'Being pregnant is not a disease. It's creating life'

Co-founder and CEO of insurtech startup EMMA shares how 'worst day of his career' inspired inclusive product for pregnant mothers

'Being pregnant is not a disease. It's creating life'

When Felix Deschatelets and his brother Jacomo launched EMMA as a full independent broker in August 2018, they had a simple aim: to help families get the reassurance of life insurance coverage in an easy and hassle-free way. But just after a few months, they encountered a problem.

“Some of our clients were expectant mothers who were at the mid-stage of their pregnancy, or were going through problems like gestational diabetes,” said the CEO and co-founder of the Montreal-based firm. “The insurance carriers were refusing to or delaying approval for them.”

That November, Felix Deschatelets went through “one of the worst days of my career”: he had to make five phone calls telling pregnant customers that their life insurance applications were getting refused or delayed. The EMMA team reached out to carriers across Canada to try and resolve the situation and found, to their dismay, that none had a solution.

“That’s when we decided to create our own proprietary life insurance product,” he said. “We needed a more human product, one that considers that being pregnant is not a disease, but it's creating life.”

With Humania Assurance acting as the underwriter, the team at EMMA developed and brought out more inclusive life insurance products that consider the lives of expectant families. The idea has resonated immensely among customers, which allowed the firm to reach a key milestone earlier this year of $1.5 billion in life insurance coverage sold. EMMA was also recognized at the 2021 FinTech Awards when it was selected as Canadian Insurtech Company of the Year.

Like other tech firms in the insurance distribution business, EMMA also experienced a huge increase in interest over the past year. As the prospect of a death in the family became much more real for Canadians, lockdown measures severely limited kitchen-table or in-office conversations, pushing life insurance seekers toward online platforms.

“We never experienced demand at this level before the pandemic, but we were built to handle those situations,” Deschatelets said. “For us, it took maybe 48 hours to adapt everyone to work from home. But we could handle surges on the platform because we are a technology-first provider.”

According to Deschatelets, they are the first insurtech platform in the world to wrap the life insurance purchasing process into a fully integrated chat experience. The fruit of two years of hard work, it lets users ask questions and get answers from an expert, and actually enables them to purchase life insurance within the same interface.

“People are looking for advice. Life insurance is a complicated product,” he said. “When they look for coverage, it’s maybe the first or only time in their life that they’ll do it. It feels like a huge commitment and they’re not educated on it, so they have a lot of questions.”

EMMA also distinguishes itself as the only insurtech in Canada to always give instant approval; applicants will never have to undergo a blood test, go through a medical exam, or have a discussion with their doctors. That, combined with the chat functionality, allows users to get past their anxiety very quickly.

As of now, users on the platform can get instant approval on up to $100,000 in whole life insurance coverage, or $1 million in term life coverage, with a conversion option for term life policies. Felix Deschatelets said EMMA is working hard to extend the coverage limit to $2 million, hopefully in the next 24 months.

“Our focus is really peace of mind for new families,” he said. “If you have young kids and are expecting a newborn, our experts are trained to assist people in those type of situations. They speak both French and English, and we have also been able to help some of our customers in Spanish!”

EMMA has more offerings coming down the pipeline. In the next few months, Deschatelets said it will be introducing a no-questions-asked child insurance product for households across Canada, which will be starting at $1 per month. The company will also rolling out an online will platform to let clients digitally handle another piece of their estate planning as they purchase life insurance coverage.

“We’re very open-minded and willing to partner with insurance carriers, brokers, and everyone in the industry, as well as other platforms who may want an embedded solution in their services,” he said. “It’s all about finding new ways to protect Canadian families.”