What if Leonardo Da Vinci had been alive to witness the digital revolution? Perhaps he would have been a sought-after consultant and speaker (after his start-up had gone public and his paintings were selling for millions)! Da Vinci was, according to historian Will Durant:
“The most fascinating figure of the Renaissance… [He] took fondly to mathematics, music and drawing. In order to draw well, he studied all things in nature with curiosity. Science and art, so remarkably united in his mind, had one origin — detailed observation.”
According to Da Vinci, a scientist should look at experience and observation before applying reason to any experiment. He uniquely had both a right brain and left brain perspective, the art and the science view, that looked at facts but then creatively used them to innovate — highlighting the power of observation. And Da Vinci’s observations are still with us today.
For insurers, the power of observation is no less important than it was during the Renaissance. In fact, observation’s power for change and growth, using nearly any measurement (e.g. dollars, longevity, capacity for change, lowered risk) would certainly far exceed its Renaissance power. Insurance’s pervasiveness and necessity (it underpins economies to enable them to grow) make it globally and individually life-altering.
If insurers wish to tap into the power of observation, in which direction should they look?
The simple answer is that they should look at trends. But to fully explore trends, it will help us to split them into subcategories, such as purchase trends, lifestyle trends, customer preferences and commercial/industrial trends.
Observing Purchase Trends
This is the most obvious of the trends, yet it may be one of the most overlooked trends. How do people buy? What differences are there between segments such as millennials, baby boomers and small business owners? This goes beyond, “Well, they seem to be using the internet and mobile phones.” Observing purchase trends takes everything into consideration — Where are people when they are using their mobile phone or other mobile device? Where are people when they realize they have the time, need and inclination to purchase insurance? Is there a cosmic moment when the right offer at the right time with the right channel yields a magical response?
See also: Data Science: Methods Matter (Part 2)
This kind of observation can certainly be informed by trends and disruption within other industries. For a quick example, consider how iTunes created a profitable shortcut in the music purchase process (as well as dispensing with a physical product, all of its delivery methods and costs). Then think about how Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube, Pandora and SoundCloud have all dented iTunes demand and caused its prices to look exorbitant. The lesson for insurers is twofold: 1. Capitalize on opportunities to be in the right place at the right time with market targets, and 2. Be vigilant in price response, service response and capitalizing on the next idea.
Now that insurance is changing, it won’t stop. Perpetual observation, along with incubation and concept testing, will provide a foundation of market safety — if the organization is committed to acting on what it learns. This means continuous incubation and market testing of innovative products and services, likely outside of the normal insurance operations and systems structure — being creative and acting like a start-up.
Observing Lifestyle Trends
Insurance is so tightly bound to lives and lifestyles that it is imperative that insurers keep tabs on how lifestyles are changing. For example, in 2014, single adults in the U.S. began to outnumber married adults. How does that affect insurers with products that may seem to reward families with discounts and lower rates (i.e for multiple vehicles)? The sharing economy is also becoming mainstream, not only with services like Uber and Lyft, but also with shared office spaces, shared living arrangements and shared vacation residences growing in popularity. The sharing economy is all about the sharing of assets rather than ownership of them. Is it time for insurers to start thinking less in terms of insuring property owned or mortality and instead begin thinking in terms of insuring life experiences that may occur over short spaces of time, rather than for years? The rider in the Uber and the vacationer in the Airbnb may feel far more comfortable if they have the insurance for that specific time and need — knowing that no matter where they are, and no matter what happens, they have access to insurance.
Once again, this requires direct observation and then using the observations to creatively rethink insurance. Demographic studies that account for the next three, five and 10 years can even help insurers predict lifestyle patterns before they become mainstream, capturing the opportunity early and gaining market share.
Observing Customer Preferences
Many newspapers are losing money or are fading away. Bookstores are closing. Large department stores are somewhat outmoded. Bricks and mortar retail outlets are struggling to stay relevant. Purchases of used goods have never been higher. Online purchases have never been higher. What does this tell us about consumer buying preferences? What does it mean to insurers?
The digital transformation of buying that is playing out is unprecedented. But does it mean agent sales aren’t the future or that un-tailored, high-volume products are no longer needed? The answer is no. In many cases, the answer is to increase an understanding of preferences at both a high level (market trending) and an individual level (preference trending). Preferences change frequently, so market analysis and segmentation underpinned by data and analytics play an important role in understanding where reality is at any one point in time. For observant insurers that care about growing their business, building an excellent customer experience and acting on a real knowledge of market trends and individual preferences will strengthen customer satisfaction and retention. It will also build loyalty among market segments that are changing or traditionally hard to keep.
See also: 3 Skills Needed for Customer Insight
Observing Commercial/Industrial Trends
What do Samsung clothes dryers, FitBits and connected cars have in common? All of them have IoT sensors, all of them have digital connectivity to mobile devices and … they are all relevant to insurers.
When skateboarders started using GoPros (and posting videos to YouTube) and iPhones started locking themselves in cases of theft, insurers should have started paying attention. Drone technology, camera technology, GPS tracking, step measurement — all of these advances will play a role in insurer offerings, capabilities and services. But technological advancements are only the beginning of commercial trends that insurers can use. As commerce changes and as processes and products adapt, informed insurers will be able to support the changing needs of organizations. Start-up businesses and small businesses will be looking for ways to insure venture capital and other investments against loss. Drone and unmanned aircraft insurance needs will grow. Data protection and cyber security insurance needs will continue to grow.
The insurance Renaissance will change the needs of companies and individuals as they embrace new market trends, technologies and as they reshape their preferences. This will likely mean a decrease in demand for some traditional products such as auto insurance or individual life insurance. But, at the same time, it opens the door for new products that embrace the changes. Just look at companies like John Hancock with its Vitality product, as well as insurers providing risk avoidance services using IoT in their homes or those offering shared transportation insurance. For observant insurers that grasp the way financial and business models are changing, there will be excellent opportunities to supply innovative products and risk preventive services. The key will be in the observation.
Insurance is the economic foundation for economies, businesses, families and individuals, enabling them to operate or live life fully and with confidence. Our responsibility as an industry is to continually observe the changes that are happening inside and outside of the industries we serve, adapt to those changes with innovative products and services that meet changing customer needs, and do it with speed, capturing the opportunities unfolding before our eyes.
In my next post on the insurance Renaissance, we’ll see how re-envisioning financial and business models may be one of the ways that insurers can prepare for a new era of progress and success.