New InsurTech Offering Brings Free Home Maintenance Visits with Price of Policy

By Jim Sams | August 27, 2019

Many insurance carriers offer their customers discounts on smart home products that protect homes from fire, water and theft. Some even contribute free devices to policyholders who are willing to take on do-it-yourself installation projects.

A partnership announced Tuesday between managing general agent Swyfft and smart home tech startup Sheltr might bring the insurance industry’s relationship with smart home technology to its deepest level yet.

Swyfft is offering homeowners’ insurance customers in San Francisco and Houston free use of Sheltr’s Comprehensive Home Care project, which includes two home maintenance checkups each year and access to the Sheltr platform for booking and scheduling services. The company said it will sending emails to all its existing customers in the San Francisco and Houston metropolitan areas announcing the service.

By throwing in Sheltr for free with the price of a policy, Swyfft may boost the marketing message that it uses tech to deliver insurance products quickly and easily. The company made a splash after its first funding round in 2017 by allowing consumers to buy a homeowners policy in four or five second just by typing in an address. The quick quotes are provided by an advanced analytics system that uses artificial intelligence, the company says.

Sean Maher, who has a background in technology, co-founded Swyfft with Richard Trezza, who owned a managing general agent that sold commercial insurance. The company is headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey and sold its first insurance in Alabama before expanding to other states, including Texas and California. Polices are written through Clear Blue Insurance, domiciled in North Carolina.

Sheltr got its origin from one of its founder’s experiences as a new homeowner.

Andrew Wynn, chief executive officer of Sheltr, founded the company with Praveen Chekuri after the two worked together at Instacart.

Wynn said that the idea of a smart-home maintenance monitoring system occurred to him after he and his wife bought a house in the Mission District of San Francisco. A drain that attached to an outside deck got clogged, causing water to pool. It eventually got into the house and cost “multiple thousands” to repair, Wynn said during a telephone interview.

“It led me down this rabbit hole of learning what I could about the home to make sure this kind of thing didn’t happen again,” Wynn said. “My name is Andrew. People don’t call me Andy. But after all of that, my friends started calling me Handy Andy.”

Wynn said the company has trained its employees on the multitude of maintenance projects that every home needs: Cleaning vent hoods, replacing smoke detector batteries, and changing the dishwater pump filter. For $399, the company sends a maintenance tech to each customer’s home twice a year. If work is needed, subscribers can log on to Sheltr’s app to make appointments with contractors who belong to its network. Wynn said visits are scheduled within 30-minute windows.

Wynn said only a few of its customers sign up for Sheltr through its website. Most come through its partnerships with other businesses, which include Hippo Insurance, REX Real Estate, Zerodown and Notion.

Insurers have long recognized the value of the home maintenance space as means of reducing losses while adding value and building customer retention, said Brad Russell, connected home research director for Parks Associates in Dallas. He said many have built networks of home service providers.

However, many carriers prefer to partner with others for customer support and management. He said the Swyfft/Sheltr partnership seems to fit that mold.

“It makes a lot of sense to find a partner that can handle all of those aspects of the value chain that the insurers can’t handle themselves,” he said.

However, Russell said he hasn’t seen up to now any insurer make an investment in customer service equivalent to the deal announced by Swyfft with Sheltr. He said if Swyfft is making that kind of investment, it must be anticipating retaining customers for quite some time, at least five to seven years. Otherwise, “the economic argument is hard to make for giving up that much value,” he said.

Russell noted that Hippo offers its customers water-detection sensors that cost less than $100.

“Hippo’s more incremental strategy seems the better part of wisdom,” he said.

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