Singaporean startup app Planner Bee provides one API-based platform to manage personal insurance, banking and investments. Users set goals, track their progress, and receive advice on which products will best help them achieve their financial goals.
1. What is the story of the birth of Planner Bee; and how did you get into insurance?
In school, technology was always something that I was interested in and I started out my career working in personal finance, which I continue to enjoy very much. About five years ago, I started to think about how I could make a difference in the world of insurance in particular. Every successful fintech company focuses on a ‘pain point’ that might seem obvious. Most people don’t think about insurance very often, rather than the other parts of personal finance. There are many innovations in the fintech space such as e-wallets, virtual banks and robo investment platforms, but we hadn’t yet seen insurance become sufficiently digital or accessible via a single app. Back then I didn’t know what the word ‘insurtech’ meant, but I decided to create an app for consumers that would help consumers make better decisions on their personal finance. Through Planner Bee, we’ve built an ecosystem that is holistic enough for people to understand their personal finances and insurance needs with a broad perspective. Although insurance is the core of the platform, it’s important to look at the big picture, which includes the users’ cash flow, loan commitments and investment exposures to provide holistic planning and product recommendations.
2. How have you managed the challenges of working with users’ data?
Firstly, it’s important to be clear that we use the consumer’s data to advise what they should do, and we do not sell users’ data. Also we remain market-neutral, so we let the consumer decide on the brand and price that works for them. What we do is suggest the types of products they need and partner with brokers to help match these. We connect directly to their online banking, investment and insurance portals, giving us access to their data, to get a holistic view. Like a human financial advisor, the more complete the picture available, the better the quality of advice. We take data privacy very seriously. Before developing Planner Bee, we sought legal advice and checked with the regulator, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), if we needed any license for our operations. We do not require any licenses to operate at this moment but we do intend to apply for the financial advisory license when the time is right, We are compliant with the PDPC guidelines to ensure data security is not compromised. In fact, some regulatory requirements from the MAS have worked in our favour, by imposing on insurance companies the need to create a consumer-facing online portal for customers to view their policies a few years ago. Insurers were the last to do this, relative to online banking and investment trading platforms. The coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated digital growth, despite the larger tragedy and the problems it has brought to society. Before Covid-19, for example, MAS required face-to-face meetings for the sale of insurance products, primarily to prove a customer’s identity and reduce the risk of fraud. It’s been clear that technology can help reduce these risks, too. Asia’s incumbent insurance companies have been slow in general to adopt new technology, whether for their consumers or brokers. A lot of things are changing, which is helping to accelerate our growth.
3. What are some key successes and challenges that Planner Bee has faced since it started?
Personal finance is a space that hasn’t been cracked. We don’t have any direct competitors with the same model. I think this represents an opportunity because we’re breaking new ground, but it’s also nerve-wracking and challenging. Plenty of people have said ‘this can’t work’. In many countries there are price comparison sites that exist for insurance, with a similar monetisation model, but nobody else provides one platform with the same holistic view advising on what types of products you should buy. One of the technical challenges we’ve faced in providing that holistic view was the inconsistency of information given to users through various insurance companies’ online portals. They don’t just call their products ‘life insurance or ‘medical insurance’. Any given insurer will have their own product names, and their own jargon. We have successfully classified these data and terminology, gathered from these companies online portals, which is something no-one else had done before. That was a difficult task to simplify it and classify it without a set framework. Insurance products are usually localised, and we’re still focused on Singapore in this phase. Our next challenge will be to open the product up to most of Asia and Australia. The platform is built in five world languages—English, traditional Chinese, Mandarin, Indonesian and Bahasa Melayu, which provides us with some avenues for expansion. Our next focus is Malaysia, and we’ve already begun the process to acquire users in Malaysia, and are adding new connections to the local insurers.