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Electronic Chat – Shashaanka Ashili

Robert Regis Hyle | January 23, 2017

Shashaanka Ashili is a bio-optical systems engineer, a multidisciplinary engineer with extensive background in microsensors, optics, electronics and fluidics. Until 2013, he was a research scientist at Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and was one of the lead investigators on a $36 M, 10-year project through NIH, focused on understanding cancer at single live cell level. Ashili will be one of the speakers at ITA LIVE 2017, which will be held at the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Marriott Pompano Beach Resort and Spa from March 12-14. He agreed to answer some questions on his company, Smart Drivinc, and the world of insurtech.

In late 2014, Ashili's wife was involved in a non-fatal accident due to a distracted driver. Ashili realized the depth of smartphone distraction (26 percent of all accidents in 2013) and also the lack of affordable solutions.

Being a hardware engineer with an entrepreneurial fellowship in the surgical device space, he decided to invent a solution to reduce the incidence of smartphone distraction while driving. He started Smart Drivinc in early 2015 and soon realized that the number of accidents due to smartphone distraction were way more than estimated and impact the loss ratios of insurance carriers. 

ITA: Explain how your product, SXI (pronounced SSYI), works and how you plan to get it in the cars of all drivers?

Ashili: SXI is a two component solution. A hardware barely bigger than a quarter sits on the driver side of the windshield and an app is installed on the phone. The goal is to reduce the smartphone distraction without powering off the phone. We balance this equation by providing drivers’ access to basic things such as calling few numbers and important apps such as Maps. We find this balance reduces the driver’s distraction by more than 70 percent.

Traveler’s risk index shows that technology distraction is one of the top 10 concerns for Americans. In addition, the past two years (2015 and 2016) have seen a tremendous increase in traffic fatalities. Since World War II, we haven’t seen such a dramatic raise in fatalities in two consecutive years. This is impacting the bottom line tremendously for insurance carriers in the form of increased loss ratios. We are partnering with carriers to reach their policyholders, which is a win-win combination.

ITA: How long a process has this been for you and what were some of the bumps along the way that you were able to overcome?

ASHILI: We started the venture in 2015 and initially focused on product development. One of our biggest drawbacks was my background with non-insurance world. We were selected to Global Insurance Accelerator’s (GIA) 2016 cohort. Their focus on insurance and our focus on saving lives was a perfect combination. The mentor pool at GIA was tremendously helpful for us by sharing their in-depth knowledge in the insurance domain and business in general. We are fortunate to have the support of GIA and the mentors as we continue to make progress.

ITA: Explain your company’s motto: Reimagining loyalty in P&C world?

ASHILI: Our ultimate goal is to develop solutions that are tailored to impress different demographics. It is a fact that the P&C industry has poor customer loyalty (for example: only three carriers have a Net Promoter Score more than 50 percent) when compared to other sectors. Industry experts agree that this can be changed by providing solutions that are tailored to provide value to specific demographics. For the most part, the touch points between the policyholder and the carrier are simply quote, renewal, and claims. Increasing the number of touch points by providing solutions that are guaranteed to impress the customers is one way to unlock this challenge.

With smartphone adoption crossing 80 percent in U.S., more than 90 percent of consumers are worried about smartphone distraction while driving. By addressing their concerns (and providing peace of mind), Smart Drivinc is poised to change the dynamics between carriers and policyholders. For a carrier, this is an opportunity to control loss ratios and foster new relationship with the policyholders beyond traditional touch points.

ITA: How receptive has the insurance industry been toward your product? What about automobile manufacturers?

ASHILI: Carriers are receptive to our approach of changing the dynamics between themselves and the policyholders. They understand the problem of smartphone distraction while driving and its effects on loss ratios. We have partnered with numerous carriers and are in discussions with other major carriers.

There are other players involved (directly or indirectly) within the distracted driving puzzle—auto manufacturers and cell phone carriers. They are more focused on connecting the driver and car to the external world by bringing solutions under the umbrella of connected cars. Ironically, we are focused on disconnecting the driver from the external world to make sure the driver is focused on driving.  

Ashili will be one of the speakers at ITA LIVE 2017, which will be held at the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Marriott Pompano Beach Resort and Spa from March 12-14.


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