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January 27, 2017

2017: A Journey Toward Self-Disruption

Summary:

A constant process of internal creative destruction is required to avoid becoming the victim of an external, competing creative force.

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Last year, an EIOPA stress test revealed that a large portion of European insurers remain vulnerable for one or both of the tested scenarios. At the same time, insurers continue to struggle with a constant shift in customer expectations. We are all used to seamlessly working digitally in more and more aspects of our lives, and we’ve come to expect the same treatment when it comes to insurance.

So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t a healthy insurer be perfectly able to cope with some adversity while making the change to become a more digital and customer-minded organization?

Unfortunately, a number of reasons mixed together provide a particularly toxic combination that slows the transformation. To start with, insurers are still largely running on legacy applications. Not only does this limit organizational agility dramatically, but it also means that available change capacity is predominantly used to keep the legacy infrastructure up and running.

On top of this, regulatory pressures are dramatically increasing the cost of doing business. Complex risk and compliance requirements in legacy-dominant environments reduce the ability to transform on a more fundamental level. Furthermore, there is continued pressure on product margins, and historically low interest rates are reducing returns.

See also: Insurance Disruption? Evolution Is Better  

Beyond the insurtech hype

As incumbents struggle with internal inefficiencies and adverse conditions, fintech and insurtech initiatives are starting to emerge – based on fresh thinking and modern application architectures. These new initiatives relentlessly exploit inefficiencies in the value chains. And with the rise of the sharing economy, new ways to manage risks like usage-based or P2P insurance are becoming increasingly important.

The right stuff?

The awareness that incumbents need to transform their way of working, and solve some fundamental problems in their business models, is prevalent. There is in fact a lot of activity and experimentation taking place, through innovation labs, partnerships or direct strategic investments in insurtech.

This is all well and good, but are these initiatives sufficiently grounded to become successful? Do incumbents possess the right stuff to create, develop, nurture and scale new business concepts with sufficient impulse to remain relevant and profitable in the long run?

The journey toward self-disruption

These are all questions that the industry will be posing in 2017, and there is no doubt the insurance sector needs to adapt to a new world. One thing is for certain, simply embarking on a journey to implement one of the “Top-10 Insurtech Solutions” is not going to cut it.

The real challenge lies in first removing the legacy culture from organizations before trying to solve the challenge in application landscapes and value chains. This journey toward self-disruption requires courage and leadership. To reach the desired destination, boards may consider numerous approaches to rebalance change programs. 

Considered approaches

Scenario planning and storytelling can be a powerful tool for coping with a large number of uncertainties. Scenarios are perfectly suited to translate into compelling, vivid images of the future, using powerful storytelling as an effective way to convey messages.

Changing the innovation mix is also something insurers will be contemplating. The composition of your innovation mix (product-, process- or business-model focused) should be in line with the lifespan of your dominant business model. For insurers, this might imply that now is the time to direct more resources toward more radical forms of innovation.

Replacing incentives blocking change is another approach to consider. If a board’s primary responsibility is to facilitate the presence of a long-term business model, then this implies that the board should worry about anything in the organization that blocks this purpose. A review of existing performance management and key performance indicator (KPI) frameworks might be one of the most critical things to address as this drives behavior throughout the organization.

See also: Which to Choose: Innovation, Disruption?  

Then there is creative destruction as a driving force. A constant process of internal creative destruction is required to avoid becoming the victim of an external, competing creative force. The likes of General Electric and Johnson & Johnson have mastered this. Carefully applying these design principles in the insurance sector might be a critical activity.

Looking ahead  

The insurance sector has a long way ahead adapting to a new world. There is a critical role for current and coming leadership. We see insurers increasingly partner with insurtech companies, hoping to find fresh thinking, agility and entrepreneurship. We’ll have to find out if this brings sufficient change. Otherwise, the EIOPA double-hit scenario might be a blessing in disguise – it could, in fact, provide the required burning platform for the long-awaited transformation.

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About the Author

Onno Bloemers is one of the founding partners at First Day Advisory Group. He has longstanding experience in delivering organizational change and scalable innovation in complex environments.

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