When it comes to travel insurance, one size does not fit all. Factors such as COVID-19, natural disasters, and the war on terrorism have greatly shifted the travel landscape across the globe.
Sasha Gainullin joins Zachary Pyers on the podcast today. Sasha is the CEO of battleface, a tech travel insurance company that is redefining what it means to protect travelers worldwide.
Highlights of their discussion include:
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ZBP Zachary B. Pyers, Esq.
SG Sasha Gainullin
| ZBP | Thanks for joining us on this special edition of the Reminger Report Podcast on Emerging Technologies. Today we are fortunate to be joined by special guest and CEO of battleface, Sasha Gainullin. Hopefully I pronounced that last name correctly.
| SG | Yep. All good.
| ZBP | So Sasha, thank you for coming in. We’re super excited to have you joining us here today. If you could, just – I know a little bit about battleface just because you and I have talked. I know they’re in the travel insurance industry. But before we kind of jump into battleface and what they do, tell us a little about your personal background and how did you kind of get involved in this space?
| SG | Sure. So I’m originally I’m from Russia, but I had a chance to go in an exchange student program when I was in high school for a year to a small town called Stevens Point, Wisconsin. And Stevens Point, Wisconsin just happened to be a place where one of, now, the largest traveler insurance companies, called Travel Guard – that’s owned by AIG, was born. And the found of Travel Guard was inspired by international cultures and diversity and he was really keen on building out a company in the middle of kind of central Wisconsin as a global leader of travel insurance. So yeah that’s how I get into traveler’s insurance through this scholarship program that allowed me to go to the University of Wisconsin in exchange for working at Travel Guard. And I just started from working in the call center, and the company was going through rapid growth and, I would say John at Travel Guard is kind of the founder of the concept of traveler’s insurance here in the United States. So I had a chance just work side by side with him building out a company. And my specialty within travel insurance is emergency medical assistance. So whenever you’re traveling away from home, and it could internationally, it could be domestically, one of the most important parts of travel insurance, I believe, is emergency medical assistance, coverage for medical assistance, medical evacuation. And I would be the person that would be responding to any type of event, injury, illness, accidents, death, helping people to either get to a resolution faster or get them back home. And that particular skill carried over for the next 20+ years building up international operations through Latin America, Asia, Europe, we eventually sold Travel Guard to AIG and I was essentially doing the exact same thing for them.
| ZBP | I think that’s interesting because one of the things you mentioned was with regards to healthcare and health insurance. And I think one of the common misconceptions among a lot of people is well I have health insurance. And so if I have health insurance here in the United States, when I travel abroad, my health insurance automatically will cover whatever I need in that country as well, which is not always the case.
| SG | Yeah, they can barely cover you here with all the deductibles and PPOs. Yeah, that’s not the case here. What’s actually interesting, that whole concept has shifted quite a bit. I remember 20+ years ago when I was first starting out the industry, a lot of travelers were shocked that their Blue Cross/Blue Shield of the world or Signa or the domestic health insurance policies either flat out didn’t have coverage while you’re outside of the home country, or just had significant deductibles and out of network coverages and so on. But most importantly, internationally these companies are not able to really help you. So it’s a big pay and claim type of scenario. And then I remember in the early 2000s, or actually late 1990s, Travel Guard got a contract for American Express to handle all of American Express’s emergency travel assistance program behind every single layer of the card, all the way up to the platinum and later. And we built out a global assist center for them. And that experience was very interesting just to understand what people know and don’t know about travel insurance or their credit cards. By the way, Travel Guard still handles that account for American Express. And when I would be working with an American Express cardholder below platinum card, every single person that I would talking to you either things that American Express has the coverage for them for the travel insurance component of it or they have health insurance policy that would pay for things. But American Express did not have coverage for medical evacuation or medical expenses. They would provide assistance, what is called 24/7 assistance, we would help you but you would have to be actually responsible for the actual expenses. So I remember a very interesting case that changed my perspective on the knowledge here in the United States on travel insurance. I was working with a couple who just got married and they were from Seattle, Washington. And they went skiing in Switzerland, and the guy had an accident. And he was paralyzed neck down. So from a honeymoon scenario to them contacting American Express thinking that they have this coverage because they bought their airline tickets with their gold card, unfortunately they didn’t. So I was working with the family and their home health insurance trying to see what we can do to convince them to pay for medical expenses, medical evacuation. And I don’t remember who the company was, but they just couldn’t understand how, what type of necessities there to evacuate him back home into a home hospital because he was already in Switzerland receiving medical care. So that family ended up paying nearly $60,000 just for medical care, then transportation, then helicopter services of course from the mountain and of course on top it they had to deal with all these scenarios because who deals with this regularly? Nobody. So that’s a big misconception.
| ZBP | Absolutely. I’m learning to ski now for the first time at the ripe old age of 39, and my wife is trying to convince me that I’m going to get injured while skiing. And now that you have told this story, I’m going to make sure she’s not listening to this episode of the podcast because if she does, she’ll say I told you so. Did you hear what Sasha just said?
| SG | Yeah, don’t invite me over for dinner, because I’ll tell you more stories.
| ZBP | There’s so much to unpack and so much I kind of what to follow up on and ask questions about. And the first is, I think it’s interesting one of the things that you said, when you started working with Travel Guard, you actually started out at the call center. I mean how long, please correct me if I’m wrong, that’s like an entry level position then. So you’ve literally worked from the bottom all the way up now to running a travel insurance company.
| SG | Yeah. Of course luck has a lot to do with it, right. So like me running into John Noel and John Noel being inspired to bringing diversity into Stevens Point, Wisconsin. For example, he adopted four kids from all different backgrounds and had six kids in total, and, for example, our head of operations and chief operations officer at battleface, we all started on the same day at AIG, so we all worked side by side building out Travel Guard and then AIG. So it wasn’t the most amazing experience because yes, I started in the call center, within I think 3 months of me being there, Travel Guard gets a contract with American Express. So in John’s fashion, just like putting everyone behind the actual contract and the project and we’re just learning as we go. And then I found myself really being passionate about helping people and figuring things out because it’s all about common sense once you work with people internationally. Because there’s no handbook on how to evacuate someone after a skiing accident or work with somebody who died in a middle eastern country and how do you actually transfer a body from their back home. So I found that work extremely fascinating. But then, for example, some of the co-founding teams of battleface, they moved on to building out tech applications or back office support or underwriting or, you know, like every aspect of travel insurance from every angle that you could think of. So from the luck perspective, I guess, I had an open canvas to essentially starting these operations. And John bought, or Travel Guard bought a company when I graduated the University of Wisconsin. First of all, it was really awesome because I was going to school during the day. It was a 24/7 call center, so I could work at night in the call center, but nobody wanted to work at night. But for me, it was actually working out really well. On weekends I would be waiting tables to get cash. So it was really, really flexible. And then after I graduated from University, Travel Guard sponsored me for my H1B and working visa and everything and that took me all over the world building out these operations.
| ZBP | That’s awesome. Now tell us a little bit about battleface. I mean we’ve already kind of talked about it a little bit, about the team starting with AIG and now you guys are with battleface. Tell us a little bit about the company. How did battleface land here in Columbus? What are they doing? Kind of how are they approaching it? Give us the low down I guess.
| SG | So from the start of our entering into the travel insurance market with Travel Guard and AIG, Travel Guard was built on the concept of one size fits all. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re going, you’re going to a travel agency to book your flight, here’s travel insurance, say yes or no. I always joke around that right now there’s a buzz word within the insure tech space – embedded. Travel insurance has been embedded for decades. You know when you go on the airline website and there’s always travel insurance, right – check. I remember us in the early 2000s we were handling Walt Disney accounts so when you book a Walt Disney vacation, travel insurance was part of it and that was Travel Guard. So it was white labeled, super embedded and specifically designed for Walt Disney. And that worked back then. Because back then we traveled differently. We went to pretty much the same destinations. We had the same behavior in terms of purchasing our travel and most likely the average American only traveled once a year and for two weeks. So that’s why it made sense back in the day. Nowadays, the travel industry has shifted so much with Airbnb of the world or Dotcom or different online travel agencies. Millennials and other travelers they move around from one place to another, they go on this super cheap airfare and then they change their airfare last minute and they change their destinations. And you also on top of it, you no longer, you see the standard like Paris, France is a top destination, but you see somewhere in the middle of nowhere, France as a top destination because people want to learn how to cook or have an experience. And so how do you start evolving that with travel insurance. But of course that was not the foresight. What happened to us is we – so my specialty is claims emergency medical assistance travel assistance. I started to see a shift in travel insurance. All of a sudden where it because the most helpful aspect of your travel to the most destructive aspect of your travel. And it started out with my experience with war on terrorism. So for example, a family of four vacationing in Tunisia on the beach and then there is a terrorist attack. War on terrorism is the number one exclusion on travel insurance policy. So if you are victim of that attach, there is a chance of your claim being denied. Or, let’s say you’re going on vacation to Spain, and you’re sitting with your friends and you’re like oh I’ve never tried scuba diving but I really want to do it. And then you go scuba diving. That’s number 2 exclusion on the generic travel insurance policy. And I never really paid attention to it up until I started dealing with these cases and I couldn’t understand why couldn’t we offer as an industry relevant products to todays’ travelers, and be up front about what’s covered and what’s not covered. And that really led us to a conversation with Lloyd’s of London over on the European side is why is that the case. And the answer is really, really simple. There is no infrastructure in place that can ask these questions real time when consumers are purchasing the policy and then custom building the policy based on those questions. So we spent a lot of time developing our tech infrastructure and algorithms to really unbundle travel insurance and pull it all apart and then start building it for you while you’re purchasing your policy. And then that’s how we get to the end outcome of actually delivering the right policy for your trip based on your age, based on your destination, based on your actual needs and based on your activities. And that also allowed us to do very, very similar, to take the very similar approach to our partners as well. Because when you go to a distribution channel number 1 to a distribution channel number 2, number 3, they’re all selling the exact same product. But each one of them is uniquely different from one another. So naturally they should have a custom built product specifically for their customers. And then of course we were answering the question why is it that when you book your flight from Columbus to New York or Columbus to Nairobi, Kenya it’s the exact same travel insurance policy where two trips are completely different. How can we change that?
| ZBP | That is a fair question. So let me ask this. Can I get insurance that would cover scuba diving through battleface?
| SG | Yes, sure.
| ZBP | Because I think it’s interesting, never would occur to me that scuba diving would not be covered under travel insurance. I mean I’m not a big scuba diver myself which is probably why. The war on terrorism I’ve at least heard before. Like it’s something that I’m at least aware of. But I was not previously aware of the scuba diving. Does battleface take into account or is war on terrorism that is covered under some policies?
| SG | Yeah. So the war on terrorism coverage, rightfully so, was created decades ago, right? When war in terrorism was in the news with the Irish conflict or whatever, or something like really, really out there true war. The terrorist concept didn’t really come into our day to day lives up until September 11th. Right? All of a sudden destinations like New York, London and after became not dangerous but also that’s where terrorism starts to happen. That exclusion continues to be applicable right from the old days. So what happens in the travel – I think it’s also what happens in the insurance industry altogether – is just the policies just get copy pasted over and over and over and over again. And nobody actually pauses and takes a look at what’s covered, what’s not covered, and what’s relevant today to today’s travelers. And certainly certain risks just cannot be underwritten. So for example if you’re planning to go to North Korea, it’s a sanctioned country. So there’s nothing that we can do, there’s nothing that the insurance companies can do. It’s just flat out sanctioned. So there is an element of what we do. It just has to be all based on the underwriting risks of what you’re planning to do. For example, we would never provide coverage if you’re participating in the war. Or, you know, those kind of elements. So what we’re working on developing is – and war on terrorism is actually no longer a problem because many, many companies were already looking into that. I think what was really, really interesting is that we get into natural disasters, we’re getting into pandemics, we’re getting into – just reading through it. So pandemic all of a sudden became a day, like everyday problem. Where before it was SARS, Ebola, something regional, something that happens maybe for maybe a month. But then all of a sudden Covid changed the landscape of the pandemic coverage as well. So then how do we have a platform in place or a company in place that can continue to reinvent the products and make them relevant.
| ZBP | You know the pandemic coverage like you just mentioned is one of those things that also I don’t know it would have occurred to me before the current pandemic with Coronavirus. Because I know, I mean I know just from dealing with the insurance industry the way we have that there’s issue, there’s certain coverages that they deal with and then expectations from the underwriting prospective that insurance carriers have. And you’re right when you talk about a lot of the pandemics that we’ve seen in the last 15 or 20 years. I shouldn’t say pandemics but health crises or issues, they’ve been relatively contained both from a geographical standpoint but also from a time standpoint. They don’t last for two years and over the entire world. And then you’ve got different places that have different restrictions and travel restrictions as well which I’m sure complicates your job as well.
| SG | Yes, yes of course. And by the way, pandemic is like number 3 exclusion. And, of course, I’m oversimplifying. But so yeah, and this is what we’ve gotten from Lloyd’s of London. When we came to Lloyd’s of London, we sat down with different underwriters there and thought we would love to underwrite all of these risks. We just need a platform that can properly rate base don all this. And actually, to their credit, I remember this underwriter sitting there and he was saying, I’m sick and tired of 20 pound policies, destination of United States and destination of Vietnam, with $10 million in medical expense exposure. And I couldn’t catch that, why was that a problem until I started to think well of course the cost of medical care in the United States is vastly different versus other countries. And absolutely, he’s right. It makes absolutely zero sense. Why is it the price is exactly the same? And this where the one size fits all type of products come in. I remember another case actually here in the United States when we first launched here in the U.S. I remember seeing a policy that came through and total trip cost was insured for $20,000 because in the United States it’s very important from trip cancellation perspective because travel is very expensive and people are concerned about getting their money back in case, obviously, they cannot travel. But then the departure date was tomorrow. I’m like well that’s weird. It’s either fraudulent, or like why would you insure $20,000 and you’re leaving tomorrow? Usually it’s like one year in advance. So I called the guy and he was on a business trip, going business class, fully refundable ticket, staying at like Ritz Carlton, somewhere in Tokyo, Japan, obviously refundable hotel. And he was there for two weeks. And I said, why did you insure $20,000? And he’s like well that’s the first question you asked me. What’s your total trip cost. And that’s the most expensive part of a travel insurance policy. Many, many traditional insurance companies base their premium based on a percentage of your total trip cost, between 7-10%. And so do we. And that’s what led us to even further unbundling travel insurance. And I asked him, why did you buy the policy? He’s like I was concerned about medical expense coverage because I know that my health insurance in the United States does not cover me outside of the United States, and they did not provide medical evacuation back home. So now when you come to battleface, you literally can choose what you need and what you don’t. Because many, many travelers end up overpaying for their policy. And, for example, baggage insurance is another. If you’re jumping on the trip between Columbus and New York and you don’t have any baggage to check in, take a look at the policy. It says right there that you’re paying for baggage insurance.
| ZBP | Those are two things that I never would have thought of, that I never would have thought of when they asked total trip cost, you know why you would need this if it was refundable.
| SG | Exactly. That’s exactly true, and his entire trip was refundable. We actually refunded his premium because we just lowered his trip cost. But I doubt, you know like traditional insurance company, well that’s the beauty with start-up, right? You’re just hyper-focused on every single customer. So you can then overanalyze and make decisions that way.
| ZBP | Well I mean, but it’s also helpful, right? Like when you’re a start-up that you can see this and make the decision that you can start unbundling based upon some of the preconceived assumptions that you would have been working on before. So if you wouldn’t have called him and figured it out it may have taken you longer to realize the trip cost, you know the way the trip cost factors in should probably be factored in there a different way.
| SG | Exactly. And so that resonates quite a bit. And the landscape keeps changing. Like right now travelers are really, really concerned about quarantine cover. Or what happens if I’m in Argentina and I catch Covid-19 and I cannot fly. Two years ago nobody would ever ask that question.
| ZBP | Absolutely. So I was actually taking a – we were booking a hotel, my wife and I were last night and she was booking - as we were talking about this it started to come back to me, she was looking at booking through a third party travel sites that one of the popular ones on the internet. And she found a room that she thought was a good rate. It was a non-refundable price, but they were willing to sell you travel insurance. And she said you know this is non-refundable, I think we should buy the travel insurance. And I said wait a second, let me look and see what the actual hotel’s website has as a fully refundable night, and I looked and the price was relatively the same. And then I said to her, well is there some reason we shouldn’t just book the refundable fare through the hotel’s site and not worry about the travel insurance. And it occurred to me two things. One, it’s the embedded aspect that you were talking about before. It wasn’t like this website was giving me options to search for which travel insurance carrier I wanted or what coverage I wanted. And frankly I didn’t know what coverage they were giving me. And I probably wouldn’t have even looked into it. I would have clicked the button and proceeded. So it’s like the example of that embedded aspect that you were talking about. But it’s also a little bit of the aspect when you talk about do we really even – in that situation for one refundable hotel night – do I really even need the travel insurance if I can cancel? Which I think is a question that I didn’t start asking until last night when she was telling me, do you want to book this travel? I said well is it refundable? And so it starts that kind of dialogue. No you’ve been working in – I know we’ve talked a little about this and touched on this, some of the trends that you’re seeing. Are there any other trends that kind of stick out to you or that you kind of recognize in the travel insurance space?
| SG | Well I think, yeah there’s I think what really is happening in the travel insurance industry which I think – I mean we, when I say we, the travel insurance industry have created and where it fault is the extreme high commissions that are being paid out to the distribution partners. And I didn’t realize this until after we started battleface. Because I was never on the commercial side of travel insurance. I was always on the operational side of travel insurance. But I had no idea that travel insurance companies were paying out 60%+ to distribution partners like airlines or big travel agencies and commissions just to get the business. And then eventually you see big players, insurance company number one and insurance company number two competing against each other paying out more. And then you end up seeing deals that go between 70-80% in commission payout up front. Then you starting to think about the actual math behind the concept. Because loss ratios are usually at about 30% with travel insurance. So mathematically, obviously, it doesn’t make sense. And then you start questioning who gets hurt. And this is where the customer comes in with the policies that are so, so restrictive. This is where the cause of the exclusions, right, that come in. Because the insurance carriers, the only thing that they can offer to their partners is a really, really limiting product that gets embedded into a purchase path that’s filled with more exclusions than inclusions. And so, and that did not come into light, and of course I was, you know if everyone in the industry was passionate like me, we’d know this. And we were talking about this, even congress here was talking about this, that oh this has to be cut out and there’s a huge reform on filings and everything else. But then eventually, you know, big insurance companies figured out how to pay up front marketing fees and all that stuff. So that really didn’t fix the problem, because the problem was the actual insurance product at its core. It was just basically destroyed with all these commissions. And then some countries like Australia, for example, the government came out and said no more. Maximum 20% for example. So it just depends country by country. But here in the United States specifically I think that was a big, first of all Covid-19 exposed that. So I still remember it. January 17, 2020 headline news, New York Times article, home page is travel insurance worth it? And the answer is no, it's worthless because they journalist, her name’s Elaine, really, really just dug into every single insurance company in the United States and pulled them apart. And how, at the end of the day, it brought zero value to their customers. And that’s really true. Because unfortunately, like my mom still thinks I’m a travel agent, who knows anything about travel insurance. And who in the world – actually this specific to United States even before Covid-19 only 20% bought travel insurance. And simply because the remaining 80% just didn’t know anything about it. And so, I think now the biggest trend is big players are starting to realize, the distribution partners, that for the longest time they fell into the trap of making a lot of money up front. So I was on the phone with a major airline the other day and traditionally these products convert 8-10%. So even traditionally, 92% of passengers that will go through this website will think it’s a scam or it’s not relevant to them. Well obviously like you’re booking a flight to Nairobi, Kenya and all of a sudden there’s a pdf that’s attached say yes to travel insurance and you know nothing about it. So I was talking to them and they said it’s actually under 2% now. Because what happened in the industry and Covid-19 exposed that entire landscape to everybody globally, in Europe and the United States and other parts of the world where consumers were stuck with policies that did not work for them. And if you google major airline major insurance company Class A lawsuits, you’ll see a bunch of them popping up. And so I think that’s a major, major shift because now partners are pausing and saying how can we deliver value to our own customers. And my message to them, don’t be fat pigs. Don’t ask so much up front. Concentrate on delivering the right products to your customers. And concentrate on that 98% of the population and how you can convert them. And that’s how you can achieve your financial results. And certainly rewards programs are important, commissions are important and everything. But it should not come at the expense of – actually this situation – win for the distribution partner, lose for the insurance company because there’s no way they’re making money and it’s just being hidden behind a huge company umbrella because travel insurance at the end of the day is a small sliver of their overall line of business. And then most importantly, customers.
| ZBP | You know it’s interesting that you say that from a business perspective, because I’m a lawyer, I’m not a statistician but as I’m doing the math in my head if they’re only converting 2% and the commission is just say 60, well you could cut the commission to 30 if you were able to convert 4% of your customers and come out equal. So if you were able to offer a better umbrella of products, you could capture some more of that 98% that isn’t taking it now.
| SG | For sure. And this is where you truly, truly develop a relationship with your customers, you delivering the right products. And there’s actually some brands out there, like Southwest Airlines, that said we are not selling travel insurance because it just doesn’t make any sense. And so you see brands that are coming forward and have that message because they don’t agree with this relationship. And companies couldn’t find the right products for their customers. But then we don’t even entertain those conversations. I remember when we were blowing up in Europe, I got a phone call from a European airline because a lot of customers were complaining about their products that they were selling saying how can we sell your products but I want 65% in commission share. I just said well absolutely that’s what’s wrong obviously with the industry. So no. And then we ended up obviously we didn’t work with them. And we can’t even afford it, right. Because as a start-up you just can’t go into these particular relationships. So we’re concentrating on partnerships that share our value, that share on delivering the right products to their customers. Because we’re also doing claims assistance customer service, everything in house because that’s another kind of problem in the industry because insurance companies don’t want to talk to their own customers and everything’s outsourced between different third parties. So of course they have a lot of parties to feed. So and that’s how we end up with that products.
| ZBP | Tell me, how is that, because some of the things you’ve talked about already and you mentioned, and I know that you and I spoke before you came on the podcast, a lot of it to me sounds like dealing with customers problems. You talked about the example of the husband who was injured in Switzerland. It seems to me like a lot of that would be situations that the insurance company would want to control and you’re saying for some of these companies is outsourced.
| SG | 10% yeah.
| ZBP | So is battleface there, that’s all being like that type of claims handling process and customer assistance that’s all being handled in house?
| SG | Yeah, so we of course as a start-up we are also very realistic, we outsource some of it, but I knew who to outsource it to, who are the right players and who we can trust and of course from a licensing perspective as well. For example, here in the United States you can’t process a claim unless you’re licensed. So we had that all in our road map to build this out. But yeah, we’re one thing that I wanted to start with 100% is customer service handling it ourselves. And then everything else we’ve outsourced and we’ve taken it in-house. But that was always in our mission that a customer has to start with us and then end with us and we have to be responsible for the outcome of the claim, the services, the product – and that’s how actually at the end of the day this is where the innovation comes from that I personally believe is customers and employees. Because as long as you’re in touch with both areas very, very frequently then the companies will continue to succeed. There are some companies in the U.S. or internationally that still handle everything themselves and I have 100% respect for them. Big insurance companies and they don’t outsource it. But yeah, that was a big part of our plan as well.
| ZBP | You’ve talked about really helping the customers through the processes, could you give me some examples of your time either at battleface or maybe when you were working with Travel Guard or maybe some of the other carriers, you know, where you’ve seen the travel insurance kind of kick in and really help the customers?
| SG | Oh well all the time. Because what I do in travel insurance is all help, right. So any kind of, any type of incident, like the case I told you, well I guess the case I told you they didn’t have travel insurance, but most recently for example, this is actually battleface’s example, we had a couple who was in Argentina and they had Covid-19 and they missed their – obviously they couldn’t fly back home – so this is where battleface just came to glory. We found a hotel that was comfortable with having Covid-19 patients because there’s only a selected few that would actually take you with Covid-19. We delivered meals to them four times a day. I’m not sure shy it was 4 times and not 3, maybe it was a snack, maybe it’s an Argentina thing. And then we of course changed all their flights, we of course made sure medical care was available, paid for the diagnostics and medical treatment, pre-paid for the expenses, right and then brought them back home. So this is where travel insurance is really shining and very, very helpful. But then there are also examples that when you do book a $20,000 trip to go on a safari trip in 6 months and you’re prepaying all these expenses and then the world changes, you get sick, something happens, you cannot travel and then you get your money back. So that’s another good example of where travel insurance is extremely helpful. Did I answer your question?
| ZBP | Yeah, yeah absolutely. Now I know that one of the things that you and I talked about previous to this, I know we talked about the commissions a little bit and I think one of the other issues that we kind of touched on was transparency in the industry. And kind of the struggles and the issues that you see with regards to the lack of transparency. What is battleface doing to overcome that and be more transparent?
| SG | Different examples again, so for example going back to partnerships like when I get a phone call from a partner saying I want to earn 70%. I roll out a spreadsheet and I show here’s who gets what and how it works. And also put our units into economics there as well because it has to be a win-win relationship. And then or I get a phone call from a partner saying that 9 out of 10 claims get denied by insurance company x. And then I’ll ask them well how much are they paying you. Ok. Have you spoken to them? No we have a broker in between. And I’m like that’s an extra 5%. So then I start breaking it down and saying well most likely this insurance company doesn’t have enough room to be innovative once it comes to relevant benefits. So that’s one aspect of transparency. Another aspect of transparency from customer service perspective, consumers, like I said I remember John Noel when he started Travel Guard, he wrote the plan and he worked for a big insurance company and the big insurance company told him travel insurance will never take off. So then he went off and started doing these kind of focus group analysis. Every single person said they’ll never buy travel insurance. And it’s like a movie moment, he’s walking away and then he turns around and – and he told me this story, he’s like I just wanted to know why – and he turned away and he said why? And people said we don’t know anything about it. So that’s how he started Travel Guard. And that I think is very, very true to this date. So when we were growing really rapidly, I was on the phone everyday with customers talking about travel insurance and what they’re looking for and consumers are essentially often, my mom for example, I use my mom all the time, she buys insurance, she wants to use it. So that concept you have to break out. But we start a conversation here’s what we don’t cover for. And I think that took a lot of our customers by surprise because we were in the midst of the pandemic. We were very, very specifically here's what we do and here’s what we don’t do. And for example, over the on the European side, our policies don’t cover for pre-existing medical conditions. And there’s a lot of travelers that care about that and we would be simply referring them to companies that do provide coverage for pre-existing medical condition. And that level of transparency, we won so many customers over, like you were so upfront with us. This is great and this is where I would like to see battleface. How do we develop a system where we continue to be extremely transparent at what we do, what we cover, what we don’t cover for and then help customers to find the right policy because battleface is not for everybody as well, let alone our name right? That’s very unique. But and how do we continue to help customers to find the right products.
| ZBP | You know you mentioned the European market. You guys are operating in Europe, the United States, are there other markets you’re operating in?
| SG | Yep, we just got our approval in Australia.
| ZBP | Congratulations.
| SG | That was incredible, because usually to get a license in country it takes a while and I was surprised how fast we got it simply because that we already were operating in the U.K. then Brexit happened so then of course we had to cross the channel and go to Belgium and set up there, get licensed, get certified. I remember for the longest time they would not accept my University of Wisconsin MBA program as a valid master’s degree because in Europe, if you want to be licensed and distribute insurance products you have to have a master’s degree as one of the directors. That was one of the weird requirements.
| ZBP | And they didn’t recognize the University of Wisconsin.
| SG | Uh-uh. So I called the University of Wisconsin and I was speaking to the department that was an MBA program, I’m like here’s the deal they got all offended.
| ZBP | I’m sure they did.
| SG | So we’re writing letters and letters and eventually it got recognized. So this is the level of detail that we go through to be properly licensed, properly regulated. And then of course Australia was very similar they didn’t care about my master’s degree but I think we got approval really, really fast because we had such significant infrastructure in place in the U.K. and Europe and of course the U.S. is a different story. I feel like I have a Ph.D. in insurance. I had to take every possible test that there is. And those are difficult tests.
| ZBP | I’ve never take one, so I’ll take your word for it.
| SG | Really, really difficult. And then Canada. So now we’re entering Canada as well. And then of course our dream is to be able to build out a global infrastructure where we can offer solutions in countries like Brazil, India, China, other bigger markets, but that’s probably more 23 or 24.
| ZBP | Now you’ve talked about kind of the unique name of the company battleface. Tell me is there some significance behind it? How did you guys come up with it?
| SG | One of the co-founders as well he is very creative with names, but essentially I think the idea came from we were doing a lot of work in emerging markets for AIG actually managing claims. And we started to see a lot of people traveling in those territories and they couldn’t find travel insurance. And then we were talking to this very famous journalist and she was so passionate and she said I keep going to a battlefield and I put my face out there and nobody wants to insure me. So and that’s how we were playing around with names. But we wanted something unique, direct, strong and we didn’t even know that it was going to take off at all because we were just kind of like playing around with it. We both like it and we thought it was awesome. But what’s more importantly we’ve always been kind of shy about it because it’s either too American or too aggressive or whatever. And he’s American by the way. But it just took off nicely in the European market. And people loved it; people became obsessed with it. And I always say this, if you go into a room, you know 50% hates it, 50% loves it, 100% remembers it.
| ZBP | And that’s what’s important right?
| SG | And John Noel always told me name doesn’t matter, what matters is the actual product services that you provide and then you build your culture. And it’s true it really is unique, because now I keep thinking that there’s all these things out there and there very, very similar to one another but battleface sort of carries that strength and that reliability and us being able to take care of people no matter what the circumstances are. I always get this question asked like who is your target customer. And travelers in general that’s who we working with. Rather you are going volunteering on a volunteer mission in Ecuador or you’re crushing coconuts in the Bahamas on the beach. It’s, those are our customers. Like every type of traveler, every type of experience and circumstance. That’s what we’re building the company for.
| ZPG | Now I know when we spoke kind of before the recording, that one of the things that you had mentioned to me was something that I was totally kind of unaware of the travel insurance marketplace is the issue of offshoring. Could you tell our listeners a little bit of what offshoring is in the terms of travel insurance and kind of why it’s an issue?
| SG | Generally, I guess in insurance as well, I really also, that’s another thing that I really didn’t know that that was the case. It also depends country by country too. So in the United States specifically, I think every state regulators don’t like offshore policies because there is no consumer protection. And offshoring essentially is when companies create a trust or master policy approach that randomly is written out to some random association and then all of a sudden you become part of this association. And then you are buying the policy from – through this method but then the company doesn’t end up paying local taxes, insurance taxes, whatever the jurisdiction you’re from either state or country and then on top of it you don’t get – and then these products don’t get filed. Like here in the United States all of our products are filed, we go to every state and we file it. And it’s tedious work because we’re unbundling – and maybe that’s another reason why other insurance companies don’t do because outside of the comprehensive product, like one size fits all, we’ve created 43 unique benefits and we go to each of the states and we say here’s the rate for each one of them. So you can only imagine how tedious that work is. But then we feel that that’s the right way of doing business essentially. And then there you are declaring your rates, you declare the commissions that you plan to pay out and it’s all part of the rate. And then you wait. You know you wait for different states to approve you. I think we’re still waiting on New York and California, the usual suspects. But this is, so the offshoring essentially is kind of like – takes that process away and you can essentially bypass that entire process. And some countries are fine with it, but most countries like Canada, Australia, United States, they’re not. And then in some cases it makes sense if you are traveling and you buy travel insurance but you don’t have benefits that are applicable to you in your home country, and of course I think this is where if you just want medical expenses and you’re just covered while you are outside of your home country, maybe this is where kind of the offshore element works. But in general speaking here in the United States, specific to the United States, a lot of states like Maryland, for example, don’t allow it and New York is another one. And regulators – and we as a startup we just couldn’t play that game, so because we needed to come up with a solution that works well for the local market and it’s different from surplus lines as well. Offshoring versus surplus lines always gets confused.
| ZBP | I appreciate that explanation. Kind of wrapping up and kind of in closing, one of the things I always like to ask, especially people who are leading these start-ups is kind of an open-ended question, both what do you see are some of the biggest opportunities and kind of some of the biggest challenges for battleface? I know you already talked about you’re already eying the expansion for 2023 and potentially 2024. What other opportunities and challenges – I know those are two opposite things – do you see for battleface kind of moving forward?
| SG | Opportunities or challenges?
| ZBP | Either one is fine, or both.
| SG | I think well good thing about a global company, it’s a lot of fun obviously. It’s just very, very exciting and then it becomes more and more interesting. Because how do you launch a travel insurance company in Brazil, for example? And there’s a whole level of different elements, it’s like another dimension that you have to go through. So I think from that perspective, that’s both an opportunity and excitement as well because us internally, the team at battleface, we’re constantly solving these problems. And but there’s also challenges with that. How do you stay focused? How do you stay true to your mission? How do you stay aligned between all of the different jurisdictions and cultures? So yeah, actually today I was just asked this question, what is the biggest challenge? And I think it’s just staying kind of like on message, right? Especially with, actually with a global company we’re not all in the same location, so we’re all in different parts of the world, but kind of Covid-19 helped with technology as well, right? So now it’s a Zoom culture, you can record messages, you can go straight into – you can have a town hall meeting, you know I remember in the old days I traveled and we’d have a big tent and everyone would get together and we’d talk then. But nowadays you don’t have to do that. But certainly I think building out the culture, I think, how do we continue with the same energy, how do we continue to be on track on solving problems. Because even with us as far as how we talk about relevant products, we could become irrelevant too. So for example, in the European market, we were at the top for a long time in terms of the products we were offering. And then we started to see a shift where the competition was keeping up with better benefits and more relevant benefits and so, you always have to be on top of being true to your customers and also having I think in the insurance industry of course, you’re also dependent a lot on the very traditional insurance companies that we are also challenging, right? So for example, Lloyd’s of London is underwriting our products or another insurance company. And how do we continue to get that support in the right way? Because it’s a different model that we’re developing. We breaking the model apart. And of course we’ve had a lot of success and a lot of companies like to work with us. But initially it was extremely challenging. And I think going forward in 23, 24, 25, these regional markets is also going to be another challenge and how do we figure them out. And what actually clicks for a Chinese traveler, for example, versus a Brazilian traveler. That answer I don’t have.
| ZBP | Now I did want to ask as you just said that you got kind of a global company. You guys are located here in Columbus, Ohio.
| SG | Yes, the global headquarters. Who would have known.
| ZBP | How many people do you have a team physically here in Columbus?
| SG | Yeah.
| ZBP | How many, how big is that?
| SG | Roughly about 65.
| ZBP | Okay. And then the rest of your team, because I know I’ve spoken with some members of your team who are located on the west coast or in other places. Are they spread throughout the United States, throughout the world?
| SG | Yeah, through the world, United States. We love different time zones. Because you know we don’t believe in a single location in this day operational mindset. You have to have redundancy everywhere. And we love the, for example, I’m so excited about this, because all of a sudden nobody has to work Sundays. Because when it’s a Sunday here, it’s a Monday there. So then, we started out by customer service, right? And customer service you want to have 24/7 infrastructure. And as a startup we can’t afford to build one single call center. So then we went with the global time zone model and Covid-19 kind of helped us as well. So all of a sudden everyone was comfortable working from home. But then it spilled over to all the other areas of the company, engineering, product. Right? So then all of a sudden these areas because 24/7 as well. So, and that’s the type of company we’re building. But then, what we really, really are keen on is understanding these markets and you have to be physically there. Like we were joking around with our Australia team, because here in the United States we offer coverage for pets, like dogs and cats. Pet travel is a big thing in the United States. Our Australian team we’re laughing, scratch that. We don’t care about pet travel. So and that’s the only way for us to actually get to the market faster, when you have knowledge local.
| ZBP | You know it’s funny. I don’t mean to bring my wife into the podcast again but that’s one of the questions she always asks when we’re booking a trip or vacation is can we bring out dog and oftentimes the answer is yes. But every once in awhile I’m like no, we’re not flying our dog to San Diego to see your brother. I mean, he’s going to stay at home. But I think that’s interesting you’re talking about the knowledge of the local markets being important because honestly I never would have though there would be a difference from a culture standpoint, from Australia to the United States as to pet travel. That just wouldn’t have occurred to me.
| SG | Yeah, I didn’t really think of that. But it’s true. It takes them like 24 hours to get somewhere. So it’s a long trip, so why would you do that. And, but yeah it’s the same thing in the European market. For example, personal liability benefits are important there because Europeans travel a lot and they go skiing and then a lot of European ski resorts now require you to have personal liability cover. You’re, you know, swooping through in the mountain and you hit somebody and that’s important. And here in the United States that’s not as important.
| ZBP | You know, that’s something else that never would have occurred to me until you said that. But I did, I saw that there was an issue in the news a couple of weeks ago where there was a skiing accident in Switzerland where a gentlemen hit a small child and I think he was being criminally prosecuted, or at least they were looking into it. So, again, just not something that would have ever even occurred to me.
| SG | Yeah, yeah. And I think from the partnership perspective a lot of brands are building out global companies, like Airbnb along is a global company. In the traditional world, in the traditional insurance world, I don’t know where it started, but somehow these global insurance companies are all segregated So U.S. doesn’t talk to the U.K., Brazil, and it’s all ran individually. So you don’t have a true global solution, even with big, big, massive insurance companies. And I never could understand that when I was at AIG because, you know, I would be calling somebody just help me, you know, you’re right there in Italy. And it would be completely, it would not work. So we’re trying to change that as well because a lot of fast growing companies are looking at different markets. And how do you offer a solutions to them as well that they don’t have to go to every different insurance company in every country that they want to enter. And that’s what we’re here to do is also build that out for our partners as well. And of course it’s also a sure set consistency in services as well.
| ZBP | That’s great. Sasha, I really appreciate you taking the time to come in. I really enjoyed our conversation today. It was great to meet you in person for the first time. I wish you and battleface all the best luck in the future, and we will be looking to see, obviously because we’re here in Columbus too, to hear all about the good news and the expansion to come.
| SG | Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well thank you and sorry for rambling for 3 hours what seems like.
| ZBP | No, no, we love – this is the stuff that fascinates us and the reason we do the podcast.
| SG | Your listeners are probably like just shut up.
| ZBP | No, no, no. I’m – this is a great topic and we’re happy to talk about it. So thanks for coming in.
| SG | Well, cool. Well thank you for having me.
| ZBP | Thank you.