With a new AI-based feature in the Alipay app that recognises an animal’s unique nose print, pet owners across China can now use the close-up of their furry friends’ digital profile taken from their mobile phones to take out an insurance for their pets’ medical bills.
Traditionally, a microchip implant is the method commonly used for digitising a pet ‘s identity, but many pet owners in China are reluctant to pay for this or risk causing discomfort to their pets Alipay says its technology is less invasive and has an accuracy rate above 99%.
Nose prints have long been used to track and locate lost animals. Similar to facial recognition, experts long believe that the skin patterns of a dog’s or a cat’s nose in unique to an individual animal. Backed by this principle, Alipay developed a software that uses AI to create a biometric template for an animal based on its nose print, according to a news report by China-based Caixin Global.
The Chinese payment giant has teamed up with Ant Financial, which has just launched its first insurance program for cats and dogs. It is offered in partnership with China Continent Insurance and digital insurer ZhongAn.
The pet insurance is available for cats and dogs between the ages of three months and ten years, premiums ranging between RMB199 and RMB799 that can cover up to RMB20,000 in medical bills a year.
According to Caixin Global, China lags behind the UK and Japan with only 1% of its nearly 100 million pet cat and dog population covered by insurance – more than a decade after such insurance policy had been introduced in the country. Both the UK and Japan have a coverage rate of 25% and 7% respectively.
The low rate of enrolment for pet insurance stands in stark contrast to China’s booming industry of pet-related products and services valued at RMB202 billion last year.
Meanwhile, Alipay is not the only Chinese company dabbling in facial recognition of animals and in offering digital pet insurance in the Mainland.
AI startup Megvii said last year that it was working on differentiating dogs by their nose prints. At the time, Megvii said it had achieved 95% accuracy. Furthermore, Lufax, an online finance platform backed by China’s largest insurer Ping An, last year introduced its own digital pet insurance by collecting biometric information. Customers can scan the face of their pets to sign up or file a claim.