Travel insurance is thinking like a worried mum to keep you covered

Innovation

This app knows you’re jumping on a motor scooter in Bali and will offer you an upgrade if you’d like one.
Global travel insurance and medical assistance provider Cover-More's CEO, Cara Morton.
Global travel insurance and medical assistance provider Cover-More’s CEO, Cara Morton.

So you’re boarding a cable car at St Moritz when you get a message from your travel insurer reminding you that your policy doesn’t cover skiing and if that’s the way you’re coming down the mountain, maybe you’d like to upgrade it.

Or perhaps you’ve left a bar in Bali and are jumping on a motor scooter when a similar message appears.  Interestingly, the first scenario is still in the future but the second is already a reality. Australia’s largest travel insurer, Cover-More, has developed an app, Freely, that allows you to get those messages by sensing what you are doing; how you are moving. It can tell the difference between a motorbike and a bus. And it allows you to increase your cover for a day or two while undertaking the activity that might not have been covered by the basic policy.   

Cover-More CEO Cara Morton says the need for the app was sparked by her observations of the main cause of customer dissatisfaction with their travel insurance: that they just don’t know what they’re covered for.

She remembers one case where an Aussie traveller was doing something she shouldn’t have been – as far as her policy was concerned – and here she was, in a hospital in Phuket, Thailand, facing death if she wasn’t repatriated to Australia in an air ambulance.

“She didn’t have the right travel insurance,” recalls Morton. “Her family acknowledged she wasn’t covered, but they begged for our help: ‘Can you please help us? Because we think she’s going to die if she stays here.’ And my team’s assessment of the situation was that she probably would die if she stayed.”

The family promised to pay back the more than $100,000 cost of repatriation. But there was no time to check credit scores or get complex agreements in place. Morton had to make the life-or-death decision. “We just had to use our gut. And in this case, I approved it because she was a Cover-More customer. I felt it was the right thing to do … And they did pay us back.”

“People … in my company tell me that I’m sailing too close to the wind.”

– Cara Morton, Cover-More CEO

It doesn’t always end so well. Like when drunken motorcycle rides end in hospital with no payout and an unhappy customer. Her research into customer gripes led her to the policies themselves.

“I found that the way the policies are written are very legalese in nature, and you need a degree to understand them … I think it’s the insurance company’s responsibility to be clear with what you are and aren’t covered for in language that people understand. And also to give people every opportunity to take out the coverage for the activities that they’re doing.

 “And that’s where I came upon this technology called Sentiance, which is a Belgian-based technology and it’s used by the likes of Uber to track the safety of their drivers. It can sense whether you are on a bus, in the car, on a bicycle, on a moped.” You can also turn the tracking off.

Cover-More became the first in the world to use Sentiance for insurance purposes. “The brilliance about this product, which is called Freely, is you can actually top up insurance on the go,” says Morton.

You can add skiing to your covered activities from the top of the lift at St Moritz, but the app wion’t currently message you to give you the heads-up there.

Morton wants to develop that capability, but regulations are holding her back more than the technology. “We need to be careful around upselling because there’s all these rules in the insurance space around not upselling. I keep telling the people that I talk to in my company who tell me that I’m sailing too close to the wind. I say, ‘Look, we’re not trying to upsell. That’s a by-product of us trying to make sure the person is as protected as they should be based on the activity that they’re doing. The travel insurance industry has not seen this before. This is the world’s first.

 “It’s definitely in our plans. We just haven’t worked out how to do it yet.”