HAVING spent two decades working in multinational corporations like Moody's and Accenture, Keith Lim never understood the pains of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
It was only after he left his corporate job to work with his father, that he realised small businesses face numerous difficulties daily - including what seem to be mundane chores at big companies, like managing the human resource processes and insurance coverage for employees.
"I found a lot of challenges that SMEs are facing to grow their business without a good digital presence," said Mr Lim, drawing attention to their handicap because they lack social platforms. Mr Lim founded Hearti Lab in 2014 in a bid to provide insurers with an easy-to-use insurance software that could help them improve business processes, cut costs and reach out to a broader customer base.
Hearti Lab began by offering a human resource management platform for businesses that would do away with their mountains of paperwork.
Today, the firm applies artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to run insurance purchases, events, claims, product distribution and fraud detection. The firm, which has 40 employees across Singapore and Vietnam, offers two products: Benefit.X equips small businesses with employee insurance and corporate business cards; while Surety.AI is an insurance platform that provides flexibility to insurers, brokers and ecosystem partners to create and manage insurance products.
Mr Lim believes these product solutions help SMEs to be better at retaining employees and not losing them to bigger firms. "Some SMEs are trying to keep the costs low and make sure that they can survive on a month to month basis, so they do not have good insurance plans or benefits for employees," he said. "Whenever they (the employees) found a better job with a large corporate, they would leave and that would put the SME in an even worse situation after losing their talents."
A promising market
When the word "insurance" comes to mind, people are likely to think of long documents and cumbersome agents. For insurance companies, the launch of each product or policy could mean more paperwork and a heavier workload for distribution channels and backend support
Hearti Lab is looking to make things efficient, said Mr Lim. For instance, loose change from the purchase of a cup of coffee could be put into a savings plan, which would enable someone to earn some interest.
Mr Lim said Hearti Lab's insurance platform uses AI to make the sales process smarter, and personalises insurance for its users.
"If an employee is applying for leave to get married, we would be able to recommend purchasing renovation insurance for a home, or an education plan for their child," he explained.
Hearti Lab is also targeting insurance companies with the platform. Mr Lim said the firm's "huge (client) base of SMEs" would make things easier for agents out there who are currently approaching family or friends to buy their policies.
"Insurance is very much a sales industry," he said. "The awareness of getting insurance protection is also growing."
With operations in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, and with its income growing, Hearti Lab is looking to expand its reach in the region by entering new markets such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
India, too, is a key focus point for the firm. Mr Lim said the country presents huge market" for digital and micro insurance products.
Increased demand from pandemic
Covid-19 is continuing to roil economies and businesses worldwide, and there are only a few winners. Hearti Lab appears to be one of them.
Mr Lim said more companies are identifying the need for a digital platform to make work more efficient.
"(SMEs) want to manage employees across different regions so they need something to help track their work and measure performance" he said.
"We are already seeing a fair bit of demand, especially from quite traditional businesses who begin to understand that it's important for them to have their employees covered and protected."
If Hearti Lab is able to do what it claims, it is poised to capture a growing market, as Mr Lim noted that the level of digitalisation in South-east Asia is still quite low. While the firm had first held back on its expansion plans when the pandemic first hit, Mr Lim said it has overcome "a fair bit of challenges" and is now looking towards "huge opportunities" in the region and beyond.
"The pandemic has made us more determined to grow," said Mr Lim, stressing that Singapore's small domestic market is a cause for concern.
"That gave me more determination to expand beyond Singapore using the technologies and expertise that we built here to serve other customers in the region," he said.