Auto insurance

New Henrico-based company aims to help millennials get better auto insurance deals | Local

Two successful Richmond-area entrepreneurs are leading a new business venture aimed at helping the millennial generation get better deals on automobile insurance.

The company, Merlinio, plans to go live Feb. 1 with a smartphone app that will enable insurance shoppers to get a variety of auto insurance quotes, and the company founders say they can do it in just three minutes.

While the app will be available to anyone, “we are tailoring this for millennials,” said Jonathan M. Ansell, founder and chief executive officer of Merlinio, which has been quietly building a small staff at its Henrico County headquarters and preparing for its launch for more than a year.

Merlinio will offer price comparisons from different auto insurance companies, a service that is already offered by some other companies, including Henrico County-based

The difference with Merlinio, Ansell said, is that it will act as a digital insurance broker, using proprietary algorithms, third-party data and deep insurance experience to slice through what he describes as the “opaque, time-consuming” process of buying insurance to offer streamlined, speedier service geared for the tech-savvy generation in their 20s and 30s.

Besides offering quotes, Merlinio also will automatically shop for better benefits or prices for its customers when they become eligible for better rates.

Ansell brings to the company years of experience in the insurance industry. He was president and CEO of World Access, a travel insurance company founded in New York in 1991 that later moved its headquarters to Henrico County and is now Allianz Worldwide Partners.

Joining Ansell in leading the company is Jammy Li, its president and chief operating officer. Li previously served as chief information officer for, and as chief executive officer of a China-based auto insurance comparison company started by Admiral Group, the British parent company of Henrico-based Elephant Insurance Services and Li also was chief technology officer of Quality Transportation Services for 11 years.

The idea for Merlinio, Ansell said, arose partly from his years of experience in the insurance business, especially seeing how Europe transitioned much more quickly than the United States to an online shopping model for auto insurance.

The idea to pursue millennials as a target market was the result of his experience helping his nephew, a recent college graduate, shop for car insurance online.

“He asked his uncle — the insurance uncle, which is me — to help him sort out his car insurance,” Ansell said. “I spent about three hours going to different sites and filling out what amounts to a 40- or 50-answer questionnaire, just to get some quotes.”

Because of their lack of driving experience, millennials typically pay higher rates for car insurance, Ansell said. For his nephew, “in all cases, the car insurance payments were more than the monthly car payments,” he said.

“When I saw my nephew’s car insurance prices, and how difficult the process was, I thought, there has to be a better way,” he said.

The company has developed a tool that enables the user of its app to scan his or her driver’s license, which enables the company to automatically complete insurance applications and generate price quotes from various insurers. For insurers, Merlinio will be able to reduce costs, automate underwriting and share insights and risk profiles.

The target market is large. Millennials represent about 25 percent of the overall $200 billion U.S. auto insurance market, Ansell said.

Merlinio is scheduled to go live on Feb. 1, offering quotes from 37 different insurance carriers to customers in three states: Virginia, Texas and California. The goal is to eventually roll out nationally, and while the company is starting out with auto insurance, it also wants to expand into other types of insurance, continuing to focus on millennials.

“Ultimately, our goal is to be their insurance advocate,” Ansell said. “If their status changes, such as marriage or buying a house, we would like to proactively help them.”

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