By Matt Kenyon
There are few insurtech CEOs who have as much hands-on experience in their field than Sasha Gainullin from battleface.
Gainullin’s background is in medical emergency and accident claims in travel insurance. For him, bringing home a traveler who had been seriously injured in a skiing accident in France was a formative experience. The traveler was paralysed, and stranded far from his home on the west coast of the United States. Worse still, this was his honeymoon.
Gainullin came to know this man’s family well, and saw at first-hand the importance of travel insurance not just as a means of paying out claims when a tourist loses a wallet – but as a genuine protection for travelers at their most vulnerable.
It is not difficult to see traces of this experience in battleface’s mission. Their slogan is “The tough face of travel insurance”. This vision of insurance is firm but flexible. battleface rails against what they describe as the “One product fits all” mentality of travel insurance.
A core principle for Gainullin and battleface is providing for the under-served in travel insurance. This is particularly pertinent during the pandemic, and Gainullin says that “the majority of travelers are under-served at this point, simply because many insurance companies no longer understand their own customers.”
This has been a turbulent year for travel insurance. In the early stages of the pandemic, the New York Times reported that US travel insurers have been abandoning customers en masse with obscure pandemic clauses. No one expected Covid-19, and the travel insurance industry was particularly unready for it. Ultimately, customers paid the price for this unpreparedness.
Insurance insiders often point to customer engagement as a unique capability of digital-first insurers. For battleface, understanding their customers is vital.
battleface believes that a more informed customer can make better decisions about travelling, and not only avoid trouble but fully enjoy their travel. With their podcast and blog, battleface share travel tips, talk to travel influencers, and have even interviewed a war photographer about kidnappings and mock executions.
Gainullin points to the analogy of journalists as an illogical quirk in travel insurance underwriting. In the early 2000s, a foreign correspondent working in Iraq or Afghanistan would pay higher premiums than many of those in at-risk demographics. Journalists with extensive training in conflict zones found themselves less likely to qualify for a travel insurance policy than tourists.
Gainullin notes that the idea of “adventure” or “activity” travel is relatively modern – few people outside of professional athletes in international competitions would have taken part in strenuous or high energy activities abroad. The current state of travel insurance is often based on risk assessments that don’t take into account the fact that those at the lowest risk of claims often take part in the highest risk activities.
For battleface, the future of travel insurance depends on the understanding that customer behaviour has fundamentally changed. In a world in which someone can book a flight and an Airbnb in minutes to sculpt a trip bespoke to them, Gainullin asks “why shouldn’t travel insurance be the same?”
Insurtech Insights are looking forward to hosting Sasha at our London conference on 1-2 September, as we look ahead to the future of insurance products.
Matt Kenyon is a content producer at Insurtech Insights.
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