The entire ecosystem in India is moving towards a more digital-first experience, and we are at the center of it – Harish Ramarao, Senior Vice President – Product Engineering, ACKO
India has emerged as a thriving startup hub, capturing global attention with its vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem. With a blend of ambitious entrepreneurs, a vast market, abundant talent, supportive policies, and technological advancements, India has become a hotbed for startup innovation. Acko Technology is one such innovative startup that is making waves in the insurtech industry. Harish Ramarao, Senior Vice President, Product Engineering at ACKO, opened up in an exclusive conversation with Express Computer about how ACKO is reimagining the way people perceive and experience insurance services through technology.
Can you provide an overview of ACKO technology journey since its inception, highlighting the key milestones and advancements that have shaped the company’s technological landscape?
ACKO is a technology-first company, and we are a D2C brand. Technology is at the foundation of how we interact with customers. We started in 2017-18 with motor insurance products. We also had embedded partnerships. Health has been our latest product that we launched one and a half years ago, and we are launching life insurance very soon. It’s been a fantastic journey. D2C in India is becoming big. Indian consumers are now warming up to the idea of instant gratification with self-service, and overall, I think trust in the Internet is increasing a lot more than what it used to be about a decade ago. People are comfortable, they have access to the Internet now, and it’s an exciting time for ACKO. I think we are at the right place at the right time.
From the insurance industry’s perspective, how has the shift towards digitisation brought about significant changes? And how is Acko Technologies at the forefront of leveraging these changes to transform its business?
We are at the centre of the digital transformation in India across multiple sectors. We are a direct-to-consumer (D2C) company, which means that our digital-only model ensures that we are in the customer’s mind when they think of digitally consuming products and services. When people think of digital insurance, ACKO is the first thing that comes to mind. Today, customers are looking for instant gratification. They want everything quickly. They don’t have the patience to go somewhere, park their cars, visit a shop, or stand in line in an office to get services.
Today, consumers also want things to be easier. They want less friction when they purchase and receive services. And of course, they want to interact with the company, and we are exactly at that place. For example, we don’t rely on paper documents; there are no physical documents floating across the office. We have a streamlined model. Consumers don’t have to physically talk to somebody or wait for someone to show up and explain things to them. Using technology to improve and manage consumer experiences is where ACKO excels.
D2C in India is growing. If you look at the internet’s share a decade ago and the amount of time people spend on buying goods, services, and products on the internet, there has been a big change. People trust internet-built businesses a lot more. It would have been difficult to imagine somebody spending a large amount of money on an internet product 5-10 years ago, but now people are more comfortable buying, for example, expensive mobile phones on any e-commerce website. So, people trust the systems a lot more. Servicing is a very important factor in D2C products. For instance, ACKO provides services where you can go to a hospital and make cashless claims directly at the kiosk desk.
Value discovery in D2C is also very different. It’s a significant part of the digital transformation today. If you browse a popular e-commerce website, you’ll find millions of products that offer more value and product discovery. Again, ACKO is at the centre of how consumers can discover different plans, and different products, just like what you’ve seen in the ACKO ads where you can buy an insurance policy at a traffic junction. So, discovery is also made easy and seamless for the customer.
We also need to understand the entire ecosystem in which ACKO, and other companies operate today. For example, KYC (know your customer) used to be a physical process where someone had to come and verify the documents, but now it can be done in a matter of seconds for us.
The entire ecosystem in India is moving towards a more digital-first experience, and we are at the centre of it. So, I would put it this way: the sector will transform, and the sector is already transforming, and I think ACKO is at the forefront of this transformation.
What are some key technological innovations and solutions that the organisation has implemented to disrupt the traditional insurance industry?
At ACKO, we have developed the innovative ACKO Cloud, a unique domain platform that drives our insurance operations. It enables us to bring quick innovation to our customers, powering all our products. Our goal is for the industry to adopt this technology and embrace it as a foundational piece. Our digital presence, both on the web and app, plays a significant role in delivering a seamless experience to our D2C customers.
With our multi-cloud technology and ML-based pricing, we personalise insurance recommendations based on customer data. This ensures that customers receive tailored pricing models that reflect their driving behavior, location, and risk factors. Automation is a key focus for us, as it streamlines processes and enhances the customer experience. We have built platforms and technology layers that automate various aspects, including auto-adjudication for efficient claims processing.
While some manual processes still exist, our vision is to orchestrate the entire system without human interference. We strive to connect data, policy details, and customer needs to provide the maximum benefit to our customers. By leveraging machine learning and automation, we expedite the claims process, inform customers about required documents, and swiftly transfer funds to their accounts, reducing their worries during challenging situations.
Our proprietary domain cloud serves as the platform layer, enabling us to develop intelligent applications accessible to customers through our app and web experiences. This approach allows us to exceed customer expectations in the D2C model, providing them with more than what they would typically receive.
In summary, ACKO’s approach revolves around the ACKO cloud, personalised ML-based pricing, automation, and utilising our proprietary technology to deliver innovative and customer-centric insurance solutions.
How do you envision the metaverse bringing transformative changes to the insurtech business, and how do you anticipate it will specifically transform your business at ACKO?
We will be where customers find value. For customers to perceive value in the metaverse, I believe it will take some time. Certain industries may immediately benefit from the metaverse experience, such as social meetings, gatherings, virtual travel, and online shopping, where customers can see immediate value. In insurance, we aim to go beyond and explore how customers can find value in a metaverse-like experience. For instance, a customer could take a virtual tour of a maternity suite before deciding on the hospital to give birth to their child. Another example is ACKO Drive, an ACKO product that allows customers to explore and purchase cars. We could consider offering a virtual tour of the vehicle or even simulating the experience of sitting inside the car.
However, customers need to perceive value in this technology, product, or solution. When customers recognise its value, ACKO will be there. At the moment, we are strategising and planning on how to bring customers to that point where they can see the value, and the solutions will naturally fall into place.
Could you share the specific cybersecurity measures or protocols that you have implemented to safeguard customer data and ensure data privacy?
Data security is of utmost importance to us. We are legally bound to ensure a high level of security because we handle a significant amount of personal data from our customers, including hospital information, personal health records, and identification data. Therefore, we prioritise security right from the start when developing products at ACKO. We operate on a secure cloud infrastructure that offers a basic level of data security. Modern public cloud infrastructures inherently provide robust data security measures, encompassing storage, transmission, and computation. Hence, our physical data security is automatically managed through this infrastructure.
We have secure internet gateways that protect data during its transfer over the internet and within our development centres or intranet. Since we store a substantial amount of customer documents, we have implemented a highly secure data storage, management, and retrieval philosophy. All our services, deployment infrastructures, and communication protocols between systems are also designed with a strong focus on security. Additionally, data at rest is thoroughly secured.
However, security is an ongoing concern as new threats continue to emerge. At ACKO, we are proactive in anticipating potential security risks and continuously adapting and responding to them. When engineering products, we prioritise security as the primary non-functional requirement before considering other aspects of software development.
As a D2C company, all data coming into ACKO is in digital form, including documents, input data, and data from third parties. This allows us to have greater control and security over the data, ensuring proper monitoring and maintenance.
Therefore, our security posture focuses on managing incoming data, storage encryption, and data transmission. Our fundamental principle is to prioritise security and build upon it for all our operations.
What are the key trends that will drive customer experience in 2023 and beyond, as well as your view on the future of insuretech?
The insurance industry in India is currently experiencing significant growth. People are becoming more aware of risk management, and it’s not limited to just life insurance. There is an increasing awareness of the uncertainties in areas such as property and health. Events like the COVID pandemic have highlighted the importance of health insurance. This growing awareness is beneficial for the industry, including ACKO.
We are witnessing various technological changes, shifts in consumer behavior, and regulatory developments. The regulators are more friendly and proactive, which is positive for the industry and for us. For instance, the emergence of large language models (LLMs) and GPTs is transforming content and information discovery, impacting how consumers access information, interact, and make decisions. ACKO is at the forefront of these changes, being highly consumer-centric. Overall, the industry will become more consumer-driven and prioritise consumer experience over sales-driven approaches.
We already prioritise holistic risk management at ACKO, and the industry will also shift towards this approach, moving away from treating health, life, and motor insurance as separate entities. A holistic view of risk assessment and management will be adopted. Nudging and proactive behavioural management will play a significant role. ACKO focuses on guiding customers towards healthier lifestyles, especially for those at risk of developing conditions like diabetes. Proactively assisted behavioural management will become the norm in the industry, promoting safe driving and overall health management. Enhancing quality of life and well-being will be prioritised alongside risk management.
Rapid adoption of technology will be crucial as the industry moves from mainframes to the cloud and embraces emerging technologies like AI. ACKO is already technology-driven, but the entire industry will catch up to accelerate technological advancements. This will lead to transformative experiences in 2023 and beyond, including deeper integration within the ecosystem.
The key focus areas are enhancing the consumer experience, reducing friction in customer interactions, prioritising customer-centricity, ensuring instant gratification, and building trust. These fundamental aspects, coupled with the adoption of technology, will drive changes in 2023 and beyond. ACKO already aligns with many of these principles through our structure, technology-first approach, product development, and consumer-centric culture.