Insurtech FinTech

Webio: Making difficult conversations easy

Difficulties with a motor insurance renewal led to the establishment of conversational messaging specialist Webio. Founded in 2016, the Dublin-based company helps clients in financial services, insurance and other sectors to communicate with their customers in the sensitive areas of credit, collections and payments.

“People don’t like talking about financial problems,” explains Webio founder and Chief Executive Cormac O’Neill. “We give our clients an easier and more effective way to have those difficult conversations by bringing technology to bear on customer engagement and the customer journey.”

The lightbulb moment came as O’Neill’s wife was trying to renew her motor insurance policy. “We were about to set off for a holiday down the country and she phoned the company to renew,” O’Neill recalls. “What should have been a five-minute conversation lasted three-quarters of an hour. I figured there must be a better way of doing it.”

The timing was propitious. “When I look back now, it was around the time WhatsApp and other messaging apps were really starting to arrive and they were changing communications from being voice-driven to technology-driven. We wanted to transform the way enterprises engage with their customers. Way too much time is wasted in contact centres trying to get people on the phone, putting them on hold and so on, when it could be done much better on a messaging app.”

The company raised funding of €1.75 million from Enterprise Ireland and US investor Cameo Global in a seed round in 2016. “Enterprise Ireland has been fantastic for Webio,” says O’Neill. “It is very supportive and is a real enabler for start-ups. We spent the next 12 months building and developing a product.”

Market interest was very strong. “There was a lot of excitement around it and we had strong interest from a range of sectors,” he recalls. “But we were trying to be everything to everyone in some ways. It took us a while to figure out where the product fitted best. The people getting the most use out of it were in the credit arrangements, collections and payments areas. Our target market is any business which wants to talk to their customers about these things.”

The pain point addressed by Webio is the difficulties businesses have in reaching out and connecting with customers who owe them money. “Whether that’s an insurance company with customers on payment plans, or a bank or a credit institution, they all face the same difficulties. In a lot of cases, customers simply don’t answer the call when they see the number displayed on their phone. It’s not that they are trying to avoid paying what they owe, it’s just that they don’t feel comfortable having a voice-to-voice live conversation about it.”

Webio’s clients are reporting positive experiences with the conversational customer engagement solution’s they have deployed“What clients are finding is that if they send a message via WhatsApp, SMS  or another messaging channel, customers are much more likely to respond. “This is all to do with the psyche of people in debt. They don’t like talking about it but if they get a text message, they can think about it and reply later. Many people find it easier to engage by text rather than verbally in relation to such things.”

Applications for the Webio service are wider than credit and payments management. “The type of businesses using it include insurance, financial services, and companies who sell a lot of products on monthly payment plans. We also offer value-added services such as using WhatsApp to renew a policy or to send photographs of a damaged vehicle for assessment in real-time. This will allow customers to do in minutes what used to take hours or even days.”

Inertia has been one of the biggest issues facing Webio. “Innovation is not in the insurance industry’s DNA,” says O’Neill. “But they are now being forced to change as a result of new digital insurers entering the market. These digital providers are targeting niche areas at the moment, but that will change. They are already having a big impact. Lemonade is the world’s first unicorn insurance company, Dropin in the US is using drone technology to assess damaged areas after storms almost in real-time, and Next Insurance is using artificial intelligence (AI) to insure small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These digital-first insurers are changing the way the industry communicates with its customers. The established companies are starting to change and they are turning to Webio to help them on their digitisation journeys.”

The company is experiencing an increase in demand following a sharp drop at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The minute Covid hit, business dropped 35%, but it is starting to come back now. Budgets were frozen and no new business was being done. People were so focused on dealing with the impact of the pandemic that they didn’t have the bandwidth for anything new.”

He foresees even stronger demand in the coming year. “Unfortunately, we are heading for a tsunami of personal debt. People’s salaries are being propped up by governments, but that can’t last forever. When it ends, we are going to see huge personal difficulties and that will drive more and more need for what Webio does.”

Support from Enterprise Ireland and Cameo Global has been fundamental to the company’s success. “Enterprise Ireland has been excellent,” O’Neill concludes. “Their soft supports like market entry programmes have been particularly effective. When you are supported by Enterprise Ireland you get connected into a great network on the ground in markets like the UK, which is our primary target at the moment. We plan to look at the US market in 2021.”

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