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Where Are Driverless Cars Taking Industry?

While more than half of individuals surveyed by Pew Research express worry over the trend toward autonomous vehicles, and only 11% are very enthusiastic about a future of self-driving cars, lack of positive consumer sentiment hasn’t stopped several industries from steering into the auto pilot lane. The general sentiment of proponents, such as Tesla and Volvo, is that consumers will flock toward driverless transportation once they understand the associated safety and time-saving benefits.

Because of the self-driving trend, KPMG currently predicts that the auto insurance market will shrink 60% by the year 2050 and an additional 10% over the following decade. What this means for P&C insurers is change in the years ahead. A decline in individual drivers would directly correlate to a reduction in demand for the industry’s largest segment of coverage.

How insurers survive will depend on several factors, including steps they take now to meet consumer expectations and needs.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles

Google’s Lexus RX450h SUV, as well as 34 other prototype vehicles, had driven more than 2.3 million autonomous miles as of November 2016, the last time the company published its once monthly report on the activity of its driverless car program. Based on this success and others from companies such as Tesla, public transportation now seems poised to jump into the autonomous lane.

Waymo — the Google self-driving car project — recently announced a partnership with Valley Metro to help residents in Phoenix, AZ, connect more efficiently to existing light rail, trains and buses by providing driverless rides to stations. This follows closely on the heels of another Waymo pilot program that put self-driving trucks on Atlanta area streets to transport goods to Google’s data centers.

In the world of personal driving, Tesla’s Auto Pilot system was one of the first to take over navigational functions, though it still required drivers to have a hand on the wheel. In 2017, Cadillac released the first truly hands-free automobile with its Super Cruise-enabled CT6, allowing drivers to drive without touching the wheel for as long as they traveled in their selected lane.

Cadillac’s level two system of semiautonomous driving is expected to be quickly upstaged by Audi’s A8. Equipped with Traffic Jam Pilot, the system allows drivers to take hands off the vehicle and eyes off the road as long as the car is on a limited-access divided highway with a vehicle directly in front of it. While in Traffic Jam mode, drivers will be free to engage with the vehicle’s entertainment system, view text messages or even look at a passenger in the seat next to them, as long as they remain in the driver’s seat with body facing forward.

While the Cadillacs were originally set to roll off the assembly line and onto dealer lots as early as spring of 2018, lack of consumer training as well as federal regulations have encouraged the auto manufacturer to delay release in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Volvo has met with similar constraints as it navigates toward releasing fully autonomous vehicles to 100 people by 2021. The manufacturer is now taking a more measured approach, one that includes training for drivers starting with level-two semi-autonomous assistance systems before eventually scaling up to fully autonomous vehicles.

“On the journey, some of the questions that we thought were really difficult to answer have been answered much faster than we expected. And in some areas, we are finding that there were more issues to dig into and solve than we expected,” said Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s autonomous driving program director, in a statement to Automotive News Europe.

Despite the roadblocks, auto makers’ enthusiasm for the fully autonomous movement hasn’t waned. Tesla’s Elon Musk touts safer, more secure roadways when cars are in control, a vision that is being embraced by others in high positions, such as Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

“Automated or self-driving vehicles are about to change the way we travel and connect with one another,” Chao said to participants of the Detroit Auto Show in January 2018. “This technology has tremendous potential to enhance safety.”

See also: The Evolution in Self-Driving Vehicles  

We’ve already seen what sensors can do to promote safer driving. In a recent study conducted by the International Institute for Highway Safety, rear parking sensors bundled with automatic braking systems and rearview cameras were responsible for a 75% reduction in backing up crashes.

According to Tesla’s website, all of its Model S and Model X cars are equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors capable of detecting both hard and soft objects, as well as with cameras and radar that send feedback to the car.

Caution, Autonomous Adoption Ahead

The road to fully autonomous vehicles is expected to be taken in a series of increasing steps. We have largely entered the first phase, where drivers are still in charge, aided by various safety systems that intervene in the case of driver error.

As we move closer to full autonomy, drivers will assume less control of the vehicle and begin acting as a failsafe for errant systems or by taking over under conditions where the system is not designed to navigate. We currently see this level of autonomous driving with Audi Traffic Jam Pilot, where drivers are prompted to take control if the vehicle departs from the pre-established roadway parameters.

In the final phase of autonomous driving, the driver is removed from controlling the vehicle and is absolved of roadway responsibility, putting all trust and control in the vehicle. KPMG predicts wide-scale adoption of this level of autonomous driving to begin taking place in 2025, as drivers realize the time-saving and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles. During this time frame, all new vehicles will be fully self-driving, and older cars will be retrofitted to conform to a road system of autonomous vehicles.

Past the advent of the autonomous trend in 2025, self-driving cars will become the norm, with information flowing between vehicles and across a network of related infrastructure sensors. KPMG expects full adoption of the autonomous trend by the year 2035, five years earlier than it first reported in 2015.

Despite straightforward predictions like these, it’s likely that drivers will adopt self-driving cars at varying rates, with some geographies moving faster toward driverless roadways than others. There will be points in the future where a major metropolis may have moved fully to a self-driving norm, mandating that drivers either purchase and use fully autonomous vehicles or adopt autonomous public transportation, while outlying areas will still be in a phase where traditional vehicles dominate or are in the process of being retrofitted.

“The point at which we see autonomy appear will not be the point at which there is a massive societal impact on people,” said Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, at the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2017. “Because it will take a lot of time to make enough autonomous vehicles to disrupt, so that disruption will take place over about 20 years.”

Will Self-Driving Cars Force a Decline in Traditional Auto Coverage?

At present, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that 94% of automobile accidents are the result of human error. Taking humans largely out of the equation makes many autonomous vehicle proponents predict safer roadways in our future, but it also raises an interesting question. Who is at fault when a vehicle driving in autonomous mode is involved in a crash?

Many experts agree that accident liability will be taken away from the driver and put into the hands of the automobile manufacturers. In fact, precedents are already being set. In 2015, Volvo announced plans to accept fault when one of its autonomous cars is involved in an accident.

“It is really not that strange,” Anders Karrberg, vice president of government affairs at Volvo, told a House subcommittee recently. “Carmakers should take liability for any system in the car. So we have declared that if there is a malfunction to the [autonomous driving] system when operating autonomously, we would take the product liability.”

In the future, as automobile manufacturers take on liability for vehicle accidents, consumers may see a chance to save on their auto premiums by only carrying state-mandated minimums. Some states may even be inclined to repeal laws requiring drivers to carry traditional liability coverage on self-driving vehicles or substantially alter the coverage an individual must secure.

Despite the forward thinking of manufacturers such as Volvo, for the present, accident liability for autonomous cars is still a gray area. Following the death of a pedestrian hit by an Uber vehicle operating in self-driving mode in Arizona, questions were raised over liability.

Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina with expertise in self-driving cars, indicated that most states require drivers to exercise care to avoid pedestrians on roadways, laying liability at the feet of the driver. But in the case of a car operating in self-driving mode, determining liability could hinge on whether there was a design defect in the autonomous system. In this case, both the auto and self-driving system manufacturers and even the software developers could be on the hook for damages, particularly in the event a lawsuit is filed.

Finding Opportunity in the Self-Driving Trend

Accenture, in conjunction with Stevens Institute of Technology, predicts that 23 million self-driving vehicles will be coursing across U.S. highways by 2035.

As a result, insurers could realize an $81 billion opportunity as autonomous vehicles open new areas of coverage in hardware and software liability, cybersecurity and public infrastructure insurance by 2025, the same year that KPMG predicts the autonomous trend will begin to rapidly accelerate. Simultaneously, Accenture predicts that personal auto premiums, which will begin falling in 2024, will hit a steeper decline before leveling out around 2050 at an all-time low.

Most of the personal premium decline is due to an assumption that the majority of self-driving cars will not be owned by individuals, but by original equipment manufacturers, OTT players and other service providers such as ride-sharing companies. It may seem like a logical conclusion if America’s love affair with the automobile wasn’t so well-defined.

Following falling gas prices in 2016, Americans logged a record-breaking 3.22 trillion miles behind the wheel. Even millennials, the age group once assumed to have given up on driving, are showing increased interest in piloting their own vehicles as the economy improves. According to the National Household Travel Survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, millennials increased their average number of miles driven 20% from 2009 to 2017.

Despite falling new car sales, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows that car ownership is actually on the rise. Eighteen percent of Americans purchase a new car every two to three years, while the majority (39%) make a new car bargain every four to six years.

Americans have many reasons for loving their vehicles. Forty percent say it’s because they enjoy driving and being in their cars, according to a survey conducted by Cars.com.

ReportLinker reveals that 83% of people drive daily and that half are passionate about the behind-the-wheel experience of taking on the open road. Another survey conducted by Gold Eagle determined that people even have dream cars, vehicles that they feel convey a sporty, luxurious or efficient image.

Ownership of autonomous vehicles would bring at least some liability back to the owner-occupant. For instance, owing to security concerns, all sensing and decision-making hardware related to the Audi Traffic Jam Pilot system is held onboard. With no over-air connections, software updates must be made manually through a dealer.

In situations like these, what happens if an autonomous vehicle crash is tied to the driver’s failure to ensure that software was promptly updated? Auto maintenance will also take on a new level of importance as sensitive self-driving systems will need to be maintained and adjusted to ensure proper performance. If an accident occurs due to improper vehicle maintenance, once again, the owner could be held liable.

As the U.S. moves toward autonomous car adoption, one thing becomes clear. Insurers will need to expand their product lines to include both commercial and personal lines of coverage if they are going to take part in the multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Preparing for the Autonomous Future of Insurance

Because the autonomous trend will be adopted at an uneven pace depending upon geography, socioeconomic conditions and even age groups, Deloitte predicts that the insurers that will thrive through the autonomous disruption are those with a “flexible business model and diverse product mix.”

To meet consumer expectations and maintain a critical focus on customer acquisition and retention, insurers will need a multitude of products designed to protect drivers across the autonomous adoption cycle, as well as new products designed to cover the shift of liability from driver to vehicle. Even traditional auto policies designed to protect car owners from liability will need to be redefined to cover autonomous parameters.

Currently, only 25% of companies have a business model that is easily adaptable to rapid change, such as the autonomous trend. In insurance, this lack of readiness is all the more crucial, considering the digital transformation already underway across the industry.

According to PwC, 85% of insurance CEOs are concerned about the speed of technological change. Worries over how to handle legacy systems in the face of digital adoption, as well as the need to accelerate automation and prepare for the next wave of transitions, such as autonomous vehicles, are behind these concerns.

As insurers look toward the complicated future of insuring a society of self-driving automobiles, we believe that focusing on four main areas will prepare them to respond to the autonomous trend with greater speed and agility.

Make better use of data

Consumers are looking for insurers to partner on risk mitigation. To meet these expectations, insurers will need to start making better use of data stores, as well as third-party sources, to help customers identify and reduce threats to life and property. Sixty-four percent want their insurer to provide real-time notifications about roadway safety, while, on the home front, 68% would like to receive mobile alerts on the potential of fire, smoke or carbon dioxide hazards.

“Technology is changing the insurer’s role to one of a partner who can address the customer’s real goals – well beyond traditional insurance,” said Cindy De Armond, managing director, Accenture P&C core platforms lead for North America, in a blog.

Armond believes that as insurers focus more on the customer’s prevention and recovery needs, they can become the everyday insurer, integrated into the lives of their customers rather than acting only as a crisis partner. This type of relationship makes insurer-insured relationships more certain and extends longevity.

For insurers and their insureds, the future is likely to be more about predicting and mitigating risk than about handling claims, so improving data capture and analytics capabilities is essential to agile operations that can easily adapt to new trends.

See also: Autonomous Vehicles: ‘The Trolley Problem’  

Focus on digital

Consumers want to engage with their insurer in the moment. Whether that means shopping online for coverage while watching a child’s soccer game or making a phone call to ask questions about a policy, they expect to be able to engage on their time and through their channel of choice. Insurers that develop fluid omni-channel engagement now are future-proofing their operations, preparing to survive the evolution to self-driving, when the reams of data gathered from autonomous vehicles can be used to enable on-demand auto coverage.

Vehicle occupants will one day purchase coverage on the fly, depending on the roadway conditions they encounter and whether they are traveling in autonomous mode. Forrester analyst Ellen Carney sees a fluid orchestration of data and digital technologies combining to deliver this type of experience, putting much of the power in the hands of the customer.

“On your way home, you’re going to get a quote for auto insurance,” she says. “And because your driving data could basically now be portable, you could do a reverse auction and say, ‘Okay, insurance companies, how much do you want to bid for my drive home?’”

To facilitate the speed and immediacy required for these transactions, insurers will need to digitally quote, bind and issue coverage.

Seek automation

In the U.K., accident liability clearly shifts from the driver to the vehicle for level four and five autonomous automobiles. As driverless vehicles become the norm, the U.S. is likely to adopt similar legislation, requiring a fundamental shift in how risk is assessed and insurance policies are underwritten. Instead of assessing a policy on the driver’s claims history and age, insurers will need to rate risk by variables related to the software that runs the vehicle and how likely owners are to maintain autonomous cars and sensitive self-driving systems.

The more complicated underwriting becomes, the more important automation in underwriting will be. Consumers who can get into a car that drives itself will have little patience for insurers that require extensive manual work to assess their risk and return bound policy documents. Even businesses will come to expect a much faster turnaround on policies related to self-driving vehicles despite the complexity of the various coverages that will be required. In addition, on-demand coverage will require automated underwriting to respond to customer requests.

According to Lexis Nexis, only 20% of commercial carriers have automated the quoting process, and less than half are investing in underwriting automation.

Invest in platform ecosystems

McKinsey defines a platform business model as one that allows multiple participants to “connect, interact and create and exchange value,” while an ecosystem is a set of connected services that fulfill multiple needs of the user in “one integrated experience.” By definition, an insurance platform ecosystem in the age of autonomous vehicles would be a place where consumers and businesses could research and purchase the coverage they need while also picking up related ancillary services, such as apps or entertainment to make the autonomous ride more enjoyable.

Consumers are in search of ecosystem values today. According to Bain’s customer behavior and loyalty study, consumers are willing to pay higher premiums to insurers that offer ancillary services, such as home security monitoring or an automotive services app, and they are even willing to switch insurers to get time-saving benefits like these.

More important to insurers is the ability to partner with other carriers on coverage. Using a commission-based system, insurers offer policies from other carriers to consumers when they don’t have an appetite for the risk or don’t offer the coverage in house. This arrangement allows an insurer to maintain a customer relationship, while providing for their needs and price points.

See also: Autonomous Vehicles: Truly Imminent?  

As the autonomous trend reaches fruition, insurers will need to have access to a wide range of coverage types to meet consumer and business needs, and not all carriers will be able or want to create the new products.

Extreme Customer Focus Prepares for the Future

Insurers can prepare for autonomous vehicle adoption by establishing an extreme customer focus, dedicated to establishing enduring loyalty as insurance needs change. Loyal customers spend 67% more over three years than new ones. As the insurance marketplace opens up to the sale of ancillary services, gaining wallet share from loyal consumers will certainly help to boost revenues as demand for traditional products decline, but to stay competitive, insurers will need a broader mix of coverage types.

While current coverages have remained largely unchanged over the decades, the coming years will see an industry in flux as insurers phase out outmoded types of coverage while phasing in new products and services. In this environment, the platform ecosystems may be the most critical aspect of bridging the gaps.

Today, they allow insurers to fulfill the needs of price-sensitive consumers while also meeting the evolving needs of their customers. Tomorrow, platform ecosystems will provide the “flexible business model and diverse product mix” that Deloitte says will be critical to success for insurers in the autonomous age of driving.

Second Quarter in Insurtech Financials

Summary

  1. Growth rates remain robust but may be slowing a bit – are there issues on customer acquisition, or are carriers focusing more on underwriting profitability?
  2. Gross loss ratios are generally stable or improving slightly but still unsustainable
  3. Industry veterans are outperforming the newbies on loss ratio but not premium growth.
  4. It will still take several years to become scale insurers
  5. Reinsurers continue to subsidize losses
  6. Executive compensation appears to be as expected – probably mostly in stock

Context

The networking tips from the great Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya got us thinking about the insurtech startups climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. While the lumbering incumbents are indeed powerful giants and have a head start on the climb, they are also carrying lots of weight. Violà, startup vs. incumbent.

The venture-backed, full-stack U.S. insurtech startups continued to gain in the second quarter through rapid premium growth and moderately lower underwriting losses. But they have yet to show the ability to win at a sword fight, battle of wits or ROUS attack or to generate a sustainable loss ratio under 100%.

This is the third installment of our review of U.S. insurtech startup financials. Here are the 2017 edition and first quarter 2018 edition, which generated many social media discussions. For more information on where our data come from and important disclaimers and limitations, see the 2017 edition. Our scope is only property & casualty companies, so we don’t cover life, health (sorry, Mario), mortgage and title (sorry, Daniel). As before, we respect the management teams highly and admire these companies for earning the right to call themselves an “insurance company” — more on that below.

To date, we have tracked the three independent P&C startups most commonly associated with the label “insurtech”: Lemonade, Metromile and Root. This quarter we’ve looked at newly licensed Next Insurance (which wrote no premium) plus four subsidiaries of larger companies with a direct or insurtech focus.

Overall results

For the real insurance nerds, here is a summary of the 2Q18 statutory financials of three venture-backed insurance companies. Only “insurance companies” have to file statutory results, not agents and brokers (i.e., most insurtech underwriters), which are not “insurance companies.” We present the summary here and quarterly details on each of the venture-backed companies at the very bottom.

And here are the four subsidiaries of big companies that are selling direct or have a claim on being an insurtech. These companies often depend on parents for reinsurance and infrastructure, so we show mainly the gross figures.

Growth rates remain robust but may be slowing a bit – are there issues on customer acquisition, or are carriers focusing more on underwriting profitability?

Absolute growth was led by Root, which nearly doubled its quarterly gross premium written in three months. Our composite grew at 37% quarter over quarter, but most of the companies had their slowest or second-slowest quarter in the last six.

Is this a slight slowing trend? Maybe. Some of the carriers may be seeing seasonal effects. If the pace of growth is really showing the first signs of slowing and not just a blip, the question is whether the slower growth is despite insurers’ efforts to grow or if they are deliberately focusing on profitability. The CEOs of Root and Lemonade have hinted that they are focusing more on underwriting (here, here), so is this affecting growth rates? Here is a point/counter-point. Decide for yourself and add your thoughts in the comments.

See also: The First Quarter in Insurtech Financials  

Point: Insurtechs are finding growth more difficult

  • Early adopters of direct insurance may already have been won; consumers with a high propensity to buy online may be located in the states that carriers chose first, and future customers may be harder to win.
  • It may be harder to sell the value proposition than expected, particularly if underwriting is being tightened and differentiation is narrowing (e.g. Lemonade’s giveback declined from 10% of premium in 2017 to a less-compelling 1.6% this year.)
  • Retention rates may be less than expected – either because customers defect or the carrier non-renews unprofitable customers.
  • Focusing on state expansion, team growth or fundraising distracts management.

Counter-point: Insurtechs could grow faster but are throttling growth to focus on profit

  • It is unlikely that companies with near-zero brand recognition have penetrated even a fraction of potential customers
  • Startups, their investors or their regulators may have realized that early customers were attracted to unsustainably low prices and produced high loss ratios. As they learn more about their customers, startups are being tougher on underwriting or are raising price in new state filings, meaning they turn away more potential customers through price or declining the application. Lemonade has admitted as much – see page 594 of its recent Oregon filling for this nugget:

The LCMF is a Loss Cost Modification Factor, and higher LCMFs may indicate higher pricing. In spot-checking some of Lemonade’s recent filings, we find that it is still filing a $5 minimum rate but is pricing higher than incumbents such as State Farm in certain zones, perils, etc. The company’s frequency being higher than average could be a function of (1) a bot-driven claims system inviting fraud, (2) having shlimazels for customers, (3) problems with the coverage or form or (4) the behavioral economics assumptions not working as intended. Recall Lemonade saying: “If you tried to create a system to bring out the worst in humans, it would look a lot like the insurance of today … We’ve spent recent years deepening our understanding of honesty and trust … Lemonade aims to reverse the adversarial dynamics that plague the industry, transforming both the economics and experience of insurance.”

What do you think? Tell us in the comments.

Status of the climb up the Cliffs of Insanity (direct premium written)

Focusing on the protagonists of our previous analysis Bigger and Redder, Root’s extraordinary growth means it has opened a big gap on Lemonade and is closing the gap with Metromile. This dynamic has helped Root achieve unicorn status, with the last $100 million round of funding at the iconic $1 billion valuation.

Root is not the first insurer to test a “try before you buy” (TBYB) approach based on an app, but it is the first insurer in the world to build a sizeable portfolio that way. Will Root succeed where others have abandoned their efforts or chosen different approaches such as usage-based pricing or discounts at renewal?

We commend Root for hitting the symbolic unicorn status so quickly. It appears to have a few years of runway to prove its model. By the time of an exit for the most recent investors, we believe that Root will be evaluated in greater part on the traditional KPIs that we look at in our analysis. A few weeks ago, Bain Capital – we are Bain & Co. alumni – offered $1.55 billion to buy Esure, a P&C insurer (mainly motor) selling online in the U.K. Esure wrote £880 million (annualized) premium in the first half of 2008 (or about US$1.1 billion) — and did so at a profit. Looking very simply at price-to-sales ratio (though we prefer ROE and price-to-book), Esure sold a bit over 1.4X, which simplistically corresponds to $700 million of premium for a valuation of $1 billion. Investors will need Root’s management to continue to grow rapidly – their 2Q18 run rate is $60 million. Whether they can do so, and achieve profitability along the way, will be a bellwether for demonstrating if current valuations are a bubble or smart bets on a rapidly changing industry.

Root’s $1 billion valuation (looking abroad, Chinese startup carrier Zhong An has a $7 billion valuation despite a 124% combined ratio in the first half) should cause companies in low-margin commodity lines like home/renters and auto that are operating as MGAs to consider becoming a carrier. One of the strongest arguments for being an MGA, not a carrier, is that MGAs are more highly valued because they trade on a multiple of earnings rather than book value. For the time being, the most valuable recent startups in insurance underwriting appear to be carriers, not MGAs.

Gross loss ratios are generally stable or improving slightly but still unsustainable

We prefer to look at gross loss ratio, i.e. before any premiums and losses are ceded to reinsurers, because sticking losses to reinsurers isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. Eventually, gross loss ratios need to be sustainable. This quarter’s numbers are basically unchanged since last quarter, though Lemonade and Metromile have adverse development in this quarter, which raises the reported loss ratio. If our subject companies are shifting management attention toward profitability, it is not yet obvious in the figures. Improving underwriting results is like steering a slow-moving boat. You can turn the tiller, but the boat may not go the way you want, and it will take some time. Insurance policies last a year, rates are regulated by states and unsettled old losses can get worse if the legal environment changes.

Gross loss ratio evolution

Of the three venture-backed startups, Metromile’s figures have always showed the greatest profitability, and the company shows an improvement on the last quarter, shaving four points off the loss ratio.

Not all startups are experiencing unsustainable loss ratios. Hippo — a homeowner’s MGA — claimed to have produced better-than-market underwriting straight out of the gate, although we have no way to verify this.

Conference chatter is increasingly turning to profit, not just premium. We welcome these signs of maturity in the insurtech market, which were a big reason we started writing these articles and presenting at conferences.

Industry veterans are outperforming the newbies on loss ratio but not premium growth.

Two of the startup carriers sponsored by highly regarded underwriters are performing very well in terms of profit. BiBerk, which ultimately reports to Ajit Jain, recorded a respectable 70% gross Loss & LAE ratio in the quarter. Intrepid, where Rob Berkley sits on the board, turned in a 60% loss ratio (without LAE). Neither company has cracked even $4 million in quarterly premium, compared with Root at nearly $15 million, but is there something that Ajit and Rob know that the newbies don’t? Or are big public companies just less motivated to grow than venture-backed companies? Or is growth first really the right answer?

We’re not showing State Farm’s HiRoad entity because we’re less clear on how it reports and is managed by State Farm’s executives.

It will still take several years to become a scale insurer

All three venture-backed insurers increased expenses in the quarter. Root lost $11.6 million, a burn rate of $129,000 every day. That still gives two years of runway if the burn rate can be maintained. We get details on expenditures only in annual statements, so we cannot know for sure whether Root is spending on headcount, advertising or other overhead. LinkedIn pegs the company’s headcount at 117, with 30 people joining just in the second quarter. The company runs a referral program that has paid $860,000 to date. We speculate that $25 is the average referral bonus (so $50 because both parties get the bonus), which equates to 17,000 referrals. If the average premium is $750 (again, a guess; a bit below the national average), then the referral program has generated more than $13 million of premium at a CAC of $50, which would be an impressive 40% of all the premium in these first 18 months.

As the company expands exponentially to grow into its unicorn valuation, the question for investors is if the company can maintain exponential growth and bring down the loss ratio simultaneously, so growing without raising losses exponentially. It’s a difficult balance. In the meantime, investors added $45 million to the insurance company’s statutory surplus, but — because of losses — surplus stands at $43 million at the end of the quarter.

Root’s CEO says that the company is getting better at pricing and predicting the business, and that “conservativeness” in reserves means prior results were better than they appeared. We agree with Root that there is increasing evidence of conservative reserving, but not based on the figure it cited in the blog. Root says that only 66 cents on the premium dollar was paid as claims in 2017 (net) – which appears to exclude payments expected for open claims and losses incurred but not reported (“IBNR”). The more meaningful number, in our view, is that Root has recorded $344,000 of favorable development this year — meaning it has decided that its estimates of prior-year losses were indeed too high. The company earned $792,000 of premiums in 2017 and stated losses at Dec. 31, 2017, at $1.3 million, for a net loss ratio of 168%. If 2017 actual losses were in fact $986,000, as they are now estimated, then the developed loss ratio would be 124% — which is better but doesn’t greatly change the overall view of the year, which was small and volatile and hence of limited use to understand the company (but the best any outsider had at the time).

Root also deserves credit for being the only one of the three venture-backed companies to have made conservative loss picks. Lemonade continues to see its reserves be inadequate. The company had $2.1 million of reserves at the start of the year and has seen $245,000 of adverse development this year. Even a more experienced underwriter, Metromile, started the year with nearly $14 million of reserves and has recorded nearly $1.5 million of adverse development.

Stepping back from the noise of quarterly reserving, we still believe that the companies have to prove underwriting quality and do so with sustainable overheads and expenses. There’s still a long journey ahead, but the companies have the resources (in the form of cash at the holding company) to work on the challenge for years to come.

Reinsurers continue to subsidize losses

Lemonade continues to hand reinsurers $3.61 of losses for every $1 in premium in the quarter. Root handed reinsurers $1.41 of losses for every $1 in premium. Metromile — as with other metrics — is playing a safer game, and its reinsurers even made a bit of money in the quarter, getting $0.86 of losses for every $1 in premium.

Root disclosed that it changed its reinsurance program, reducing its quota share from 50% to 25% of premium effective June 1 through the remainder of 2018, meaning it will keep more premium (and losses) and possibly get less capital relief. The company retains a $1M xs $100K per-risk excess of loss treaty(*). Terms were not disclosed.

(*) Explanation of reinsurance basics: In quota share reinsurance, an insurer reinsures a percentage of its book – a fixed percentage of every dollar of premium and loss. The reinsurer pays the insurer a ceding commission to cover the insurer’s expenses and may assume unearned premiums (a liability), which may increase the insurer’s statutory capital. In excess-of-loss reinsurance, the reinsurer covers every dollar above a certain amount (the attachment point) up to a pre-defined limit. Excess of loss reinsurance can be written per event (such as a storm) or per risk. In Root’s per-risk reinsurance, the reinsurers appear to take each and every loss of more than $100,000 to the extent that the loss exceeds $100,000, up to $1.1 million. Here is a technical resource on the subject of using reinsurance for capital optimization.

See also: Can Insurtech Rescue Insurance?  

Executive compensation appears to be as expected — likely mostly in stock

Many insurers are required to file an annual Supplemental Compensation Disclosure listing the name, title and compensation of their top 10 executives. The requirement was triggered by an investigation in 1905. (Here’s some trivia for a cocktail party at InsureTech Connect: That’s the same year Las Vegas was founded.)

The state of Nebraska will mail the information for all companies that operate in Nebraska to anyone who sends them $80. The hardest part is finding a computer with a CD-ROM drive. This is a sore point among insurers (the disclosure, not the need for a CD-ROM). Some insurers risk a fine instead of being transparent, such as by putting zeros for their compensation or putting a blank piece of paper over the data before mailing it. We like numbers, and there are reasons for the disclosure in an insurance context. Most insurers are subject to extensive regulation and disclosure of their rates, which need to be reasonable, which means not paying executives excessively and passing costs through in the rate. And, as Lemonade says, insurance is a business of mutual trust, which requires reasonable executive compensation practices, even if not overseen by shareholders. For more on the disclosure, click here.

Lemonade and Metromile are required to complete the disclosure, though Lemonade’s commitment to transparency doesn’t extend to putting the required names on the form. Their disclosures are below. The numbers are not huge — indeed, they are within what one would expect for a startup, where founders and early joiners get big equity grants with salaries that pay the bills but are often dramatically less than what a senior executive at an insurer typically earns. Interestingly, two of Lemonade’s founders sold shares in 2017, which is reflected under “all other compensation.” Metromile seems to have forgotten a few figures in its filing.

Note that both Lemonade and Metromile “allocate” compensation to companies within their holding company system, and in absence of information on how this allocation works, it is possible that these figures are materially understated because of the allocation.

Here is Lemonade Insurance:

Metromile Insurance:

One last note on compensation. Metromile filed its disclosure electronically, while Lemonade apparently walked down to the Post Office. We don’t know how to explain why a high-tech company like Lemonade would use snail mail. It mailed the disclosure on March 1, a Thursday, so it must have been #TBT in Lemonade’s offices.

Next Insurance U.S.

Digital small business insurer Next announced in May a plan to form a new carrier, and it has. The company was formed in September 2017, which indicates that the plan will have been in the works for a year before the carrier writes business. Next’s filing was all zeros except the surplus (or equity) in the company, which is more than $10 million. As of November 2017, the company’s business was described as follows:

“The Company will initially offer Contractors Insurance in three levels of coverage for 190 classes including Handymen, Carpenters, Electricians, HVAC Technicians, Landscapers, Janitors and Plumbers. All Contractor Insurance plans will include general liability ($5 million limit), professional liability ($3 million limit) and inland marine ($3 million limit) coverages. The Company will eventually write other types of small business classes including restaurants, daycares, personal training and photographers. These products are currently produced by licensed producers of Next Parent on other insurance carriers’ paper. … The company will eventually offer the following additional types of commercial insurance to small businesses with $3 million maximum limits, unless indicated otherwise: commercial property, commercial auto, director and officer liability, employment practices liability, business interruption, surety bond ($1 million limit), liquor liability, cyber, data breach ($5 million limit). The Company’s planned net retention for all lines will be 20% of the maximum limits.”

The remaining 80% of limits will be ceded to Munich Re Americas (MRAm).

The company’s directors are Guy Goldstein (the CEO), Nisim Tapiro (co-founder) and Dawn Puro. As of November 2017 (before the most recent $83 million fundraising), the company’s ownership was as follows:

What’s in a name?

A recent startup proclaims: “[Company name] Insurance is a [line of business] insurance company that provides [line of business] coverage to small businesses through a simple online experience. Offering A.M. Best A-rated insurance… direct to customers since 2018…”

That wording makes consumers think they’re dealing “direct” with an insurer, not an agent or broker, which is what this company is. Words matter in insurance, as illustrated in the first section of the California Insurance Code.

  • Insurer: “The person who undertakes to indemnify another by insurance.”
  • Broker: “A person who, for compensation and on behalf of another person transacts [insurance] … with, but not on behalf of, an admitted insurer.”
  • Agent: “A person authorized, by and on behalf of an insurer, to transact [insurance] … on behalf of an admitted insurance company.” [emphasis added].

#themoreyouknow

“Congratulations, you’re innovating in a highly regulated industry”

Still on the subject of regulation, let’s have some fun with deficiency letters. Part of the joy of getting a new insurance program licensed in a new state is the exchanges with regulators. The insured makes a filing of a few hundred pages, the state reviews it and states its objections, and ‘round we go for, potentially, months. If you’re an insurance nerd, you might find these letters interesting. Particularly Lemonade’s, if only because of how the sausage-making of insurance contrasts with public statements about doing better for consumers.

A recent letter from Oregon to Lemonade had language like this: “Please explain why the insurer is choosing such broad exclusionary language; and if possible, provide an example of why this is necessary to have.”

Hmm…

A letter from Virginia last month listed nine pages of objections, even objecting to Lemonade’s definition of “hovercraft.” A sample of the objections:

“The Company will need to withdraw under the Special Limits, items (g), (h), (i), (j), and (k). The limitations the Company has outlined in these sections are more restrictive than the provisions in the minimum standards set forth in the [Virginia Administrative Code]. It is not permissible for the Company to place limitations or impose special limits that are more restrictive than the minimum standards set forth in the VAC. For items h and i, it is acceptable to impose a special limit or to exclude business property but it is not acceptable to impose a special limit or to exclude property used for business purposes. For example, if I take my laptop (business property) home to do some work, the business property can be limited or excluded. However, if I use my personal computer at home to do some Bureau of Insurance work, that is personal property being used for a business purpose and coverage cannot be limited or excluded.”

Score a point for the Virginia Bureau of Insurance for using human language.

All this, and we haven’t even gotten to Policy 2.0.

Maybe dealing with U.S. regulators is why Lemonade is now keen on international expansion?

Meanwhile, the interviewers at Bloomberg TV have been reading our articles.

See also: Startups Take a Seat at the Table  

Looking forward

The third quarter, which includes most of the summer, could be a big one for the companies in our coverage, because insurance often changes when people move. We are gratified by the increasing focus on insurance fundamentals in insurtech, and the lofty valuations recently seen in the sector will require satisfying both venture metrics as well as solid insurance fundamentals. The startups have the time and the resources but a long way to go to climb the Cliffs of Insanity. They are gaining on the incumbents, but will they make it to the top of the cliffs before running out of power? It’s not inconceivable. Tell us what you think in the comments.

This article was written by Matteo Carbone and Adrian Jones.

New Power Shift in P&C Insurance

P&C insurance carriers have witnessed a lot of changes in the past decade, but few have been as surprising as the shift of power currently taking place across the industry.

According to Dennis Chookaszian, the former CEO and chair of CNA, carriers maintain only 40% of profits today, representing a drop of 20 to 25 points from the 1960s. An equal share now goes to the distribution system, as carriers line up to acquire and maintain more customers.

What’s behind this shift in profitability can’t be summed up in a single word, but increasing competition, new market entrants, improving technology, changing customer expectations and continued consumer price sensitivity all play a role.

To remain competitive, carriers will need to gain more control over distribution, a goal that even Chookaszian admits will not be easy to achieve.

Why the Power-Shift Toward Distribution

In the mid-part of the last decade, insurance carriers required two primary competencies to operate: data and capital. Because neither was easy to acquire, competition was less robust, and incumbent carriers found greater profitability, taking in roughly two-thirds of insurance transaction profits.

Today, data is everywhere, and through the use of analytics, simpler than ever to understand and use. Capital is also easier to acquire, as is evidenced by the growing number of insurtech players in the industry. According to Willis Towers Watson, $2.3 billion was invested in new insurance tech companies in 2017.

According to Chookaszian, the core competency for insurers now lies in distribution and control of the customer.

“It’s become so competitive that the carriers basically are always out looking for new accounts,” Chookaszian says.

That means higher commissions are paid to agents as carriers battle it out for market share, resulting in shrinking margins.

“Given the shift in profitability to distribution, the carriers that will be better off will try to regain some control over distribution,” Chookaszian says.

Admittedly, that is not an easy thing to do. The agent enterprise is part and parcel of most insurance operations. Directly selling insurance to consumers will require insurers to set up their own distribution systems, while still supporting their vast networks of independent or captive agent forces.

See also: The Future of P&C Distribution  

Distribution Goes Digital

When Benjamin Franklin started the first successful U.S.-based insurance company in 1752, he was dealing with a localized Philadelphia population, but, by the end of the 18th century, citizens were moving westward, making it necessary for insurers to expand their distribution networks.

The Hartford made the first foray into direct distribution by offering insurance through the mail, but few consumers of the time were willing to give up the personal services of an agent when it came to purchasing something as critical as insurance. Carriers of the time faced a similar dilemma as carriers do today: how to acquire customers in a changing marketplace.

According to the J.D. Power 2018 US. Insurance Shopping Study, insurers are aggressively courting customers with new options and amenities as auto insurance rates remain stagnant and the number of consumers seeking coverage declines.

“We’re entering an era of consumer-centric insurance that will likely be marked by a surge in new digital offerings and serious efforts by insurers to improve the auto insurance shopping experience,” says Tom Super, director of the property and casualty insurance practice at J.D. Power.

This shift is happening across all lines of coverage, even small commercial.

While citizens on the new 17th-century frontier may have been hesitant to buy coverage without the guidance of an agent, many 21st-century buyers have no such qualms. Nearly half of consumers responding to a survey conducted by Clearsurance said that they would purchase an insurance policy online, while 65% believe this will be the primary channel for purchasing coverage within the next five years.

According to research conducted by Accenture, consumers are open to a number of new possibilities when it comes to buying the policies they need:

Power in the form of profits may have shifted to distribution, but consumers are making a power play of their own, demanding greater service and amenities and taking their business to the carrier most capable of meeting preferences and price points. In a world of shifting power, creating an active, online distribution channel puts more of the profit back into the carrier’s bottom line and allows it to attract more customers in three distinct ways.

Cutting Transaction Costs

According to a report from the Geneva Association, the leading international insurance think tank for strategically important insurance and risk management issues, 40% of P&C premiums are absorbed by transaction costs, leading to inflated policy pricing that drives away potential customers. PwC pegs distribution as a heavy culprit, reporting that 30% of the cost of an insurance product is eaten up in distribution.

On the other hand, Bain predicts that insurers could cut the cost of acquisition by as much as 43% through digitalization. Underwriting expenses could drop as much as 53%.

Reducing these costs allows insurers to present a more attractively priced product to consumers, an important consideration given that 50% of customers base their loyalty with an insurer on price.

To understand how costs are reduced through digital distribution, it helps to understand how a leading digital distribution platform works to raise efficiency. According to PwC, up to 80% of the underwriting process can be consumed by administrative tasks that require manual workarounds, such as re-entering information into multiple systems.

Much of this re-inputting of data is due to the siloed nature of insurers’ administration systems. Digital distribution platforms create a layer between the front-end online storefront, where customers enter application data, and the back-end systems used to store information.

As consumers enter their personal details into the online application, all back-end systems are populated automatically, eliminating the need for manual work-arounds. Everyone across the organization has the same view of the customer and access to any information that has been provided.

Digital platforms are also masters of straight-through processing, automating the quote-to-issue lifecycle and reducing the need for manual underwriting. By automatically quoting, binding and issuing routine policies, insurers reduce costs and also provide a more “informed basis for pricing and loss evaluation,” according to PwC.

As costs drop, insurers are also able to more competitively price insurance coverage. Lower prices win more customers allowing insurers to take back some of the profitability of distribution.

Improving Customer Experiences

When it comes to insurer-insured relationships, there is a gap between what consumers want and what insurers provide. Consumers rate the following points as very important aspects of the insurance buying experience:

  • Clear and easy information on policies
  • Access to information whenever it is needed
  • Ability to compare rates and switch plans
  • A wide range of services

But few consumers agree their insurer is meeting these expectations:

27% see clear and easy information on policies

29% report access to information whenever they need it

21% say there is the ability to compare rates and switch plans

24% see a wide range of services

The customer experience is becoming a key differentiator across the insurance industry. McKinsey reports two to four times higher growth and 30% higher profitability for insurers that provide best-in-class customer service, but here’s the rub. Only the top quartile of carriers fall into this category.

Becoming a customer experience leader requires insurers to understand that the separate functions associated with policy sales and distribution appear as a single journey to consumers. They expect to quote, bind and issue multiple policies through a single application, using as many channels as they feel necessary to get the job done.

While 80% of consumers touch a digital channel at least once during an insurance transaction, 45% of auto insurance shoppers use multiple channels when making a purchase. They expect to be recognized across these channels, picking up in one where they left off in another.

The multiple back-end systems employed by most insurers present a strategic dilemma here, as well as in the area of cost containment. Without transparency between channels, consumers are forced to restart a transaction every time they change their engagement method.

“It amounts to a great deal of frustration for the consumer,” says Tom Hammond, president U.S. operations, BOLT. “You start an application online and then call the customer-facing call center, and they can’t see what you did through the online storefront.”

Hammond explains that digital distribution needs to be omni-channel distribution, seamlessly integrated with a single view of the customer. It’s the only way to meet consumer experience expectations now and into the future.

Thanks to advances in analytics and artificial intelligence, the amount of data that is available to carriers has grown significantly, and consumers expect that information to be leveraged for their benefit. Eighty percent of consumers want personalized offers and pricing from their insurers.

Progressive is one of the 22% of carriers currently making strides to offer personalized, real-time digital services, having recently released HomeQuote Explorer. From an app or computer, consumers can enter information once and receive side-by-side comparisons from multiple homeowners insurance providers. According to the company, they leverage a network of home insurers to make sure customers can find the coverage they need at a comfortable price.

Oliver Lauer, head of architecture/head of IT innovation at Zurich, believes these collaborative networks are an integral part of the digital future of insurance.

“Digital innovation means you have to develop your insurance company to an open and digitally enabled platform that can interface with everybody every time in real time – from customers to brokers, to other insurers, but also to fintechs and insurtechs,” Lauer says.

Using a digitally enabled market network, insurers can fill product gaps and even meet customer needs when they don’t have an appetite for the risk. The premise is simple. By offering coverage from other insurers, they maintain the customer relationship and reap the rewards of loyalty.

As society changes and consumer needs evolve, the ability to personalize bundled coverage to the needs of the individual will become increasingly important. Consumers are now looking for coverage to mitigate risk in previously unheard-of areas, such as cyber security, identity theft and even activities related to legalized marijuana.

When an insurer is unable to provide the coverage a customer needs, it risks forfeiting that relationship, and any other policies bundled with it, to another carrier. But when the carrier takes part in a market network, it can bundle the appropriate coverage from another insurer with its own products, personalizing the coverage to better fit the needs of the customer.

See also: Key Strategic Initiatives in P&C  

Digital platforms offering market networks also set the stage for insurers to offer ancillary services, such as roadside assistance, that make their insurance products more attractive to consumers. We see this happening with increasing frequency as carriers seek to improve the customer experience and lift their acquisition efforts.

DMC Insurance, a provider of commercial transportation insurance solutions, recently announced a partnership with BlackBerry Radar. The venture would provide transportation companies with real-time data on vehicle location, as well as cargo-related information, such as temperature, humidity, door status and load state. Information like this will help companies better manage risk.

In the personal lines market, insurers are partnering to offer services that enhance the life of their customers. Allstate’s partnership with OpenBay allows consumers to review repair shops and schedule an appointment from an app. Allianz is helping home owners safeguard properties by partnering with Panasonic on sensors that monitor home functions and report issues. Customers can even schedule repairs through the service.

Digital Distribution Benefits All

J.D. Power reveals that digital insurers are winning the intense battle for market share in the insurance industry, starting a shift that could help level the profitability field between distributors and carriers. In a recent insurance shopper survey, overall satisfaction was six points higher for digital insurers over those that sell through independent agents. This lead grows to 12 points when compared with carriers with exclusive agents.

According to research by IDC, digital succeeds on the strength of its data. The ability to collect and analyze the vast stores of data available through these interactions, including such variables as the time of day the consumer shopped for coverage, the channel the consumer used, and stores of information collected from third-parties as part of the automated application process, provides the key to improved customer service.

“By analyzing this data, insurers can understand each customer’s lifestyle, behaviors and preferences in order to engage with them at the right time and place, offer personalized service and offers and more,” says Andy Hirst, vice president of banking solutions, SAP Banking Industry Business Unit.

As insurers create omni-channel engagement, they’re strengthening distribution from every angle, giving consumers the option to quote coverage online when it’s most convenient for them, and then buy it right then and there or to seamlessly call an agent to discuss their options and their risk.

Customer experience is rapidly becoming the foundation of success in the industry, and digital distribution provides the first link in building that base of core customer satisfaction. By providing consumers with multiple channels of engagement and the ability to meet more of their needs at any time, day or night, carriers are taking back the lead on profitability.

3 Myths That Inhibit Innovation (Part 1)

As the pace of change accelerates, the chances that incumbent businesses will be affected or displaced grows. According to a recent CB Insights report, insurance is one of the top five industries facing disruption risk; 85% of surveyed corporate strategists believe that innovation is critical for their organizations. Yet the vast majority are focused on incremental changes.

In other words, while the insurance industry is in the business of mitigating risk, too many insurance companies aren’t taking advantage of innovation to address disruption.

A number of innovation myths foster complacency among market leaders. While the myths aren’t unique to the insurance vertical, our industry may have embraced them more fully than others. These myths can be grouped into three main areas: strategic complacency, financial concerns and misperceptions of the innovation process.

Over the course of three articles, we will explore each of these areas in detail, starting with strategic complacency.

Strategic Complacency

Great Changes

The insurance industry is at a crossroads. A number of significant trends are converging to change our customers:

  • Their behavior,
  • The risks they experience,
  • The technologies they use,
  • And, most importantly, their expectations.

Add to those challenges the changes in underwriting, pricing and service delivery allowed by new technologies and analytic capabilities. Both the opportunities and the challenges presented by the intersection of these trends are significant for senior leadership in all segments of our industry. Yet, too often, the insurance industry hides behind our perception that “insurance is different,” or that “we’re regulated” or that “it’s complicated.”

Other industries have faced similar situations, and things haven’t always gone well for the established companies, even in a complicated industry computers and software or a heavily regulated one like automotive manufacturing.

Some market leaders such as IBM are often written off as roadkill, but they reinvent themselves time and again. Others like Blockbuster mistakenly believe that their position provides them with unassailable advantages and end up either dramatically changed or out of business. In Blockbuster’s case, the high water mark in their valuation was in 1996, the year before Netflix was launched. In 1998, their valuation was 50% of what it had been two years prior. They mistakenly believed that breadth of location and depth of inventory were walls that couldn’t be scaled by the competitive hordes.

One thing is certain:

The client views his or her needs and wants as primary. That client neither understands nor cares how difficult transformation is, what the backroom challenges are or whether we’re addressing the issues as fast as we can.

See also: Innovation Imperatives in the Digital Age   

Clients just want to solve their problems now. If the incumbent can’t or won’t provide what the client requests, then the client goes elsewhere.

In times of great change, strategic complacency kills.

Customer Intimacy

Ask any insurer about its strengths, and one knee-jerk response will be, “We take great care of our customers.” If that is the case, why does such a significant portion of our customers respond negatively to the industry and our efforts?

Explore customer experience with insurance industry leaders a bit further, and the responses will be more nuanced, perhaps to the point of admitting the poor job the industry actually does. The good news is that some of the problem isn’t our fault.

Our industry provides irreplaceable products and services of which we can be rightly proud. We regularly step into the breach in some of the most trying times our customers will ever face. But, thankfully, those events are rare or even nonexistent for the average customer, and many insureds don’t recognize that a valuable service was provided by risk transfer even during a period when they experienced no losses.

Insurers’ job is to see the big picture, and to connect disparate facts. We have increasing amounts of data about those customers, which provide insights into behaviors and opportunities.

These factors lead many organizations to profess that they deeply understand their customers, and that, when the customer is looking for additional products or services, the insurer will immediately know and develop the appropriate response. Dig a bit deeper, and another story emerges. Perhaps we don’t have the intimate relationship that would inspire those insights.

Unfortunately, in many corporate cultures, it is hard to be a dissenting voice on customer intimacy and experience when others are professing the “common wisdom,” no matter how misguided. Finally, both improved customer experience and more intimate customer relationships are difficult, multifaceted problems and easy to put off.

Carriers rightly see the relationship as one insurer to many insureds. On the other hand, customers see the relationship as one to one. While insurers think in terms of spread of risk across a pool of clients, customers are only interested in what’s in it for them.

In many instances, because of these differing perspectives, the carrier-customer bond is weak. A recent Bain & Co. report said that, worldwide, only half of insureds have been in contact with their insurer for any reason in the past 12 months.

The result is that customers don’t have any real relationship with their carrier and are likely to focus on price. Rarely will they share their needs and wants with a services provider with whom they have a tenuous relationship.

Strategic complacency can appear when shorthand expressions of customer intimacy and experience prohibit open dialogue on customer priorities, or efforts designed to address problems are short-circuited because of their complexity. Even though insurers have gigabytes of data on their insureds, the data doesn’t translate into information and insight.

Lack of Urgency

Another myth among insurers is that there is no great urgency to change. Organizations survey the competitive landscape and don’t see any discernible threats on the horizon.

There are two primary reasons. First, most innovation efforts are quiet, so insurers don’t necessarily see what potential competitors are doing until a product or service hits the market. Second, many lauded innovation efforts are taking place in lines or niches that don’t appear to be a threat to incumbents.

So what if one new insurer is writing usage-based insurance for the gig economy, or another specializes in coverage for renters? Either those aren’t lines of business that “real” insurance companies want to write, or they aren’t a key component of the carrier’s book.

See also: Digital Innovation: Down to Business  

The insurance innovation landscape is large and convoluted. Most early innovation efforts are small, and the “signal” is easily mis-categorized as noise. Because of this, potential competitors and collaborators are easy to miss. But the lack of urgency is a key factor in Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen’s seminal work on industry disruption.

His model states that innovators find a segment of unserved or underserved consumers that represent low profit potential. These startups then offer an inferior product or service to these consumers. It doesn’t have to be perfect because these consumers aren’t being appropriately served prior to the innovator’s arrival.

The crude nature of the solution is derided by incumbents, because their customers “wouldn’t want to purchase something that limited.” Because the unserved or underserved segment is low-profit, and may have other undesirable characteristics, the market leaders have no urgency to respond.

But while the existing players ignore or disparage the newcomers, the disruptors refine their offerings. Once innovators win the low-profit segment, they move upstream by repeating the process with more profitable and desirable customers.

Often, by the time established industry players figure out that they are under threat, it is too late to reverse their fortunes.

Guy Fraker, chief innovation officer at Innovator’s Edge, says, “Ignore this innovation activity, whether from incumbents or new entities, at your peril.”

This lack of urgency, and the willingness to either accept as fact, or blithely repeat, mistaken beliefs and put off difficult, needed changes to address customer problems contribute to strategic complacency. Recognizing these problems and opening dialog within your organization is a key to formulating a strategic response to the onslaught of changes affecting the insurance industry.

The next post will further explore common myths with a focus on financial concerns surrounding innovation.

The Future of the Agency Channel

In today’s insurance marketplace, agencies face heavy competition from digital insurance channels and direct marketers like GEICO and Progressive. So what does the future look like for the thousands of carrier and independent agents — proponents of human engagement — who realize that all the digital insurance channels in the world can’t replace the human connection?

Independent and carrier agents can enhance and build on their own strengths to compete head-on with the impending rise of the competitive insurance channels. Agents who give personalized advice and advocacy when needed represent the great upside and the future of the agency channel.

Insurance is a security blanket. People want to know that they will be covered appropriately in their time of need, and that an advocate will be there to support them when things don’t go quite as planned. Certainly people want to know a live human being can be there when their basement floods, but being a trusted adviser relies on really knowing the policy holder – being in the life of that person with quality, frequency and continuity.

The challenge for the agency channel is building a velocity of contact with current and prospective policy holders in the insurance industry, which undeniably has the highest-touch and highest-volume requirement for interactions by its sales professionals.

When we accomplish the role of trusted adviser, it results in higher retention, cross-sell and referral business. This is being evidenced by proponents of the agency model who study the insurance industry.

See also: Reinventing Sales: Shifting Channels  

Bain & Co.’s research shows that agency/agent connection is unique to earn customer loyalty, and that a loyal insurance customer – measured by Bain’s Net Promoter Score – delivers a whopping seven times the lifetime value of a low loyalty customer and three times the value of a neutral customer. And loyal customers reward their agents by buying 25% more insurance at higher prices, staying with and consolidating their insurance with one provider and even referring friends and family.

But we are not out of the woods yet! Ernst & Young Global Customer Survey found that 86% of insurance consumers are “not very” satisfied with communications from their provider. A whopping 44% report remembering zero communications from their insurance provider in the last 18 months.

So what does all this mean for agents? The most important task for the agency channel is to focus on what they do best, offering peace-of-mind to their customers even over the values of price and convenience , which are offered by direct carriers and other emerging digital channels of the world.

To earn customer loyalty, drive growth and attract new customers, agents are adopting and mastering newer technology that can provide continuous engagement — connecting to people on email, text, phone and social media — which are the new ways consumers shop for insurance today.

In this way agents are partnering with technology to manage leads and organize marketing programs to guide consumers through an elevated, sequential customer journey geared at building relationships that are very highly valued by future insurance policy holders.

Again, research is ahead of this curve. Top insurance executives in a recent Accenture poll on the “Future Insurance Workforce” survey found that artificial intelligence is here to stay and will create workplace opportunities that will help agents work more efficiently to help drive growth and attract new customers.

In fact, the only economically feasible way to scale agency-policy holder relationship-building today is through connecting technologies that consumers now use and expect of their vendors.

Savvy agents know their customers’ values well – and are in a strong position to deliver original content through technology that best expresses the value of the agency in ways that are most meaningful to each customer. Contemporary insurance marketing automation solutions – integrated with agency management systems that maintain volume and feature sequential and automated practices – will make insurance agents more valuable in today’s market.

See also: Global Trend Map No. 9: Distribution  

Technology Tips to Compete Head-on With Digital Channels and Engage Customers

When it comes to marketing insurance, the agency connections coming from trusted advisers remain invaluable to policy holders who must choose between this and a faceless organization that relies on advertising. An agency equipped with appropriate technologies elevates the message to a much higher level! It grabs consumers and keeps them coming back for years to come.

  • Use marketing acceleration programs that induce a repeatable pattern of activity garnered from artificial intelligence and machine learning. This will inform workflows that enable agents to have smarter marketing and more personalized and predictive customer experiences that will lead to better sales outcomes.
  • Use technology tools to help meet the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, (TCPA) guidelines where everyone will need to be internationally compliant or face stiff fines for wrongfully filling out forms and other violations.
  • Use technology tools to help cope with all applicable laws and regulations of the new General Data Protection Regulation, (GDPR) that took effect in Europe and promises to take on more importance in the U.S. in light of recent Facebook privacy issues.