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Blockchain’s Future in Insurance

Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that is likely to have a far-reaching impact on business – on a par with the transformative effect of the internet. Not surprisingly, the huge potential promised by blockchain has prompted a flurry of research activity across different sectors as diverse organizations race to develop applications.

In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits that blockchain could bring to the insurance industry and the different challenges that will need to be overcome.

Overview

Blockchain has strong potential in the short and long term in several different areas, particularly where it links with emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). But its potential for delivering new applications also depends on the development of blockchain technology itself. In the medium and short term, there are three categories where blockchain can be applied:

  • Data storage and exchange: Numerous data and files can be stored using blockchain. The technology provides for more secure, traceable records compared with current storage means.
  • Peer-to-peer electronic payment: Bitcoin (and other blockchain-based cash systems) is a cryptographic proof-based electronic payment system (instead of a trust-based one). This feature is highly efficient while ensuring transparent and traceable electronic transfer.
  • Smart contracts: Smart contracts are digital protocols whereby various parameters are set up in advance. When pre-set parameters are satisfied, smart contracts can execute various tasks without human intervention, greatly increasing efficiency.

Data storage and peer-to-peer electronic transfer are feasible blockchain applications for the short term. At this stage, the technical advantages of blockchain are mainly reflected in data exchange efficiencies, as well as larger-scale data acquisition.

See also: The Opportunities in Blockchain  

Smart contracts via blockchain will play a more important role in the medium to long term. By that time, blockchain-based technology will have a far-reaching impact on the business model of insurance companies, industrial management models and institutional regulation. Of course, there will be challenges to overcome, and further technological innovation will be needed as blockchain’s own deficiencies or risks emerge during its evolution. But just like internet technology decades ago, blockchain promises to be a transformative technology.

Scenarios for blockchain applications in insurance

Macro level

Proponents of blockchain technology believe it has the power to break the data acquisition barrier and revolutionize data sharing and data exchange in the industry. Small and medium-sized carriers could use blockchain-based technology to obtain higher-quality and more comprehensive data, giving them access to new opportunities and growth through more accurate pricing and product design in specific niche markets.

At the same time, blockchain-based insurance and reinsurance exchange platforms – that could include many parties – would also upgrade industry processes. For example, Zhong An Technology is currently working closely with reinsurers in Shanghai to try to establish a blockchain reinsurance exchange platform.

Scenario 1 – Mutual insurance

Blockchain is a peer-to-peer mechanism, via the DAO (decentralized autonomic organization) as a virtual decision-making center, and premiums paid by each and every insured are stored in the DAO. Each and every insured participant has the right to vote and therefore decide on final claim settlement when a claim is triggered. Blockchain makes the process transparent and highly efficient with secure premium collection, management and claim payment thanks to its decentralization.

In China, Trust Mutual Life has built a platform based on blockchain and biological identification technology. In August 2017, Trust Mutual Life launched a blockchain-based mutual life insurance product called a “Courtesy Help Account,” where every member can follow the fund. Plus, the platform reduces operational costs more than a traditional life insurance company of a similar size.

Scenario 2 – Microinsurance (short-term insurance products for certain specific scenarios)

An example of short-term insurance could be for car sharing or providers of booking and renting accommodation via the internet. Such products are mainly pre-purchased by the service provider and then purchased by end users. However, blockchain makes it possible for end users to purchase insurance coverage at any time based on their actual usage, inception and expiring time/date. In this way, records would be much more accurate and therefore avoid potential disputes.

Scenario 3 – Automatic financial settlement

The technical characteristics of blockchain have inherent advantages in financial settlement. Combined with smart contracts, blockchain can be applied efficiently and securely throughout the entire process of insurance underwriting, premium collection, indemnity payment and even reinsurance.

Micro level

Blockchain has the potential to change the pattern of product design, pricing and claim services.

Parametric insurance (e.g. for agricultural insurance, delay-in-flight insurance, etc.):

Parametric insurance requires real-time data interface and exchange among different parties. Although it is an efficient form of risk transfer, it still has room for further cost improvement. Taking parametric agricultural insurance and flight delay insurance as examples, a lot of human intervention is still required for claim settlement and payment.

With blockchain, the efficiency of data exchange can be significantly improved. Smart contracts can also further reduce human intervention in terms of claim settlement, indemnity payment, etc., which will significantly reduce the insurance companies’ operating costs. In addition, operating efficiency is increased, boosting customer satisfaction.

Some Chinese insurers are already working on blockchain-based agricultural insurance. In March 2018, for example, PICC launched a blockchain-based livestock insurance platform. Currently, the project is limited to cows. Each cow is identified and registered in the blockchain-based platform during its whole life cycle. All necessary information is uploaded and stored in real time in the platform. Claims are triggered and settled automatically via blockchain. The platform also serves as an efficient and reliable food safety tracing system.

Auto insurance, homeowners insurance: 

Blockchain has wider application scenarios in the field of auto insurance and homeowners insurance when combined with the IoT. There are applications from a single vehicle perspective as well as portfolios as a whole. From a standalone vehicle perspective, the complete history of each vehicle is stored in blocks. This feature allows insurers to have access to accurate information on each and every vehicle, plus maintenance, accidents, vehicle parts conditions, history and the owner’s driving habits. Such data facilitates more accurate pricing based on dedicated information for each and every single vehicle.

From the insured’s point of view, the combination of blockchain and IoT effectively simplifies the claims service process and claim settlement efficiency.

From the perspective of the overall vehicle, blockchain and IoT can drastically lower big data acquisition barriers, especially for small  and medium-sized carriers. This will have a positive impact on pricing accuracy and new product development in auto insurance.

Taking usage-based insurance (UBI) for autos as an example, it’s technically possible to record and share the exact time and route of an insured vehicle, meaning that UBI policies could be priced much more accurately. Of course, insurers will have to consider how to respond in situations where built-in sensors in the insured vehicle break or a connection fails. Furthermore, insurance companies also have to decide whether an umbrella policy is needed on top of the UBI policy, to control their exposure when such situations occur.

Cargo insurance:

Real-time information sharing of goods, cargo ships, vehicles, etc. is made possible with blockchain and the IoT. This will not only improve claims service efficiency but also help to reduce moral hazards.

In this regard, Maersk, EY Guardtime and XL Catlin recently launched a blockchain-based marine insurance platform cooperation project. Its aim is to facilitate data and information exchange, reduce operating costs among all stakeholders and improve the credibility and transparency of shared information.

International program placement and premium/claims management:

Blockchain-based technology allows insurance companies, brokers and corporate risk managers to improve the efficiency of international program settlement and daily management, at the same time reducing data errors from different countries and regions and avoiding currency exchange losses.

Coping with claim frauds:

Blockchain is already being applied to verify the validity of claims and the amount of adjustment. In Canada, the Quebec auto insurance regulator (Québec Auto Insurance) has implemented a blockchain-based information exchange platform. Driver information, vehicle registration information, the vehicle’s technical inspection result, auto insurance and claims information, etc. are all shared through the platform. The platform not only reduces insurance companies’ operating costs but also effectively helps to reduce fraud.

All insurance companies that have access to the platform receive a real-time notice when a vehicle is reported to be stolen. Insurance companies have full access to every vehicle’s technical information, which promotes more accurate pricing for individual policyholders.

Claims settlement:

Using a smart contract, the insured will automatically receive indemnity when conditions in the policy are met: Human intervention will not be needed to adjust the settlement. In the future, some insurance products will effectively be smart contracts whereby coverages, terms and conditions are actually the parameters of the smart contract. When the parameters are met, policies are triggered automatically by the smart contract and a record stored in the blockchain.

Business models like this will not only build higher trust in the insurance company but will also greatly increase its operational efficiency, reducing costs; it will also help to reduce moral hazard.

Internal management systems:

Internal management systems could be automated through use of blockchain and smart contracts, helping to improve management efficiency and reduce labor costs as well as the efficiency of compliance audit.

See also: How Insurance and Blockchain Fit  

Challenges and problems

Decentralization strengthens information sharing and reduces the monopoly advantages that information asymmetry provides. Under such circumstances, insurance companies have to pay more attention to pricing, product development, claims services and even reputation risk. All this adds up to new challenges for the company management.

At the same time, every aspect of the insurance industry must be more focused on ensuring the accuracy of original information at the initial stage of its business. Knowing how to respond to false declarations from insureds will be crucial.

From a more macro perspective, “localized blocks” of data will be inevitable in the early phase of development in line with the pace of technical development and regulatory constraints.

In theory, it is impossible to hack blockchain, but data protection will be an issue for localized blocks. Therefore, higher cyber security protection will be required to protect these localized blocks.

The interaction of blockchain with other technologies could mean that existing intermediary roles are replaced by new technologies in different sectors. If the insurance industry wants to ensure the continuous development of the intermediary, it should address the possible disruptive risks to existing distribution business models posed by blockchain.

The necessary investment (both tangible and intangible costs) associated with adopting blockchain technology is a big consideration for many companies at this stage. Insurance companies and reinsurance companies operate numerous systems, and the decision to integrate blockchain-based technology/platform shouldn’t be taken lightly. At the current stage of blockchain evolution, this could be one of the biggest obstacles facing insurers.

Overall, blockchain is an inspiring prospect, and there is every reason to believe that this technological breakthrough will bring positive effects to individual insurers everywhere. But at the same time, we need to understand the mutual challenges that lie ahead and work together to promote our industry’s development in what promises to be an exciting new era.

Download PDF version for endnotes and further reading.

Global Outlook for P&C, Life-Annuity

In 2015, the macroeconomic environment across much of the world shows significant improvement, with GDP rising in many countries and both the middle class and high-net-worth populations expanding in number and financial resources. These factors bode well for the global outlook for international property-casualty and life-annuity insurance companies.

Key challenges in 2015 include rising competition, generally soft pricing conditions and tight profit margins. To effectively surmount these problems, many insurers are investing in technological solutions that improve front-end sales, distribution and customer service and enhance back-end operational efficiency and expense management.

If one word could sum up the focus of insurers in 2015, it is “technology.” Many insurers are investing in digital platforms that strengthen their relationships with customers across all product classifications and geographies. Their goal is to empower both businesses and consumers to better shop for insurance, making products more transparent, easier to understand and compare.

Across all regions, insurers are capitalizing on data analytics, cloud computing and modeling techniques to sharpen their market segmentation strategies, reduce claims fraud and strengthen underwriting and risk management. They are also investing in technology solutions to optimize processes, increase collaboration across the enterprise and demonstrate capital adequacy and financial solvency for regulatory compliance purposes.

Now that much of the world has returned to more stable economic conditions, it makes eminent sense for property-casualty and life-annuity insurance companies to invest in digital solutions that widen margins and provide competitive differentiation. But technology is a two-edged sword, as the shocking number of data breaches clearly demonstrates. Thus, one last important “spend trend” in 2015 for international insurers—cyber security.

Our comprehensive global outlook explores the various challenges and opportunities confronting global insurance organizations in 2015. In this report, we offer our perspective on the property-casualty and life-annuity insurance markets in Asia-Pacific, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the U.S.

 Asia-Pacific
  • Although insurers in Asia-Pacific are likely to confront deteriorating economic conditions in 2015, growth prospects remain solid for life and non-life insurance products, with GDP projected to rise 5.5%.
  • Rising real estate and financial asset values are enabling insurers throughout the region to produce higher premium volume from the increased protection levels.
  • The growth of the middle class and high-net-worth population in Asia-Pacific presents the opportunity for insurers to increase their sales of personal lines insurance products, as well as health insurance.
  • Commercial lines insurance prospects remain strong, given the region’s elevated catastrophe risk, the rise in infrastructure and home building across much of Asia- Pacific and a low insurance penetration rate.
  • Insurers are challenged to invest in data analytics and modeling capabilities, as well as Internet and mobile digital sales, distribution and customer service solutions, given an increasingly technologically sophisticated population.
  • Regulations addressing insurer solvency, capital and risk management are moving to the front burner, in addition to consumer protections in the areas of data privacy and security.
 Canadian Property and Casualty
  • Profit margins for property-casualty insurance companies in 2015 are challenged by continuing low interest rates and GDP growth, the volatile investment climate and expense increases from needed infrastructure improvements.
  • A major competitive opportunity for insurers is to strengthen their relationships with customers, effectively putting them in focus across all product classifications and geographies, while digitally empowering them to better shop for and compare insurance products.
  • A key challenge in 2015 for Canadian property-casualty insurers is to improve the industry’s low level of consumer trust by integrating distribution and communication channels and providing more transparent information.
  • Opportunities to improve both commercial and personal lines sales and optimize growth are available to insurers that invest in technologies, such as cloud computing, mobile solutions and business collaboration software.
  • Building an enterprise data excellence infrastructure via more robust data analytics and predictive modeling will help insurers pinpoint new growth opportunities, optimize claims outcomes, reduce the incidence of claims fraud and mitigate bottom line risks.
  • Regulatory pressures in 2015 include demands on property-casualty insurers to become more disciplined in their risk management, capital planning and operational oversight.
 Canadian Life
  • Although providers of life insurance and annuities in Canada have endured several years of constrained growth, opportunities exist to improve competitive standing by providing products to underserved consumer markets.
  • A key challenge for insurers in 2015 is the need to develop more robust mobile digital technologies, data analytics
    and social media strategies to address growing consumer expectations of more refined product sales and distribution.
  • To boost sales revenue, providers of life insurance and annuities in Canada must make their products easier to understand and compare, in addition to streamlining the transaction process.
  • To enhance customer experience and enable self-service features, life insurers must consider the value of a digital platform enabling the sharing of information with and among intermediaries and consumers.
  • A key opportunity in 2015 for life insurers is to develop solutions absorbing the longevity risks of pension plan actions to lower risk, which are driven by improvements in life expectancy and the low-interest-rate environment.
  • Regulatory pressures continue to intensify, putting the onus on life insurers to improve their compliance and control functions, implementing more robust governance programs to address key business risks.
 U.S. Life-Annuity
  • Growth prospects are promising for U.S. providers of life insurance and annuities, as the overall economy improves, consumer wealth increases and interest rates creep higher.
  • Key challenges in 2015 include growing competition, especially from new capital entrants seeking to disrupt traditional market positions with new models and market approaches, aligning with rising customer expectations.
  • To succeed in this environment, providers of life insurance and annuities must expand their digital capabilities with new Internet, social media and mobile tools that empower customers and distributors with self-service features, while also making insurance products easier to understand, compare and buy.
  • A major opportunity to widen margins exists for insurers that leverage big data and the cloud to transform back offices systems and processes; these decisions must be weighed against the cyber security risks and regulatory issues they present.
  • As many consumers turn to online banking and investment services to manage their finances, they will seek similar opportunities from providers of life insurance and annuities, presenting opportunities for insurers that develop online advice and transactional models.
  • A continuing challenge in 2015 is the need to navigate the wide array of complex capital solvency and risk management regulations enacted in the aftermath of the financial crisis and overseen by competing regulatory authorities with different demands.
 U.S. Property-Casualty
  • Despite slow-to-rebound interest rates and inflationary medical and food costs, strong performance for U.S. property-casualty insurers is expected, with combined ratios returning to those in the years before the financial crisis.
  • A key challenge includes slow premium growth, which continues to be inhibited by rising competition, an overabundance of capital and inexpensive reinsurance, the latter a consequence of low insured catastrophe losses the last two years.
  • The soft pricing conditions are constraining profit margins, compelling insurers to focus on expense management and operational efficiency, reducing costs through technology upgrades, process optimization, selective offshoring and enhanced risk management.
  • The use of data analytics and modeling techniques to improve underwriting and back-office processes remains a potent opportunity for U.S. property-casualty insurers to bolster their competitive standing.
  • On the distribution front, insurers will optimize the channel mix, adding distribution outlets and expanding aggregator and direct-to-consumer models, while providing consumers with enhanced product price transparency and real-time support and service.
  • To address the evolving array of capital solvency and risk management regulations, and achieve compliance with different regulatory authorities, property-casualty insurers will need to invest in more skilled management and data analytics resources in 2015.
 Latin America
  • Insurer growth prospects are generally favorable, although market demand for property-casualty and life insurance products is evolving at different rates, given disparate economic factors across the region.
  • The expansion in Latin America’s middle class and high net worth populations, as well as the region’s technologically savvy younger generations, create opportunities for providers of automobile insurance and mobile technology warranties.
  • As more homes and office buildings are built throughout the region, the need to insure these structures from the damaging effects of natural disasters is a positive trend for commercial property and homeowners insurers.
  • A key challenge for many insurers in 2015 is the need to modernize their operations and distribution models to adapt to rising business and consumer expectations of digital, mobile and Internet interactions, particularly for commercial lines of insurance where intermediaries retain control.
  • On the regulatory front, regions are addressing global standards on capital solvency and risk management
    on different timetables, putting the onus on insurers to continually monitor and evaluate these developments to exploit a competitive advantage.
  • As competition throughout Latin America intensifies
    in 2015, insurers that best leverage data analytics
    and predictive modeling techniques to improve their underwriting and management of risks have the opportunity to make more profitable business decisions.
 Europe
  • European insurers will continue to be challenged on both sides of the balance sheet in 2015, as economic recovery throughout the region is overshadowed by low business investment rates, slower global growth and heightened competition in many classes of business.
  • There is a greater responsibility for insurance companies to interact with the customer, provide a range of digital communication channels, encourage loyalty and brand awareness and tailor products and services to individual needs.
  • A growing number of insurers are scaling up their analytical capabilities to be in a better position to use data in a more connected way, drawing meaningful insights at virtually every stage of the insurance life cycle from customer targeting to product design and pricing, underwriting, claims and reporting.
  • Regulatory initiatives will require greater transparency regarding the information provided to customers, revisions to relationships with distributors and greater governance and oversight over new and existing products.
  • Finance is under pressure to show it can be a better business partner in planning, budgeting and forecasting, adding more value while also responding to regulatory requirements and tax challenges.

For the full EY report from which this was excerpted, click here.