Announcing Our Seed Round to Modernize The Insurance Industry’s Financial Infrastructure

Insurance, and especially its underlying enabling technologies, is often invisible yet it has become one of the most powerful processes that enables innovation further along the value chain. Today we’re excited to announce our seed round at Ascend, the first modern insurance payments platform.

We’ve teamed up with world-class venture capital firms and a roster of industry experts to modernize payments — a crucial piece of the insurance industry’s infrastructure — to meet the needs of today’s insurance buyers and sellers. Our $5.5M seed round was led by First Round Capital, with participation from Susa Ventures, FirstMark Capital, South Park Commons, Financial Venture Studio and Box Group. Also joining are an amazing group of insurance industry experts who know this opportunity first-hand including Joshua Motta, CEO of Coalition; Spike Lipkin, CEO of Newfront Insurance; Gordon Wintrob, CTO of Newfront Insurance; Sam Hodges, CEO of Vouch Insurance; Phillip Hodges, CEO of Layr Insurance; Max Bruner, CEO of Anzen Insurance; Tanner Hackett, CEO of Counterpart Insurance; Chad Nitschke, former CEO of Bunker Insurance; and Paul VanderMarck CTO of SageSure Insurance. Lastly, we were also joined by technology experts including Max Mullen & Brandon Leonardo, Co-Founders of Instacart; and Ben Rubin, Co-Founder/CEO of HouseParty.

We’re grateful for the support of these investors and friends on our simple mission: Ascend exists to make it easier for people to protect the things they care about.It reimagines the payment process and helps to enable exciting new experiences

The unsolved problem in insurtech — picks & shovels

Capital deployed in the first half of 2021 already exceeds the full year of 2020 funding. But much of this insurtech investment has been focused on distribution-related companies aiming to sell insurance directly to customers by promising a better product, new and novel ways of acquiring customers, and improved end-customer experience. A big piece was missing.

The insurtech community hasn’t focused enough on improving the critical infrastructure and tooling that both incumbent insurance companies and insurtechs need to be successful in today’s competitive, digital world. We’re still in the early stages of insurtech infrastructure. Embedded insurance, modern agency management systems, advanced telematics are all emerging trends that will no doubt continue to evolve in the years to come. Many of the most critical pieces of insurance infrastructure, however, remain untouched by digitization. Behind the elegant customer experiences of distribution insurtechs is technological shoe-string and duct tape holding it all together. Said bluntly, infrastructure has not kept pace with customer expectations in insurance.

A recent study found “85% of insurance CEOs note the pandemic has accelerated digitization at their organizations and 78% of them are particularly concerned with creating seamless customer experiences.” We have reached a critical inflection point, where everyone on the distribution side — from brokers to agents to carriers — suddenly have no choice but to digitize.

Payments are the first logical step

Payments is one of the most under-innovated and complicated pieces of any insurance system. As a consumer, it’s no secret that paying for insurance is much harder than buying nearly anything else in 2021. Imagine buying groceries and not knowing who to pay (the brand or the store), how often (when you actually eat the food or when you take it home), and writing a paper check to mail off. Payment is also laborious and expensive for the sellers and backers of insurance. Agencies, MGAs, wholesalers, and carriers spend millions of hours and billions of dollars each year processing, managing, and reconciling payments.

Ascend is the first modern insurance payments platform purpose built for insurance. We solve these problems and save insurance companies from labor intensive, expensive processes while providing customers with the great online checkout and financing experience they’ve come to expect. Specifically, Ascend enables:

  1. A modern checkout. A fully digital, white-labeled customer checkout experience. This allows sellers of insurance to easily give customers the modern checkout experience they’ve come to expect without the need to build it in-house.
  2. Flexible, affordable buy now, pay later financing options. Instant, point of sale financing options for insurance buyers who demand flexibility on how and when they pay, and expect a seamless experience instead of today’s “send a paper check once per year” status quo.
  3. A simplified process for money movement. Ascend automates today’s manual invoicing and reconciliation processes. This reduces operational overhead and eliminates tedious offline processes including downstream funds flow (payables, carrier remittances).

A great product starts with a great team

We are fortunate to be two-time insurtech entrepreneurs (Andrew Wynn, Co-Founder & Co-CEO and Praveen Chekuri, Co-Founder & Co-CEO), having built a home maintenance startup called Sheltr (acquired 2019), which provides homeowners with routine preventative maintenance service and diagnostics to offer data-driven proactive care to catch issues before they become costly repairs. It was with Sheltr that we first learned about the problems, opportunities, and market shifts that make this the right time to innovate in insurance infrastructure. Prior to Sheltr, we had the benefit of working together starting in 2014 at Instacart when it was still a small team based out of a house in South Park.

However, it is our team at Ascend that sets us apart and allows us to move with speed and conviction. We are now 9 strong between our New York and Palo Alto offices and continue to hire people with a desire for ownership, growth, and to be a part of a category-defining company.

The Ascend team is diverse by design with the goal of being made up of 50% of employees from underrepresented backgrounds in tech (33% today). Our team members come from world-class technology companies like Instacart, Uber, Houseparty, Funding Circle, LinkedIn, Hippo Insurance, and Atlassian. The combination of people with unique and varied backgrounds and experiences truly enables us to innovate and approach this antiquated industry from first-principles. We are excited to work with this growing group of amazing people.

Capital to accelerate growth

This round of funding will allow us to drive the expansion and evolution of Ascend. We will use the funds to focus on product development, go to market initiatives, and bring on new team members. Ascend today works with many of the leading digital brokerages and we plan to expand our reach and target customer base.

At scale, Ascend will be the default payments option for the insurance industry — making it easier for people to protect the things they care about. It is with this in mind that we move forward with the support of our investors, families, friends and customers.

If you are interested in learning more about Ascend, please feel free to email us at hello@useascend.com. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for our latest news. Lastly, be sure to visit our Careers page.

With Gratitude,

Andrew & Praveen, Co-CEOs

(andrew@useascend.com / praveen@useascend.com)

The modern insurance payments platform