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Google and Applied Systems: 6 Months In

The insurance world was caught by surprise last October when Google’s Capital G investment arm announced a substantial investment in Applied Systems (north of $100 million). It was seen by many as an endorsement of the independent agent (IA) channel. If Google believes it will make a nice return on investment in a company serving the IA channel, then it must believe the channel will survive and grow. From the Applied Systems viewpoint, in addition to the extra capital to invest in the platform, it was anticipating access to world-class technology and expertise from Google. So now that the investment/partnership is six months in, what can we say about the progress?

Recently, I was fortunate to witness some of the activity first-hand, as Applied invited me to join them at the Google Cloud Next event in San Francisco. For me, it was a chance to “experience” Google and meet some of the players in the Applied/Google partnership. I’ve come away with several observations about Google and Applied Systems.

  1. Deep partnership: As originally promised, the Google investment was more than money looking for a return. Applied and Google are collaborating at the development level, with dozens of Applied developers being trained and exposed to Google tech.
  2. Future promise: It is still early in terms of how Google tech and expertise will influence Applied/IVANS systems, but there are indications that the first fruits will be visible this summer, and more enhancements and capabilities will be built into the product road map over the next several years.
  3. New era of computing: The shift to a new era of computing is well underway. The event was focused on developers, and the entire event was filled with sessions and discussions about containers, connectors, Kubernetes, APIs, big data, cloud, edge computing security, AI/machine learning and other technologies and approaches that are transforming how computing systems are designed, built and managed.

See also: Whole New World for Customer Contact  

My one disappointment at the event was that insurance was not very visible. There were hundreds of speakers and dozens of use cases, but nothing for insurance. Banking, retail and healthcare use cases and solutions were prominent (as were those from many other industries), but insurance only received a passing mention. Let’s hope the Applied/Google relationship will change that, and that more technology harnessed to address specific insurance use cases will be in evidence by next year’s event.

When Incumbents Downplay Disruption…

An unmanned car driven by a search engine company? We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.

That is a line from a 2011 Chrysler car commercial mocking Google’s self-driving car project.

Another Chrysler commercial was even blunter: “Robots can take our food, our clothes and our homes. But, they will never take our cars.”

Chrysler’s early mocking of Google’s efforts exemplifies the fact that few cling to the status quo tighter than the companies that best understand it and have the most stake in preserving it. It is human nature to value what one does well and look askance at innovations that challenge the assumptions underlying current success. Sprinkle in some predictably irrational wishful thinking and you have the mindset that too quickly dismisses potentially dangerous disruptions.

Ironically, seven years later, those Google “robots” are now mostly driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Those robots have taken Chrysler’s cars and driven more than 10 million miles. Chrysler benefits by selling cars to Waymo, the spinoff from that Google project, but not nearly as much as it might have from building the robots themselves. Waymo is valued at $175 billion, about five times Chrysler’s market value.

History brims with other examples.

When Alexander Graham Bell offered to sell his telephone patents to Western Union, the committee evaluating the deal concluded:

Messrs. Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their ‘telephone devices’ in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it… This device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase.

Ken Olsen, who disrupted IBM’s mainframe dominance with his DEC minicomputers, mocked the usefulness of personal computers in their early days. He declared, “The personal computer will fall flat on its face in business.” Olsen was very wrong, and DEC would eventually be sold to Compaq Computer, a personal computer maker, for a fraction of its peak value.

See also: Why AI IS All It’s Cracked Up to Be  

Steve Ballmer’s initial ridicule of Apple’s iPhone is also legendary, though the words of the then-CEO of Microsoft were mild compared with the disdain on his face when asked to comment on the iPhone launch.

Years later, after he retired, Ballmer insisted that he was right about the iPhone in the context of mobile phones at the time. What he missed, he admitted, was that the strict separation of hardware, operating system and applications that drove Microsoft’s success in PCs wasn’t going to reproduce itself on mobile phones. Ballmer also didn’t recognize the power of the business model innovation that allowed the iPhone’s high cost to be built into monthly cell phone bills and to be subsidized by mobile operators. (Jump to the 4:00 mark.)

The biggest challenge for successful business executives—like Ballmer, Olsen and those at Western Union—when confronted with potentially disruptive innovations is to think deeply about potential strategic shifts, rather than simply mock innovations for violating current assumptions.

Another perhaps soon-to-be classic example is unfolding at State Farm Insurance.

State Farm released an TV ad that is a thinly veiled attack on Lemonade, a well-funded insurtech startup. Lemonade makes wide use of AI-based chatbots for customer service. State Farm, instead, prides itself on its host of human agents. In the ad, a State Farm agent says:

The budget insurance companies are building these cheap, knockoff robots to compete with us… These bots don’t have the compassion of a real State Farm agent.

As I’ve previously written, AI is one of six information technology trends that is reshaping every information-intensive industry, including insurance. In fact, as I recently told a group of insurance executives, I believe insurance will probably change more in the next 10 to 15 years than it has in the last 300.

See also: Lemonade Really Does Have a Big Heart  

That doesn’t mean that Lemonade’s use of chatbots for customer service will destroy State Farm. But, as State Farm should know, customer-service chatbots are only one of numerous innovations that Lemonade is bringing to the game. As several McKinsey consultants point out, AI-related technologies are driving “seismic tech-driven shifts” in a number of different aspects of insurance. Lemonade has also adopted a mobile-first strategy and is applying behavioral economics to drive other business model innovations.

State Farm executives need to get beyond the mocking and think deeply about how emerging innovations might disrupt their strategic assumptions.

One way to do so is being offered at InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, where ITL editor-in-chief and industry thought leader Paul Carroll has offered a “State Farm Lemonade Throw Down.” Carroll offers to host an online debate between the two firms’ CEOs about how quickly AI technology should be integrated into interactions with customers.

Lemonade’s CEO, Daniel Schreiber, has accepted. I hope Michael Tipsord, State Farm’s CEO, will accept, as well.

Better for Mr. Tipsord to face the question now, while there is ample time to still out-innovate Lemonade and other startups, than to be left to reflect on what went wrong years later, as Steve Ballmer had to do with the iPhone.

Digital Survival Tools for Agents

Whether the majority of your business is online or in-office, it is crucial for you to have the right tools to help you capitalize on the insurance market and get ahead of the competition in a changing landscape.

It does not matter what type of insurance you are selling, whether it’s employee benefits, life insurance, group insurance, voluntary benefits or property and casualty. While your role may not be directly affected by things like legacy system transformation, robotics and big data, there will be ripple effects. Besides obtaining new clients, presenting renewals and marketing, changes in regulation and advances in technology are all things that agents will have to contend with.

Here are three elements that savvy agents and brokers will want to consider.

Multi-generational marketing

Global populations are now categorized (albeit loosely) into four categories: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Although Baby Boomers are still the largest population, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts Millennials will outnumber Boomers by 2019.

These differentiated markets make targeting sales much more difficult. Fortunately, there are online tools that can support you. The trick here is diversifying your presence. Ensure that you have a presence on multiple channels so that you are able to meet your customers where they are.

See also: 10 Essential Actions for Digital Success  

Update your agency website with a live chat feature, and ensure it is easy to contact you online. Examine whether it makes sense to use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you do, you’ll need a strong content strategy that provides real value to pull in visiting prospects.

Don’t just surf the web, observe the web. Set up Google alerts and analytics and Hootsuite streams to follow partners and competitors. Watching for trends will keep you ahead of the game.

Administration tools

A strong agency management system can provide you with everything you need to support your customer lifecycle. When looking for the right one for you, think about CRM and marketing automation. Determine what will make it easier for you to track leads, nurture prospects, close deals and obtain commissions.

Once you’ve sold a policy, a high-quality microphone and webcam will enhance consistent communication with customers remotely on Skype, WebEx, GooglePlus Hangouts or even Facebook.

Get comfortable with automation

As you get comfortable with a new and diversified way of connecting with your customers, you’ll want to consider that insurance carriers are doing the same thing. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 report revealed 82% of insurance carriers agreed that their organizations must innovate faster just to stay competitive.

In a world where customers are shopping around for options and prices all the time, retention itself becomes a valuable commodity. Help carriers help you by learning what tools their new systems have to offer so you tap into all the resources available.

Do your insurance companies offer broker portals? Do they offer online quoting capability for immediate results? Can you generate a proposal or immediately sell a policy? Can you offer that functionality on your own website? The carriers that invest in your success by improving sales, underwriting and admin functions for quicker turnarounds and smooth renewals are doing themselves a favor, too.

See also: Agents Must Become ‘Discussion Partners’  

Think strategy

As you determine the best way to move forward, sit down with others on your team, start a Google doc and plan your strategy for the year ahead. As Yogi Berra wisely said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

What free tools will you use? Which ones will you invest money in? How will you track progress to determine ROI? What tools are working for you?

The best agents and brokers will be nimble enough to exploit the tools available to them and prepare for new ones as they arrive. The sooner you start, the more likely you’ll find yourself ahead of the digital curve.

Where Are Driverless Cars Taking Industry?

While more than half of individuals surveyed by Pew Research express worry over the trend toward autonomous vehicles, and only 11% are very enthusiastic about a future of self-driving cars, lack of positive consumer sentiment hasn’t stopped several industries from steering into the auto pilot lane. The general sentiment of proponents, such as Tesla and Volvo, is that consumers will flock toward driverless transportation once they understand the associated safety and time-saving benefits.

Because of the self-driving trend, KPMG currently predicts that the auto insurance market will shrink 60% by the year 2050 and an additional 10% over the following decade. What this means for P&C insurers is change in the years ahead. A decline in individual drivers would directly correlate to a reduction in demand for the industry’s largest segment of coverage.

How insurers survive will depend on several factors, including steps they take now to meet consumer expectations and needs.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles

Google’s Lexus RX450h SUV, as well as 34 other prototype vehicles, had driven more than 2.3 million autonomous miles as of November 2016, the last time the company published its once monthly report on the activity of its driverless car program. Based on this success and others from companies such as Tesla, public transportation now seems poised to jump into the autonomous lane.

Waymo — the Google self-driving car project — recently announced a partnership with Valley Metro to help residents in Phoenix, AZ, connect more efficiently to existing light rail, trains and buses by providing driverless rides to stations. This follows closely on the heels of another Waymo pilot program that put self-driving trucks on Atlanta area streets to transport goods to Google’s data centers.

In the world of personal driving, Tesla’s Auto Pilot system was one of the first to take over navigational functions, though it still required drivers to have a hand on the wheel. In 2017, Cadillac released the first truly hands-free automobile with its Super Cruise-enabled CT6, allowing drivers to drive without touching the wheel for as long as they traveled in their selected lane.

Cadillac’s level two system of semiautonomous driving is expected to be quickly upstaged by Audi’s A8. Equipped with Traffic Jam Pilot, the system allows drivers to take hands off the vehicle and eyes off the road as long as the car is on a limited-access divided highway with a vehicle directly in front of it. While in Traffic Jam mode, drivers will be free to engage with the vehicle’s entertainment system, view text messages or even look at a passenger in the seat next to them, as long as they remain in the driver’s seat with body facing forward.

While the Cadillacs were originally set to roll off the assembly line and onto dealer lots as early as spring of 2018, lack of consumer training as well as federal regulations have encouraged the auto manufacturer to delay release in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Volvo has met with similar constraints as it navigates toward releasing fully autonomous vehicles to 100 people by 2021. The manufacturer is now taking a more measured approach, one that includes training for drivers starting with level-two semi-autonomous assistance systems before eventually scaling up to fully autonomous vehicles.

“On the journey, some of the questions that we thought were really difficult to answer have been answered much faster than we expected. And in some areas, we are finding that there were more issues to dig into and solve than we expected,” said Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s autonomous driving program director, in a statement to Automotive News Europe.

Despite the roadblocks, auto makers’ enthusiasm for the fully autonomous movement hasn’t waned. Tesla’s Elon Musk touts safer, more secure roadways when cars are in control, a vision that is being embraced by others in high positions, such as Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

“Automated or self-driving vehicles are about to change the way we travel and connect with one another,” Chao said to participants of the Detroit Auto Show in January 2018. “This technology has tremendous potential to enhance safety.”

See also: The Evolution in Self-Driving Vehicles  

We’ve already seen what sensors can do to promote safer driving. In a recent study conducted by the International Institute for Highway Safety, rear parking sensors bundled with automatic braking systems and rearview cameras were responsible for a 75% reduction in backing up crashes.

According to Tesla’s website, all of its Model S and Model X cars are equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors capable of detecting both hard and soft objects, as well as with cameras and radar that send feedback to the car.

Caution, Autonomous Adoption Ahead

The road to fully autonomous vehicles is expected to be taken in a series of increasing steps. We have largely entered the first phase, where drivers are still in charge, aided by various safety systems that intervene in the case of driver error.

As we move closer to full autonomy, drivers will assume less control of the vehicle and begin acting as a failsafe for errant systems or by taking over under conditions where the system is not designed to navigate. We currently see this level of autonomous driving with Audi Traffic Jam Pilot, where drivers are prompted to take control if the vehicle departs from the pre-established roadway parameters.

In the final phase of autonomous driving, the driver is removed from controlling the vehicle and is absolved of roadway responsibility, putting all trust and control in the vehicle. KPMG predicts wide-scale adoption of this level of autonomous driving to begin taking place in 2025, as drivers realize the time-saving and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles. During this time frame, all new vehicles will be fully self-driving, and older cars will be retrofitted to conform to a road system of autonomous vehicles.

Past the advent of the autonomous trend in 2025, self-driving cars will become the norm, with information flowing between vehicles and across a network of related infrastructure sensors. KPMG expects full adoption of the autonomous trend by the year 2035, five years earlier than it first reported in 2015.

Despite straightforward predictions like these, it’s likely that drivers will adopt self-driving cars at varying rates, with some geographies moving faster toward driverless roadways than others. There will be points in the future where a major metropolis may have moved fully to a self-driving norm, mandating that drivers either purchase and use fully autonomous vehicles or adopt autonomous public transportation, while outlying areas will still be in a phase where traditional vehicles dominate or are in the process of being retrofitted.

“The point at which we see autonomy appear will not be the point at which there is a massive societal impact on people,” said Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, at the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2017. “Because it will take a lot of time to make enough autonomous vehicles to disrupt, so that disruption will take place over about 20 years.”

Will Self-Driving Cars Force a Decline in Traditional Auto Coverage?

At present, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that 94% of automobile accidents are the result of human error. Taking humans largely out of the equation makes many autonomous vehicle proponents predict safer roadways in our future, but it also raises an interesting question. Who is at fault when a vehicle driving in autonomous mode is involved in a crash?

Many experts agree that accident liability will be taken away from the driver and put into the hands of the automobile manufacturers. In fact, precedents are already being set. In 2015, Volvo announced plans to accept fault when one of its autonomous cars is involved in an accident.

“It is really not that strange,” Anders Karrberg, vice president of government affairs at Volvo, told a House subcommittee recently. “Carmakers should take liability for any system in the car. So we have declared that if there is a malfunction to the [autonomous driving] system when operating autonomously, we would take the product liability.”

In the future, as automobile manufacturers take on liability for vehicle accidents, consumers may see a chance to save on their auto premiums by only carrying state-mandated minimums. Some states may even be inclined to repeal laws requiring drivers to carry traditional liability coverage on self-driving vehicles or substantially alter the coverage an individual must secure.

Despite the forward thinking of manufacturers such as Volvo, for the present, accident liability for autonomous cars is still a gray area. Following the death of a pedestrian hit by an Uber vehicle operating in self-driving mode in Arizona, questions were raised over liability.

Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina with expertise in self-driving cars, indicated that most states require drivers to exercise care to avoid pedestrians on roadways, laying liability at the feet of the driver. But in the case of a car operating in self-driving mode, determining liability could hinge on whether there was a design defect in the autonomous system. In this case, both the auto and self-driving system manufacturers and even the software developers could be on the hook for damages, particularly in the event a lawsuit is filed.

Finding Opportunity in the Self-Driving Trend

Accenture, in conjunction with Stevens Institute of Technology, predicts that 23 million self-driving vehicles will be coursing across U.S. highways by 2035.

As a result, insurers could realize an $81 billion opportunity as autonomous vehicles open new areas of coverage in hardware and software liability, cybersecurity and public infrastructure insurance by 2025, the same year that KPMG predicts the autonomous trend will begin to rapidly accelerate. Simultaneously, Accenture predicts that personal auto premiums, which will begin falling in 2024, will hit a steeper decline before leveling out around 2050 at an all-time low.

Most of the personal premium decline is due to an assumption that the majority of self-driving cars will not be owned by individuals, but by original equipment manufacturers, OTT players and other service providers such as ride-sharing companies. It may seem like a logical conclusion if America’s love affair with the automobile wasn’t so well-defined.

Following falling gas prices in 2016, Americans logged a record-breaking 3.22 trillion miles behind the wheel. Even millennials, the age group once assumed to have given up on driving, are showing increased interest in piloting their own vehicles as the economy improves. According to the National Household Travel Survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, millennials increased their average number of miles driven 20% from 2009 to 2017.

Despite falling new car sales, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows that car ownership is actually on the rise. Eighteen percent of Americans purchase a new car every two to three years, while the majority (39%) make a new car bargain every four to six years.

Americans have many reasons for loving their vehicles. Forty percent say it’s because they enjoy driving and being in their cars, according to a survey conducted by Cars.com.

ReportLinker reveals that 83% of people drive daily and that half are passionate about the behind-the-wheel experience of taking on the open road. Another survey conducted by Gold Eagle determined that people even have dream cars, vehicles that they feel convey a sporty, luxurious or efficient image.

Ownership of autonomous vehicles would bring at least some liability back to the owner-occupant. For instance, owing to security concerns, all sensing and decision-making hardware related to the Audi Traffic Jam Pilot system is held onboard. With no over-air connections, software updates must be made manually through a dealer.

In situations like these, what happens if an autonomous vehicle crash is tied to the driver’s failure to ensure that software was promptly updated? Auto maintenance will also take on a new level of importance as sensitive self-driving systems will need to be maintained and adjusted to ensure proper performance. If an accident occurs due to improper vehicle maintenance, once again, the owner could be held liable.

As the U.S. moves toward autonomous car adoption, one thing becomes clear. Insurers will need to expand their product lines to include both commercial and personal lines of coverage if they are going to take part in the multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Preparing for the Autonomous Future of Insurance

Because the autonomous trend will be adopted at an uneven pace depending upon geography, socioeconomic conditions and even age groups, Deloitte predicts that the insurers that will thrive through the autonomous disruption are those with a “flexible business model and diverse product mix.”

To meet consumer expectations and maintain a critical focus on customer acquisition and retention, insurers will need a multitude of products designed to protect drivers across the autonomous adoption cycle, as well as new products designed to cover the shift of liability from driver to vehicle. Even traditional auto policies designed to protect car owners from liability will need to be redefined to cover autonomous parameters.

Currently, only 25% of companies have a business model that is easily adaptable to rapid change, such as the autonomous trend. In insurance, this lack of readiness is all the more crucial, considering the digital transformation already underway across the industry.

According to PwC, 85% of insurance CEOs are concerned about the speed of technological change. Worries over how to handle legacy systems in the face of digital adoption, as well as the need to accelerate automation and prepare for the next wave of transitions, such as autonomous vehicles, are behind these concerns.

As insurers look toward the complicated future of insuring a society of self-driving automobiles, we believe that focusing on four main areas will prepare them to respond to the autonomous trend with greater speed and agility.

Make better use of data

Consumers are looking for insurers to partner on risk mitigation. To meet these expectations, insurers will need to start making better use of data stores, as well as third-party sources, to help customers identify and reduce threats to life and property. Sixty-four percent want their insurer to provide real-time notifications about roadway safety, while, on the home front, 68% would like to receive mobile alerts on the potential of fire, smoke or carbon dioxide hazards.

“Technology is changing the insurer’s role to one of a partner who can address the customer’s real goals – well beyond traditional insurance,” said Cindy De Armond, managing director, Accenture P&C core platforms lead for North America, in a blog.

Armond believes that as insurers focus more on the customer’s prevention and recovery needs, they can become the everyday insurer, integrated into the lives of their customers rather than acting only as a crisis partner. This type of relationship makes insurer-insured relationships more certain and extends longevity.

For insurers and their insureds, the future is likely to be more about predicting and mitigating risk than about handling claims, so improving data capture and analytics capabilities is essential to agile operations that can easily adapt to new trends.

See also: Autonomous Vehicles: ‘The Trolley Problem’  

Focus on digital

Consumers want to engage with their insurer in the moment. Whether that means shopping online for coverage while watching a child’s soccer game or making a phone call to ask questions about a policy, they expect to be able to engage on their time and through their channel of choice. Insurers that develop fluid omni-channel engagement now are future-proofing their operations, preparing to survive the evolution to self-driving, when the reams of data gathered from autonomous vehicles can be used to enable on-demand auto coverage.

Vehicle occupants will one day purchase coverage on the fly, depending on the roadway conditions they encounter and whether they are traveling in autonomous mode. Forrester analyst Ellen Carney sees a fluid orchestration of data and digital technologies combining to deliver this type of experience, putting much of the power in the hands of the customer.

“On your way home, you’re going to get a quote for auto insurance,” she says. “And because your driving data could basically now be portable, you could do a reverse auction and say, ‘Okay, insurance companies, how much do you want to bid for my drive home?’”

To facilitate the speed and immediacy required for these transactions, insurers will need to digitally quote, bind and issue coverage.

Seek automation

In the U.K., accident liability clearly shifts from the driver to the vehicle for level four and five autonomous automobiles. As driverless vehicles become the norm, the U.S. is likely to adopt similar legislation, requiring a fundamental shift in how risk is assessed and insurance policies are underwritten. Instead of assessing a policy on the driver’s claims history and age, insurers will need to rate risk by variables related to the software that runs the vehicle and how likely owners are to maintain autonomous cars and sensitive self-driving systems.

The more complicated underwriting becomes, the more important automation in underwriting will be. Consumers who can get into a car that drives itself will have little patience for insurers that require extensive manual work to assess their risk and return bound policy documents. Even businesses will come to expect a much faster turnaround on policies related to self-driving vehicles despite the complexity of the various coverages that will be required. In addition, on-demand coverage will require automated underwriting to respond to customer requests.

According to Lexis Nexis, only 20% of commercial carriers have automated the quoting process, and less than half are investing in underwriting automation.

Invest in platform ecosystems

McKinsey defines a platform business model as one that allows multiple participants to “connect, interact and create and exchange value,” while an ecosystem is a set of connected services that fulfill multiple needs of the user in “one integrated experience.” By definition, an insurance platform ecosystem in the age of autonomous vehicles would be a place where consumers and businesses could research and purchase the coverage they need while also picking up related ancillary services, such as apps or entertainment to make the autonomous ride more enjoyable.

Consumers are in search of ecosystem values today. According to Bain’s customer behavior and loyalty study, consumers are willing to pay higher premiums to insurers that offer ancillary services, such as home security monitoring or an automotive services app, and they are even willing to switch insurers to get time-saving benefits like these.

More important to insurers is the ability to partner with other carriers on coverage. Using a commission-based system, insurers offer policies from other carriers to consumers when they don’t have an appetite for the risk or don’t offer the coverage in house. This arrangement allows an insurer to maintain a customer relationship, while providing for their needs and price points.

See also: Autonomous Vehicles: Truly Imminent?  

As the autonomous trend reaches fruition, insurers will need to have access to a wide range of coverage types to meet consumer and business needs, and not all carriers will be able or want to create the new products.

Extreme Customer Focus Prepares for the Future

Insurers can prepare for autonomous vehicle adoption by establishing an extreme customer focus, dedicated to establishing enduring loyalty as insurance needs change. Loyal customers spend 67% more over three years than new ones. As the insurance marketplace opens up to the sale of ancillary services, gaining wallet share from loyal consumers will certainly help to boost revenues as demand for traditional products decline, but to stay competitive, insurers will need a broader mix of coverage types.

While current coverages have remained largely unchanged over the decades, the coming years will see an industry in flux as insurers phase out outmoded types of coverage while phasing in new products and services. In this environment, the platform ecosystems may be the most critical aspect of bridging the gaps.

Today, they allow insurers to fulfill the needs of price-sensitive consumers while also meeting the evolving needs of their customers. Tomorrow, platform ecosystems will provide the “flexible business model and diverse product mix” that Deloitte says will be critical to success for insurers in the autonomous age of driving.

A Contrarian Looks ‘Back to the Future’

A recent week started with reading a page by Paul Carroll from his Innovator’s Edge platform. The title question was: “Will Apple enter insurance? Google? Microsoft? Amazon?” His opening statement was, “Apple’s market value crested $1 trillion last week, and its big tech brethren Google, Microsoft and Amazon aren’t far behind, all are valued north of $800 billion…”

I wasn’t shocked until he said, “All have extensive data about customers. And all have the size to tackle mind-bending problems that insurance faces – by contrast you’d have to combine AIG, Prudential and Allstate just to surpass $100 billion in market value…”

A day later, someone sent me Reagan Consulting’s “The Golden Age of Insurance Brokerage.” As I read through this short update, I could almost hear, “Happy days are here again” playing in the background for the brokers. The following captures the essence of this document: “We are living in the Golden Age of insurance brokerage. There are so many good things happening, it is hard to keep track of them all.” This was followed by six bullet points providing evidence of why the brokers are so happy. (No mention was made of insurance buyers, who may not be as HAPPY!)

A friend then sent me a link to “The Death of the Old School Agency,” by Michael Jans. This is a more in-depth view (30-plus pages) of the world as it may or will be.

From the executive summary, we learn that today’s agent faces a new world of:

  • Rapid changes in consumer behavior and expectations
  • Emerging, existing and well-funded competitive channels
  • A rising millennial generation with different expectations, both as consumers and workers
  • A pace of change unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

Depending upon who, what and where you are, this report will bring good news or bad news, but nonetheless – it is news that (I believe) every agent needs to hear, consider, ponder and then decide on.

Agencies tomorrow are not “your daddy’s Oldsmobile.” Ask someone older than 40 to explain the phrase. This was the beginning of the end of a legendary line of General Motors automobiles and probably a foreshadowing of the collapse of General Motors.

I encourage you to study all three of these documents – they are well-written by very successful folks. Their ideas should be carefully considered, and, if properly adapted to your circumstances, all can improve your results. That is – as long as the world goes as “we the people” in this industry think it should. What follows is my contrarian view – less “raining on your parade” and more clearing the air as you look to the horizon in tomorrow’s consumer-driven economy. We are not in charge. We today are wagering on our individual and industry’s future. Place your bets. The market will pick the winners.

See also: 3 Myths That Inhibit Innovation (Part 3)  

This contrarian will offer his ideas by looking “back to the future.”

There will remain great opportunities in our future, but these will require transformational change. From today’s selling in an industry that is product-defined and product-driven, to a new client-defined and client-driven marketplace where we will facilitate our client’s buying – solving their problems and meeting their needs. In the competitive nature of tomorrow’s world – we’ll have to use artificial intelligence (AI) to anticipate these needs and deliver solutions before our clients “go shopping.”

Some of the people, gifts, expertise, disciplines, skills, etc. we’ll need will be much different than the mechanical process we use today. We will need communicators (verbal and nonverbal), empathizers, artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers, storytellers, caregivers and “techies.” This is not an all-inclusive list. (Consider reading “A Whole New Mind,” by Daniel Pink.)

Warren Bennis offered the following wisdom decades ago: “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

Consider the following – brief observations from one man’s experience:

  • In 1978, Fireman’s Fund/Famex Agents offered a GM-endorsed insurance program for dealers. I was the SW Louisiana agent. In those days, the No. 1 concern of GM and its dealers was that GM would reach 65% market share and the federal government would break GM up into separate companies, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Buick, etc. GM’s arrogance, the dealers’ complacency, foreign competition, a poor product and a marketplace wanting change reshaped their world. GM never made it to 65% market share. I believe the insurance industry is ripe for a similar transformational experience.
  • In 1994, I was speaking to a bank in St. James Parish (Louisiana) about change. I said, “Today, GM, Sears and IBM are the kings of their respective jungles. I believe, in my lifetime, one of these companies will fail.” I was laughed off the stage. Fourteen years later, I was vindicated with the bankruptcy filing by GM. I personally believe that I’ll also prove right on Sears.
  • In June 2008, I was an instructor for attendees in a risk and insurance class at the KPMG Advisory University in Chicago. This was a continuing education week for KPMG consultants. A rookie consultant asked, “How does an insurance company fail?” I explained with the Champion Insurance story.

Then he asked for an example of a “rock solid” insurance company. I said, “AIG.” The KPMG senior partners in the room nodded in agreement. Less than 100 days later, AIG was functionally bankrupt, requiring a $182 billion bailout by the government. None of us saw that coming. (I’ll bet you were surprised, as well.)

As I wrap up this article, hoping I’ve stimulated a much more important discussion about the future, consider the following:

  1. Companies valued at $100 billion are “big” until measured against trillion-dollar operations in a world in transformation – especially if the giants have better technology and data!
  2. Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon (AGMA) are kings of their respective jungles. Yet these companies are not even as old as the majority of readers of this column (with the possible exception of Microsoft and Apple, founded in the mid-1970s). Why would we think that our “old and stoic” industry is “safe” and “promising” for tomorrow? Are we celebrating our past when we should be planning our future?
  3. Do you think that any of your clients who have recently received a rate increase will be as enthusiastic about the profitability of our industry and the future of the world of brokers as stated in the article offered by Reagan? I’ve rarely (if ever) heard a client celebrate the profitability of our industry when it is an expense to theirs…
  4. Generational changes, social media and our societal rethinking of issues of race, gender, ethnicity, family, values, economic models (socialism / capitalism), etc. may result in our going in directions that we, 10 years ago, would have never considered possible.
  5. Has our industry let the government get its nose into our tent/economic system. NFIP has been in this industry as long as I have. The private sector didn’t want to address the flood risk. Now, these nearly 50 years later, the flood program is a government program and not sustainable. Unfortunately, the government may be ready to have the camel stand up in the tent? Medicare for everyone is no longer a crazy idea. It may not work, but….
  6. If the insurance industry was being designed today to do what it does, do you really believe it would be what we have? If you answered yes, please reread the question!

See also: What Is Really Disrupting Insurance?  

Bookstores, travel agencies, video stores, etc. were important in our communities of yesterday – UNTIL THEY WEREN’T. Should we begin redesigning our own operations and industry and future before a competitive innovator does it for us?