Tag Archives: c-suite

How to Seize the Opportunities in 2016

This keynote address was delivered to the EY/Insurance Insider’s Global Re/Insurance Outlook conference at the Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda.

It’s a pleasure to be here this morning. I appreciate being invited to offer some thoughts on the state of our industry and where we seem to be headed.

If you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I’m going to look back at 2015 before I look forward to 2016. It feels like the right thing to do, given the year we’ve had.

I don’t know about all of you, but for me 2015 has come and gone in the blink of an eye.

And what a year it’s been.

You could invoke Dickens and say: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

This was the year that a youthful head of state swept into office in Canada on a promise of “sunny ways” – and it was the year that terror ripped through a nightclub in Paris, and a Christmas party in San Bernardino, CA, shattering our personal sense of security.

It was the year that the pope declared a Holy Year of Mercy, and it was the year that more than a million refugees streamed out of the Middle East and into Europe, in a desperate attempt to escape a jihadist war.

It was the year that almost 200 nations signed a landmark agreement to address climate change, and it was the year that another once-in-100-year flood lashed northern England for the second time in less than 10 years.

It was the year that the concept of “the singularity” – when human computing is overtaken by machines – became a distinct possibility.

It was also a year when driverless cars, packages delivered by drone and 3D printing became tangible realities.

Here in Bermuda, 2015 was the year that signaled the demise of a brand name close to my heart – that would be ACE – as M&A fever reshaped the island’s market landscape. It was also the year that the Bermuda Monetary Authority pulled off a coup – seven years in the making – by getting the European Commission to grant us Solvency II equivalence.

2015 was the year when Millennials – the generation born between the late ’80s and the turn of this century – became the largest demographic ever. Think about it. More than half the world is now under the age of 30.

And it was the year when we truly began to exit a world driven by an analog mindset and woke up to the fact that we’re living in a digital age. Labels like digital immigrants and digital natives were used to describe two of the four generations now making up our labor force.

I was invited to speak at a number of different venues this year, and, at each, I tried to describe this sense of being between two worlds.

I’d like to share some of the highlights with you, as I think these issues are going to be key to transforming our industry.

The first speech I gave this year was called “Risk in 140 Characters.”

I was speaking to a group of Millennials in London, and I used Twitter as an example of stripping out inefficiencies to get to the core of a business model. I challenged them to figure out how we can leverage technology to make our industry more efficient.

I also challenged them to spread the word about the industry to their peers. Millennials don’t think much of insurance as a career. With 400,000 positions opening up in five years in the U.S., this lack of interest is creating a talent crisis.

The next speech was “Can We Disrupt Ourselves?”

I spoke to the International Insurance Society in New York a few weeks after I spoke to the Millennials in London, and described some of the game-changing forces our industry is facing – driven by disruptive technology.

I challenged this group – who represent executive management – to figure out how to attract a new generation to our industry, AND to figure out how to work with them. The solution to our disruption will come from the digital natives among us.

Then there was “Where Are the Women? One Year Later.”

In 2014, I gave a speech called “Where Are the Women?” I asked why there aren’t more women in the C-suites and boardrooms of the insurance industry.

This year, I looked at whether much has changed in a year – the answer is no – and what might be done.

The short answer is that people like me – the white males who dominate our industry – need to make gender parity and diversity a priority, and mean it.

A speech I gave to St. John’s University’s School of Risk Management was called “The Canary in the Coal Mine.”

St. John’s organized a day-long conference on issues facing the industry. I talked about M&A, alternative capital and the changing roles of brokers, cedants and reinsurers.

I also addressed the talent crisis, making the point that Millennials are the canaries in the coal mine.

If we don’t pay attention to what they’re telling us about our workplaces and work policies – and this includes our attitude toward diversity and inclusion – they’re going to continue to snub our industry. And we can’t afford to let that happen. Not only are they our future workforce, they’re our current and future customers.

An address to 400 top producers of a brokerage firm was called “Do You Know How to Think Like a Unicorn?”

In Silicon Valley, companies backed by a $1 billion or more in capital are called unicorns, and those backed by more than $10 billion are called “decacorns.” There are more companies with this level of capitalization now than at any other time.

And remember, most of these are tech start-ups, many of which are behind the disruption that’s transforming our world.

I told the brokers that, in the digital world, they need to know their clients’ business, and their clients’ risks, better than the CEO does.

There’s currency in knowing how to interpret data, and brokers have a great opportunity to develop specialized skills that they can monetize.

That’s where the real value-add is.

According to a recent study by IBM, C-suite executives around the world are kept awake at night worrying about being ambushed by so-called digital invaders.

More than 5,000 executives participated in the IBM study. More than half of them told researchers that, above all else, they fear being “Uberized” – blindsided by a competitor outside their industry wielding disruptive technology.

While loss activity, interest rates and pressure on terms and conditions will always affect underwriting and financial performance, it’s now a given that technology and talent will determine who will succeed and who will fail.

So, I asked the brokers: do you know how to think like a unicorn?

I was told later that this firm is now describing itself as a technology company whose product is insurance – so I guess they took my suggestions to heart.

So this year, I focused on five main themes:

  • We still have rampant inefficiency in the way much of our business is conducted.
  • We’re threatened by technological disruption.
  • We have unprecedented risks for which there are no actuarial data.
  • The roles we play are being reinvented in real time.
  • And we have a looming talent crisis.

Not a pretty picture, and not for the faint of heart.

But what scope for innovation!

I really do believe this is one of the most exciting times to be working in this industry in the 40 years since I joined it.

We enter 2016 with the hope that terms and conditions will improve, and the expectation that industry consolidation will continue.

[The recent increase] in interest rates could mean that our capital may take a hit, but we’re likely to earn greater investment income over time, leading to increased revenue.

But these are the traditional hallmarks of a market cycle. This is the easy stuff.

There’s nothing easy or traditional about what’s facing our industry right now. Those of us who cling to the old way of doing business aren’t going to make it.

It’s the manner in which we navigate from the analog to the digital – how we move between two worlds – that will set our future course. This is going to take bold, courageous moves, some leaps of faith and a willingness to fail as often as we succeed.

I think it’s telling that [in November] about 200 industry representatives and entrepreneurs gathered in Silicon Valley to figure out how to change the traditional insurance model.

They felt we need to flip the value proposition from protection to prevention, using data analytics to define the characteristics of a risk and identify how to avoid it.

A report on this conference described it this way:

“One of the biggest challenges for successful executive teams is to reframe a company’s purpose away from its past greatness, and toward a different future.”

We’ve been an industry where past is prologue. But for many of the risks we’re facing, there is no past.

It really shouldn’t matter. We’re awash in data, but data pure and simple isn’t the point.

We need to harness data to predict the future – in other words, adopt the prevention mindset.

The issue isn’t simply gathering massive quantities of data. We need to take the data we have and know how to ask the right questions, and refine the right algorithms, to get the analysis we need to provide our products quickly and efficiently to a world doing business on smart phones.

To create the best risk solutions, we need to redefine the relationships we have with each other and build new organizational ecosystems. This is no time for staying in our traditional comfort zone.

And as an industry whose purpose is to secure the future, we have a collective obligation to address the massive protection gap between the developed and emerging economies.

In 2014, there were an estimated $1.7 trillion in losses. $1.3 trillion of that number was uninsured.

With collaborative undertakings like Blue Marble, the microinsurance consortium that was launched this year, we can begin to close this gap. This not only helps prevent disaster for the underserved, it helps build a sustainable planet.

I know we can figure out how to re-create our workplaces, finding ways to meld the experience and traditional perspective of Baby Boomers like me with the open, diverse, purpose-driven focus of Millennials.

This might be one of our greatest challenges, because it aims straight at the heart of our industry’s old-school DNA.

By the way, I like that Millennials are purpose-driven – because what industry can more rightfully lay claim to purpose than insurance?

As I said in one of my earlier speeches, insurance should be catnip to a Millennial.

Several of us are banking on that being true by supporting an awareness program to let the younger generation know that this is a great career choice.

I’ve been joined by Marsh’s Dan Glaser and Lloyd’s Inga Beale in signing a letter urging our fellow CEOs to put their companies’ weight behind this initiative.

The first phase of this plan is an Insurance Careers Month that will be launched in February 2016. This is primarily a U.S.-based project because that’s where the urgent need is, but other markets will be participating, too. We were aiming to enlist the support of at least 200 carriers, brokers, agents and industry partners – and at last count we had almost 260 signed up. The response has been great.

So, in closing:

It HAS been quite a year.

The way we live and work is changing faster than I think any of us thought possible. We have some amazing challenges and opportunities ahead of us – here in Bermuda, and in the countries where many of us do business.

I’m excited about where we’re going and how we’ll get there, and I hope you are, too.

I believe it’s the best of times.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a great morning of provocative thought and discussion, and I wish you a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.

What Is Your 2016 Playbook for Growth?

CEOs entering 2016 convinced they can succeed by doubling down on what worked in the past may be reading from the wrong playbook.

According to a recently released Forrester/Odgers Berndtson study, “The State of Digital Business 2015,” most companies remain unprepared for digital transformation” — an absolute must for growth. Yet executives representing the diverse sectors examined in the study expect the majority of their sales to be digital by 2020. How will they get there?

If your transformation plan to capture at least a fair share of an expanding digital sales pie is not well underway, and you feel behind the eight ball, that may be for good reason – digital transformation leading to adopting a meaningful new business model or new technology can take years. And it demands operating along a different set of practices that used to work.

Growth is within reach of any CEO…

  • Moving at least as fast as the pace of technological change,
  • Delivering on clients’ growing expectations for real outcomes, and
  • Adapting to the shifts of economic and workplace controls to the millennial generation.

The CEO must be the Chief Growth Officer. Hiring a chief digital officer or chief innovation officer or someone else carrying a fashionable CXO title assigns daily responsibility for actions to close the digital gap. This can be a good move. The CEO cannot be everyplace at all times, and, besides, micromanagement from the top of the C-suite is deadly. When it works, this added role introduces skills, fosters enterprise-wide external partnerships, signals commitment inside and outside the organization and creates the digital blueprint for buy-in by colleagues. But the CEO alone has and must use his or her authority to coordinate growth levers and make the tough calls.

The CEO is also the Chief Culture Officer. Culture is not the job of HR or any other designee. Culture is the sum of the hundreds of choices everyone makes every day. People respond to the behaviors of their leaders. What do growth behaviors look like? Think about orchids in a greenhouse. Like orchids, new and different ideas are fragile and require special care. They may need protection from the outdoors – the conditions through which a mature business can operate, but that will kill a still-emerging concept. The CEO must advance a culture of a greenhouse, using governance to support both the work wherever growth businesses are being incubated, and a smooth transfer to the mainstream at the right time.

A lot has changed, but strategy is still the starting point for execution that gets results. Good strategy means having a clear view of where you are, an intended destination and a map of the terrain with a logical path to get there. Good strategy allows for good prioritization of short- and long-term moves, including the digital agenda. Strategy is still what gives all members of an organization a common view of goals. Strategy must evolve from what it has become in too many companies — a financial extrapolation supported by a sales-y PowerPoint presentation and ungrounded assumptions.

You must govern to engage and create accountability. Bring the whole C-suite into the act – no bystanders or anonymous choristers allowed. It’s a great idea to ask your CMO or CIO (or both) to lead the digital acceleration effort, but what about the rest of the C-suite? Put a governance process in place that fosters a constructive dialog with all of the CEO’s direct reports, including the P&L leaders and functional heads. Governance must reinforce that every member of this team has “skin in the game” to achieve growth results. No one is exempt from being part of the solution.

You have to update the risk/reward equation. Face it – the traditional American corporation was built to be predictable – to control risk. But nowadays, avoiding deviation from the status quo may be the riskiest path of all. I’ll paraphrase how Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, described the issue at a recent talk: To the corporate leader, downside risk is determined by aggregating variables that are stress-tested through complex analyses in an attempt to account for unknowns. And the potential of digital is full of unknowns, so it can easily be discounted down to where it is assumed to just have incremental impact.

But here’s a whole different view: To a venture capitalist, the maximum downside is the loss of 100% of his or her investment. That investment is meted out in small chunks as milestones are passed, so exposure is clear, measurable and contained. And the upside is viewed as exponential (though low-odds).

Food for thought: Reframing the risk/reward inputs and calculation can be a liberating and responsible course of action.

Digital transformation is a non-starter without the right talent. Seek evidence beyond the skills that seem urgent now but come with an expiration date — what matters is hybrid thinking, continuous learning and a record of delivering meaningful results. Is “fit” simply a euphemism for “people like me”? Go after your complements, and even some people who don’t fit your mold, but for whom you are committed to make room. The continued homogeneity of the faces on the “Team” section of most corporate and start-up websites in this day and age reinforces the untapped opportunity to invite others in and reap the rewards.

You must measure client outcomes. What gets measured gets done. And the wrong metrics stifle innovation. Applying yesterday’s metrics with blunt force is a death sentence for new ideas. The CEO must take a stand on how to gauge digital progress. Implement metrics that: 1. Align to the strategy. 2. Reveal how well you are delivering outcomes to the client (i.e., fulfilling the benefits that brought them to you in the first place). 3. Focus on how well the team is delivering results to clients. 4. Relate to drivers of the P&L and overall franchise health now and in three to five years.

You need to generate speed and momentum through constant progress in small chunks. It beats all-at-once precision that misses the market. Iterate, iterate, iterate, as fast as you can. Make live prototypes and show them to clients. Test and learn. Be flexible to new data and insight. The word “failure” does not appear in this playbook. “Failure” is something you bring upon your team when you don’t take the learning from a study, a test, a prototype, a client conversation and have it fuel the next improvement, however large or small, to allow you to move closer to success. “Failure” is what happens when the water cooler talk echoes with, “That doesn’t work, so we killed it.” A culture of “failure” has gum in its gears.

You must pursue three stages to finding your digital leverage: Step one: Identify the sources of revenue from new clients or relationship expansion (see above point on speed) and the drivers to win this business. Step two: Define the profit model. Step three: Go for scale. I worked under a CEO who set up this one-sentence approach during our early days of digital transformation: “Find the unit profit model and then see if you can scale it.”

You need to collaborate. Some people are wired to collaborate. Others are expert at advancing their own goals through silos. Evidence of growth effectiveness: an environment where colleagues build on each other’s ideas with the goal of shared success. Make collaboration a hiring competency that is taken seriously. Make it an expectation and demonstrate through your own behavior what that means.

Finally, you must get out there and get your hands dirty. We all learn by doing. Fast and valuable knowledge exchange takes place when corporates and start-ups interact. Corporates will find the speed, iteration and absence of failure as a concept inspiring. Start-ups are always looking for mentors and advisers with financial, marketing and operating experience. This quid pro quo can be the basis for a mutually beneficial and mind-expanding relationship. Make the meeting ground any space that is not a corporate conference room.

This post is also published in Amy’s regular column on Huffington Post.

Life-Annuity Insurers: Outlook for 2016

U.S. life-annuity insurers will enter 2016 in relatively good financial condition but facing exponential changes from rapid advances in technology, rising customer expectations and growing competition. These market shifts will require insurers to reinvent their strategies, services and processes, while coping with nagging financial, economic and regulatory uncertainty. Fortunately, after years of bolstering their balance sheets, life-annuity firms are in a strong position to invest in the innovations and technologies needed to fuel future growth.

Growing customer expectations

Digital technology will continue to transform the life-annuity industry in the coming year. From anytime, any-device digital delivery to customized services, today’s diverse insurance customers will demand flexible solutions that go beyond one-size-fits-all product offerings. To take advantage of these trends, insurers will need to adopt a customer-centric approach that relies on deeper relationships, more personalized advice and more rigorous information. At the same time, life-annuity insurers must integrate emerging distribution technologies to reach customers through multiple channels, all without disrupting traditional distribution.

Millennials and mass-affluent consumers, in particular, are seeking the latest digital tools, such as on-demand insurance apps and robo-advisers for automated, algorithm-based financial advice. Meanwhile, insurers are establishing omni-channel platforms to reach and service customers more effectively and exploring the use of wearables and health monitors for usage-based life insurance. Advanced analytics, such as predictive models, combined with cloud and on-demand technologies, will provide insurers with the instruments to re-engineer front and back offices.

To fast-track digital transformation, insurers are turning to partnerships and acquisitions. For example, in 2015, Northwestern Mutual purchased online planner LearnVest to provide more customized support to customers. Other insurance firms, such as Transamerica and Mass Mutual, have set up venture capital firms to invest in digital service providers.

But digital innovation also carries greater risks. Digital technologies make insurers more vulnerable to financial fraud, data theft and political activism. Privacy breaches are becoming a bigger concern as insurers gain wider access to sensitive financial and health data. Even the use of social media is exposing firms to risks from reputational damage.

Competitive pressures are building

As digital technology becomes more pervasive, insurers will face greater competition from new digital start-ups. Although much of the recent innovation in financial services has occurred in the banking and payments sector, insurance is now squarely in the cross-hairs of new digital providers. One example is PolicyGenius, which is offering digital platforms to help consumers shop for insurance. With the recent launch of Google Compare, the rise of InsuranceTech will gain momentum in 2016.

But competition will also come from existing insurers leveraging new digital solutions and business models. For example, John Hancock recently launched Protection UL with Vitality, which rewards life-insurance policyholders for health-related activities monitored through personalized devices. In 2016, more insurance stalwarts will jump on the digital bandwagon through new product development, acquisitions and alliances. At the same time, changing insurance attitudes and practices among Millennials will spread to other age groups. Insurance firms reluctant to embrace innovations for fear of cannibalizing their own market space may be overtaken by more nimble firms able to capitalize on a shifting insurance landscape.

Uncertain economic and regulatory conditions

Life-annuity insurers are operating in a tenuous economic and financial environment with sizable downside risk. In 2016, global economic weakness will continue to be a worry, particularly as emerging market growth decelerates, financial volatility escalates and the U.S. economy muddles through a presidential election year. Regulatory and monetary tinkering will further complicate macro conditions.

The political landscape is likely to remain gridlocked at the federal and state levels as the election cycle concludes. Tax policies are unlikely to change in 2016, but insurers should prepare for new post-election regulatory headwinds in 2017. Insurers should also stay on top of the Department of Labor’s evaluation of fiduciary responsibility rules, which will remain a disruptive force in 2016.

Regulations originally designed for other industries and jurisdictions are being extended into the U.S. insurance market. International regulators are moving ahead with further development of Solvency II and IFRS. The NAIC and state insurance departments are adjusting risk-based capital charges and will react to the first year of ORSA implementation.

Mixed impact on life-annuity insurers

Premiums will grow moderately in 2016. Individual life premium growth will be particularly sluggish, as consumers remain focused on retirement savings. Faced with equity market volatility, consumers will continue to invest in fixed and indexed annuities and avoid variable annuities.

To cope with torpid market conditions, insurers will focus on growing premium and investment income, managing risks and controlling costs. Companies will continue to identify opportunities to improve return on equity through active balance sheet and back-book management. Among the strategies are investments in organic and inorganic growth, seeking reinsurance and capital market capacity and returning excess capital to shareholders. M&A activity will likely accelerate in 2016 as Asian insurers and private equity firms continue their interest in U.S. insurance companies.

Margin compression will dictate sustained emphasis on cost management through centralized control, technology upgrades and better integration of business units. With mission-critical information becoming more accessible, data-driven business decisions are moving to the C-suite. At the same time, regulatory demands and business imperatives are elevating risk management responsibility to the C-suite and board.

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STAYING IN FRONT OF CHANGE: PRIORITIES FOR 2016

In 2016, life-annuity insurers will need to take decisive measures to cope with market upheavals – or risk the consequences. By staying in front of change, insurers can strengthen customer relationships, build market share and gain competitive advantage. Tapping their strong capital positions, insurers will invest in new technologies, systems and people that will allow them to capture their future.

Specifically, leading insurers will focus on the following pathway to change:

1. Pick up the pace of business transformation and innovation

Time to reboot

The life and annuity industry has never been considered highly innovative or nimble. But the convergence of technological, regulatory and customer trends is creating a perfect storm, with the power to upend the industry. EY’s 2015 Retail Life and Annuity Survey of senior executives identified the need to embrace new market realities in 2016, highlighting innovation as a top strategic priority. To cope, industry leaders must act now to rethink their business approach:

Priorities for 2016

Create a company-wide culture of innovation. To foster transformation, insurers will need to break away from their conservative leanings, and create a culture that encourages new thinking. Such a culture should allow for greater experimentation, and even short-term failures, to achieve long-term success. Senior leaders through to middle-managers should champion change and avoid the danger of the status quo.

Drive innovation through cross-functional teams. In 2016, life and annuity insurers will need to cut across organizational silos to drive innovation. Establishing cross-functional teams of sales, underwriting and policy administration can lead to new ideas
that enrich the customer and distributor experience. Similarly, a cross-functional team of actuarial, finance and risk management can help build consensus around new analytical and risk approaches.

Share information openly. Overcoming departmental silos will not be easy. Executives should ensure that information-sharing occurs at the right time and that teams are working from the same set of high-quality data. To avoid time-consuming reconciliations, managers will want to address data discrepancies across business units. Using skilled program managers to track progress against timelines and budgets can help.

2. Reinvent products and services for the new digital consumer

Addressing ever-rising customer expectations

In 2016, life insurance and annuity products will need to come to grips with tectonic shifts in consumer expectations and behaviors. Driven by their experiences in other industries, customers will demand greater digital access, better information and quicker service. Failure to respond will make it difficult for insurers to acquire and retain customers. Fast-moving insurers are redefining their customer relationships and products and services to cope with these new market dynamics.

Priorities for 2016

Offer anytime, anywhere, any-device access. Banks now provide customers with unprecedented 24/7 access and self-service on multiple devices, from PCs to smartphones. In 2016, life insurance customers will expect a similar anytime, any-device experience from insurers from point of sale and throughout the relationship.

Provide greater transparency to customers. In today’s digital world, customers expect clearer product information and pricing transparency. To respond, insurers should reduce the complexity and definitional rigidity of current life insurance products, while providing a more streamlined and transparent issuance process.

Deliver more flexible solutions. Insurers will need to emphasize product flexibility to cost-conscious customers and offer hybrid products that combine income protection, such as long-term care and disability insurance, with life and retirement coverage. For high-net-worth customers, insurers should stress the tax advantages of life insurance and annuities and develop features to compete with alternative investment products.

Build continuing engagement with customers. The life and annuity industry has long suffered from “low engagement” with customers following the initial sale. More customer engagement will minimize the risk of customer indifference and potential disintermediation. Developing an integrated, personalized digital experience that leverages the latest mobile and video technology will be a key to success.

Move toward a service orientation. To differentiate themselves, insurers will want to shift from a product placement to a trusted adviser approach. With established personal relationships in place, and access to more flexible products and services, new sales will occur more naturally in response to customer needs.

3. Adjust distribution strategies for technological and regulatory shifts

The rise of omni-channel distribution

Technological and regulatory changes are prompting life and annuity insurers to think beyond traditional distributors. For example, robo-advisers, growing in popularity in the wealth industry, could offer insurers a way to reach the underserved mass-affluent market. Yet, unlike property and casualty carriers, life and annuity insurers have made little progress in selling through digital channels. Looking ahead to 2016, life and annuity insurers may find themselves losing market share if they fail to adapt to an omni-channel world.

Priorities for 2016

Prepare for new fiduciary standards. In 2016, the Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary rule could upend existing distribution models. The rule strengthens consumer protection, constrains distributors and alters compensation for advisers providing retirement advice. Similar changes in the UK widened the gap in personal financial guidance between wealthy and mid-market customers – a potential impact in the U.S. The ability to recommend specific products may become more difficult, creating a ripple effect on retirement sales and advice.

Adapt services for new distribution models. Insurance firms, particularly those focusing on retirement services, will find themselves under pressure to transform their distribution platforms. In 2016, insurers should consider developing products for an “adviser-less” distribution model that delivers financial and product information directly to consumers through digital platforms. Insurers will need to adjust compensation systems to meet new fiduciary requirements, while maintaining existing distributor relationships.

Explore the use of robo-advisers. Robo-advisers represent a new self-service channel aimed particularly at younger, tech- focused consumers. In 2016, insurers will need to consider the best way to incorporate robo-advisers into their current distribution platforms-through internal development, partnership or acquisition. To help make that decision, insurers should ask themselves: Would the robo-adviser be a new distribution channel, a supporting tool for current distributors or some combination of the two approaches? Insurers will need to evaluate the costs and potential impact of integrating systems to improve sales and service. And with regulations in flux, firms will want to give compliance and suitability careful attention.

4. Reengineer processes to drive efficiency and market growth

Building operational agility

Changing customer expectations are opening up new opportunities for life-annuity insurers to grow their business through innovative products, solutions and go-to-market strategies that focus on the customer experience. However, existing process silos and legacy systems can restrict operational flexibility, so insurers may need to focus on reengineering processes and systems in the year ahead.

Priorities for 2016

Determine if your systems are ready for rapid market change. Today’s assembly line approach to policy quoting, issuance and administration can slow application turnaround and detract from the customer and distributor experience. Once a policy is issued, legacy administrative systems can limit the ability of customers and distributors to access current account information, especially policy values, and to self-service their accounts. This problem can be exacerbated as customers purchase additional products from the insurer, particularly if those purchases are on different platforms.

Ensure that your systems can stand up to new regulatory rigors. Policy issuance and administration are not the only areas affected by process silos and legacy systems. Regulatory changes and risk management imperatives are putting pressure on finance to improve the quality and speed of reporting, as well as the use of advanced analytics for predicting and stress testing trends. As companies expand into new geographic markets and lines of business, the complexity of reporting and analyzing data is multiplied. A review of your systems through a regulatory lens could be helpful.

Invest in next-generation processes and analytics. Recognizing the importance of operational excellence to future strategies, insurers will continue to invest in straight-through-processing in 2016 to speed application turnaround times. They will also use more advanced analytics to enable underwriters to minimize the amount of required medical data, slash decision- making time and improve accuracy. Data consolidation projects will remain a high priority for many IT departments.

Revamp IT systems built for simpler times. During 2016, insurers will need to improve and replace IT systems that have reached the end of their useful life and are no longer fit for purpose. Unlike past investment cycles in IT systems, when one generation of hardware replaced another, the emergence of cloud technologies and on-demand solutions create new flexible options that can be implemented more quickly.

Consider partnerships that will facilitate transformation. To support critical business data processes, life-annuity insurers should explore creating strategic alliances with outside specialists. Insurers have already worked on consolidating legacy information systems and integrating data from around the firm, which will facilitate their transition to cloud and on-demand platforms. However, management must clearly understand the auditing, control and business risks of taking that leap.

5. Bring in the right talent to lead innovation

A growing talent gap

Life and annuity insurers are finding that driving innovation will take fresh ideas and new talent. As they age, distribution teams are falling out of sync with emerging consumer demographics.

The result: Life insurance and annuity sales to younger generations are declining, a trend that will only build momentum over time. In 2016, insurers will want to meet this challenge head-on by developing initiatives to attract young, diverse workers.

Priorities for 2016

Take concrete actions to compete for talent. The talent shortage affects every layer of the organization, from gaps in senior executive roles to deficiencies in technical skills. At the same time, the industry’s image as staid and risk-averse often does not appeal to the brightest and most promising young people, who view fast-growing technology companies as their employers of choice. Insurers will need to compete fiercely for the talent required to build the next-generation insurance company.

Go beyond image-building to attract fresh blood. Executives recognize that simply burnishing the industry’s image will not be enough to draw in new talent, such as data scientists and digital experience designers. In 2016, insurers need to offer greater flexibility in work locations, find creative ways to motivate and reward employees and fine-tune talent management programs.

Make diversity a strategic imperative. Workforce diversity is more than a compliance exercise; it offers a powerful way to achieve key strategic objectives. An employee base that reflects the customer universe is better-equipped to respond to changing customer needs. Diverse teams make better decisions by avoiding groupthink. In 2016, life and annuity insurers will broaden their efforts to attract a workforce representing a mix of cultural, demographic and psychographic backgrounds.

6. Put cybersecurity high on the corporate agenda

Escalating cyber risks

Leveraging social media, the cloud and other digital technologies will expose life and annuity insurers to greater cyber risks in 2016. These risks can run the gamut from financial fraud and corporate terrorism to privacy breaches and reputational damage. To protect their businesses and their clients, insurers will need to take strong measures to keep their technical platforms air-tight.

Priorities for 2016

Make cybersecurity a priority. Inadequate cybersecurity can cause a serious financial, legal and reputational fallout. In today’s digital age, hacking often involves organized crime looking to steal data and trade secrets for financial gain. Cyber attacks can also be politically motivated to disrupt organizations. Whatever the motive, insurers will want to ensure that growing digital connections between their systems and outside parties are well-protected.

Take a broad view of the potential risks. Cybersecurity is not the only data-related risk for insurers to consider. Privacy issues surrounding consumer and distributor information are a mounting area of concern, especially as insurers use that data in product pricing, underwriting and target marketing. In addition, social media can make insurers vulnerable to reputational risks – in real time.

Safeguard customer data from misuse. Although consumers have grown accustomed to providing personal information to third parties, there is still uneasiness over usage, especially when it involves sensitive consumer medical and financial information. Insurance firms, particularly those with a global client base, need to stay abreast of emerging privacy regulations that could affect the use of digital technology and analytics. Crucially, insurers must invest in internal firewalls that protect personal data from misuse.

Assess your exposure to data sovereignty risks. As insurers move toward cloud computing and on-demand solutions, issues surrounding data sovereignty are becoming more complex. In a hyperconnected world – where a U.S. insurer might partner with a Dutch firm using a data service in India – the concept of data residing in one jurisdiction is difficult to apply. To cope, insurers will want to set up processes to monitor changing data regulations around the world and their impact on their businesses.

This piece was written by Doug French and Mike Hughes. For the full white paper, click here.

Is ‘Direct’ a Dirty Word for Insurers?

The second-worst-kept secret of the year, after the launch of Google Compare in the U.S., is Berkshire Hathaway announcing its plans to sell insurance directly to business owners over the web. Quelle surprise.

I recently spoke with a C-suite exec who told me that “direct” is a dirty word.

Perception is reality.

In reality, though, “direct” is a lousy term that doesn’t do justice to the implementations that today’s technology has to offer that are often in direct alignment with an insurance company’s business model.

The conversation becomes uncomfortable to some once the word “middlemen” is introduced. It doesn’t have to be.

There are two primary outcomes to direct selling: (1) eliminating the middlemen or (2) empowering them. For visualization purposes, consider the following three brands:

Quotemehappy.com occupies the left extreme of selling directly to consumers. A spin-off of Aviva since 2011, the online insurer only provides phone support if a customer has a claim. For all other inquiries, there is browsing. Then there are the Geicos of the world, where insurers offer the convenience of buying on the web with the assurance of speaking to an agent, when needed. To the right extreme, Plymouth Rock provides an example of an insurer that has a patent-pending technology that matches online quotes to agents either pre- or post-purchase. There are several other players occupying the comfortable middle with direct-to-consumer models that offer varying degrees of human interaction.

Typically the outcome is determined by the company’s original distribution channel: whether offline, web or mobile. The table below further illustrates how versatile “going direct” can be:

  • Geico, Policy Genius and Cuvva are examples of insurance companies that implemented a direct-to-consumer strategy from the get-go; here, direct is a no-brainer.
  • Plymouth Rock and Quotemehappy.com via Aviva signal companies that implemented a direct-to-consumer strategy in an attempt to address a change in the market.
  • Allstate acquired Esurance to buy its way into the direct market, and so did AmFam with the acquisition of Homesite.
  • Also, AmFam invested in insurance comparison site CoverHound.

When all is said and done, direct selling is first and foremost a marketing channel that empowers the consumer. Sans proper marketing and messaging, the online insurance journey is transactional at best, and players risk commoditizing their product.

“Commodity.” Now there’s a dirty word for you.

What Is the Business of Workers’ Comp?

At the risk of alienating most people within the workers’ comp world, here’s how things look from my desk:

Most workers’ comp executives – C-suite residents included – do not understand the business they are in. They think they are in the insurance business – and they are not. They are in the medical and disability management business, with medical listed first in order of priority.

That statement is bound to lead more than a few readers to conclude I’m the one who doesn’t know what I’m doing. For those willing to hear me out, press on – for the rest, see you in bankruptcy court.

Twenty-five years ago, the health insurance business was dominated by indemnity insurers and Blues plans; big insurers like Aetna, Travelers, Great West Life, Met Life and Connecticut General and smaller ones including Liberty Life, Home Life, Jefferson Pilot, Time and UnionMutual. Where are those indemnity insurers today?

With the exception of Aetna, none is in the business; the only reason Aetna survived is it took over USHealthcare, or, more accurately, USHealthcare took over Aetna. The Blues that became HMO-driven flourished, as did the then-tiny HMOs – Kaiser, UnitedHealthcare, Coventry. Why were these provider-centric models successful while the insurers were not? Simple: The health plans understood they were in the business of providing affordable medical care to members, while insurers thought they were in the business of protecting insureds from the financial consequences of ill health.

The parallels between the old indemnity insurers and most of today’s workers’ comp insurers are frightening. Senior management misunderstands their core deliverable; they think it is providing financial protection from industrial accidents, when in reality it is preventing losses and delivering quality medical care designed to return injured workers to maximum function.

That lack of understanding is no surprise, as most of the senior folks in top positions grew up in an industry where medical was a small piece of the claims dollar. Medical costs were considered a line item on a claim file or number on a loss run, and not “manageable” – not driven by process, outcomes, quality.

Think I’m wrong?

Then why is the industry focused almost entirely on buying medical care through huge discount-based networks populated by every doc capable of fogging a mirror (and some who can’t)? Even with those huge networks, why is network penetration barely above 60% nationally? Why has adoption of outcome-based networks been a dismal failure? Why do so few workers’ comp payers employ expert medical directors, and, among those who do, why don’t those payers give those medical directors real authority? Why do non-medical people approve drugs, hospitalizations, surgeries, often overriding medical experts who know more and better?

Because senior management does not understand that success in their business is based on delivering high-quality medical care to injured workers.

At some point, some smart investor is going to figure this out, buy a book of business and a great third-party administrator (TPA) for several hundred million dollars, install management who understand this business is medically driven and proceed to make a very healthy profit. Alas, the current execs who don’t get it will be retired long before their companies crater, leaving their mess behind for someone else to clean up.