Transitioning from working at an incumbent insurer to an insurtech startup

Stephen Cowap, Insurance Product Manager


In the past few years there has been a rise in the number of tech startups entering the world of insurance. Whilst traditional insurance companies and InsurTech businesses work in the same industry, they operate in very different ways. I joined Urban Jungle last year, having previously worked in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market for 6 years. Transitioning from one of the world’s most traditional insurance markets to a relatively new segment in the industry has been an exciting challenge and has highlighted many key differences between these two types of insurance companies.

Despite incumbent insurance companies having large customer and revenue bases that InsurTech businesses do not, there are a number of advantages that early stage startups have and are able to capitalise on. A key advantage of any InsurTech startup is that they are able to address the insurance industry with an unbiased, fresh approach. This allows a company to focus on real customer problems rather than internal issues that are often associated with outdated technology and cumbersome legacy systems.

At Urban Jungle, technology is the focal point from which we address the deficiencies within the insurance industry; building systems from scratch and having 100% ownership of them allows the business to move quickly and implement changes that are inevitably required as a business grows. In comparison to the way incumbent insurers operate, this is a very different process; large established businesses work very hard on maintaining business operations rather than improving and building new ones.

These different approaches inevitably produce very different working cultures. At Urban Jungle we’re on a mission to improve the overall customer experience and the culture within the company reflects this. As an agile technology company, product iteration is continual and the majority of these iterations stem from customer feedback. This means that customer feedback is extremely important because it drives many of the decisions that are made.

Within the team we are constantly discussing our customers and how they are interacting with us, the workplace is an open forum for people to voice ideas and opinions. With the whole company sat in one room these open discussions are much easier to have than in an office of 150 people!

Urban Jungle team

Time is precious at an early stage tech startup, so things need to be prioritised. When I started working at Urban Jungle it soon became clear that there was no time for lengthy, bureaucratic meetings. Within a big company there are so many different teams that all have different priorities, this can slow down the decision-making process and inhibit productivity. Smaller tech startups do not face this dilemma which enables employees maximise their time and be more efficient.

At Urban Jungle we work with numerous other companies both within the insurance industry and outside. These relationships are critical to the business and so working with forward thinking companies that recognise the importance of technology is crucial for us. The role of the incumbent insurance company to us is still vitally important, the challenge is partnering with incumbents that want to work with us to modernise the industry even if that means breaking from their traditional methods of transacting business. Working at Urban Jungle has given me an insight into the way different incumbent insurance companies view the world of InsurTech. Whilst some see it as a potential threat to the industry and their specific businesses, others see it as an opportunity and a means of modernising insurance.

The transition from a large incumbent insurance company to an InsurTech has been challenging but highly rewarding. It has been fast-paced and I have had to adapt quickly but I have also been able to capitalise on the experiences I gained working in the traditional insurance market. Disruption is a term that is often associated with InsurTech businesses and although theses businesses are looking to disrupt an out-dated industry, there are many incumbent insurers that are working with InsurTechs and embracing sophisticated technology to improve the industry. These developments in the industry are a positive development for all involved (especially the customers) and the businesses that are implementing these changes are exciting places to work!