Today, the insurance industry is healthy and strong, with high levels of organic revenue growth and rising profit margins across the independent agency and brokerage channel. According to Swiss Re, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity continues to trend upward in terms of both the number of acquisitions and the average price paid per agency.
As we start a new year, it’s important to keep in mind how much the insurance industry has evolved since it first began. From the first policy to protect shipments at sea, to coverages for new risks like cyber security that were unimaginable in years past, insurance has always been a critical component in human progress. It has allowed people to follow their dreams and take risks. No one would purchase a house or build a new industrial complex with the underlying belief they could lose it all.
We’ve seen how insurance has adapted over the years, but what’s next? With organic growth and acquisitions higher than ever, now is the time for your agency or brokerage to fully embrace digital technology to take advantage of every business opportunity in a market primed for profitability.
Why go digital?
Your clients expect it
Today’s insurance consumer is fundamentally changing business and customer service models. Consumers are more mobile than ever. Media and news are now consumed on the go, and personal and business transactions via mobile apps are part of everyday life. The demand for 24/7 access to information is requiring nearly every industry to reevaluate how it operates to meet these new customer expectations – and the insurance industry is not immune. In fact, in a recent survey conducted at this year’s Applied Net conference, agents and brokers ranked changing customer demand as the main catalyst to increasing their technology investments.
Agencies and brokerages should also consider that the next generation of tech-savvy insurance consumers will also be the next wave of insurance employees. They bring a new set of expectations to the workplace as insurance professionals from the baby boomer generation begin to retire.
Delivering a digital customer experience has become table stakes for the next-generation trusted adviser. The insurance experience of yesterday is no longer sufficient with today’s demands and tomorrow’s expectations.
Your business requires it The increased pace of business to keep up with consumer demand can make staff feel like there are not enough hours in the day. Digital technology simplifies processes and eliminates manual tasks. In the Applied Net 2015 survey, when asked which technology most improves productivity, respondents strongly indicated that standardized workflows and agency-insurer interface are seen as the greatest source of efficiency gains.
Advanced software, such as Applied Epic, delivers pre-built, best-practice workflows to streamline processes and reduce time spent on duplicate tasks. Additionally, end-to-end transactions between a business and insurers need to happen within the management system for optimal productivity and efficient business operations. For agents using IVANS Download, employees save an average of two hours per employee per day.
The Makings of a Digital Agency or Brokerage
Digital transformation reflects the transition of taking manual, paper-filled processes to digitally automated workflows powered by software and the Internet. A “digital agency” is one that has undergone a digital transformation to drive growth and profitability across its lines of business. It experiences many digital, paperless interactions and transactions per day with insurers and insureds and among staff.
A digital agency is built on 5 pillars:
A single agency or brokerage management system to serve as the operational foundation. Your system should be able to manage every type of business from personal lines, commercial lines, benefits and risk management, and it should connect all of your staff within your agency or brokerage including CSRS, producers, accountants and principals. Consider this: 50% of the insurance industry’s workforce will retire in the next decade. Can new staff be efficiently trained on your agency management system?
Big data evaluates ways to mine and analyze the rich transactional data in management systems. There is an abundant amount of data in your management system, but do you have the technology to quickly gain insights? Data analytics uses advanced technologies to analyze vast amounts of data and produce analytic insights in visual representations much more rapidly than traditional tabular reports. Consider this: Companies that use data analytics are five times more likely to make faster decisions than their peers.
Insurer connectivity creates a digital connection between your management system and your chosen insurer partners. It’s important that agencies and brokerages have access to the best products and the best insurers to meet the risk needs of each client, and connectivity allows just that. Consider this: 69% of survey respondents found the availability of automated insurer interface to be very important when selecting insurers to do business with.
Mobility gives agents and brokerages the ability to interact with prospects, clients and employees in the field via insurance-specific mobile apps and client portals. It becomes much easier to obtain information when you have your smartphone or tablet in a time of need. Consider this: 76% of Millennial survey respondents believe access to information via a mobile app is important.
The Cloud allows your staff access anytime, anywhere, as well as full security and data backup. Hosting your software in the cloud leads to increased flexibility, security and business agility. Consider this: Today, 77% of organizations cite agility as the primary reason of moving to the cloud. Whether you are scaling up via organic growth or M&A or scaling down to be sold, the cloud allows your business that flexibility.
Step into the Digital Age
With today’s customers expecting more and increased competition redefining the insurance industry, digital technology simplifies and amplifies current processes. It expands communication channels – to clients and insurer partners. It mobilizes your staff from their desk to the field. Digital technology elevates your role as a trusted adviser, making you present at all moments of opportunity – any time, anywhere.
As each year goes by, we strive to be better and do more for our customers. Business as usual is no longer enough. The strategy? Your foundation has to be more advanced, your communication channels need to be open and your business must be mobilized. Growth-minded agencies and brokerages have a great opportunity ahead.
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.
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.
For U.S. property-casualty insurers, 2016 will be a year of continuing disruptive change. Digital technologies, such as social media, analytics and telematics, will continue to transform the market landscape, recalibrating customer expectations and opening new ways to reach and acquire clients. The rise of the “sharing economy,” under which assets like cars and homes can be shared, is requiring carriers to rethink traditional insurance models. Combined with an outlook for slower economic growth, increased M&A and greater regulatory uncertainty, the stage is set for innovative firms to capitalize on an industry in flux. Insurers that stay ahead of these shifts should reap substantial benefits, while laggards risk falling behind, or even out of the race.
Competitive pressures in the insurance industry have been building as cost-effective solutions in digital communication, distribution and infrastructure become widely available. Digital technology is eroding the advantages of scale enjoyed by established insurers and empowering smaller players to compete for market share through more flexible pricing models and new distribution channels. The recent launch of Google Compare, which enables customers to comparison shop for insurance, is the start of a larger wave of “InsuranceTech” activity in 2016.
At the same time, customer expectations and behaviors are evolving at a rapid pace, often faster than traditional mechanisms can react. Driven by their interactions in other digitally enabled industries, such as retail and banking, property-casualty customers are increasingly demanding a more sophisticated and personalized experience – including digital distribution, anytime access, premiums accurately reflecting usage and individual risk and higher levels of product customization and advice. Policyholders are also seeking coverage of broader risks, such as cybersecurity risk and under-protected property exposure.
Significant change to insurance ecosystem
Almost eight years after the global financial crisis, most major economies are still operating at well below potential. Although the U.S. is doing better than many countries, forecast growth of less than 2.5% for 2016 is unlikely to boost employment or wage growth significantly. With little sign that inflation is picking up, the Fed is intent on keeping interest rates near their current lows for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, concern around the slowdown in China and other key emerging markets will continue to dampen U.S. growth prospects.
Despite sluggish economic conditions, property-casualty insurers should do well next year because of the favorable underwriting performance of the commercial lines sector and rising personal lines premiums. Softness in reinsurance pricing may increase opportunities for companies to cede capacity into the reinsurance and alternative capital markets, as well as achieve more stable reinsurance protection through broader terms and conditions. The industry will enter 2016 with a strengthened balance sheet and a strong base of invested assets from several years of solid reserve development and benign catastrophe experience.
But that is where the good news ends. In 2016, return on investment for firms is likely to continue to slip from its 2014 peak because of a combination of capital accumulation, competitive pricing, weakening investment returns and rising loss costs. Losses and expenses are growing faster than revenue, forcing companies to actively seek new solutions. In personal automobile and workers’ compensation, rising frequency and severity are beginning to erode loss ratio performance.
Competition is putting downward pressure on pricing, particularly in the commercial property and liability lines. This is compounded by slowing growth in commercial exposures because of economic weakness.
Regulatory headwinds ahead
In 2016, property-casualty insurers will face heightened political and regulatory uncertainty. An open presidential election for both parties, along with congressional and state elections, creates the potential for radical change with taxation and regulatory repercussions. Meanwhile, the Fed is preparing new capital standards for significant insurance companies, and HUD and the Federal Insurance Office may intensify investigations into the affordability and accessibility of personal lines insurance to customers from different backgrounds. The IAIS is also pursuing international capital standards through field testing, and the results may come into clearer focus in 2016.
The NAIC and states may separately advance their expectations of best practices in risk management, governance and solvency as current programs enter their second year of full rollout. All jurisdictions will likely push for better information, reporting and compliance in such areas as accounting, solvency, fair practices, transparency, governance and marketplace equity.
Impact of external forces on the US property-casualty market in 2016 (0 = Very low impact, 10 = Very high impact)
Coping with transformative change: priorities for 2016
In such a fluid, fast-changing environment, insurance firms need to build a road map for strategic transformation aligned to new customer imperatives. Refining legacy products and approaches is not enough – what is required is a fresh, outside-in approach that starts with the customer and carries through to digital trends and market shifts, both inside and outside the insurance industry.
1. Position Your Organization for Digital Leadership
Preparing for further digital disruption
As digital service models become more common in other industries, the property-casualty sector will need to align to the rising expectations of consumer and commercial customers. Digital technologies, such as mobility, social media and telematics, will continue to disrupt all parts of the property-casualty insurance value chain – from client acquisition to claims and servicing. Although the industry is ripe for digital transformation, many traditional insurers still display a low level of digital maturity, struggling to develop digital strategies that enhance the customer experience, extract efficiencies and drive future growth.
Priorities for 2016
Lay the groundwork for digital transformation. To meet changing expectations, insurers need to digitize interactions with customers, employees and suppliers. Building new distribution channels and working closely with existing distribution partners to enhance the customer experience is a strategic imperative.
Build a back-office to support the digital frontline. In 2016, carriers must continue to invest in back-office systems to enable digital enterprise platforms. These should be designed to allow
for future expansion, omni-channel distribution and an improved customer experience, while minimizing customer service costs and protecting against escalating cyber risks.
Start new market initiatives now. As back-office systems are being readied, leading insurers should not wait for full integration, but push forward with next-generation portals, redefining customer experience, data access, queries and navigation. With the rise of real-time risk monitoring, there is a knowledge shift taking place between customers and insurers. Insurers need to tap into client and industry data sources to take full advantage of this new risk-information flow.
2. Prepare for the next wave of M&A activity
M&A will accelerate in 2016
Uncertain economic and regulatory conditions have caused insurers to cut costs and expand product and geographic diversification. Under growing pricing pressure and competition from non-traditional sources, in 2015 insurers turned to transformative mergers to achieve these goals. This surge in M&A activity is
expected to continue in 2016, as acquirers seek to build scale and access US markets.
Priorities for 2016
Establish a well-defined process for post-merger integration. Mega consolidations require immense integration of systems and data. Companies involved in M&A should assemble the necessary building blocks to create single technology platforms, self-service customer portals and omni-channel distribution systems. Replacing duplicative technology, outdated service centers and first-generation mobile-enabled distribution will remove cost redundancies and inefficient processes. Successful mergers could create lower-cost infrastructures, which will enable these combined entities to invest in data sources and analytical tools that improve pricing, risk analysis and claims management.
Gain greater access to insurance buyers through M&A. Consolidation in the insurance broker and independent agent markets has tipped the balance of power toward distribution. In response, insurers in 2016 will look to gain direct customer access by purchasing specialty distribution and continue the trend of underwriters acquiring managing general agencies with exclusive books of business to increase premiums in less price-sensitive lines. Access to captive distribution should help tilt the scales back toward underwriters.
Take steps to protect against tougher competition. Insurers that refrain from the M&A frenzy will require a strategy to compete more effectively against larger, better capitalized companies. Recruiting human capital will become paramount, as will accessing distribution that provides high-retention, profitable business.
M&A activity in 2016 will make insurers vulnerable to takeovers, particularly those with the potential to provide an acquirer with greater product diversification, wider market access, stronger analytics and increased cost efficiencies.
3. Create a culture of continuous innovation
The innovation imperative
The rise in usage-based insurance, digital distribution channels and other disruptors is shaking up the industry. Widespread data availability and advanced analytical techniques are enabling new market entrants to absorb risk that was once the exclusive territory of insurers. Larger and more efficient capital providers entering the industry are siphoning off premium that ordinarily flowed to insurers. To stay relevant, traditional insurers need to shed their conservative orientation and cultivate a culture of innovation.
Priorities for 2016
Explore new technologies and start-up models. Competition is heating up as an array of new Fintech companies offer services that were once the exclusive domain of traditional insurers. To cope, insurers will need to adopt, acquire or even fund new technologies and experimental models that may even compete with their existing businesses. Recently introduced property-casualty insurance products, such as insurance for cyber risk, ridesharing and drone exposures, suggest that insurers can rise to the innovation challenge.
Be prepared to cannibalize parts of your business, before competitors do. The property-casualty insurance industry has not been known as a change leader. A growing asset base is a vital sign of stability for clients, but, as a business grows, more processes are added, creating bureaucratic layers that stymie innovation. To offset these institutionalized barriers to change, insurers will need to develop a culture of innovation that allows for internal competition.
4. Shift from a product to a service orientation
Staying relevant in a fluid marketplace
Changing customer needs are making many of today’s insurance services less relevant. With a few notable exceptions, the traditional product suite has been relatively static and has not kept pace with evolving risks. Personal lines insurers are seeing reduced demand for their services because of advanced safety technology, the growth of the sharing economy and changing demographics and customer behaviors. Likewise, commercial lines insurers are coming to grips with new industries, emerging risks and a client base with significant access to their own risk data. Access to better data and analytics empowers customers to retain more risk, and much of the risk at the other end of the spectrum has been taken by capital market alternatives, leaving traditional carriers scrambling for the leftovers.
Priorities for 2016
Think outside-in, not inside-out. To adapt to this fast-evolving marketplace and differentiate themselves from competitors, insurers must enhance their service capabilities while developing products better able to serve new customer needs and behaviors. By providing services that build on the customer experience and changing expectations, insurers can foster stronger, more holistic relationships with clients and ultimately improve policy retention and generate higher margins.
Take a value-added, advisory approach. Customers are increasingly looking to their insurance partners for risk advice, not just insurance products. To enhance their brand and improve performance, insurers must be ready to provide customer-centric services to satisfy these expectations. Insurers will need to analyze their clients’ exposures and develop risk-mitigation strategies and insurance coverage tailored to their needs. The rise of real-time risk data in both personal and commercial lines provides an opportunity for innovative insurers to address uncovered or mispriced risks.
5. Build a next-generation distribution platform
The rise of omni-channel distribution
Independent and captive agents have dominated the property-casualty insurance industry for decades. Even today, many insurance buyers rely on a trusted adviser to assist them with personal and business insurance purchases. But the days of a single distribution channel are over for many insurers. Consumers are demanding omni-channel access to insurance products. Insurance buyers want the same flexibility to learn, compare, purchase and report a claim as they have become accustomed to in other industries.
Priorities for 2016
Come to grips with pricing transparency. Creating an effective omni-channel platform is critical, as it allows insurers to promote their customer service capabilities, product differences and claims-response times more widely. But the rise of aggregator and non-traditional comparison models has also made it easier for buyers to shop for the best rates. In a digitally enabled environment of price transparency, there will be further pressure in 2016 for insurers to streamline costly and duplicative infrastructure.
Consider acquiring captive distribution. As insurance products become more commoditized, insurers may want to acquire captive distribution to add customers and boost business. By acquiring managing general agents (MGAs), insurers can gain access to experienced underwriters able to secure and retain profitable business, along with the systems and tools for underwriting and processing that business. Insurers will need to integrate these systems into core underwriting platforms to avoid duplicating costs.
Rethink compensation plans for distributors. Private equity-financed broker consolidation, going on for nearly a decade, will continue to shift bargaining power in favor of distributors. Agent and broker control of profitable businesses has allowed some large distributors to negotiate greater compensation. This power shift is happening at a time when rate softening has become the norm. As a result, insurers in 2016 should consider changing the industry’s level-commission compensation standards in favor of greater up-front payments that reward access to new profitable customers.
6. Drive performance through analytics
The new role of analytics
Disparities in frequency and severity trends among several large personal auto insurers highlights the importance of data and analytics in driving underwriting results. Harnessing large volumes of data from real-time sources can help insurers develop new products and refine pricing strategies. When combined with a robust operating strategy, advanced analytics can significantly increase underwriting profitability and provide a valuable market differentiator.
Priorities for 2016
Apply proven analytics to the homeowners market. In 2016, personal lines insurers will increasingly apply analytical capabilities developed in the personal auto sector to the homeowners market. Greater adoption of technological innovation in the home creates an opportunity for both real-time risk assessment and pricing strategies, similar to the trend unfolding in the personal auto market. As insurers move back into the homeowner market, they will be better equipped to understand and price risks.
Use analytics to manage commercial market risks. As risks rise, small business owners are seeking broader insurance coverage and a simpler sales process. Insurers with the analytical capabilities to manage evolving risks and the technological know-how to create an automated sales experience will be better equipped to meet fast-changing customer needs. The experience in using analytics in the small commercial market will provide insurers with a blueprint for gaining efficiencies in the larger commercial market.
7. Develop and attract the right talent to lead change
Coping with a widening talent gap
Existing insurance teams often are not prepared for today’s fast-changing digital marketplace. But filling the talent gap can be challenging, because the insurance industry is not often the first choice of new graduates from top colleges and universities. With finance, technology and consulting attracting most of the promising students, a talent chasm is forming in the property-casualty industry. Insurers must recruit and retain next-generation innovators and leaders – while retooling existing teams with new skills.
Priorities for 2016
Develop new roles to facilitate change. As insurers embrace innovation and adopt more advanced digital platforms, they will need to establish new business roles to drive these initiatives. For instance, the stronger focus on analytics is increasing the demand for data scientists – able to apply predictive analytics and other sophisticated quantitative tools to support underwriting and claims- handling processes.
Create an environment that rewards innovation. A culture of innovation will help attract Millennials and entrepreneurial talent with fresh perspectives. Bringing in new ideas and skills will be essential for insurers pursuing technological innovation in an industry not known for change. To acquire and retain this new crop of talent, insurers will need to set up systems to reward innovation and risk-taking in alignment with new strategic imperatives.
Expand risk advisory capabilities. Customers are increasingly interested in working with true risk advisers and finding insurance solutions that match their lifestyles. Traditional product approaches directed at individual risks are falling out of favor as customers seek more holistic solutions. In 2016, insurance teams will need to develop expertise in health, wealth and risk advisory, so that they can bundle products and provide value-added services to customers.
8. Make risk management a C-suite priority
Coping with complexity
Economic, financial and political uncertainty, combined with linked global markets and disruptive technological change, has created a more complex and volatile landscape for insurance firms – heightening the need for best-in-class risk management. Faced with a challenging environment and driven by regulatory demands, insurers have made risk management a C-suite and board-level priority, with risk managers being held accountable for improved financial performance and value creation.
Priorities for 2016
Keep on top of changing regulations. Emerging regulatory regimes include calls for greater uniformity at the state, federal and global levels, but the ultimate form of these requirements is far from settled. As always, insurers will need to stay on top of shifting regulatory frameworks, communicate the industry impacts and respond to changes as they emerge.
Watch for emerging risks, such as cyber-attacks. With access to growing volumes of sensitive data, both large and small insurers are seeking greater cyber risk protection. Corporate boards are becoming increasingly aware of the damage a cyber-attack can cause, including potential liability at the board level and the destruction of reputation and brand. Risk managers must stay ahead of the ever-increasing sophistication of hackers.
Remember, protection is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. Even if an insurer is well insulated from cyber-attacks, its outside vendors may be vulnerable. Vendors that have access to an insurance company’s systems, such as its underwriting platform, can inadvertently provide hackers with a conduit to valuable company data. Risk managers must be careful with data released to third party vendors for any reason, especially when that data is subsequently returned to the company.
This article was written by David Hollander, Thomas Cranley, Gail McGiffin and Jay Votta. To access the full white paper, click here.
Recently, I chaired the 4th annual Asia Insurance CIO Technology summit in Jakarta, Indonesia. The experience brought me into contact with an entirely different set of insurers and insurance technology players. I was rewarded with a fresh view on the challenges and opportunities of insurance during an era of disruptive innovation, as well as a new perspective on how Asian insurers are creating and launching products, defining new channels and new models to out-innovate the competition.
I should state at the outset that Asian insurers aren’t doing everything differently than North American and European insurers. It is a global era. In many ways, their competitive issues are similar. We are all having the same conversations. As I considered the similarities, however, it made the small differences stand out. Just as Asia is hours ahead of the Western world throughout the day, I had the strange feeling that I was listening to the ends of conversations that are only beginning in other parts of the world. Because populations, cultures, use of digital technology and the nature of businesses vary, I thought I would share a short list of insights from my eavesdropping in an effort to shed light on how disruption is being embraced elsewhere and how it could ripple through the industry. I’ll center my thoughts on models, mandates and marketing.
Everyone is discussing models. Business models. Technology models. Distribution models. Transaction models. There is good reason. It’s a model v. model world, and Asia-Pacific insurers know that the model is the center of a business. For the outer layer to be responsive, the business model can’t be a slow-moving leviathan. Disruption has the disturbing tendency to render perfectly good models obsolete. Creating a responsive, obsolescent-proof business model is of great interest to Asian insurers, which are responding to radically different consumer expectations and competitive models than in prior decades.
Traditional insurers at the conference (as well as challengers) are aggressively rethinking the insurance business model. Some believe that insurance will be run more in an open ecosystem, becoming more fragmented and niche-focused, building on the micro concept. If an insurer can embed products in other business models/industries, especially those with high-frequency transactions, then they capture the opportunity for both a new distribution channel and a new product. New Distribution Channel + New Product = New Market Opportunity.
These are areas where insurers can see quantum leaps in growth, yet they are also the areas where insurers are most susceptible to start-ups beating them to the punch.
Three clear mandates stood out above all others for Asian insurers – the role of CIOs, the necessity of new cyber security solutions and a new, enterprise-wide look at analytics.
For CIOs, the clarion call was for a rapid advancement and widening of scope for their role within the insurance organization. CIOs must become change agents and grow in influence. They must be active in technology review and adoption, more collaborative with CMOs regarding digital platforms and data sharing and more effective at translating business vision into system and process transformation.
Cybersecurity is a never-ending mandate that also seems to never have the perfect solution. It was universally agreed-upon that today’s security measures have the frustrating trait of being mostly temporary solutions. Blockchain technology (currently in use by Bitcoin, among others) was discussed as a more permanent solution for many security issues. Blockchain use makes transaction fraud nearly impossible. Verification of transaction authenticity is instant and can be performed by any trusted source, from any trusted location.
On a broader note, however, it was conceded that security is no longer just an IT issue, but it is a board-level, organization-wide imperative because security concerns the full enterprise. Boards must fund and address cybersecurity across three aspects: confidentiality, availability and integrity.
Enterprise-wide analytics was another organizational mandate. Some Asian insurers are moving toward using end-to-end analytics solutions that cross the enterprise in an effort to gain a single client view and execute a targeted pipeline, with unified campaigns and advertising. Analytics will also give them risk- and assessment-based pricing, improved predictability for loss prevention and better management of claims trends, recovery and services.
Insurers are rapidly moving from product-driven to customer-driven strategies and from traditional distribution channels (such as agents) to an array of channels based on customer choice. At the same time that Asian insurers are looking at relevant business models, they are diving deeply into how marketing tactics may completely shift from a central hub to a decentralized “micro” model. The industry spark has been a short list of both established insurers and start-ups that are capturing new business through new marketing methods, new partnerships and new market spaces.
ZhongAn, for example, is selling return insurance for anything bought on Alibaba. Huatai Life is promoting unit-linked policies on JD.com and selling A&H insurance via a WeChat app. PICC Life has found a distribution partner in Qunar.com, an online travel information provider. These examples require a completely different, high-volume, interaction-based, data-rich, small-issue marketing plan. That kind of marketing will prove to be of great value to insurers that have added flexible, transaction-capable core insurance systems…that are cloud-based to scale rapidly.
Aggregators are now commonplace in insurance, and Asian insurers are looking at how this channel will affect their business, as well as how to use aggregators as a tool for competitive advantage. GoBear, currently selling in Singapore and Thailand, was given as a prime example of how aggregators represent the future of insurance shopping. GoBear isn’t just an aggregator. It is an innovator, revamping the concept of insurance relationships. GoBear Matchmaker, for example, will allow a prospect to pick insurance but also allow the insurer to pick prospects/clients. GoBear Groups will leverage groups/crowd sourcing.
What do these M’s add up to?
Insurance business models, mandates and marketing are all ripe for inspection and change. In some ways, Asian insurers are in a better position for these ground-shaking industry changes because so many of them recognize the stakes involved and the cultural shift required to thrive. Asian populations and culture are ready to embrace technology solutions to meet consumer demands. As all insurers globally address their models, mandates and marketing, it will be fascinating and educational to see how quickly the different markets adapt and are emerging as innovative leaders and how these regional innovations will influence other regions as they turn into global solutions.
One thing was clear to me in my time in Jakarta – Asian insurers are optimistic, active and excited about the road ahead.
We all know that digital technology has changed, and continues to change, how people shop for, buy and use goods and services. Power has shifted from the company to the customer. All companies must adopt the digital technologies that create the interaction that consumers now demand and expect. But is digital readiness more of an imperative for some industries than others?
What if you are in an industry that sells a product that most people don’t really even want to buy, own or use…that people probably wouldn’t even buy if they didn’t have to…a product that was confusing and mysterious? Heck, one that isn’t even a “product” at all? If you were a company that fit this description and you lagged behind in digital readiness, how long do you think you’d last if a new competitor came along and used digital technology to actually make the experience of buying, owning and using the product you sell more appealing to customers?
Well, this is the position the insurance industry finds itself in. Satisfaction ratings with the industry vary – they’re so-so in the U.S. and pretty poor in the U.K., based on research commissioned by Majesco in a report titled “Assessing the Quality of the Customer Experience ,” for example – and few customers actually switch each year, but loyalty, if you can call it that, is driven more by inertia than a true feeling of satisfaction and emotional connection to one’s insurance company. Quite frankly, it’s a royal pain to shop for and switch insurance, and most people are willing to put up with minor annoyances – until they get pushed too far.
The company that can best remove or reduce the pain of buying and owning insurance stands to reap a huge market of consumers who are tired of being treated poorly by the insurance industry, compared with the new benchmarks set by Amazon and Apple.
This is not new news. But the good news is that most leaders in the insurance industry get it. They know they need to act, and they are. Three-quarters of respondents in a cross-industry survey by MIT-Sloan on digital strategy said that digital technologies are important to their companies today, and 93% said they would be important in the next three years.
The issues are easy to talk about, but it’s hard to actually make the digital transformation in any industry or company, not just insurance. It’s not just implementing new technology. It also requires strategy, leadership, culture, resources and technical capabilities. The MIT-Sloan survey found that most companies are in the early or developing stages of digital maturity. Even those that were in the most advanced “maturing” phase could not be truly considered as fully mature.
Majesco surveyed its insurance customers in the third quarter of 2014 to get a better understanding of the insurance-specific promises and challenges that digital capabilities are presenting them, which are profiled in the report “Digital Readiness in Insurance.” The customers overwhelmingly agreed that digital capabilities are the foundation for the future and that this was the biggest driver of their digital strategy work. While their current priorities for digital transformation are focused on specific internal business operations like billing and payments and e-service for customers and agents, they at least are aiming at improving the experience of their two most important stakeholder groups: customers and agents.
Despite these good intentions, most of these insurers reported that these operations are currently only weakly supported by digital technologies. Most said there was little concern in their companies about the strategic priority of implementing their digital strategies, but they are encountering barriers when it comes to integration of systems and the capacity and capabilities of their organizations and technology.
It’s great that Majesco’s customers recognize the expectation to improve the experience of shopping for, buying, owning and using insurance. The mandate for a compelling digital experience, and the necessity to compare themselves with companies like Amazon, are the first steps on the digital journey. Where are you?