When catastrophe strikes, Hippo customers know who to call: Assaf Wand, the $1 billion homeowners insurance startup’s cofounder and CEO.
In times of duress, Wand has been known to give his personal phone number and email address to customers. He describes his unusual approach to customer service on the latest episode of Balancing The Ledger, Fortune’s show about the intersection of finance and technology.
“When there were fires in California, we contacted every customer that we have in the areas where the fires were lit,” Wand says. “We told them, just so you know, there’s a fire coming in. By the way, this is my personal number. I’m the CEO of your insurance company, if you need something.”
Wand’s personal touch is atypical in an industry where more than half of consumers report they would prefer a visit to the dentist over dealing with their insurance company, as a recent Hippo-sponsored survey showed.
“People can contact me, and I actually love, that because people are usually either very happy or very annoyed—and I want to know about both of these things,” Wand says. “I think the minimum we can do is empathy.”
Hippo raised $100 million in new funding in July, making it a “unicorn” startup, meaning the firm is privately valued at $1 billion or more, as Fortune first reported. The company’s backers include Comcast, housing giant Linnar, and Bond, a late-stage investment fund recently spun out of Kleiner Perkins that’s led by renowned investor Mary Meeker.
Insurance is a hot category in the scorching world of fintech, or financial tech. Root Insurance, which focuses on auto insurance, recently raised $350 million at a $3.65 billion valuation. Assurance IQ, another insurance startup, was scooped up earlier this month by Prudent Financial for $2.35 billion. And VC titan Softbank has thrown its weight behind Lemonade, an Israeli insurance tech startup now privately valued at $2 billion.
Asked how Hippo plans to outmaneuver its competition, Wand says determination will matter more than dollars. “It’s not the people with the biggest pockets that are actually winning,” he says. “It’s the people with the most passion.”
“I haven’t seen (investment by) SoftBank as an added bonus to win in a category so far,” Wand adds, referencing rival Lemonade’s giant backer.
At the time of the interview on Thursday, Sept. 5th, Hurricane Dorian was barreling down the coast of the Carolinas. According to Wand, there were no Hippo customers in the path of the storm, but the company does have aggressive plans to expand its national footprint using its new infusion of capital.
“We want to double-down on the team,” Wand says. “We’re live in 18 states—we want to go to 50 states by the end of 2021.”
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