James LEE, Managing Director | CHAN Hiok Chiou, Director posted on 22 Oct 2021
For many years, the insurance industry in Asia has remained relatively unchanging and highly traditional due to low penetration. However, growing interest in insurance spurred by the pandemic has highlighted longstanding issues with the industry such as rising premiums and deductibles, a poor customer experience and inadequate coverage.
Sunday Insurance (Sunday) caught Vertex Growth’s interest due to its disruptive potential and ability to fill this gap. Sunday is Asia’s first full-stack Insurtech company and was launched in Thailand in 2017. What makes it unique in the region is that it uses data models and technology to offer multiple insurance products and services in digital healthcare, electronics, automotive and travel. Till date, the company has served over 700 local enterprises and over 1.6 million customers in Thailand.
Cindy Kua, the Co-Founder and CEO of Sunday, has a strong background in insurance within the region as the second generation in her family to build an insurance company. Her deep understanding of insurance needs in Southeast Asia and Sunday’s inherent technological agility have seen Sunday emerge as a leader in Southeast Asia’s Insurtech space.
In this interview, we delve into Cindy’s inspiration for Sunday, its strengths and her aspirations for the future.
Q1) Why did you decide to start Sunday Insurance?
Insurance has always been a passion of mine. I’ve been exposed to the industry from an early age thanks to my family’s insurance business in Malaysia, KSK Group. Even though I did my degree in law, the majority of my career has also revolved around insurance. I’ve led multiple transformation projects in non-life insurance companies in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Many people in Asia thought they didn’t need insurance or found it too expensive or a hassle. Some feel that the available insurance products didn’t always address their needs or was difficult to get claims approved. But without consumer interest, there was little incentive for providers to change, hence creating a vicious cycle.
I know that insurance can really be a lifesaver – literally and financially. With that in mind, I wanted to create something that could make it easier for people to get better access to the protection they needed. At that time, there was also a significant growth potential for non-life insurance in the Thailand market as penetration was low, but the industry had a CAGR of 12.8% from 2009 to 2015.
I’m a big fan of using technology to solve problems. Building on my family’s experience in and knowledge of the insurance business, it seemed a natural progression to create Sunday with a different concept: to be a technologically-powered one-stop shop for people to easily access personalised insurance coverage according to their needs.
With this model in mind, we focused on working with corporates and SMEs to help them provide better protection for their employees in key areas such as electronics, personal accident and healthcare. This addresses an underserved segment whereby companies were either providing inadequate coverage because of cost or not providing coverage at all. We believe a bigger positive impact can be achieved by providing affordable, comprehensive and personalised group insurance with a diversified sales channel.
Q2) Can you tell us more about how Sunday leverages technology to address these pain points?
The insurance incumbents obviously had a head start but has been plagued by a reputation of poor customer experience, so we knew that we could differentiate ourselves through technology. Since we own an underwriting licence in Thailand, we can handle and control the full end-to-end insurance process of underwriting, distribution and claims processing. Instead of reselling insurance, the license allows us to innovate, design and launch new products quickly, making us far more agile and responsive to the needs of our customers.
Using AI and machine learning risk prediction algorithms to power our premium pricing engines, our insurance products offered were personalised based on an individual or the business’ needs and risk profile. By pricing our products competitively and optimising costs for customers, the data-driven underwriting has allowed us to manage our claims ratios.
We also leverage technology to deliver a better customer experience for our policyholders and much of what we’ve done with Sunday is an industry-first within Southeast Asia. We built the region’s first health insurance superapp with customer-centric features like a pre-diagnosis bot, teleconsultation, drug delivery, and care routing services all in one single app.
Additionally, we created the Agency app as a one-stop resource for agents to find products and manage quotations easily, enabling remote sales that are efficient yet transparent.
Q3) Technology aside, what else do you think sets Sunday apart in the market?
Ultimately, I believe that the strong focus on aligning interests and incentives for a better “value-based” insurance model is what really sets Sunday apart. Take for example the health insurance segment, the premise of “value-based” care model can be boiled down to one goal: aligning incentives so all parties (patient, healthcare provider, and insurer) achieve the best possible outcome by delivering the best care at the lowest cost.
The problem with the traditional fee-for-service model is that it generates fees for healthcare providers based on the quantity of services they perform. Policyholders, put in a situation where they only pay a fraction of the healthcare expenses, also do not have a major incentive to reduce the quantity of care. This moral hazard resulted in insurers driving up deductibles so policyholders have more skin in the game by paying more out of their pocket before the insurance policy kicks in. However, while insurers are the ones that set out-of-pocket expenses to avoid “moral hazard” and disincentivize patients from receiving unnecessary care, they also bear the burden if a patient does not receive necessary care, resulting in an endless vicious cycle of increasing cost burden on both insurers and policyholders.
This is why Sunday rolled out the Sunday SuperApp, with pre-diagnosis bots and teleconsultation so that we can recommend suitable next steps for our customers, who may overestimate or underestimate their condition. The SuperApp also has care routing and drug delivery services so that we can recommend healthcare providers based on coverage and needs, ultimately helping patients navigate the complex healthcare system, and avoid unnecessary care and expenses.
Insurance shouldn’t just come into play when something has already happened. Rather, we believe in ensuring customers have the tools they need to reduce their risk and take care into their own hands from day one. This will empower our customers to bend the healthcare cost curve by reducing their deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses as well as reduce claims ratios on the insurers part.
We also believe that risk differs by person and people shouldn’t be paying for what they don’t need. That’s why instead of using a one-size-fits-all fixed price model, our coverage and protection plans are customisable based on the customer’s needs. This allows our products to be more targeted and tailored.
Q4) What’s in the growth plan for Sunday?
Technology has been one of our primary keys to success and we can’t give it enough credit. We wouldn’t have been able to get such in-depth insight and create good products without our AI and machine learning algorithms, which has been instrumental in helping us build customer trust. As such, further technology developments are firmly on the cards as we grow.
Digital healthcare remains one of our core products. By the end of 2021, we aim to offer more robust cashless telemedicine services to reduce out of pocket expenses for our customers. We are also developing managed care services as part of our product suite, which will be a range of specially designed clinical programmes to help customers recover from more common chronic or recurring diseases to reduce future claims.
At the heart of Sunday, we believe in putting our customers’ needs first. Hence, we begin developing an in-house Third-Party Administrators (TPA) platform with plans to launch by 2022 . This platform aims to enable real-time claims updates, assessment and settlement for users to reduce settlement time to five days, and improve reimbursement rate by 2 times.
Q5) How do you see Sunday disrupting and changing the insurance landscape in Asia?
By democratising access to better insurance coverage for all and working with providers from the ground up, we created a more holistic and effective insurance ecosystem that facilitates better inclusion.
For example, in healthcare, all citizens in Thailand have Universal Health Coverage (UHC). However, rising costs, an aging population and now the added burden of COVID-19 means some may not get adequate care at affiliated hospitals. With our value-based care model and by integrating vertically into the provider side, we aim to help everyone get easier access to healthcare. This bends the healthcare cost curve and solves customer pain points.
This can be applied to any other industry that can be covered by insurance. As more insurers start to follow suit, this can only be a win-win for all.
Q6) What are Sunday’s future aspirations and goals?
It might be bold to say, but I truly think that we can play an important part in revolutionising the way people think about insurance in this part of the world. Many perceive insurance as a financial compensation tool that only happens when something occurs. To me, insurance is beyond that. Insurance is about providing a risk management service. I often ask myself this: “How do you practice active risk management and integrate that into someone’s lifestyle?”
With that in mind, Sunday aims to offer insurance beyond a financial safety net but with easy access and affordability too. Since there’s insurance for nearly everything now, positive changes within the insurance industry will have ripple effects for the industries that they cover – an example would be healthcare.
Our year-on-year 100 percent growth in Thailand also suggests there is a demand for such products. As Southeast Asian economies mature, interest in insurance as a form of financial planning will rise. That’s why we’re aiming to bring Sunday to the rest of Southeast Asia – starting with our entry into Indonesia last year, which is the region’s most populated nation with rising demand for digital insurance&firstPage=true).
But beyond geographical expansion, I believe future insurers will build capabilities to do price/risk prediction and provide insurance coverage in a dynamic manner. This includes ingesting different types of data from different sources, and finding the significance and right corelation to move an insurance policy holder’s premium pricing based on their risk profile. The function of risk underwriting will fall on insurers and the future lies in having the ability to work with multiple data sources to provide dynamic coverage.
This is the core of Sunday’s business and given the success of similar overseas Insurtechs, it is possible to envision a similar trajectory for Sunday in Asia. We are grateful for the support and partnership from Vertex Ventures Southeast Asia and India and Vertex Growth, and look forward to continuing this exciting journey together.
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