Mark Harrop Business Development Manager

Aug 05

Old dogs don't die - they get a transplant

Dramatic changes to the life expectancy of household pets have caused a worldwide upsurge in the demand for pet insurance, with owners increasingly aware that treatments costing tens of thousands of pounds may lie in store.

“Anything that can be done for humans can be done for pets, we are now talking about stem-cell therapy; even organ transplants” says Randy Valpy, ‘Top Dog’ at Royal & Sun Alliance-owned and Canadian based, Pets Plus Us. He has seen claims of $30,000 and above over a pets life for treatments including hip replacements, and radio and chemotherapy for cancer. “When a dog is over eight years old, there’s an 80 per cent chance that a claim will be made,” he advises. In the UK, between 20 to 30 per cent of household pets are insured, compared to just one per cent in Canada, where Valpy is based. He is on a mission to close that gap.

“Many pets are alive today because of insurance,” he says. “We’re here to help eliminate pet ‘economic’ euthanasia, where people can’t keep their pets alive because it costs too much. There are so many cases of people not budgeting for a big vet bill – it can easily be $3,500 for something relatively common like hip dysplasia.”

Valpy was in London catching up with his outsourced business process technology provider,
UK-based Aquarium Software.

Bespoke and responsive

With a track record in developing and delivering P&C (Property & Casualty) systems for large UK insurers such as Capita, including work on their pet insurance business, Aquarium could offer Valpy a bespoke, highly responsive service, more cost-effective than some rivals but specific enough to deal with the many complexities of the burgeoning pet insurance market.

“We’ve invested in the Rolls-Royce, when initially we only needed the Volkswagen,” said Valpy, alluding to Aquarium’s mega capacity, which he fully expects to need in the coming years. As the hundreds of thousands of uninsured Canadian dog and cat owners turn to him and his fellow pet insurers (Walmart has just joined the market), Pets Plus Us will need to be quick on its feet to meet customer expectations.

“The goal is real-time claim payment, where you walk into a vet’s surgery and the insurance company pays for treatment on the spot,” explains Mark Colonnese, director of Aquarium Software.  “The technology is ready. It is just a question when not if. This would replicate the systems already available for many dentist practices, with the pet insurance market gradually picking up speed.”

“We want to do for pets what insurance has already done for dentistry,” agrees Valpy.  “You wouldn’t hesitate to take your pet in to a vet if you were insured.”

Transactional deal 

Aquarium and Pets Plus Us agreed to a revolutionary ‘transactional’ deal arrangement, where minimal cash changed hands. In return for its up-front development work and consultancy time, Aquarium will get a fee for all the insurance business that Pets Plus Us books in the future. For Randy Valpy, this meant he could concentrate on investing in marketing, while for Aquarium, its efforts will be amply rewarded as the client’s business prospers.

“We only earn if they’re successful,” explains Colonnese. “And it means that our customers won’t get trapped with redundant technology. We are highly motivated to keep one step ahead of the game continually re-investing in our solution to ensure ongoing throughput which generates cash for us.”

Valpy picked Aquarium after sifting through several rival technology companies globally. Some were too expensive, others based on technologies that have a questionable lifespan. “They were simply not fluid enough for us,” comments Valpy. “Or not scaleable enough. You can get similar transactional models in the Legal profession, but the solution you’re offered is ‘one size fits all’, it’s not bespoke. What Aquarium has provided is unique to us and that was absolutely key.”

“Thanks to the investment we have made in R&D our technology platform can uniquely offer a solution that is tailored to each of our clients’ needs quickly and without huge up-front capital investment. This is what makes us really different.” interjected Colonnese.

As Pets Plus Us attempts to bring Canada up to the business levels of the British pets’ insurance market, it is also showcasing this small but perfectly formed and ambitious UK software company; happy to be a ‘cheer-leader’ for an SME from Manchester delivering results that defy expectations, and helping to extend the happy and productive life of thousands of household pets.