Religare is the biggest exit so far in InsurTech and it is from India

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The biggest Insurtech exit to date just happened. The news is public. This is no scoop or insider information; that is not our game at Daily Fintech. Yet despite the story “hiding in plain sight”, it did not receive much mainstream media attention. That is our mission at Daily Fintech – to find the needle of insight that is hiding in the public domain haystack.

In this post we look at the big trends behind this news.

First, a bit of deal background explanation is needed.

A Unicorn valuation funding round makes headlines, but what matters is realized value at exit.

It is no secret that VC money is pouring into InsurTech. As any deal guy knows, getting a big headline valuation (the “PR deal optics”) is easy. We will be getting a lot of InsurTech Unicorn headlines. What follows explains how some of those PR deal optics are constructed. Looking below the PR deal optics to the reality will help see why the Religare story is significant.

As an entrepreneur, if you want that Unicorn headline you simply give away egregious preference terms. Say an entrepreneur wants to sell 20% in that round and the investor really thinks you are worth $100m (keeping to round numbers to keep it simple) and the entrepreneur is asking for a $1 billion Unicorn headline. The investor is willing to put in $20m for a 20% stake. To get to your $1 billion valuation you either need the investor to put in $200m or to accept a 2% stake. Both are showstoppers. If the entrepreneur offers 10% Preferential Equity terms, the headline can say “Hot Venture x raises $yyy at $1 billion valuation from Hot Fund z”. When you look at funding valuation data, you see a lot of deals at exactly $1 billion for this reason. Entrepreneurs need to get the amount invested from $20m to more like $100m for the headline optics. Then the headline is “Hot Venture x raises $100 million at $1 billion valuation from Hot Fund z”. Naïve journalists may extrapolate a 10% stake from that headline. With 10% Preferential Equity terms and an exit in 10 years at $300m, the actual realized value at exit for that investor (keeping it really simple and only assuming one round) is 86%. Run a simple compound interest calculator to see that. That 86% looks bad, but it gets worse if you count the more egregious terms where investors get their $100m back before calculating the compound interest at 10%. If you factor that in, or factor in multiple rounds with a whole preference stack at different dates, you can quickly see how an entrepreneur has to build an incredible amount of value for their founding stake to be worth much and why many entrepreneurs walk away with zip after a headline that makes them look vastly wealthy.

Unless the entrepreneur gets to a really big valuation or does it really quickly. Yes, that is really, really hard to do and happens very rarely.

All of this kind of deal optics fancy dancing stops at exit. Then somebody is paying hard cash and what you read is a real number. That is why we track real exit value (whether by IPO by trade sale). This is when the tide goes out and you can see who has been swimming naked.

My reason for giving that lengthy explanation is to make sense of what is not a sensational story, but which is a big deal in real terms. The Religare exit is not a Unicorn – ho, hum, click away now. Yet it is the biggest exit in InsurTech to date and that is a real story. (If anybody knows of a bigger one please tell us in comments).

If my explanation saves any entrepreneur from 10 years of “blood, sweat, toil and tears” for minimal financial benefit, I am happy.

The News

On 9 April, Religare Enterprises Ltd sold an 80% stake in Religare Health Insurance Co. Ltd (a standalone health insurance company), to a consortium of investors led by True North, a private equity firm. Religare will get about Rs1,040 crore for the deal and the health insurance company is valued at Rs1,300 crore. Religare Health Insurance is owned by Religare Enterprises (80%), Corporation bank (5%), Union Bank of India (5%) and the remaining 10% is by the employees of Religare through employee stock options.

Decrypted. Converting Indian Rupees to a well-known global currency like USD, EUR or Bitcoin is simple. But then you have to deal with Lakhs and Crores. When I negotiated my first deal in India that threw me for a loop momentarily (I had my pricing in GBP and was used to negotiating in USD and had the conversion to INR figured out but when the buyer started talking Lakhs and Crores I was blindsided for a moment). A Lakh is 100,000 and a Crore is 10,000,000. To really confuse non-Indians, a Lakh is written numerically as 1,00,000 and a Crore is written numerically as 10,00,00,000. The USD to INR conversion as I write is 64.47. So (rounding to nearest million) that makes the cash portion of the deal worth USD 161m (Rs1,040 crore) and the realized exit valuation worth USD 202m (Rs1,300). Those calculations throw algo-driven reporting for a loop. I saw this reported as a deal worth $10 billion and knowing that Indians don’t tend to pay bubble value this surprised me. So I dug in and I found that the data was incorrect as reported.

In the future, when Bitcoin is mainstream, we will convert Indian Rupees to Satoshis and Crore Rupees to Bitcoin; but that is another story!

Religare Healthcare is what we categorize as Full Stack HealthInsurTech. They offer Health Insurance policies to consumers.

News link is here.

Why mainstream business media missed the significance of this news

We are now accustomed to looking for mega funding events from China. We also look for mega HealthInsurTech deals from America. We have reported on both. These trends jump out of the data. This was a big exit, but it was from India and so it is not a story unless you are in India, or from India (as my fellow Author Arun is) or into India having done a lot of business there (as I am).

And on top of that you would have to decrypt Lakhs and Crores. In short, the story was ignored outside India.

The Three MegaTrends behind this news

  • First the Rest then the West.
  • Corporate (aka Strategic) Funding is getting more prominent.
  • Innovation capital formation is starting in the Rest

MegaTrend 1. First the Rest then the West.

This is a theme that we have been writing about for years (example post here). For most of the 20th century, technology was limited to the West. Countries in the Rest (formerly known as developing, then emerging, then rapid growth economies) were “tech deserts” until those economies started to open up (first China, then India, then Africa). Then technology adoption started to flow from the West to the Rest; the last decade has been a boom time for Western tech firms selling to the Rest.

Now the flow is reversing as technology adoption starts in the Rest and then goes to the West. For example, look at Xiaomi to see the future of mobile phones and Alibaba for the future of e-commerce or PayTM or M-Pesa for the future of mobile money.

This megatrend is not limited to Fintech, but within Fintech mobile payments and mobile e-commerce is the big disruption and that is happening first in the Rest and then will flow to the West.

Technology adoption flowing from the Rest to the West is one of the big 21st century megatrend stories.

Note that I am referring to technology adoptionWhere something is invented matters a lot less than where and how it is adopted, as Steve Jobs taught us after wandering around Xerox Parc and seeing the first graphical user interface and using that insight to change how we used personal computers. Adoption, whether through network effect or any other customer acquisition technique, has replaced patents as the technology moat and competitive advantage.

Adoption drives value creation and adoption is happening faster in the Rest.

Now look at Healthcare and HealthInsurTech within this context. Where would you prefer to build value:

  • Option 1: a Red Ocean market where there is a lot of entrenched competition (such as America).
  • Option 2: a Blue Ocean market where demand is small compared to established markets but is growing very fast and where there is very little entrenched competition (such as China, India, Africa and the other Rest).

Corporate (aka Strategic) Funding is getting more prominent

This is particularly true in China, where we see massive rounds done by corporate parents. For example, Zhong An (see our post where we describe their upcoming IPO as the Netscape moment for InsurTech). For more, see our Fintech China Week coverage. We are also seeing this trend in Europe where a lot of the InsurTech ventures are being funded by Insurance or Reinsurance companies rather than traditional Financial VC. This is what we have observed as Reinsurance As A Service. The old idea that the Corporate or Strategic investor is always the dumb money at the table that signals a bubble phase, needs to be re-evaluated.

The Religare story shows this. There are no VCs benefiting from this exit.

The Religare Healthcare exit beneficiary, the company that created the value, is called Religare Enterprises Limited (REL). This is a holding company/conglomerate. The mantra in the West for decades was that the holding company/conglomerate model is dead (core competency focus was the mantra). This deal makes one re-evaluate that mantra (as do other deals in China and India). REL got $160m in cash by selling 80% and kept 20% to ride for future upside. That is value creation.

India innovation capital formation

For a long time, Venture Capital fundamentally meant Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs everywhere else had three lousy options:

  • Move to Silicon Valley where your costs are far higher and you don’t have a network and where you don’t understand the culture that you are selling into.
  • Find the local subsidiary of a Silicon Valley VC fund. Many Silicon Valley VC funds don’t even bother globalizing, because it is too hard and there are plenty of deals at home. The ones that do have a local Fund often lead to long decision cycles that kill a deal – first you convince the local guys, then you fly to Silicon Valley to convince the global Partners.
  • Find a small local VC that has very little expertise and/or only a small fund.

What the Religare story indicates is pretty significant which is the formation of more Innovation Capital locally. REL will have $160m in cash from the deal and a successful formula to follow. One assumes they will be hungry for more. That is one part of the story. The other part of the story is about the True North private equity fund that bought Religare Healthcare. True North, formerly India Value Fund Advisors, is a local Private Equity fund that started in 2000.  You can see their Fund size growth below:

Screen Shot 2017-04-15 at 11.29.04

The history, as per their site is interesting:

“True North came into existence with the power of one crucial decision. Mr. Gary Wendt, then Chairman and CEO of General Electric Capital Corporation (GECC), decided to set up a US$ 2 billion private equity fund with a focus on transforming businesses in a variety of global markets, one of which was India. Impala Partners, a US-based boutique investment and M & A advisory firm founded by former senior GECC executives, was chosen as a global partner for the venture.

The fund was focused on investments in Japan, India, Israel, Poland and Mexico, and sought local partners in each country. In India, Mr. Wendt tied up with Ambit Corporate Finance and subsequently HDFC to form GW Capital with Vishal Nevatia as CEO. Later, Mr. Wendt took up other responsibilities, and though he and Impala remained as investors, the new company developed a strong local identity, and was reborn as TRUE NORTH in 2004. With its new identity in 2016, True North will continue the company’s journey in transforming businesses.”

It will be interesting to track the value creation of Religare Healthcare after the acquisition by True North.

Note: I use the term Innovation Capital rather than Venture Capital because the term VC implies only one business model (2 and 20, LP and GP) and a lot of the action today is in areas such as Corporate funding, ICOs, Family Office Club deals and so on. All these can be called Innovation Capital, but calling them Venture Capital would be confusing.

American investment bank J.P. Morgan acted as the exclusive financial adviser to Religare Enterprises.

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Bernard Lunn is a Fintech thought-leader and deal-maker. 

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