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Ted Pantone: Brains Behind Insurtech On A Mission To Insure 1 Billion Lives For $0.50 A Month

Ted Pantone is the CEO/co-founder of Turaco, a pan-African insurtech providing health and life insurance for as low as $0.50/month to the mass market. 

Ted has more than 15 years of experience working in nonprofits, investing, and social enterprises in East Africa.

In 2019, he founded Turaco which distributes mass-market insurance products through partners like telcos, technology companies, and microfinance institutions to reach the uninsured at scale and at low cost and accomplish its mission of insuring 1BN lives.   

To date, Turaco has:

  • Raised $13.3 million in funding, the largest amount for an African insurtech
  • Insured more than 1.3 million lives across Africa
  • Paid over 20,000 claims 
  • Closed  partnerships with leading telcos (Airtel in Uganda), fintechs (M-KOPA and Paga), and MFIs (One Acre Fund, VisionFund) to sell insurance to their customers 

Turaco is present in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana.

Education and background

Ted grew up in California, US, and graduated with a business degree from King’s College in New York City.

In  2010, Ted moved to East Africa. He began his career working in the non-profit sector at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he helped to provide farmers in Busia, Kenya with clean water. 

Since then, Ted has launched four startups, raised over $20 million in funding, and invested in more than 50 businesses across Africa.

Turaco: Tracing its origins to a microinsurance pioneer 

Ted was first exposed to the microinsurance industry after he worked at the innovation lab of MicroEnsure, a pioneering microinsurance company.

MicroEnsure sold a large share of its insurance policies by cold calling. At their Ghana call center,  more than 40% of people who spoke to an agent bought insurance. For Ted, this was a major light bulb moment. 

Phone sales are generally a tough sell, with an average conversion rate of 2-3%. But a 40% conversion rate gave Ted the conviction that people in Africa do want insurance – especially health insurance for themselves and their loved ones.

The problem Turaco is solving 

In Africa, the insurance industry is focused on the top 5-10% of the market. Large insurance companies have little incentive to design innovative products to reach 85% of Africa’s population who earn less than $5.50 a day. 

It is no wonder Africa’s insurance penetration rate is dismally low at  3%.

For the uninsured, preventive healthcare is a luxury that they cannot afford. They cannot go to the doctor for regular check-ups or do tests to prevent medical emergencies before they happen.

As a result, lower-income, and even middle-class, households are vulnerable to catastrophic health shocks that are financially devastating.  

Without appropriate methods to cope with financial shocks, 14 million low-income households are pushed into poverty every year due to out-of-pocket health expenditures. These payments make up 35% of total health expenses, much higher than the 13% share in developed countries.

Turaco is on a mission to free people from the fear of financial shocks. With Turaco, individuals can secure insurance coverage with premiums starting as low as $0.50 per month.

How Turaco works: Being in the ‘claims-paying business’ 

Turaco works with strategic partners like leading telecoms companies, fintechs, and microfinance banks. Turaco’s partners (like Airtel Uganda) sell insurance on their platforms or bundle it with their products like loans, such as VisionFund and One Acre Fund in Uganda and Kenya.  

By embedding insurance into their platforms, partners can increase revenues and improve customer retention.

Turaco’s partner-focused distribution model allows it to scale faster and reach its price-sensitive mass market.

As an insurtech, Turaco uses technology in everything it does from customer onboarding to paying claims. 

By integrating with its distribution partners via API, Turaco offers customers an easy way to sign up. They can simply buy insurance through a touch of a button. 

Turaco has also simplified its terms and conditions to fit just three text messages. First-time insurance customers can understand their policy and what is covered.

With its motto of being in the ‘claims-paying business,’ Turaco aims to make the claims process simple and easy for its customers.

This is critical in serving first-time insurance customers who are typically skeptical of insurance policies – Turaco has to pay claims fast to demonstrate the value of insurance. 

Customers can easily access and request claims via WhatsApp. As Turaco’s flagship product works on a reimbursement basis, customers pay medical bills upfront, share receipts with Turaco, and get reimbursed.

By processing its claims digitally, Turaco can treat claims in less than three business days, typically in mere hours, significantly faster than traditional insurers which take weeks.

Turaco’s future plans 

Turaco is leading Africa’s insurance industry forward by designing new insurance products to reach underserved individuals. In August, Turaco acquired an underwriting license in Uganda, making it the first insurtech in East Africa to do so.

By underwriting the premiums itself, Turaco can design even more affordable and innovative insurance products for uninsured Ugandans. This is a first step in Turaco’s vision to become a full-stack insurance company focused on the micro-market in Africa.