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June 6, 2016

Now, Everything Can Be ‘As-a-Service’

Summary:

Start-ups can buy resources incrementally, as the business grows -- a game changer. And every company can offer products "as-a-service."

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Everything-as-a service is transforming the economics of establishing and running a company. Product-as-a-service will fundamentally change insurance product design and delivery.

Before recently joining insurance fintech start-up Instanda, I spent the last 15 years working within the insurance industry for U.K. FTSE 250 companies — such as Hiscox, Capita and, most recently, Xchanging. For the up-and-coming executive, there is something very comforting about working for a big, established company during the early part of your career. You are able to immediately plug in to a brand, revenue flow and customer base that is already well-established. There are lots of people with well-defined roles to support you, and you will undoubtedly benefit from a significant investment in physical infrastructure (whether that be a branch network of offices around the globe or big, heavy IT infrastructure sitting in your own data centers).

But that level of comfort comes at a price for the big corporation. There is an enormous amount of capital in the business tied up in “stuff” (office furniture, leases, servers, etc.), and there is an inevitable restriction in the ability to move quickly to respond to changing customer needs. We all know, when a company gets bigger, it becomes more unwieldly and bureaucratic. What has really struck me since joining Instanda is how technology and service provision have moved on to such an extent that you can gain access to the same benefits and capabilities of the infrastructure of big companies at a fraction of the cost — and without losing your agility and flexibility to respond to the needs of the business.

As a business, Instanda is a firm believer in consuming “everything-as-a-service.” We are a technology company that does not own a server; all of our IT infrastructure is procured from Microsoft Azure, which gives us access to almost instantaneous unlimited storage and processing power from our desktop dashboard. For office and email suite, we use Microsoft 365, where are able to tap into the many years and millions of dollars of Microsoft’s investment for a small monthly sum per employee.

“As-a-service” is often thought of as being a software service provided out of the cloud, but, of course, it can just as easily be physical infrastructure. The sharing economy is full of examples where physical infrastructure is available to be purchased at a fractional cost. Uber is “transport-as-a-service,” and through the good offices of property services firm wework, we are able to procure very high quality workspace as “property-as-a-service.” Our newly built offices are sitting on the edge of London, close to our customer base and fitted out to the highest standards.

In the past, for a small company like Instanda, these offices would have simply been beyond our means, but in the new “as-a-service” economy, we can purchase as many (or as few) desks as we like — with only a monthly notice period required to add seats or to exit the space, all while still benefiting from the full range of office facilities of a multimillion-pound company.

Similarly, our accounting, payroll and CRM systems are all consumed as cloud-based services where we only pay for what we consume. Yet it was not long ago when the idea of placing your key customer data on a system and servers you didn’t own or control would have been seen as a crazy business risk. Imagine going to your CEO today and saying, “I want to build our own bespoke CRM system, buy some physical servers and store them in our own operated data center.” You would soon be shown the door. So, what was considered risky and unthinkable in the past can very quickly move to business-as-usual when the competitive advantages become undeniable.

See also: How to Insure the Sharing Economy

So what all this means is that a relatively new business like Instanda can purchase all the key services it needs to operate as a business on-demand  with “everything-as-a-service” and, most importantly, at an incremental cost completely aligned to the size of the business. The ability to buy all these capabilities “as-a-service” fundamentally shifts the cost dynamics of operating a business and allows a much smaller business to effectively compete with much bigger, longer-established businesses on equal footing. In fact, it gives you a strong competitive advantage because you can operate at a price point and with a degree of flexibility that bigger companies cannot match because of their past significant investment in physical infrastructure.

In the insurance industry, capital is becoming increasingly commoditized as surplus capital seeks better returns in this sector. Underwriting and insurance products have become harder to differentiate because of increasing competition, so the battleground is now in distribution. Whether you are a reinsurer moving into insurance, an insurer opening new global offices or trying to dis-intermediate your broker channel by going direct, a broker establishing your own branded products or an MGA reaching into new markets, the overriding business challenge is: “How do I get my products out to my customer quickly and cost effectively?

So what we have done at Instanda is to take all the benefits and advantages of “everything-as-a-service” and applied the same concepts to “products-as-a-service,” establishing a platform to facilitate the manufacture and global distribution of insurance products. The benefit of this approach is that we can get our customers to market anywhere in the world — 10 times quicker and 10 times cheaper than the traditional approach of building products within an installed back office software system. Our configurable toolkit allows our customers to quickly assemble any type of insurance product and completely control the look and feel of the online and mobile product. Our customers can build their products themselves without the need to code or deploy IT staff — combined with a commercial model completely aligned with the success of the products on our platform.

See also: Is That Opportunity Calling in the ‘Sharing Economy’? (Part 2)

By fundamentally changing the cost dynamics of insurance product manufacture and distribution, “product-as-service” opens up new sales opportunities that simply were not possible or justifiable before.

Do you want to create a different look and feel for the same product for each of your agents or distribution channels? Do you want to launch a micro-insurance site for single items that are bought by the hour? Do you want to offer a short-term insurance product for a single event? Do you want to test the attractiveness of a new product before investing in worldwide distribution? All these become simple and cheap when utilizing a “product-as-a-service” platform.

Of course, the real test is whether this “product-as-a-service” approach delivers the tangible benefits promised to the customer. Already, large insurance organizations such as Sompo Canopius and U.K. retail insurer LV, are utilizing the benefits of “product-as-a-service” to shorten time and costs to get to market. The approach also works for smaller organizations like Compass Underwriting.

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About the Author

Max Pell joined Instanda after an extensive management career in technology and business processing outsourcing. Pell spent five years as managing director of Xchanging’s U.K. Insurance division, which provided central technology and processing services to the London market.

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