There are no set standards as to how insurance is traded electronically by the aggregator market and transparency is a major problem, but could Honcho’s reverse-auction market place change that?
The idea for Durham-based Honcho can be traced back to a rock-climbing injury.
It was this anecdote that led Gavin Sewell, the firm’s chief executive and co-founder to apply electronic trading to insurance distribution.
He told Insurance Times the firm hopes to launch in Q2 this year within the car insurance market and has plans to extend its proposition to home and travel insurance thereafter.
This follows the news that Honcho has starting beta testing during February this year alongside assembling a panel of 10-15 brokers, insurers and MGAs.
This integration launch panel will be responsible for bidding for customers.
After suffering from a bad back, Sewell and co-founder took a trip to see his chiropractor.
He explained that his chiropractor introduced him to a serial entrepreneur, named Hossain. And he had an idea to set up ’something mobile’ with the aggregation of insurance and was seeking someone to lead the venture.
Sewell explained: “What struck me looking at the price comparison space was that you could bring the electronic trading function to the distribution of insurance. This was something that I had been working on all my life. This in turn could make a market place for insurance distribution rather than just a quote comparison tool.”
After studying computer science at Manchester University in the early nineties, Sewell’s first job was with Lloyd’s Bank looking at electronic messaging in London. He has also worked for Deutsche Bank focusing on trading systems and spent over four years at Morgan Stanley as vice president.
In a bid to avoid travelling from the North East of England to London daily for work, after marrying his wife, Sewell aimed to set up business in his area of residence.
Other expertise that was brought in included insurance veteran, Frank Speight.
The insurtech then shifted from using the idea of a mobile site for the aggregation of insurance to an electronic trading site.
Speight has over twenty years of experience in insurance and on meeting the founders became the firm’s original chief executive.
He has worked for Lloyd’s of London as director in worldwide markets as well as spending over seven years at Eagle Star Insurance which is now part of Zurich Group.
Sewell later took over as chief executive, with Speight assuming the role of commercial director, at Speight’s request.
And September 2018 saw the insurance disruptor make several senior appointments including Graeme Stoker as chief digital officer, he was previously head of digital at Utilitywise.
It also hired Tom Spence as its chief product officer – formerly head of digital adoption of Barclay’s banking app and platform.
What’s in a name?
Sewell explained that the firm’s name – Honcho – stands for ’consumer-centricity’ meaning that you don’t just go and passively choose a policy.
“If you imagine the proposition, which is the insurers are pitted against each other to win your business. The customer is saying ’here’s what I want, come and chase me and fight for my business’. So, you the consumer are in the position of ’head honcho’,” he added.
It also enables insurers to increase engagement with its customers, this is something the aggregators involve themselves with directly.
But despite this disruptive approach, the business still faced challenges.
Honcho had its funding put on hold in 2017 due to Brexit. This saw the firm turn to crowdfunding to raise what it needed to launch.
But Sewell said he saw the crowdfunding exercise as one of Honcho’s biggest achievements. He added: “It’s been one big challenge from start to finish.
“Money is a clear challenge. It’s a big product to build which required FCA authorisation in order to achieve it as well as integration with insurers.
“It’s always been a battle to raise the right investment at the right time.”
This challenge was made bigger by growing the business in the North East, as most funding is allocated to London.
In June last year the firm received FCA authorisation, becoming an approved intermediary and following this it became an associate member of Biba.
January 2019 saw the firm join Insurtech UK – an alliance of insurtechs, startups and partners with a mission to use technology to improve insurance.
Integration and data
He cited another challenge faced by the company – integration with incumbent insurers.
But as the proposition represents a cheaper distribution play for the industry using a reverse-auction, Honcho has had no problem signing people up.
“It’s a much more insightful distribution channel where they can find data on how the market is pricing a certain risk.”
Sewell said that insurers face the challenge of legacy systems, regulatory changes, vast amounts of work and not enough people to do it.
Level playing field
Sewell said that there are no set standards as to how insurance is electronically traded.
But he claims this proposition might just level the playing field for an insurer distributing insurance via the aggregator as everyone that bids for a customer’s business pays £1 regardless of the product, so it is transparent.
Consumers save time and insurers can save money, Sewell said the firm’s model is three to four times cheaper than using an aggregator.
Honcho has wider ambitions of becoming a more comprehensive electronic market place that can work for any priceable goods or services.