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Christopher Blythe launches Sarifa Insurance Brokers

Published:Friday | November 28, 2014 | 11:00 AM
Christopher A. Blythe, president and CEO of Sarifa Insurance Brokers Limited, explains how profitable the auto insurance market can be. - Ian Allen/Photographer

Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter

Christopher Blythe is trying to change how Jamaicans purchase auto insurance. The fledgling Sarifa Insurance Brokers received its licence from the Financial Services Commission in July, and really got going in September. It has already secured several clients for its general-insurance offerings. But the flagship product that Blythe is looking to introduce in 2015 is an online platform for auto insurance.

"This will allow customers to go to our website, www.sarifaja.com, they will be able to fill out the proposal and get quotes from all insurance companies," he said. "Then the customer will be able to choose which company they want to work with." Customers will have the full description of the type of coverage available and will be able to upload their documents. Once approved, the customer can purchase their policy online with a credit card.

"Then they will get an electronic cover note as well as electronic receipt emailed to them," he explained. "So everything will be done online. The main goal is convenience for the customer." Persons can print the note, but to mitigate against any issues with credibility of the documents, Blythe explained that Sarifa has developed an app to go with it.

"So they (police, tax officials etc) can verify the cover note by typing in the cover note's number," he said. "So they have that added benefit. Even though it's not on secured paper, you will be able to verify it that way." He suggested this method was even more secure, as papers can get lost or duplicated.

"Plus, when you look at countries like the United States of America, that is how they do insurance," he reasoned. "I think Jamaica is way behind in utilising the technology." To ensure clients always have the right rates to compare, Blythe and the team have created a database in which they have each insurance company's rate guide.

"So as soon as a rate guide is updated, we just update the information in the database," he said. "That is done instantaneously."

Blythe's father, Neville, is a giant in local insurance, and the young entrepreneur admits his admiration of him. But Christopher, a St George's College, University of Miami (bachelors' degree) and Nova Southeastern University (master's degree) alumnus, said he always wanted to start his own e-commerce business. In fact, in 2008, he started Skoobit, a textbook-rental company that catered to US college students. But he saw where he could do more with Sarifa.

"The textbook market in itself is $10 billion. The auto insurance market in the US is roughly $180 billion," he said. "The market in Jamaica is fairly small, JA$30 billion; that's the general-insurance market. Half of that accounts for auto, which is about JA$15 billion." His father is mostly known for his success with the United General Group of Companies, particularly United General Insurance.

"Insurance is really not new to me, and starting in Jamaica, gave me a foundation, something I could start on," he said. "So the whole idea is to really gain some traction in Jamaica. I thought this was a great opportunity to provide this to the consumer." The ultimate goal is to build Sarifa into a global brand.

"With an e-commerce company, you're able to scale at that level, as opposed to a 'brick-and-mortar' type of business," he said. Sarifa is already making waves, as glowing client testimonials are already pouring in.

"People who I have been talking to about the online insurance are very excited; they want it now," he said. He targets the first quarter of 2015 for the launch of it. The online platform will be targeting the millennial generation.

"But even if you fall outside of that, and you're not tech savvy, when you come into our office, our auto system will be online. So the turnaround time in itself will be a lot less than a traditional broker," he said. With developers in India and the US finishing the online platform, Blythe envisions how this will help propel the company.

"By the end of year two, we should be looking to go into the US market," he said confidently. And after that, the world.

daviot.kelly@gleanerjm.com