Travelers gets into item insurance with insurtech Pineapple

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A technology incubator investment is netting Travelers new AI-driven image recognition innovation for its Traverse personal property and liability insurance product. By partnering with South African start-up Pineapple, Travelers has added the technology to further streamline customer experiences, including for Traverse’s recent expansion into Texas.

Built on a modern core platform and debuted in early in 2018, Traverse originally targeted younger, urban consumers in the state of New York. “Although they might be postponing purchasing homes or cars, they are thinking about insuring very specific things that they love, like their mobile phones and laptops,” explains Beth Maerz, senior vice president of customer experience and innovation at Travelers.

Initially web-based, the first iteration of Traverse boasted a sub-minute policy purchasing experience using manual image capture and identification. “Customers uploaded an asset’s photo, selected an asset category from a list, named the asset and gave us an estimated value,” says Maerz. As the product was well received, Travelers continued to refine it.

Like minds attract
On the other side of the globe, Pineapple was also launching in early 2018 with its “snap to insure” personal property and household contents product. It relies heavily on image recognition technology called computer vision, a type of AI, which can analyze a photo and automatically identify what it contains, including differentiating objects such as a bicycle from the sidewalk.

As Pineapple applies it, the technology captures, classifies, names and properly stores images for retrieval by a policyholder, claims handler or other relevant individuals. Based on image characteristics, Pineapple’s app immediately delivers a quote to its South African customers. “At 99 percent accuracy, computer vision is actually considered more accurate than humans at object identification,” says Marnus van Heerden, one of Pineapples’ three co-founders.

When Pineapple established a U.S. presence and joined the Travelers-supported Hartford InsurTech Hub later in 2018, Maerz and her team members met the start-up’s founders. “We were impressed with Pineapple’s team and the success they’d had in South Africa,” says Maerz. “We saw clear alignment between their approach to insurance and ours with Traverse.” Very soon afterwards, partnering discussions began.

About a year later, Travelers was developing the next iteration of Traverse, this time with an app interface, for a Texas rollout. “We wanted to gain experience in a region with diverse metro areas,” Maerz says. “This would help us refine Traverse for other states.”

During that period, discussions between the entities intensified, resulting in a partnership contract by April 2020. Traverse and Pineapple teams immediately started tightly integrating the two platforms using APIs.

“With our completely modular platform, we can recombine our technology’s building blocks as required,” Van Heerden says. “It’s extremely durable and efficient, as we only work with the relevant components while the balance stays live.”

Maximizing acquisition and retention in a post-COVID marketplace
After a smooth August launch, the only challenges thus far have been procedural. “We’re still learning about the best methods and frequency for communicating with consumers who seek quotes as well as those who become policyholders,” Maerz says.

For example, Traverse reminds users about unfinished quotes via methods ranging from app and social messaging to emails and smartphone push notifications. “We’re still discovering how to maximize communications and encourage retention by analyzing factors such as frequency, tone and content,” Marnus says. “This includes determining nuances between what works best in the U.S. market versus our experience in South Africa.”

Overall, both parties see a bright future. “We’ve been extremely impressed with the U.S. acceptance of a solution we built in an outside market,” says Van Heerden. “Travelers is incredibly receptive to using problems we’re solving and lessons we’re learning in South Africa to help evolve Traverse.”

On the Travelers side, it will continue applying an agile ‘test and learn’ approach to introduce the Pineapple-enhanced Traverse to more U.S. geographies in the coming year or so, mindful of how COVID-19 is reshaping the market.

“The past six months have demonstrated our industry’s need to fully embrace a customer-first digital approach,” Maerz says. “At Travelers, our strategic technology innovations, including the Pineapple partnership, were set into motion long before the events of 2020. However, those investments are now paying off, enabling us to meet and exceed the expectations of today’s pandemic-influenced consumers.”

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