Tell us more about Hellas Direct, what is your business model and what makes you unique in the market you operate in?
Hellas Direct is a digital-first, full-stack insurance company, empowered by cutting-edge technology and artificial intelligence. The company is backed by a roster of all-star investors, which include IFC, Third Point LLC, Portag3 Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, former Goldman Sachs economist Lord O’Neill and private equity veteran Jon Moulton. We model ourselves on Amazon and we aim to disrupt the insurance value chain by adopting an extreme focus on operational excellence.
Our lean, more efficient cost structure allows us to compete head-to-head against traditional insurance powerhouses, offering a better product to an under-served consumer at a significantly cheaper price. Hellas Direct employs a direct-to-consumer distribution model, driving further transparency and fairness in a historically opaque industry plagued with middlemen commissions and hidden fees.
We currently operate in Greece and Cyprus. Following our latest investment round, we are looking to expand into a number of other countries over the next 18 months, exporting our technology and know-how into frontier economies that some of the larger, traditional insurance players would shy away from.
You claim your ultimate goals are to “rethink insurance” and “change the Greek insurance sector”. How are you actually disrupting the insurance sector and how far are you on your journey?
At Hellas Direct, we believe that we can change the Greek insurance industry. And, together with a handful of other companies, we believe that we can make Greece a better place. This is not easy to do. But we believe that we will get there – one policy at a time.
The global insurance industry is by-and-large opaque and outdated. If you really want to change that and leave your own little dent on the universe, you need to rethink the entire value-chain. You need to challenge all assumptions. And more importantly, you need to take nothing for granted, something which is hard to do in one of the largest and oldest industries in the world.
We started by listening to the one person that matters – the consumer. And we used common sense (a lot of it) to try and address her needs. We questioned every process and we simplified things, leveraging our technology as a key differentiator. We rely on proprietary algorithmic models to give a fair, competitive price and we were one of the first companies globally to offer insurance by the day (on-demand micro-insurance). Our partnership with Revolut has enabled us to settle claims in real-time and to give money back to clients every day that they do not claim.
We feel we’re still at the very beginning of our journey. Insurance has traditionally been neglected by the entrepreneurial community and it has missed out on some of the innovations that were made available to other sectors. We are part of a new movement of disruptive companies – like Zhong An, Metromile and Lemonade – that is looking to change that, looking to use technology to truly disrupt the market. We all have a long way to go!
What role does Customer Experience play in achieving your goals?
Everything we do is driven by the consumer. Our goal is to offer a better, cheaper, faster insurance experience for our customers, delivered with amazing customer service.
Insurance is not the sexiest of industries and for most of us, buying insurance is a grudge. This makes customer experience all the more relevant. We want to offer consumers simplicity, ease of use, and Zappos-level support.
And there are hundreds of stories. Our team has delivered road-side coffee to a couple whose car had broken down, they have ordered pizzas for a client and they have even spent 1.5 hours on a call exchanging recipes with a housewife. One of our customer service team members has even left the office to wait for road assistance in the rain as our client had a plane to catch!
Customer service is very much in our DNA as a company and we are humbled to receive our customers’ feedback and support on a daily basis. Even in the cases where we could not deliver to our clients’ expectations, we will most definitely try our best to make things right.
How do you monitor Customer Experience and how do you deal with complaints?
It all starts with the people. We hire smart and passionate people and train them to focus on customer experience. We never use scripts and we have never forced timed sessions. The only parameter that matters to us and our client service team is whether the consumer who has just finished a conversation with us is happier than before.
Being a quants company at heart, we obviously track thousands of data points to improve our service and customer experience, but we make it specifically clear that our team is focusing on the one thing that matters – consumer happiness.
Our approach to complaints is fairly similar and as a result, we have an NPS score of 89. We try to respond to any complaint immediately, we’re not afraid to say sorry, and we typically send flowers, wine and free insurance if we or any of our partners have failed a customer. We have a dedicated team for quality control and complaints management and we escalate any potential complaint immediately.
How has your recent partnership with Revolut, the digital banking startup, impacted the Customer Experience you provide?
We are very excited to have teamed up with Revolut. Digital banking solves our last-mile on the claims side and it significantly improves our customer offering.
Our partnership with Revolut empowers us to send money instantly to a consumer in need, something traditional banking cannot cater for. Imagine the case where a house burns down and we would like to ensure our client’s family is being taken care of, safe and booked in a hotel for the night, before we start dealing with the actual claim. Revolut enables us to do that, wiring EUR 500 or EUR 1,000 across in seconds. Our next challenge on that front is to settle 50% of our claims within the hour, something we hope to achieve by mid-2019.
Revolut also gives us the means to reward clients for being good drivers or for not claiming on their home insurance. Offering real time, bite-sized rewards on a daily basis is something that our clients love.
Customer Experience has become a hot topic in the last few years in many industries and businesses increasingly compete on it. Do you think consumers are starting/could start to value Customer Experience even more than the products/service they buy?
Could this result in some companies sacrificing product quality in favour of a better Customer Experience?
We believe that customer experience is an integral part of any financial services company’s offering. Whether we are talking about payments, savings or insurance, consumers deserve a high-quality experience, comparable to the rest of their digital lives (Spotify, Netflix, Amazon and so forth). Companies which have not taken that on board will no doubt lose consumers’ trust and eventually become irrelevant.
Technology is enabling us to offer better service without compromising product quality. Lower operating costs and real-time interactions with consumers provide Hellas Direct and other digital-first financial services companies the ability to deliver a stellar product offering with amazing customer service. It is an “and”, not an “or” in my view. A great product and great customer service.
With the rise of social media, the balance is definitely tilting in favour of the consumer. Companies need to respect that and realize that reputations are increasingly hard to build but can be lost in a moment. Banks and traditional insurance companies in particular seem to struggle accepting that.
What one pearl of wisdom would you share with anyone looking to disrupt a marketplace?
Perseverance. Change is not one big step but a thousand small ones (and often in the wrong direction!). You will learn as you go along – don’t be afraid to challenge your own assumptions and constantly test new ideas. If you focus on the longer term and respect the consumer’s needs, you have a good chance of success. You will fail along the way (it is part of any entrepreneurial story), but when you do, fail fast and get back on your feet even faster.
About the authors:
Alexis Pantazis, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hellas Direct, is a Fulbright and British Chevening Scholar and Robert & Diane Levy Fellow.
Alexis is a veteran in the financial services sector, with 12 years’ experience.
He holds a BA(Hons)/MA(Cantab) in Economics from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from the Wharton School.
Emilios Markous, Co- Founder and Executive Director of Hellas Direct, has a wealth of knowledge, with 18 years’ experience in the financial service industry. He has headed major projects in his previous positions in Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Co.
Emilios is a member of the Institute of Actuaries, and holds a BSc in Computer Science, MSc in Actuarial Science, Masters in Finance from the London Business School.
More about the Vantage Series:
This post is part of the Vantage series by KAE that provides a fresh perspective and hears first-hand from various players across the FinTech & CX ecosystem.
KAE will be posting a number of interviews with companies that share their candid viewpoints and to really get under the skin of the FinTech world and Customer Experience within various industries.
If you would like to share your views and participate in the Vantage series, feel free to reach out to us at Vantage@kae.com.