August 26, 2016
InsurTech Need Not Be a Zero-Sum Game
by Nick Martin
InsurTech and traditional carriers should both win by removing "blockages" in the system and growing the overall pie.
This summer, I have attended a number of disruption/innovation insurance industry conferences in London that often, to varying degrees, come down to a debate regarding the extent to which InsurTech startups will be able to come and eat the lunch of industry incumbents. There is little argument that, should the insurance industry fail to better engage with its customers and continue to poorly communicate its social value in protecting people, communities and assets somewhere else will transform what today for many is a “grudge transaction” into a delightful relationship.
However, I believe InsurTech does not have to be a zero sum game. I am a proud member of the International Insurance Society (www.internationalinsurance.org) led by Michael Morrissey. In Singapore at the IIS annual conference, a keynote presentation was delivered on the recently formed Insurance Development Forum (IDF). The IDF was formally launched in April and is a collaboration between the insurance industry, the World Bank, the UN and various other institutions. The IDF is chaired by Stephen Catlin, with Rowan Douglas leading the Implementation Committee that includes industry heavyweights such as Dan Glaser, Nikolaus von Bomhard, Greg Case and Inga Beale. Its mission is to incorporate the insurance industry’s risk management expertise into governmental disaster risk reduction and to give insurance a larger role in providing resilience to communities all over the world.
In a speech at the conference, IDF Chairman Stephen Catlin noted, “We talk about innovation and new products. The reality is we are not even selling well the product we know and love dearly.” I believe the less insular InsurTech community — with its diverse skills sets (often from outside of the insurance industry) — can help insurers start to address the obvious misunderstanding consumers, governments and regulators share of the social value of the insurance product. Sam Maimbo of the World Bank, who sits between deep technical insurance teams and the public sector, noted he spends 70% of his time explaining what the industry has to offer. Addressing this communication gap has parallels to what many InsurTech companies are trying to do in providing better engagement with consumers than is currently provided.
There is real opportunity for InsurTech to work with the insurance industry in addressing blockages in the system that, if unlocked, would drive increased demand and grow the overall insurance pie. We are seeing a bit of this in microinsurance with companies like MicroEnsure and Bima providing low-cost insurance solutions to customers that, before recent technological advances, were just not possible. For instance, we need to see more examples of smart contracts founded on blockchain technology. In Africa, it is now possible to buy crop insurance through a mobile device that pays out based on a parametric weather-related trigger through a blockchain-validated third party source that almost eliminates the cost of handling a claim.
I am confident we are at the start of this kind of innovation and look forward to seeing more InsurTech companies look to grow the overall industry pie for the benefit of themselves and society as a whole.