Tag Archives: digital disruption

3 Trends That Defined 2020

As the New Year begins, the time for reflection has arrived. After a year that nobody could have predicted, I look to summarize three defining trends that developed last year and give my own prediction about the future of insurance as we begin the journey of 2021.

1. COVID-19 compelling the need for agility

Falling equity markets. Historically low interest rates. Shrinking new-business volumes. Reductions in consumer spending. The impact of COVID-19 within the insurance industry has been pronounced.

Insurers face a cacophony of challenges: new rivals, increased customer expectations, stalling transformation projects – the likes of which have been detailed extensively by market analysts.

However, the impact of COVID-19 was not in bringing these challenges into being but to cast them into the light: accelerating their impact and forcing insurers to re-prioritize their goals in unfavorable market conditions.

And, while many have articulated how we got here and why the challenges happened, few are commenting on what happens next, and the road back to pre-COVID rates of growth for the industry as a whole.

New Priorities

Insurers face a transformation crisis. Many long-term digital projects are stalling. While it is impractical to undertake a capital-expense-heavy program in the era of COVID-19, the demand for digital services continues to grow.

Insurers, therefore, are faced with a contradictory impasse. The solution? Reframing digital transformation as an iterative process as opposed to a one-off wholesale solution.

By undertaking small and agile projects, with a quick time-to-value and low cost, insurers can obtain the short-term benefits that drive growth and deliver agility with low risk.

Using this methodology, insurers can continue to innovate, digitize and build capabilities in applications, cloud or low-code solutions, while not over-committing to any specific long-term objective that could carry high risk due to the volatility of the market. 

2. The Continued Rise of Customer Experience

Customer experience is not a new concern. The adage, “the customer is always right,” has been a ubiquitous element of the business lexicon since the times of Harold Selfridge back in the early 1900s.

But, today, customers demand services that are personalized to their every need and prioritize simplicity and performance, so the importance of customer experience has grown. The realization that policy admin systems are not the most valuable systems insurers possess is starting to come to the fore.

In years past, the industry was built around policy. If you were traveling on holiday, you chose a policy that best satisfied your needs. If you bought a home, you chose a policy that provided the level of cover you wanted. If you drove a car, you chose a policy that matched your driving experience. And so on and so forth. The policy was at the center of the equation, and policy admin systems were created to maintain this status quo.

See also: Designing a Digital Insurance Ecosystem

Fast-forward to the modern day. Now the customer is king, and customers want their individual needs satisfied immediately, clearly, just in time, with a personalized service, and they want to only pay for the cover they need. That is a world away from selling a standard policy a million times over to people who might (or might not) need it, either in its entirety or all of the time.

In response to this shift, insurers are attempting to change the focus of the industry and gear it toward customers, but attempting to do this with a policy admin system is the equivalent of trying to fit square pegs in round holes: It simply does not work.

Round Pegs. Round Holes.

Insurers, today, must equip themselves with the right tools to provide an exemplary service. Policy admin systems that are focused on the creation of policy remain invaluable tools but only when used appropriately.

Instead of using a back-end system to provide a front-end service, insurers are realizing that they must focus on implementing two-speed architecture; the back end focused on policy, the front end focused on the customer and each designed to communicate with the other in an open-looped system.

Through this design, policy admin systems are put to use doing what they do best, while a more strategic, adaptable, omnichannel and personalized customer relationship management system can run in the foreground, delivering customers the content and experiences they want and driving up insurers’ satisfaction rates as a result.

3. The Unrelenting Pressure of Digital Disruption

“Disruption” and “innovation” are terms often used interchangeably, but the truth is that they have very different meanings.

Innovation, makes an existing approach better, whereas disruption transforms an existing approach into something new.

For the insurance industry, digital has rapidly moved to the disruption category.  

Digital disruption – or digitization – is having such a pronounced impact on the insurance industry that it is radically changing the very essence of what it means to be insured.

Traditionally, in the event the worst happened, insurance would reimburse you to the value of the wrong you experienced, at a cost to the insurer. It was a cause-and-effect relationship.   

However, via the process of embedding new technologies into their everyday operations, insurers are moving the needle away from reactionary tactics.

Using AI-driven technology and big data in real time to more closely monitor insurance products and predict and manage claims events before they even happen, insurers are no longer merely responding to when something goes wrong; they’re helping their customers avoid it.

From Reactive to Proactive

This disruption is having a pronounced impact on the industry as a whole – as a growing number of consumers demand this protection and insurance package.

Today, insurers understand that technology holds the key to delivering this differentiated value to their customers. But acknowledging new technologies and implementing new technologies are very different propositions.

While digitization is a foregone conclusion for insurers wishing to compete in the world of tomorrow, understanding how to deploy the right technology for the right purpose is no small feat. And those really willing to compete in this new dynamic must be prepared for significant change to the systems, processes and people within their business.

See also: How Will Strategies Change in 2021?

A Complex Equation

It is, perhaps, underwhelming to describe 2020 as memorable. The term era-defining might yet serve a more accurate purpose. For insurers, the year was unpredictable at best and unmanageable at worst; a string of disruptive and unforeseen events combining to create a pressure cooker of complexity.

Today, insurance stands on the precipice of profound change, and this piece has articulated a handful of the defining trends that brought us here. But as we look to the future of the industry, my prediction is that customer experience will become the single greatest definer of success, and those insurers that best find the balance between policy and customer will reap the rewards.

To learn more, check out these insurance success stories.

Small Insurers and Digital Priorities

From what I’ve seen in recent insurance technology news updates, it appears that the insurance industry is finally ripe for change, ready to make the leap to digital technologies that will lead us into tomorrow. Or is it?

Consider these core drivers of change: digital innovations such as cloud, telematics, IoT, analytics and AI, mobile, real-time 24/7 access to data, the growing need for on-demand products and, in general, using these transformative technologies to create operational efficiencies, adopt new business models and anticipate and exceed customer expectations.

Even though we know these technologies are enabling new insurance products, methods, processes, services and business models, there is still an omnipresent culture that hangs on to the troubling “it’s the way we’ve always done it” battle cry. This is often voiced by insurers that share their frustrations with being challenged to change existing culture from inside out to address these digital drivers.

My view is that, while many of the larger insurers are making the hard move to adopt digital technologies, it’s still not a priority for many small- to medium-sized insurance companies. And now, more than ever, there is a certain urgency to having that discussion. Tanguy Catlin, senior partner with McKinsey & Co., when addressing the issue, referred to it as the “tipping point” that is “where those that have not adapted their [digital] strategies fade away.”

See also: Darwinian Shift to Digital Insurance 2.0  

In research results published by MIT Sloan Management Review (SMR) and Deloitte’s Digital practice, 87% of executives queried believe that digital technologies will disrupt their industries, yet only 44% felt they were adequately preparing for it. Gerald Kane, professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and MIT Sloan Management Review guest editor for the Digital Business Initiative, compares insurers’ thinking about digital disruption to homeowners in disaster-prone areas who often seem caught off guard when an actual hurricane or cyclone strikes.

Source: MIT Sloan Management Review

So, why isn’t adoption of digital technologies a priority for more small- to medium-sized insurers? While many see the opportunities presented by digital technologies, perhaps they don’t believe the likelihood is high that digital will actually disrupt their own organization. But the authors of the research note that, if digital technologies represent an opportunity for your organization, they also represent a threat for your competitors — and vice versa.

I get it, change is hard… but, the argument, “we are not in a financial position to prioritize” is irrelevant to the discussion of digital technology investments. Competitors aren’t waiting for your company to be in a better “financial position” before they act. Moreover, because at some point in the coming years insurers will need to replace their growing faction of retirement-age employees with a younger, more tech-savvy labor force. And in a war for the best talent, the A and B players have absolutely no desire to work on outdated systems. So, what does that mean for the future of your company?

See also: Digital Insurance, Anyone?  

Just remember, technology is an accelerator for your company and your staff. In other words, the more digital technologies that are put into play, the greater and faster the return. Those insurers that ignore its call will fall further and further behind until they reach the tipping point and slowly fade away. Remember what happened to Blockbuster Video when it failed to adapt in a time of digital change. Don’t be a Blockbuster in a Netflix world.

Disruptive Trends in Claims Cycle (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, in part one of this two part series, we discussed three trends that are disrupting the insurance claims cycle: the use of sensors, catastrophe support, and decreasing claims volumes. Indeed, these trends are drastically affecting the insurance industry, but there’s more. Investment in insurance technology has reached $3.4 billion since 2010. Most insurers, however, are falling behind in this trend toward digital innovation. In a survey by Willis Towers Watson, 74% of insurance professionals believe that the industry has failed to show leadership in digital innovation. Let’s take a closer look at a few more of the trends insurance professionals should consider.

Trend #4 – Digital Disruption

Insurance customers now want omnichannel access to products and services. This means the ability to file claims in person, on the phone, or, most importantly, through an app or website. The trend toward digital also means more personalized accounts and experiences for policyholders. As many as 76 percent of insurance policyholders report that they would change insurance providers to get personalized service and product offerings that are more tailored to their needs.

See also: Disruptive Trends in Claims Cycle (Part 1)  

Trend #5 – Improving Risk Management

Increased access to data enables insurers to better manage and mitigate risk. With advanced data gathering and innovative technology, insurers can better know the risks involved in any number of situations. For example, wearable technologies such as Fitbits and Apple Watches are revolutionizing health and life insurance by providing data that was never accessible in the past. According to Accenture, 33 percent of insurers now offer services that depend on wearable technology.

This trend toward improved risk management through technology can help insurers become more efficient in the risks they choose to take on. Insurers are now using “predictive modeling” to assess risk. According to Exastax, predictive modeling is allowing insurers to “identify whether drivers are likely to be involved in an accident, or have their car stolen, by combining their behavioral data with the exogenous factors such as road conditions or safe neighborhoods.”

Trend #6 – Innovative Technology

Technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence (AI) are also rapidly changing the insurance claims cycle. Both are being used to assist in claims processing. For example, drones can be used conduct insurance inspections on property damage claims, particularly following catastrophic events where conditions are too dangerous for physical adjustors. It is projected that 7 million drones will be owned by Americans in the year 2020. As a result, it is likely that the number of freelance drone operators working in the insurance industry will go up, radically changing the insurance claims cycle.

AI makes it possible for many insurance-related processes to be completed without any human interaction. Consider that a chatbot called Jim, from insurer Lemonade, can settle a claim in less than 3 seconds. Insurance professionals know that this type of speed is critical and game-changing, particularly in times of increased demand.

See also: How to Be Disruptive in Emerging Markets

Final Thoughts

Like many other industries, the insurance sector is undergoing unprecedented changes as a result of technological advancements. We know that the use of drones, AI, wearables and app-based products will continue to disrupt the insurance industry. It is becoming increasingly important for the insurance industry to respond to such inevitable disruptions and decide how to harness these powerful trends.

Traditional Insurance Is Dying

Finance. Taxis. Television. Medicine. What do these have in common?

They’re all on the long–and growing–list of industries being turned upside down by disruptive technology. 

The examples are legion. Once-sure-bet investments like taxicab medallions are at risk of going underwater. Bitcoin is giving consumers the power to bypass banks. Traditional television is at risk from online streaming.

Insurance Is No Different

In fact, innovative players have been disrupting the insurance market since before “disruption” was the buzzword it is today. 

Look at Esurance, which in 1999 rode the dot-com wave to success as the first insurance company to operate exclusively online. No forms, no policy mailers–it didn’t even mail paper bills.

By going paperless, Esurance told customers that it was the kind of company that cared about their preferences–and established itself as a unique player in an industry that places a premium on tradition. Insurance isn’t known for being innovative. 

Most insurance leaders operate under the assumption that if it ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. And in a heavily regulated industry, that’s not totally unreasonable. 

But you only have to look at the scrappy start-ups that are taking down long-established players to understand what awaits the companies that aren’t willing to innovate.

Thinking Outside the Box

Take Time Warner–profit fell 7.2% last quarter as industry analysts foretold “the death of TV.” Meanwhile, Netflix’s profits are soaring beyond expectations–even as the risks it takes don’t always pan out. 

Remember the “Marco Polo” series that cost a reported $90 million? Neither does anyone else. But for every “Marco Polo” there’s an “Orange Is the New Black.” Highly successful programs on a subscription model show that Netflix’s willingness to take risks is carrying it past industry juggernauts.

The market is changing–and if you want to stay competitive, you need to use every weapon in your arsenal. Millennials aren’t buying insurance at the rate their parents did

To a consumer population weaned on technology like Uber and Venmo, the insurance industry seems positively antiquated. Facebook can advertise to you the brand of shoes you like–so your insurance company should be able to offer a product that you actually want.

The Information Importance

According to Accenture, “Regulated industries are especially vulnerable” to incumbents. When there are barriers to entry based on licensing requirements or fees, competition is lower. Decreased competition, in turn, leads to less incentive to innovate. This can leave regulated industries, such as insurance, healthcare and finance, in a highly vulnerable position when another company figures out a way to improve their offerings.

Other attributes that can make an industry vulnerable, per Accenture’s findings, can include:

  • Narrow focus: If a brand focuses entirely on cost savings, convenience or innovation, it isn’t effectively covering its bases. A disruptor that manages to offer two or three of these factors instead of just one has a near-immediate advantage.
  • Small scope or targets: Failing to expand offerings to all demographics can mean that industries or service providers aren’t able to replicate the broad reach of disruptors.
  • Failing to innovate: Disruptors don’t always get their product right on the very first try. Companies must innovate continuously and figure out ways to build continuous improvement into their business model.

Tech start-ups use information as an asset. How can you tell if information is a valuable weapon in the battle you’re fighting? 

“Big data” isn’t just a buzzword; industry analysts are calling it the wave of the future. At Citi, they’re talking about “the feed”: a real-time data stream that leverages the Internet of Things to reshape risk management. 

Auto insurers are turning to connected cars to let them reward safe drivers. Some life insurers are even offering discounts to customers who wear activity trackers.

It Can Happen to You

For most insurance companies, incorporating an unknown element into the way they operate is daunting. 

But talk to any cab driver, grocery store clerk or travel agent, and they’ll tell you that the only way to survive in a technology-driven world is to innovate.

Look at the insurance technology market to see what improvements you can incorporate into your organization, and think expansively about how you can use information: for agency management, to attract new customers and retain old ones, to expand your profit margins or to streamline operating costs. 

Your survival depends on it.

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.