SoftBank leads a $120 million round for insurance startup Lemonade

The SoftBank Group has finally made a good tech investment around real estate.

After investing $4.4 billion in what is essentially a bespoke office space rental business (WeWork) and another $450 million in Zillow for rich people (Compass), the gargantuan Japanese tech investor is leading a $120 million round of funding for Lemonade, a startup providing renters and homeowners insurance.

Additional investors in the round include previous backers Alphabet’s investment firm, GV, General Catalyst and Sequoia Capital.

Insurance is a pretty tricky business that depends on a lot of data science to right-size coverage — and Lemonade is one of the first completely new entrants in the market to design a soup-to-nuts insurance business for the smartphone era.

Much of what the company does is automated by chatbots or managed by algorithmically enhanced policy management tools (I hesitate to say AI-enabled, because these things aren’t intelligent, they just process data well).

That can help keep costs down for the company, but Lemonade also depends on a business model innovation that purports to keep its customers more honest when filing claims. When they enroll, policyholders all select a charity through the app to which they will donate a portion of their unspent premiums at the end of a term.

The idea is that users won’t file unnecessary claims if they know that the money isn’t just going to be kept by a faceless corporate entity and will, instead, support a cause they care about.

The company said that it would use the money to become the first consumer-facing insurer to expand internationally and also would be launching new coverage products for its customers in 2018. One area where it won’t be adding policies is in auto insurance, which, according to chief executive Daniel Schreiber, was facing too much headwind despite its size to be interesting to a new insurance company.

Lemonade already covers 90,000 policyholders for policies worth tens of billions of dollars, said Schreiber.

Several other startups are making the jump to the formerly staid and sleepy insurance business. Trōv, Cover, Hippo and Swyfft all offer services to make insuring possessions or property faster and easier.

“By combining big data and AI with a seamless user experience, Lemonade is truly revolutionizing the insurance industry,” said David Thevenon, a senior investment professional within the SoftBank Group, in a statement.

A spokesperson for SoftBank said the firm was passing on most inquiries until it closes its fund and that its investment professional responsible for the deal was traveling and would not be available for comment.