August 1, 2018 / 6:37 PM / 3 months ago

Exclusive: Insurtech firm wefox in talks with suitors including Softbank - sources

LONDON (Reuters) - Wefox, one of Europe’s fastest-growing insurance technology firms, is close to settling on a new “triple-digit million” euro funding round, with Softbank’s (9984.T) Vision Fund among the suitors, three sources familiar with the negotiations said.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SoftBank Group Corp is displayed at SoftBank World 2017 conference in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

One of the sources said Softbank would lead the new round in wefox by taking a substantial stake, while two others said there was competition from other lead investors, while declining to name them.

Wefox aims to expand the insurance industry’s reach by harnessing an emerging trend to use “big data” to provide more tailored coverage of, for example, taxi or food delivery workers on occasional shifts, or skiers spending a day on the slopes.

Softbank’s Vision Funds’s big investments in firms like Uber or WeWork, leaders of the so-called “gig economy” mean that insurance acquisitions are particularly suited to its portfolio. Softbank founder Masayoshi Son has said he sees “insurtech” as a way to cross-sell to customers of his other companies.

Wefox declined to comment. Softbank Vision Fund declined to comment. Goldman Sachs (GS.N), which is advising wefox on its fundraising, did not returns calls seeking comment.

Little known outside the German-speaking world, wefox operates digital platforms that connect insurers, brokers and consumers, allowing them to buy insurance, change policies and settle claims as quickly as hailing a taxi online.

    “There are multiple bidding groups,” said one person involved in the funding process. “Basically, everything is sorted already. It’s just the final people and pieces that need to come together.”

A second source said: “Softbank invested a small amount in the previous round and now they want to pre-empt the next round with the Vision Fund. It’s too early to tell... because it (the deal) is not sure yet.”

The Vision Fund, the world’s largest private equity investor and an arm of Japan’s Softbank Group Corp (9984.T), has scooped up a string of insurance deals in the last year, ranging from major online Chinese insurance groups to an Indian price comparison site to Lemonade, a U.S.-based rival to wefox.

A more ambitious move by Softbank to take a minority stake in reinsurance giant Swiss Re (SRENH.S) worth as much as $8-10 billion foundered in May with no firm reason given.

COMPLICATIONS

A copyright lawsuit by Lemonade against wefox had been holding up the wefox funding round. The legal wrangling had put investment discussions on hold but executives of the two companies agreed to make peace this week.

After a meeting between the CEOs of the two companies wefox agreed to tackle the alleged copyright issues, the two executives said on their LinkedIn profiles. Lemonade plans to drop the lawsuit once wefox makes the changes, the CEOs agreed.

With the legal cloud promising to lift, a third source told Reuters “the company is indeed closing a round now. The process is open and there are many contenders. There’s a lot of competition and there’s a wide range of valuations.”

Founded in 2015, Wefox had raised $38.5 million to date.

Existing wefox investors include Target Global, SalesForce Ventures (CRM.N), Seedcamp and Idinvest and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher’s investment vehicle, Sound Ventures, according to the company. Softbank International, a separate arm of Softbank, also has a stake.

So far, it operates in three markets - Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It will open in Spain this quarter and in five more European markets within six to eight months, wefox Co-Founder and Chief Executive Julian Teicke said in an interview.

Consumers using its ONE insurance app see a full overview of their current insurance portfolios on their phones, allowing them to make adjustments, file claims and buy new products.

In the fourth quarter, wefox also plans to introduce a global portal for insurance companies to develop and price products, then pitch them to wefox’s growing base of 300,000 consumers, which has more than doubled in the last year. This will develop a three-sided marketplace connecting insurers, brokers and consumers, the company said.

The backbone of wefox’s strategy is keep insurance brokers on side, by making them more efficient but also more profitable.

Teicke cites data showing that 50 percent of policies are written by independent brokers, another 40 percent by in-house agents, with the remainder being sold directly to consumers via online sites.

“We want a very sustainable win-win-win type of model that serves the interests of brokers, customers and insurers,” Teicke said in a phone interview.

Additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London and Sam Nussey in Tokyo. Editing by Jane Merriman and Kirsten Donovan

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