Ruth Foxe Blader cut her teeth on digital innovation at PepsiCo and Allianz. It was inside one of the world’s largest insurance firms that she grew to appreciate just how much opportunity there is for innovation in financial services.
Now, she’s a director at fintech venture capital firm, Anthemis, where she focuses on corporate venture investment, bringing her own perspective to venture investing.
In our talk, Ruth describes how the definition of fintech has evolved and where she thinks the sector is headed in the future, with a particular emphasis on insurtech. We talk about trends and where Anthemis is placing its bets. Lastly, we analyze some of the firm’s most exciting portfolio companies.
The following excerpts were edited for clarity.
How have you seen the definition of fintech change over the past few years?
I personally have seen it change even with the invention of the term insurtech. When fintech first came about, we thought about payments, the initial drivers of the digital economy. Now, we realize that digitization has taken over every process and industry. To the extent that there’s a financial component to every industry (and I would say, 100 percent, there is a financial component in every industry), fintech has the opportunity to be a part of it.
Similarly, I worked in insurance before insurtech was a thing. The explosive opportunity and growth in that space has really happened in the past four or five years. Insurance is a prerequisite to a modern economy and to the extent that insurance touches everything, insurtech has the opportunity to be the recipient of all the changes that have occurred in the digital revolution.
Are you surprised by the explosive growth in insurtech?
People inside the industry have seen just how much room there is for improvement and the extent of the inefficiencies on the operations side. I originally wanted to get into insurance for this opportunity space. When you think of companies that define the information age, like Google, they are data companies. Insurance companies are also data companies.
When I came to insurance as an outsider, I came with the notion that technology has a lot to say about the industry because it’s all based on data.
Tell us about some of your portfolio companies.
In terms of what I’m really interested in right now, I think there’s a big opportunity around new data sets and new risks. Previously, we had a hard time understanding risk where we didn’t have historical data or observations. One of my companies in the space is Insurdata, which looks at remote sensing data to better understand commercial property risk. It’s cleaning up a dirty secret of the commercial property industry — that there’s just really poor data quality. I’m interested in insurance going from a statistical/math game to a data game.
On the operations side, insurance operations are very paper heavy. We have a company in the portfolio called Omnius which uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing to understand diverse documentation and make decisions for insurance companies about claims and policy comparisons. The company has a deep history in document analysis and examination, including handwritten text. So, you could have a doctor’s note and a bill from a hospital and have a machine read it, analyze it, categorize it, and make a decision in seconds. That could have a huge potential impact on an industry where 40 percent of premiums are operating costs.
In terms of new risks, check out Flock, which has figured out how to make per-flight drone insurance. It’s created a risk engine to analyze the risk in flying a drone to somewhere right now. For commercial pilots, it’s super important, mandatory, and a better model than what exists out there.