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Innovation: Solutions From… Elsewhere

Insurance is the industry most affected by disruptive change, according to the percentage of CEOs who are extremely concerned about the threats to their growth prospects from the speed of technological change, changing customer behavior and competition from new market entrants.

Insurers know they need to innovate to remain competitive. In fact, 67% of insurance respondents to PwC’s 2017 CEO Survey see creativity and innovation as very important to their organizations, ahead of other financial services sectors and the CEO Survey population as a whole. And, insurance CEOs noted that the area they would most like to strengthen to capitalize on growth opportunities is digital and technological capabilities, followed by customer experience (reflecting the connections between the two).

However, the industry’s traditional conservatism and the dizzying pace of technological change has made it difficult to change. As a result, most insurers are looking outside the industry – typically in the insurtech space (e.g., drones, sensors, internet of things (IoT)) – for the best ways to improve their systems, processes and products. And there is no doubt that industry stakeholders think insurtech has real promise: Annual investment in insurtech startups has increased fivefold over the past three years, with cumulative funding reaching $3.4 billion since 2010, based on the companies that PwC’s DeNovo platform follows.

See also: What Is the Right Innovation Process?  

To facilitate a diverse approach to identifying opportunities and potential partners from different industries and specialty areas, an enterprise innovation model (EIM) is table stakes. An EIM facilitates:

  • New product and service development: Being active in insurtech can help insurers discover emerging coverage needs and risks that require new insurance products and services. As a result, they can improve their product portfolio strategy and design of new risk models.
  • Market exploration and discovery: Prescient insurers actively monitor new trends and innovations, and some have even established a presence in innovation hotspots (e.g., Silicon Valley) where they can directly learn about the latest developments in real-time and initiate innovation programs.
  • Partnerships that drive new solutions: Exploration typically leads to the development of potential use cases that address specific business challenges. Insurers can partner with startups to build pilots to test and deploy in the market.
  • Contributions to insurtech’s growth and development: As we describe below, venture capital and incubator programs can play an important role in key innovation efforts. Established insurers that clearly identify areas of need and opportunity can work with startups to develop appropriate solutions.

Most insurers are looking outside the industry for the best ways to improve their systems, processes and products.

Maintaining awareness, influencing the market and identifying the right partners

To ensure an organization’s innovation efforts are in sync with – or even driving – the latest developments in the market, an EIM needs a formalized yet agile process for identifying and incorporating best practices.

Dedicated assessment of insurtech advancements can allow insurers to identify and promote best practices and key technologies. Moreover, maintaining a close connection with the insurtech market can help a company develop its external knowledge and relationships with innovators. Through this process, insurers can identify potential partners that can help them understand evolving technologies and their applications, and even contribute to developing the capabilities they desire.

With a deeper understanding of the market, capabilities and key players, insurers can be better positioned to facilitate innovation, ideation and design. While some fintech companies already have compelling insurance applications, insurers have a great opportunity to identify and design new potential use cases.

Fast prototyping is key to quickly creating minimally viable products (MVP) and bringing ideas to life. Early-stage startups develop and deploy full-functioning prototypes in near real time and go to market with solutions that evolve with market feedback. The development cycle is shortened, which allows startups to quickly deliver solutions and tailor future releases based on usage trends and feedback and to accommodate more diverse needs. Established insurers can follow the same approach or can partner with existing startups that have a MVP to help them to move to the next stage, scaling.

The ways to accomplish all of this vary based on how the organization plans to source new opportunities and ideas, how it plans on executing innovation and how it plans to deploy new products and services. The following graphic provides examples of EIMs by primary function.

The innovation center

The innovation center (also named “lab” or “hub”) is a structure at a corporate level that bridges external innovation with business unit needs and innovation opportunities. It relies on internal subject matter experts and innovation champions to ignite and drive innovation initiatives at a business unit level. With this model, innovative new products and services go to market under the company’s brand.

The innovation hub provides an outside-in view while promoting innovation internally. With this model, the company dedicates a team to constantly monitor trends and market activity, build and maintain relationships with key insurtech players, identify potential future scenarios and determine new partnership opportunities.

The hub should be managed through business units to effectively innovate (i.e., building prototypes and scaling models). Execution is a key success factor, and we recommend insurers consider complementary innovation models to help promote positive outcomes.

Regardless of the model they use, we recommend that insurers of all sizes consider developing an innovation center and create an external connection based on potential future scenarios.

The incubator

An incubator can drive innovation from idea to end product by identifying new opportunities and developing related solutions. Although it does require a significant investment of both money and resources, it has proven especially effective in addressing complex problems and devising new approaches to them.

Although the incubator can be internal, external structures typically create unique development environments and attract necessary talent. Via an external approach, ideas come mostly from outside the company and a panel of internal or external innovation specialists provide high-level guidance and approval for the innovation the company is seeking through the incubator.

Although the incubator initially drives innovation, business units typically become involved during the development process. They have an important role, especially when planning to deploy new solutions within the organization. The incubator can wind up as a start-up that can go to the market under its own name.

One of the main strengths of the incubator model is that it facilitates execution. It holds an idea until a prototype is developed and a minimally viable product is available. The gradual involvement of business units during the process enables the model to adequately scale. Upon adoption by its future owner, the incubator and business units can address any related challenges related to operating capacity, cyber risk, regulation and other issues.

Strategic venture capital (SVC)

The SVC model offers the opportunity to participate via stake or acquisition in relevant insurtech-related players. This is a way to influence and shape the development of specific startups (e.g. pushing them to solve specific problems) and acquire key capabilities and talent, and as a way to derive value from strategic investments.

In the SVC model, the company establishes a new ventures division, which sources ideas from the outside. The company provides funding and support for equity, while a SVC from this new structure explores, identities and evaluates solutions and markets new ventures under its own brand. The funds thatSVC invests in a startup help new players augment their capabilities and scale their business model. This could lead to potential market joint ventures, acquisitions or other deals to monetize the initial investment.

Established insurers with SVC arms are usually leaders in specific market segments and therefore leverage their experience and knowledge to select key ventures. To become more active with insurtech, these structures can be linked to innovation centers, thereby allowing companies to connect ventures with business units.

Instead of choosing one model over the other, we propose one that combines key elements from each. Companies can select elements based on their need for external innovation, the availability of talent, their ability to execute and the amount of investment the organization is willing to commit.

EIM operating options

EIM operating characteristics

Bridging the cultural divide

Complicating the need to innovate is the fact that an insurer’s culture often influences an external company’s decision about partnering with it. In fact, according to our 2016 Global
FinTech Survey, more than half of fintechs see differences in management and culture as a key challenge in working with insurers. Insurers also realize this, and 45% of insurance companies agree that this is a major challenge.

See also: How to Create a Culture of Innovation  

Accordingly, insurers will need to assess the availability and compatibility of existing resources and determine how and where they can find what may not currently be available. By clearly articulating the organization’s needs, defining explicit roles and establishing a model for enterprise innovation, an insurer can address any underlying concerns it may have about partnerships.

While insurers can create internal structures to support innovation, most of them will have to enlist external resources in one way or another. In fact, we expect many talented professionals without insurance-specific skills will be the ones who wind up driving innovation.

Attracting and developing innovators

Insurers can create internal structures to support innovation, but – as EIMs stipulate – success ultimately depends on having the right talent. And, most insurers will have to enlist external resources – ones who have an entrepreneurial mindset and who are well-connected to insurtech – in one way or another.

How does a company attract and retain this kind of talent? There are four primary ways:

  • Acquire the new talent from start-ups. This works well if the acquired company keeps running its business under its own start-up rules, away from the acquirer’s bureaucracy. Otherwise, if there is too much acquirer interference, then retention will be a challenge in a market that covets innovators.
  • Attract the talent directly from the market. This option typically requires a new mindset from the hiring company in terms of business role, work environment and even location. Establishing a presence in relevant innovation hotspots will help make an offer more attractive, facilitate external connections and demonstrate the insurer’s commitment to letting innovators be free to innovate.
  • Partner with startups, technology vendors, universities, researchers and other proven innovators. This option represents a major opportunity because it enables the insurer to create the connections to and formal partnerships with new talent. However, while identifying desired capabilities is relatively easy, there will need to be strong alignment of purpose between the organization and the new partners for the relationship to work. In this case, the Innovation Hub should be the most helpful model.
  • Grow the talent. This option is probably the least disruptive because it doesn’t require external changes. Large organizations have the opportunity to discover talent within their structures. But, the organization will have to ascertain and leverage the mentality and professional background of employees in many different ways. Gamification, internal collaboration groups and other resources can help in the search for potential in-house innovators, but most companies will need a more sophisticated staffing model to develop this talent (e.g., having specific development plans and offering “external” experiences in projects and with partners).

Complementing these options is the insurance industry leadership’s advocacy of new methods to foster change in employee skill sets. According to insurance respondents to PwC’s 2017 CEO Survey,

  • 61% are exploring the benefits of humans and machines working together (considerably higher than any other FS sector), and
  • 49% are considering the impact of artificial intelligence on future skills needs (also considerably higher than any other FS sector).

Implications

In response to this rapidly changing environment, incumbent insurers are approaching insurtech in various ways, prominently through joint partnerships or startup programs. But whatever strategy an organization pursues, insurtech’s main impact will be new business models that create challenges for market players and other industry stakeholders (e.g., regulators). In this environment, insurers will need to move away from trying to control all parts of their value chain and customer experience through traditional business models, and instead move toward leveraging their trusted relationships with customers and their extensive access to client data.

For many traditional insurers, this approach will require a fundamental shift in identity and purpose. The new norm will involve turning away from a linear product push approach, to a customer-centric model in which insurers are facilitators of a service that enables clients to acquire advice and interact with all relevant actors through multiple channels. By focusing on incorporating new technologies into their own architecture, traditional insurers can prepare themselves to play a central role in the new world in which they will operate at the center of customer activity and maintain strong positions even as innovations alter the marketplace.

To effectively develop these new business models and capabilities and establish mutually beneficial insurtech relationships, established insurers will need to start with a well-thought-out innovation strategy that incorporates the following:

  • An effective enterprise innovation model (EIM) will take into account the different ways to meet an organization’s various needs and help it make innovative breakthroughs. The model or combination of models that is most suitable for an organization will depend on its innovation appetite, the type of partnerships it desires and the capabilities it needs. EIMs feature three primary approaches to support corporate strategy, partnering via innovation centers (or hubs), building capabilities via incubators and buying capabilities via a strategic ventures division. Companies can select elements from each of these models based on their need for external innovation, the availability of talent, their ability to execute and the amount of investment the organization is willing to commit.
  • Even though insurers can create the internal structures that support innovation, most of them will have to enlist external resources in one way or another. Accordingly, they will need to assess the availability and compatibility of existing talent and determine how and where they can find what may not currently be available. Much like with enterprise innovation models, there are certain ways (often in combination) that insurers can locate and obtain the resources they need, including acquiring it, trying to attract it, partnering and growing it internally.