Tag Archives: John Hancock

5 Topics to Add to Your List for 2017

As an industry, we are knowledgeable. In fact, I think one could say that insurers may know more about the way the world works than most other industries. We hold the keys to risk management and the answers to statistical probability. We underpin people, businesses and economies world-wide. We have centuries of real-world experience and decades of real-world data dealing with individuals, groups, businesses, property, life, investments and health.

Yet, in 2017, none of that experience will matter unless we are willing to embrace an entirely new field of knowledge. The convergence of technology with digital, mobile, social, new data sources like the Internet of Things (IoT) and new lifestyle trends will make insurers better, smarter and more successful IF we are willing to “go back to school” and audit the class on modern, innovative insurance models, generational shifts in needs and expectations and disruptive technologies.

This class is largely self-taught. Between you, Google, traditional and new media (think Coverager, Insurance Thought Leadership and InsurTech News), social networks and a few hours each week, you can expand your horizon toward the future to become a knowledgeable participant in 21st century insurance. It will help, however, if you know what to search for. In this blog, I’m going to give you five high-level areas to keep tabs on in the coming months. These are the places where technology and market shifts are going to create massive competitive energy in the coming year.

Insurtech, Greenfields and Startups

As of this writing, AngelList (a startup serving startups,) lists 1,069 insurance-related startups. Many of these are new solution technology companies. Others are new insurance companies or MGAs focusing on new market segments, new products and new business models. The influx of capital from venture capital firms, reinsurers and insurers has advanced the proliferation of startups and greenfields based on new tech capabilities. Business model disruption will continue to be mind-boggling, exciting and scary all at the same time — bringing insurtech into the mainstream and powering the industry-wide wave of innovation.

Whether you are sifting through ideas to improve your competitive position, launch a new insurance startup or greenfield, seek partners actively engaged in insurtech or invest or acquire a new technology startup, insurtech companies and their growing numbers are to be watched. Reading through these types of lists will give you a feel for the expansive nature of insurance. You’ll see how marketing minds are turning traditional insurance concepts into relevant products and solutions that fit today’s and tomorrow’s lifestyles. Be inspired to engage in insurtech in 2017, because time is of the essence. For background, start by reading Seed Planting in the Greenfields of Insurance.

See also: 10 Predictions for Insurtech in 2017  

Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing

AI and cognitive computing technologies like IBM’s Watson have been touted as the link between data and human-like analysis. Because insurance requires so much human interaction and analysis regarding everything from underwriting through claims, cognitive computing may be insurance’s next solution to better analyze, price and understand risks using new data sources and add an engaging and personalized advisory interface to their services to achieve efficiency and improvements in effectiveness as well as competitive differentiation. Cognitive computing’s speed makes it a great candidate for underwriting, claims and customer service applications and any task requiring near-instant answers. IBM and Majesco recently announced a partnership to match insurance-specific functionality with cloud and cognitive capabilities. This will be an area to watch throughout 2017.

On-Demand, Peer-to-Peer and Connected Insurance

Trov allows individuals to insure the things they own, only for the periods during which they need to insure them. Cuvva is betting that people will want to have insurance on their friend’s cars during the time in which they borrow them. Slice launched on-demand home-share insurance to hosts using homeshare platforms like Airbnb, HomeAway, OneFineStay and FlipKey. Verifly offers on-demand drone insurance. Insurance startups are filled with companies that are providing insurance to the new spaces, places, behaviors and lifestyles where insurance is needed.

Other startups are using social networks and the Internet of Things to bring parity to insurance, often lowering premiums. Peer-to-peer insurers like Friendsurance and Lemonade put customers into groups where the group’s members pool their premiums, payment for claims come from the pool and, in the case of Lemonade, leftover premium is contributed to social causes. Metromile uses real usage data to provide fair auto insurance premiums.

Here is a space where insurers must keep their eyes open for opportunities. How can P&C insurers cover those who don’t own a car, but who still drive periodically? How will group health insurers help employers lower their rate of medical claims? How will life insurers promote wellness and reduce premiums?  Many of the answers will be found in digital connections, social knowledge, IoT data and an ability to provide timely, instant and on-demand coverage.  For more insight, start reading 2016’s Future Trends: A Seismic Shift Underway and the soon-to-be-released update.

The Revival of Life Insurance

One area that will receive a much-needed insurtech stimulus will be life insurance. The life insurance industry ranks last as noted in the recent research, The Rise of the New Insurance Customer: Shifting Views and Expectations; Is Your Business Ready for Them?, which is likely reflected in the decline of life insurance purchases over the past 50 years. The 2010 LIMRA Trends in Life Insurance Ownership report notes that U.S. individual life insurance ownership had dropped to the lowest rate in 50 years, with the ownership rate at just 44%. As new simplified products are introduced, new data streams proliferate and real-time connections improve, life products are poised to change. Already, new life insurers and traditional life insurers are positioning to use connected health data as a factor in setting premiums. John Hancock’s Vitality is perhaps the best current example, but other players are entering the mix — many simply claiming to have a better methodology for selling and servicing life policies. Haven Life, owned by Mass Mutual, and companies such as Ladder, in California, are reinventing term insurance … from simplifying the product to creating an “Amazon-like” experience in buying in rapid time. Ladder, in particular, uses a MadLibs-type underwriting form that’s not only relevant but fun to use.

The life insurance industry is hampered by decades-old legacy systems and the cost of conversion and transformation is taking too long and costing too much. As a result, look for existing insurers to begin to launch new brands or new businesses with modern, cloud core platforms to rapidly innovate and bring new products to market for a new generation of customers, millennials and Gen Z. As we saw in 2016, most new entrants are aimed at term products that will sell easily and quickly to the underserved Gen Z and millennial markets. New life players and products, as well as existing life insurers, reinsurers and even P&C insurers seeking to capture this opportunity will be interesting to watch in 2017.

See also: What’s Next for Life Insurance Industry?  

Cloud and Pay-As-You-Use

If your company is underusing or not using cloud computing with pay-as-you-use models, 2017 should be a year for assessment. Though cloud use isn’t new, its business case is picking up steam. Search “cloud computing and insurance” and you’ll find that the reasons companies are seeking cloud solutions are evolving.

The case for core system platform in the cloud reached the tipping point in 2016 … from nice to consider to a must have, and it will be the option of choice in 2017. The logic has grown as capabilities have improved, cost pressures have increased and now the demand for speed to value and effective use of capital on the business rather than infrastructure is gaining priority. Incubating and market testing new products in a fail-fast approach allows insurers to see quick success and capitalize on pre-built functionality with none of the multi-year implementation timeframes.

Increasingly, many insurers are taking advantage of the same pay-as-you-use principles of cloud as consumers themselves. They are paying as they grow, with agreements that allow them to pay-per-policy or pay based on premiums. They are using data-on-demand relationships for everything from medical evidence to geographic data and credit scoring. They use technology partners and consultants in an effort to not waste downtime, capital, resources and budgets. They are rapidly moving to a pay-as-they-use world, building pay-as-they-need insurance enterprises. This is especially true for greenfields and startups, where a large part of the economic equation is an elegant, pay-as-you-grow technology framework. They can turn that framework into a safe testing ground for innovative concepts without the fear of tremendous loss, while having the ability grow if the concepts are wildly successful. Major insurance research firms advocate cloud as a smart approach to modernizing infrastructure and building new business models. Keeping cloud on your company’s radar is crucial and good place to start is reading The Insurance Renaissance: InsureTech’s Pay-As-You-Go Promise.

These are just a few of the areas we should all be watching throughout 2017, but the vital step is to take your new knowledge and apply your “actionable insights” throughout your organization, powering a renaissance of insurance.

Make 2017 your company’s Year of Insurance Renaissance and Transformation!

The Start-Ups That Are Innovating in Life

In my last post, I provided categories within which to organize the innovation players within life insurance. Both start-ups and legacy businesses are pursuing solutions to industry pain points. Attention is being paid to distribution, product, client experience, speed, productivity, big data, compliance and other areas within the life category where inefficiency exists or where client needs are not met today.

The very complexity of life insurance will be a deterrent, at least in the near term, to the volume of innovations versus what we have seen in other areas of InsurTech. Much of the innovation, including the examples presented here in my April post, aim at specific issues with the current model for life insurance, versus taking a clean-sheet approach.

Entrants into the space aim to solve adviser problems, become the new intermediaries between the carriers and the client or assist the carriers themselves. For their part, carriers are funding and leading transformation efforts. They know they must adapt, but because it’s almost impossible to drive massive change from within an established business model and culture, it is likely that start-ups creating differentiated value that avoid becoming mired in complexity can do well.

Here are examples of opportunities:

Adviser conversations will move from the kitchen table to digital channels.

The Global Insurance Accelerator aims to drive innovation in the insurance industry. Of note in GIA’s 2016 cohort is InsuranceSocial.Media, a tiered offering that automates adviser participation in social media. Based on a user-defined profile, advisers are provided with algorithm-driven content that they can distribute via their social media identities.

Hearsay Social is a more evolved startup also enabling adviser social media. The company boasts relationships with seven out of 10 of the largest global financial services companies, among these New York Life, Pacific Life, Farmers and AXA. Hearsay addresses the compliance requirements that carriers have so their advisers can participate in social media: (1) archiving every instance of social media communication and (2) monitoring all adviser social conversations, intercepting compliance breaches. While not sexy, this capability is critical and commands C-suite attention.

An early-days market entrant also targeting adviser digital presence, LifeDrip claims to offer an automated marketing platform, including a personalized agent site, targeted content, signals on client readiness to buy and product recommendations.

Advisers as intermediaries are unlikely to disappear any time soon, but their role, engagement approach and capabilities must be more tech-savvy to appeal to virtually any consumer segment in this market with buying power. Expect additional new entrants that continue not to write off live intermediaries, and bring to market solutions to reshape the adviser relationship.

See also: How to Turn ‘Inno-va-SHUN’ Into Innovation

The new intermediaries are digital.

Smart Asset promises to simplify big financial decisions, including the purchase of life insurance, with an orientation toward how people make these decisions vs. pushing product. Shoppers can input data to a calculator and determine a coverage target; they are then encouraged to request a quote from New York Life. Smart Asset’s experience will be more credible when it includes multiple providers. It will require marketing investment to scale participation. Its basic approach could appeal to a large segment that will demand simple, low-cost product.

PolicyGenius has developed a consumer-friendly interface including instant quotes for life, as well as pet, renters and long-term disability insurance, following completion of an “insurance checkup.” As with other start-ups, this is a data-gathering exercise undoubtedly important to the company’s business model. AXA is an investor in PolicyGenius; the site promotes several major carriers as product providers.

Slice Labs is worth calling out because it is a direct-to-consumer play defining itself against a specific, important market segment – the 1099 workforce whose growth is being stimulated by the “on-demand economy.” Think not only about the Uber and Airbnb phenomena, but also the reality of more Americans moving away from traditional employer relationships where automatic access to benefits was a given.

Carriers will be viewed as start-up clients.

All of the companies mentioned already focus in and around the acquisition of new clients. InforcePro offers an automated solution for agents and carriers providing insights into sales opportunities and potential risks that exist within their current books.

Why does this matter? Insurance contracts are inordinately complex – even for the experts. Carriers and agents, particularly in recent years, have been forced to focus more heavily on maximizing the performance of the policies they have issued, versus just trying to sell more. The focus on the relationship with the policyholder has been skimpy. Life insurance policyholders can cancel a policy but cannot be “fired,” and represent continuing exposure, as their future claims can be on the carrier’s balance sheet for decades. With the risks and potential value now more obvious, in-force management has become a priority for focus and investment.

See also: Start-Ups Set Sights on Small Businesses

Carriers will drive efforts to innovate beyond incremental moves.

Haven Life owned by Mass Mutual but operated separately is a digital business whose product line is term life up to a $1 million benefit. The company operates in more than 40 states and represents a bold move for a 165-year old carrier. Nerdwallet rates Haven’s pricing as “competitive” – not the cheapest but well within range.

What is interesting about Haven is that it is not just implementing a shift of the same old approach to digital channels: Quotes are available in minutes, and coverage can become effective immediately, with the proviso that medical testing be completed within 90 days of policy issuance. In this space, this approach represents meaningful experience innovation.

Last year, John Hancock initiated an exclusive relationship in the U.S. with Vitality, marketing a program that gives rewards to clients who demonstrate healthy habits such as having health screenings, demonstrating nutritious eating habits, getting flu shots and engaging in regular exercise. Rewards range from cash back on groceries to premium reductions. This program is strategically significant because it aims at prevention, not just protection, linking preventative behaviors that clients control to cost savings.

Numerous carriers are participating in innovation accelerators, establishing their own incubators or forming dedicated venturing and innovation units. It remains to be seen which of these are what a colleague refers to as “innovation theater” and which are for real — drivers of new business opportunity. As with any early-stage plays, their stories will emerge over years, not quarters.

A Look at 3 Leading Next-Gen Insurers

As the June 30 deadline approaches for the 2016 SMA Innovation in Action Award submissions, let’s take a look back at our insurer winners from 2015: Haven Life Insurance Agency, John Hancock and USAA. Their innovative projects and initiatives have demonstrated how they are rethinking and reinventing the business of insurance and furthering their progress toward becoming a Next-Gen insurer. Insurers that are considering submitting an application to the 2016 Innovation in Action Awards program can see from these examples what a winning business and technology project/initiative might look like.

See also: How to Enable the Next-Gen Insurer

The Next-Gen insurer model is based on five foundational areas of transformation: customer, products and services, technology and data, business model and innovative culture. (For more information on the Next-Gen Insurer model and its foundational areas, click here.) Insurers are taking creative approaches in all of these areas, and the 2015 winners are no exception. Winners are listed in alphabetical order.

Next Gen

  • Haven Life Insurance Agency made a real leap forward for the entire insurance industry in the area of products and services by offering medically underwritten life insurance that can be purchased online. Haven simplified an arduous paper-based application process of four to six weeks to better meet the expectations of today’s customer. The company did this by leveraging technology and data – specifically, external data fed through sophisticated algorithms – to greatly reduce the amount of information that the customer has to provide to receive a quote. A partnership with MassMutual gives Haven Life access to the resources of a large organization while retaining the innovative culture that sparked the transformative approach to selling, underwriting and administering life insurance.
  • The John Hancock Vitality Program reimagined the relationship between an insurer and its policyholders, creating a unique customer experience in the traditionally low-touch world of life insurance. The program rewards policyholders for healthy behavior such as exercising and getting annual physicals. These activities can be tracked through wearables technology and data via a free Fitbit or logged online through a computer or a mobile app. John Hancock uses this data in an online rewards program that offers premium savings, among other rewards, changing the business model for this life insurance product. In addition to rewards, policyholders can receive individualized encouragement toward further healthy behavior, a value-added service that represents a real advance in life insurance products and services.
  • USAA pioneered the use of drones in the insurance industry, showing what this technology and data can do for insurers, especially in P&C claims. After mudslides hit Oso, WA, USAA’s deployment of drones for damage assessment established a new and vital service for policyholders in post-disaster situations, pushing the envelope in the foundational area of products and services.

See also: 6 Key Ways to Drive Innovation

The real progress that these three insurers are making toward becoming Next-Gen insurers is evident in the effects these groundbreaking initiatives have on the five Next-Gen Insurer foundational areas. They are also fantastic examples of how thoughtful approaches to innovation can make insurers stand out from the crowd in the industry.

2016 Awards Logo

This is the fifth year of our SMA Innovation in Action Awards program, which honors insurers and solution providers that are putting innovation into action with creative projects, initiatives, technologies or solutions that further insurers’ progress toward the goal of becoming Next-Gen Insurers. We encourage you to apply for the SMA Innovation in Action Insurer Award or the Solution Provider Award to share your successful innovations!

Submissions are due by June 30, 2016. A full program description, FAQs and links to the applications for both awards can all be found on the SMA website.

The Insurance Renaissance, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a four-part series. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here.

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.

InsurTech Can Help Fix Drop in Life Insurance

No one disputes that life insurance ownership in the U.S. has been on the decline for decades.

The question up for debate is what to do about it.

The emergence of an insurtech sector is an indicator of entrepreneur and investor confidence in upside potential. The hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into technology by carriers is another.

See Also: Key to Understanding InsurTech

But before piles of capital are poured into attempts to capture the opportunity, investors and legacy insurers should reflect on the root causes of this seemingly unstoppable trend and prioritize innovations that aim at solving the biggest issues:

  • Carriers have evolved, through their own cumulative behavior over decades, away from serving the needs of the majority of Americans to meeting the needs of a shrinking, high-net-worth population
  • A declining pool of independent agents are chasing bigger policies within this segment
  • The industry has, effectively, painted itself into a corner and is trapped in a business model that, given its own complexity, is difficult to change from within

How have carriers painted themselves into a corner? 

Carriers face what Clayton Christensen termed, in his 1997 classic, “the innovator’s dilemma.” While continuing to do what they do brings carriers closer to mass-market irrelevance, today’s practices, products, processes and policies don’t change. They deliver near-term financials and maintain alignment with regulatory requirements.

It’s worth acknowledging how the carriers have ended up in this spiral, particularly the top 20, which collectively control more than 65% market share, according to A.M Best via Nerdwallet.

  • Disbanding of captive agent networks for cost reasons has also meant the loss of a (more) loyal distribution channel. The carriers that used to maintain captive agent networks enjoyed the benefits of a branded channel whose agents were motivated to promote the respective carrier’s products. They chose instead to …
  • Shift to third-party distribution, increasing dependency on a channel with less control, and where they face greater risk of commoditization. Placing life insurance products in a broad array of third-party channels, including everything from wealth management firms to brokerages and property/casualty networks, has added complexity and increased emphasis on managing mediated, non-digital channels. This focus comes at a time when other sectors are accelerating the move to direct, digital selling, aligning with changing demographics, technology trends and consumer preferences for digital-first, multi-channel relationships.
  • Product cost and complexity has raised the bar to close sales and has increased the focus on a smaller base of the wealthy and ultra-wealthy. With the exception of basic term life, life insurance products can be complex. They can be expensive. And, as a decent level of insurance at a fair premium requires a medical exam including blood and urine sampling, it takes hand holding to get potential policyholders through the purchase process. For the high and ultra-high net worth segments, the benefit of life insurance is often as a tax shelter, not simply to protect loved ones from the catastrophic consequences of unexpected earnings loss. More complexity equals more diversion from the mass market.
  • Intense focus on distribution has come at the expense of connecting with the client. Insurance company executives have long insisted – and behaved as though — the agent is the client, if not in word then effectively in deed. The model perpetuated by the industry delegates the client relationship to the agent. This has its plusses and minuses for the client, and certainly has come back to bite the carriers as they contemplate a digital approach to the marketplace where client data and a branded relationship matter. Carriers certainly do not win fans with clients – overall Net Promoter Score ratings for the insurance sector broadly are even lower than Congress’ approval ratings, and for at least one major carrier are reportedly negative.
  • The number of licensed agents is on the decline. The average age of an insurance agent or broker has increased from 37 years in 1983 and is now 59, based on McKinsey research. Agents have a poor survival rate: only 15% of agents who start on the independent agent career path are still in the game four years later. Base salary is negligible, and it’s an eat-what-you-kill business. This is a tough, impractical career path for most and has become less attractive over time.
  • The industry is legendarily slow and risk-averse. Think about actuaries – the function that anchors the business model makes a living by looking backward and surfacing what can go wrong. That is a valid role, but the antithesis of what it takes to build a culture where innovation can thrive.

What is the path to opportunity?

Here are innovation thought-starters to create value for an industry undergoing transformation:

  • Clients must be at the center of strategy. Twentieth-century carrier strategy may have been grounded in creating distribution advantage and pushing product, but 21st century success will come to those who put the client at the center of all aspects of execution. “Client centricity” is a way of operating a business, not a slogan.
  • Innovation starts with a new answer to the question, “who is the customer.” The agent is a valuable partner, but she is not the client. There is white space in the mass market – the middle class – not being served by the current system beyond a limited offering. Life insurance ownership has been linked to the stability of the middle class. We should all be concerned with the decline in life insurance ownership and lack of attention paid to this segment.
  • The orthodoxy, “insurance is sold not bought,” sets a self-inflicted set of limitations that can and should be disrupted. The existing product set may have to be pushed to clients because of its complexity, pricing, target audience, channels and near-term performance dependencies.
  • Getting the economics right and meeting the needs of today’s clients will demand a digital-first offering – from being discoverable via SEO and social on mobile screens, to supporting application processing, self-service, premium payments, document storage and downloads and connection to licensed reps whenever clients feel that is necessary. It will require full digital enablement of agents to create the right client experience, and improve revenues and expenses. Ask anyone who has purchased life insurance about his or her decision journey, and invariably you will find out that shopping for insurance is a social, multi-channel experience. People ask people whom they like and trust when it comes to making important life event-based decisions. Aligning to how people behave already is a winning approach, and is what customer-centricity is about.
  • In a world of big data, it’s ironic that the insurance sector is one of the most sophisticated in its historical use of data. Winners will realize the potential of new data sources, unstructured data, artificial intelligence and the many other manifestations of big data to personalize underwriting, anticipate client needs and create positive experiences including multi-channel distribution and servicing. Amazon, Apple and Google have set the standard on what is possible in customer experience, and no one will be exempt from that standard.
  • Life insurance products may be an infrequent purchase, but the need to protect one’s loved ones can be daily. In today’s product-push model, a continuing relationship beyond the annual policy renewal is the exception. Consider the potential of prevention services as a means of boosting lifetime value and client loyalty. In a world full of insecurity, there is a role for a continuing conversation about prevention and protection. But the conversation must be reimagined beyond pushing the next product to one that places a priority on serving the client.