SA actuary is an early mover in introducing wearables to the car insurance market – Breez’s Dino Bertolis

Written on 04/26/2022
Linda van Tilburg

South African actuary Dino Bertolis has launched a start-up called Breez, with which he is planning to disrupt the UK car insurance market.

Many insurance companies have woken up to the fact that a system of getting information from their customers by filling in forms has not served them or their customers well. Health and life insurers are now offering smartwatches or wearables to their customers to be able to track their health and wellness, which can lead to behavioural changes and can also reward customers for good behaviour. A South African actuary, Dino Bertolis wants to expand wearables to the car insurance market; he has launched a start-up called Breez, with which he is planning to disrupt the UK car insurance market. Bertolis told BizNews he has managed to raise £200,000 (R4m) in a private funding round for his venture. – Linda van Tilburg

Using a smart watch to measure driving

As an introduction to the company and what we do, it’s important to understand what telematics car insurance is and what it’s all about. When you talk about telematics, it is about the ability to measure how a car is being driven. Typically, that is done with the device in the car and nowadays you can also it with a mobile app only. Having been in the car insurance business, the reality is people don’t want separate devices in their cars … and then the other solutions on your mobile phone didn’t give you the data accuracy that is needed for car insurance applications. So, I thought there must be a better solution to this problem and the solution, in my opinion, is a smartwatch. It uses the data from your smartwatch and your cellphone to measure your driving, make that part of insurance proposition, and use that to acquire customers to measure risk, to influence risk. And there is a whole lot of other features you can build on top of that, like accident detection.

How would a smartwatch know how I am driving?

What you don’t realise is in your Apple Watch, in any smartwatches, there are fundamental sensors that measure how you are moving your wrist and how the smartwatch is moving about. Those sensors exist in your mobile phone. Things like accelerometers measure acceleration, a gyroscope measures the movements in the circular motion. There are all these sensors measuring data at hundreds of times a second. You may be surprised to hear that. We use this data and put it all together to get a viewpoint of how you are driving. We look at things you would expect: how quickly you are turning the steering wheel, your acceleration, your braking, those type of metrics.

Car insurers never had access to data on heart rate and sleep

No one is actually doing smartwatch telematics right now. Car insurers have never had access to heart rate data and sleep data. These are two things I believe have massive potential in terms of how we apply it in car insurance. Our intention is to use those metrics. For example, driving when you haven’t had enough sleep can be more dangerous than drunk driving. I think there really is some potential around heart rate monitoring. When you have a crash, for example, you might see a spike in the heart rate; we want to use that data to benefit our customers and insurers round the world. We are building this technology platform that underpins our insurance proposition, and we want to scale that internationally because we believe smartwatch telematics is the future of car insurance.

I have a lot of expertise in the UK car insurance market. In fact, I moved over from South Africa to start up Vitality Car Insurance in the UK and was the founding employee. I know the market really well. In addition to that, [the UK] does have a good start-up ecosystem. There are a lot of support structures, venture capitalists, people willing to support start-ups that make life a bit easier for start-up founders in the UK. Having moved to the UK in 2018, I am quite settled.

Telematics can make car insurance more affordable and reward customers

It is all about the value you give to people. This is a critical problem in the UK and the world in that people buy their car insurance, they spend their – whatever it is – £500 a year and they get absolutely nothing back. I suppose you may argue this is how insurance works, but surely there is a way to give back value to people when they don’t claim. The way we see that working from a product perspective is that you earn your smartwatch back by showing us you have good driving habits. It is the ability to pass value back to the customer through a smartwatch. It is quite unique in that the smartwatch is the reward. It’s also the way we measure risk and is an incentive to change your risk over time.

On the lookout for insurance partners

It is at very early stage. We are building out the intellectual property and the platform on smartwatch telematics because, as I said, that sort of underpins everything we do in the car insurance company. We have a small team and recently launched our Android app. The iOS app will follow. Right now, we are in the process of finding the right insurance partners in the UK. Of course, this proposition is radical; it is very different to anything else out there. In trying to find the right partner, it is a bit of an education piece and a bit of negotiation. We want someone who properly buys into this proposition. And when I talk about insurance partner, of course, we are not going to be building out massive claims, functions and pricing functions. We want to leverage off people who are ready to do that in the UK market. It is these discussions that are happening at the moment.

Previously these incumbent insurers saw insurtech as a threat, but now times have moved on, to everyone’s benefit, where these incumbents see the insurtech as complementary. They struggle to innovate and want to leverage the skill sets of insurtech to help their company innovate and grow their business. It becomes quite a good ecosystem.

My next step is to start putting a team together and build this technology platform that underpins everything. There are many steps. I’ve now learnt how many different functions the CEO has to think about. I think the critical ones are making sure our technology is good. We have launched our Android app and it is working really well. The next critical step is finding the right partner, and the third critical step is what you call ‘the product market fit’ in the start-up world. Are people buying what you’re selling? That’s essentially what it is. Once those three steps have been secured and executed, then yeah, I’m really looking forward to what Breeze has to offer the market.

Raising £200,000 from family and friends, not from venture capitalists

That was a choice I made very early on. There is an infrastructure, especially in London, about getting funding and approaching VCs. It is hugely time-consuming and there is no guarantee it will be successful. When I first started and told my friends and family I was leaving my job and going to start this new thing, the amount of support I received was overwhelming. Some of those people even said, if I needed any help, money, I should just reach out. I thought there must be a way of leveraging this community that wants to help me; people who are willing to give their time and willing to give their money to help support the business. I decided to do a family and friends funding round. Many people assume when you talk about family, friends, that you reach out to your rich uncles and aunts and receive some big cheques from them. I went a completely different route. I uploaded a video on YouTube, which was my pitch. I put it on my Breez website. I sent out a couple of WhatsApp messages. It essentially said: I’m starting this new company, this is the idea. This is the team. Please support us. If you do, you can invest in the company. The response has been absolutely overwhelming. We have more than 50 investors. We raised £200,000 and these investors now have a vested interest in supporting the business. Some of my investors are actuaries, chartered accountants, lawyers, marketers. What I will do is leverage this community to try get the company off the ground. There is a skill set that sits in my investor base and I will capitalise on that. It really was a way to raise money quickly, cheaply. There were no big costs involved in this. Most importantly, we’ve now built community around the company, which is just absolutely great.

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