James Buckley-Thorp, founder and CEO of Bequest speaks to us about digital life insurance platforms.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
James Buckley: Covid has been tough for my family members and I, but we are powering through and getting on every day as it comes. We are all safe and healthy, so we can’t ask for much more. We certainly are looking forward to getting back to normal (whatever that looks like), though! I hope you and your family are well also.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Bequest.
James Buckley: I’m very passionate about how tech can improve and make our lives better, more independent and more healthy, both for the body and mind. It’s why I enjoy Peloton, they’ve combined spinning and tech to make it an immersive experience. Also, with Starling Bank they are aware its customers are busy and are using technology that appreciates their time-spent customer base. I also enjoy platforms like Nutmeg that make financial clarity easier and more accessible, letting you take control of your own wealth. It’s why the technical capabilities of Bequest are so important to me. We are time-spent but still want to protect our expensive assets and our families from unpredictable moments.
Regarding my career, I’ve gone to many different places, but after the exit of my former business in 2016, I moved to San Francisco to help and support other founders in tech. This was when I met the guys from Zego. They were visiting San Francisco on business, and as we got talking, they offered me a role back in London with the rest of the team. I decided to take them up on that offer and move back to London.
A few months later, in 2017, I lost my best friend in a car accident, which affected me immensely. This was the first time I realized how life insurance was slipping through the cracks for those with digital assets and with the needs and desires of the millennial generation as a whole. It was a tragic event and something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I was beginning to understand how insurance works and doesn’t work (in some regards), which led me to want to bring a product to the market for the millennial generation. For those looking at starting their own family or getting on the property ladder, and actually give them a pure, simple and transparent insurance product. One without the jargon and small print, but also autonomous, so each policyholder can sign into the platform, and make changes, cancel, pause, etc., in real-time, without the need to book appointments with costly advisors and finally, something they can control, at their fingertips, just like some other marvellous Fintech products out there.
Around late 2019, I pitched the idea of Bequest to Founders Factory and their corporate sponsor Aviva, and a few days later, the real work started. We officially started writing code and got the ball rolling for one of the first data and digital life insurers in the UK. And Bequest was born! We have since gone on to win the best UK insurance startup of 2020 and are 4th out of 26 life insurance startups in the world to watch in 2021. We are hugely thankful and grateful for such wins and look forward to supporting and protecting so many more individuals and families in the future.
How does Bequest innovate?
James Buckley: We wanted to not only make buying life insurance easier, but we also wanted to rewrite a life insurance product that doesn’t discriminate, that lets customers have more control over their policy, and has terms and conditions that are easy to understand. We also wanted to change up how the product is distributed. Life insurance is for those who you love. It’s not something that needs to be heavily advertised on billboards with voucher codes. We have an online chat, a telephone chat and are looking forward to creating a grief chat very soon for those needing more support.
As our life insurance is done completely online, there is no medical exam needed. We incorporate things like deep data and research to make this as painless as possible. Rather than filling out 80 questions, we ask 10. And with the industry standard of 6 weeks to fulfil cover for someone, we have challenged the status quo to have it be done in as little as 15 minutes. People get instant cover, up to £500,000, instant access, knowing that their family is supported no matter what happens.
We also believe wholeheartedly in policies that you can amend, that change as life changes. Our customers can make changes as they go and jump in and out of a policy over time with our pay-as-you-go policy. When someone gets a mortgage or has a child, coverage can be updated to cover what matters most. And while most companies have discriminatory clauses, we don’t believe that’s right. Mental health as a whole is outdated and misunderstood, so we are trying to give everyone the opportunity to care for their loved ones.
All in all, we have removed the barriers to complex insurance products and created a user journey that is efficient and beautiful. Our simple platform and ecosystem of products share key data with each other to reduce the friction in updating or taking out more products. We are creating an all-of-life planning solution in one single platform. It’s important we think about the big moments people consider life insurance for and have a community presence in these spaces. The biggest goal for us is to keep our customers close. We have some great, loyal customers who constantly give us feedback so we can continue to improve and innovate.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
James Buckley: The industry as a whole has done fantastically despite the challenges a global pandemic has thrown at us. I am very proud to be part of an industry that has so many people actively working hard to ensure people are safe and protected.
At Bequest, we have seen a rise of over 4050% in life insurance requests during this time. We recently launched Bequest Wills, a free legal and professional will writing service, with our will-writing partners James Pearson Estate Planning (JPEP). Bequest customers can simply start writing their will from the comfort of their own home (helpful in a lockdown), and on submission, our friends at JPEP review each will before confirming it. You can get all of this, for free, in a matter of minutes. Overall, our company has grown by over 320% since the start of the pandemic, so I’m happy to report we took this time to build something new, and we’re doing well.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
James Buckley: Thankfully, regarding the business, we have not had to make too many hard decisions. However, a few of our more difficult decisions have been based on which products and features we should prioritize. When we realized we had the capacity to provide one of the first UK free will writing services that were fully professional and not one of the ‘off the shelf products, we knew we needed to pause what we were doing and launch Bequest Wills. Not for a profit, but because we are here to protect starter families, first-time buyers, and those who desperately need protection. The easiest way we could help everyone was to launch this product immediately. We were able to get it live relatively quickly, and within the first few weeks, we hit nearly 500 written wills.
Another one of the tougher challenges we’ve had to overcome has been overhauling a very old and complex product such as life insurance. It is deeply rooted in legacy systems, without of date terminology and discriminatory towards those with mental health and financial issues. We’ve worked incredibly hard to remove these archaic hurdles to get more people protected. Thankfully, the parties we work with share our ideology about how easy life insurance can be, and we’ve been working together on that for over a year. We go live any day now.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
James Buckley: Being Insurtech at heart, we were already digital anyway. So while moving to work from home brought a few additional and interesting challenges regarding the infrastructure that was mostly undisrupted. We have, however, actually started using a few more products like Miro, Monday, and Donuts. These apps have helped us continue group work and meetings.
Internally, we have also launched our [email protected], where we kick off our weekdays, with 10 minutes at 10 am. The whole team meets and discusses any tickets, any blockers, and then everyone moves on to the rest of their day. That is just one of the ways we stay connected to each other.
We have also launched the End of Week Demo. At the end of day Friday, the entire team jumps on Zoom and presents their findings from the week. We collectively lean in, share and offer help or support if needed, and celebrate successes. Right after, we jump into some trivia or pub quizzes; the host changes every week, so they are able to add their own flare if they wish.
Your final thoughts?
James Buckley: Next time you think of Life Insurance, you should think of Bequest. Getting protection shouldn’t be complicated. It shouldn’t be a nightmare. You shouldn’t have to worry about the policy not paying out, and you shouldn’t have to worry about the small print.’ And no matter what your family looks like, we will continue to innovate our platform using data, analytics and customer feedback to ensure that Bequest becomes the leader in life insurance and other protection products for many millennial families to come.