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Insurer IT Planning for 2018

I have tracked insurer IT budgeting and planning for more than a decade. During that time, there has been one major shift: Core systems replacement went mainstream as fear of inaction surpassed fear of change. Otherwise, I used to joke that I could republish a prior year’s study and no one would notice.

This year, however, we may be starting to see some real evolution in insurer IT spending and planning. Security issues and innovation are breaking into the list of top concerns and challenges as multi-year core systems projects started in previous years are being completed. While average spending patterns haven’t yet changed significantly, there is a shift in priorities and challenges — and an increased variability in the sample of the nearly 100 insurers who participated in Novarica’s 10th annual study.

Property/Casualty: Analytics and Speed to Market

For property/casualty insurers, business intelligence and analytics are the most frequently cited areas of need; more than half of P/C insurers put it in their top three needs (followed by distributor ease of doing business and speed to market for product changes). Note that if the responses for speed to market for product changes are combined with the responses for speed to market for true new products, that becomes the most common area of priority for P/C leaders.

Large P/C insurers are generally more optimistic about the capabilities of their key applications, except for CRM and portals. Core systems replacement activity is significantly lower this year than in previous years — partly because of variations in the sample, but also reflecting the effects of prior investments. Midsize P/C insurers are more conservative in their self-assessment than their larger peers, with more than 30% rating their own capabilities as “poor” or worse in customer portals, CRM, UW workbench, BI and predictive analytics. More than half are currently engaging in core policy administration system replacement or are planning to start a new replacement in 2018.

See also: My 4 Ps for Investing in InsurTech  

Life/Annuity: Digital

For life/annuity insurers, the most commonly demanded business capabilities are digital marketing and customer engagement, surpassing even the combination of speed-to-market for product changes and true new products. Other common high-priority areas for life insurers include optimizing internal workflow (also a digital capability) and reducing operating expenses.

In aggregate, large life/annuity insurers are most confident in their distribution and compensation management and CRM abilities and are least confident in their abilities in analytics, digital engagement, underwriter workflow and core policy administration. This correlates with significant replacement and enhancement activity in portals and core admin, as well as significant enhancement activity in analytics. Midsize life/annuity insurers judge their customer portal capabilities harshly, with half rating them “poor” or worse and 40% planning replacements for 2018. Additionally, 30% of the participants in this group are also engaged in core policy administration and claims replacement projects.

Innovation and Insurtech

While not as high priority as short-term needs, about 20% of respondents did note that the demand to support innovation and leverage insurtech was among their top three business priorities for the coming year. None had it as the business’s top priority, however. Tactical concerns continue to dominate.

Security

One significant change from last year is the increased citation of security as both a priority and a challenge, with 30-40% of insurers placing it in their top three compared to less than 20% in previous years. Although aggregate security spending levels haven’t changed significantly over the past year, remaining at close to 10% of total spending, security is consuming a much greater proportion of CIO mindshare than in previous years. One CIO said recently that the amount of time he spends on security issues has doubled every six months.

More than 60% of insurers are planning to expand their capabilities in key security areas, including device security, application security, intrusion detection and data encryption. Similar numbers are also improving their audits and procedures.

Insurers will need to continue to devote additional resources to security in 2018 and beyond. Unfortunately, taking those resources out of insurers’ traditional IT budgets of 3-4% of premiums would mean hamstringing their abilities to develop and deploy new capabilities.

Insurers that have not already done so are likely going to create a real IT security organization and budget in addition to, not replacing, their current IT spending if they want to continue to move forward safely.

See also: Security Training Gets Much-Needed Reboot  

General Outlook

Once again, the outlook for insurance IT in the coming year is very similar to the current year — with the notable exception of an increased focus on security.

Business leaders are demanding additional capabilities in analytics, digital and speed to market; IT organizations are responding with enhancements of existing systems and replacements of legacy. While replacement activity is still significant, it seems to be ebbing somewhat among property/casualty insurers as the investments of the past decade are going into production. But overall, spending levels will remain essentially consistent, with some insurers spending slightly more, some holding steady and a smaller number making cuts.

This consistency itself represents a risk. With security demands growing at the same time as business demands for digital and data capabilities, insurers are not going to be able to meet these concurrent demands within a traditional IT spending framework.

Insurers need rethink their approach to IT budgeting. Rather than asking how little they can spend on IT next year, insurers should be asking themselves two key questions: What is the real price of maintaining a robust security program, and how much can I afford to invest in technology to remain competitive now and in the future?

Global Insurance IT Spending Set to Top $100 Billion

As conditions in insurance markets worldwide slowly improve, CIOs are beginning to re-assess their strategies to drive a new set of IT priorities and are increasing their IT budgets.

The new reality of only modest premium growth in most mature markets is driving focus on simultaneously improving operational efficiency and organizational flexibility. As a result, Ovum is seeing the re-emergence of IT projects focused on legacy system consolidation/transformation and replacement.

Within emerging insurance markets, expanding core platforms and infrastructure to support growth in these regions remains the priority.

Consumers' demands for “anywhere, anytime” interaction continue to drive significant IT investment in digital channels across all regional markets.

These findings come from the latest Ovum Insurance Technology Spend Forecasts, available on the Ovum Knowledge Center. These interactive models provide a highly detailed breakdown of IT spending through 2017, segmented by geography, insurance type, insurance business function, and IT category.

The sharp decline in new business growth across all life insurance markets following the global slowdown led most insurers to rapidly and significantly cut their IT budgets. However, accelerating year-on-year growth in 2013, following some cautious expansion from 2011, confirms that life insurers are now moving from a cost-cutting mindset toward reinvestment in strategic IT projects. Ovum expects this growth in IT budgets to continue at a 7.6% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2013 and 2017 to reach a global value of just over $49 billion.

IT spending across global non-life insurance markets varies less and has generally lower growth rates. However, Ovum expects IT spending by non-life insurers to grow at a 5.7% CAGR overall to reach $60 billion in 2017. IT spending in the most mature regional markets of North America and Europe will continue to remain significantly greater (at least twice the size) than the faster-growing Asia-Pacific region beyond 2017.

As insurers emerge from short-term cost-cutting, CIOs are beginning to prioritize projects that drive customer acquisition and retention or improve operational effectiveness – ideally both. All insurers should at least be re-assessing their current IT approach to ensure sufficient focus is given to revenue-growth initiatives, to prevent becoming stuck in a “maintenance only” IT strategy.

Within the European markets, intensive competition and prolonged slow premium growth is driving a focus on customer retention, with online portal projects being key IT initiaitives for many life insurers. These initiatives are a critical means of driving process efficiency, reducing operational costs, and responding to the demands of policy-holders for self-service functionality. As the requirements of Solvency II recede and the imperative to deliver sustainable reduction in operational costs becomes increasingly urgent, European life insurers are also refocusing on the issue of legacy system modernization. Legacy systems are not a new concern, but market conditions are now forcing insurers to address the problem. As a result, Ovum expects to see continued expansion of IT budgets in support of consolidation/transformation and core system replacement projects, to reach annual spending of nearly $5 billion by 2017.

A key priority driving IT spending by North American life insurers is the need to comply with emerging regulation such as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) Solvency Modernization Initiative (SMI). The impact of regulatory compliance on IT budgets will continue to be felt up to 2017, driving spending on enterprise risk management (ERM) and enhanced management information systems (MIS) in particular. Ovum forecasts a 9.7% CAGR in this area.

The Asia-Pacific region will see the most significant growth at an 11.6% CAGR to reach annual IT spending nearing $15 billion by 2017, overtaking the European market to become the second-largest regional market. This expansion is being driven by life insurers needing to “build out” core systems and infrastructure to capture the strong growth opportunities in the region.

The goal of increasing new revenue through greater customer interaction is a critical objective for non-life insurers in both the North American and Asia-Pacific markets. Although North American non-life insurers are already well advanced in terms of online channel deployment and functionality, Ovum expects budgets directly related to digital channels to grow at a 9.0% CAGR, with mobile and social media emerging as the key focus of channel-related IT projects. Among Asia-Pacific non-life insurers, Ovum expects advanced functionality (such as policy application, quotation, payments, claim tracking, etc.) served via digital channels to see rapid development in the next 24 months.

European insurers in general are less advanced in the implementation of digital channels than their North American counterparts, although there is significant variation between individual players. However, Ovum expects this gap to rapidly diminish as the deployment of online portals and mobile channels emerges as a key priority from 2013 onward. IT spending in support of digital channels will grow at a 7.4% CAGR to 2017, with much of this growth occurring early on.