A Waterloo Region startup’s insurance data retrieval system – that acts like Google for the insurance industry – has attracted a CAD$5.6-million financing round, its second multimillion-dollar round in slightly more than a year.
ProNavigator appeared on the insurtech field in 2016 after CEO and founder Joseph D’Souza spent an hour and 35 minutes listening to elevator music and an endlessly repeated “Your call is important to us” when he called his insurance company for some basic information.
There has to be a better way, he thought, and developed an interactive AI-driven voice technology, known as Compass, that quickly finds answers to basic customer questions.
ProNavigator, based in the Communitech Hub, caught the eye of Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, Canada’s largest property and casualty mutual insurance company, which in 2018 had opened an innovation lab – dubbed the Innovation Outpost – at the Hub. Within months of opening, the two companies were collaborating on the next phase of ProNavigator’s growth: Ask Sage.
If Compass faces outwards to consumers, Ask Sage faces inwards, using machine learning software to help brokers speedily retrieve answers for insurance company clients and staff.
Ask Sage is a continuation of D’Souza’s intention of streamlining insurance information retrieval to reduce waiting time and improve customer experience. The insurance industry, he says, is “very document-heavy – sometimes we like to call it document dysfunction – there’s so much information on policy wording, underwriting information, and insurance terms . . . that it takes employees sometimes one to two hours per day just to look for the right information.
“We’re in a world in which people expect things to be done in seconds. The Ask Sage platform is built to answer questions internally for staff, whether you’re a broker or an underwriter or a claims staff person. It’s almost like a Google for insurance internally, to be able to find information quickly.”
David Arbuthnot, Director of the Wawanesa’s Innovation Outpost, says the insurer is “pretty excited” about the close collaboration it has had with ProNavigator. Wawanesa is Canada’s largest property and casualty mutual insurance company, with assets of $10.5 billion, 5,700 employees and two million policyholders in Canada and the U.S. The company delivers its products through its many broker partners, and Ask Sage is a key tool for them.
“We’re 100 per cent broker distributed in Canada,” says Arbuthnot. “Brokers play a hugely important role in selling and servicing our products, so we’re happy to work with a company that is bringing value to the broker network.”
Arbuthnot says that Ask Sage “is a great tool to help our broker partners get access to information quickly, easily and accurately. We think it allows the brokers to spend more time on the human interaction . . . It allows them to do what they do best.”
This speed and improvement in client experience has attracted attention: Wawanesa is a client, as is TD Insurance and HUB International, ranked as the fifth largest brokerage in the world.
ProNavigator’s success also attracted two rounds of financing. The first round, completed in February 2019, was $2.2 million from the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund and GreenSky Capital, with participation from Innovation Grade Ventures and angel investors from Waterloo and Toronto.
This new round of $5.6 million is led by the Montreal-based fintech venture capital fund Luge Capital, with returning investment from both GreenSky Capital and MaRS IAF, along with additional support from iNovia Capital, BDC and CIBC Innovation Banking.
David Nault, General Partner for Luge Capital, says in a news release that “strong customer demand, a solid value proposition and their proven growth strategy caught our attention. We’re looking forward to fuelling their growth with our network, experience and capital to help solve the insurance industry’s information flow challenges.”
D’Souza says the new money will drive growth in the U.S. markets and build the company’s reach beyond personal home and auto to include commercial insurance. To do this, the work force will nearly double: adding 20 people to the 30-person team this year, and potentially adding another 10 next year. Those hires will include staff in products, engineering, marketing and sales, as well as some executive team members.
For a company that is aiming high, the Waterloo tech ecosystem is a good launch pad, says D’Souza.
“A big part of our success is that we’re headquartered in this technology hub of Kitchener-Waterloo which gives us access to world-class talent but also, the K-W region has insurance history dating back to the 1870s, believe it or not. It houses the headquarters of several insurance industry giants,” he said.
“I think that where we are is a perfect place to build a larger company, and we’re looking forward to continuing to invest in the region here.”