An Insurtech conversation with global influencer Spiros Margaris

Spiros Margaris

Spiros Margaris is a globally recognized influencer in Fintech, Insurtech, AI and blockchain. He has recently come to the advisory board of wefox group (including One Insurance).  The ‘influencer as an advisory board member model’ is becoming more popular these days as it enables companies to get a pulse on the market and access to more outreach of their brand.

In the current age of social media, the concept of an influencer has become more and more prevalent.  

There are influencers across almost every industry, helping to spread the message and drive conversations around news and trends in their specific verticals.

Insurance is no different. The most widely recognized list for Insurtech influencers (in my opinion) is from InsurTechnews.  There are different ways to analyze/rank influencers across categories; here is how InsurTechnews goes about it.  

This week, I had the opportunity to speak with Spiros Margaris.  In May 2018, Spiros achieved the ‘Triple Crown’ of influencer rankings, by achieving No. 1 in Fintech, AI & Blockchain influencer by Onalytica (another source of influencer marketing research).  

Spiros and I discussed his path; what it means to be an influencer, and his recent appointment with the wefox Group.

Who is Spiros and what is an influencer?

Spiros started his career in the financial services industry while in the hedge fund business.  He then owned two startups during the dot.com era, post which, he went back to the hedge fund business.

During 2011, he left as a partner with his firm and started thinking about what he could do to further enhance his career and life. He started writing about innovation and what it means for the financial services industry.  

To his surprise, people started approaching him for funding as well as advice on how to organize their funding rounds.  

‘I was in the right place at the right time’, he told me.  By getting into the space at that time, he was one of the early influential voices.

Then he started getting involved with many startups, both as an investor and an advisor. He realized that he could help give them both an outside view of what was happening in the industry as well as help with their branding.  By having a large following, he could bring a lot of attention to these companies.

‘I’m like a football player.  I play my position well, but I can’t win a game by myself.  I can only win a game with a team. If the startup is not good, I can’t change that.  If they are good, I can bring more industry attention to them, which includes investors, partners and customers alike’, he went on to explain to me.  

Spiros works exclusively with startups, though he does give speeches/talks to banking and Insurance incumbents and regulators from time to time.

‘As an influencer, you have a sense of where the journey might go and you can even influence, to a certain extent, through your opinion and the things you tweet/share’, he went on.  ‘Over time, you can build credibility and trust’, he added.

On the topic of why startups should engage with influencers, Spiros shared ‘There are a lot of good companies out there, but no one knows about them.  They have to find a way to have their voice heard. Once they are heard, they then have to deliver. If they can’t deliver, that’s the worst thing they can do’.

His portfolio companies include both Fintech and Insurtech startups across Europe, US, Canada and Australia.   His most recent appointment was to the wefox Group.

What is the wefox Group?

wefox Group is made up of two companies, wefox and ONE Insurance.  The company started as just wefox, back in 2014 (originally as FinanceFox).  They then acquired digital carrier ONE Insurance in June 2017 and the wefox Group was formed.

When I asked what appealed to Spiros about joining wefox Group, he stated that ‘the combination of B2B & B2C, coupled with the way they execute and having Julian and the rest of the team, was a fully compelling story.  We were in contact before, in time came the partnership.”

wefox

wefox

wefox is an Insurance management app which enables consumers to consolidate all of their policies in one place.  wefox identifies gaps in coverage and connects with brokers/agents that can further consult them on their coverage needs.  According to their LinkedIn page, wefox operates in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, has over 1,000 brokers on their platform and over 250,000 customers.   wefox has raised approximately $55 million to date (as of June 2018).

‘Brokers we serve have made more money since being part of platform because they have more time to do other things, like acquiring new clients’, Spiros explained to me.

ONE Insurance

ONE Insurance

ONE Insurance is a digital carrier that went live in February 2018.  They initially offer both private liability and homeowners policies.  Their reinsurance partner in Munich Re and have recently launched a feature called ONE Coach, ‘a highly-personalised short-term Insurance product based on individual lifestyle and location’ which will ‘use encryption technology to utilise factors such as work time, sleep, movements and various lifestyle choices in more precisely calculating a customers’ risk profile’, according to an article from Reinsurance news.  

With an existing client base of 250,000 on the wefox platform already, I can see some opportunities and synergies between the two platforms.  

ONE Insurance and Lemonade

For those of us that follow the space regularly, you will have seen that Lemonade sued the wefox Group last month for copyright infringement.  

I took the opportunity to ask Spiros about this.  As this is an ongoing case, he couldn’t comment much other than saying, ‘If I thought there was any merit, I would not have joined as it would risk my reputation’.

There has been much talk about this on social media channels.  Dr. Robin Kiera shared his thoughts on this recently and so did Avi Ben-Hutta from Coverager in a very extremely entertaining op-ed.

My personal opinion (without knowing facts other than what’s available in the public domain) is that anyone/any company that comes out first is going to make the most mistakes and be most heavily scrutinized.  Anyone/any company who comes after can take the good of what the first-movers have done, learn from the lessons they have had and then put it all together.  

There are obviously some similarities between Lemonade and ONE Insurance.  

There’s also many similarities between many of the existing incumbents out there in terms of product and flow.  If every Insurance company sued others for doing something like they do, then would always be suing each other.

The last comment Spiros made to me on this, which I also agreed with is ‘My goal is to build a better Insurance industry.  We are all the Davids, and there are many Goliaths out there. The best thing to happen is to stop fighting each other and make the industry better.’

The future of Insurtech

‘For me Insurtech is part of Fintech.  Fintech is like the mother of all and below it are subsectors.  Insurtech for me, is one of them.  Insurtech will takes a similar path as Fintech took.  Insurance didn’t have as many interactions with customers – now Insurance companies have means to interact much more with customers through new features and tools they bring in’, Spiros explained.  

Further, he explained that Fintech and Insurtech not only help existing customers, but also new consumers that may have not had access to financial services and/or Insurance products in the past.  

He sees big tech coming in to the foray in the near future.  However, his view is that the big tech firms will partner with startups and give them access to their existing customers.  This is something we are seeing Amazon do quite well.  

From a specific technology standpoint, he sees blockchain as something that will be a game changer, but not quite yet.  AI and Machine Learning as well.

However, the question did get raised as to ‘How much can people handle technology advancements?  There are so many apps and so many tools being brought to the surface. Do we need them? Do people feel we need them?’, he said.  

I would have to agree with this too.  Many consumers don’t understand Insurance and a lot still don’t understand technologies.  They may be using them on a day to day basis, but they probably don’t understand the inner workings behind it, nor the vast array and depth of said technologies.

Some incumbents currently working on Insurance innovation look at what they think the customer wants/needs.  Some of the tools being put in place serves their (incumbents) goals and maybe these things are not necessarily what consumers need or want.  The ones that really listen are going to be the real winners.

“Consumers will tell us whether it is good or not – they are the judge.   It’s no longer ‘I’ll be the judge of that’, it’ll be ‘the consumer will be the judge of that’”.

Stephen Goldstein is an experienced Insurance executive and Insurtech dealmaker with a core focus on growing revenue, launching go to market initiatives and advising industry leaders.

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