EP 118 – Nitin Malhotra – Yoors – This Is the Right Time To Invest In Digital Tools

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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.

Singapore-based InsurTech advisor helping insurers with new technology and the implementation of digital solutions. There is a "no box" concept and disrupting norms with innovation at scale and ecosystem partnerships. Scaling up a B2B, SaaS InsurTech. Ex "Insurance, Technology" at Allianz, Ergo, Liberty Mutual, Tufts Health Plan, IBM, NTT Data, and Motorola. Born in Bombay, lived in the United States, Germany, and now in Singapore. Nitin enjoys playing competitive water polo.

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The Asia InsurTech Podcast spoke with Nitin Malhotra, a co-founder and Head of Growth for Yoors about how insurers can drive digital transformation and about use cases that allow insurers to quickly digitize and optimize their sales channels. 

Michael Waitze  

Okay, we’re on. Hi, this is Michael Waitze, and welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. This is the only podcast and the largest 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 and frankly, in the rest of the world. Today, I’m joined by Nitin Malhotra, a co-founder and head of growth for Yoors. Nitin thanks for coming on the show today. How are you doing?

Nitin Malhotra  

I’m doing great. Thanks, Michael, for having me over,

Michael Waitze  

It’s a pleasure. Let’s just jump right into this. What do you think is the biggest trend in InsurTech in Southeast Asia?

Nitin Malhotra  

As of now, I think it’s more about being pervasive, simplifying, and being more consumer friendly, in terms of products that customers can actually consume and buy. I think there are a lot of products out there, insurers out there trying to sell you coverages, trying to protect your life, your health, your general insurance, but it’s all about how to make it more simple and consumable in terms of event costing. I think that’s where we’re heading.

Michael Waitze  

Okay, I want to get back to that in a second. But I just wanted a little bit of your background for some context so people can understand the relevance here.

Nitin Malhotra  

Sure, sure. So a little bit about myself. kind of been a global Nomad. I mean, I call it a Glomad, sometimes. from Bombay to Boston to Berlin, Singapore, been in Chicago, Seattle, New York City, Munich, Sydney and Bangkok. Done a few startups very passionate about growing businesses, building businesses from ground up. Greenfield so kind of ran a gourmet Indian cooking kind of end to end including procurement, cooking, delivery, etc. Bombay Chef and also then built a one of the largest risk and compliance marketplaces based out of Singapore, where we were connecting talent as well as solutions, etc. Other than that, you know, kind of athletic so playing volleyball, tennis, cricket, I’ve been playing water polo for the past 30 years, that’s, that’s kind of my anchor. And yeah, I like to explore, meet people, and just, you know, enjoy the now.

Michael Waitze  

What was the source of all the travels? Or is it just something that interests you.

Nitin Malhotra  

So when I left from Bombay, I kind of left with $50 in my pocket, thanks to my dad, and, you know, just one suitcase, and you know, just went to Boston directly to study. And since then, you know, I’ve just taken the opportunity to actually, you know, just envisage all the cultures, all the experiences that you can get of living in different neighborhoods, cities, countries, continents. I’ve pretty much you know, try to enjoy you know, as much as I can, and you know, just learn a lot about different cultures, different ideas, and that’s where, I think, you know, the connecting the dots and, you know, stuff that I do at work as well, terms of strategy, etc. comes in handy.

Michael Waitze  

What was it like the difference between living where you from originally from, from Bombay, you said, Yeah, What was it like going to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Nitin Malhotra  

I’m very different. When I landed there, you know, pretty much they would call us Fresh Off the Boat, so FOBs. And it was an experience where, you know, I just kind of like, soaked in everything from playing water polo. I was redshirted on the men’s polo team, which were ranked second at Division One, actually. University of the Pacific sorry, Stockton, and then was UMass Amherst, and third was Stanford.

Michael Waitze  

Wow. Okay.

Nitin Malhotra  

So yeah, I’ve been just kind of, you know, writing letters to all the coaches and I, for you know, many of the colleges and universities I had full rights, but I plan to go to UMass Amherst, because I just wanted to do like computer engineering as well as play water polo. Um, it was very, very different for me, um, you know, very few at that point of time, few Indians, you know, around my age being in undergrad school. Um, a lot of a lot of the Indians that were there or the South Asians or any of the immigrant Were there mainly in grad school. So, I, I really enjoyed it. I picked up everything from Red Sox, to patriots to baseball to, you know, God Schilling to all kinds of things I picked up where I had no exposure to in my life. Including, you know, just living in a dorm where, you know, we were very friendly to LGBT. You know, one of the floors was women’s only as well. So, you know, just kind of just soaking in all the culture, you know, it’s, which we don’t see or, you know, we saw, you know, hollywood movies or shows back home. But you know, here, you’re right there, you’re with everyone. One of the very fond memories I have is, you know, one of my earliest friends in in university was actually someone who was from Karachi. And for me, it was like, I would never have a, you know, Pakistani friend, of course, sitting in, you know, in India, and for me, him becoming one of my close buddies when I wasn’t, you know, one of my first friends, you know, we really gel well together.

Michael Waitze  

Yeah, kind of teaches you a little bit about the difference between politics and real people.

Nitin Malhotra  

Absolutely, absolutely.

Michael Waitze  

Just so you know, my sister graduated from UMass Amherst, my entire family’s from Boston. So I’ve been a Patriots and a Red Sox and a Celtics fan for longer than you’ve been alive, but in a way I feel like you’re a little bit of our front runner. You never had to suffer through any of the horrible Red Sox and Patriots us.

Nitin Malhotra  

Yeah, I mean, if we fast forward that you know, I’ve I used to live right by the garden. I think it was called. It was it was Bank Boston before then became Fleet then became TD Bank Nord. But you know, I was kind of right there and right by latchmere. Station, and all my friends would come there and we’d go, there were at least four games in the season, we would go for the Celtics. And then, of course, the playoffs. Some I count myself very lucky. And I have huge gratitude of being in Boston when we kind of won all the championships. Hockey, baseball, football. Yeah, and basketball. So

Michael Waitze  

I love the use of the Royal term we.

Nitin Malhotra  

I take that opportunity. You know, I can connect. I mean, the moment you said UMass Amherst, I was like, you know, which, you know, where which, you know, which dorm was she in? You know? Because I kind of lived in three dorms while I was there. Yeah.

Michael Waitze  

Yeah, she’s a little bit before your time. But fair enough. I want to talk about how you got interested in insurance. I mean, insurance itself has this reputation of being a little bit staid, very conservative and not that sexy. I think that’s changed a lot actually, in the last 18 months, at least from my perspective. And I’m curious for your interest because you studied what Computer Engineering, you said it’s not a normal entree into insurance, right?

Nitin Malhotra  

Absolutely not. So I kind of just, I think we all say that we stumbled into insurance. So my first foray into insurance was in 2006, where I started in, you know, suburb in Boston, called Watertown at health plan. And it was to kind of be the individual contributor for a application, which was then bought by I think that at that time, it was by Sunguard. And now it’s bought by FIS. But it was an health insurance can admin system. And I was doing everything from business analysis to testing to kind of like, you know, just taking ownership. And then from there, I kind of just got parachuted into another project that my consulting firm was working for. I was working for a Boston based consulting firm. Now, of course, they are acquired by a Japanese MNC called NTT DATA, but at that time, it was called Keen consulting by John and Brian Keene based out of Charlestown. So, yeah, so basically, from health plan, I landed into Liberty Mutual and we are putting 3.1 version of Guidewire claim center. And I was leading the testing team for it. So not only understanding the business requirements, but also kind of like, you know, doing the functional testing, the non functional testing. And slowly but surely, I started to build rapport with the people within Liberty Mutual, this was up in Exeter, New Hampshire. They had offices in Portsmouth and Dover and Boston as well. And I started to like, you know, the kind of culture which is there in insurance companies. It’s a very kind of like, you know, family kind of culture. You know, it’s very different from, I would say, I don’t know I’ve worked in banking as well, but it’s definitely different from from banking. And that’s that’s pretty much where I started my stint in insurance. And then from there, I ended up working for a little bit. Also based in Worcester, Massachusetts. And then I had another stint which was in pension funds. And post that then I, you know, worked at Allianz in Germany, and then in Singapore, Munich Re, etc, etc. So, at one point of time, I kind of decided that I’m going to, you know, this is the line I, I really understand. And there are a lot of areas here where I’m very passionate about and I kind of stuck into insurance. 

Michael Waitze  

Did you ever think? I mean, when you left Bombay, right, you ended up in Massachusetts, did you think that there was a sort of entrepreneurial spirit inside you? And that there was some kind of entrepreneurial journey for you? Or did you just think that you’d be working for big in this case insurance companies for the rest of your life?

Nitin Malhotra  

Yeah, so I guess I always, I mean, I saw land of opportunity. And, believe it or not, actually, from UMass, actually, I transferred out to a smaller engineering school called Bradley, which is one of the best midsize engineering schools in America. And I graduated as a, you know, electrical engineer, basically doing RF design, I made the antenna for kind of like a replica of what Sirius and XM Radio were back in the day. And while I was doing that, just in my second year, actually, we started a company called APS computers, LLC, which was my friend and myself in the dorm. And over the summer, we worked from his parents house and Hoffman estates, which is a neighborhood outside of Chicago. And we were, you know, kind of procuring all the chips, the motherboards, etc, you know, all the hardware materials from Taiwan. And we were building super gaming machines at that point of time, we know with nytro cooling and stuff like that. And we were building it and then selling it to all the students across the Chicago sub, you know, neighborhood. It was a very profitable business. And, you know, it was, it was something that we did when I was 20 years old, or maybe 19. And Jake was, I think 19. So yeah. After that, I always knew that, you know, we’ll probably end up doing something like that I like to be like to carve my own path, and also kind of curate a journey that I’d like to travel on, as well as, you know, kind of cultivate people who would believe in my idea, and also kind of work with me, or, you know, partner with me.

Michael Waitze  

So what brought you to Singapore? I mean, you’ve had it, you’ve traveled all over the place, right? I’m not going to go through the list that you said at the beginning of this call. But you’ve traveled all over the place What, what brought you to Singapore? And then what was the impetus behind founding yours, and I want to understand why you would call a company Yoors.

Nitin Malhotra  

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so coming to Singapore was a personal reason actually met my wife, online. And she had landed in Singapore, you know, a year or so she had already been here from Bombay. And I kind of just connected with her online and we started chatting. And by the time I know it, it’s Chinese New Year, we, you know, I fly from Munich, she flies from Singapore, back to Bombay. And we’ve connected the families I’ve met. And that’s what we call, you know, a matchmade. Post that it was pretty much it was, you know, there was an opportunity where she could move back with me to Munich, or I could move here. I came to visit her around the summer of 2013. And that’s where I realized that you know, maybe Singapore is where the next growth is gonna happen. This is where I was I was in state a year in Berlin and two years in Munich, right? So that’s, that’s pretty much I made a personal choice and kind of just hedge my bets that you know, maybe Singapore is where I need to be for the next 10 years or so. And been here eight years. So that’s, that’s the reason I ended up in Singapore.

Michael Waitze  

And in retrospect, what do you think coming to Singapore? Good idea, bad idea.

Nitin Malhotra  

Absolutely a great idea. But it’s also you’re asking me, I mean, I always have pros and cons of every place because I’ve been. And I enjoy the life state I’m in now I really enjoy the now. So for me, being in Singapore now is like, one of the best things I could do. Or if you’d asked me when I was in Munich, and what I was doing, I would say, like, one of the best things I was doing Same thing with living in Cambridge or Boston, right? So, you know, for me, right now, Singapore makes complete sense. You know, especially with starting yours, here, you know, a few years back, and, you know, having that opportunity access to markets, customers. Also, you know, people who understand insurance, or FinTech, they’re more digital, etc, etc. So it makes more sense for me to be here right now.

Michael Waitze  

So what’s the what’s the? Where does the name Yoors emanate?

Nitin Malhotra  

So yours came from an idea that I had was. I wanted a name that, you know, kind of people just remember. But it should also mean something. So for us, it means it’s with you for you, which means that we are kind of your partner. And we will be with you, you know, for the long term. So that’s pretty much how we have engaged with our customers as well. So far, you know, we are in long term relationships with our current customers.

Michael Waitze  

Okay. Do you want to talk to me exactly like how this works? And like how you would implement it? In other words, when you go to sell, right, yeah, exactly what are you selling? And then I guess there’s a follow on to that, but I just want to understand exactly what it does. Is it just insurance? Or is it a more sort of fully featured FinTech platform? 

Nitin Malhotra  

So what we have from Yoors is basically, we have a few assets that we feel are, you know, legitimate use cases, that you know, tier one insurers, tier two insurers, etc, would be interested in, as well as reinsurers, system integrators, brokers, etc. So what we have is, you know, we have assets like a complete insurance stack, which is more for another set of stakeholders, which is Greenfield investors. So we have such a kind of system already up and running for the past couple years in the Pacific Islands. So, this includes everything from your point of sale to your middle office, to your, you know, policy, admin system, etc. Whereas, for other customers, since we are coming from industry, we know that you don’t want a, you know, complete insurance system, you’re looking for use cases, which you know, translate into assets. So, for example, we are working with tier one insurers in the region, including Thailand, for an automated underwriting engine for medical and non medical, health life insurance, right. So, this is a system which is kind of like, you know, it can be scaled to other entities, other regions as well. Same thing with another asset we have is like a dynamic pricing engine. So, we are basically taking your actury, your pricing models to the next level, where we are digging deeper into more risk factors, more parameters to put in, and then also applying data science and machine learning. Right. So we know these things are relatively new, every insurers doing something, but just to get that going, or to actually apply it or to implement it or to go live, it will take time, because, you know, it takes time, there are protocols in place, right? in big companies. So that’s where the CEOs are talking to us where, you know, this is the kind of use case what can you bring to the table. And this is where we should have we are having a lot of traction in terms of, you know,how to, you know, bring ideas that we’ve seen in other markets, Western, non Western, and then you know, kind of mix it with our technology that we have already built, etc.

Michael Waitze  

Can I ask you a little bit about the data science side of this? And the reason? Because it seems to me that a lot of companies want to do data science, they want to do machine learning two things that I think can’t be separated from each other to be fair. But do they have the expertise to just build the backend of the, you know, sort of data science infrastructure and the machine learning infrastructure that they need to be able to do this. And if they don’t, how do you help them solve that problem.

Nitin Malhotra  

So a lot of them are trying to. So I guess where we come in, Michael is we bridge the technology that is out there across different industries and functions, and then bring the insurance knowledge, and then make a use case, which is more palatable to the decision makers, the influencers to actually take some action. So for example, you know, you may be a great machine learning, and you might have a great team that does data science, but your knowledge of insurance may be lacking. Whereas we have data science, machine learning in our own team. And that’s where then we basically cultivate it so that this is the actual thing that you know, the actuary will be looking for. So there’s a lot of stuff happening, but then they decide to go with partners like us, where they want to learn from us how to A apply the use case, B also accelerate their go to market, especially with this COVID and this whole, digitization, et cetera. There are a lot of companies now who are investing because they know that even for example, if you look at travel insurance, probably not many people buying today, but there’s a lot of pent up energy as to when the doors will open, and travel will start. So we should be ready.

Michael Waitze  

Can you give me an example of a use case? So you talked about building assets? And you talked about automated underwriting? I’m sure you’re curious how that works. But can you just give me a use case that you built like a specific use case, and then show me how it gets integrated into like either an insurer or reinsure? Or even as not a systems integrator, because they’re doing that they’re doing the other side of that business, but just a specific use case? Yeah. 

Nitin Malhotra  

So let me give you an example of automated underwriting, the use case that, you know, the business put forward was, you know, we have 23 underwriters, it takes us three days to write an insurance policy. And, you know, how can we bring down the time? How can we make it real time? How can we make it straight through processing? We have nine systems, systems in country, in the region.

Michael Waitze  

just, this is just one insurer inside their company, they have 23 humans that do underwriting? Absolutely, and they have nine separate systems internally that do the underwriting for them, just to be clear.

Nitin Malhotra  

So, these are the components that, you know, kind of, they have to look at all these nine systems and then figure out okay, what is the correct underwriting coming through? Right, so what we did is we built the underwriting engine for them, where now we are basically A reducing time. So the time has gone down from three days to one minute. Really, you know, making it more optimized and operationally effective. So coming down from 23 underwriters to two underwriters, basically a maker and checker. And it’s just so not only it’s, it’s the solution, but it’s also what we are bringing in a couple more things, is new technology. Which even the internal IT etc, can, you know, enjoy and actually start using, maybe enjoy is not the right word, but now they feel like it’s in the landscape, we can use it more, you know. And second is also we are bringing change because people are so used to doing it manually, but now we’ve competed automated it, that they can’t believe that, you know, it’s happening so quickly. I don’t have to spend so much time on it. Now it happens in a minute. It’s happening in real time, rather than three days.

Michael Waitze  

Do you use their existing actuarial and underwriting models and you scrap that and insert your own.

Nitin Malhotra  

So we use what they have, and then we supplement it as well. So we bring some kinda, you know, it’s a buzzword, but kind of some thought leadership as to how it could happen. Right. And with that, also, we not only so we bring it but we also do the connections with all the systems, all the pipe work. Now this is you know, where it gets really tricky. And that’s where we are really good at because we’ve done this so many times not only through Yoors, but also in our personal careers. So, this is so this is one use case, which you know, is very valid. I mean it’s it’s an asset by itself, where you can automate complex claims in real time. Another use case I can give you is, you know, just making point of sales. So sometimes the point of sales when you go to buy an insurance from your mobile phone or Online, back in the day, or even now, there are a lot of insurance where you come to a stage where they say we’ll call you back, right? Or they say, Okay, now you can download the PDF form and then submitted. So what we have done is we’ve completely made it online. So we put the brains of the product, the underwriting, the pricing, all within the online space under the UI UX. So not only is the customer journey ready for you to use, but also the product will be issued right after you finish your customer journey. So one very interesting case, we put it into a tier one insurer here in Singapore. And what we found out is, you know, the revenues that they were making, prior to having an online presence was about $30,000. And once we put it, we put the online presence, we did some connections with API’s through your aggregators, like GoBear, insurance market, etc. We are seeing revenues of you know, 510,000. Right. So it’s, you know, almost like a 15 to 17x return on your number one.

Michael Waitze  

Interesting.

Nitin Malhotra  

One recent one where, you know, I’ve been working on and us getting my ideas from Digital, you know, how insurance should be for the future, is working with my friend who basically used to run a coffee shop, then evolved into a coffee shop and a bistro, then evolved into he disrupted himself and said, You know what, I’m going to have robotic baristas. And he’s had these robotic baristas he’s created an app where you can order your food etc, you can order your coffee and by the time you reach the station, the barista will be ready with your latte or, you know, cappuccino, etc. I sat with him and kind of, you know, and envisaged, what if now we make this an app from our food and beverage app into a wallet? Right? So what does that mean is you know, you can store money there and you can also do some cross selling upselling with some other products. So I basically convinced one of our current customers to, you know, partner with us and my friend and now we are selling insurance through a coffee wallet. This baristas robotic baristas are funded by a large investor from Japan, and they are thinking of how to get it, you know, into the Japanese market for all their stations, I think they’re about 1500 plus stations. And that’s where they’ll have the baristas. And, you know, just with three clicks, you can buy an insurance. So we’ve shown a concept, which is live in Singapore. And now there’s some interest from other parts of the world, where they want to see how Yoors can actually bring some ideas on how to do simple critical illness, for example. Right. So I think maybe I just digress a little bit there. But what I’m trying to say is, you know, we not only are passionate about it, but we’re trying to bring some new ideas of how to become pervasive. And also, you know, build the revenues, as well as reduce the cost of acquisition of the customer. So for the insurance.

Michael Waitze  

How do you compete? Or how do you see the competition from companies like Uncharted, Coherent, Galileo, bolttech, you know, Candela Labs, some of these other providers, they’re trying to do similar things, how do you feel like that that competition flushes out?

Nitin Malhotra  

So at this point of time, I think I am basically focusing with Kevin who is my partner on working on these use cases, which we feel are very important for insurance. There a lot of people talking about far fetched things. And what translates is, you know, I kind of can relate with the CIO or the head of digital etc. As you know, you have to take baby steps to get there. And we just focus on Okay, what is the next step we need to take so that, you know, we are on that right journey. So for example, automated underwriting for non medical The next thing we look at for medical The next thing we put is AI or machine learning into it, things like that. I don’t particularly think we are competing with them, because I think they’re all looking at spaces like point of sale or in particular, you know, like a core system, whereas we are looking at these solutions which go around these systems.

Michael Waitze  

Got it. Okay it makes sense. You also mentioned like the impact of COVID what do you think the impact of COVID has been not just on your business, but on kind of life in general in Singapore and your ability to do sales. Yeah.

Nitin Malhotra  

So definitely sales has been impacted. Because as we all know, there’s nothing like human touch. And meeting someone face to face, trying to understand where they come from, from the, you know, from the body guestures chose from the nonverbals, et cetera, is quite important. And especially in Asia, I believe we actually like to meet in person, that’s just an Asian thing to do. And even I, my roots, Asian, and I like to do that. So definitely, it’s been hit. But there’s also a lot of interest that is happening around the stuff we are doing, because what we are doing is almost assets are low touch assets, because we are not going to touch your core etc, we only going to touch it to connect it to kind of use it as a recording system. But all the transaction, the dynamics will happen in our system. And it’s mainly on revenue growth on you know, distribution channels, instant claims, etc. So there are a lot of companies who are wanting such systems to kind of quickly deploy. It’s working in our favor as well, because we have a geographicly, you know, located team like what you know, Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore and Colombo. So you know, we can work around time zones.

Michael Waitze  

So how many people are on the team?

Nitin Malhotra  

So we are about 50 people now, Michael, slowly but surely getting there. So kind of like scale up mode now.

Michael Waitze  

And how do you guys fund yourselves?

Nitin Malhotra  

So currently, this is completely bootstrapped. And it’s based on project funding. So we’ve been fortunate enough to kind of, you know, increase our headcount build our teams based on also the projects that we’re getting, and what we have in the pipeline.

Michael Waitze  

Impressive. So the last thing I want to ask you, if you’re dealing with a lot of incumbent insurance companies, whether they’re tier one or tier two is what kind of advice would you give to these incumbent insurance companies to deal with sort of digital transformation in this type of disruption?

Nitin Malhotra  

So my two cents would be that, you know, this is the right time to invest in digital tools. I know a lot of companies are going through core system implementations where most of the company then is kind of absorbed in just in terms of people process, just in you know, kind of implementing the core system. So they’re kind of inward looking. But this is the best time to also implement in digital tools which will build that fortress around you so that you can attack the InsurTechs or you know, Ward them off, if that makes sense.

Michael Waitze  

Okay, I’m going let you go. Nitin Malhotra, a co-founder and the Head of Growth for Yoors. Thank you so much for your time today.

Nitin Malhotra  

Thanks so much, Michael. A pleasure.

Episode 170
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