How the Sunshine Coast became a launch pad for Open Insurance

open insurance

The Open Insurance leadership team. Source: Supplied.

Five years ago, two colleagues from the consulting industry had a vision to create a fundamentally better insurance company. One that used data and artificial intelligence (AI) to make decisions.

That idea was the genesis for Open Insurance, which on September 1 this year became the latest Australian fintech to attract the attention of international venture capitalists.

Open has raised $31 million from investors including New Zealand-based Movac and UK- based Latitude, as well as from existing shareholders including AirTree Ventures.

Open will use those funds to support a rapid expansion program to launch services in New Zealand and the UK under its insurance brand Huddle, in addition to Huddle’s existing successful business in Australia.

The fact that Open has been able to grow so quickly owes much to a team of dedicated individuals based at its customer support office on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

“Our mission is to create the fastest insurance, at the best price, for the world,” says Open’s co-founder Jason Wilby.

“We’ve grown from five people in 2016 to 55 people in 2021. When you are in financial services in Australia, getting into three countries in five years is no small feat.”

Open’s technology platform has been built on the Amazon Web Services cloud and uses advanced analytics and AI to make rapid decisions regarding pricing, claims, and other insurance processes. 

That platform is the foundation for Open’s insurance brand Huddle, but it also powers online services for ahm and other partners, including Telstra.

“We have an insurance platform that makes it incredibly simple to sell insurance under any brand and incredibly simple for other businesses to plug into,” says Wilby’s fellow co-founder, Jonathan Buck.

But despite the emphasis on automation, Wilby says there are some aspects of running an insurance company that still require a human touch.

“For the first 12 months we had our customer-facing team in Sydney, but it is quite tricky to recruit in Sydney,” Wilby says. “We knew that we were going to grow very quickly, and so in 2018 we started to question where we would base a customer-facing team.”

Wilby and Buck were introduced to the economic development team at the Sunshine Coast Council and were impressed by both the quality of the Sunshine Coast’s infrastructure and the skills and attitude of its workforce.

“We saw an opportunity to take what was largely a technology business into an area that was experiencing substantial economic growth and established insurance expertise and build a team that was going to be very happy and customer-centric,” Wilby says.

“In our business, whilst the technology can do most of the heavy lifting, it is really about creating a caring experience for our customers. We have built a highly engaged team with the expertise to intervene where technology can’t.”

Buck says the decision was made easier by the Sunshine Coast Council’s plans to develop the region’s commercial infrastructure.

Sunshine Coast Council’s vision is not something I had seen anywhere else,” Buck says. “This was a place where we felt that our teams and other people from our business would feel excited to work.”

Since relocating its customer service team to an office overlooking Lake Kawana, Open has seen other team members choose to relocate to the Sunshine Coast, including a senior product manager. The Sunshine Coast team now numbers close to 30, with as many as 20 more expected to join them in the next 12 months.

Wilby says the decision has also proven beneficial during the COVID crisis, with the Sunshine Coast team able to avoid many of the lockdowns that have impacted staff in Sydney. 

“COVID has changed all sorts of expectations about where people live and work,” Wilby says. “And the Sunshine Coast is an incredibly attractive place for anybody. Having that office is an important part of our overall value proposition.”

The focus on quality of life is also demonstrated by Open’s certification as a B Corporation, which reflects the company’s ambition to meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

Wilby says he and Buck’s intention from the very beginning was to create a business that had a positive impact, and he says Open has found no shortage of people on the Sunshine Coast who share that vision.

“The overall Sunshine Coast proposition for work/life balance is great and our office really embodies that as well,” Wilby says. “The trajectory is heading in the right direction.”

For a confidential discussion on the investment opportunities available on the Sunshine Coast, please contact an investment specialist at Sunshine Coast Council. Email [email protected] or call the head of investment attraction on +61 407 753 645. Go online for more Sunshine Coast investment stories and to sign up for the monthly enews.

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Invest Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast is regarded as a national hub for entrepreneurs and is home to many innovative, knowledge-based businesses. Sunshine Coast Council welcomes and supports the growth of local businesses and the establishment of new ones in the region.

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