Insurance startup Battleface seeking specialty travel advisor partners

Insurance startup Battleface, which focuses on providing travel insurance products for travelers headed to remote or challenging destinations, is growing, and CEO Sasha Gainullin hopes to partner with specialty travel advisors whose clients would best be served by Battleface’s products.

Its U.S. launch is expected in April.

Though the 3-year-old company is a startup — attracting investments from the likes of Fintech Ventures Fund, Greenlight Re and Tangiers Group — Gainullin is no stranger to the travel insurance industry. He previously developed global operations for AIG Travel Guard.

Gainullin is a native Russian who attended school in Stevens Point, Wis., as an exchange student. In the mid-1990s, he received a scholarship from Travel Guard to attend the University of Wisconsin, and in return for the scholarship, he worked in Travel Guard’s call center. He enjoyed the travel insurance industry and stayed on with Travel Guard after college.

In 2006, AIG acquired Travel Guard, and Gainullin started building out its global operations. He eventually left AIG to build out a small assistance company in Europe that was working for AIG.

“While I was doing this work, I started to notice a big shift in the travel industry,” Gainullin said. “Many policies have been created essentially for our grandparents who traveled on a cruise or went to a standard destination. Travel Guard, I would say, was probably the flagship company within the travel industry, and they set the standard. The tourism industry has shifted and changed, and many, many travel insurance products have not evolved.”

War and terrorism are often excluded from standard travel insurance policies, and some activities are also excluded because the policies are designed for typical leisure travelers, he said. 

But Gainullin became aware of a different kind of traveler: journalists freelancing for major news outlets in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Contractually, they had to carry their own medical insurance when abroad, he said, and they had trouble finding it.

“I wanted to see how we could solve that problem,” Gainullin said.

Thus, Battleface was born. It was developed by Lloyd’s of London coverholder Tangiers Insurance Services and specializes in medical insurance for travelers headed to conflict zones and remote locations.

While most standard travel insurance products focus on things like trip delay and interruption, Battleface focuses first on medical coverage.

“We wanted to concentrate on protecting the person versus protecting the trip and your investment against the trip,” he said.

Battleface’s marketing budget was at first small, but it was insuring influential journalists, which helped spread the word. (The company’s name came from British journalist Christina Lamb, who once referenced going to a battlefield and putting her face on the front lines.) Battleface started to hear from surfers, adventure travelers and the like, looking for similar coverage.

Now, three years into the business, Battleface is working with a mix of groups, associations and individual travelers. It has also started to work with specialty tour operators, particularly in the adventure space. Gainullin would like to expand that list to travel advisors.

Gainullin has concerns that Battleface won’t be able to offer the higher commission levels larger insurance companies can, but he said he hopes to find partnerships with specialty travel advisors who are looking for a product like his. For example, he is currently working with a U.K.-based advisor who offers specialized tours to Iraq and Kyrgyzstan. While commission levels would vary depending on individual partnerships, Gainullin said the best fits for Battleface would likely be small or midsize advisors and agencies.

Battleface offers an API-based technology platform that was custom built internally. It’s easy to plug its quoting engine into a partner’s website, Gainullin said. In the future, the company hopes to launch a mobile app that would include the traveler’s itinerary, security alerts and a search function for nearby hospitals.

Pricing depends on a variety of factors, but Gainullin gave an example using the average policy duration of 13 days and covering a 38-year-old. For $160, that traveler could get a policy covering $5 million in medical expenses and emergency evacuation; $50,000 in accidental death and permanent disability; $500,000 in personal liability; and $2,000 each in baggage loss or delay, money loss or theft and trip cancellation costs.

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