Google’s health insurance play, wise pivots and Sønr Insiders 2020

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I can’t resist. SoftBank’s Earning Results were published on Wednesday.
 
My two favourite pages referencing WeWork – 55 and 59. Have a read through. I can barely find the words to describe just how amazing(ly bad) it is.


There’s also been an interesting market knock to the over-inflated and ethically corrupt WeWork saga.
 
Something that caught my eye this week was Fair, another significant Softbank investment ($500m), taking the proactive step of cost cutting and restructuring before public opinion forces the issue on them. An eminently sensible idea.
 
What brought a cynical smile to my face was the announcement it’s also removing the CFO, Tyler Painter who happens to be the brother of the CEO and co-founder. Especially when coupled with paragraph on paragraph describing Tyler’s experience and competency. A write up that makes you wonder why they’d be letting go of the guy!
 
In a similar vein, if you want some more on stock pumping/dumping and artificial market economics, here’s another classic Scott Galloway video rant.
 
Let’s get to some market news. A load of health activity to kick off.
 
 
Health: looking outside to innovate within
The smaller guys first.
 
Medopad, the UK-based healthtech with the ambition to extend one billion lives, raised $25m this week. Good work.
 
The capital is to be used to fuel clinical studies, tech development, geographic expansion and commercial growth through strategic collaborations. If you don’t know these guys and you’re in this space, you should say hello. They’re a brilliantly unique bunch.
 
Others raising cash include Sensely, an avatar and chatbot-based health/insurtech platform, which raised $15m, and Sana Benefits which raised $6.3m.
 
The latter are particularly interesting. Its stated ambition of ‘disrupting the US healthcare insurance industry’ sounds kind of familiar – think Oscar, Clover, Bright Health, Collective Health. The difference being it is focussing on the employer plans, specifically small and medium sized businesses which make up a third of the market. Smart move.
 

What really got me this week was the innovation, or potential for innovation, across some of the bigger names out there. In a world where $3.2 trillion was spent on innovation last year, corporate innovation still struggles to differentiate and add real value.
 
This week, whilst much of the press was focussed on Google’s $2.1bn acquisition of Fitbit, John Hancock announced “the first of its kind life insurance designed specifically for Americans living with diabetes” in collaboration with Verily and digital healthcare company Onduo.
 
Oh and if you don’t know who Verily are, it’s an Alphabet company. Alphabet being the parent company of Google.
 
Keeping with the activity trackers, Garmin also announced a partnership with SCOR Global Life. The collaboration supports the launch of SCOR’s enhanced Biological Age Model which leverages Garmin’s data to compute a person’s biological age and in turn, provides a clear, easy-to-understand health indicator useful for both consumers and insurers.
 
The next one I almost skipped over: data analytics platform Verisk partnering with global reinsurer PartnerRe to build new solutions to evolve underwriting and customer experiences.
 
Don’t get me wrong, this stuff is mostly interesting. When you’re living, breathing and talking it 24/7, sometimes you need a little more than ‘another underwriting or CX innovation’.
 
Digging deeper into the release and I read the line ‘to test new technology which can flag potential tobacco usage in life insurance applicants via an analysis of telephone interviews’.
Now that there. That is super smart. 
 
Final healthcare news comes from Mastercard, randomly. It’s expanding the reach of its financial expertise by launching a new product suite, targeting both payers and providers as well as the technology platforms.
 
Its focus is on data security – including improved biometrics and behavioural analytics to protect health information against the ever-rising threat of data breaches.
 
In the week I attended a presentation from a fellow Bristolian and all-round super woman, Arabel Bailey, MD of Innovation and Consulting over at Accenture, who talked of ‘the wise pivot’. The application of the inherent smarts and expertise from Google, Garmin and Mastercard are good examples of this.
 
John Hancock and SCOR are also great examples of the need to look externally to identify new opportunities for growth and acceleration. Not wanting to push Sønr too hard, but if any of the above has resonated, you should definitely take a look at it. Insight into market trends, disruptive innovation coming onto the scene and your competitors’ innovation playbooks, should be table stakes by now.
 
 
 
Aflred meets Google and the Swedes take on the world
Keeping with tech giants for a second more and the home insurance marketplace, Young Alfred, secured a $10 million Series A this week. The round was led by Gradient Ventures, Google’s AI-focused Venture Fund.
 
One of my personal favourites, FirstVet, the Swedish ‘digital vet’ raised €18.5m. Already providing pet owners with on-demand video consultations, the funding will enable it to expand the service globally, name-checking the US, Germany and France.
 
A couple of financial news pieces.
 
Tomorrow Ideas, a Seattle startup that help users create a free will and purchase the right life insurance has raised close to $9 million. And HSBC UK launched Select and Cover, a monthly subscription insurance bundle service.
 
The last bit of general news was a release from Root yesterday.
 
As they did with auto insurance, Root is stepping into the rental market with its proprietary data-driven platform and ability to offer personal and property liability coverage based on actual customer needs.
 
Alex Timm, Root’s co-founder explains “We will help our customers feel more knowledgeable about their coverage while offering them peace of mind at home for a low cost”.
 
 
 
East meets West. This time it's all about the AI
Where do I start? There’s been a tonne of AI talk this week – mainly between China and the US.
 
Jeff Ding, who writes the weekly ChinAI newsletter, translated a recent report of the Current Status and Future Development Trends of China AI.
 
A couple of interesting things.
 
First the special mention of Ping An: “the most important company in China’s AI landscape; nominally an insurance company but transforming quickly into a tech company, they are everywhere in the foundation (including cloud computing) and application layers”. 
 
As an aside, Ping An has also been selected by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology to build a nationwide innovation platform to help bolster the development of Artificial Intelligence.
 
That leads nicely on to the second. You might have to zoom in to read the copy but check the stats around AI education across the universities and colleges in China.
Unsurprisingly, this week the ex-CEO of Google warned of China’s progress A government-commissioned panel led by Eric Schmidt, found ‘investment in AI had fallen short and the country needs to invest in research, train an AI-ready workforce and apply the technology to national security missions’.
 
Ever feel like we (people in the UK/Europe) are the really short person trying to listen in to a conversation between two tall people in a noisy room? I’m saying that as a tall person so I’m not sure that’s how it really feels. It just looks like that when I glance down to check whether you’re still there trying to listen in.
 
Back to China and earlier in the year, when we took the guys from BGL Group there, a couple of things jumped out at me.
 
Firstly, you couldn’t pay for a single thing unless you had Alipay or WePay on your phones. And as a foreigner you couldn’t use either. Secondly, Blockchain was mentioned in 50% of the presentations without any hesitation or doubt as to the strength and value of the technology. I know, seriously.
 
This week Alipay opened an international version of its app – Tour Pass, available to visitors for up to 90 days without the need of a local bank account or mobile number.
 
And also this week Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China not only said the country needs to “seize the opportunity” offered by blockchain, but called for the creation of ‘Blockchain+’. To be honest, I’m still not particularly clear what Blockchain+ is all about but in part that’s probably because I’m still not particularly clear on Blockchain.
 
 
 
Sønr Insiders 2020
Thanks to all those who have come back to me on this one already. We’re closing applications on 6th December so there’s still time if you’re interested in taking part.
 
As a recap, following on from 2019’s success, we’re once again running Sønr Insiders.

It's a programme giving you and your team 2-months zero-cost access to Sønr Enterprise - the world's most comprehensive source of global innovation intelligence, including the tools which will help you better collaborate and manage your company-wide scouting activity.
 

The reason we’re doing this is twofold:
  1. It allows you to evaluate Sønr Enterprise 
  2. It allows us to identify new features, feeding our 2020 roadmap. And hopefully gets us a new client or two
We’re limiting this to 12 companies globally. Drop me a line if you’d like more information and/or would like to be considered.
 
It’s not open to any company who took part in 2019, sorry guys. You’ll always be our favourites.
 
-
 
Right, that’s it from me. Time for a quick call to the US. And then a weekend with no World Cup Rugby and more importantly, no more 9am Saturday morning Guinness drinking. I’m not sure I was ever cut out for that.
 
Have a good one.
 
Matt
 
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