Tech entrepreneur eyeing US expansion for health benefits app

by David Keelaghan10 Apr 2017
“Our mission is to empower people with their health.” The words of entrepreneur Michael Serbinis whose latest venture is progressing nicely towards its goal of transforming how healthcare is delivered in North America.

Founded in 2014, League is a digital platform that allows small and medium-sized businesses the chance to offer customized benefits plans to their employees.

Although the company is still in its formative stages, it has already expanded across Canada and has similar ambitions for the US too. With heavyweight backers like RBC, Manulife and Power Corporation of Canada, Serbinis is confident the business will be a real agent for change heading forward.

“As an entrepreneur, you often start really big and then shrink down to a focus that is your whole product,” he says. “In our case we actually expanded. We realized that the whole product was being a next generation health benefits/insurance provider.”

Serbinis is perhaps best known for founding digital reading company Kobo, which he sold to Japanese Internet giant Rakuten for $315 million in 2012. Before that was cloud storage pioneer DocSpace, which Critical Path acquired for the princely sum of $568 million in 2010.

Clearly not someone to rest on his laurels, the Queen’s University graduate soon had another brainwave, which reached fruition with the launch of the League platform in 2015. His idea was a consumer experience app and marketplace where consumers could discover healthcare providers. Those providers would also be rated and reviewed, which any user of Air B&B or Amazon would be pretty familiar with.

In addition, users could schedule appointments and pay digitally, much like an Uber experience. When deciding what cities best fitted League for its introduction, Serbinis identified two he thought would take to the product pretty well.

“Toronto is the third most populous city across the US and Canada,” he says. “Disposable income and the propensity to spend on health is high in both Toronto and Seattle. There is also a high number of millennials – people that are used to using Uber or using a Starbucks app on their phone.”

League duly launched in the summer of 2015 in Canada’s largest city and then in November of the same year in Seattle. As he predicted, consumers were receptive to the product right away.

“What we saw during our pilot was tons of consumers and small business that were generally dissatisfied with their health benefits or insurance,” he says. “It was paper-based mostly and frustrating, and didn’t include the things that this next generation wanted. Things like mental health.”

Since its launch, League has expanded its reach and now operates in every Canadian province bar Quebec – which is expected to join later this year alongside a larger US rollout. Aside from geographical expansion, the scope of the business has also grown, as evidenced by the firm’s partnership with RBC Insurance signed last October. League’s life, accidental death, critical illness and other insurance plans are now underwritten by RBC, and Serbinis believes the firm is well placed to become a major player in the space in the years to come.

“We have become a health benefits provider,” he says. “Our focus really is helping wellness and empowering people to be healthy. We do it through an all-digital, end-to-end experience – from provider to consumer to employer. Essentially we help people get more out of their benefits.”

Related stories:
Budget 2017 a positive for life and health insurers, says CLHIA
Life insurers overhaul underwriting process by cutting genetic testing requirements