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Peer-to-peer insurance startup Lemonade hires behavioral expert Dan Ariely

·Technology Reporter
Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics, speaks at the Sohn Investment Conference in New York, May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS) (REUTERS)

With the battle among insurance startups heating up this year, New York-based Lemonade said it hired noted behavioral economics expert Dan Ariely to help design its upcoming peer-to-peer offering.

Ariely, a professor at Duke University and author of several best-sellers about irrational behavior, will serve as chief behavioral officer, Lemonade said in a release. "If you tried to create a system to bring out the worst in humans, it would look a lot like the insurance of today," Ariely said in a statement. "We’ve spent recent years deepening our understanding of honesty and trust, and our conclusion is that insurance is crying out for a makeover."

Lemonade still has yet to offer much detail about its insurance service, which is expected to hit the market later this year, but similar to the peer lending model, the company will try to bring together people in need of insurance and investors with capital to back them. Founded by Shai Wininger and Daniel Schreiber, Lemonade raised $13 million in seed funding from two venture capital funds, Sequoia Capital and Aleph, last year.

The Duke professor has worked closely in his career with Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his contributions to behavioral economics. Ariely's books include "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions," which explained why traditional economic concepts such as supply and demand sometimes failed to predict human behavior.

At Lemonade, Ariely, who holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology but not economics, joins a staff filled with insurance industry veterans. Last month the company appointed Ty Sagalow, whose resume includes a 25-year stint at insurance giant American International Group (AIG), as chief insurance officer. And several top executives hired last year hailed from ACE and AIG.

While most so-called fintech startups have focused on lending and investing over the past few years, more than a handful of new companies are looking to break into insurance this year. CB Insights is tracking eight companies expected to make a "full roll-out" of insurance service this year, including Lemonade, brokerage platform Embroker and life insurance-focused Ladder.

Peer-to-peer insurance startups outside the United States are farther along. U.K.-based Guevara lets groups of people insure their cars together by pooling their resources. Friendsurance in Germany gathers groups to insure home contents, private liability, and legal expenses in combination with more traditional insurance coverage.

But none are anywhere near the size and maturity of lending startups like LendingClub (LC) and On Deck Capital (ONDK), which have both gone public.