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January 24, 2018

Linking Innovation With Strategy

Summary:

80% of insurance executives say innovation is critical for the industry -- but only 35% say their own strategy depends on it. Why the gap?

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Self-driving cars insured by the manufacturer. Smart homes that warn of perils in real time. Predictive analytics and automated underwriting and renewals. Wearables that measure your daily activity. Drone, sensor and video technology that help insureds avoid losses. What do innovations like these mean for conventional insurance?

They may herald an organizational shift away from a tradition of risk aversion to one more open to the risk of failure inherent in innovation. They mean developing and deploying new technologies that will automate processes and improve customer experience. On a grander scale, they may ultimately result in a shift away from strictly indemnity-based products toward ones that actually prevent loss.

Digital transformation

Insurance companies are taking several approaches to innovation. It is occurring in groups within insurance companies as well as externally across what is being called the “innovation ecosystem.” As well as continuing IT projects within an insurance company, many are reaching out to best-of-breed technology solution vendors and insurtech start-ups. They’re investing directly in insurance technology firms or funds or contributing to accelerators to form partnerships.

See also: Global Trend Map No. 6: Digital Innovation 

Celent recently found that more than 80% of insurance professionals viewed innovation as a critical corporate activity to meet and exceed growing customer expectations. Yet only 35% stated that innovation is critical to their business strategy. So why the gap?

In an industry as complex and diverse as insurance, theory and practice can be hard to reconcile. This can make adapting legacy systems and processes, or adopting entirely new strategies, even more challenging. However, the arrival of new opportunities for partnership through joint ventures, and partial and full ownership of insurance tech firms, is making this shift in culture smoother.

According to Novarica, the growing use of insurance technologies by life and P&C carriers strongly focuses on mobile, big data and telematics.

Link innovation to business strategy

The key is linking innovation efforts to business strategy. This applies to technology solutions and is crucial to ensuring the organization and innovation hub or team is aligned with goals.

Understanding the models within the innovation ecosystem is an important starting spot for carriers considering how to plug in. Incubators versus accelerators, venture capital versus partnership and internal versus external teams are all options that have their own set of pros and cons and differing levels of appetite for risk.

While some insurance carriers have yet to invest in innovation, others have taken the leap. Those that have will begin to see the results of those investments over the next few years. Telemetry for automobile insurance, sensors and drones for home insurance and IoT wearables for life and health are poised for growth.

Chatbots and Alexa help members understand group benefits

Alegeus announced the release of Emma last year, a chatbot that enables customers using its mobile application to receive information about their health benefits plans via voice commands. The intention is to empower consumers with an array of information about their account from recent transactions and annual contribution limits to what happens if you leave your employer.

Manulife has introduced the ability to use Amazon’s Alexa for plan members to review their group benefits coverage also with voice commands.

Church Mutual Insurance has piloted a project that uses IoT sensors to identify potential damage and notify insureds. The small pilot has succeeded, with 24 customers (out of 220 in the pilot) saving $500,000 in damages in the first two years. Church is protecting against weather-related losses in the U.S.

See also: 2 Overlooked Factors for Innovation Success

Silicon Valley is participating, as well. Tesla is bringing telematics to new levels for customers using data to build flexible, personalized products and deliver services such as accident alerts and advice on how to become a better driver in real time.

Participating in innovation projects promotes innovative thinking within traditional insurance organizations. And while the day-to-day challenges of doing business can impede steps toward innovation, as they require additional resources and a mandate to do things differently, the innovation ecosystem is healthy and growing. Most insurance executives recognize that insurers can’t afford to be risk-averse anymore, but rather must become judicious risk takers.

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About the Author

Mike de Waal is president and founder of Global IQX (www.globaliqx.com), a leading software provider of web-based sales and service solutions to employee benefits insurers.

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