Christophe Bourguignat, founder, and CEO at Zelros tells us about the best insurance service experience.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Zelros.
Christophe Bourguignat: I am an entrepreneur and senior data scientist. After working at AXA Data Innovation Lab and Datarobot, I cofounded Zelros together with Damien Philippon and Fabien Vauchelles in 2016.
Fabien and I had worked formerly at AXA Data Innovation Lab, which was the trailblazer initiative about leveraging data and AI at scale in Europe. Together with Damien, we decided to create Zelros with the vision that algorithms would completely change the world around us. Both in our private and professional lives. Some industries have already been completely disrupted by algorithms. For example, Airbnb doesn’t own one single hotel or one single house, but a state-of-the-art platform fueled with state-of-the-art algorithms. Our conviction is that what already happened in several industries will materialize in the insurance industry in the years to come.
Zelros today operates in 3 countries (France, Germany, and Italy) and doubles size each year. Our technology is used daily by thousands of advisors and agents from 15+ leading insurers and bancassurers. Our recent Series A fundraising of 11M$ will enable us to accelerate our development in Europe, enter the North American market, and keep on innovating to bring more value to our customers.
How does Zelros innovate?
Christophe Bourguignat: Zelros develops the first AI software platform dedicated to the insurance distribution of tomorrow. It enables insurance players to offer a fluid and personalized experience from intelligent lead management through need analysis and advice to automated underwriting. Today Zelros counts 50 employees, half of whom are working in R&D.
When developing our product, we focus on delivering business value to the insurance distribution and being able to measure success at the customer side. The fact that our solution is ready to use and completely APIsed enables our customer to put it into production within weeks instead of months. We are also keen on innovation co-construction together with our customers. With one leading bancassurer, we signed a multi-year partnership agreement enabling us to dedicate part of our R&D effort to jointly defined business use cases.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Christophe Bourguignat: The coronavirus pandemic has been an accelerator in the digitization of insurers’ operations and processes. The insurance distribution needs to transform in order to cope with the multiple challenges and threats ahead. AI is a powerful tool to help and infuse this transformation and enable traditional insurers to offer a superior customer experience and ultimately secure customer acquisition and retention while improving operations efficiency at the same time.
While the pandemic has slowed down some business development opportunities in the short term, as both our customers and our organization needed to adapt to the new way of working and to deal with uncertainty, we have witnessed an increased opportunity for us as our technologies help insurance advisors and agents deliver better, more personalized advice while interacting remotely with their policyholders.
Just a couple of months after the beginning of the pandemic, and while there was still a very strict lockdown in France, we wrote a blog article on how it affected our collaboration with our customers and partners and how we quickly adjusted to this new way of working together.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Christophe Bourguignat: Historically at Zelros, we were quite cautious towards remote work: we were growing very quickly and we feared that a desynchronization between people would kill the company and our ambition. Indeed, collaboration and creativity are essential in a company under construction. When the lockdown was announced overnight, we were forced to evolve to a 100% remote organization overnight. While this abrupt change brought some challenges (how to onboard new employees, how to run creativity workshops etc..), the trust in the Zelros team and culture of open communication and teamwork helped us cope with the difficulties and eventually build a more cohesive, performant organization. We also documented our experience and thoughts on this topic in this article.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Christophe Bourguignat: You can find the tooling framework we put in place to ensure business continuity in our interactions with our customers below. Our system relies on the usage of a set of tools and more importantly, on empowering the client teams we’re working together with new ways of collaborating.
- Microsoft Teams: We use Microsoft Teams to set up a single gathering point for the project teams, allowing web meetings, communication, and sharing of non-sensitive files.
- Mural: Our product is highly configurable, to suit various specific customer contexts. During the initial deployment phase, we brainstorm with the end-users (advisors and contact center representatives), to identify the best way to set up the solution. This is traditionally done through game-storming sessions. To emulate this remotely, we use the Mural app.
- Jira: For ticketing and task tracking, we set up the well-known Jira. It helps teams to have visibility on structured activities like a validation of our software configuration.
- Cryptobox: Our solution is highly data-intensive. To share anonymized, but sensitive datasets, we use Cryptobox.
When it comes to internal communication and data sharing, we were already used to working with the google suite and slack with every employee having a laptop, hence the setup of full remote working was quite smooth in that respect.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Christophe Bourguignat: We see two types of competitors in our space :
- Horizontal AI Software providers. Not insurance-specific solutions, and not end-to-end, hence the customization and integration effort is far bigger than our ready-to-use insurance-specialized solution.
- Insurtechs providing AI-based solutions more focused on other parts of the insurance lifecycle such as pricing, risk, fraud management, or claims management.
We also see Zelros’ specialization with Sales/Distribution and Underwriting processes as pretty unique and we try to keep our competitive advantage by delivering more and more business value to our customers and continuously innovating in our field.