SaaS Cloud Banking Platform By Gordon Tay – Surer

SaaS Cloud Banking Platform By Gordon Tay – Surer

In this article, Gordon Tay from Surer shares how his cloud-based banking platform will help other businesses close deals with greater speed and efficiency.

We’ll cover:

  1. Q: What was the key need that you felt wasn’t being met by existing companies or that led you to create this venture?
  2. Q: How did that get started? Did you guys just meet virtually?
  3. Q: What does the company, Surer do? 
  4. Q: Who is using your platform, and who are the three typical customer profiles? 
  5. Q: What is your process to help the insurance companies access people inside your ecosystem and offer them work with their companies?
  6. Q: Is this model can apply only inside Singapore, or can it be used worldwide?
  7. Q: What are your goals and growth plan for next year in order to dominate the Singapore market?
  8. Q: In terms of marketing and growth, how are you getting the intermediaries to sign up with you and stay on board?
  9. Q: When do you plan to do your series funding?

Q: What was the key need that you felt wasn’t being met by existing companies or that led you to create this venture?

Let’s start with the background of why the co-founders and I found Surer. Ten years back, I joined my first startup. At that time, that company was called Property Guru, with just 50-200 employees. I joined as a marketing executive, and I was there for six years. 

I left as regional head of monetization thereafter. I joined this company, and this was about four years back, a similar story. It was just each at the time the company was called the carousel. I joined as head of b2b marketing and left as category director. 

So in my steam, in those ten years with property guru and carousel, I worked quite closely with the farmers; their spirit and drive were hugely inspiring for me. Just being able to see a local startup in Singapore growing to the unicorn status. 

It is today and, more importantly, solving problems and leaving a sort of lasting impact. The industries that they were in got me started thinking about whether I would come out and do something on my own? Would I be able to do it as well? 

One of my co-founders’ names is Derren. He has been in the insurance industry all his life, like 15 years. He was just whining about the inefficiencies right in the industry that he was saying that he was sort of experiencing himself as well. 

So at that time here, this entire sort of idea mapped out in his head about how this could be solved or how these pain points could be solved.

At that point, we said, “Hey, you know what, let’s try to build like this idea you have right into something tangible,” and that was how we got started. So it started as a side project. 

It was bootstrap. We hired a couple of external vendors to help us build this product. It was about a year before we went into beta, and we saw really good traction through user interviews.  

We saw that we were solving some problems, and it didn’t look like a hypothesis anymore. We saw that what we were providing the right was getting users to solve their pain points in the real world well, so that was the time when we took the leap of faith and quit our jobs and then did this full-time. 

That was also the time when we roped in our third co-founder. He is called Renfred. We needed someone with experience sort of running the operations and the finance side of things from a startup, so Renfred exited a startup that he was CEO at and also invested in. He exited at startup, and then the three of us founded Surer. 

The second part of that question was what the key that we felt wasn’t being met or like what was all these? 

I mentioned problems, so on a very high level, what we saw in the insurance industry in Singapore, specifically commercial insurance, was that it was sort of a hugely inefficient market. What I mean by this is, on the one hand, there’s huge unmet demand in Singapore. 

Specifically, 70% of SMBs are either uninsured or underinsured. This was before we started building the product, just doing our research. On the other hand, we saw that there’s equally huge unmet demand amongst insurers; 90% of insurers are underrepresented. 

The core of this problem we found out through our research was that there are about 30,000 intermediaries stuck between this mismatch of demand and supply, chasing after a very inefficient process. 

However, we know that this inefficient process is what’s causing this inefficient market, and essentially I guess without going into details, on a very high level, that was what we sought to solve with our solution. 

Q: How did that get started? Did you guys just meet virtually?

No, we already knew each other. I mentioned Derren; he was my junior college classmate. We meet up for drinks periodically, and it was during one of these sessions where he was just sharing, just in general, about inefficiencies that he saw in the market. 

It was then that we decided, “Hey, you know what, let’s try to do something about it and see how far we can go.” Right with this, where we have landed.  

Just going back to some of the research we did before even building anything was that we realized that there was no single platform in Southeast Asia at least that operates as a digital ecosystem for agents or intermediaries to work and leverage tech to supercharge their workflow with multiple insurers. 

So this digital ecosystem is the foundation of what Surer is, and on a high level, we always knew that this would supercharge the entire workflow between these two parties in such a way that they can be more and more efficient in serving the end customer which is the policyholder. 

So essentially, it was this that we identified to be a solution gap and formed the foundation of everything that Surer does today. 

Q: What does the company, Surer do?

Surer is essentially a cloud-based initiative platform with a digital ecosystem of intermediaries and insurers. We provide tech solutions to help orchestrate this entire network in the industry enabling intermediaries to close a deal with greater speed and efficiency. 

We also allow insurance companies to distribute their product with better efficiency. So at the end of the day, our core customer base today would be intermediaries and insurance companies. We’ve got a broader vision; we include non-traditional players in this digital ecosystem as well.

Q: Who is using your platform, and who are the three typical customer profiles?

The two customer bases that we serve, as I mentioned earlier, are intermediaries and insurance companies. So they are two very different sets of customers, but because it’s an ecosystem play, we look at them as equally important. 

Go back to your question about the core customer base; let me just bucket them into these two buckets; intermediaries and insurance companies. So we use the term intermediaries as a collective one and represent sort of three core groups of customers. 

  • The one would be your financial advisors,
  • The second one would be small to medium-sized brokers and,
  • The third would be insurance agents who are looking to sell general insurance. 

So these three sorts of customer profiles, although they are all licensed to sell insurance, they are regulated very. Differently, each of them, based on all these regulations, gives them sort of superpowers of their own that the other group doesn’t have in Singapore. 

We understand this to be the same in Malaysia and India as well. A financial advisor can represent an unlimited number of insurance companies. So basically, what this means is that they can sell products across multiple insurance companies.

However, they might not. They are their bread and butter, or their focus is on financial services investment products. 

So when it comes to general insurance or commercial insurance, they might not have in-depth knowledge as a general insurance agent. So the superpower of the financial advisor here is that they do not have a cap on the number of insurance companies. 

They can represent the flip side for general insurance agents. They have in-depth knowledge of multiple lines of products in commercial insurance. However, they are kept to only be able to represent up to three insurance companies. 

So we immediately saw that within this ecosystem, these different groups of intermediaries would be able to work together. 

At the end of the day, either sharing knowledge or sharing representation, allowing access to be able to serve the end policyholder well by working together and breaking down silos. So that is on the side of the insurance intermediaries; that’s one set of customers.

With the other side of the story, which is the insurance companies, we see that the insurance companies that have reached out to us or have spoken to us have three levels of pain points. 

  1. The first is efficiency in distribution. Efficiency and distribution in this sense would be being able to engage a wider or broader group of intermediaries to help them sell their products. 
  2. Number two would be in recruitment. As I mentioned earlier, for an intermediary to be able to sell an insurance company’s product, they would have to get their representation done. 
  3. So some insurance companies and the ones that work with us want to enhance this process of recruitment. So this is another problem that we solved for the insurance companies.
  4. The third biggest pain point would be business leakage for insurance companies. A lot of times, an insurance company might have a superior product for a particular insurance line, but because of the inefficiency in recruitment and distribution, that product doesn’t get surfaced to the end policyholder, and business is lost. 
  5. So with our platform, that is another thing that we saw for insurance companies.

Q: What is your process to help the insurance companies access people inside your ecosystem and offer them work with their companies?

So just on the point of efficiency of distribution, and it relates to insurance companies just to set the context. There are two types of distribution models for insurance companies. One would be direct to the consumers, so d2c, and one would be agency-driven. 

Like I engage a sales force to help distribute my product. Each model has its own inherent problems to do with the effectiveness of distribution, so, with the d2c approach, an insurer is limited to the number of and types of products they can effectively sell directly. 

These are usually highly commoditized or simple products like travel insurance or motor insurance.  

We know that this model is less efficient when it comes to commercial insurance or general insurance, where the products are a lot more complex and where an advisor or fiscal sales force becomes more important. 

So insurers with d2c business models are starting to realize that there is a huge opportunity right in the commercial lines space, but their d2c approach might not be the best way to do so. 

They need to start connecting with the talent pool of the expert sales force. So that is one way that we help these insurance companies and in a more practical sense, how we do so is that these d2c insurance companies can place their products on the surer platform. 

This feature is called an instant quote marketplace. Any insurance intermediary who uses surer would then be able to get into this marketplace and pick and choose the products. They generate a quote instantaneously and showcase it to their clients.  

So prior to Surer, this wasn’t something that was accessible to them. Only at the point where they’ve showcased it to their clients can they decide, “Hey, should I get my representation with this insurance company so that I can close this deal?”.  

So we essentially flip the equation around. Previously, it was that insurance companies would have to recruit a salesperson in them to understand the product, and then they go out there and start selling. 

What we have done is the reverse, so these intermediaries who already know what their customers need and want would be able to showcase the product first and then decide if they want to close the deal and get the representation done. So that is on the part of an insurer who predominantly takes a d2c approach. 

An insurer that takes an agency-driven approach has a broader range of products for sure. They can sell effectively through their existing intermediary salesforce so people that represent them. 

However, they are limited by how well they can engage with intermediaries who may not already represent them. So we solve the problem in the same way as I mentioned earlier. 

These insurers can place their products on the surer platform, and these products are essentially showcased to any intermediary regardless of representation. These intermediaries can then have a look to understand the products and then decide right at the point of sale whether they want to take up representation with the insurance companies in this ecosystem. 

Then you’ve got a very classic case of, on the one hand, a distributor and a product supplier. So distributors would be the intermediaries who use surer as a platform to supercharge their workflow, and then the product supplier, in this case, would be the insurance companies. 

Another point to point out since the question was about how we further help insurance companies, and this is a lot more related to the tech that we bring to the table with insurance companies who place their product on our platform. 

There is some level of integration between surer and the insurance companies. With this sort of integration that we have, what we are able to do is break down a lot because I noticed that you mentioned packages. 

So that’s traditionally how products are being sold. You’ve got a package; you choose within like, tier a b or c. Each package comes with a different premium amount, and the coverage differs accordingly. 

However, what we bring to the table is that we allow insurers to place this same product on the platform but in a modular sense. What this means is that an intermediary can look at this insurance product and customize what goes into a package. 

So essentially, in marrying these two parties, the insurance companies, and the intermediaries, we are sitting in the middle of this. We allow the intermediaries to better serve their policyholder clients by customizing insurance products instead of just going out there and saying hey, choose a package. 

At the same time, this empowers the insurance companies to be a lot more sort of less restricted in how their products are being sold, and this is then sort of dictated by what is needed on the ground. 

So it saves a lot more time for the insurance company as well. Like getting feedback and saying, hey, you know what your package should include, and then they go and create this package and then start sort of like discrete getting their sales force to distribute it or learn how to distribute it. 

Everything now can be done instantaneously based on what is required on the ground by the policyholder.

Q: Is this model can apply only inside Singapore, or can it be used worldwide?

We only launched about a year ago, and we are currently only operating out of Singapore. We’ve also done our research, and we realized that this is still a blank space within southeast Asia and APEC. 

So yes, there’s the ambition to roll this solution out to a couple of markets in the near term, one being Malaysia and then Taiwan and Hong kong. For a couple of reasons, we are looking at these three markets ahead. 

They are sort of like all-year marking. These markets usually look at two core criteria; number one, what’s the size of the general insurance or commercial insurance industry in this market, and number two, which is the biggest proportion of distribution channels in this market. 

So if the distribution channel is pretty predominantly true still through a sales force and if the size of the general insurance or commercial insurance industry in terms of GRP (gross return premium) is sizable enough, then that is a market we look at. 

Specifically Malaysia, they are our neighboring country, culturally very similar to us. We have also got users, especially brokers who already have agencies set up there in Malaysia, so that’s why that is the next market. 

We have cast our eye on Taiwan and Hong Kong in terms of the economic makeup of those two markets. We see that they are pretty mature, similar to Singapore, and that is where commercial insurance or insurance for businesses becomes other requirements. 

For such reasons, it becomes a bit more pronounced because businesses have more to protect. However, there is a caveat in that because we are starting to see emerging markets like Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Even all the way in Brazil, where there is a growing sort of group of customer base. 

We label them as SSMEs (micro-small to medium enterprises); these would be businesses similar to mom and pop’s stores that require insurance as well. As I mentioned earlier, the size of the insurance policy to protect their business in terms of premiums might not be as huge, but there is a huge volume of demand for such.

 So that is something that we are sort of having an eye out on as well and might change our approach in terms of markets and expansion plans. But to go back to the question, yes, there are a lot of other markets out there right that we see it would require a solution that we are currently providing in Singapore.

Q: What are your goals and growth plan for next year in order to dominate the Singapore market?

One of the goals would be to get a strong foothold in the Singapore market. So in terms of the share of a number of intermediary users on our platform, we are looking at a number of close to five thousand. 

As I mentioned, there are about 30,000 intermediaries in Singapore anecdotally. We understand that the active agents hold a license, but not all of them are active. So anecdotally, we understand that for active agents, that number would be about eighteen thousand. 

So five to six thousand such users using surer to conduct all their insurance business would be close to 30 to 40% of the market, and that’s where we understand then that we’ve got a strong sort of foundation in Singapore.

Q: In terms of marketing and growth, how are you getting the intermediaries to sign up with you and stay on board?

We are a startup in every sense of the word. So one of the most important things that we look at is what can help us grow organically without spending or splashing the cash on marketing. 

So I think we’ve done that quite well, and one of the approaches we took was in terms of content marketing. Content marketing would be valuable articles that could help the intermediaries or help insurers understand the tech scene or the initial tech scene. 

We are also conducting monthly webinars, so our monthly webinars are currently attended by about two to three hundred intermediaries every month, so we know that we are talking to the right group of customers.

How we landed focusing on these as one of our marketing approaches, I think, goes back to the broader. A sort of mission of the company for the surer is that we want to empower players in this industry to be able to leverage tech and to understand tech and to sort of upskilling themselves to be able to be more efficient in serving the end policyholder. 

So just based on that mission, we decided even if it’s not about growing our user base, we are still doing something that drives that mission of upskilling intermediaries in the insurance industry. It is one of the approaches that worked pretty well for us.

Then there are other approaches that we’ve taken as well. We’ve done a little bit of marketing on LinkedIn, where we know financial advisors are quite active. 

We have also done a number of partnerships with relevant fintech or initial tech companies to leverage each other’s strengths and value air to a similar group of customers and to provide complementary services. 

Q: When do you plan to do your series funding?

We just closed our round, as I mentioned earlier. I will sit around in October. The entire company is just hit down and focused on what we raised the money for, which is to focus on delivering on our product roadmap and growing our tech team. 

The next round is pre-a or series that will come sometime next year, but the truth is that we haven’t defined when exactly that would be.

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Author - Jay Sen
Author - Jay Sen

Jay Sen is the founder and co-host of Content Marketing Virtual Summit. His mission is to help bring thought leaders in content marketing together. And to help content writers earn more stable income, they can reach financial freedom.

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Author - Jay Sen
Author - Jay Sen

Jay Sen is the founder and co-host of Content Marketing Virtual Summit. His mission is to help bring thought leaders in content marketing together. And to help content writers earn more stable income, they can reach financial freedom.

Connect
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