* Tech firm seeks to raise triple-digit million euros
* Softbank Vision Fund a potential lead investor- sources
* Wefox legal tussle with rival Lemonade has held up deal
By Eric Auchard and Simon Jessop
LONDON, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Wefox, one of Europe’s fastest-growing insurance technology firms, is close to settling on a new “triple-digit million” euro funding round, with Softbank’s Vision Fund among the suitors, three sources familiar with the negotiations said.
One of the sources said Softbank would lead the new round in wefox by taking a substantial stake, while two others said there was competition from other lead investors, while declining to name them.
Wefox declined to comment. Softbank Vision Fund declined to comment. Goldman Sachs, which is advising wefox on its fundraising, did not returns calls seeking comment.
Little known outside the German-speaking world, wefox operates digital platforms that connect insurers, brokers and consumers, allowing them to buy insurance, change policies and settle claims as quickly as hailing a taxi online.
“There are multiple bidding groups,” said one person involved in the funding process. “Basically, everything is sorted already. It’s just the final people and pieces that need to come together.”
A second source said: “Softbank invested a small amount in the previous round and now they want to pre-empt the next round with the Vision Fund. It’s too early to tell... because it (the deal) is not sure yet.”
The Vision Fund, the world’s largest private equity investor and an arm of Japan’s Softbank Group Corp, has scooped up a string of insurance deals in the last year, ranging from major online Chinese insurance groups to an Indian price comparison site to Lemonade, a U.S.-based rival to wefox.
A more ambitious move by Softbank to take a minority stake in reinsurance giant Swiss Re worth as much as $8-10 billion foundered in May with no firm reason given.
A copyright lawsuit by Lemonade against wefox had been holding up the funding deal. The legal wrangling had put investment discussions on hold but executives of the two companies agreed to make peace this week.
After a meeting between the CEOs of the two companies wefox agreed to tackle the alleged copyright issues, the two executives said on their LinkedIn profiles. Lemonade plans to drop the lawsuit once wefox makes the changes, the two companies agreed.
With the legal cloud promising to lift, a third source told Reuters “the company is indeed closing a round now. The process is open and there are many contenders. There’s a lot of competition and there’s a wide range of valuations.”
Founded in 2015, Wefox had raised $38.5 million to date.
Existing wefox investors include Target Global, SalesForce Ventures, Seedcamp and Idinvest and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher’s investment vehicle, Sound Ventures, according to the company. Softbank International, a separate arm of Softbank, also has a stake.
Wefox’s potential appeal to the Vision Fund can partly be explained by Softbank founder Masayoshi Son’s stated enthusiasm for the latest wave of “insurtech”, which can offer quick and low-priced coverage, as well as cross-selling to customers of the group’s other portfolio companies.
The start-up is also working on ways to use anonymised customer data to tailor new types of short-term insurance coverage, in line with Son’s grand plan to build a group of industry-leading firms powered by technical advances in artificial intelligence and networked devices.
In the fourth quarter, wefox also plans to introduce a global portal for insurance companies to develop and price products, then pitch them to wefox’s growing base of 300,000 consumers, which has more than doubled in the last year. This will develop a three-side marketplace connecting insurers, brokers and consumers, the company said.
The backbone of wefox’s strategy is keep insurance brokers on side, by making them more efficient but also more profitable.
Wefox Chief Executive Julian Teicke cites data showing that 50 percent of policies are written by independent brokers, another 40 percent by in-house agents, with the remainder being sold directly to consumers via online sites.
“We want a very sustainable win-win-win type of model that serves the interests of brokers, customers and insurers,” Teicke said in a phone interview. (Additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn in London and Sam Nussey in Tokyo. Editing by Jane Merriman)