Few 34-year-olds are equipped to write a memoir, but Val Yap isn’t your typical corporate ladder-scaling tricenarian. In 2019, the CEO and founder of the insurtech firm PolicyPal Group published the provocatively titled Balls Inc that detailed her experiences as a female tech entrepreneur and how she smashed prevailing attitudes towards women in Asia’s tech industry.
When Yap started, she sought success stories of entrepreneurs she could identify with. “There are many ballsy male entrepreneurs out there, but I couldn’t find any featuring an Asian context or female entrepreneurs.” This isn’t surprising. According to the Harvard Business Review, women-led start-ups received just 2.3 per cent of venture capital funding last year – a drop from 2.8 per cent in 2019. They also receive heavier pushback from investors. This either limits their prospects – or conversely, as in Yap’s case – builds resilience and adaptability.
Yap is no stranger to setbacks. After the insurance companies unexpectedly rejected her cancer-stricken mother’s treatment claims, she realised that most people didn’t understand their insurance policies as well as they should have.
In 2016, she launched PolicyPal, a digital platform that consolidates insurance policies in a simple, accessible way. Users can upload their policies easily, quickly identify coverage gaps and have everything documented in one place.
PolicyPal’s app also features fun, gamified financial-learning quizzes and games, allowing users to turn credit earned into cash. It also owns Baoxianbaobao, a registered insurance broker that users can buy insurance plans or seek financial advice from. “PolicyPal launched with just three people,” says the soft-spoken Yap, who previously worked at PwC, Allianz and OCBC Bank Singapore.
Today, her company hires over 30 staff and helps over 100,000 users manage their policies. She is also supported by 500 Startups, Fenbushi Capital, PayPal and Altara Ventures. Yaps initial experiences, however, were a different story. “During PolicyPal’s early days, I faced a lot of discrimination. Many investors asked highly personal questions about my relationship status and whether I was planning to start a family.”
Being the first mover on the nascent insurtech scene also posed challenges when she tried to form working relationships with industry partners. The turning point came when PolicyPal graduated from the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Sandbox, a government- sponsored incubator for high-potential fintech start-ups.
“It was a big win as it gave us the credibility necessary to work with insurance companies.” Not that Yap wasn’t already skilled at turning adversity into advantage. Stakeholders in the insurance space repeatedly rejected her when she reached out to them to enquire about database sharing. But this led to her company’s best development – an optical character recognition technology that digitalises customers’ policies in 10 seconds. All they had to do was upload a photo or PDF.
“Now, we have the largest database of policies.” Last June, AMTD Digital acquired PolicyPal for an undisclosed sum. Yap is staying on as CEO. Her team is currently using artificial intelligence to develop new insurance products including bicycle and pet insurance, says Yap, a Spartan race enthusiast who finds many business analogues in the gruelling sporting event.
“Just as how obstacles in the race are only revealed to contestants closer to the event, the challenges in life are unforeseen. As long as you show up, stay positive and will yourself to do better, you can complete any herculean task.”