EP 174 – Michael Waitze and Theresa Blissing – Has It Been Three Years Already?


Michael Waitze worked in Global Finance for more than 20 years, employed by firms like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, primarily in Tokyo.  Michael lived and worked in Tokyo from February 1990 until December 2011.  Michael always maintained a particular focus on how technology could be used to make businesses more efficient and to drive P/L growth. Michael is a leader in the digital media space, building one of the biggest and fastest-growing podcast listener bases in the region.  His AsiaTechPodcast.com show has listeners in more than 170 countries and his company, Michael Waitze Media produces some of Asia’s most popular podcasts.

Theresa is the founder of the Asia InsurTech Podcast and a Thought Leader on innovation in insurance in Asia. She has worked for ten years for leading multinational insurers in Europe and Asia before turning to management consulting and venture building with the goal of transforming the insurance industry and helping shape its future in the region.

Happy (belated) Birthday AIP! Theresa Blissing and Michael Waitze have started the Asia InsurTech Podcast over three years ago and a lot has happened since then. Theresa and Michael discuss what has changed over the past three years, how InsurTech in Asia has grown up and became an inspiration for markets in the West and what the future might hold.

Michael Waitze 0:03
Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. This is going to be a bit of a special episode, we are going to talk I’m joined by Theresa Blissing, who’s the co-founder of the Asia InsurTech Podcast. I cannot believe we’ve been at this for three years. Can you believe that three years?

Theresa Blissing 0:24
Well, what is it that they say? Time flies when you’re having fun, and definitely having a lot of fun each time we talk, Michael, always looking forward to our conversations. So yeah, three years crazy.

Michael Waitze 0:39
It is super crazy. We’ve been traveling a lot recently, for the first time, I think in almost two and a half years, you and I actually bumped into each other, I mean, not really bumped into each other. But we actually saw each other for the first time in such a long time. At an event, I guess we’ll talk about that a little bit later. But I feel like a lot of stuff has changed in the past three years. Is that Is that fair? Like all the stuff we’ve learned at all the people we’ve spoken to? I mean, let’s just as a quick summary, over 170 individual episodes, right? Some of them one on one, some of them roundtables, unbelievable discussions, but another 50 something news round round ups, right. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff we’ve talked about, and a lot of stuff has changed. Yeah.

Theresa Blissing 1:19
No, absolutely. I mean, it’s, it’s incredible to see all the conversations, we had all the great speakers we had on the show. So absolutely amazing. And I agree, insurance has changed quite a bit. And I was recently asked, you know why we started the Asia InsurTech Podcast in the first place. In 2019, right, so there was already the InsurTech hype going on in the US and in Europe. But at that point, it was, you know, very little visibility, what is actually happening in Asia. And Asia is just a different place compared to, to, you know, the markets in Europe and in the US, especially if you are looking at developing markets in Southeast Asia. Completely different landscape. And yeah, so when we started this, it was actually that I felt there was not a lot of information out there and not enough platforms for these companies to present the things they are doing. And I think now, what has happened, and we are seeing this in our numbers, right? Yeah, so we have so many people tuning in from from Europe, from the UK, from the Americas, because everybody sees how innovative the Asian InsurTech scene is right and trying to understand more and you know, getting inspired for what is happening in other markets.

Michael Waitze 2:49
It’s a really good point, right? I mean, if you will go back and listen to some of the conversations that we had in 2019, about Asia, with people in Asia, and then look at what we’ve been discussing recently. I feel like the conversations completely changed. I want to put this in the context of other global conversations that people are having about insurance and InsurTech, I mean, back in 2019, ITC in Vegas, right, was one of the biggest if not the biggest InsurTech event in the world, something like six or 7000 people were at this event. And they hadn’t yet done an event in Asia yet right, which meant that even the world wasn’t thinking about it. And yet, the place where you and I saw each other this year, was that an ITC event? And I think that makes a big difference. Yeah.

Theresa Blissing 3:35
No, absolutely. I mean, we have seen this before, I think it was 2019. Yeah, just before the pandemic hit that InsurTech Insight had their first event in Hong Kong. Right. And then ITC had plans to have their first event in June 2020. And then, you know, we all know what happened. It brought it hold to in person events, but at the same time InsurTech did not slow down, maybe, you know, initially, but, you know, we are now seeing even greater developments, then compared to what was what we have seen before COVID. And in many cases, I think COVID accelerated, definitely the digital transformation of insurance, but also of InsurTech.

Michael Waitze 4:27
Yeah and again, we’ve talked about these numbers before, but just to put a finer point on it. I think it was, what was it WTW Willis Towers Watson who said that in 2021, more money was invested in InsurTech companies, and then all of 18 and 19 combined. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence. And to be fair, if you look at the history of financial services companies going through digital transformation. Insurance hadn’t really done that yet, particularly in Asia, and even more particularly in Southeast Asia, right. It may have started in China, but we’ve talked about this before. In my mind, China’s kind don’t have like its own domestic fixed market, right? I do know that ping on Jiang and stuff like that za tech comes out of China, invests in the rest of the world, but not a lot of people are expanding into China is kind of the point that I was trying to make. But that was already going on. But the rest of Asia hadn’t caught up yet. And I think these events that are taking place here, and I was at an another event, actually, in the middle to the end of June, also had like 100, and something senior insurance executives, and another unbelievable day of just talking about insurance and InsurTech. Yeah, so I think that kind of stuff has made a big difference. And it’s making it more obvious that this is a thing that’s here to stay. And I will say this, people may say that the public markets are now starting to undervalue some of these inshore tech companies globally. But the reality is at the at the beginning of any big transformational change, the initial companies run to run the risk of going really high, and then going really low. Again, Amazon did this way back in the early 2000s. Of late 1990s. Right. And yet, it’s still here, it just had to go through its own transition phase, and I don’t think it’s gonna be any different. In the InsurTech. World. What do you think?

Theresa Blissing 6:12
Yeah, it’s an interesting one. Right. So there’s a lot of conversations around, you know, can these insurtechs. And, you know, let’s talk about b2c business models, right. So like the so called disruptors, the companies that have an insurance license, or, you know, at least operating as a, as a broker, close to mga models. You know, we haven’t seen a lot of proof that these companies can be profitable. But it is also still early, right. And at the end, if you if you know, anything about insurance, and, you know, insurance who have the risk in their balance sheet, right, you need a big enough portfolio to balance out these claims. Right. And I think it’s still too early to tell. I agree. And I, you know, I agree with you in a way, you know, there will definitely be winners, who are, you know, going to be the next big thing and insurance, and they are here to stay. But I also think that we will see a lot of consolidation. And that’s, that’s just normal. Right. We are starting to see this in the US already with laminate. And while while I think, you know, we will see a similar thing happening in Asia soon or, you know, in some some parts, we are seeing that.

Michael Waitze 7:39
want to make the case, though, that, I don’t know, right. If lemonade and Metromile, the combination of those two companies is still going to be around in 10 years? I don’t know. But I do know that the commentary around them is not that different. If you go back and look in the commentary on Amazon. I mean, they used to the the magazines back then, were still magazines, no laughing from you, by the way about magazines. But the magazines of the press back then was calling Amazon Amazon dot bomb, right? Because they just said the whole thing is going to explode, it’s never going to make any money. And to be fair, even back then they were wondering whether the internet was actually still going to be a thing. So you know, I don’t know if lemonade Metro mile itself is still going to be around. But there will be digital first insurance companies, I think in the same way that there will be digital first banks, we already see them thriving in Southeast Asia. But you’re right, an insurance company. It’s like a longer gestation period. You don’t wake up one day start insurance companies profitable right away. It doesn’t work that way. Right. So I do think it’s going to take some time. It’ll take more time in Asia, for sure. Because we’ve started later. But But I do think it’s gonna happen. And I think there’s precedent for what’s happening in the market now. And I will say this, too. The press is terrible at predicting who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. And again, I think that’s one of the big benefits of what we do, right? We’re not trying to pick the winners and losers. We’re just trying to have the conversation around it to inform the market about what’s going on here. And I think that’s what we have listeners in 160 Something countries Yeah.

Theresa Blissing 9:15
Yeah, no, I agree. And I think you know, the biggest benefit of the you know, InsurTech if you want to call it Hi, Brian. Is not that necessarily we have these new players and they are in are absolutely profitable. I think what is what is even more important is that these players have changed the game for the entire industry. And I spoke about this the other day in a fireside chat with Alex from one degree and then hopper and right. And I mentioned how I used to work for generali and how frustrated I was with the little change that was happening there. Right. But to be fair, the generali I left Back in 2015 is not the same company it is today. Because all of these incumbents actually have changed and they are doing a lot. There’s still a long way to go, right. But they are doing a lot and a lot has changed. And there is a lot of work going on, in terms of you know, changing the culture, changing the mindset, and, you know, adopting these new technology adopting these new approaches, and I think that is really what insurer Tech has changed for the entire industry. And that’s, that’s a great thing.

Michael Waitze 10:33
Yeah, and even so, let’s go back to the E commerce business, right just to make an equivalency. Back when Amazon was started, Walmart hadn’t even started looking at what ecommerce on an online commerce was like, and people couldn’t make fun of Walmart going, it’s an old company, it’s gonna die just like Kmart did, it’s gonna die just like Sears did. And yet, they, they were the bear that got poked, right. They went out and they bought some ecommerce companies, I think it was jet or can’t remember the ones that they bought, because they figured out, oh, wait a second, this world is changing. And you’re right. The generosity that you left in 2015, in a way can’t be the same generosity that exists today, because they did the same thing that Walmart did, and said, Wait a second, we need to join, like this digital transformation world. And I think, again, the press can make fun of insurance companies for being stated for being boring and being conservative. But the reality is that they didn’t have to change. They didn’t have to. But when their customers started demanding better user experiences better user interfaces, they didn’t say no.

Theresa Blissing 11:35
You know what I mean? Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think you know, if it is, it is a funny situation, actually, if you think about it. Now, there’s all this hype about, you know, data science and data scientists a number of years ago was rated, you know, the sexiest job that is, you know, all there. If you think about it. Actuaries were the first data scientists. So, you know, essentially insurance invented this profession in a way, just, you know, with back then the data that was available. But for some reason, the insurance industry has stopped there and hasn’t, you know, adopted new data sources, new data, models, et cetera. But now this is changing. And, you know, maybe insurance is going to be again that, you know, the cutting edge of this and also the whole, I think perception of the insurance industry is slowly changing, right? And you mentioned this, you know, so many so many times that when we started with the AJ InsurTech podcast, everybody was like, Yeah, I’m insurance. It’s not the greatest job in the world, but pays the bills, right. But now people actually proud and they they enjoy their jobs, and they are enjoying what they are doing. So that’s, that’s a great thing to see.

Michael Waitze 12:57
Yeah. And in a way, if we had spoken to Zurich, if we’d spoken to Swiss Re if we had spoken to Chubb or any of these big incumbent insurance companies, even just three years ago, three and a half years ago, back in 2019, they wouldn’t have been anywhere near where they are today. And yet all of them and I’m just using those as a proxy, right? They’re not the only ones, Hanover as well, right. But all these big companies generally to are now thinking, hey, wait a second. We have all this data, we have all these clients, we have this gigantic balance sheet, we do need to attach technology to it. And I wanted to address this because I like you kind of introduced me to this idea that there are two types of companies that scale in the startup world, right. disruptors are enablers. And I think we’ve moved deep into the face of just enablement. I don’t even think if somebody starts an insurer tech company today, they want to disrupt. Do you think as I think that’s one of the biggest changes that we’ve seen since we started doing the show? Does that make sense to you as well?

Theresa Blissing 13:58
Yeah, in a way, I mean, if you look at insurtechs You know, the one of the first ones coming up in Europe and in the US that you know, had the title InsurTech Of course, there have been, you know, startups in the insurance space for everybody in this like new InsurTech hype. Lemonade, obviously are popular examples, but we have also seen, you know, a number of enablers, I think shift technology was one of the first ones that looked at, you know, fraud detection coming out of France. You have friends from the Netherlands, right? And I think there’s, you know, there’s a reason why these enablers have been, you know, more in the western world because, you know, labor is expensive, if you have someone there who has to manually go through, you know, all these applications, etc. That’s just more costly compared to when What you find in, you know, developing countries in Asia and you know, countries like Indonesia, but also Thailand, right, where labor is not that expensive as in, in, in those countries. So I think that is one of the reasons we have seen more enablers earlier in, in the investment countries are also now seeing those coming up in Asia, because it’s not only about, you know, the cost of labor, it’s also about working better and smarter.

Michael Waitze 15:30
Right? Yeah. Where do you think coverage genius fits into this?

Theresa Blissing 15:37
Well covered genius is it and again, it’s a great example of, you know, it’s not always easy to decide if someone is a disrupter or isn’t an enabler, right? Because in a way, they are an enabler. In most countries, they are operating as MGA, right? So they have an mga license in all of the US states, etc. But in Southeast Asia, you don’t really have this concept. So here they are working with, you know, insurance companies to be the main underwriter and have to partner with them. But they have built, you know, a great tech platform that, you know, not only allows them to plug into ecosystems, right, but also then to manage like the claims process. And I think that is one of the reasons why coverage genius is quite successful, and also popular they have I think it’s 65, NPs or something, they have a very, very high NPS score. And this is mainly due to their claims management product process, and then the tech behind it, right. So I’m not sure if I answered your

Michael Waitze 16:54
coverages is actually a really good example. This is one of the reasons why I brought them up is because they’re from Asia, right, but uniquely global, I think they have a license in every state in United States. But like, you’re right, the MBA model doesn’t really exist out here. So here, they’re less of a disrupter and more of an enabler. But they are hybrid. And I think it’s one of the reasons on top of their tech platform that they’ve become so successful. But it’s it’s a different model, right. And they’ve kind of done both things. And you’re right. RG, I think, was the one who said, I think in the old days, the company was working for at a negative 15. NPS. But the Net Promoter Score of covered genius, is now 65, which is ridiculously high for an insurance company. Yeah. It was one of the things that I want to say about this, and I just forgot, it was really good, though.

Theresa Blissing 17:47
Okay, let me let me ask you this, you know, if you if you look at our friends at One Degree, right, so they started as a licensed insurer, but they also have built the tech behind it. So this is when they, you know, started I IX T

Michael Waitze 18:06
exam, but this is a really good example. So the one degree team is also, we talked about this a lot, right? They built this, they built this pet insurance business. And I think we talked the one of the reasons why I think they did that was just to kind of get some headway into the insurance business and figure it out. But then they went out and build their own tech stack as well. And the other thing about this, that makes it really interesting, and you reminded me is that now you have other fintechs This is how we know insurance is sexy, because now you have other fintechs with massive user bases, particularly some of the payment companies, I think it’s like Paytm phone pay in India, who are saying, hey, wait a second, we’ve got 200 million 300 million people on our platform. We can serve them any financial service product we want. Let’s get into the insurance distribution business as well. Yeah, that’s different from three years ago. No,

Theresa Blissing 18:58
it is it is definitely different from three years ago and I think a lot of businesses that have a large user base right they now see insurance as you know, an additional revenue model because you know, you have all these e wallets with you know, in India, especially but also across Southeast Asia and the Philippines in Thailand. But how do they monetize it? Because the E wallets normally are you know, essentially free to use right so how do you monetize monetize these business models and insurance is always something you can fairly easily plug in and create a business model around the the commission you are getting for these and you know, if you have a large user base, and you can only convert you know 5% of your users that’s that’s all you need. That’s really all you need. Yeah,

Michael Waitze 19:53
and you know, I think one of the other big changes and again, tell me where I’m wrong here. This surprised me actually, I remember the the The recording that we did with lifestyle. I think I have that for them right from Indonesia. You know, you said one of the reasons why you wanted to found the Asian short tech podcast was because back in 2019, there just wasn’t a ton of information, a ton of content being created, right? And I remember what I was about insurance and InsurTech, right. And I remember when I was talking to the team at lifestyle, and they were like, Yeah, we have 500,000 people following our Instagram page, and 4 million, I’m just got to be higher now. Because I think this was over a year ago, and 4 million monthly average uses for our blogs, and I just thought, Okay, now, if someone sends me an insurance isn’t sexy anymore, I’m gonna tell him stop that. Because that’s just a proof point that people care about it when it’s introduced to them in a way that’s informative and helpful. Yeah. And I think that’s a big change. No,

Theresa Blissing 20:48
no, I absolutely agree. And, but I also have to say, the business model that life Powell is running, I’m not sure if it would work in, you know, a market like, like Germany, or even here in Australia. But in Indonesia, where there’s, you know, very low financial literacy, and also the way they design it, they create these like little dramas, you know, storylines, and then, you know, explain in a fun way, how insurance can help. I think what is important is not to have it, you know, to centered around insurance, because that’s, that’s when people are, you know, getting tired of it. But if you if you create, you know, like good content that is that is, you know, entertaining, but at the same time you also learn something, I think that’s, that’s a great way. And, yeah, they’ve been, they’ve been really successful with, you know, getting getting users to sign up to their Instagram account. And in Indonesia.

Michael Waitze 21:50
Yeah, I just think this idea that content matters, and that people are actually talking about it now. And where they definitely were not three years ago. And you’re right, I don’t think that the lifestyle strategy would work in Western Europe, or in the United States or in Canada, just because there’s so much other information out there. The literacy rates are probably higher, but there was a vacuum. And I think that was one of the points you made. At the beginning of this conversation, there was an information vacuum and an informative vacuum here. And you know, we filled a lot of it, and they filled some of it as well. But just the fact that they thought that creating the content would help them get clients, I thought was a big change from when we first started doing this. The other really interesting thing is that I think our most what’s the right word, our most popular or most listened to Episode I can’t remember was digit insurance. Yeah. And I think, besides the sing life with Aviva, isn’t digit, like one of the very few, like real from scratch insurance companies at scale, that are actually like an insurance company. Is that fair? Do you know what I mean?

Theresa Blissing 22:53
Yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s definitely fair, they also have a fairly traditional insurance model, right? They have their agents, commercial, y’all the founder and chairman of the grid, he worked many, many years in Allianz, he was also in Germany, for Allianz and you know, very senior roles there. And he built digit in you know, very traditional way, but then, you know, is using more technologies to make it you know, smarter faster. And, you know, and its operation and obviously, using also new media sources for, for customer acquisition. So, yeah, definitely, I mean, we, we see a number of other licensed companies, right, we mentioned one degree already, they have a license. Then in India, we also have ACO, which is also a licensed insurer, but yeah, I do have the feeling digit is one of the you know, bigger ones. And, you know, we can we can already tell from our our listenership, and we had Viron from from echo on the show as well as as well, right. And it was not as popular as escabeche.

Michael Waitze 24:11
Were there any takeaways before I let you go from ITC in Asia? From your side? Right, you? Here’s the really interesting thing. AIP didn’t exist before 2019. And yet, I mean, you’ve been in the insurance industry forever, but I definitely haven’t. And both of us were speakers and moderating panels, etc. I thought that was kind of cool. But were there any takeaways for you? I’ll give you mine when you’re done. But I’m just curious if there any takeaways from you.

Theresa Blissing 24:41
Well, I really enjoyed it. I mean, you know, first of all, it was so great. You’re the person and, you know, also with Hugh Terry from the digital insurer. So that was great. And then it just felt like a like a big reunion. Yeah, in a way a lot of people I have, you know, you know, I’ve been speaking at many conferences before COVID, across across Asia. And so, you know, meeting old friends again, in a way, right. But then also meeting all the people we have talked to, you know, in a virtual way, and, you know, the podcast, or we have been, you know, joining a virtual stage and one of the virtual events with right to finally meet them in person. And I think it was definitely a reminder that, you know, when it comes to like content in a way, yeah, you know, that, that, that has been going, we have been going I they have been virtual events, you know, that that’s the work, what was really what most people missed, I think, was having a chance to meet people in person. And, you know, have also these meaningful conversations, right? Because if you’re just in a virtual environment, you normally you cut it short to what it is that you have to discuss. But if you have the platform to meet in person, you know, the conversations, they go much further and they you know, continue in the evening, and you know, over a couple of beers, and yeah, I think that was that was really what was missing all these past years.

Michael Waitze 26:21
I want to confirm this, and then I’ll let you go. You and I have spoken so many times about this idea that technology should make agents should make insurance companies should make everybody in the business just better at their jobs if they’re already good at it. But that there’s no right and that having great tech and a great tech stack at tech stack is super important, but that there’s no substitute for in person face to face contact. And for everybody that thinks that agents are going away. I’ve been saying this now for the entire time we’ve been doing this. I don’t think so. I think that was one of my biggest takeaways was that that face to face, everybody realized, again, there’s so much power in that kind of contact. And that’s never gonna go away.

Theresa Blissing 27:03
Yeah, absolutely agree.

Michael Waitze 27:05
Okay, I will let you go. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it three years. Unbelievable.

Theresa Blissing 27:13
I’m looking forward to the next three years.

Related Podcasts

Episode 240