Nationwide’s venture arm is among the investors behind a new $4.6 million funding round for Insurify, an MIT spinoff with a virtual tool for car insurance shopping. Meanwhile, its service has debuted on Facebook Messenger.

Beyond Nationwide Ventures, MassMutual Ventures co-led the funding round, and Insurify’s existing investors also joined in.

Insurify said it plans to use the money to “fuel its rapid growth.”

Erick Ross, managing director of Nationwide Ventures, said Insurify’s management team and “aggressive execution” has been impressive, positioning it well to be a significant player in the online car insurance market.

“Online shopping for car insurance is growing dramatically and still represents less than 5 percent of all policies purchased in the U.S.,” Ross said in prepared remarks included in the release. “Insurify’s…technology and unique business model support rapid growth and place the company at the forefront of the industry today.”

Alongside the funding announcement, Insurify debuted what it termed “the first U.S. car insurance comparison service on Facebook Messenger.” Insurify says its virtual agent behind the comparison service, which is run with artificial intelligence and natural language processing, helps drivers compare insurance quotes via messaging. As well, the system has a bot that helps drivers with discounts and advises users which coverage and companies could best meet their needs.

“Our Facebook Messenger virtual agent experience is faster than any website or mobile app and easier to use than any online form. It’s a powerful example of how our technology will work on all other messaging services,” Snejina Zacharia, Insurify’s founder and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “Our vision is to continue to enhance the artificial intelligence and data integrations behind our virtual agent and train the algorithms to pass the insurance licensing exam.”

Insurify isn’t the first to turn to Facebook Messenger to enable insurance comparison shopping, however. Next Insurance, a digital insurance company for small businesses, recently launched a chatbot that lets personal trainers get quotes for and buy liability insurance through Facebook Messenger. It partnered with chatbot developer SmallTalk to put together the service.

Insurify, a spinoff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched in January 2016. Since then, the company said that more than 1.5 million consumers have used its virtual agent to compare insurance quotes.

Others are looking actively at the virtual agent space. Among them: InsurTech startup Hippo, an online provider of home insurance that launched in 2015. Recently, Hippo teamed with Elafris Inc., developer of an artificial intelligence messaging platform for the banking and insurance industries, to create a virtual agent chatbot infrastructure.

Source: Insurify