We’re all getting more familiar with the idea of chatting to machines. I routinely use voice typing on my Android phone. If you play for the other team, Siri offers a useful interface. This is a field into which substantial resources are being poured. Amazon is building up its Alexa platform, which can be upgraded with “skills” to add new features and abilities. Likewise, Microsoft is racing to develop a chatty future using its Cortana product.
Talking to machines to get mundane things done is one thing. Bus timetables, and enquiries about the weather, aren’t normally part of our personal “critical infrastructure”. But can we trust chatbots with the most important and complicated purchases in our lives?
Increasingly, we’ll be seeing a future where machines chat to us in text or speech – even about the more significant transactions in life. Today we’re speaking to Renaud Million from SPIXII, a chatbot firm working in the insurance space.
AL: Hi Renaud. Can you start off by telling me a bit about SPIXII?
RM: SPIXII is a chatbot focused on insurance topics. It helps people at all stages of their experience with insurance – from the purchasing stage, to claims.
AL: What’s your business model?
RM: We have many ideas, but we are too early to have a definitive business model. For now, we follow a B2B2C model. Insurers pay us, and the final customers use our products when buying insurance. Our partnerships with insurers depend on their strategy, needs and available resources. For some, we just provide the software. For others, we act as their broker.
AL: Can you tell me about the current status of the firm – your development plans, fundraising, etc?
RM: SPIXII is currently doing proofs of concept in the UK and France. We plan to add more countries, and possibly other languages – as we get a lot of enquiries from Asia. Expanding to take advantage of this requires funding. We have some current reserves, and we’re already generating revenues, but no firm date has been set for the next fundraising round.
AL: Have you got a lot of competition?
RM: It depends on how we define competitors. Chatbot technology is still relatively new, and public awareness can take a few years. So far, I am aware of the existence of numerous chatbots in different industries, but only a couple in the insurance space. Regarding other forms of competitors, we might compete with digital brokers, etc.
AL: So is what you’re doing pretty unique?
RM: Most of the other startups in the insurance space tend to focus on the value-add they bring – either to customers or to insurance companies. By contrast, we help both sides of the market. We bring the utility and convenience of the chatbot to individuals, as well as creating an efficient way of communication for insurance companies. We help insurance companies to understand their customers better, and this provides a range of advantages. We anticipate a deeper understanding of segmentation, particularly. This will allow new insights – potentially opening up a route to new products and better-targeted marketing campaigns.
AL: What drew you to working on this project?
RM: Insurance products not only protect people, but they also help consumers to be more confident. Insurance is a driver of economic growth. This important effect is often overlooked by the public. The benefits of insurance products are often hidden behind complex vocabulary, and this is something we’re hoping to change. Currently, the market isn’t enjoyable for consumers to engage with. Pricing of insurance is not transparent, and form-filling in not an engaging way to do business. This all has to be changed – and it became my mission to solve it, with the help of my two co-founders [Alberto Chierici and Alberto Pasqualotto].
AL: How do you think your service might develop, over time?
RM: We are training SPIXII to speak other languages, so that we can scale in other continents. This means we can then help more people to change their relationship with the insurance industry. We aim to train SPIXII to have different conversations, based on the characteristics of individual consumers. We’re focused mainly on the distribution of insurance products – but, in future, we will be working more on two other parts of the insurance value chain. These are renewals and claims. We’re pleased that the SPIXII concept works well for all types of insurance products: general insurance, life insurance and health insurance.
AL: Finally, how did you come up with the unusual name?
RM: SPIXII is the name of a Brazilian blue parrot part of the Ara macaw family. Ara is also the acronym formed by the initials of the co-founders of our company. We found it ideal to name our chatbot after an animal that is chatty, sits on your shoulder and takes you under its wing. It made sense, and the public perception has been fantastic so far!