The break-in wasn’t the worst thing for Becky Downing. Even though the burglars stole almost everything she owned, including her car, her nightmare was only getting started. “[That] trauma was nothing compared to the insurance claim,” Downing reveals. “Because I had auto-renewed each year, I was underinsured and after months of stress and wrangling with my insurer, I only recovered around 50% of what I lost.” The experience made her recognise just how broken the UK insurance system is. More importantly, she realised what was needed to fix it. “[If] I’d had a full list of my home contents I could have used this to support my claim,” she explains. “Even better, if my insurer had covered me on the basis of that list, the whole claims process [would’ve] been entirely different. This led to the idea of creating buzzvault, the world’s first digital asset vault to be built on the blockchain.”
When the app goes live in November 2018, the idea is that users can simply download the gobuzzvault app and film each room in their home to create a ledger of everything they own. “[It] takes around 15 minutes with guidance and support from our surveyor to ensure everything is captured,” Downing explains. “At the end of this process all the home contents recorded are converted into a digital inventory of everything you own with a value assigned to each item.” The data is then stored in the user’s own digital vault where it can be easily updated.
And it’s clear there’s a need for this service as almost a quarter of UK households lack insurance coverage, according to recent research from ABI, the organisation backing the UK insurance and long-term savings industry. “An unacceptable number of people are therefore being forced to bear the cost of personal disaster themselves – be that house fires, floods or burglaries,” argues Downing. “As you might expect, this issue is particularly prevalent and [severe] among the UK’s poorest households.”
She believes buzzvault is able to ensure even Britain’s poorest families can insure their possessions, tailoring to their own individual needs. “Because our policies will be based on a blockchain-secured inventory of exactly what you own rather than a one-size-fits-all aggregated approach, customers with many possessions get the right level of cover while those with few possessions don’t pay over the odds,” Downing continues. “This is a great example of blockchain [driving] down the barrier for entry for many of the UK’s poorer households and reducing the coverage gap.”
But she’s hardly the only one aiming to disrupt the traditional insurance space. From CyStellar using drones to create better data to community-based bike insurer Laka, lots of startups are using tech to transform the insurance industry and according to Downing it’s no secret why it’s happening now. “The traditional insurance sector is encumbered with legacy systems and is highly risk averse – [making] change very difficult,” she says. “But it needs to change because some areas such as home insurance are simply dysfunctional, leading to a poor customer experience.” Additionally, she argues that people desire more personalised services, which the incumbents don’t provide. “[This] is where insurtechs are seeing a fantastic opportunity to change the game,” Downing argues. “By leveraging new types of data and integrating the latest tech developments, businesses can offer effective solutions to everyday problems with greater transparency to build a level of trust with consumers and make their lives easier.”
Still, despite the obvious need to disrupt the sector, most people’s first reaction to being burglarised isn’t to launch a startup. Of course, Downing isn’t anyone. Since 2013 she’s led the growth of the BuzzGroup, a group of startups that includes the home-removals comparison site buzzmove and the video-survey platform for the removal industry buzzsurvey, as its founder and CEO. Indeed, this work has previously seen Downing named one of the 200 most influential people in UK tech by TechCity Insider and the Emerging Entrepreneur of 2016 at the WCIT Enterprise Awards.
Given her background, Downing understandably had no problems finding funding for her startup. “In addition to seed funding, buzzvault is backed by principal venture capitalists White Mountains Insurance Group, one of the world’s largest investment groups,” she explains. “We are currently in the midst of our second round of funding which will enable us to scale up the business to the next level and expand internationally in the future.” Moreover, the company has won $500,000 in the annual Connecticut County VentureClash competition in 2016, secured awards in the Wayra London Accelerator and the Startup Bootcamp InsurTech.
Not only have these wins injected some much needed capital into the business but they’ve also helped raise buzzvault’s brand recognition ahead of its launch. But if you ask Downing, you’ve seen nothing yet. “This is just the start as far as we’re concerned – we have travel and pet insurance next in our sights [too],” she concludes.