Amid the uproar of the Covid-19 pandemic, insurtechs are set to benefit by helping insurers out with legacy technology

Although the travel insurance sector is frantically treading water while swimming in the unprecedented sea of coronavirus-related claims, Mark Colonnese, director at insurtech Aquarium Software, believes this struggle as well as the market’s bad reputation around claims handling and pay outs could, in fact, be “a good news story” for insurtechs and “niche players like us”.

He explains: “What it has highlighted is a short coming in [the] existing insurer infrastructure, where as long as everything ticks along more or less like it did last year, everything’s fine.

“But as soon as something tricky happens, it’s exposed as being left somewhat wanting and the reality is right now the travel insurance industry cannot cope with what is being hit with.

“They are only obviously dealing with squeaky wheels.

“There’ll be some questions asked about how do we cope with these kinds of things better in the future? The obvious answer is more automation, greater digitalisation.

“Travel insurance is still relying on [the] tools and techniques of 20 years ago and that really does need to change. It’s really being exposed a moment.”

Colonnese continues that the national lockdown, imposed by the government to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, provides an opportunity for insurtechs to help insurers “build greater operational resilience”, as outdated back office technology desperately needs a revamp in order to cope with the current digital-centric working environment.

He says: “Insurers have to build greater operational resilience into their systems and processes. The reality is that quite often, there is still quite a lot of old tech out there.

“Insurance is a conservative industry that isn’t rapidly innovating all the time. Quite often you’ll see stuff that’s customer facing and it looks great. Great online journey. But the reality of what’s sitting behind that, in the head office, it’s a green screen system that hasn’t changed for the 30 years. That’s where the problems come.

“If you’re going to suddenly lose 50% of your workforce capacity because they can’t all be in a call centre at the same time, you’ve got to find another solution. And that’s going to drive things like greater self-service [as well as] greater digitisation of policy admin [and] claims journeys.”

Furthermore, Colonnese says that the current climate has also changed the market’s perceptions about working with a smaller, niche business such as Aquarium Software, especially as remote working measures means that geography is no longer a barrier or hinderance to getting the job done.

“It’s changed people’s perceptions of working with a small, niche insurance company in the UK,” Colonnese says.

“Before, they would have gone ‘we want to work with a local supplier’. A local supplier in the States still might be five hours away. Now that’s immaterial because they can’t come anywhere. I do think that might be a factor in a softening or warming of attitude in terms of working with us.”


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‘Car crash’ market

In this unexpected environment of opportunity, Colonnese says Aquarium Software has “never been busier” – the travel and pet insurance software provider has ongoing implementations in both Australia and the US that are being conducted remotely.

Speaking to Aquarium’s clients, Colonnese adds that “pet [insurance] is weirdly busy” with an uptick in sales volumes that is similar to January. “It’s like post-Christmas, insure the puppy scenario,” he explains.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, is travel insurance, which Colonnese describes as “a car crash at the moment”.

But what about insurance post-Covid-19? Colonnese thinks the way propositions are put to clients will change.

He continues: “[Insurers are] going to be looking to put much more autotomy in the hands of customers. Build that operational resilience, frankly, by taking people out of the equation.”


Alongside the increased opportunities presented by the pandemic is business growth, which Colonnese identifies as a “challenge”.

He says: “A challenge for us as a business is actually trying to keep up with the speed we want to grow. That’s what we are every day worried about.

“We are growing massively. Our biggest challenge right now is hiring people.”

With this in mind, Colonnese adds that the increased flexibility of home and remote working – originally introduced uniformly across the sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic – has, in fact, helped with the firm’s recruitment drive and steered traditional attitudes away from a typical 9am to 5pm working day.

“We want to expand globally. We wouldn’t have probably employed someone in Australia, for example, without having an office there – I think that’s changed. We absolutely could employ someone in Australia,” he says.

“Even from our recruitment in the UK, we’re looking at people that are further afield. But, you could work from home. The general consensus from our development team is, this is better than going to the office.”

Aquarium has even been involved in the creation of technology to support the NHS to recruit staff into its makeshift Covid-19 support hospitals, such as the NHS Nightingale London, based at East London conference centre the ExCeL. The insurtech worked on the project with Capita Insurance Services.

“That was a complete curve ball for us,” Colonnese says. “We dropped everything and built a system for them. We still have 8:30am calls every morning with [Capita Insurance Services] and the NHS to go through the people they’re onboarding. It’s been a rewarding project.”