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distribution

Insurance 2.0: How Distribution Evolves

At American Family Ventures, we believe changes to insurance will happen in three ways: incrementally, discontinuously over the near term and discontinuously over the long term. We refer to each of these changes in the context of a “version’ of insurance,” respectively, “Insurance 1.1,” “Insurance 2.0” and “Insurance 3.0.”

The incremental changes of “Insurance 1.1” will improve the effectiveness or efficiency of existing workflows or will create workflows that are substantially similar to existing ones. In contrast, the long-term discontinuous changes of “Insurance 3.0” will happen in response to changes one sees coming when peering far into the future, i.e. risk management in the age of commercial space travel, human genetic modification and general artificial intelligence (AI). Between those two is “Insurance 2.0,” which represents near-term, step-function advances and significant departures from existing insurance processes and workflows. These changes are a re-imagination or reinvention of some aspect of insurance as we know it.

We believe there are three broad categories of innovation driving the movement toward “Insurance 2.0”: distribution, structure and product. While each category leverages unique tactics to deliver value to the insurance customer, they are best understood in a Venn diagram, because many tactics within the categories overlap or are used in coordination.

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In this post, we’ll look into at the first of these categories—distribution—in more detail.

Distribution

A.M. Best, the insurance rating agency, organizes insurance into two main distribution channels: agency writers and direct writers. Put simply, agency writers distribute products through third parties, and direct writers distribute through their own sales capabilities. For agency writers, these third-party channels include independent agencies/brokerages (terms we will use interchangeably for the purposes of this article) and a variety of hybrid structures. In contrast, direct writer sales capabilities include company websites, in-house sales teams and exclusive agents. This distinction is based on corporate strategy rather than customer preference.

We believe a segment of customers will continue to prefer traditional channels, such as local agents valued for their accessibility, personal attention and expertise. However, we also believe there is an opportunity to redefine distribution strategies to better align with the needs of two developing states of the insurance customer:those who are intent-driven and those who are opportunity-driven. Intent-driven customers seek insurance because they know or have become aware they need it or want it. In contrast, opportunity-driven customers consider purchasing insurance because, in the course of other activities, they have completed some action or provided some information that allows a timely and unique offer of insurance to be presented to them.

There are two specific distribution trends we predict will have a large impact over the coming years, one for each state of the customer described above. These are: 1) the continuing development of online agencies, including “mobile-first” channels and 2) incidental sales platforms.

Online Agencies and Mobile-First Products

Intent-driven customers will continue to be served by a number of response-focused channels, including online/digital agencies. Online insurance agencies operate much like traditional agencies, except they primarily leverage the Internet (instead of brick-and-mortar locations) for operations and customer engagement. Some, like our portfolio company CoverHound, integrate directly with carrier partners to acquire customers and bind policies entirely online.

In addition to moving more of the purchasing process online, we’ve observed a push toward “mobile-first” agencies. By using a mobile device/OS as the primary mode of engagement, the distributor and carrier are able to meet potential customers where they are increasingly likely to be found. Further, mobile-first agencies leverage the smartphone as a platform to enable novel and valuable user experiences. These experiences could be in the application process, notice of loss, servicing of claims, payment and renewal or a variety of other interactions. There are a number of start-up companies, some of which we are partnered with, working on this mobile-first approach to agency.

To illustrate the power of a mobile-first platform, imagine a personal auto insurance mobile app that uses the smartphone camera for policy issuance; authorizes payments via a payment API; processes driving behavior via the phone’s GPS, accelerometer and a connection to the insured vehicle to influence or create an incentive for safe driving behavior; notifies the carrier of a driving signature indicative of an accident; and integrates third-party software into their own app that allows for emergency response and rapid payment of claims.

Incidental Channels

In the latter of the two customer states, we believe “incidental channels” will increasingly serve opportunity-driven customers. In this approach, the customer acquisition engine (often a brokerage or agency) creates a product or service that delivers value independently of insurance/risk management but that uses the resulting relationship with the customer and data about the customer’s needs to make a timely and relevant offer of insurance.

We spend quite a bit of our time thinking about incidental sales channels and find three things about them particularly interesting:

  1. Reduced transactional friction—In many cases, customers using these third-party products/services are providing (or granting API access to) much of the information required to digitally quote or bind insurance. Even if these services were to monetize via lead generation referral fees rather than directly brokering policies, they could still remove purchase friction by plugging directly into other aggregators or online agencies.
  2. Dramatically lower customer acquisition costs—Insurance customers are expensive to acquire. Average per-customer acquisition costs for the industry are estimated to be between $500 and $800, and insurance keywords are among the top keywords by paid search ad spend, often priced between $30 and $50 per click. Customer acquisition costs for carriers or brokers using an incidental model can be much lower, given naturally lower costs to acquire a customer with free/low cost SaaS and consumer apps. Network effects and virality, both difficult to create in the direct insurance business but often present in “consumerized” apps, enhance this delta in acquisition costs. Moreover, a commercial SaaS-focused incidental channel can acquire many insurance customers through one sale to an organization.
  3. Improved customer engagement—Insurance can be a low-touch and poorly rated business. However, because most customers choose to use third-party products and services of their own volition (given the independent value they provide), incidental channels create opportunities to support risk management without making the customer actively think about insurance—for example, an eye care checkup that happens while shopping for a new pair of glasses. In addition, the use of third-party apps creates more frequent opportunities to engage with customers, which improves customer retention.

Additional Considerations and Questions

The digital-customer-acquisition diagram below shows how customers move through intent-driven and opportunity-driven states. Notice that the boundary between customer states is permeable. Opportunity-driven customers often turn into intent-driven customers once they are exposed to an offer to purchase. However, as these channels continue developing, strategists must recognize where the customer begins the purchase process—with intent or opportunistically. Recognizing this starting point creates clarity around the whole product and for the user experience required for success on each path.

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Despite our confidence in the growth of mobile-first and incidental strategies, we are curious to see how numerous uncertainties around these approaches evolve. For example, how does a mobile-first brokerage create defensibility? How will carriers and their systems/APIs need to grow to work with mobile-first customers? With regard to incidental channels, which factors most influence success—the frequency of user engagement with the third-party app, the ability of data collected through the service to influence pricing, the extensibility of the incidental platform/service to multiple insurance products, some combination of these or something else entirely?

Innovation in how insurance is distributed is an area of significant opportunity. We’re optimistic that both insurers and start-ups will employ the strategies above with great success and will also find other, equally interesting, approaches to deliver insurance products to customers.

The 5 Charts on Insurance Disruption

The high-level forces (people, technology and market boundaries) are responsible for insurance’s driving influences — new expectations, innovations and new competition that individually exert tremendous transformation pressure on the industry. The forces don’t operate in isolation, however. They are connected and combine to create an even more powerful and disruptive impact on the industry. Majesco developed a model to reflect these forces:

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The combined impact is creating a powerful market shift that brings the three together, creating unprecedented innovation and disruption. It reflects what author Malcolm Gladwell calls a “tipping point.” A tipping point occurs when an idea, trend, behavior or expectation crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire, changing the fundamentals of business. These are often sudden, as we have seen in other tipping points over the last century, reflected in the move from the industrial age to the information age and now to the digital age. Each move created leaps in innovation and transformation.

People

The makeup of the market is shifting. Insurers who ignore the shift will be challenged to retain their customers, let alone grow their businesses. This shift is being driven by demographic, cultural, economic and technological forces. They present new challenges and opportunities for the insurance industry that will require insurers to rethink their strategies, products, channels and processes to reach a fast-changing market.

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Market Boundaries

The combination of the sharing and platform economy trends is dissolving traditional boundaries and the long-held competitive advantages of incumbents. Just as start-ups can now access technology as a service, they can also access resources (sourcing and crowdsourcing), designing, manufacturing and more as a service, giving any company access to the resources needed to compete. As a result, companies must compete on more than brand, product, price or distribution. They must compete on innovative approaches.

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New Entrants

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Shifts in the Industry

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To download the full report, click here.

How to Choose the Right CRM Package

Perhaps the most important thing an insurer can do to keep clients and brokers happy is to implement the right kind of customer relationship management system and process. CRM lets the insurer anticipate needs and communicate effectively. The most obvious benefits of a good CRM system are:

  • Accessible client information, with the ability to view it in multiple dimensions
  • An automated tool for reminders
  • The ability to document prospect and broker files

But those are just the baseline benefits. With a more comprehensive system, you get usability that exceeds these minimal expectations. It can bring an insurer to a whole new technological landscape that improves retention levels and increases efficiency.

Choosing the Right CRM

Before selecting CRM software, determine who’s considered a customer, because that will dictate the features the CRM software must have. Prospects and policyholders are certainly customers, but many insurers miss out when they neglect to recognize that brokers are customers, too. The CRM software chosen needs to serve them, as well.

For maximum efficiency, choose a CRM that has certain integration functions. It should connect with other sales technology systems that you and your brokers use often, because service is the key differentiator.

To take sales and service to the next level, the CRM system should allow for data to be entered once and then pushed out to other systems, including quoting and underwriting. Distribution channel and prospect information can then be populated into a sales and underwriting system. Not only is this a more streamlined way to conduct business, it also helps the process feel more personal and customized for each user. Every sales representative can have all her information immediately. It also provides for more effective self-service on the web.

One-time entry also makes selling much easier for brokers and sales offices of the insurance company, which will always have access to updated information. This, in turn, makes your products more accessible and appealing. An advanced CRM system will also make reporting and reviewing analytics easier, allowing insurers to identify issues more easily and respond to them more quickly.

Activity tracking is also an important feature. Having an accurate record of changes and updates is important in both relationship management and regulatory compliance. Regulators increasingly demand insurers be able to document compliance.

Finally, you want to make sure your CRM software has configuration options that will maximize its utility for your company and brokers. Every company is unique, and CRM software that forces you into its box isn’t useful. You should be able to tailor a CRM system to make it work more efficiently for you, not have to work around it.

CRM software isn’t just about tracking and storing information—it’s about creating a collaborative environment among product managers, brokers, carriers and clients. Let the data flow—in a well-organized, transparent way that treats every person as a distinct individual with her own needs and expectations.

Innovation Trends in 2016

For the past few years, the innovation rate in the global insurance industry has run at peak levels, in good part because of digitization, which continues to be a pervasive influence—if not as disruptive as early projections.

Initial expectations of a departure from traditional distribution channels turned out not to be the case. Clients preferred direct, personal contact when buying insurance products. While online channels have not generated major changes—for example, in the vehicle insurance sector in Italy (5% of premiums today are generated online, compared with 1% in 2012) —telematics has had a substantial impact. It represents 15% of all insurance policies today in Italy. (These policies did not exist in 2002.)

Digital transformation is, of course, leaving its mark in four macro areas.

First, consumer expectationsA Bain survey suggests that more than three out of four consumers expect to use a digital channel for insurance interactions.

Second, product flexibility: The traditional Japanese player, Tokio Marine, for example, started offering temporary insurance policies via mobile phone, e.g., travel insurance limited to the dates of travel and personal accident coverage for people playing sports.

Third, ecosystems: They are created when the insurance value proposition depends on collaboration with partners from other sectors. For example, when Mojio sells a dongle (at, say, a supermarket) that requires connection to an open-source platform to be installed in a car, third-party suppliers are able to extract driving data from that platform and create services based on it. Onsurance, for one, offers tailor-made insurance coverage based on the data collected.

Fourth, services: Insurers today are moving away from the traditional approach of covering risks to a more comprehensive insurance plan, which includes additional services.

Connected insurance: a telematics “observatory” to promote excellence 

The fact that the Italian insurance market represents the best of international automotive telematics practices gave rise to the idea of creating an “observatory” to help generate and promote innovation in the insurance sector. Bain, AniaAiba and more than 25 other insurance groups are among its current participants.

The observatory has three main objectives: to represent the cutting edge of global innovation; to offer a strategic vision for major innovation initiatives while reinforcing the Italian excellence paradigm; and to stimulate research and debate concerning emerging insurance issues such as privacy and cyber risk.

The Observatory on Telematics Connected Insurance & Innovation, will focus not only on vehicle insurance (where Italy has the highest penetration and the most advanced approach worldwide), but on additional important insurance markets related to home, health and industrial risk, which, I am convinced, represent the next innovation wave.

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Italy is currently the best practice leader in connected insurance. Italian expertise in vehicle telematics is finding applications in other insurance areas, particularly in home insurance—where Italy is the pioneer—and in the health sector, where we recently launched our first products.

InsurTech on the rise

Another sector that has seen an increased number of investments in 2016 is InsurTech. Until last year, attention focused on many types of financial service start-ups. Today there is significant growth in investments in insurance start-ups: almost $2.5 billion invested in the first nine months of 2015, compared with $0.7 billion in 2014 [according to CB Insight]. Many new firms are entering the sector, bringing innovation to various areas of the insurance value chain. The challenge for traditional insurers will be to identify firms worth investing in, and also to create the means for working with those new players.

The challenge is integration

Ultimately, the main challenge for insurers will be to find ways to integrate the start-ups into their value chains. The integration of user experience and data sources will be key to delivering an efficient value proposition: It is untenable to have dozens of specialized partners with different apps in addition to the insurer’s main policy. It will be necessary to manage the expansion and fragmentation of the new insurance value chain.

To come up with an answer to this problem, start-ups are generating innovative collaborative paradigms. One example is DigitalTech International, which offers companies a white-label platform that integrates various company apps and those of third-party suppliers into a single mobile front end, even as it offers a system for consolidating diverse client ecosystems (domotics, wearables, connected cars) into a single  data repository.

Integrating and managing complex emerging ecosystems will be one of the greatest challenges in dealing with the Internet of Things (IoT) for the insurance industry.

(A version of this article first appeared on Insurance Review.)

Waves of Change in Digital Expectations

In the first of this three-part blog series, titled “Bringing Insurance Distribution Back Into Sync Part 1: What Happened to Insurance Distribution?”, we talked about the seismic shifts that have rocked traditional insurance distribution and about how insurance companies need to adopt a 2D strategy to thrive in this new environment.

There are four fundamental drivers of the seismic changes:

  • New expectations are being set by other industries—the “Amazon effect”;
  • New products are needed to meet new needs, and risks are distributed in new channels;
  • Channel options are expanding;
  • Lines are blurring between insurance and other industries.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss how the final three fundamental drivers have contributed to an environment of challenges and great opportunities. Those who adopt a 2D strategy will be better-prepared to seize the opportunities:

  • First, by optimizing the front end with a digital platform that orchestrates customer engagement across multiple channels
  • Second, by creating an optimized back end that effectively manages the growing array and complexity of multiple distribution channels beyond the traditional agent channel

New Products

Customer expectations, behaviors and risk profiles are evolving thanks to technology, social trends and other changes happening around us. These are driving the need for new insurance solutions and, consequently, new distribution methods, such as:

  • We all know about autonomous cars and increasing car safety technology. Autonomous cars have created questions about where liability lies in the event of an accident involving one of these vehicles. Volvo has laid down a challenge to the auto and insurance industries with its recent announcement that it will assume liability for crashes of its Intellisafe Autopilot cars.
  • The sharing economy—whether it’s for transportation, lodging, labor or “stuff”—has created a multitude of questions regarding coverages. People have realized they don’t need to buy and own cars or pay for hotel rooms when they can use someone else’s stuff for a cheaper price. People who own these items can monetize them when they’re not being used.
  • Cyber risk has been around for a long time, but numerous high-profile hacks have made it a hot topic again.
  • And, finally, the Internet of Things: Connected cars, homes and personal fitness trackers are generating lots of data with tremendous potential to improve pricing and create products and services, while at the same time reducing or eliminating risk.

The seismic impact has resulted in companies developing and offering new products to meet the changing needs, preferences and risks being driven by consumers. There are several relatively new peer-to-peer companies that have entered the market, such as Friendsurance, insPeer, Bought by Many and the recently announced start-up Lemonade. Metromile addresses the sharing economy trend with its product for Uber drivers, and addresses the niche market of low-mileage drivers.

Google Compare, with its focus of “being there when the customer wants it,” has rapidly expanded from credit cards (2013) to auto insurance (early 2015) and now to mortgages (December 2015), all the while expanding to new states and adding product providers to its platform with a new model that leverages customer feedback.

John Hancock is using Fitbits as part of the company’s Vitality program, which started in South Africa and which uses gamification to increase customer engagement and lead to potential discounts. Tokio Marine Nichido is using mobile (in an alliance with NTT Docomo) to distribute “one-time insurance” for auto, travel, golf and sports and leisure. HCC, which was recently acquired by Tokio Marine, has a new online portal for its agents to write artisan ontractors coverage for small artisan contractor customers.

The overarching theme in all these examples is that each company is pioneering ways of distribution, not just new products or coverages. Many companies are direct e-commerce because they are low premium, quick turnaround/short duration and potentially high volume; they are not well-suited for agent distribution.

Expanding Channel Options

Channel options and capabilities for accessing insurance are expanding rapidly. New brands are entering the market, giving customers new ways to shop for, compare and buy insurance.

Comparison sites, online agencies and brokers—such as Bolt Insurance Agency, Insureon, PolicyGenius, CoverHound, Compare.com and the Zebra—are relatively new to the market and are gaining significant market interest and penetration. There are also new brands in the U.S. selling life and commercial direct online, like Haven Life, Assurestart and Hiscox. Berkshire Hathaway will jump into the direct-to-business small commercial market in 2016, a potential game-changing move for the industry.

Finally, there are some intriguing new players that are focusing on specific parts of the insurance value chain.

  • Social Intelligence uses data from social media to develop risk scores that can be used for pricing and underwriting.
  • TROV is a “digital locker” with plans to use the detailed valuation data it collects to create more precise coverage and pricing for personal property.
  • Snapsheet is the technology platform behind many carriers’ mobile claims apps, including USAA, MetLife, National General and Country Financial.

Blurring Lines

The insurance industry is so valuable that outside companies are trying to capture a share. This has created a blurring of industry lines. Companies like Google, Costco and Wal-Mart are familiar brands that have not traditionally been associated with insurance, but they have offered insurance to their customers. The first time most people heard about these companies’ expansions into insurance, it probably struck them as unusual, but now the idea of cross-industry insurance penetration has become normal.

In addition, insurance products are blurring and blending into other products. For example, Zenefits and Intuit are considering bundling workers’ compensation with payroll offerings.

So, what does all of this mean?  There are two key implications from all of this for insurance companies.

First, multiple channels are now available to and are expected by customers. There are many ways for customers to research, shop, buy, pay for and use insurance (as well as almost all other types of products and services). Most customers demand and use multiple channels depending on what they want or need at the time. They are more ends-driven than means-driven and will pick the best channel for the task at hand.

Second, multiple channel options give customers the freedom to interact with companies anywhere, anytime, in just about any way.  But this only works if these channels are aligned and integrated. An organization can’t just add channels as new silos; they must be aligned, or they will do more harm than good.

So, while distribution transformation and digital capabilities promise an easier, better experience for customers, they actually result in increased complexity for insurers. Orchestrating all these channel options is hard work and can’t be done with legacy thinking, processes or systems. This expansion of channels requires insurers to optimize both the front end and the back end of the channel ecosystem.  In my next blog post, we’ll discuss these in more detail.