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In Age of Disruption, What Is Insurance?

“Somehow we have created a monster, and it’s time to turn it on its head for our customers and think about providing some certainty of protection.” – Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyds of London

In an early-morning plenary session at this year’s InsureTech Connect in Las Vegas, Rick Chavez, partner and head of digital strategy acceleration at Oliver Wyman, described the disruption landscape in insurance succinctly: while the first phase of disruption was about digitization, the next phase will be about people. In his words, “digitization has shifted the balance of power to people,” forcing the insurance industry to radically reorient itself away from solving its own problems toward solving the problems of its customer. It’s about time.

For the 6,000-plus attendees at InsureTech Connect 2018, disruption in insurance has long been described in terms of technology. Chavez rightly urged the audience to expand its definition of disruption and instead conceive of disruption not just as a shift in technology but as a “collision of megatrends”–technological, behavioral and societal–that is reordering the world in which we live, work and operate as businesses. In this new world order, businesses and whole industries are being refashioned in ways that look entirely unfamiliar, insurance included.

This kind of disruption requires that insurance undergo far more than modernization, but a true metamorphosis, not simply shedding its skin of bureaucracy, paper applications and legacy systems but being reborn as an entirely new animal, focused on customers and digitally enabled by continuing technological transformation.

In the new age of disruption …

1. Insurance is data

“Soon each one of us will be generating millions of data sets every day – insurance can be the biggest beneficiary of that” – Vishal Gondal, GOQUii

While Amazon disrupted the way we shop, and Netflix disrupted the way we watch movies, at the end of the day (as Andy G. Simpson pointed out in his Insurance Journal recap of the conference) movies are still movies, and the dish soap, vinyl records and dog food we buy maintain their inherent properties, whether we buy them on Amazon or elsewhere. Insurance, not simply as an industry but as a product, on the other hand is being fundamentally altered by big data.

At its core, “insurance is about using statistics to price risk, which is why data, properly collected and used, can transform the core of the product,” said Daniel Schreiber, CEO of Lemonade, during his plenary session on day 2 of the conference. As copious amounts of data about each and every one of us become ever more available, insurance at the product level– at the dish soap/dog food level–is changing.

While the auto insurance industry has been ahead of the curve in its use of IoT-generated data to underwrite auto policies, some of the most exciting change happening today is in life insurance, as life products are being reconceived by a boon of health data generated by FitBits, genetic testing data, epigenetics, health gamification and other fitness apps. In a panel discussion titled “On the Bleeding Edge: At the Intersection of Life & Health,” JJ Carroll of Swiss RE discussed the imperative of figuring out how to integrate new data sources into underwriting and how doing so will lead to a paradigm shift in how life insurance is bought and sold. “Right now, we underwrite at a single point in time and treat everyone equally going forward,” she explained. With new data sources influencing underwriting, life insurance has the potential to become a dynamic product that uses health and behavior data to adjust premiums over time, personalize products and service offerings and expand coverage to traditionally riskier populations.

Vishal Gandal of GOQuii, a “personalized wellness engine” that is partnering with Max Bupa Insurance and Swiss Re to offer health coaching and health-management tools to customers, believes that integrating data like that generated by GOQuii will “open up new risk pools and provide products to people who couldn’t be covered before.” While some express concern that access to more data, especially epigenetic and genetic data, may exclude people from coverage, Carroll remains confident that it is not insurers who will benefit the most from data sharing, but customers themselves.

See also: Is Insurance Really Ripe for Disruption?  

2. Insurance is in the background

“In the future, insurance will buy itself automatically” – Jay Bergman

Some of the most standout sessions of this year’s InsureTech Connect were not from insurance companies at all, but from businesses either partnering with insurance companies or using insurance-related data to educate their customers about or sell insurance to their customers as a means of delivering more value.

Before unveiling a new car insurance portal that allows customers to monitor their car-related records and access a quote with little to no data entry, Credit Karma CEO Ken Lin began his talk with a conversation around how Credit Karma is “more than just free credit scores,” elucidating all of the additional services they have layered on top of their core product to deliver more value to their customers. Beyond simply announcing a product launch, Lin’s talk was gospel to insurance carriers, demonstrating how a company with a fairly basic core offering (free credit scores) can build a service layer on top to deepen engagement with customers. It’s a concept that touches on what was surely one of the most profound themes of the conference–that, like free credit scores, insurance only need be a small piece of a company’s larger offering. This may mean embedding insurance into the purchase of other products or services (i.e., how travel insurance is often sold) or it may mean doing what Credit Karma has done and layering on a service offering to deepen engagement with customers and make products stickier.

Assaf Wand, CEO of the home insurance company Hippo, spoke to both of these models in his discussion with David Weschler of Comcast about how their two companies are partnering to make insurance smarter and smart homes safer. When asked about what the future of insurance looks like, Wand put it plainly when he said: “Home insurance won’t be sold as insurance. It will be an embedded feature of the smart home.” Jillian Slyfield, who heads the digital economy practice at Aon, a company that is already partnering with companies like Uber and Clutch to insure the next generation of drivers, agrees: “We are embedding insurance into these products today.”

Until this vision is fully realized, companies like Hippo are doing their part to make their insurance products fade into the background as the companies offer additional services for homeowners, “Can I bring you value that you really care about?” Wand asked, “Wintering your home, raking leaves, these are the kinds of things that matter to homeowners.”

3. Insurance is first and foremost a customer experience

“The insurance industry has to redefine our processes… go in reverse, starting with the customer and re-streamlining our processes around them” – Koichi Nagasaki, Sompo

To many outside the insurance industry, the idea of good customer experience may seem unremarkable, but for an industry that has for so long been enamored by the ever-increasing complexity of its own products, redefining processes around customers is like learning a foreign language as a middle-aged adult. It’s hard, and it takes a long time, and a lot of people aren’t up to the task.

The insurance industry has been talking about the need for customer-centricity for a while now, but many companies continue to drag their feet. But customer-centricity is and remains more than a differentiator. It’s now table stakes. How this plays out for the industry will look different for different companies. Some will turn to partnerships with insurtechs and other startups to embed their products into what are already customer-centric experiences and companies. Chavez of Oliver Wyman would rather see the industry “disrupt itself,” as he believes it’s critical that companies maintain the customer relationship. In his plenary sessions, he cited the German energy company Enercity as a company that disrupted itself. Operating in a similarly regulated industry, rather than becoming just a supplier of energy, the company invested heavily in its own digital strategy to become a thought leader in the energy space, to be a trusted adviser to its customer and to deliver an exceptional digital experience that, among other things, leverages blockchain technology to accept bitcoin payments from customers. For Chavez, insurtech is already a bubble, and, “If you want to succeed and thrive in a bubble, make yourself indispensable.” The only way to do this, he believes, is to maintain ownership over the customer experience, because, in today’s digital economy, the customer experience is the product.

But to own the customer experience and succeed will require insurance companies to completely reorient their business practices and processes – to start with the customer and the experience and work backward toward capabilities. In the words of Han Wang of Paladin Cyber, who spoke on a panel about moving from selling products to selling services, “It’s always a questions of what does the customer want? How do they define the problem? And what is the solution?”

4. Insurance is trust

“The world runs on trust. When we live in a society where we have lots of trust, everyone benefits. When this trust goes away, everyone loses.” – Dan Ariely, Lemonade

During a faceoff between incumbents and insurtechs during one conference session, Dylan Bourguignon, CEO of so-sure cinched the debate with a single comment, calling out large insurance carriers: “You want to engage with customers, yet you don’t have their trust. And it’s not like you haven’t had time to earn it.” This, Bourguignon believes, is ultimately why insurtechs will beat the incumbents.

Indeed, the insurtech Lemonade spent a fair amount of stage time preaching the gospel of trust. Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and chief behavior officer at Lemonade, delivered a plenary session entirely devoted to the topic of trust. He spoke about trust from a behavioral standpoint, explaining how trust creates equilibrium in society and how, when trust is violated, the equilibrium is thrown off. Case in point: insurance.

Insurance, he explained, has violated consumer trust and has thrown off the equilibrium–the industry doesn’t trust consumers, and consumers don’t trust the industry, a vulnerability that has left the insurance industry open to the kind of disruption a company like Lemonade poses. As an industry, insurance has incentives not to do the thing it has promised to do, which is to pay out your claims. And while trust is scarcely more important in any industry as it is in insurance, save in an industry like healthcare, the insurance industry is notoriously plagued by two-way distrust.

What makes Lemonade stand out is that it has devised a system that removes the conflict of interest germane to most insurance companies – as a company, it has no incentives to not pay out customer claims. In theory, profits are entirely derived by taking a percentage of the premium; anything left over that does not go to pay out a claim is then donated to charity. The result: If customers are cheating, they aren’t cheating a company, they are cheating a charity. Ariely described several instances where customer even tried to return their claims payments after finding misplaced items they thought had been stolen. “How often does this happen in your companies?” he asked the audience. Silence.

And it’s not just new business models that will remedy the trust issues plaguing insurance. It’s new technology, too. In a panel titled “Blockchain: Building Trust in Insurance,” executives from IBM, Salesforce, Marsh and AAIS discussed how blockchain technology has the capacity to deepen trust across the industry, among customers, carriers, solutions providers and underwriters by providing what Jeff To of Salesforce calls an “immutable source of truth that is trusted among all parties.” Being able to easily access and trust data will have a trickle down effect that will affect everyone, including customers, employees and the larger business as a whole–reducing inefficiencies, increasing application and quote-to-bind speed, eliminating all the hours and money that go into data reconciliation and ultimately making it easier for carriers to deliver a quality customer experience to their customers.

See also: Disruption of Rate-Modeling Process  

While the progress in blockchain has been incremental, the conference panel demoed some promising use cases in which blockchain is already delivering results for customers, one example being acquiring proof of insurance for small businesses or contractors through Marsh’s platform. With blockchain, a process that used to span several days has been reduced to less than a minute. Experiences like these–simple, seamless and instantaneous – are laying the groundwork for carriers to begin the long road to earning back customer trust. Blockchain will likely play an integral role this process.

5. Insurance is a social good

“We need insurance. It is one of the most important products for financial security.” – Dan Ariely, Lemonade

For all of the the naysaying regarding state of the industry that took place at InsureTech Connect, there were plenty of opportunities for the industry to remind itself that it’s not all bad, and its core insurance is something that is incredibly important to the stability of people across the globe. Lemonade’s Schreiber called it a social good, while Ariely told his audience, “We need insurance. It is one of the most important products for financial security.” Similar sentiments were expressed across stages throughout the conference.

In fact, in today’s society, income disparity is at one of the highest points in recent history, stagnating wages are plaguing and diminishing the middle class, more people in the U.S. are living in poverty now than at any point since the Great Depression, the social safety net is shrinking by the minute and more than 40% of Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $400 emergency, so insurance is more important than ever.

For Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyds of London, insurance has a critical role to play in society, “It goes beyond insurance–it’s about giving people money and financial independence,” she said during a fireside chat. She went on to describe findings from recent research conducted by Lloyds, which determined that, by the end of their lives, men in the U.K. are six times better off financially than women. When designed as a tool to provide financial independence and equality for everyone, insurance can play an important role in addressing this disparity. While this has been a focus in emerging markets, financial stability and independence is often assumed in more developed markets, like the U.S. and Europe. In reality, it is a problem facing all markets, and increasingly so. Ace Callwood, CEO of Painless1099, a bank account for freelancers that helps them save money for taxes, agrees that insurance has an important role to play. “It’s our job to get people to a place where they can afford to buy the products we are trying to sell,” he said.

You can find the article originally published here.

Examining Potential of Peer-to-Peer Insurers

Recently, I wrote an article where I outlined a simple modeling framework I use when I try to predict how a new insurance product or new insurtech startup is likely to perform. In this article, I will walk through an example to give you a play-by-play on how to put this simple mental model to use.

Can Peer-to-Peer Insurance Succeed?

Peer-to-peer business models really came into their own in the financial arena, where companies such as Prosper and Lending Club were able to create platforms that allowed individuals to loan funds directly to one another. As a Prosper investor, I still recall how neat it was that I could loan a family $25 and be part of a pool of like-minded people who were looking to help others and make a little bit more money than a bank account. (Disclaimer: You can lose your money, too. I have had several borrowers default, and you will need to make up for it on those accounts that don’t default).

Investors, always a group looking for the next unicorn, have applied principles of P2P to others businesses, as well, such as car sharing and file sharing. Even digital currencies such as Bitcoin are P2P-based. Not surprisingly, investors and entrepreneurs are looking into whether P2P would work well in the seemingly tattered insurance industry. Companies such as Lemonade, Guevara and Friendsurance are already selling policies and making a name for themselves. InsNerds.com was very lucky to have Dylan Bourguignon of So-sure insurance, a complete P2P insurer, write an article for us on the topic (be sure to read this article if you want a breakdown from the point of view of an insurer).

See also: 3rd Wave of P2P Insurance  

Let’s walk P2P insurance through the model framework and see what all stakeholders need to see.

Exposure

The exposure component is the one that deals with claims; past, present and future. The P2P model looks to reduce the frequency and severity of losses by reducing the desire among policyholders to make bogus claims. Because policyholders in a P2P model have some affiliation with each other, the hypothesis is that this connection will prevent policyholders from harming their peers. This seems intuitively possible. If it is true, what would that mean to the insurance coverage?

Fraud is estimated to add 10% to losses in property/casualty insurance. That would equal approximately $34 billion a year! Fraud is most typically investigated in workers’ compensation, auto and health insurance (not necessarily in this order). Traditional insurers spend a lot of money rooting out fraud. Big data vendors such as Verisk and Valen have commercial models available for both workers’ compensation and auto — even homeowners insurance isn’t immune. Reports of widespread false claims after Hurricane Katrina were documented.

The difference between what traditional carriers do and what P2P offers is that P2P subtly promises to remove the fraud BEFORE it happens, while today’s fraud is only caught during the fraud or afterward. If P2P can fulfill this promise, there is a tremendous amount of value it can provide to the market.

If I were an investor, I would look for companies that can show that their P2P network has very tight ties. As the network gets larger, it seems unlikely that the strong ties can be maintained, and you begin to lose the ability to have shame or other social pressures keep fraud under control. Any technology that can strengthen the ties to large portfolio scale could be immensely valuable.

I’ve written about Lemonade, and while the company no longer considers itself P2P, the initial “technology” was to group like-minded homeowners or renters together, and give any excess year end profits to a charity of their choice. If you are following along with where I am going with this, you may see some of the flaws in the model. First, homeowners insurance isn’t in the big three for fraud, so the potential benefits are not nearly as big as they would be in auto or workers’ compensation. Second, I didn’t really see any proprietary technology that could give Lemonade a leg up on any competitors. From all of the press releases, the P2P networks seemed easy to copy, as is Lemonade’s charity angle. That Lemonade dropped its P2P marketing seems to have confirmed that that part of the business model probably would not have produced worthwhile value. As an investor, I’d like to see a direct line to fraud reduction and truly big potential to drop the investments now being committed to detecting fraud, post-event.

P2P needs to bring some new type of configuration of insurance that meets needs not currently being met. The insurers mentioned above are tackling industries with heavyweight competition. I see an opportunity for P2P to unite common insureds in a way that provides coverage or risk reduction in areas where coverage is difficult to obtain or just doesn’t exist. In California, earthquake deductibles are very large. It seems reasonable that property owners could unite to buy coverage to protect each other against losses arising from the combined deductibles. There’s a similar case to be made for flood. I imagine these P2P insurers almost acting as public captives covering very niche risks for similar insureds.

Distribution

The distribution component of the framework deals with how companies market to and sell to customers. In the P2P model, there is a heavy emphasis on the social element, like-minded insureds telling other like-minded insureds to join. Most P2P insurers are direct to consumer. Thus, P2P insurers must depend heavily on their insured network to do much of the heavy lifting for them, whether that’s through word of mouth or via social media.

If I were an investor looking into this area, I’d want to see some proof of concept that value can be created here to some scale. Brokers get paid well for a reason: it is expensive to find and maintain insurance customers. Advertising on Facebook is more expensive than you think, and, if you are using Adwords, you are competing against GEICO, State Farm and other large insurance companies. Good luck with that.

See also: Is P2P a Realistic Alternative?  

Ultimately, I think distribution will directly depend on the product development and what was discussed in EXPOSURE above. P2P insurers must be able to differentiate themselves. Take Lemonade. As a home and rental insurer, is Lemonade different than a traditional home insurer? Yes. Is it 10x better? I don’t think so. The product is nearly identical; only the customer experience is truly different. It is exceptional, but will that alone be enough to drive customers to buy policies? I think it will, but not by enough of a margin for Lemonade to deliver Uber-like returns. That’s not happening.

Capital

Insurance is a capital-intensive business. To start a plain-vanilla company in most states requires $5 million to $10 million in surplus capital. This is capital that is above and beyond capital that is used to pay for claims. That capital must be invested into the highest-quality securities (generally government bonds and AA corporates). Any startup that is more complicated than “vanilla” needs more capital. And any expansion into other states will require still more capital.All of this capital is needed even if you only have one on your books and even if you are ceding all of your business to reinsurers. Startup insurers are behind the eight ball right from the get go and are at a massive disadvantage when compared with the big guns.

State Farm has surplus in the tens of billions of dollars. Those are funds State Farm can invest and through which it can generate investment income that can be used to offset other costs in their. Startup insurers can’t do that and are very vulnerable to any large loss and thus require heavy partnerships. And that isn’t cheap! For startups, cost of capital is very high, and those costs must be reflected in the premium.

This is why Lemonade’s expansion across the U.S. is head-scratching. Though Lemonade is not a P2P, as a startup much of its newly acquired capital for this expansion is sitting in bonds. Unless there is some other news that we are not privy to, using B-round capital as a portfolio does not seem to be a great use of funds. This is a lesson for other P2Ps. An entire P2P strategy can collapse if the capital structure is not maximized. If I were an investor looking at this field, I’d want the P2P to be partnering with a capital source that already has scale, so that the P2P can focus on product differentiation and distribution.

Operations

P2P insurers have a terrific advantage in this area. Being born in the digital age means that these insurers can skip over legacy systems and go directly to an entirely modern platform. I would want to see seamless integration and movement of data between marketing, binding, policy issuance, accounting and claims management. I would want to see the ability to easily capture data at the front end, augment data during the lifecycle and put that data to work in integrated plug-and-play models.

See also: P2P Start-Ups From Around the World  

For P2P insurers, Lemonade is providing the blueprint for how this should be done. (By the way, big-time kudos to Lemonade for being so transparent and allowing curmudgeons like me to nitpick the business model). Lemonade’s integration of chatbots to eliminate human intervention in the purchasing of and the filing of claims seems to be an operations winner thus far. In this model, we should expect to see overhead expenses drop. Expenses associated with losses should also drop. If the P2P was not able to show significant decreases in expense, then something is terribly wrong.

Summary

I love the concept of P2P. But I don’t think it will ultimately become a great way to invest venture funds. I just don’t think the returns will justify the risks. P2P insurers should be able to provide significant value in operations. If they can differentiate product development, they should be able to attract customers who would be interested in their products. BUT…I think P2P insurers are not going to find very large markets for their niche products. Because of this, distribution costs will be higher than they expect, and they will suffer from capital costs unless they form the right partnerships. Those really inexpensive Lemonade rates likely won’t last. P2P prices may not end up cheap as capital and distribution costs overwhelm advantages obtained in potential decreases in fraud costs and operational efficiencies.

P2P insurance is full of potential, and as a model, will behave more like traditional MGAs. The potential for supersized returns is not high.

This article first appeared at InsNerds.com.