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New Era of Commercial Insurance

Despite a generally soft market for traditional P&C products, the fact that so many industries and the businesses within them are being reshaped by technology is creating opportunities (and more challenges). Consider insurers with personal and commercial auto. Pundits are predicting a rapid decline in personal auto premiums and questioning the viability of both personal and commercial auto due to the emergence of autonomous technologies and driverless vehicles, as well as the increasing use of alternative options (ride-sharing, public transportation, etc.).

Finding alternative growth strategies is “top of mind” for CEOs.  Opportunities can be captured from the change within commercial and specialty insurance. New risks, new markets, new customers and the demand for new products and services may fill the gaps for those who are prepared.

Our new research, A New Age of Insurance: Growth Opportunities for Commercial and Specialty Insurance at a Time of Market Disruption, highlights how changing trends in demographics, customer behaviors, technology, data and market boundaries are creating a dramatic shift from traditional commercial and specialty products to the new, post-digital age products redefining the market of the future.

See also: Insurtechs Are Pushing for Transparency

Growth Opportunities

New technologies, demographics, behaviors and more will fuel the growth of new businesses and industries over the next 10 years. Commercial and specialty insurance provides a critical role to these businesses and the economy — protecting them from failure by assuming the risks inherent in their transformation.

Industry statistics for the “traditional” commercial marketplace don’t yet reflect the potential growth from these new markets. The Insurance Information Institute expects overall personal and commercial exposures to increase between 4% and 4.5% in 2017 but cautioned that continued soft rates in commercial lines could cause overall P&C premium growth to lag behind economic growth.

But a diverse group of customers will increasingly create narrow segments that will demand niche, personalized products and services. Many do not fit neatly within pre-defined categories of risk and products for insur­ance, creating opportunities for new products and services.

Small and medium businesses are at the forefront of this change and at the center of business creation, business transformation and growth in the economy.

  • By 2020, more than 60% of small businesses in the U.S. will be owned by millennials and Gen Xers — two groups that prefer to do as much as possible digitally. Furthermore, their views, behaviors and expectations are different than those of previous generations and will be influenced by their personal digital experiences.
  • The sharing/gig/on-demand economy is an example of the significant digitally enabled changes in people’s behaviors and expectations that are redefining the nature of work, business models and risk profiles.
  • The rapid emergence of technologies and the explosion of data are combining to create a magnified impact. Technology and data are making it easier and more profitable to reach, underwrite and service commercial and specialty market segments. In particular, insurers can narrow and specialize various segments into new niches. In addition, the combination of technology and data is disrupting other industries, changing existing business models and creating businesses and risks that need new types of insurance.
  • New products can be deployed on demand, and industry boundaries are blurring. Traditional insurance or new forms of insurance may be embedded in the purchase of products and services.

Insurtech is re-shaping this new digital world and disrupting the traditional insurance value chain for commercial and specialty insurance, leading to specialty protection for a new era of business. Consider insurtech startups like Embroker, Next Insurance, Ask Kodiak, CoverWallet, Splice and others. Not being left behind, traditional insurers are creating innovative business models for commercial and specialty insurance, like Berkshire Hathaway with biBERK for direct to small business owners; Hiscox, which offers small business insurance (SBI) products directly from its website; or American Family, which invested in AssureStart, now part of Homesite, a direct writer of SBI.

The Domino Effect

We all likely played with dominoes in our childhood, setting them up in a row and seeing how we could orchestrate a chain reaction. Now, as adults, we are seeing and playing with dominoes at a much higher level. Every business has been or likely will be affected by a domino effect.

What is different in today’s business era, as opposed to even a decade ago, is that disruption in one industry has a much broader ripple effect that disrupts the risk landscape of multiple other industries and creates additional risks. We are compelled to watch the chains created from inside and outside of insurance. Recognizing that this domino effect occurs is critical to developing appropriate new product plans that align to these shifts.

Just consider the following disrupted industries and then think about the disrupters and their casualties: taxis and ridesharing (Lyft, Uber), movie rentals (Blockbuster) and streaming video (NetFlix), traditional retail (Sears and Macy’s) and online retail, enterprise systems (Siebel, Oracle) and cloud platforms (Salesforce and Workday), and book stores (Borders) and Amazon. Consider the continuing impact of Amazon, with the announcement about acquiring Whole Foods and the significant drop in stock prices for traditional grocers. Many analysts noted that this is a game changer with massive innovative opportunities.

The transportation industry is at the front end of a massive domino-toppling event. A report from RethinkX, The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the Internal-Combustion Vehicle and Oil Industries, says that by 2030 (within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs)), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model called “transportation-as-a-service” (TaaS). The TaaS disruption will have enormous implications across the automotive industry, but also many other industries, including public transportation, oil, auto repair shops and gas stations. The result is that not just one industry could be disrupted … many could be affected by just one domino … autonomous vehicles. Auto insurance is in this chain of disruption.

See also: Leveraging AI in Commercial Insurance  

And commercial insurance, because it is used by all businesses to provide risk protection, is also in the chain of all those businesses affected – a decline in number of businesses, decline in risk products needed and decline in revenue. The domino effect will decimate traditional business, product and revenue models, while creating growth opportunities for those bold enough to begin preparing for it today with different risk products.

Transformation + Creativity = Opportunity

Opportunity in insurance starts with transformation. New technologies will be enablers on the path to innovative ideas. As the new age of insurance unfolds, insurers must recommit to their business transformation journey and avoid falling into an operational trap or resorting to traditional thinking. In this changing insurance market, new competitors don’t play by the rules of the past. Insurers need to be a part of rewriting the rules for the future, because there is less risk when you write the new rules. One of those rules is diversification. Diversification is about building new products, exploring new markets and taking new risks. The cost of ignoring this can be brutal. Insurers that can see the change and opportunity for commercial and specialty lines will set themselves apart from those that do not.

For a greater in-depth look at the implications of commercial insurance shifts, be sure to downloadA New Age of Insurance: Growth Opportunities for Commercial and Specialty Insurance at a Time of Market Disruption.

E-Commerce Transforms Risks

The April 2017 issue of Business Insurance Magazine features a cover story on the retail industry, and how the move to e-commerce is changing the risks faced by the insurance industry. The articles include “Retail caught flat footed by e-commerce,” and “Web revolution creates new era for retail risk management.” It is remarkable that both the retail industry and the insurance industry seem to be taken by surprise at the advance of online shopping. This is especially puzzling because the handwriting has been on the wall for so long that it is beginning to fade away. What are the lessons for the insurance industry today in a world where digital change is affecting every industry?

Before answering that, it’s a good idea to brush up on the history of e-commerce. The ability to shop and purchase items online began to appear in the mid- to late 1990s with the initial internet boom. In the early days, anyone who could put up a website thought they could reach the whole world and become rich and famous overnight. Thousands of those early web businesses achieved rapid valuations based on inflated expectations and then crashed and burned in spectacular fashion during the Internet bust of the early 2000s. But others were very successful and began to eat away at the business of the traditional “brick and mortar” retailers. Of course, Amazon.com is the most famous, starting in 1994 and selling its first book online in 1995. Although the company did not have a yearly profit until 2004, its growth in those early years was phenomenal, and there was little doubt that it would become a major force in retail.

See also: Why AI Will Transform Insurance  

I could enumerate many examples of e-commerce successes and failures, but the point is that the move to e-commerce has been gaining steam for more than 20 years, putting a number of household names out of business along the way (think Borders, Circuit City). Many others filed for bankruptcy or were acquired at bargain basement prices. Many retailers have been closing stores and trying to revamp their business models for a decade or more (Sears, J.C Penney, Macy’s). And a wave of local retailers have found it difficult to compete with big online retailers.

The Business Insurance articles do a nice job of describing the implications for the insurance industry and retail risk managers of this transition to e-commerce, identifying how the movement changes the risk landscape. The main question is, what took everyone so long to realize that online shopping would have a transformative effect on the retail industry? It did not happen overnight, and the implications could have been foreseen and planned for long ago. To be sure, some retailers and some insurers were forward-thinking and adjusted for the transformation, but far too many were blindsided, as indicated in the articles. What does this mean for insurers today?

Besides the changing nature of retail and the companies populating the space, commercial lines insurers should focus a critical eye on every industry segment they serve. Today, the pace has quickened, and a wide range of emerging technologies, societal trends and demographics are causing upheaval in every industry. For example, the transportation sector faces issues such as autonomous vehicles, ride sharing, vehicle electrification and new transportation technologies – developments that are sure to completely reshape that industry sector. Similar cases can be made for change in manufacturing, energy, entertainment, travel and other industries. This time around, those industries and their insurer partners will not have 20 years to monitor developments. Many of these industries are likely to see substantial changes within the next three to five years. The changes to products, business models, companies and industry structure will, in some cases, dramatically change risks. For some, new technologies and solutions will enable very significant reductions in risk, and for others, new risks will emerge.

See also: A Gap That Could Lead to Irrelevance  

The main messages for insurers are these: Don’t be complacent. Don’t assume this is all hype and will never happen. And don’t assume that you will be retired before any of these transformations take hold. Plan and prepare now, seizing the opportunities to succeed in the digital age.

Will Insurers Ever Learn From Amazon?

You may (or may not) remember that when Amazon.com began in the late 1990s, the single focus of the company was selling books online. One product category, one type of manufacturer, one market focus — people who buy books. At the time, virtually everyone in the publishing industry scoffed at the idea that anyone would want to buy a book they couldn’t first touch. Today, Amazon.com sells all types of products from all types of manufacturers to all types of individuals and businesses every day of the year. No one is scoffing any more — except perhaps the insurance industry.

Just like the publishing industry two decades ago, the insurance industry in facing a once-in-a-generation digital disruption and transformation, and I’m not sure the industry knows it. Let’s look at the distribution of insurance through the lens of an Amazon.com-like buying experience.

Most insurers and distributors automatically start with the typical objections: “Insurance is complex,” they say; or, “What about the regulatory restrictions?”; or, “My agents have to explain the product benefits to the customer.” The knee-jerk reactions make sense in an industry that is mostly agent-centric and that seemingly treats customers with at least some contempt.

We have, after all, built rules around every aspect of insurance: who can buy, what they can buy, when and how they can buy, who they are, where they are located, what they want to insure, how much insurance they need, how much it costs. There are licensing and appointment rules, compliance and regulatory issues, insurance company underwriting requirements, rating rules, policy issue guidelines, premium remittance standards and distributor channel conflict rules, and these may all be different depending on the kind of product – life, accident and health, property and casualty, individual, group, association, employer and so forth. While many of these rules make sense, many others are simply vestiges of “the way things have always been done.” That is a problem for our industry.

The reality is that a consumer doesn’t care about most of the nitty-gritty, inside baseball, that affects all of the above. The consumer cares about being in control of the insurance purchase experience like he is in control of every other shopping experience. That’s not to say the consumer wants to go it alone without an agent necessarily. But it does mean the consumer wants to be able to make that choice — and, today, she can’t. Increasingly, consumers are being schooled on how to buy everything through the convenience of a digital market; why not all of their insurance?

It won’t be long before insurance consumers will expect to access products from multiple carriers, shop, compare, buy their policy with the credit card they pull from their wallet and have their policies, ID cards, welcome letters, privacy notices, etc. instantly delivered to their own online account (not through a carrier). How about the convenience of going to a digital marketplace that remembers each consumer for subsequent transactions? Maybe like Amazon Prime?

I’ve always wondered what the executives at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin (not to mention Circuit City and J.C. Penney and Sears) were thinking back in the 1990s as Amazon.com started to gain traction. I wonder the same thing now about some insurance executives.

Savvy insurers and distributors will meet consumers where they want to be met and transact business in the digital marketplace. Or they won’t. But if the industry doesn’t go there quickly, someone else will – of that, I’m sure.

9 Technologies That Will Change Insurance

“We’re at maybe 1% of what is possible. Despite the faster change, we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities we have.”

This compelling statement from Larry Page, CEO and co-founder of Google epitomizes the power and potential of emerging technologies. Yet most insurers have difficult comprehending how fast emerging technologies are being introduced. And the pace is gathering speed, having a profound impact on our lives, our businesses and our industry. Moore’s Law tells us that computing power doubles every 18 – 24 months, but even that seems to be irrelevant compared with the power of emerging technologies, because they are coming faster, and they are more formidable than ever before.

This rapidly accelerating pace comes at a time when the convergence of advancing technologies, increasing customer expectations and access to capital for new technology start-ups are magnifying the extremes, and the impact to the insurance industry is more game-changing than ever before. Never before has technology advancement had as much influence as what we are experiencing now.

Technologies promise breakthroughs that will challenge long-held business assumptions and shift the boundaries between business and industry – creating completely new businesses and industries. SMA is actively tracking nine emerging technologies: 3D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), drones/aerial imagery, driverless vehicles, wearable devices, “gamification,” artificial intelligence, semantic technologies and biotechnology. We are following them from a perspective inside the industry as well as taking an “outside-the-industry” view. 

Not surprisingly, adoption is being led by the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT is followed by artificial intelligence (AI), drones/aerial imagery and then gamification. The insurance industry’s rapid adoption is impressive. Five of the nine technologies are projected to arrive at or go well beyond the tipping point within three years. All nine are projected to surpass the tipping point within five years.

Adding to the momentum, individuals and companies that are a part of SMA’s Innovation Ecosystem and represent outside-the-industry perspectives see an even faster rate of adoption and greater potential for the transformation of insurance. This underscores that the insurance industry is on the crest of a massive wave of change.

Over the next five years, these emerging technologies, just like the Internet, smartphones and social media before them, are expected to drive new business models and foster the formation of companies from unexpected combinations of companies and industries — capturing the customer relationship and revenue. The astounding influence of these technologies — over a relatively short period — will begin to delineate a new generation of market leaders within and outside the insurance industry. Who will be the next Facebook, Uber or eBay?

So how should insurers respond to this rapid adoption? Insurers must quickly begin to develop strategies and experiment with and invest in these technologies today. If not, many insurers will be placed at significant risk, because there is typically a minimum two-year lag time between leaders and the mainstream and a minimum four- to five-year lag time between leaders and laggards. And given the pace of adoption of these technologies by insurance customers, the lag time carries more potential for damage than it did in the past. Consider that Apple introduced the iPhone just seven years ago, in June 2007. The result has been massive destruction and transformation that has created new leaders while forcing others into increasing irrelevance.

While it may be difficult to grasp the sheer magnitude of the change coming from the emerging technologies, remember that Larry Page of Google says we are only seeing 1% of the potential. Insurers must aggressively find a way to engage these technologies and uncover the potential, first to stay in the game, and then to win it. To do so, insurers must have modern core systems as a foundation to integrate the use of these technologies.

Consider these questions: How will product liability need to be redefined for driverless vehicles? If individuals or businesses no longer need auto insurance, what is the impact on other products? Multi-policy discounts? Will the driverless car encourage shopping for alternative options? Will it drive commoditization into other products? How will insurers assess the value and risk of a 3D-printed structure, body organs or vehicle parts? How will biotechnology-based agriculture change risk factors? How will drones help underwriting and claims? Can drones also provide resources needed during catastrophes, creating new services and value? Could gamification be a new channel to help drive increased market penetration through engagement and education about life insurance, health, medical, liability, home, umbrella and more?

These are but a few of the implications for insurance. They are inter-related and complex. They stress the significant disruption that is coming, and coming fast, as represented by the five out of nine emerging technologies that will reach the tipping point within three years … and some much sooner. Insurers that have not begun to pilot these technologies are already lagging behind and will struggle to keep up with this accelerated pace of adoption, not just from today’s competitors, but also from tomorrow’s competitors, as well as their customers. That poses a question: Will you remain relevant, or become the next Kodak, Blockbuster Video, Borders or CNN of insurance – the iconic brand that dies?

The coming years hold unparalleled opportunities for innovation and matchless potential for becoming market leaders that leverage emerging technologies to increase customer value, engagement and loyalty to insurers. As Steve Jobs stated, “Everyone here has the sense that right now is one of those moments when we are influencing the future.” The question to you is: Will you influence the future or be a remnant of the past?

This article is adapted from a new research report, Emerging Technologies: Reshaping the Next-Gen Insurer.