In Conversation With Assaf Henkin, Sproutt’s Co Founder & President

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In Conversation With Assaf Henkin, Sproutt's Co Founder & President


A sprout is the first indication that a seed has taken root. That tiny little bud symbolizes the beginning of something exciting: growth.

When coming up with a name for their new insurance venture, Assaf Henkin and his co-founders wanted a name associated with growth and new beginnings, making Sproutt the obvious choice.

Henkin and his team are on a mission to make insurance both accessible and affordable to Millennials. Using the latest technology, Sproutt helps consumers find the best life insurance policy through an easy, quick application process.

Why Sproutt?

Traditionally, lining up a life insurance policy was an involved process. You completed a detailed application, submitted to a medical exam, and waited to hear whether you were accepted and, if so, how much your monthly premiums would be.

Technology has changed all that. Sproutt uses data to determine your coverage, in some cases skipping the medical exam altogether. You can answer some basic questions about your lifestyle and immediately get a quote. If you like what you see, you can progress to a more extensive application.

The best thing about Sproutt is that it rewards healthy behavior. Millennials who live an active lifestyle with few health conditions will especially benefit. Although Sproutt will still want to know about pre-existing conditions, the fact that you stay active, drive safely, and don’t engage in high-risk activities like hand-gliding can pay off. You’ll be seen as lower risk, which your premiums will reflect.

Meet Sproutt’s Co Founder & President – Assaf Henkin

Assaf Henkin has made his career in technology. He started out as a software developer, but soon after, founded his own tech company. While serving as part of the leadership team at Kontera, a company he co-founded, Henkin got his MBA from Northwestern University.

Before joining Sproutt, Henkin served as chief insights officer at Amobee, an advanced advertising platform that helps businesses target their audience outreach. Having a background that combines marketing and technology has served Henkin well as he helped build a cutting-edge life insurance platform.

Recently, Henkin sat down with us to discuss technology, insurance, and where he sees the industry going in the future. He also has some great tips for Millennials who aren’t sure what to look for when shopping for life insurance policies.

Money Under 30’s interview with Assaf Henkin

Tell us more about Sproutt’s story – how Sproutt was founded, and we’d love to know more about Sproutt’s name

Sproutt was founded by Yoav Shaham (CEO), Itai Brickner (CTO), and myself (President), in 2018. The three of us have founded and scaled together two other startups before founding Sproutt, and the latter one (Kontera Technologies) was acquired in July 2014 for $150 million. We’re not from the insurance industry, but our backgrounds in data and cognitive computing give us an edge within the insurance space since it is driven by data and predictions. Our outside perspective enabled us to recognize an opportunity to leverage data and predictive analytics to tackle an industry struggling with modernization.

When coming up with the name, we wanted it to reflect our fresh approach to insurance and evoke a sense of growth and new beginnings. Sproutt was a natural choice.  

You started your career as a software developer. Did that shape how you approached founding a startup?

That’s an interesting question and I think that the software engineering background definitely provides a problem-solving foundation that is very helpful for starting and running a startup. Both in software development and when it comes to startups, you’re faced with constant challenges from multiple perspectives – consumer behavior, technology limitations, budget limitations, competitors’ actions, etc. – and you need to conceptualize solutions that would solve the problem, but not just for the short term. A good software developer solves a problem in a scalable way and in startups if you’re approach does not scale, then you will be forced to go back to the drawing board fairly quickly.

Sproutt takes an innovative approach to life insurance by using data to inform coverage options and set premiums. Do you think the industry is permanently shifting to this type of business model?

The life insurance industry is one of the last insurance models to modernize. Prospective customers and policyholders want their insurance to provide value both at point-of-sale and during their lifetimes. To do so, life insurance must shift to reward customers based on their lifestyle and the decisions they make. If I choose to smoke and practice bungee jumping twice a week, I cannot expect a cheap life insurance premium, but if I lead a health-conscious lifestyle, then the insurer should recognize that, and premiums and coverage should be adjusted to reflect that.

To do that, insurers must adopt a business model based on data that customers share and is collected from various online platforms. The more customers on these platforms, the more data that can be collected – the platforms are then able to understand and predict customers’ needs and lifestyle changes to offer them the most appropriate insurance product.

Using this type of holistic data will enable insurance companies to cater to the demands of the modern customer, making every aspect of the insurance process quicker, easier, accessible, and ultimately, more affordable.

Sproutt has business operations across the globe. Does this international presence help you achieve a more international customer base? 

Our operations are split between the US (New York and Kansas City) and Israel (Tel Aviv). Our approach is global and the technology and products that we’re developing can be offered to insurance customers across the globe with the necessary regulatory, language, and cultural adjustments, of course. Currently, we are focusing our commercial operations on the US and we’re planning to scale in that market during the coming year, but beyond that, we do see expansion to additional markets driven by specific market fit and also our investors that can provide a very strong global insurance backing.

At what point in life do you feel it’s time to start looking into life insurance?

The sooner, the better. Life insurance should provide both protection in case of death, but also tools and information to help people live longer lives and to encourage every aspect of wellness, from nutrition to mental health.

No-exam life insurance applications have become popular in recent years. Do you find consumers are really averse to health exams when they’re applying for life insurance? 

Yes, absolutely. Time-consuming examinations have dissuaded potential customers, especially Millennials, from purchasing life insurance products. Customers want quick results with minimal human interaction and expect a modern process that leverages digital data.

For instance, as applicants were seeking policies urgently during the pandemic, we noticed an increased willingness to opt for that faster route, even if it meant paying $10 or $15 extra per month. 

Standard underwriting practices across the industry typically involved brokers going from door to door and then sending the potential customer to the doctor. The process it took to approve a customer for a policy under traditional practices was on average 45 days – with Sproutt, the process takes 12 minutes. Removing medical exams as a part of the underwriting process makes the process faster while garnering greater customer satisfaction and a larger customer base.

Has COVID-19 affected the way consumers see life insurance? Do you think this has affected younger generations more?

COVID-19 has reemphasized the need for mortality protection and sent customer demand for life insurance through the roof. Demand was much higher in general, but the demand for life insurance that you can buy completely online without the need to wait for the medical exam was even higher. 

Life insurance policies can be pretty in-depth. What are some of the top things you’d recommend someone look at when considering one life insurance policy over another? 

When comparing life insurance policies, the most important attributes are the coverage amount, term, and premium. You need to make sure that the level of coverage meets your family needs, the term duration fits your age, and that the premium (the rate) is competitive. In addition to these main factors, I would also recommend examining built-in riders, riders available for purchase, the financial strength of the company issuing the policy, and conversion options.

Your quality of life index is useful even for someone who isn’t looking into life insurance policies. What would you tell a customer who saw your quality of life score and felt like they might not score well?

The Quality of Life index does not yield a be-all, end-all characterization of an individual. Our goal is to intuitively assess behavioral and wellness patterns, all for the purpose of providing the best, most tailored product to our users. We believe that life insurance should extend beyond the point of purchase, and understand that lifestyles can change over time – and should.

If someone receives a score that’s less than optimal, they can, over time, improve it and subsequently qualify for better insurance. That’s the beauty of taking insurance beyond a ‘one and done’ experience to maintain engagement throughout a customer’s life.

What changes do you foresee in the life insurance industry in the coming years? 

I foresee the life insurance industry making a complete shift to online. Insurtech 1.0 – or the first wave of insurtechs – in the mid-2010s began to bring the world of insurance online, digitalizing the insurance experience. But COVID-19 and the spike in life insurance requests demonstrated the need to scale quickly to meet rising customer demand. In the modern era, insurance companies will need to offer potential customers seamless completion of the application process entirely online. Not only is it more convenient, but it allows companies to utilize advanced technology for a speedier, more personalized experience.

Personalization is one of the most important factors consumers will be looking for when searching for relevant, affordable policies. They want to opt-out of the insurance establishment’s outdated methodology of defining the value of a life. Moving forward, data analytics that holistically evaluates applicants – powered by artificial intelligence – will be the key to unlocking the optimal pairing between the applicant and insurance policy. Removing the bureaucracy and outdated methods that have come to be accepted as normal will allow insurance companies to treat customers like the dynamic, multi-faceted people they are.

Who in your life has been the most instrumental in teaching you about money management?

I guess it would have to say my father. He was always relatively conservative, but he did do some investments and always explained the high-level principles. Growing up, I also remember him sharing insight and opinions regarding the broader economy, different companies, and politics.

What’s the best advice you’ve received (not necessarily money-related) that has shaped how you lead your life?

I believe that one of the most important guiding principles and underlining advice that I received from my parents is to never rely on luck or on the hope that something will happen, but rather focusing on hard work and determination. I think that work ethic was instilled in my siblings by following our parents’ example from an early age.

What’s your top personal finance tip?

I believe that financial tips are age-driven by a large degree. The younger the person is, I would advise them to invest in growth stocks for the long term – technology, biotechnology, and other innovative companies. The older you get, the more you need to balance that, and I found that real estate is a very good balancing pillar that can provide solid returns on the mid-term.  

What is the financial book/website/podcast that has most influenced you?

I consume fairly basic information when it comes to hard-core financial data – I read the WSJ every day and check stocks and related news on Yahoo or Google Finance. When it comes to reading financial-related books, I am more of a general business reader. I like to read biographies and find business inspiration in the experiences described. Some of the recent business books that I read and recommend are:

  1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horwitz.
  2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight.
  3. The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, by Robert Iger.
  4. Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, by Walter Isaacson.

What piece of wisdom would you give your 20-year-old self about managing money?

I would give the following three pieces of advice to my 20-year-old version:

  1. Buy real estate as early as possible instead of renting.
  2. Never try to outsmart the market.
  3. Enjoy the money you make.

Summary

For Millennials, lining up life insurance can be just another item on a long to-do list. But with Sproutt’s easy application process, it’s something you can check off that list in a matter of minutes.

Assaf Henkin and his team are committed to continuing to find ways to help Millennials get an affordable policy that rewards them for leading a low-risk lifestyle.

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