Robin Kiera, one of the known faces of insurtech, discussing startups, incumbents and the future of the insurance industry

Please tell us a bit about your background and how you are currently involved in the InsurTech space?

I’ve been working for large international insurers – like Allianz – and small regional carriers and banks. In addition, I’ve worked for a German online gaming company that grew rapidly due to their free-to-use business model. So I have firsthand experience in both traditional companies, with all their strengths and weaknesses, and in the wild start-up world.

On top of my main responsibilities, I conduct digital scouting. That means I travel the world and seek out innovative ideas, products, features and companies – especially at conferences – and increase my network. It’s given me a good overview of the markets in Asia, Russia, MENA, the US and Europe.

I join in the industry conversation on a lot of levels. I share my insights on technology and digital business models in articles, which get translated into several languages, and interviews like this one, and I regularly get invited to participate as a keynote speaker, moderator or panelist at conferences in the tech, fintech and insurtech space. I also mentor start-ups, consult with insurers about their digital strategies and project implementation and help investors who are conducting due diligence. I really enjoy the insurtech space because very traditional incumbents are clashing with dynamic contenders. It keeps things lively.


What advices would you give to insurtech startups that have not yet managed to get launched on the market?

1. Get your product out there as early as possible! Don’t worry that an unfinished and unpolished product could damage your brand. Many companies release their Minimal Viable Products in a test market using different branding.

2. Also, seriously consider test- and KPI-driven Development. As soon as your product is released, test every part of your app. Test your deployment. Test your submission to Apple and Google. Test your internal processes. Test tracking. Test and optimize every aspect of your software: conversion, retention, churn, Reg2Pay, ARPPU, stickiness – and optimize it.


What impact will the evolution of insurance technology have on brokers and traditional agents in your opinion?

Over the last decade, we’ve seen the slow death of agents and brokers – for example in Germany. The number of agents and brokers decreases. In addition, many agents working for incumbents are not profitable. Without violating any NDAs, I can say that I believe the 80/20 principle applies for most insurers and agents in Germany. 20% of the agents sometimes generate 80% of the revenue – and a large number of agents are not positively contributing to the bottom line, especially when taking the administrative overhead into account. The most successful agents stay relevant when they specialize in a niche, like insuring a certain industry or a certain socio-demographic group. In general this would not have to be the case, digital products and services could leverage the strength and experience of good agents and lead them to unknown success.

Brokers face a similar picture. I know some brokers who already are trying to transform their business model from selling products to consulting with clients on risks, especially in the industrial and commercial sector. Some of them already generate a considerable amount of revenue not only from commission, but from consulting with clients in preventing claims and increasing the lifecycle-value of machines and businesses. It’s a smart move. Brokers, agents and insurers need to think about broadening their business models and enriching their value chains. Besides that, a few are trying to set up a digital ecosystem. This is in my opinion also a smart move.


What about artificial intelligence? Is it going to evolve in such a way as to allow major progress to be achieved in the insurance industry in the next 5 years?

I’m not sure about the next 5 years. But I believe that in 10 or 15 years, we’ll see those large office buildings of insurance companies, and they will be almost empty. Artificial intelligence will lead to massive automatization of simple and moderately complex tasks. Already, existing technology can read unstructured texts and conduct image recognition including tagging. These achievements may sound a little nerdy and boring. But when we consider that 70–80% of the tasks of underwriting and claims managers consist of simple to moderately complex tasks, we’ll clearly need many fewer people in the industry pretty soon. In Japan, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance already replaced a whole department with AI.

To be frank, when I think about the looming layoffs in the insurance industry, I sometimes get a little angry at the current lack of leadership. I’ve heard more than one time from C-suits: “Robin, I know we should do something, but I’m two contracts away from retirement. I’m not starting a big change. Young people like you should do it.” This is irresponsible to the tens of thousands of jobs and employees that could be saved, if we act now.


How do you invest in insurtech startups?

I invest in insurtechs, primarily with my time. I mentor different start-ups, which include insurtech companies. This mentoring might be a favor for a friend to view their pitch deck, analyze the product and software development process or review their business strategy.  Following an initial investment of time and know-how, I continue to consult for equity. Besides that, I sometimes connect VCs, incumbents, tech companies and start-ups looking for funding or cooperation, but very quietly.


Do you believe that customers already perceive a shift towards digitization in the way they interact with their insurers?

People buy on Amazon, order food on Deliveryhero or groceries online at Rewe - a German supermarket incumbent with cool digital products and offline services. Customers are able to check-in to a flight in real time, receive a push notification if a package delivery service guy drives down their street and in Hamburg, they even see autonomous parcel delivery robots on the street. But to get insurance or manage a claim, the customer has to wait eight weeks? I believe the customer’s patience has reached its limit. As soon as it’s easy to change to a more convenient insurer or broker that provides other valuable products and services in addition to insurance products, people will switch in large numbers. We’ve seen this in other industries before.


What is the position of the insurer of the future in a context where insurtech startups thrive?

I believe in four possible scenarios:

  1. Disruptive Incumbent: I believe if an insurer starts now to radically turn around their business, an incumbent could disrupt the own market – if done right.
  2. Scaling Insurtech: The international ecosystem in some market produces an Uber of insurance. Let me be very clear: if this happens, it will be far too late for incumbents to act, and we’ll see massive disruption.
  3. Tech companies: As soon as Google, Facebook, Tencent and others seriously enter the finance and insurance market, it’s Game Over. With the data they already have and their tech-skilled workforce, they could price risks much, much more precisely than insurers. In addition, they could easily produce an ecosystem of products and services that would excite the customer. I’m still surprised that this hasn’t happened yet. I have the feeling that the big tech companies are discouraged by the image of a “heavily regulated industry.” But as the tech giants realize that entering the market is not that difficult, we will see them jump on it. 3.5 trillion EUR in worldwide insurance revenue is just too tasty.
  4. Hungry Reinsurer: For me, reinsurers are the most underestimated players in the market. For example, they quietly cooperate with insurtechs. I could imagine the insurer of the future being a bold reinsurer who cuts out all middlemen with advanced technology, maybe using insurtech as a vehicle.


Dr. Robin Kiera is one of the known faces of insurtech. In addition to his role as influencer, author and speaker. He also mediates and connects traditional corporations, start-ups and tech companies on different continents. This made him to a Go-To-Guy behind the scenes. He can be found on Twitter, Linkedin or on his blog