Almost all insurers have started digital projects, many have digital teams, but only a few have a true digital insurance strategy.
To develop a coherent strategy for digital insurance, first an insurer must decide what the term means. There is a distinction between insurance digitalization and true digital business. Digitalization consists of taking existing processes, procedures and services and using technology to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Fundamentally, digitalization takes what an insurer is doing already, and applies digital. In this circumstance, there is no real transformation of the business. Digitalization is critical in a price-sensitive, highly competitive industry, but it is not enough to distinguish an insurer from the competition. In the context of insurance, true digital business requires the application of technology to offer new business value or move the insurer to a new position in the market. In many markets, the form this new digital business will assume has yet to be determined.
See also: Maturing Use of Mobile in Insurance
Many different methods exist to evaluate digital business maturity. I prefer a five-level model, based on methodologies used by industry analysts and other experts.
- The first level is digitalization, taking existing processes and applying technology. Many insurers began this process in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and, unfortunately, many have stayed there. Insurers initially saw large efficiency benefits in moving internal processes away from paper over to digital, but those returns rapidly drop off after an insurer migrates the highest-priority processes. An example of this stage is offering PDF copies of insurance documents on a customer portal.
- The second level is to create new digital experiences, using the capabilities of digital platforms. An example is creating mobile applications for agents to improve interactions with the company, using geolocation to offer nearby preferred vendors and other options.
- Level three is offering new insurance programs that would not be possible without digital technologies. One example is a company creating a travel insurance product in partnershipl with a travel mobile application and offering that product at the time a customer purchases a flight.
- Level four is an evolution of stage three, and consists of embedding digital throughout the enterprise. An insurer thinks of all aspects of the business in terms of digital, even in departments such as compliance and daily operations. An insurer knows that it has progressed to this stage when even traditional analog functions such as the mailroom evaluate all processes with digital transformation in mind.
- At level five, an insurer has repositioned to a new competitive space inside the insurance market. We are only now beginning to see a few stage five insurers, and these insurers are often born digital. An example is new peer-to-peer insurance models that have begun to gain acceptance in recent years, like crop insurance in Africa. This insurance is paid for by a surcharge on farming inputs such as fertilizer and seeds. Claims are automatically initiated when weather stations recognize severe weather events. This is a form of protection that could only exist in a digital world.
The first step toward transforming into a digital insurer requires evaluating where your company is on this continuum, and where you need to be in the next three to five years. What amount of disruption can your business model sustain? What steps can you take now to build the skills and culture you need to compete in the face of this disruption?
Crop insurance in Africa may be a small part of the overall insurance market, but consider what could happen if a major agricultural market such as the U.S. began this same transition. All insurers today have digital processes and procedures, but relatively few have progressed past levels two or three on this digital continuum. Eventually all insurers will be digital insurers, but this transformation will move in fits and starts, with the leaders gradually pulling out ahead of the laggards and gaining a lasting competitive advantage.