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September 7, 2017

Commercial Lines: Best Is Yet to Come

Summary:

While personal lines have been the poster child for insurtech, commercial lines are where the real potential is hiding.

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The personal lines segment of the property and casualty (P&C) industry has been the golden child of late, having exhibited a willingness and apparent propensity for the adoption of new tech. While personal lines may be the first that place new technology has gained a foothold in the insurance industry, it is hardly where the real potential is hiding.

In contrast to personal lines, which has historically been the industry’s “volume game,” commercial lines remains a segment where high degrees of expertise and specialization allow insurers and brokers to carve out very specific and profitable niches in the market, making the definition of the best risks necessarily relative. The specificity of commercial lines business is precisely why these insurers are poised to become the beneficiaries of new tech driving efficiency gains up and down the value chain.

See also: Innovation: ‘Where Do We Start?’  

Right now, insurance companies are entertaining new ideas about what to cover, how to cover it and how to most effectively bring commercial insurance products to policyholders. In an era inundated by new tech, the bests ways for commercial lines insurers to identify, compete for and win the right to write the best risks include investing in solutions and partners that enable better communication, better products and significantly better distribution.

Better Communication

Within commercial lines, there’s a high degree of variation between how things get done depending on the characteristics of the risk (e.g., exposures, premium size, geography, etc.). The universal truth, however, is that there is a big market opportunity for technology to improve communication and collaboration between underwriters, brokers and policyholders. Insurance policies in general, and complex commercial policies in particular, take too long to write, require too much back-and-forth between brokers and underwriters and let too many premium dollars fall through the cracks due to inability to quickly close a customer.

What is perhaps saddest about the current state of affairs is that the breakdown in communication begins at the start of the sales process. A recent survey from Channel Harvest Research revealed that brokers wish insurers would put greater emphasis on what the company is willing to write. Commercial lines agents often invest significant data entry time on applications or key information into an insurer portal only to be declined due to underwriting ineligibility. One could easily equate such a situation to Amazon asking customers to submit an onerous, multi-page order form for something before revealing whether the product is even available.

Despite this kind of situation having been normalized in the insurance industry, it is also an area where new technology is already making a positive impact in typical insurance processes. The essential first step for any commercial insurer to get a look at the best or most desired risks is to clearly articulate the company-specific definition of the best risks. While this may seem almost oxymoronic, commercial insurers must be able to clearly define and communicate niches and specialties, so that business partners and channels know instantly what is within the company’s wheelhouse without wasting underwriting time with ineligible or undesirable risks.

Better Product

It seems safe to assume that no one responsible for the regulatory aspects of insurance product approval or filing has ever been heard saying “Boy, that was easy!” Regulatory complexities, to make matters worse, can be compounded when an insurer attempts to design and bring to market a non-standard product.

New insurtech entrants are doing everything from automating and managing the filing process with the multiplicity of state insurance divisions to providing artificial intelligence (AI) to identify like contract clauses that can be brought to bear when designing product. Because insurance is responsible for producing an astounding amount of legalese, taking collective advantage of it just makes good sense, doesn’t it? Thanks to insurtech, it’s increasingly possible to automate the development of contract language and manage getting it filed with insurance departments with almost Turbo Tax-like efficiency, helping insurers laser-focus on emerging market opportunities instead of on creating more legalese.

Better Distribution

In the age of the internet, too often there’s a rush to judgment that improving distribution means taking a product online or cutting out brokers and going direct. The truth is that better distribution is smarter, more targeted distribution that puts the buying decision in front of the potential policyholder at exactly the moment insurance is needed for something (and often this requires a broker, especially as you move up market).

See also: Insurtech Is Ignoring 2/3 of Opportunity

Some commercial insurers are finally starting to realize the thinking that every match must be a “home game,” and that distribution and underwriting (the sales process) must happen on a company website or portal, is hopelessly outmoded. Insurers today are delivering APIs to distribution partners, thereby empowering partners to create a native rate/quote/bind experience specific to the channel. Why can’t workers’ comp be sold directly in a payroll app? Why can’t a liability policy be issued directly from drone controller software? Why can’t a policy be endorsed at the time new equipment is procured? Why can’t a cyber policy be issued commensurate with the sign-up for AWS or GCP or Azure? There’s easily as much opportunity, if not more, to sell insurance at the point-of-sale (PoS) in commercial lines as the personal segment. By identifying the right buying trigger, insurers can tap into a supply line of the best risks.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the definition of the “best” risks varies from one commercial lines insurance company to another, but ultimately, the best risks are those each company individually determines are a good fit for the company strategically. Figure out what best means to your company, clearly articulate your definition of best to the world, tailor product to cover the niche and sell the heck out of it.

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About the Author

Michael Albert is the co-founder of Ask Kodiak, an appetite as a service platform for commercial P&C. He has nearly two decades in the P&C insurance industry, serving in senior technology leadership roles in product and strategy.

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