Amazon-backed Indian insurtech startup Acko raises $60 million

A young Indian startup that is taking on the country’s antiquated insurance industry with a digital-first product — and which has already received backing from global giant Amazon — today announced a new financing round.

Bangalore-based Acko said on Tuesday it has raised $60 million in its Series D financing round. Munich Re Ventures, the investment arm of one of the world’s largest reinsurers, led the financing round, while existing investors Amazon, RPS Ventures and Intact Ventures, corporate venture arm of Canada’s largest property and casualty insurer, participated in it.

The new round, which brings Acko’s to-date raise to $200 million, valued the three-year-old startup at about $500 million (up from about $300 million last year), a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

Acko develops and sells bite-sized auto insurance products (aimed at drivers and others in transportation-related scenarios). The startup expanded its catalog six months ago to provide healthcare protections that it sells to businesses and employers. More than 150,000 employees are already covered by Acko’s healthcare protection, the startup said.

Acko founder and chief executive Varun Dua told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup has amassed over 60 million customers and has issued over 650 million policies to date.

Offering a large catalog of bite-sized insurance policies is crucial for firms in India. Only a fraction of the nation’s 1.3 billion people currently have access to insurance and most can’t afford sizeable policies.

According to rating agency ICRA, insurance products had reached less than 3% of the population as of 2017. An average Indian makes about $2,100 a year, according to the World Bank. ICRA estimated that of those Indians who had purchased an insurance product, they were spending less than $50 on it in 2017.

“We’re excited to join forces with one of the leading digital insurers in India, as well as other investment partners, to help support Varun and his impressive team as they continue their journey,” said Oshri Kaplan, director at Munich Re Ventures, in a statement.

“As Munich Re Ventures’ first investment in India, we look forward to the positive impact that digitally native insurance solutions will have on the country with Acko leading the way.”

Acko sells insurance policies directly to customers or through partners such as Amazon, which entered the insurance space in the country earlier this year in collaboration with Acko. (Amazon currently accounts for only a fraction of the insurance Acko sells, people familiar with the matter said.)

Acko’s products have quickly gained popularity in India for three reasons. It does not rely on middlemen, who have proven to slow down innovation for the insurance industry at large, Dua explained. Having direct engagement with a customer allows Acko to offer more competitive and personalized policies, he said.

The second is Acko’s underwriting technology, for which it comb through a range of data points to assess whether someone is eligible for a policy, he said.

Acko has also made it easier for people to access policies and then claim them. As everything is digital, sign-up does not require any paperwork and making a claim is quick, too — factors that keep existing customers happy, Dua said.

Scores of startups and established banks in India have launched products to win this market. Paytm (India’s most valuable startup) and its co-founder and chief executive, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, announced in July they were acquiring insurance firm Raheja QBE for a sum of $76 million.

Dua, who has spent more than a decade in the insurance business, said he was not worried about the competition as the market is large enough.

The startup plans to use the fresh capital to scale its technology and data teams by at least 30% to 40%, Dua said. It also plans to use a portion of the capital to invest in branding to reach more customers, especially those living in smaller cities and towns in India.

The rest of the money will be used to finance the insurance policies. Unlike several fintech startups in India that work with banking partners to finance loans, current regulatory rules require insurance firms to underwrite risks themselves.

“We would love to be in a position where we always have a strong balance sheet,” Dua said. (Avendus Capital was the financial advisor to Acko for the deal.)