Mark Shaw likes to run around.
The serial entrepreneur joined activity and fitness tracking platform Strava in 2009 as a co-founder to lead engineering as CTO. He spent eight years there, and as of its most recent increase in 2020, Strava had reached 70 million members worldwide and amassed an almost cult-like following from its users, including professional runners who wanted to track their progress.
Therefor, Shaw helped set up insurance software outfit Guidewire. Again, he helped take the company to another level with his engineering, analysis and marketing chops before it went public in 2012.
After a short break from those two stints, in 2020 Shaw teamed up with Josh Wyss and Graham Gerlach to start his third company: Planning on. The fintech startup is growing on its own, even if it hasn’t landed tens of millions of users yet or made it public. And it just raised $15 million in Series A funding to continue growing and building out its technology.
Inclined, Shaw admits, is a very different kind of business than Strava. The startup borrows against whole life insurance policies, with the aim of digitizing “many of the traditional, time-consuming operations” involved in the process, he said.
“There’s a trillion dollars of cash value in a lifetime in the US alone,” Wyss told londonbusinessblog.com. “We want to take advantage of this huge opportunity.”
Today’s credit market at that $1.1 trillion is $150 billion, which is Inclined’s primary focus.
“We believe we can increase that lending rate with our improved rates and efficiency,” Shaw said.
Hudson Structured Ventures led Inclined’s Series A financing, including participation from Anthemis Group and other new and existing lenders. The startup has raised a total of $19 million since the start of 2020.
The startup’s Series A grew up in what Shaw described as “the most brutal fundraising environment” he’d experienced in the past two decades.
“Our business is counter-cyclical and a very safe form of lending,” he told londonbusinessblog.com. “This is a time when people need access to these loans. It is the right time for us to grow – we can make a big impact in these unfortunate, more difficult times.”
Life insurance policies differ from term life insurance policies in that they: accumulate value that is permanently available, rather than just paying for coverage. Shaw compares it to buying versus renting a house.
And when policyholders want access to their cash value throughout their lives, they often choose to do it through a loan rather than withdrawing the money directly, which is less efficient, he explains.
Inclined, he adds, not only opens up the possibility of whole-life borrowing to more people — something historically reserved for the wealthy — it also gives banks a way to participate more widely in the market. And because banks often have “much lower rates than insurance companies,” Shaw explained, that means borrowers can borrow at lower interest rates. In addition, their money can be multiplied over decades.
“This means they can get five to 10 times more value from their life insurance policy over their lifetime,” Shaw told londonbusinessblog.com.
Inclined is live with Mechanics Bank, which has approximately $20 billion in assets under management. And it currently has several million dollars on its platform.
Vikas Singhal, co-founder of HSCM Ventures, believes that Inclined involves four “different but important components” in a single digital financial transaction: insurance companies, agents/brokers, lenders/banks and policyholders.
“The financial transaction delivers immediate value to the ultimate customer – a policyholder who has already borrowed reduces their borrowing costs – but also provides a highly tuned and equally important value to all other voters,” Singhal wrote via email. “This is financial democracy at its best. While the refinancing of existing policy loans has been underway for some time, it has not always been accessible to everyone, and a digitally enabled turnkey solution makes it possible for everyone to take advantage of it.”
His company also sees Incline’s offerings as just the starting point.
“The present value of permanent life insurance products is an underutilized asset and we believe the entire market can benefit from banking products built on it,” Singhal added.
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