Tag Archives: andrew robinson

Top 10 Changes Driven by Insurtech

With 2017 Insuretech Connect happening this week, below is one industry insider’s top 10 of the notable insurtech changes since the inaugural event this time last year:

See also: Insurtechs: 10 Super Agents, Power Brokers  

  1. Early-stage ventures are moving beyond the online/UI experience and are focused on the core industry economics — i.e. driving down the 56 cents of every premium dollar that is indemnity (loss costs), the further 12 cents needed to assess, value and pay those losses, and the circa 26 to 30 cents required to develop, distribute, select and price product.
  2. There is an increased presence of early-stage-focused VCs that have insurance chops, meaning that high-quality startups focused on more complex industry issues have smart capital for funding (there wasn’t much of that last year at this time).
  3. An extraordinary boom in insurtech investment capital means that too many businesses with little chance for success are getting funding. (How many new millennial-focused renters insurance ventures does the market actually need?)
  4. Despite the overwhelming level of capital focused on the space, valuations are generally rational. Yet, there are far too many high-profile investments that seem to make little sense, both in terms of funding levels and valuations. (I can personally attest to being recruited for two roles running pre-revenue startups that received term sheets from investors with pre-money valuations between $30 million and $40 million…exciting for the founder, but irrational in the cold light of day.)
  5. Insurance (viewed by some/many as old school and boring) is showing signs that it can lead in the commercializations of new technologies (IoT, blockchain, telematics, etc.). This can only be positive for attracting “A” talent to our industry.
  6. Lemonade has demonstrated that all of us in the industry can learn something from them. The most recent example is the zero-deductible product (and a no-rate-change protection for as many as two claims), which received unprecedented attention. While this is not new and is already offered by some, the lesson in this case is that being a marketing machine may be worth something (or Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist working with Lemonade, should be hired by us all).
  7. The intractable trend in new risk-taking capital (pensions fund, hedge funds, SWFs, etc.) is leading to “infrastructure light” risk takers — we now have some smart insurance entrepreneurs jumping in with solutions that enable this structural change.
  8. Well-established insurance vertical solution tech companies are now providing attractive exits for insurtech early-stage companies.
  9. Emergence of insurance-specific hot technologies in areas such as chatbots, machine learning and advanced analytics, etc. seems to be leading (in terms of trial by the insurance industry incumbents) the more established, industry-agnostic solutions — watch this space!
  10. The industry is all in on insurtech! Witness the presence of public company CEOs’ commentary on the topic, the abundance of CVCs, the number of corporate intra-ventures, etc. Also compare and contrast year-over-year presence at this conference.

Setting the Record Straight on Big Data

Recently, an article was written on ITL (and published in the Six Things newsletter) that cautioned against the use of big data to change the customer experience when applying for insurance. The article demonized eliminating or even minimizing the plethora of questions required by carriers and, instead, using data from the public domain. In making his point, the author referred to a “startup called Aviva.” Aviva, in fact, is not a startup, but a FTSE 100 company that has revenue in excess of GBP50 billion, has 30,000 employees and has been around for more than 150 years given its Norwich Union and Commercial Union lineage.

The article stunned me. The author’s thinking seems to be of a different era.

In no way am I suggesting that efforts by the insurance community to use data from the public domain to improve customers’ experience is perfect, but the premise of the article showed little understanding for the depth and complexity of information sought by insurers to evaluate and price risk, and the burdens for customers and their agents to provide that information. The article also tried to simplify a complex subject into good versus bad because of specific instances of incorrect information sourced from the public domain.

The evolution in this space is far more robust and advanced than the author seemed to understand.

See also: When Big Data Can Define Pricing  

As society has evolved, so have the sources and accessibility of information, and so has our decision making. We don’t rely on the first return by Google on a search engine or simply get a single return on a product search when seeking a product on Amazon. The same rules apply when humans make decisions – they seek input from multiple people. Insurtechs seeking to navigate the big data domain are addressing the challenge by applying this real world behavior — reducing the demands for customer information by understanding the context and bringing data together from a variety of sources, often with a high degree of veracity.

Terrene Labs, a SaaS provider to the carrier, MGA and broker community is among the most compelling examples. Terrene has managed to reduce the 150 to 200 questions required to place a property and liability, work comp and auto cover for small business customers (the $100 billion market of companies with as  many as 100 employees and $10 million in revenue) by requiring only four pieces of data. Terrene assembles data fragments from more than 900 sources (insurance-specific, non-insurance, private data sources, etc.) to generate all the information for a completed application (as well as additional relevant risk information not sought by carriers). Terrene does not have static rules of sourcing data (despite what the author suggested) but uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to dynamically source data based on algorithms that value veracity. The results are far more impressive and the process to achieve this far more complex, than the author of the referenced article seems to understand.

A powerful example that illustrates the point is determination of NAICS or SIC code, which is the basis for all carriers’ risk appetite selection and the basis for pricing. Terrene’s proprietary techniques are far more accurate than the process an agent CSR typically uses to determine class of business. A customer that identifies her business as a “cabinet store, maker and installer” could be properly categorized as a NAICS classification of 337 (furniture and related product manufacturing) or a NAICS code 444190 (kitchen cabinet store). The Terrene engine can properly determine which category is appropriate with an extremely high degree of accuracy. This accuracy ensures that appropriate carriers for this risk can be identified without the risk of rejection further into the submission/quoting process, frequently a pain point and a significant source of inefficiency and yield loss.

Big data, if done well, can improve the quality as compared with a customer’s self-reporting, which typically has an element of bias. For example, in a surety context, over a large sample set from one carrier, none of the customers reported prior bankruptcies. The Terrene solution, in fact, determined that 16% had a prior bankruptcy. Similarly, powerful insights into risk profile that are typically not sought by carriers can now be generated. For example, Terrene profiles characteristics in the risk that are not consistent with self-reporting of profession or trade – one recent example was a home remodeler that carried an asbestos remediation license.

See also: What Industry Gets Wrong on Big Data  

The evolution of big data is a work in process, so companies are taking different approaches in their journey. One such example is a company that uses the Terrene capability to pre-populate an application that then can be reviewed and affirmed by a customer before a submission is made – a process that customers report is far more effective than self-completing a 200-question set (which typically takes two-plus hours), not to mention the substantial improvement in information veracity. Unfortunately, like the article referenced at the outset, not enough positive attention is being taken to understand these powerful advancements that leaders such as Terrene can deliver now.

Insurtech Is Ignoring 2/3 of Opportunity

Fifty-six cents of every premium dollar is indemnity (loss costs). A further 12 cents is needed to assess, value and pay those losses. Given that two-thirds of the insurance industry economics are tied up in losses, it would be logical that much of the innovation we are now witnessing should focus on driving down loss costs and loss adjustment expense — as opposed to the apparent insurtech focus on distribution (and, to a lesser extent, underwriting).

This is beginning to happen.

What do you have to believe for loss costs and adjustment expenses to be a prime area of innovation and disruption? You have to believe that the process (and, thus, the costs) to assess, value and pay losses is inefficient. You have to believe that you can eliminate the portion of loss costs associated with fraud (by some estimates, as much as 20%). You have to believe that there is a correct amount for a loss or injury that is lower than the outcomes achieved today, particularly once a legal process is started. You have to believe that economic improvements can happen even as customer experience improves. And you have to believe that loss costs and adjustment expenses can decline in a world in which sensor technology starts to dramatically reduce frequency of losses and manufacturers embed insurance and maintenance into their “smart” products.

See also: ‘Digital’ Needs a Personal Touch  

Having spent years as an operating executive in the industry, I happen to believe all of the above, and I am excited by the claims innovation that is just now becoming visible and pulling all of the potential levers.

We are seeing an impact on nearly all aspect of the claims resolution value chain. Take a low-complexity property loss. Technology such as webchat, video calls, online claims reporting and customer picture upload are all changing the customer experience. While the technologies aren’t having a huge impact on loss adjustment or loss costs, they are having profound impact on how claims are subsequently processed and handled.

One such example, as many have heard, is how Lemonade uses its claims bot for intake, triage and then claims handling for renters insurance. Lemonade’s average claim is a self-reported roughly $1,200 (low value), and only 27% are handled in the moment via a bot as opposed to being passed to a human for subsequent assessment. Still, Lemonade certainly provides a window to the future. Lemonade is clearly attacking the loss-adjustment expense for those claims where it believes an actual loss has occurred and for which it can quickly determine the replacement value.

More broadly, Lemonade is a window into how many are starting to use AI, machine learning and advanced analytics in claims in the First Notice of Loss (FNOL)/triage process — determining complexity, assessing fraud, determining potential for subrogation and guiding the customer to the most efficient and effective treatment.

While Lemonade is the example many talk about, AI companies such as infinilytics and Carpe Data are delivering solutions focused specifically on identifying valid claims that can be expedited and on identifying those claims that are more questionable and require a different type of treatment. These types of solutions are beginning to deliver improvement in both property and casualty. New data service providers — such as Understory, which provides single-location precision weather reports — can be used to identify a potential claim before even being notified, which can reduce loss costs through early intervention or provide reference data for potentially fraudulent claims.

Equally interesting is the amount of innovation and development appearing in the core loss-adjusting process. Historically, a property claim — regardless of complexity — would be assessed via a field adjuster who evaluates and estimates the loss. Deploying technical people in the field can be very effective, but it is obviously costly, and there is some variability in quality.

In a very short time, there are very interesting new models emerging that reimagine the way insurers handle claims.

Snapsheet is providing an outsourced solution that enables a claimant of its insurance company customers to use a service that is white-labeled for clients. The service enables the claimant to take pictures of physical damage, which is then “desk adjusted” to make a final determination of the value of the claim, followed by a rapid and efficient payment.

WeGoLook, majority-owned by claims services company Crawford & Co, is using a sophisticated crowd-sourced and mobile technology solution to rapidly respond to loss events with a “Looker” (agent) who can perform a guided process of field investigation and enable downstream desk adjusting process, as well.

Tractable provides artificial intelligence that takes images of damaged autos and estimates value (effectively a step toward automatic adjudicating). Tractable — like, Snapsheet and WeGoLook — has made great strides. Aegis, a European motor insurer, is rolling out Tractable following a successful pilot. In each of these instances, the process is much improved for customers — whether it be self-serving because they choose to do so (Snapsheet), rapidly responding to the event (WeGoLook) or dramatically reducing the cycle time (Tractable). All provide material improvements in customer experience.

See also: Waves of Change in Digital Expectations  

Obviously, each of these models is attacking the loss adjustment expense — whether through a more consistently controlled process of adjusting at a desk, using AI to better assess parts replacement vs. repair or improving subrogation, among other potential levers.

Today, all of these solutions are rather independent of each other and generally address a low-complexity property loss (mostly in the auto segment), but the possible combination of these and other solutions (and how they are used depending on type and complexity of claims) could begin to amplify the impact of technology innovation in claims.

Carriers Must Think Like Distributors

The most successful small commercial carriers have been able to establish highly profitable books of business by cherry picking low-complexity risks that can be efficiently underwritten and processed. These carriers monitor and adjust underwriting decisions at a portfolio level to ensure underwriting discipline and profitability.

There has been a focus on building advanced, agent-facing technology, primarily through proprietary portals. This technology streamlines the acquisition and, in some cases, servicing of this highly profitable business to provide incentives to agents to increase their submission flow.

However, this strategy has not led to any single dominant carrier in the $60 billion to $90 billion U.S. small commercial insurance market, and increasing competition is threatening the historically comfortable position of market leaders.

Several fundamental characteristics of the U.S. small commercial insurance market (e.g., higher retention, lower price volatility, large number of uninsured and underinsured business owners) and renewed optimism in small-business growth have led existing carriers to sharpen their focus on small commercial. In addition, several insurtech startups have entered the market with solutions for underserved customer segments. And, the relatively benign Cat environment has fueled further competition from various types of capital providers (e.g., hedge funds, pension funds, foreign investors, capital markets) looking to diversify their investment portfolio with uncorrelated insurance assets.

See also: A Tipping Point for Commercial Lines

At the same time, recent pricing pressures and slow organic growth have led many distributors to leverage their positions to improve their placement yield through higher compensation. Limited organic growth opportunities also have led to a broad consolidation of distributors, with an increasingly large number of private equity-backed brokers looking for short-term gains and opportunities to reduce systemic inefficiency. Moreover, mid-market, publicly traded and bank-owned players have effected similar consolidation and focus on operational efficiency.

Serial acquirers have sometimes inherited some large books of small commercial business that are expensive to service. To lower costs and simplify operations, these intermediaries have reduced the number of carriers they do business with and abandoned servicing. Distributors increasingly favor markets with broad risk appetite, easy processes for placing new business and minimal servicing requirements.

The carriers that will succeed in this rapidly changing landscape will approach the market with an agency perspective and focus on agency economics in addition to their own performance goals. This requires evaluating opportunities to drive economic value across the whole value chain. By shifting their focus from maximizing profitable growth in terms of direct premiums written on their books to maximizing profitable premium under management (both theirs and their distributors), leading carriers can avoid the race to the bottom on price and to the ceiling on commissions.

Stretching the limits of automation

The obvious starting point is to extend the limits of what can be acquired, underwritten and serviced through a relatively automated model. The “Main Street” small commercial segment, which consists of small, low-complexity businesses with straightforward insurance needs was the first segment that carriers automated. Today, distributors can request, quote and bind “Main Street” business policies in near real time from several carriers that have successfully identified classes of business that have a lower loss ratio and require limited to no underwriting ”touch.” These carriers have established strict guidelines and knock-out criteria for the types of businesses that can pass through, leaving tougher classes to second-tier carriers or non-admitted markets. As access to information currently not captured in traditional apps and artificial intelligence becomes more prevalent, carriers can judiciously loosen restrictions on the risks that need manual review and accordingly increase automation.

Confirming underwriting classification and fit with appetite is a common reason for manual underwriting review, and is especially likely for more complex or hazardous classes. Most carriers don’t want to insure general stores that sell firearms or landscapers who climb trees. Referral underwriters must verify the classification and gather additional information by reviewing company websites, or even reaching back out to the agent or customer. Fortunately, third-party data and analytics now can provide this information. This is leading to new risk segmentations and redefining where money can be made.

Historically, distributors have (potentially unknowingly) placed the majority of their simple, easy-to-place risks with a few large carriers that can digitally “set and forget” this book. Distributors have struggled to place more complex risks across myriad markets. Classes that are not within the appetite of standard carriers are much more expensive for distributors to place and service. This is especially problematic on smaller accounts. As distributors reassess their portfolios and look to streamline their markets, they will increasingly start using their “Main Street” small commercial book as a lever for carriers to also write their complex small book. Accordingly, carriers must offer solutions for tougher classes, both to meet distributor and customer needs and to increase their own revenue opportunities.

Eliminating unnecessary hand-offs

There are many hand-offs between the customer, agent and carrier throughout the lifetime of a policy. This creates operational friction that increases costs and compromises the customer and agent experience. In many cases, carriers are in a better position to efficiently and effectively handle the transactions that distributors currently perform or initiate.

When it comes to acquisition, real-time quote and bind for low-complexity risks is already table stakes. However, carriers usually require a significant amount of information from the customer and agent to facilitate this process. Current apps are extremely cumbersome to populate, and a new streamlined application process will constitute a fundamental change to the economics of acquiring new business. Imagine being able to enter just four pieces of information about a business (e.g., business name, business address and owner’s name and DOB) and receiving a real-time quote with the option to immediately purchase and electronically receive policy documents. The transaction can even be facilitated via direct integration between the distributor’s agency management system and carrier systems to avoid redundant data entry. Furthermore, imagine this approach being implemented with no impact on underwriting quality or manual back-end processing requirements for the carrier.

See also: Commercial Insurers and Super Delegates

Leveraging internal data from prior quotes and policies, integrating external structured data feeds and mining a business’ website and social media presence can provide carriers with enough information to determine a business’ operations, applicable class codes, property details, employment, payroll and other key risk characteristics to underwrite and price low-complexity risks. In cases where more information is needed, dynamic question sets with user-friendly inputs can augment the application process without sacrificing underwriting quality. And if the agent wants to negotiate on coverage, terms and conditions or pricing, there can be options for requesting underwriting review, supported on the carrier side by advanced routing that passes the request to the appropriate underwriter based on expertise and agency relationship. These investments are an obvious way for carriers to improve data accessibility, consistency and quality for underwriting analysis, and also increase underwriter productivity. Distributors also benefit from these carriers’ increased efficiency and ease-of-doing business and are more likely to send business their way.

Servicing can be another drain on agency resources. The amount of paperwork and transaction flow for small commercial accounts (e.g., requests for certificates, new employees or drivers) is often disproportionate to the amount of premium that they generate. As a result, it is common for carriers to offer service center capabilities. Larger agencies that are looking to streamline their operations most often use these services; in fact, they are often a key factor when agencies look to transfer their book to a new carrier. These capabilities are also appealing to smaller agency owners who may not want to hire an additional customer service representative (CSR) to manage the renewal book.

Carriers are typically in a better position to service the book on behalf of the agent because they own the master policy, billing and claims information, have the authority to process changes and have the expertise to address any customer questions or concerns. They also have the scale needed to optimize the process and manage capacity, which they can even leverage to offer servicing and other back-office capabilities for an agent’s entire portfolio (even that written with other carriers), completely eliminating the need for a CSR. Furthermore, seamlessly servicing the business that transfers to another player’s balance sheet can enable another important strategic aspiration: helping new capital providers enter the small commercial insurance game.

Renting underwriting acumen

As we mentioned, alternative risk-bearing capacity is proliferating. Various categories of capital providers may have an appetite for different risk profiles (e.g., high-volatility, long-tail risks). Some of them may enjoy a higher net investment income ROE and therefore can afford lower underwriting profitability thresholds. However, they still need an underwriter and “A”-rated paper. Currently active fronting arrangements are already providing a more direct link between capital and (currently mostly short-tail) primary risk. Small commercial carriers could “rent” their underwriting expertise via similar fronting ventures and significantly “write” more, including classes of business with a higher loss ratio that may still be attractive to certain capital providers. This would be an effective way to artificially broaden underwriting appetite, leading to improved ease of doing business for distributors. Risk placement of small, complex risks can pose challenges for agents who have to procure and maintain a significant number of appointments, each of which may require distinct and inefficient acquisition and servicing processes. By underwriting risks on behalf of another party, a carrier could earn additional revenue for fronting the business while offering a valuable service to their distribution partners.

A carrier that offers services in these three areas could become the one-stop shop for placing small to mid-sized risks for distributors. And if that carrier could continue to offer a competitive compensation package, it would have an outstanding value proposition. Value-added offerings could be part of a strategic compensation package that drives desired agency behavior – for example free servicing on year 1 business if they meet new-business growth goals, or broadened appetite and placement services if they maintain profitability standards. Ultimately, it may be able to fundamentally restructure the economics of providing insurance and ancillary protection services, with tangible benefits to all constituents.

See also: How to Win in Commercial Lines  

By thinking like a distributor and identifying opportunities across the insurance ecosystem to drive value, a carrier can compete on ease of doing business rather than price – changing the playing field to protect margins and drive profitable growth. This goal would have been difficult to achieve a few years ago, but recent technology advances have made it possible.