! We wanted to create a different experience for customers, one that was different to the traditional experience, with much less friction for customers.

“For the customer, all they want is to get back on the road. But for the traditional carrier, they won’t settle until they’ve got all the evidence that they need to justify the claim. In the traditional claims experience, often the problem is that the carrier only has the word of the customer to go on. Trust isn’t very strong in this relationship and the result is that it takes time.

“With Metromile, the Pulse can verify what the customer is telling us. Our tech can verify facts such as speed and location and time. The customer doesn’t need to provide this data because we already have it. This leads to instant payout or for the Metromile app to organise the repair and servicing of the vehicle.

“It’s another win-win because the instant and automated approach delivers a better customer experience by reducing cycle time and making it easy to claim. For Metromile, it lowers the cost of handling claims, which benefits customers in the long run by lowering premiums.”