Future Proof: GetCover.ie

Hobby project developed into online travel insurance cover

Finbarr Crotty, founder and managing director of GetCover.ie

Finbarr Crotty, founder and managing director of GetCover.ie

 

As the first brokers in Ireland to offer insurance products online, GetCover revolutionised the market when it first went live in 1999.

What began as a “hobby project” for the company’s founder Finbarr Crotty, who had been running his own brokers since 1994, quickly developed into a successful online travel insurance provider.

“People were beginning to use the internet more and more to book flights and holidays, so online travel insurance made sense,” he explains.

“At the time, travel insurance was offered almost exclusively through travel agents. After we launched the website, premiums dropped massively, from as much as €100 for a two-week holiday to the €7 or €8 it costs now.”

The boom years saw steady growth for the company as Irish people took more foreign holidays and demand for their low-cost insurance cover increased. But as other brokers began to notice potential for success online, competition in the space intensified.

“My biggest mistake was not availing of the first mover advantage,” Crotty says. “I should have gone into household and motor insurance very quickly, but it was difficult as a small operation.”

Although 123.ie didn’t initially offer travel insurance when it went live in 2002, it had a much larger team behind it and a significant marketing budget. It offered motor and home insurance, which had much wider profit margins than travel. It became clear to Crotty that GetCover “wouldn’t survive on travel insurance alone”, especially as his competitors began to encroach on the travel market too.

After a year and a half developing the product behind the scenes, the company launched its household insurance offering in 2007. “We were fortunate to have a client base from the travel who were comfortable dealing with GetCover.ie. From there, it grew and grew,” Crotty says.

The timing of the new product was fortuitous. When the downturn hit the following year, the company’s growing business in household insurance kept it afloat as revenues from travel insurance dropped significantly – by around 27 per cent between 2007 and 2011.

Income from travel has recovered significantly in the last year, however, and is now above 2007 levels.

“At the start of 2014, it has been noticeable how much more buoyant people seem to be. There’s more hope around. In recent years, people were leaving it til the last minute to book holidays, if they went away at all, but January was a big month for us this year with people planning their summer trips well in advance.”

Two years ago, the company added motor insurance to the website, and more recently, have branched out into health.

“You have to have the full suite of products in order to compete now,” Crotty says.

The company has grown from two employees in the late 1990s to 21 today, and has survived, Crotty believes, by not thinking too big, and never taking out a loan.

“We made it through the recession relatively unscathed; it could have been a lot worse. The business was always financed internally so I didn’t have any major loans to pay off, which kept my head above water in tough times,” he says.

“The market is very competitive, but we can react much more quickly than the bigger companies. I don’t have a call centre with 250 people like some of my competitors, which keeps overheads monumentally lower.

“We try to be one step ahead all the time, by keeping our pricing competitive, and responding to customer feedback. We like to think we lead the way, even though we feel like David against Goliath at times.”

The mistakes of the past have made GetCover, and Crotty himself, stronger, he believes.

“When I started first, online marketing and the look and feel of a website was very new to a lot of people like me. I made a lot of mistakes, believing people who didn’t really have a clue what they were talking about. But I have learned a lot myself since about what is required.

“Fifteen years on, I am surrounded by very good people, some who have been with me for years, and others who have brought new ideas and experience. Because the company is still small, we work as a team. They all have a common goal to make the business a success.”

The company has recently signed a deal with a partner in the UK, and will begin offering travel insurance to customers there through a British version of GetCover in the coming months.

“It will start like we did in Ireland, with travel first before the other products are offered. The market over there is a bit cluttered, but we have some good ideas based on our experience here about what might work. It ill be an exciting move for the company.”

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