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The future of finance: Wicket

Made up of Kiwibank employees, Wicket looks to make insurance a priority for young people. We spoke to co-founder Callum McPhail about negotiating the accelerator learning curve, validating ideas and the importance of pivoting when the writing is well and truly on the wall.

Idealog: How did Wicket come to be a part of the accelerator?

Callum McPhail: So we are the Kiwibank team and we got a call about a week before it started. We went along to a meeting and the impression we got was that we were going to be supporting the other teams, to offer a kind of a second pair of eyes to some of these teams that were looking to crack into certain financial sectors.

When we landed there on the first day however it was kind of a wake-up call. ‘Oh, were actually a team and there’s an idea that we now have to develop and foster on to the next three months’.

So tell us a little bit about what that idea was and give us a taste of your elevator pitch, if you’re not too sick of repeating it.

Our focus was on life and living insurance. It was pretty much as ‘blue sky’ as can be, really. We looked into who’s not currently being served by the insurance industry and what we found was a big pool of millennials who are just not interested in insurance. They don’t trust insurers. Basically, the positioning of insurance products just doesn’t cater to them.

So what was the research stage like?

So before running headfirst into developing a solution we actually sat down with dozens of [millennials] and conducted hours and hours of interviews in their environment. We got into their places of collaboration – going to cafes and bars and things like that – and we just talked to them about what they were trying to get out of their lives in terms of career and lifestyle.

When we started to talk about risk – “What would happen if you actually couldn’t work?”  – almost 100 percent of them said ‘Oh, I’d just go back to mum and dad’. That threw us off initially, but then we said ‘Well instead of moving back to mum and dad – which would be a bit crap to be honest – and mum and dad might not even want you to move home with them, if we could give you a product that actually insures your income for several months to several years after you become sick or injured, would you be prepared to spend the same amount of money as you spend on a coffee per week to get it?

Almost all of them said ‘yes’, so we discovered that pairing lifestyle, something they associate with, with insurance, a product they don’t yet associate with, gets them thinking a lot more about it.

In the end, we didn’t quite develop a product that was an end-to-end process, but we were definitely getting somewhere around how do we talk to this generation that are so de-tuned to insurance.

So what actually happens in an accelerator like this? What gets accelerated?

The accelerator essentially takes founders from having an initial idea or concept to being a fully-fledged startup that aims, ultimately, to get funded at the end of the program. Some see the end goal as being bought out, some see it as merging with a parent company and being able to operate under them, some just want to keep it going as a bit of a social enterprise and not focus on money. There are different end goals, but the concept the same. You go in there with an idea and come out the other end with a business.

Because we were from the corporate side with Kiwibank, we were never going to be asking for support in a financial sense. The investment we were asking for was more of a commitment from the business to running with an idea.

So what did you learn from going through the accelerator? What’s was the key takeaway for you?

One very important thing that happened to us was the realisation that you have to fail fast.

We ran headfirst for the first two weeks thinking that it was the application process that was too difficult. We had this idea that whoever lands on a webpage to apply for insurance is just finding it too difficult to apply and that’s why they’re not taking insurance out.

What we quickly validated was that that’s not the problem. We went out and actually talked to people who were applying for insurance and asked them where the pain point was. They said that it wasn’t the application that was the issue. For a lot of people it was cost. For a lot of people, it was a motivational issue. It wasn’t actually that the application that was putting them off.

So about two weeks in realised, ‘Oh that’s not the golden ticket’. That was a key moment for us and a key part of any accelerator: figure out what’s not going to work, as fast as you can.

What other ‘lightbulb moments’ were there for Wicket?

During one point of our research, we were accused of ‘leading the witness’. We were trying too hard to prove something and the way we were asking the questions, we were trying to get the outcome we expected.

Having people who can call you out on things like that and say ‘actually, the method you’re using here is wrong’, that’s really, really valuable. We were lucky to have people around us who could point out those flaws, because when you’ve got an idea and you think it’s an idea that’s going to solve the world’s problems, you don’t want to hear that it’s not. But if you can realise your own bias, that’s very powerful.

So what’s next for you and Wicket?

We’re at a bit of a crossroads now where we’re going back to the offices we came from and we have to unload this information back to the insurance team and Kiwibank as a whole.

So we’ve got all this intellectual property stuck in our heads and we’ve got a lot of it documented but I think the most effective thing we can do is just to keep those things alive and keep chasing them, not just in insurance but in everything we do.

Something I’m definitely going to be taking away from the accelerator is to validate that the idea is the right thing to build before you start. Trying to spread that knowledge and attitude throughout the business is something I’m focusing on now.

I think it’s safe to say that insurance isn’t my forte, but I’d definitely like to continue to be involved in the startup scene. I’ve caught the startup bug, so at the moment I’m just trying to come up with new some ideas.

This story is part of a content partnership series with Kiwibank.

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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