Meet the insurtech startup which wants to revolutionise SA’s insurance industry

YuLife, a UK-based insurtech startup, has launched its operations in South Africa.

YuLife’s product offerings include a wellbeing app which harnesses the latest trends in behavioural science and game mechanics to encourage employees to make proactive lifestyle changes, while prioritising prevention by de-risking individuals through healthy activities.

The YuLife app enables employees to complete everyday wellness activities such as walking, meditation, and cycling, in order to earn YuCoin, YuLife’s virtual wellbeing currency. Members can then use their YuCoin to buy vouchers for groceries, data, fuel, clothing and more from leading brands, or to improve the world through donating meals, planting trees, or cleaning the ocean. 

By incentivising healthy living, YuLife claims to provide employers with a way to simultaneously boost retention rates, improve employees’ standard of living, and safeguard their financial future.

TechCabal caught up with the co-founders of YuLife, Josh Hart and Jaco Oosthuizen, to talk about the insurtech startup’s arrival in South Africa, their $120 million fundraising, how they plan to traverse the competitive SA insurance landscape, and much more.

TechCabal: Please tell us more about YuLife and the problem you are trying to solve with your product offering.

Jaco Oosthuizen: Before I joined YuLife, I worked for a South African insurance company for 20 years. I think one of the big issues with insurance is that it is not a product that people want to buy.

You don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I would love to buy insurance” and I think that is one of the things that we want to change with YuLife because you really want people to love their insurance company. Our mission is to inspire life into life insurance because normally life insurance companies only really engage with the client when there’s something bad happening. 

We want to change that and actually make insurance a product that people engage with on a day-to-day basis. The other big thing we want to address is the issue of protection gap. There’s a lot of people that need life insurance, but they don’t have life insurance, because they don’t really understand it, and they don’t really engage their insurance company.

South Africa has the second highest insurance penetration globally, making it a perfect market for YuLife to expand into and showcase its innovative approach to insurance.

Josh Hart: So we are trying to solve all these issues through our app. We’ve been very successful in the UK. Over the last five years, we have sold insurance protection to large corporations together with our app. We have managed to reach over 650,000 lives in the UK. Our 2,000 employer groups include the likes of Tesco and Co Op, which are very large companies in the UK. 

Last year, we raised $120 million and on the back of that, we decided to also expand out to other countries. We launched in the US last quarter and now we are coming to South Africa.

4 YuLife App
The YuLife app (Image source: Provided)

TC: There is currently a significant amount of competition in the insurance space in South Africa. How does YuLife plan on setting itself apart?

JO: I’d say SA has a lot of insurance companies and a lot of those companies offer a bit of a commoditized product. Some of the companies are really looking at how to make you engage with your health every day, to mitigate the risk of you needing to claim because then that’s a win-win, right? You don’t need to claim because you’re healthier. Everyone wins. 

The challenge with some of these apps is that they’re quite elitist and not for everyone. They’re basically for the wealthy. YuLife, on the other hand, is about changing the lives of everybody. Everybody gets rewarded. Everybody is unlocking their potential every day when it comes to their health either mentally, physically and financially. And I think that’s what makes us truly unique.

JH: I think just to add there, the UK market is as competitive if not more than South Africa and we found that we landed extremely well there. Within a three-year period, we got over 1,000 employee groups buying into our proposition because there hadn’t been innovation in the Employee Benefits space in a long time and people were ready to embrace the innovation.

We’ve been talking to a lot of brokers and clients in South Africa and people are extremely excited and interested in our proposition. 

TC: What challenges do you foresee in your operations in South Africa and how do you intend to traverse those unique challenges?

JO: One of the challenges we’ve been asked about is mobile phone penetration in the country because people need a smartphone to use our app. Over the last few years, that has improved significantly and smartphone penetration is now above 90%, which is amazing, actually in this country. 

The other challenge is the cost of data in the country particularly in the lower and middle income groups. To address that, we have a currency called YuCoin. As customers earn more YuCoin, they will be able to buy data with that as well. So I think we will be helping everyone to engage with our app as well as giving them data to use the app. 

TC: YuLife raised $120 million in funding last year. To start with, do you believe that the fact that you guys were able to raise that much in a downturn is a stamp of approval on the viability of your model? Additionally, to what extent do you think the funding will help YuLife establish a presence in the South African insurance industry?

JO: The venture capital market has definitely changed. I’ve personally seen quite a lot of good ideas and businesses that just can’t raise capital in this market. We were very, very fortunate to be able to raise what we did. I think we succeeded because YuLife is a great idea which addresses a global problem.

The capital has been incredibly useful in our expansion to South Africa because it means that we have the ability to hire a team and really continue to build a robust product.

JH: Perhaps just to add to that, the validity of the idea is also shown by the confidence that investors have in us. One of our main investors, and a very strategic investor, did a very extensive due diligence process on us and still gave us a stamp of approval and invested despite the downturn. And I think that’s a huge stamp of approval to YuLife.

We believe YuLife can change the industry and make it one where people would really start to love and engage with their insurance company. A lot of insurance companies globally struggle with engagement. For example, typically they send you maybe once or twice a year communications, and it’s mainly premium increases, or changes in benefits or things like that. Whereas with us, we engage on a daily basis, and I think we’ve really cracked that.

TC: Despite the high penetration of insurance products in the country, there is still a wide disparity in coverage between, for example, the black and white populace. How does YuLife intend on addressing this?

JO: At YuLife, we sell our proposition to employer groups, and that’s inclusive of everyone in the employer group. So we don’t sell to individuals at the moment. So the employer makes the decision whether to buy our product.

And I think that’s one thing about our offering that’s different to some other propositions because it doesn’t matter who you are in the company, you can have full access to the app. You will also see the parties that we partnered with, in terms of the reward side, is also very inclusive. For example, we partnered with Checkers and MTN to provide vouchers and this means that we cater to all levels of employees.

According to the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA)’s 2022 Financial Sector Outlook  study, about 60% of South Africans alluded to having an insurance product, and penetration of insurance, measured using premiums as a percentage of GDP, was 13.7% in 2020 —one of the highest in the world.

With such an extensive and vibrant market, it will be interesting to observe how the arrival of a player like YuLife, whose product does diverge a bit from what’s available in the market, will impact the industry.

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