Waterloo-based creator of virtual assistants for insurance, ProNavigator, recently closed its latest seed round of equity financing, announcing more than $2 million in total funding. The round was co-led by the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund and GreenSky Capital, with participation from Innovation Grade Ventures and angel investors from Waterloo and Toronto.
ProNavigator is an AI-powered platform providing insurance companies with 24/7 virtual assistants to address the every-annoying issue of waiting on hold for ages and hearing a robot voice say, ‘Please stay on the line, your call is important us.’
The startup was founded in October 2016 by Joseph D’Souza, its current CEO, after he called his insurance company to ask a simple question and ended up experiencing ‘a longer than normal wait time.’ D’Souza saw how other industries were offering on-demand services, and decided it was time to update the insurance industry and give customers the on-demand service expected in a modern, fast-paced economy.
“The insurance industry has typically been slow to adapt to this shift.”
“Customers expect speed and convenience in all of their service providers. The insurance industry has typically been slow to adapt to this shift, but is now working hard to move from legacy systems to modern, data-driven, and connected systems,” he said.
When D’Souza launched ProNavigator in 2016, chatbots were just beginning to grow in popularity. With Facebook allowing developers to build chatbots for Facebook Messenger, conversational virtual assistants soon became popular among financial institutions and retailers alike.
ProNavigator’s AI is tailor-made for the insurance industry, which is what sets it apart from other AI-virtual assistant platforms, according to D’Souza. “What [ProNavigator] brings is this packaged AI that already knows insurance language,” he said. “We built our tech and products with insurance in mind.” D’Souza noted that insurance language is very nuanced and its AI needs to understand what a person means when they say their car has been hit and they’ve been in a ‘fender bender’, for example.
The insurtech company has developed a natural language processing AI platform, with algorithm models that are built and trained on hundreds of thousands of real-life insurance-related conversations. It has two products, a chat assistant for conversational messaging and a voice assistant that can be integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It offers virtual assistants for four product lines in insurance: sales, service, underwriting, and claims. Its assistants are both customer facing, working to help address claims, as well as internal facing, helping to streamline the conversation between insurance brokers and carriers.
The packaged virtual assistants can be integrated into existing insurance platforms. It can handle easier inquiries, and is able to forward more difficult inquiries to a real person or representative. According to the company, its virtual assistants have helped its clients to automate or semi-automate more than 50 percent of customer claims, underwriting, service, and sales. ProNavigator creates pre-packaged AI trained in insurance language, but it also allows its clients to customize the assistants. Insurance companies can customize responses, interface, and branding to match their unique style.
“We believe the company is well positioned to become an insurtech leader.”
Since launching in 2016, the AI platform has gained 80 clients in North America, with 75 percent of those in Canada. One of those clients is Winnipeg insurance firm, Wawanesa, which opened its own Innovation Outpost lab in Kitchener last year. Its first project was working with ProNavigator to integrate the Waterloo company’s virtual assistant with Wawanesa’s customer service line, providing quotes on auto and home insurance. The insurance firm also was the first to sign up to use ProNavigator’s AI assistant for underwriting, which launched last year.
“This funding will allow us to continue to evolve our cutting-edge AI technology, offered through chat and voice, and support further expansion into the US market,” said D’Souza. The $2 million in funding is set to help the Waterloo startup expand its services and marketing strategy outside of Canada. Last month ProNavigator opened its first satellite office in Chicago, focusing on sales and marketing, to help it increase its presence in the US. D’Souza said the company wants to expand its customer base by tapping into the 6,000 insurance carriers and 38,000 brokerages in the US.
“We are impressed with ProNavigator’s deep expertise in the insurance market. ProNavigator has demonstrated that it has the capacity to scale quickly by leveraging a strong base of domain-specific technology to help them stand out to both insurance brokers and carriers alike,” said Greg Stewart president of GreenSky Capital. “With a strong leadership team and a proven product offering, we believe the company is well positioned to become an insurtech leader.”
Insurtech is a growing industry with more than $2 billion USD invested in global insurance tech companies in 2017, up from 912 million in 2014. The market for improving underwriting services specifically, is set to grow 60 percent by 2020; and the global market size for claims processing improvements is estimated to be more than $72 billion USD, in the same year.
While the majority of ProNavigator’s seed funding will go towards ramping up sales and marketing, the company also hopes to build its Waterloo-based research and development team. It plans to grow from its current 20 employees, to an additional 10 by the end of the year. It is also working on a building out voice calling for phone lines, which it hopes to release in the latter half of 2019.
This article originally appeared in Betakit