Almost 9 months after starting PolicyPal – a company that helps you to organise your insurance policies in a smartphone – Founder Val Yap has grown PolicyPal to a 11-person team from 3, and helping over 8,000 users today with their insurance matters. As a rare female FinTechnopreneur, Val shares her entrepreneurship journey in this interview.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am an internet enthusiast with experience in marketing, business development, product development, business operations, and strategy. Currently, I am the Founder at PolicyPal, which uses artificial intelligence to simplify and digitise insurance for consumers.
Prior to PolicyPal, I was an Assistant Vice President at OCBC Bank. Primarily focused on launching the digital initiatives and campaigns, working closely with the wealth, digital and marketing to drive innovations.
Before to joining OCBC Bank, I served as a Risk Assurance Associate at PwC London office, worked with UK Financial Institutions to develop implementation plans for the changes required for USA Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) compliance and regulatory assessment.
What is your business venture about?
PolicyPal is your digital insurance manager that allows easy tracking and understanding of all your existing insurance policies and coverages, at the convenience of your mobile phone. We are here to help simplify personal insurance management for everyone.
What is your mission at the outset?
Insurance has always been a complex and confusing product for the common man. Hence, it has been and will continue to be one of our greatest interest to find out how we can further simplify insurance education. Our constant engagements with the users, financial advisors and insurers, provide us with a deeper understanding of the pain that each stakeholder group faces. These pain-points will be our guiding beacon as we seek to improve the product, while maintaining our primary vision to make insurance simple, accessible and transparent.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Several years ago, my mum was diagnosed with cancer and had her insurance claim unexpectedly rejected because of several lapses my family was unaware of. Despite the medical crisis, my siblings and I had to scour through stacks of insurance documentation to check and understand the extent of my Mum’s coverage. This painful experience made me realised the importance of having a well-organised folder of my insurance policies and documents.
I thought, if this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. Why not create a digital folder for my friends to consolidate their insurance policies? Coming from a digital media background, a mobile based application was definitely my natural choice.
Without a doubt, it was hard for me to give up a career on the leadership management track in the banking sector. However, I soon realised that my conviction to help make a difference to the lives around me was simply over empowering.
What is unique about your business?
The technology behind PolicyPal is developed by a team of passionate and experienced developers incorporating the use of Optical Character Recognition(OCR) technology as well as rule-based algorithms.
First, the user will take a picture of the summary page of their insurance policies using the in-app camera feature. Next, the image is run through an image-recognition software to pick out key policy details including the policy number, premiums, coverage and inception and expiry dates. Users will then know the type of coverage they are eligible for. Thereafter, users’ coverage is presented in a clear graphical overview that provides them key information, such as premiums and types of coverage, at a glance. Users can also request a free portfolio review to see if they are under-insured or overpaying in premiums.
Who do you sell to and how do you get customers?
PolicyPal focuses on self-directed individuals who think insurance is confusing and do not have time to manage their existing policies and buy new insurance. PolicyPal uses data-driven approaches to empower consumers with the ability to personalize insurance needs on-the-go. Providing consumers with simple options based on the context and information gathered through his or her mobile device with permission. PolicyPal uses data-intelligence and advanced analytics to identify needs and provide products for easy, on-demand purchase.
Why will customers stay or do repeat business with you?
PolicyPal focuses on helping people to understand their insurance through content creation, digital marketing, and partnerships.
What have been the biggest obstacles?
Startup is difficult. As the insurance space is huge, we have had many people telling us to try different areas and move to banking accounts, investments, etc. Figuring out how to juggle near term priorities with mid to long term priorities has been a constant challenge. And there are many things to juggle at the same time – it could be funding, product development, partnerships, recruiting, etc
Talent, or lack of it, has been a huge problem. We need a super smart, highly motivated team to create a great startup. Unfortunately these are hard to come by unless you are willing to pay top market rate. There’s not enough resources yet so many opportunities. We need to have laser focus and know when to say no. There are so many opportunities that it can quickly distract the progress if we try to address them all.
I also learnt that we must be ready to fail as it’s another form of learning. It’s a journey, not a destination, so you better enjoy the trip!
If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Find a female Mentor: Being a woman, and finding and working with female mentors have been a game changer. There are many experiences you will have as an aspiring entrepreneur that men don’t undergo, and it’s important to find and build friendships, mentorships, with the same gender who can understand 100% of what you’re going through. Find female groups and initiatives that provide support to each other.
Don’t spread yourself too thin. Find out what you believe in, and learn what you don’t know. It will be someday awesome because of the hard work you put into your journey. Don’t just start a tech startup for the sake of starting one. It’s too difficult. Rather, go deep on a mission with a passion to change the world into a better place, and do something that you can imagine working on it for the next 10 years. Be extraordinarily good at it that people come to you for your expertise.
Work smarter, not harder. Your career as an entrepreneur is not about, “Just keep going.” It’s about, ”What can I do to deliver and build the thing I am passionate about bringing into this world?” You can find shortcuts that allow you to serve your market and show amazing results.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Unpredictable! It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
1 Prioritising tasks and activities. Making sure that time is used most effectively
2 Focusing on executing the plan
3 Evaluating progress and moving things along
4 Making sure that consumers/partners needs are being attended to
Who or what is your biggest inspiration or drive to do what you are doing?
Based on my personal experiences. Here are the things that keep me motivated:
Challenge – Many people who like to startup want it for the challenge. They are problem solvers and wanted to disrupt the status quo. They have a vision and want to be constantly challenged.
Creativity – Running your own startup lets you be more creative. For instance, I could experiment with a new UI, marketing strategy, build innovative products that attacks a known problem in a different way.
Curiosity – Most founders are always curious and ask – “what if we do it this way?”. They want to understand the customer’s minds, markets and competitors.
What’s next for you and for PolicyPal?
At PolicyPal, we place huge emphasis on gaining users feedback through different channels. This is because we believe that the key to solving the various pain points of consumers lies in the understanding of the end user. Hence, looking at new ways to gain consumer feedback and improve on user experience will definitely be high on our priority list. Additionally, we are also looking to bring PolicyPal to our neighbouring markets. As we believe the benefit of having a digital insurance manager should be shared with more consumers.
Hock Lai has 18 years of experience in the financial industry, having performed roles in both business and technology. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (Real Estate), Nanyang Technological University (Infocomm Technology) and Nanyang Polytechnic (Fund Management & Administration).
He is also a Fellow of the Singapore University of Social Science, advisor to FinTech Startups and mentor to student FinTech projects.
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