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HITS Switzerland: Boosting innovation in the insurance industry with Google Cloud

About House of InsurTech (HITS)

Based in Switzerland, HITS is a hub for the insurance sector, where technology startups work together to create customer-centric solutions for businesses. With early-stage investors and partners from the InsurTech sector and universities, HITS aims to create the perfect environment to make innovation happen.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance
Location: Switzerland

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HITS uses Google Cloud to power its virtual insurance sandbox environment that enables insurance startups to work with corporates for faster, more effective innovation.

Google Cloud results

  • Provides startups with the Cloud Based InsurTech Sandbox, a virtual environment for rapid testing of new insurance solutions
  • Scales up to accommodate four times the previous workload with Google Kubernetes Engine
  • Expands the ecosystem of innovation, working with around 60 different startups within its first year

Three month time to market, instead of six previously

The insurance industry is ancient, but in many ways, its ecosystem of tech-focused startups is still in its infancy. Dubbed the “InsurTech” community, these startups look for ways to apply some of the latest techniques like machine learning or advanced data analytics to kickstart change and innovation within the insurance world.

But change, while necessary, is not always easy, especially in a traditional industry dominated by big, established players who are not always the quickest to move. The House of InsurTech Switzerland (HITS) aims to kickstart an innovation revolution by lowering the barriers to entry for startups and exposing them to more experienced corporates and investors. But HITS does more than just connect startups with investors. HITS has created a virtual simulated insurance sandbox, which startups can connect to via APIs, that allows for extremely rapid deployment and testing of new solutions.

“We are an incubator for InsurTech, providing an environment where startups and corporates can work together,” says Pietro Carnevale, CEO at HITS. “Insurance has been a product-centric business for around 3,000 years. We’re trying to make real change and bring about a more customer-centric approach with design thinking.”

“Our objective with HITS was to scale everything up by 10. 10 times the speed, 10 times the size, 10 times the resources. Only Google Cloud had the capacity to help us meet our strategic goals.”

Pietro Carnevale, CEO and co-founder, House of InsurTech Switzerland

HITS started life in 2017 as the in-house “Innovation Garage” of Generali Switzerland, a subsidiary of Italy’s Generali Group. “We wanted to make genuine innovative progress instead of just talking about it,” says Pietro, who headed up the initiative at the time for Generali Switzerland. The idea was to provide a space where insurance-focused startups could work with a mid-size insurance company like Generali Switzerland. Over time, the innovation garage gathered momentum, and in December 2019 it launched as a separate company: the House of Insurtech Switzerland, or HITS for short. HITS would do at scale what the Innovation Garage had done in house. Rather than connecting Generali Switzerland with a handful of technology startups, HITS would connect a range of established insurance companies with dozens of startups. In order to achieve that goal, HITS needed to build a new infrastructure that could scale at speed. It chose Google Cloud.

“Our objective with HITS was to scale everything up by 10. 10 times the speed, 10 times the size, 10 times the resources,” says Pietro. “Only Google Cloud had the capacity to help us meet our strategic goals.”

Building the Cloud-Based InsurTech Sandbox

When Generali Switzerland first started its innovation initiative in late 2017, it partnered with the hub F10 to get exposure to local financial technology startups. As the project gained momentum, Generali Switzerland built its own Innovation Garage for startups to come and work on the same premises as its workers. While this made for excellent collaborations between experienced insurance professionals and energetic new startups, the Garage had to carve its IT resources from Generali Switzerland’s infrastructure. “Generali Switzerland had a traditional IT infrastructure, designed for core insurance workloads rather than agile innovation processes,” says Pietro. “So it built a new middleware, called the Connection Platform, which enabled it to decouple legacy systems from other portals, increasing agility and speed in delivering new products and services.”

By 2019, the Innovation Garage had attracted 10 startups and developed a number of solutions, but Pietro and his team wanted more. He outlined three horizons of innovation, a concept defined by management consultant McKinsey. The Innovation Garage had achieved Horizons One and Two, that is, it had developed innovations that helped the core business in the short term (Horizon One) and extended its core capabilities to include new customers (Horizon Two). But Horizon Three, which is about creating whole new capabilities and business opportunities, was beyond the range of the existing Innovation Garage. “We had made some excellent solutions, but we simply didn’t have the right environment to make the big strategic innovations that we were looking for,” says Pietro.

What was needed was not just a new environment, separate from Generali Switzerland, but also one that simulated the world of insurance so that models and prototypes could be tested more quickly and accurately. “If what we had before was a playground, we wanted to build a theme park!” says Pietro. This new environment was to be called the “Cloud Based InsurTech Sandbox” (CBIS), but building it wasn’t possible with the Innovation Garage in its existing form.

“Google Kubernetes Engine gives us the scalability we need to provide each startup with its own environment, optimally tailored to its needs. We can onboard more or less every kind of application in a modern, agile way.”

Steven Zuanella, Group Chief Digital Officer, Generali Switzerland

In December 2019, the House of InsurTech Switzerland launched as a separate company from Generali Switzerland, though it still shared the same premises. The company built a whole new infrastructure for its CBIS, powered by Google Cloud. At the same time, Generali Switzerland is evaluating options to transfer its Connection Platform to the same infrastructure on Google Cloud, so that it could still work closely with and benefit from HITS.

At that point, Generali Switzerland and the wider Generali Group had already been working with Google Cloud, so the choice of infrastructure was a natural one for HITS. But Pietro was further persuaded by the relationship he had built up with Google Cloud in Switzerland as he had worked up the idea of the CBIS. “I really liked the support we received from Google Cloud here in Zurich,” he says. “The engineers really engaged with us and helped us design a state-of-the-art solution.”

Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), the container-based orchestration system, is the core of HITS’ new infrastructure and CBIS. Along with Container Registry, GKE helps developers to rapidly deploy updates and scale up and down much more easily than a traditional on-premises architecture. Cloud Build provides a serverless continuous integration/continuous development platform for developers to build, test, and deploy much more simply and efficiently. Meanwhile, Cloud Source Repositories helps them design, develop, and manage their code in a single, secure place.

“Google Kubernetes Engine gives us the scalability we need to provide each startup with its own environment, optimally tailored to its needs” says Steven Zuanella, Group Chief Digital Officer at Generali. “We can onboard more or less every kind of application in a modern, agile way.”

“HITS is very efficient with its resources and that is important. But efficiency is the minimum it needs to survive as a startup. Google Cloud provides the speed and scalability for HITS to achieve its strategic goals and effect true change within the insurance industry.”

Andreas Krümmel, CEO, Generali Switzerland and Chairman of the Board, House of InsurTech Switzerland

Innovation at scale, progress at speed

In less than a year since its launch, HITS and the virtual insurance environment, CBIS, have performed spectacularly well. Within its first six months, HITS has halved the time it takes for a solution to go from prototype to minimum viable product—from six to three months on average. With greater resources to call on and the ability to scale on demand with GKE, HITS can handle around four times the capacity of workloads in parallel than it could before. CBIS has proved very popular for the startups that HITS works with. The company has expanded its network of collaboration to 60 different startups, up from 10 the year before. This, in turn, has worked to the advantage of the various corporate partners that HITS works with, as they gain exposure to a much wider range of ideas and solutions.

“A tangible outcome of the partnership between Google Cloud and HITS will be the creation of a new insurance sandbox with the potential to fundamentally change how traditional insurance companies will work together with startups,” says Christian Nicoll, Director of Platform Engineering & Operations at Generali Switzerland, of this success.

Still in its first year, HITS is working hard to find new startups and look for more ways to improve the insurance industry. It has already expanded beyond Switzerland to work with the Generali Group in Germany, Spain, and Italy. It has even started looking beyond the insurance industry to work on a project with a major financial partner in a bid to effect the kind of Horizon Three change that represents the highest pinnacles of innovation.

“HITS is very efficient with its resources and that is important. But efficiency is the minimum it needs to survive as a startup,” says Andreas Krümmel, CEO of Generali Switzerland and Chairman of the Board at HITS. “Google Cloud provides the speed and scalability for HITS to achieve its strategic goals and effect true change within the insurance industry.”

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About House of InsurTech (HITS)

Based in Switzerland, HITS is a hub for the insurance sector, where technology startups work together to create customer-centric solutions for businesses. With early-stage investors and partners from the InsurTech sector and universities, HITS aims to create the perfect environment to make innovation happen.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance
Location: Switzerland