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Pets are getting in on the InsurTech revolution

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2017 marks the 20th anniversary of virtual pet phenomenon Tamagotchi. The groundbreaking toy gave children – and adults – the ability to play with a crudely-formed digital pet.

The hook was the owner's need to care for their pet. Continuously forget to feed your pet, and your Tamagotchi would die. Bandai went on to sell over 80 million Tamagotchi toys.

So what does this have to do with us?

Well, in 1997 Direct Line and Churchill launched their first pet insurance products. Coincidence? We may never know.

In the intervening 20 years, technology has progressed at such a pace that Neanderthals may as well have created the Tamagotchi.

The world today has self-driving cars, headphones which translate foreign languages in real-time, and AI capable of holding a conversation with humans.

But how we care for our pets remains much the same.

Sure, there have been significant advances in veterinary medicine and care – in turn seeing vet bills soar – but at home, nothing has changed. We offer animals a roof, food and exercise.

Perhaps now is the time for pet care and insurance to catch up with the technology available to us. Rather than leaping into action when a pet falls ill or gets stolen, why not help prevent the problem from happening in the first place?

Telematics is now commonly used in motor insurance, allowing insurers and drivers to access all kinds of useful data. We know the route a car takes, at what time it's driven, and how safely it's operated.

This technology could be applied to our pets. With a small implant or wearable device, it’s possible to monitor your pet’s health, location and activity.

By monitoring vital statistics such as body temperature and heart rate, then looking for abnormalities, we can assess a pet’s wellbeing and even enable early detection of health conditions.

You end up with an insurance product which incorporates health and wellbeing.

Introduce activity tracking, and it’s entirely plausible that a connected app would be able to determine if a pet’s deteriorating health is the result of a lack of exercise. The pet's health could then get back on track thanks to recommendations made by the app.

A pet peeve of pet owners is the way insurance premiums typically increase as their dog or cat gets older. This is because the older an animal gets the more likely it is to suffer from certain medical conditions, such as heart or kidney disease and arthritis.

Through pet telematics, insurers would be able to build a detailed picture of a pet’s health, and as such rate more accurately against the risk of a claim. This would also encourage owners to keep their pets healthy.

A smart chip or smart collar-equipped pet would also be easier to monitor and safeguard from theft. By setting out a zone in which a pet is allowed to travel alone (such as the area of the house and garden) the owner would immediately be alerted of any travel to unauthorised areas.

The technology would act as a deterrent to potential thieves, but also enable an efficient way to locate stolen animals. Both of which would reduce potential costs to insurers.

You end up with an insurance product which incorporates health and wellbeing, with the aim of reducing the number of claims made by pet owners.

DLG is already utilising new technologies to enhance its Pet Insurance products. In June, DLG announced it had made a strategic investment in vet startup PawSquad, and now offers all Direct Line Pet Insurance customers access to the service.

“The great pace of technological change provides a huge opportunity for the Direct Line Group to innovate in the Pet Insurance marketplace,” commented Direct Line Group's Head of Pet Insurance, Pritpal Powar.

He added: “DLG recently invested in startup PawSquad, which enables us to offer Direct Line Pet Insurance customers 24/7 on-demand access to vets through video calls. PawSqaud is just one way in which we’re striving to put digital first, and it will be exciting to see how this enables our beloved pets to live happier, safer and healthier lives.”

The 20th anniversary of Tamagotchi is being celebrated with the release of a new version of the virtual pet. The device is smaller and only costs £10, but offers no new functionality.

Nostalgia is all that’s needed to see the new Tamagotchi fly off store shelves, but there’s no place for such sentimentality when it comes to caring for our real world pets.

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