March 6, 2017
5 Key Questions for Midsize Insurers
by James Evans
Amid disruption, insurers would be wise to get in front of the curve by taking steps to improve underwriting and increase profitability.
This year, mid-sized insurers continue to face significant challenges, but these challenges can be treated as opportunities for organizations to distinguish themselves from competitors. As the digital economy continues to spur change, insurers would be wise to get in front of the curve by taking steps to improve underwriting and increase profitability. Here are five questions mid-sized insurers should ask themselves to help guide their business transformation.
1. How well do we leverage our data?
The days of the actuary as the primary data interpreter are waning as data analysts with access to an ever-increasing set of tools are leaving actuaries in their wake. Insurance companies are starting to take notice, and those that are leveraging their data to make informed decisions are enjoying faster growth and increased profitability. A data innovation strategy must come from the top of an organization and go down. However, the scope of the endeavor and the multitude of choices can be daunting. For example, a predictive model can provide great insight, but it may be more prudent to design a model that enhances your organization’s decision-making capabilities rather than one that replaces current methods. Management information, underwriting, pricing, claims management, claims reserving and actuarial reserving should all be informed by your organization’s data, which makes developing and implementing a smart data strategy imperative.
See also: A Closer Look at the Future of Insurance
2. Is regulation an opportunity or an obstacle?
Regulation is useful when it promotes strong digital protection standards, the advantages of which are best illustrated when the inevitable cyber breach hits the press. Your organization may not be directly subject to General Data Protection Regulation or New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) cybersecurity regulations, but the standards are illuminating, nevertheless. At a minimum, your firm should be reviewing compliance standards and determining which ones it should be implementing as a function of industry best practices. Since the National Association of Insurance Commissioners currently produces a less-comprehensive standard, a company may someday find itself on the defense, arguing it did only what was required. NYDFS standards could easily become the de facto standard, especially over the next few years as third-party vendors doing business with New York-based financial institutions will need to ensure compliance with NYDFS requirements. The reality is that data is an asset, and insurance companies rely heavily on data to run their businesses. Insurers will be collecting and using even more data in the future. They must take steps to protect this valuable, growing business asset and be prepared to adopt the highest standards of protection for their insureds.
3. Will our organization be the next to be disrupted?
For the past few years, venture capital dollars have been flowing into insurance disruptors such as Cyence, Metromile and Lemonade. Certainly, we won’t see complete disruption overnight, but small changes will likely occur more frequently than expected, and, over time, the effects will have a significant impact on current business models. Your company could be disrupted by a current competitor using advanced machine learning algorithms in the underwriting process. Or perhaps an insurtech startup will begin to capture all your new insurance prospects through its new mobile app and lower price point, halting your growth. Similarly, consider non-insurance-specific disruptions, such as developments in the “Internet of Things.” What if a new device is rolled out by a competitor that protects its insureds from meaningful injuries by using sensors to alert workers and their employers of dangerous conditions — providing a distinct advantage to their workers’ compensation insurance rates. Will your firm be the disruptor or the disrupted? Regardless of the answer, what is your firm doing to prepare for the impact?
4. Are we transferring risks to the capital markets?
The reinsurance market has been transformed over the past decade by insurance-linked securities (ILS), alternative reinsurance instruments like catastrophe bonds and collateralized reinsurance contracts, whose value is affected by an insured loss event. ILS investors are typically willing to accept a lower rate of return than traditional reinsurance companies because of the diversifying effect on the insurance-linked investor’s broader portfolio. That incentive has drawn more investor capital to the reinsurance market, putting pressure on reinsurance rates and even causing reinsurers to start their own investment funds. And while long-term relationships between insurers and reinsurers have tremendous value, your organization should be looking at all efficient opportunities to lay off excess risk and protect your company from earnings volatility.
See also: Can Insurance Be Made Affordable?
5. Why do we need a digital innovation strategy?
For many, innovation is inherently uncomfortable and volatile. Technology is changing rapidly, and the insurance industry is already starting to evolve. Managing an insurance transformation process triggered by a digital revolution will not be easy, but it must begin with identifying your current value proposition: Why do your clients value your insurance? Identify what you do well as an organization and what you can improve upon. By incorporating your starting point into a change plan that recognizes current strengths and explores future possibilities, your firm will be better prepared to navigate the coming industry transformation and will be better positioned to thrive on the other side of change.