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Made in China: Some Surprising Innovations

The dawn of a new industry and the Next-Gen Insurer is unfolding, influenced by levers of change from within and outside the industry, accelerated by an explosion of data and new technologies and fueled by innovation. Some insurers are embracing innovation to inspire a renaissance of competitiveness and customer value, reinvigorating what made them successful leaders in the first place or making them new market leaders of the future. There is an unparalleled opportunity to ignite a new future that is powered by the human imagination – and that is what China insurers are doing, as indicated in a recent article titled “Chinese Insurance Policies Cover Some Really Bizarre Things,” by Clare Baldwin and Diana Chan in Business Insider.

While the insurance policies being created may seem bizarre to some, they epitomize the spirit of product innovation, personalization and customer engagement that are identified as key trends in SMA’s research, The Next-Gen Insurer: Fueled by Innovation. Understanding rapidly changing customer demographics, needs and expectations is critical. The ability to reinvent the way to develop, package and deliver products and services is vital for insurers if they are to be relevant, let alone successful, in today’s new digital world.

So why are these innovative policies important for U.S. insurers to understand and consider?

First, the inspiration for innovation can come from other markets and geographies. The inspiration may stimulate the imagination, prompting new ideas and uncovering opportunities that can be built upon. In many cases, the thinking in markets, such as China, with less-strict regulations can help identify, incubate and market test new ideas. With more customers researching insurance on the Internet, they will see these innovative products and ask for them … and ask you why you don’t have them, or something similar.

Second, taking an innovative approach to meeting smaller, more defined needs provides a great entryway to other insurance products. What a great way to introduce your brand as innovative and personal.

In general, with trends like the connected car, driverless car, connected home, connected health, sharing economy and more affecting the future of traditional insurance products such as auto, home and health, to name a few, insurers must be as creative as possible in adapting to the shifting landscape.

Interestingly, niche-focused insurance products like those in China have been emerging in other areas in Asia Pacific, with “hole in one” insurance, and in Europe, with “wedding” insurance. Zurich’s wedding insurance, which covers all of Europe and which covers the costs of canceling or postponing a wedding, is an example of such a product and has been a big success in terms of sales, marketing and brand recognition. In the U.S., Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway insured the $1 billion prize to anyone who accurately picked the winner of every 2014 NCAA tournament game, a competition sponsored by Quicken Loans. And while no one picked the winners in the brackets, Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway got a lot of coverage.

Each of these examples engages customers in a fun way while also meeting a specific need. They have an element of “the cool factor” associated with them, something profoundly needed in an industry deemed stodgy.

So, while the article about quirky Chinese insurance policies seems to take an “aren’t they cute” approach, the examples are actually highly relevant for the customers they target, not to mention helping to educate a large population about the broader value of insurance. The massive interest in these untapped nooks and crannies exposes the fact that there are ready customers, regardless of geography.

The insurance industry has offered personalized, unique products in the past to selected individuals, but not on a mass basis. Remember when Tina Turner’s legs were insured, David Beckham’s legs were insured, Keith Richards’ hands or Bruce Springsteen’s voice … all for millions of dollars? The difference here is that these are high-value, highly customized situations that were all one-off products. In today’s digital world, with the customer demanding personalized offerings, mass product personalization will increasingly be a key driver in product innovation, shifting the industry away from the legacy of mass production of personal insurance products. Fueling this change will be customer demographics and preferences.

With product personalization, insurers need to develop products or product components that customers can shape to their unique needs – within days or weeks – according to new customer expectations. The mass personalized products will include new services that will strengthen customer loyalty and retention. These trends will help insurers differentiate themselves in the market and open market opportunities that can drive revenue and profitability.

So instead of the “naughty child insurance” offered in China, maybe it could be child care insurance that covers the costs of holding the child’s place while the child is out because of significant illness. Instead of buying insurance for smog’s ruining your holiday, you could buy insurance against weather such as hurricanes or snowstorms that could cause cancellation or limits to your vacation. And instead of covering pregnancy before the honeymoon, insurance could cover a health issue or death of a key wedding participant that could affect the wedding plans, and insurance could be the thing that could make a painful time a little less painful.

Major forces are converging that are fundamentally changing the entire paradigm of insurance, creating the Next-Gen Insurer in the process. Today’s insurers are faced with choices that are more intense, complex and transformational than ever before. An era of new leaders will be determined by their ability to respond to change and become innovators, embracing and capitalizing on each new wave of disruption.

Some of the waves with vast possibilities will be product innovation and mass personalization. Insurers in other geographies are catching the wave of customer needs and expectations. Are you prepared to ride the wave of mass personalization? If not, your competitors will!