By Mang-Git Ng
Manual paperwork and PDFs are the biggest barrier to market domination for insurtech, proptech, fintech and many other startups tackling large legacy industries.
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To date, automated paperwork tools for these key industries have been built in-house and at great cost, by the world’s largest insurance, real estate and finance companies. These legacy tools are stuck in the 1980s and don’t adequately service the requirements of our internet-enabled present-day.
To further stifle competition, these business-critical processes have been created and are controlled by the large players in each industry, enabling them to consolidate the market and limit innovation to the technology companies that play by their rules.
Fledgling technology companies need to play nice, until they are big enough to push back and deliver true innovation. These purpose-built tools have served as the moat separating the thriving startup scene from the legacy players in the space, but those days are numbered.
Multibillion-dollar companies like DocuSign have been built by simply automating the signing process, but the foundation of the next generation of insurance, mortgage and a multitude of other digital products will be built on the idea that paperwork and PDF-based processes don’t have to be time-consuming and costly to manage.
Imagine the paperwork and PDF-intensive processes of setting up a mortgage, student loan, rental agreement, 401(k), medical insurance, PPP loan or the myriad of other important life tasks.
There are seemingly infinite friction points between the brain-exploding complexities and wasted time providing redundant information. A single missed signature can bring the entire process to a screeching halt. Instead of reimagining the process, more forms just get added, resulting in a stack of paperwork that requires enormous amounts of time and attention to detail.
Funding has been flooding into startups that have revamped user experiences on the front end, but even those new and innovative companies have to unravel the paperwork process on the backend.
The best of those startups have done a great job hiding that cumbersome back office process from their users, relying on labor-intensive solutions using everything from off-shore contractors to hiring armies of recent college graduates. The real hurdle holding these startups back from scaling their user experience is paperwork.
As companies in fintech, proptech, insurtech and other thriving startups scale into taking market share from the legacy players, paperwork automation has become the frontline of the battlefield.
Even over the last year, a huge portion of the venture funding flooding into these industries has been spent on manual labor solutions to solving the paperwork conundrum. The value proposition for startups in this space has been largely focused on the front-end user experience and only now the industry is backfilling the behind-the-scenes process in order to deliver a comprehensive digital experience, completing the digital transformation that these massive verticals have been chasing for a decade.
That’s what’s happening right now in the battle to remove paperwork and PDFs from the back-office processes. The future is bright for innovation in these spaces and once paperwork becomes a thing of the past, real competition can come into these multi-billion dollar markets.
Mang-Git Ng is founder and CEO of Anvil, a document automation company helping developers and non-developers automate paperwork. Prior to Anvil, he was a software engineer, product manager and founder/founding team member of several startups, including Loom, which was acquired by Dropbox.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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