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:

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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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The woman in the global Fintech arena

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When Theodore Roosevelt was writing this ode to entrepreneurialism, I assume he never thought about writing woman instead of man and that he never imagined anybody with a different skin colour or religion.

His main point is one that we can all agree with. There are only two players in arena:

  1. The Entrepreneur
  1. The Customer/User

Arena implies conflict and the interactions between Entrepreneur and Customer/User should not be about conflict. So here the analogy breaks down and we should talk about actors on stage. The key point – whether it is an arena or a stage – is that there are only two types of people who matter.

Everybody else is a spectator, with maybe a minor role – handing body armor to a gladiator counts as a minor role. Many of these spectators are entrepreneurs in their own domain. For example, a VC is a business like any other and creating a startup VC Fund is as tough as any startup, even though it may not seem like that to an entrepreneur pitching for investment (they just see the piles of money not what it took to create those piles). Speaking from experience, Daily Fintech is a spectator and analyst in the Fintech business, but in the media business we are in the arena/stage as entrepreneurs.

However, leaving aside the definition of who is in the arena/stage and who is a spectator, this post is about updating our view of who an entrepreneur is.

Sexism is dumb business

Silicon Valley gave a great gift to the world, which is the art of starting and scaling a business, but Silicon Valley also gave us a rampantly sexist culture, as the Uber story reminds us yet again. The VCs have too few women partners and they invest in too many entrepreneurs who build businesses where women are second class citizens at best.

This is not just about being politically correct. I think that sexism is wrong, but my concern here is business, not Corporate Social Responsibility PR.

When 50% of your market is not represented in your decision-making, you have a problem. You will be selling to a world that disappeared around the time of Mad Men and Archie Bunker. That is not smart.

The Family CFO is often a woman. If you want to sell lending or other financial tools you will be doing yourself a major disservice if your company culture blinds you to the nuances of marketing financial services to women.

I am pleased to say that with Efi, Jessica and Julia on the Daily Fintech team, we have almost the opposite problem – not enough men.

Countries where men and women operate more equally in the workplace tend to also be places where  a lot of innovation takes place. The Nordic economies come to mind.

It is not just about engineering any more

The defense of the Silicon Valley VCs and entrepreneurs is “of course we would hire/fund more women, if there were more women engineers”.

That puts the problem back with education and society. Everybody on the Board can agree to move onto the next item on the agenda. Sadly, there is a cultural and educational problem, where at an early age girls are encouraged to give up on math and chess and other things that would position them well for an engineering career. There is some truth to that defense.

There are exceptions. There are great women engineers who ignored social convention when they were young and continued to focus on the math and chess that they loved.

However, they are the exceptions that prove the rule. While we can and should bemoan this and seek to change it, that change will take time. Today there are not enough women engineers.

However, the “not enough women engineers” defence is baloney. You do not need an engineering degree to become a great entrepreneur.

Steve Jobs was not an engineer.

While there are huge engineering challenges, in areas such as transportation and energy, there are also lots of challenges which are not primarily about engineering.

Much of the focus on engineering is myth. The founding engineering in ventures such as Facebook, Uber, Twitter, AirBnB and Snapchat was trivial. As the old saying goes – this is not rocket science.

Is it that entrepreneurs such as Mark Zuckerberg and Travis Kalanick are so obviously male?  Is a testosterone fuelled combative attitude essential to success?

The great digital success stories are about building ecosystems of value. That sounds like something that requires more than combative skills – attributes such as empathy and ability to listen that we tend to associate more with the female of the species.

The degree to which engineering is critical depends on where in the stack you focus.

Consider the Blockchain revolution, the transition from the “content exchange Internet” (that started c 1994 with the Netscape browser) to the “value exchange Internet” (that started c 2009 with Bitcoin).

Although there are plenty of hard core engineering challenges at the bottom of the Blockchain stack to do with with scaling (such as SegWit and Lightning Network and Proof Of Stake ), if Blockchain is to have the huge business and societal impact that many (including myself) expect, it has to become as easy as using a service such as WordPress or writing some basic scripts.

The other big disruptive technology is AI This is mostly now available as open source and through cloud based services.

All of these underlying hard core technologies are available through the Open API revolution. This makes all this underlying technology readily available to entrepreneurs working at the Customer Experience layer using social, media, analytics, cloud (SMAC).

The mantra now is “write less code”.

At the Customer Experience layer what matters is delivering service that truly engages and delivers value to the customer – including the 50% of customers who are women.

Huge opportunities are not constrained by technology. The technology is there. What we need are solutions that solve real problems for people. That is an equal opportunity challenge. No engineering degree is needed. Being totally comfortable with technology as a power user is part of the job description but that is hardly a rare skill set these days.

Sorry Archie, you are a minority

When Archie Bunker was on TV, the idea of a world controlled by a white, Christian population was already absurd enough to make good comedy.

Over 40 years later, it is more than absurd. As we look out at where Fintech innovation is coming from we increasingly see it coming from China, India, Africa and other countries where people look, act and think differently (aka the Rest of The World). This is what we have tagged “first the Rest then the West” trend. The combination of huge populations with unmet needs and ability to leapfrog over legacy technologies, makes the Rest the locus of innovation today.

The whole Silicon Valley VC model is at threat from this big shift, because VC Funds have not found a way to scale geographically. While they have nailed how to scale their portfolio businesses, their own business is defiantly artisanal. They can only invest in ventures that can be reached on “less than half a tank of gas in a Ferrari”.

It is no longer enough to invest in immigrants in the West. That is OK as an interim step, but now the challenge is how to invest in the person who decided to stay in China, India, Africa and the Rest or to relocate back there because that is where they see the most opportunity. As these countries get better at capital formation and capital allocation, the innovation capital business will change forever (and for good).

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Banking API innovation from emerging and frontier markets

PepsiMyanmar

Two big themes on Daily Fintech are:

  • First the Rest, then the West (the idea that innovation in the 20th century flowed from the West (America and Europe) to the Rest (Of the World, aka ROW, emerging, developing, frontier, high growth) and in the 21st century that flow of innovation is reversing as the Rest leapfrog old technology and innovate out of necessity (which as always is the mother of invention).
  • Rebundling innovation enabled by APIs that abstract utility layer services so that entrepreneurs can just pay for that on a transactional basis without writing a lot of new code.

In this post we bring those two themes together.

Yodlee in South Africa

Thanks to @Vincent Van Dugteren from Netherlands for the heads up (on this thread) on what Yodlee is doing in South Africa as reported by VentureBurn.

Yodlee was into Banking APIs before they were famous. They were an early Fintech IPO and got taken private by Envestnet for $590m.

Yodlee built a partnership with an API marketplace in South Africa called Limitless Technology (which is the company behind South Africa’s first Personal Financial Management tool called Moneysmart. PFM relies on Open APIs from Banks.

Limitless uses a RESTful API (which is pretty mich de facto these days).

If you want to sell a PFM, it is smart to do it in emerging/frontier markets such as Africa where a new middle class is emerging that needs to “watch every penny” and where these tools are relatively new. In contrast, in the the West, these kinds of tools have been around for a while (Mint was founded in 2006). A modern PFM in the Rest will be fully optimised for mobile and the web browser version may hardly get used.

Singapore and India

We have often written about the Fintech innovation coming out of India (most recently here). Singapore has deep cultural and business ties to India, so it is natural for a delegation from Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to spend time there focussing on enabling that innovation as we can see from this Event. Thanks @ericforgy from Hong Kong for the heads up (on this thread) He was able to watch this on a live stream (which for some reason I cannot view in Switzerland) and quoted Roy Teo from MAS making statements along these lines:

“1. Some banks will not survive the FinTech disruptions. Those who do not embrace APIs will die.

2. MAS is asking banks for a list of their APIs on a regular basis (implicitly encouraging them to build APIs).

◦ I’ve asked if the list is public with no response yet. Please let us know if you get your     hands on the list.

3. MAS itself is developing APIs that will be used for regulatory reporting purposes to simplify the process. Again, encouraging banks to use APIs.”

Tech Smart Regulation

It is fascinating to see a regulator such as MAS taking the lead on these kind of initiatives. We see this kind of “tech smart regulation” in Europe in the form of PSD2. It maybe even more advanced in Asia where “lite banking regulation” came in the form of Payment Bank Licenses and where mobile wallet interoperability is partly enabled by regulation.

If you want to see the future of Fintech, it pays to head to Asia.

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech & operates the Fintech Genome P2P Knowledge Network. Bernard Lunn is a Fintech thought-leader.