EP 105 – Steven Tannason – co-Founder AmanCo – A Reflection of Shifting Consumer Behavior

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Michael Waitze has been podcasting with some of the best investors and business builders globally and discussing all things startup with them from an Asian perspective. Michael worked in Global Finance for more than 20 years, employed by firms like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs, primarily in Tokyo. Michael always maintained a particular focus on how technology could be used successfully to make businesses more efficient and to drive P/L growth. Michael is quite skilled at connecting people and capital to innovative ideas and is a trusted advisor to both investors and founders. Michael is a leader in the digital media space, having pioneered the concept of a podcast network in Asia while building the biggest and fastest-growing listener base in the region. His flagship website, AsiaTechPodcast.com, has listeners in over 130 countries and is available on virtually every podcast player that supports RSS feeds.

Steven is co-founder and CEO of Aman, digital platform for employee benefts in Indonesia, empowering employers to conveniently find and manage health insurance for their employees. Prior to starting Aman, Steven lived in Beijing, building and leading business development team for ByteDance in Southeast Asia. Before that, he was based in Singapore for 4+ years, working on product partnerships for Google, helping to launch new products for Google Maps across the region.

The Asia InsurTech Podcast spoke with Steve Tannason, a co-founder of Amanco.id about what we can learn from social media platforms like TikTok for InsurTech and how Amanco.id is planning to change employee benefits in Indonesia.  

See the full transcript below:

Michael Waitze 0:00
Okay, we’re on. Hi, this is Michael Waitzer and welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. This is the only podcast in Asia focused on insurance that gives entrepreneurs, thought leaders and investors a platform to discuss how technology is reshaping the insurance industry in Asia. Today, I’m joined by Steve Tannason, a co-founder of AmanCo.id. We can talk about the name whenever you want. Steven, it’s great to have you on the show. How are you doing today?

Steven Tannason 0:27
Very good, Michael, thanks for having me on this show. I’m a huge fan of your show. And I love what you guys are doing to really elevate and reimagine the insurance industry here in Asia. Thank you for having me.

Michael Waitze 0:38
That’s very kind of you by the way. Steven, let’s just jump right into this. What do you think is the biggest trend in InsurTech? Let’s start with Indonesia first, and then you can move out to greater Asia?

Steven Tannason 0:50
For sure, yeah. So I think that there has been a disproportionately higher attention and top of mind for health insurance products, which as we know, can get super complex most of the time, especially in the group health setting. Right. So for example, Indonesia, the health insurance has been growing at around 18% over the year in the country. But at the same time, we’re also seeing that there’s a shift in consumer behavior and how people are getting used to e-commerce, ride sharing products. And it place a brand new expectation on how insurance carriers and also InsurTech are working together in delivering new experiences to the consumers. For us, we have spoken to so many insurance carriers and brokers. And I think it’s refreshing to see how many of them are thinking more about digitalization, about technology. And oftentimes this voice for the very first time since COVID-19, as it happened last year.

Michael Waitze 1:39
So do you think that insurance companies, particularly from an experience standpoint, are no longer being compared just to other incumbent insurers, but are now starting to be compared to sort of the online experience of e-commerce companies and the ride hailing companies that you just mentioned?

Steven Tannason 1:57
I think so, I feel that especially for the younger generation, or Gen Z, millennials, I think that they are kind of like in a way agnostic towards the different products they’re using, whether it’s insurance, or e-commerce or ride-sharing, or other products that they use daily like this. Well, I think that they almost do not care kind of like on the nature of the industry. They just want that kind of convenience. And I speak this coming from someone who has worked in some of the tech companies. I worked in Google and I worked in ByteDance and TikTok. So I felt that all the consumer behavior of people using the different social media apps, different, like geolocation apps like Google Maps, it really translates to how they perceive and expect insurance products and financial products to be bought and use as well.

Michael Waitze 2:41
So talk to me about that experience of working at ByteDance and TikTok and tell me just what you learned there about scale. Right? I mean, TikTok is huge. And then maybe how that transfers into the insurance or the InsurTech industry?

Steven Tannason 2:58
For sure, yeah. So I’ve done pretty different kinds of work throughout my career. I started off in online advertising at Google, where I learned that the keywords for insurance is super expensive, right. So I move on, then to do product partnership for Google Maps, a bunch of work around geolocation, working with government agencies and O2O services. So spent around four years doing that, and I was living in Singapore then. So I thought that it was probably a good time to just like, pack my bags and look for a new adventure. So I eventually moved to Beijing, to join ByteDance in 2018. I joined them to build and lead their biz dev team for SCA, mostly focusing on telecom and content partnerships. And all of these, I think they may seem random, but I think one thing that I’ve learned is that I’ve worked with a lot of industries that are that have been around for a long time, right? Like, Telecom, for example. And think that it’s just inspiring to see like how all of the different industries have really evolved to adopt digital technology and transformation, in really elevating their business and providing a better experience for all of their customers. And I think that one thing that I’ve really also learned throughout my experience is that ,it’s super important to be able to be adaptable to change, right? Because, as we see, like, maybe if you told someone like many, many years ago about the whole idea of Tik Tok, I think people would find it quite odd of taking your time to watch like super short 15 seconds video, but I think a lot of things that have changed are just like a reflection of like the shifting consumer behavior and how , like one technology trend has really created like a snowball of like different technology trends in the future. So I think it’s important for us, InsurTech industry, for the incumbents, brokers carriers as well, I think to be open to change. I think oftentimes people may feel uncomfortable about change, but I think oftentimes, change is the only constant that can happen in the industry.

Michael Waitze 4:57
From your perspective. Why do you think something like Tik Tok succeeded so well and yet vine seemed to…die on the vine.

Steven Tannason 5:07
For sure, yeah, so I think tik tok, it’s the whole factor of convenience. Michael, right. Whereas as you know, you can be a non login user, you just opened the app, and then you can just like consume the content straightaway, you do not have to make an account, do not have to log in, and then they will then provide you content that they think you may like it based on your previous consumption behavior. So I think that really points out to how a lot of the people in our generation are really yearning for super convenient, and super ease of use as low friction as possible. Whereas I think a lot of other apps may require you to make an account and then set your preference or what content you would like to consume. Whereas Tik Tok, it’s super convenient for people to basically use the app, which I think would also be translatable to how people use insurance products, right. So I think, as you know, the main touch point for insurance will be doing the claim process. So I think making it as easy as possible for people to understand their benefit to some of the claims is super important to get them to experience the goodness of the product, because especially because insurance, as we all know, it’s a very, very weird product, which is unlike most products in the world will only feel the benefits of insurance products when touch with something bad happens to us, right? So it’s the touch points of claims of people using these benefit these coverage, I think is super important. And there’s love learning that we can take from these social media apps.

Michael Waitze 6:36
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting that Bytedance does this where you don’t have to choose a preferences, you don’t have to choose your preferences, you also don’t have to log in, so you can just start using it. without doing anything. I talk a lot about frictionless. And that actually removes a ton of the friction from using that product. I want to go back to you saying you were in Singapore, working for Google for about four years. And then you move to where did you say Beijing, Shanghai?

Steven Tannason 7:00
Beijing.

Michael Waitze 7:01
You moved to Beijing? Are you a mandarin speaker?

Steven Tannason 7:04
So I used to learn Mandarin in high school. I can speak Mandarin for the ride-sharing Didi and take away Meituan but not a super professional speaker.

Michael Waitze 7:15
Okay. But I mean, you weren’t uncomfortable being in Beijing with the language?

Steven Tannason 7:20
No, no, I think I could get enough with the daily lives.

Michael Waitze 7:24
And can you talk to me a little bit about the cultural difference between working at Google and then working at ByteDance?

Steven Tannason 7:32
For sure. So I think one thing that really stood out to me, during my time with ByteDance in Beijing was just like the intense work ethic of the Chinese technical system, right, Michael, you might have heard of this term called 996, which basically means from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. So which is quite common amongst all the tech companies or tech startups in China. So I think it’s just like, super enlightening and insightful as well to see like, how dedicated like the ecosystem is, and how hard they work as well, which I mean, I think just like to make clear, so I’m not an advocate of the hustle culture. But I just think that one thing that we can learn from that is just like, as long as you have a passion for something, as long as you believe in what you do, I think that you will be much more inclined to give your 200% right, in the work that you do.

Michael Waitze 8:24
I love this idea that 996 is a big deal. When I was working at Goldman Sachs, I would work routinely from six o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night. Maybe it wasn’t six days a week, but I was in plenty of weekends. So to me, that just seems normal, not out of the norm at all. Maybe it’s just me, I want to talk about Amanco.id. First of all, where did you come up with the name and why?

Steven Tannason 8:48
For sure. So I’m on in Indonesian in main safe, and we just feel that the whole naming and branding is super important, Michael, and we want to really portray our product dazzling to the insurance industry as something that people perceive as being like safe and they’re comfortable with it. Hence we feel that aman sounds good. No, it’s not it sounds good it groundswell, and it has a good meaning here in Indonesia. So we decided to go with the name. But as you know, aman is also the name of a very famous hotel and tourism brand in the world. So we couldn’t get a .com domain of course. So we decided to go with amanco which would mean like amanco.id company amanco.id

Michael Waitze 9:30
i love it. I love it quite a bit. Can you talk to me? What was the impetus for starting a company focused on employee benefits at scale? And then we can talk about the insurance side of it as well.

Steven Tannason 9:42
Definitely, yeah. So for my co founder on an AI health insurance is something that’s really close to our heart, Michael, because we have seen people whom we care about, and who are close to us having to go to expensive and difficult medical treatments because of the lack of insurance coverage. And both of us grew up in Emerging Markets, mean Indonesia and so on In Vietnam, and we believe that having the access to financial literacy, financial accessibility is just super important in helping people here to live better lives. And for myself as well, having worked in some of the top like tech companies like Google, Bytedance, I think I’ve just like really seen how important is like the whole employee health care benefits to people, where oftentimes people see this benefit as a huge consideration factor for them right to choose a new job or not. But oftentimes, we see also that there is still a bit of friction in lots of employees in understanding and using these health care benefits that they get from their employees.

Michael Waitze 10:41
But why is this so hard to understand? In other words, look, I remember, like I said, when I was at Goldman Sachs, and they always would give us, you know, an insurance and an employee benefit program. And I just found it really hard to understand like what the right policy was, I had a family. None of it made any sense to me, why is this so confusing? And why is it currently so hard to do? And how do you make it easier?

Steven Tannason 11:02
For sure, yeah, I think it’s hard for everyone, Michael, because when you see the whole ecosystem for employee benefits, there’s the insurance company, there’s the broker, there’s the employer and employee, and I would like to focus on the employment employee, and how it’s super painful for a lot of them. For example, a while ago, I spoke with an HR leader of a startup company, right 200 people in the company, and just one HR person having every single thing for recruitment or training, and compensation benefits and so forth. And he mentioned to me that his least favorite part of insurance, sorry, of his job is the employee health insurance, because he had to call every single salesperson of the insurance company trying to ask for the quotation for inpatient, inpatient, outpatient, dental, additional maternity, and so forth. And then he will then compile everything into a spreadsheet, trying to analyze which one makes sense for his company, given the company size, company demography, gender split, and so forth. And so that was just the beginning, though, because as you know, the most painful part of employee benefit is oftentimes the post-sale process where there’s a lot of benefits admin required, which includes stuff like Benefits Enrollment, employee enrollment, managing a claims, benefit communication, as well as reporting analytics. And I think the worst part is that the whole thing, this would need to happen every call plans, right, because oftentimes, companies would renew their policy every single year, trying to find a better coverage, lower pricing. So this HR leader told us that he would need at least two working days per month just for all of these benefits admin stuff. And hence, we see that’s where there’s a lot of like problem for the HR because they spent too much time on these admin stuff, or they could have been simplified through technology, right? But it’s just their, their current way of the industry in managing all these processes is still very much relying on paper, pen, spreadsheet, email, Whatsapp telegram, essentially, what you can describe as back and forth project passing between all the different stakeholders between employer-employee, DPA, insurance company, broker, and so forth. And also, on the other hand, with the employee who’s actually the consumer of the product, right, and the thing, we have also seen reports where they’re saying that if only people understand what they’re being covered for, they will be more inclined to buy more insurance and financial products in the future. But oftentimes, for employees, as you mentioned earlier, Michael, it’s difficult to understand what exactly they’ll be covered for and whether it covers dependents, whether it would be applicable in certain cases, just because I think oftentimes, a lot of this information are available, but they are really stored in like a take a paper book with hundreds of pages. And it’s difficult, I think there’s too much friction again, going back to what we spoke about earlier, there’s too much friction for the employee to really understand and to be able to use their insurance products. And for us, we really create a mind our mission is to simplify the whole employee health insurance matching process. And we will be replaced all the paper-based processes and back end for spreadsheet passing. And we provide a platform for companies to manage their health insurance plans for the employees. We have a web application for the HR teams, as well as the mobile application for the employees. And today, we do that by working with our broker partners. So we provide our broker partners with our platform, which helped him to manage and add value to their group health insurance customers. And as we see today, the majority of the brokers here in Indonesia, despite them carrying a large amount of premium are still very much relying on these paper-based processes to carry out their businesses. So we want to help them and their customers to simplify all these admin work.

Michael Waitze 14:45
How important do you think this employee benefit? Part of a company is when it comes to you know, retaining good employees if that makes sense?

Steven Tannason 14:56
Yeah, it’s very important, Michael. So we have spoken to a lot of employees. especially between the age of 20 to 40, who would not mind taking a new job with a lower salary, but with higher health benefits, and CPC that is a huge factor for a lot of employees to really decide on taking a new job. And on the other hand, as well, for the employer, a lot of employers are finding it difficult to attract and retain talent, especially places like Indonesia, where there’s a plethora of companies being created every day, a bunch of startups a bunch of big techs as well. So for example, is that a while ago, is saying that for every single day, during the past decade, there’s at least 1000 new businesses being created in Indonesia. So there’s a lot of options for people to choose from, right. So they can work at a big tech company, they can work for a large conglomerate, they can do their own thing as well. And so as we’re seeing that there is a stat that says that 72% of the millennials in Indonesia are interested in changing jobs in the next 12 months. And I think speaking about what we spoke earlier about, about the changing millennial behavior as well, I think it’s just that doing all of these things that a company can do in terms of benefit in terms of like compensation is super important in really making sure that the employees are being comfortable at the current company. And also speaking from experience, Michael, I’ve also heard, like, so many friends have worked in like large companies, large tech companies who have been thinking of like switching jobs and moving to companies moving to smaller startups. But I think oftentimes there are big consideration is really the very generous benefit package that these employers offer to them.

Michael Waitze 16:35
Yeah, I mean, look, I completely understand that. And even though I told you before that I was confused with the benefits that I was getting, they weren’t the benefits were really good. And when I did decide to move switch jobs, I had to make sure that I was going to get at least the same level of benefits, regardless of what my salary or compensation was. So I completely understand.

Steven Tannason 16:53
For sure, yeah.

Michael Waitze 16:54
So you spoke earlier about financial literacy. And I presume that that includes, you know, insurance, what do you do to improve financial literacy? And how do you engage, like the employees of companies to try to understand what their benefits actually are?

Steven Tannason 17:11
Definitely, yeah. I think insurance is a it’s an interesting product, right, Michael. Whereas, as mentioned earlier, unlike most other products that we use on our daily life, insurance will only feel the benefits – touch wood – when something bad happens to us, right. So there has to be the touch point for us to really understand the benefit, appreciate the usefulness that it can bring. And so when we compare all the different products, insurance products in the world, health insurance, commercial, P&C, liability, business insurance, and we will then see that health insurance has far the highest number of frequency of usage per year. You would need it for an annual checkup, GP checkups, specialist, dental, maternity, and so forth. And so we feel that starting with health insurance is a good starting point for us to really make sure that we educate the employees, the users of the products on how important it is on how they can benefit the from the insurance products. And we do that by really providing them with our mobile, modern mobile application where they can check the coverage of their benefit, they can submit claims from the mobile application. And we make it super seamless for them to do all these things. And we want to provide, we want to make sure that we provide a very good experience for them as they do this. Because we make we want to believe that this would create like a lasting impression for them to be able to be willing to purchase like new insurance or financial products again in the future.

Michael Waitze 18:38
So talk to me about the sales cycle. In other words, when you go to a company that has 200 people in it and one HR person, I’m presuming that the budget for sort of benefit admin is not that high either. Right? How do you convince them to use this system? Is there a money-saving aspect of it as well? Or is it just an ease of use for the people in human resources?

Steven Tannason 19:00
Definitely, Michael. So right now, the way we do it mostly is we work with our broker partners, where we work with our brokers to scale our products across their customer base, right, so their employer, our customer base, but from what we’ve been hearing is that there’s way too much admin required for the broker for the employer for the HR teams, for the employees to do all of these benefits admin stuff, especially with regards to employee enrollment, adding removing employees and managing the claims. And so we just feel that there’s a lot of a narrative right now among companies where they are looking to save costs, right. And oftentimes, with technology like ours, we can really help companies whether it’s the broker partners or the employees or the employees to release this their time and costs so that they can really shift the time that was spent on all these admin matters or to really stuff that really matters to their business. So for example, like growing new business, spending more time with clients and making sure that they can attract well during this time. difficult times.

Michael Waitze 20:01
So what do you think about some of these new distribution mechanisms? And while they’re still while their impact is still small? Where do you think they’re going to go? And what I mean by that is companies like, GoJek and Grab and Tokopedia, you know, Bukalapak, sort of getting into the insurance distribution business.

Steven Tannason 20:20
I think it’s interesting, Michael, I think the whole micro insurance, especially with regards to the whole like various micro insurance, like online shopping, your train rides, I think it’s interesting, because really opens up the channels for a lot of people who would not otherwise buy insurance products, right. But at the same time, I also feel that we are probably a bit too early in the journey to tell whether someone who bought micro-insurance for online shopping would be inclined to buy a micro insurance or life insurance, or kind of like a higher margin insurance products for themselves. And I think that it’s probably a bit too early for us to tell how the consumer journey translates in reality, I think it’d be super exciting for us, though, in the industry to witness as that happens, because I think that the whole micro insurance movement that we have been seeing in the last few years, I think it is super fascinating. And I think if it works well, it can be a real game changer for the industry.

Michael Waitze 21:16
Got it. So remind me when was amanco.id started?

Steven Tannason 21:22
We started back in April last year. So it was really during the start of the COVID pandemic. So we like to call ourselves like, you know, just like the COVID-19 baby.

Michael Waitze 21:34
So what is your attraction like? In other words, how did COVID impact life and business in Indonesia?

Steven Tannason 21:43
Yeah, thanks for asking that. Michael. Just I think that’s a very, very insightful and very reflective question. I mean, it’s been super challenging to start a business, especially b2b during the pandemic, right? It’s pretty challenging. But I think that one thing that I’ve really learned, actually a couple of things, Michael, one is that I’ve really been impressed by how people have been adapting to this new situation, new reality. So for example, I mentioned a while ago, I used to live in Singapore for a few years. And then I would oftentimes have to fly from Singapore, to Jakarta, to Bangkok a couple of hours of flight and then being stuck in traffic jam for a couple more hours, and then be sitting down in a one-hour meeting. And then finally back again the next day. So I think oftentimes, like in the past, like people will just like demand these face-to-face meeting because they would need to and want to see me in flesh in person to know that I’m a real person. But I think in the last like 12 months, it’s just amazing on how people have been adapting to, you know, like zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts. And I think just the fact that we are doing our session over Skype is amazing, Michael. So I think it’s interesting to see how like people will be adopting this new way of working and meeting, even after things return somewhat back to normal. I think the second thing is that, it’s I think it’s been really making me reflect a lot about kind of like, the whole inner mental health and inner mental wellness. right, Michael, because as mentioned earlier, I think starting up is always to be challenging, especially in an industry as complex as insurance, especially during a pandemic type. So I think it’s really made me reflect a lot about kind of like, managing my energy level, managing my mental wellness, making sure that my mental health is at the optimal level, which I think leads me to really practice a lot of the different mental wellness practices such as meditation, that I think has been really helpful in making me focus a lot more and being able to help me to be at the top of my game, like a lot of times,

Michael Waitze 23:59
And do you have any sort of anecdotal evidence about how it’s impacting some other businesses in which you interact?

Steven Tannason 24:13
For sure, yeah, I think COVID-19 is definitely I think it’s been super, super. I think COVID-19 has had a huge impact on how like, especially the insurance industry is, seeing their business and the future, right. On one hand, we have been speaking to a lot of insurance carriers and brokers who are telling us that since the onset of COVID-19, they have been thinking a lot about technology about how they can elevate their digital to the next level. So I think that’s a good sign. it doesn’t mean that just because they’re thinking it, they’re doing it straightaway, but at least I think there’s a top of level awareness that people are really having, which may not happen I think otherwise, if the whole work from home and if the whole remote working is not available. That’s the first part, which I think is, in a way, kind of like a positive acceleration of the industry. I think, on the other hand, as well, I think it’s really taken a toll on how like people in the insurance industry has really lived their lives, like both professional and personal lives as well. For example, yesterday, I spoke with a broker, who told me that she’s been dealing with so many COVID-19 cases for the past like few months. And just like last week alone, she herself had seen a three death from COVID-19, from the companies that she serves. So I think it’s just like, it’s just affecting the mental state a lot, right? I think when you deal with this work day in day out, when you see all of these like sad cases, people losing their loved ones, I think it just like, affects how she behaves. So for example, she told me that she’s like, super careful about going out, she almost never went out unless necessary anymore. And she’s just like, super careful of like taking care of her family, oh her children, of her loved ones as well.

Michael Waitze 26:11
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of sadness involved with this, for sure. And I think that also impacts the other topic you brought up, which is mental health, right?

Steven Tannason 26:19
For sure. Yeah. I think it’s important because I feel that mental health is not something that we really speak a lot speak enough about here in Asia, right, Michael. Whereas I think that there’s probably still a stigma around it everywhere. Like not just in Asia, but I think slowly, we’re seeing a lot of higher awareness. Like, for example, just to share also, Michael, with regards to corporate space, or within sticking to a lot of the HR people, HR leaders who are telling us that there is a more discussion about how companies should include mental health benefits, right, because so far, a majority of the insurance products, they only cover the medical, physical benefits, but not the mental benefits. And so we have been also hearing a lot of employees who are demanding their employees to really provide these mental health counseling benefit as well. So I think that it’s going to change a lot in the next few years. And I think that one thing that we are seeing today is that people separate the whole notion of mental health and physical health, as if it’s a separate thing, right. But I think that eventually, we will come to the state where we see mental health and physical health as one and equal, that it’s just all health, whether it’s mental, or whether it’s physical medical is just like one part that we really need to take care of.

Michael Waitze 27:36
Yeah, I could not agree with you more. Like the last thing I’ll ask you ask you is what kind of advice would you give to maybe some of your big incumbent insurance partners or just incumbent insurance companies in general, to deal with sort of smaller, more nimble startup companies?

Steven Tannason 27:54
Definitely. I love this question. Thanks for asking this, Michael. There’s an Indonesian phrase, bit called we call it ” tak kenal , maka tak sayang” , which basically means if we don’t know something, you won’t love it. So I think everything that’s new, and will seem to be alien and discomforting at first, but oftentimes change the only constant, right? And I believe that technology, yes, it’s a means to an end. But oftentimes technology, and digital is a missing piece for businesses, especially for large incumbents in the financial industry, to be able to significantly grow and save their costs. So I think, going back again, to the phrase “tak kenak, maka tak sayang” , I think it’s super important for businesses for incumbents to be able to embrace like these new technologies, like new players and to be able to learn on how we can work together and how we can add value to their business.

Michael Waitze 28:48
That is awesome. Okay, Steven, I’m gonna let you go. Thank you so much, Steven Tannason, a co-founder of amanco.id for coming in and doing this today. I really appreciate it.

Steven Tannason 28:59
Thank you, Michael. It’s super fun to be here with you on the show.

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