Tag Archives: distribution channel

What Happened to Insurance Distribution?

A bright market pundit could probably offer up her ideas on just which day it was that insurance distribution fell markedly out of sync with retail technology and consumer expectations. Was it the day Amazon was launched? Was it the day that the first app was purchased on the app store? Did it involve Google search engine optimization or the switch from print to email or social media marketing?

It is interesting and a little painful to think about, but most experts would say that, of course, it wasn’t just one day or one event. It has been building slowly, silently and stealthily…where the insurance industry allowed the friction of change to impede modernization and place itself at risk. Shifting consumer mindsets and rapidly evolving markets, like tectonic pressures, built up along a fault line, and then one day the ground shakes.

And it didn’t stop shaking.

Now the industry is waking up and finding itself on a precipice in the midst of continual, seismic shifts. A new business environment has arrived. The environment is different because of the complexity, breadth and depth of converging factors and global changes. To an industry steeped in centuries of tradition, this new business environment represents significant disruption. The shifting and realigning of fundamental elements of the business require us to erase the idea that we can ease our organizations into the new era with minor adjustments. Instead, we need to match the rhythm of perpetual aftershocks with a model that sways to the beat of a new agenda.

We need to reinvent the insurance business model so that it is built to predict seismic activity and capture future opportunities. Today’s insurers are moving from product-driven to customer-driven strategies; from reliance on limited distribution channels (such as agents) to an array of channels based on customer choice; from line of business silos to customer experience threads for all products across all lines; from simply containing risk to providing personal risk management; and from siloed solutions focused on transactions to a platform portfolio that bridges together real-time interaction across all products and services for customers, giving them an Amazon-like experience.

Together the changes represent a disruption in the industry’s traditional market rhythm. The industry’s response demands two concerted efforts:

  • First, it requires optimizing the front end with a digital platform that orchestrates customer engagement across multiple channels.
  • Second, this multi-channel environment must be supported by an optimized back-end that effectively manages the growing array and complexity of multiple distribution channels beyond the traditional agent channel.

Together, these two efforts compose a “2D Strategy” for insurers to succeed in this new business environment of customer engagement and channel choice. What composes the 2D Strategy? It is simply digital and distribution. Majesco’s new thought leadership report, “A 2D Strategy: Distribution and Digital for High Performance,” discusses this two-pronged strategy in more detail.

But first, let’s spend some time diagnosing the developments that have led the industry to this point. We see four fundamental drivers:

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

New Expectations

Customer expectations based on their experiences with other companies and industries are setting a new bar for customer experience and are a key driver in expanding distribution choice. What are these companies doing that customers like so much? Fundamentally they offer choice, create delight and surprise and make both a personalized and emotional connection.

– Amazon and Netflix have a huge variety of products and use data and analytics very well to know what customers would like, before they even know it themselves.
– Southwest makes things simple and transparent and has a great culture that creates a welcoming environment for customers.
– Google is the very essence of surprise and delight – every time you do a search you never know what you’ll find.
– Costco customers experience a “thrill of discovery” every time they go there and have access to “members only” deals on a large variety of products and services – including insurance. Availability creates a seamless line between online and in-store.
– Apple designs all of its products and services to create a feeling of simplicity, function and elegance and makes shopping, buying and servicing available through multiple channels.

Underpinning these new expectations is the use of technology, with mobile as a key enabler. Why? Simply put, mobile empowers customers. It used to be called the third screen (behind TV and the PC), but now it’s the first screen. Pew says that 68% of all American adults have a smartphone now, and some younger age groups are hitting saturation levels. Other studies show that more than 40% of organic search engine traffic now comes from mobile devices, and 50% of insurance shoppers start their shopping process using mobile.

We frequently talk about mobile enabling ANYTIME and ANYWHERE interactions. Recent Google research quantified the times and places consumers use mobile for researching and purchasing products. Usage levels generally increase as the day progresses, peaking in the late evening. But if you look at the first two and last two parts of the day together, an estimated 46% of mobile research time is spent in the early morning, late evening or when customers are in bed — not an ideal time to meet with an insurance agent. A majority of this activity is done at home, but almost as much is done outside of the home.

Customer experiences created by other companies and customer empowerment created by technology are powerful forces shaping customer expectations and driving the need for insurance companies to adopt a 2D strategy. In my next blog I’ll explore the other drivers on our list: new products, expanding channel options and blurring industry lines.

3 Ways to Boost Trust in Your Brand

It’s no secret that there is a newfound aggressive and competitive environment in insurance. A combination of outside competition focused on disrupting the distribution channel and an increase in tech-driven carriers is fostering this environment, and adapting to this change goes beyond just adopting technology. Everything hinges on a carrier’s ability to shed its conservative approach to business – both internally and when communicating to customers.

Although fairly new in the U.S., insurance price comparison sites are rising in both popularity and sophistication, enabling consumers to compare policies from insurers down to the last dollar in a matter of seconds. Carriers shouldn’t fear these sites but should be prepared with a strategy that allows them to stay successful amid this disruption.

Regardless of the changes happening, insurance still remains a complex purchase, and brand trust is a valuable way to differentiate your company. Nicholas Weng Kan, CEO of Google Compare, shares that there is a level of comfort that customers need before they make the commitment to buy a policy; that is why more than half of sales still happen after a conversation with an insurance expert.

So how do you gain trust for your brand? The catalyst for success in modern business is through transparency, which breeds trust – something insurance desperately needs. According to a recent Ernst & Young study, insurance suffers from lower levels of trust than any other industry, with 57% of consumers expressing dissatisfaction at the lack of interaction from their insurer.

Below are steps carriers can take to elevate trust in their brand:

First Step: Get to Know Your Customer

An important aspect of successful businesses today is the ability to create a relationship with the customer. Carriers don’t have the bandwidth to treat each customer with interpersonal attention but can still understand who they are and what they want. Through the use of analytics, carriers have quick access to valuable information about a customer. Brands that don’t begin adopting these technologies to match customer needs can’t keep up with those that do.

Netflix obliterated Blockbuster by using advanced analytics to know customers better. The same dynamic differentiates between the data-driven and traditional carrier: Once the customer acquisition approach is more segmented and targeted, carriers can also deliver the right price based on a more accurate risk profile.

While pricing may not be everything, competitive pricing is necessary. The E&Y survey found that 50% of consumers change their insurer because of price. Insurance is already a complex business that lacks linearity, and price is an important consideration for all customers. The most competitive carriers leverage predictive analytics as a useful tool to help distinguish the poor risks from the good risks so they can focus on the customer relationships that will benefit their business in the long term.

Second Step: Learn to Cater to the Millennial Generation

Millennials have overtaken the baby boomers as the largest consumer base in the country, at 75.3 million strong, and it is clear that they aren’t satisfied with the insurance buying process. According to the 2015 Capgemini World Insurance Report, less than 30% of insurance customers around the world enjoy a positive customer experience, with North America seeing the deepest decline in satisfaction.

Millennials crave transparency and a buying process that is painless and streamlined. Trust is bred when they know their insurers have their best interests at heart and care about their well-being, as well as the causes that are important to them. Above all, Millennials demand efficiency and personalization. Using innovative technologies to interest and retain Millennials is key to gaining their trust. Not only will this breed a positive experience, but it limits the amount of confusion from the consumer, thus creating fewer touch points for the insurer or agent.

Last Step: Be Transparent

The industry holds tightly to how products and services are priced. That’s just not going to work any more. Customers are sophisticated and expect insurance agents to connect them to information. Agents and insurers won’t garner consumer trust with a “black box” buying process.

Consumers have moved on from the notion that they are better off when an expert makes choices for them, but they do want to be guided by experts and understand what is happening in each step of the process. According to another E&Y study, nearly 70% of global customers feel they initiate the purchase of new policies because of the availability of digital channels. Based on results, it was inferred that difficulty in accessing information contributes to customers leaving their current carrier.

If insurers continues to be secretive about how they conduct business and price their policies, then many of the new insurance innovations run the risk of being perceived negatively by consumers. For example, Internet of Things has broken into homeowners, with partnerships between Nest and well-known insurers such as Liberty Mutual, but if the pricing structure and benefits aren’t clearly defined, there is a chance of a consumer backlash.

A Consumer Reports article earlier this year found that insurance is receiving criticism for using credit information to price personal auto policies. Of course, credit information is a strong indicator of loss and a smart predictive factor for any auto insurer, and it’s used by many different industries. However, there is perceptual damage, leaving the industry blindsided by critics who assume that secrecy must automatically mean untrustworthy.

Insurance needs to find the right balance between doing a good job managing risk and developing a more innovative and transparent culture. Creating a positive consumer experience involves being more transparent about price and clearly defining the benefits and service offered by the carrier. Almost 40% of consumers are either not confident or only somewhat confident that they have the appropriate coverage. This should be a wake-up call to the industry that all aspects of customer engagement need attention.

2016 Outlook for Property-Casualty

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)
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

New Insurance Models: The View From Asia

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.

Models

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.

Mandates

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.

Marketing

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.

Keep Your Eye on the Fourth P

If you ever took a marketing class, you probably remember the four “P’s” – product, price, promotion and place. While attention to all of these is vital to business success (including one or two new ones added over the years), the fourth P, place (which really is about distribution) has been getting a lot of attention lately in the insurance industry. From traditional channels with agents and brokers to new channels like Google, Compare.com, Gobear.com, Walmart and others, the place where prospects and clients meet insurers is worth a fresh look and an open discussion.

Celent recently reported that many insurers are investing in their distribution capabilities to spur growth and retention by adding or expanding channels and markets and optimizing existing channels. Celent predicted a steady market for investment in distribution management systems from 2014-2016 (“Deal Trends and Projections in the Distribution Management Systems Market,” September 2015). Gartner has indicated distribution management is one of its hot inquiry topics for 2016.

As I wrote in my last blog, distribution might also be the most tangible touchpoint to customers for product inquiries and purchases, outside of paying bills or making the occasional policy change. Interactions with our distribution channels are key opportunities to create positive customer experiences that lead to loyalty and additional sales down the road. Because only a fraction of our customers will have a claim in any given year, few will have the opportunity to experience the true value of insurance. That places the “burden of value proof” upon insurers, to continually reinforce protective messages, supplement with preventive knowledge and reiterate the comfort customers can have in knowing they are insured.

Distribution has always been the prime communicator of these messages and an extremely important part of the insurance value chain. Channels we use have evolved over the centuries, as insurance itself has evolved. (See the recent report from III, “Buying Insurance: Evolving Distribution Channels,” for a good history lesson). But numerous forces inside and outside of our industry have been rapidly transforming this important element of the insurance business model. As an industry, we can’t afford to think about distribution in the “usual” old ways.

Traditional channels are still vitally important, but having a broad array of distribution options is even more important in today’s marketplace. With consumers’ shopping/buying preferences and behaviors changing based on more progressive industries and companies, options and alternatives are critically important to capture and retain customers. While the digital revolution and fast-emerging technologies are intensifying this change, they have not replaced traditional agent channels, despite the predicted demise of the agent channel a few years ago.

Instead, consumers are using multiple channels (traditional and non-traditional) for shopping, buying and policyholding processes. In many cases, it comes down to whichever channel is easiest or whichever channel seems to fit the moment when the individual is ready to transact. This echoes a trend within all industries. For example, research by Deloitte reported by Business Insider found that consumers shop for groceries on average across five different types of stores, no longer needing a traditional grocery store when one is not convenient. Consumers are now buying groceries at warehouse clubs and super-stores like Costco and Walmart, where one-stop-shopping can save time (CBS Moneywatch). For retail suppliers, this means courting any and all potential distribution outlets.

Likewise, insurance needs to expand distribution channels beyond the traditional channel silos of direct mail, captive agent and independent agents to a new model, an omni-channel ecosystem that seamlessly interacts with and meets customers’ ever-expanding expectations. This doesn’t mean that insurers should rush out and go on a channel shopping spree. It does mean insurers must build a strategic action plan for their unique channel ecosystem using relevant channels, partners and capabilities that work cohesively together to optimize the customer relationship. The irony of this is that while insurers are doing this to make things easier for their customers, it can make things a lot more complex for insurers. Enter the growing need for effective distribution management, and systems that improve carriers’ capabilities to manage multiple channels and multiple factors. These factors include:

Compliance: Automation of key producer lifecycle processes, data capture and reporting saves time and ensures accuracy and timeliness.

Compensation: Moving from reliance on core systems and manual tracking and calculations in spreadsheets doesn’t just save time and increase accuracy, it also enables more targeted and creative programs to drive performance of your channels.

Performance: In addition to influencing producer behaviors, the right distribution management system makes available the volume and granularity of data you need to enable flexible reporting, as well as more advanced analytics like segmentation and predictive modeling. Majesco’s recent research report, “A Path to Insurance Distribution Leadership: New Channels and New Data for Innovative Outcomes,” provides some useful insights into how companies are using data to improve the performance of their distribution channels.

Self-Service: Portals for your producers and channel partners give them the transparency that’s vital for trusted, mutually beneficial relationships. Developing e-service capabilities for customers and agents was a high priority among insurers Majesco surveyed for the recent research report, “Digital Readiness in Insurance.”

You can have the best insurance products, pricing and advertising to build your market presence, but if you don’t have a distribution ecosystem underpinned by a robust distribution management system to optimize and maximize these channels, your customer growth and retention potential will remain limited. If it is difficult to effectively optimize compliance, compensation and performance of your channels, you could end up losing to competitors that can. Distribution management systems are no longer considered back-office systems; they are front-office enablers in today’s radically changing marketplace. That brings us back to the concept of place. Just like long-established retailers will remodel every couple of years, the place you meet your customers can’t remain untouched without your organization and its products losing their feeling of value.

Are you developing a distribution ecosystem? Do you have the right distribution management solution to optimize your established and newly developed channels to help you grow? Celent and Gartner are telling the industry that your competitors are considering and implementing modern distribution management systems. If you haven’t been considering distribution management modernization, now is the time to begin the conversation.