Competition nowadays for a space on a consumer’s smartphone screen is fierce. We all hear stories of the so-called “killer apps” — they seem to be on everyone’s device, set record download numbers and propel their creators to fame and, quite often, fortune. So, the killer question: Is it realistic for an insurance organization to aspire to create such an app?
Insurance organizations should instead aim to develop app(s) that strategically integrate a platform of services related to the sphere of the insured’s policies. For example, if your customers chiefly insure vehicles and property, a smart app idea may involve trackers for fuel/energy consumption, combined carbon footprint, asset depreciation and include insurance options such as online claims.
Want to provide a useful app to your policyholders? Consider the two key concepts of user context and use frequency. Insurance solutions on their own rarely, if ever, clear competitive thresholds on these two measures; hence the requirement to leverage related services and technologies.
An app must solve a problem for users, but it must also clear a contextual hurdle.
Context is about time, place, convenience, user activity and preferences. An Uber user needs transportation right here, right now, just as a Starbucks customer wants immediate access to her favorite latte.
If apps are merely about solving a problem, then a public transit app could solve a user’s transportation problem just as an app for Joe’s Coffee Hut could meet his refreshment needs. But neither public transport nor Joe’s Coffee Hut clear the contextual hurdle of time, place, convenience or preference as capably as app-enabled Uber and Starbucks seem to do.
This week, we’re looking forward. Is the insurance industry thinking big enough? Is it starting small? Is it learning fast by experimenting, testing and learning from failures?
If the industry isn’t currently innovating, new competitors entering the market are! There are dozens of examples. Consider Climate Corp. and its re-imagination of crop insurance using mobile, cloud and emergent knowledge. There is Google with its aggregator site, Google Compare, allowing drivers to search for the best car insurance deal, creating an interesting and formidable channel. Then there is Peers, a nonprofit developing products for those participating in the sharing economy. These aren’t just new ways to sell. In many cases, they are groundbreaking models of protection to respond to new models of life.
The rapid experimentation and expansion of social media or peer-to-peer-based insurance companies, introduced by Friendsurance in Germany, now includes new companies like InsPeer in France and Guevara in the UK. Guevara pools customers’ premiums online to save money, and any money left in the pool at the end of the year stays with the group and lowers everyone’s price the next year. Will automotive companies be next with the emergence of connected and autonomous cars? Where are the 21st century affinity models going to lead us?
So how do established insurers out-innovate, let alone compete? How do they become this generation’s emerging insurance leaders? They must look beyond long-held traditional views and become accustomed to major business shifts. Instead of transforming the business using age-old assumptions and traditional business models, insurers must look to reinvent the business model, not unlike how Uber reinvented the taxi model or how the new entrants are reinventing insurance.
Starting at the Core: What Is Insurance?
Todays’ insurers may be tempted to look at surface issues, just like they did in 1998. How do we sell differently? How do we empower our agents? How do we touch consumers? But to understand the real reinvention of insurance, consider how confusing the concept of insurance has become to the consumer.
The insurance industry sells a product that may be legally required, such as auto insurance. The product may not really be deemed to be a necessity, such as life insurance. To the consumer, premiums seem to simply evaporate down a hole, instead of accruing like mutual funds. And many consumers would suggest insurance isn’t even a “product” at all! If an insurer has to spend too much time educating and selling AND it lags behind in digital technology and excellent customer experience, how long do you think it will last when a new competitor comes along and offers a new model of engagement that is simple and easy to understand (and uses the latest technology)?
Insurers need to erase the white board and begin with a redefinition of insurance. How do we protect people in all of the new ways that they live while using digital technology to actually make the experience of buying, owning and using the product we sell more appealing?
There are start-ups and venture capital looking to “uberize” insurance to be that new competitor and disrupt insurance. But traditional insurers still have an edge. Start-ups and “unicorns” (those challenging industry disrupters with billion-dollar pre-IPO values) don’t have the knowledge of pricing, profitability and regulatory requirements or a base of customers. This is where insurance as an established industry can compete and out-innovate.
To do so, we must embrace the digital revolution. We must turn long-held business assumptions upside down. We must reinvent the business model. We should embrace trends and experiment. And we must effectively answer the consumer’s question, “What is insurance, and why is it important to me?”
Instead of implementing modern core insurance systems on-premise and converting your existing business, look to cloud options where you can experiment and build innovative products, new channels and reach new market segments fast and less expensively. Look to your partners to provide an ecosystem of options and capabilities that will help you meet existing customer needs and reach new customers. Look to your peers to see if you can partner or collaborate, leveraging the assets of both organizations in new ways. By doing so, you can find innovative ways to create a business model outside the traditional business, seek new market segments and new regions through insurance as a service model and reach more customers with alternative channels.
Insurance business models, assumptions and practices of the past decades and centuries are less durable in today’s game-changing marketplace. Competitive dominance is no longer achieved by operational efficiency, lower prices, massive advertising, large internal systems or channel loyalty. It is achieved by anticipating trends and pivoting quickly to create and capture the economic and competitive opportunity. To win on the final lap (the one that counts), insurers need to make moves today that will position them as emerging leaders.
In this race, there is no one path that moves you across the finish line. There is no singular destination. There is only a world of possibilities.
So think big! Start small. Act fast.
Unicorns beware. We’re coming for you in this final lap!
Whenever we’re faced with a challenge or an opportunity, we tend to respond with thoughts about what should we do and how should we do it. We seldom think to ask the who questions. Who is likely to be an ally, an obstacle or an unknown? In my decades of studying strategic relationships for return on impact, it’s rare to find executives investing time in truly understanding the flow of influence in their own or target organizations they seek to work with.
The result of overlooking this strategic step can be costly. Let me give you an example.
A few years ago, I flew to Chicago for a meeting with a group of executives. We had done our preparation, in light of the importance of this multiyear, multimillion-dollar project. Reviewing the attendee list, I saw one name I didn’t recognize-who was this individual? When the meeting began, everybody introduced themselves with a briefing on their goals. One person chose not to sit at the conference table, but in one of the chairs against the wall. While everybody else talked, he quietly, very diligently, took notes. I became more and more curious. At the end of the meeting, the obligatory exchange of business cards took place. Everyone else had titles on their cards, VP and EVP and so forth. This one person’s business card was the only one without a title. By that time, I just about couldn’t contain my curiosity. I asked around and learned he was the “special adviser to the chairman of the board.”
Apparently, the project we were working on was not only a priority for the executives at the table, but of interest to the board, as well. The chairman had sent this fellow to the meeting to report back directly to him. Three months later, a number of the people who had been around that conference table were no longer with the firm.
Mr. Special Adviser could be found nowhere on that organization’s org chart, but his political clout is self-evident. The moral of this little story is that you ignore influence in an organization at your peril.
If I’m putting a $10 million project in front of a decision-maker, the last thing I want is someone I don’t know, someone I haven’t even known existed, influencing that project. I’ve learned from experience that, as bizarre as it sounds, too often the greatest political power or influence in an enterprise has nothing to do with the titles on its org chart.
Map the political influence structure
I’ve developed tools to help me avoid surprises from unacknowledged flows of influence, and I suggest you do, too. Create for yourself, for each organization or initiative in which you invest your relationship capital, a political road map.
Here is the shocker! It’s not an app, it won’t run on your smartphone or tablet, and it doesn’t use a satellite orbiting the planet. In our hyperconnected digital world, we’re losing sight of the fundamentals. Think of this recommendation as learning how to write cursive when everyone else is working with Siri! (By the way, I’ve also researched a dozen or so called “enterprise relationship management” technologies – most are myopic at best, moronic at minimum. They’re so busy trying to give you fancy graphics that their assumptions are flawed, for instance about the quality of a relationship.
Here is what you will need for this exercise: three colored markers, a straightedge, a whiteboard, some index cards and tape. Start by drawing sources of information flow. (For each individual, draw a rectangle the size of your index cards: You will add information here in the next step, using cards to keep your roadmap flexible.) Do not map the explicit power structure, but what you’ve observed about the influence structure so far.
Next, use your colored markers to color-code each relationship on your chart:
Green: This person is an ally who has been visibly supportive in the past and “gets” what you are trying to do;
Yellow: This person is neutral to your initiatives or is an unknown. Is he on the fence? Could she be swayed? Try to capture some aspect of his or her position from observable behavior;
Red: For whatever reason, this person opposes what you are trying to accomplish. I’m also curious here whether he can be neutralized or eliminated to minimize my risk profile with the specific initiative or project.
Use your index cards to write comments and impressions about the individuals you have just color-coded. Note your questions as well as your observations. If something they’ve said gave you these impressions, write their words as accurately as you can recall them.
When done with this step, tape the cards to the whiteboard next to individuals’ names.
At this point, your influence chart should begin to generate insights. Step back and listen to what it is telling you. Who do you need on your side? Who can you ignore? Who is already an advocate who puts wind in your sails? Add index cards with your observations.
This is the time to apply a process I referred to as strategic relationship triangulation in my book, Relationship Economics. For any piece of information critical to your political success with these relationships, you must find three independent sources to verify, validate or void the critical assumptions you are making about each person or piece of information. It’s homework time. Use your relationship network and other “biz-intel” sources to triangulate the assumptions on your influence road map. Rework the position of individuals in relation to each other as new insights emerge or old ones are voided.
Relationship triangulation can help you understand the most influential sources within a team, a department, an organization or an entire industry. Who are the real decision-makers, and who works most closely with them? Knowing this enables you to much more effectively customize how you develop relationships and add value for each individual.
Does this process take a lot of effort? Yes. Is it necessary? It would be naive to think you don’t need to build a political road map based on solid research. Could your time and effort be better spent focusing on outcomes? Only once you have a solid understanding of the relationships you need to help you achieve those outcomes. Don’t treat this task as a “one and done.” The chart need will frequent updates as the situation evolves.
This political roadmap allows you to quickly visualize your relationships and, specifically, your relationship assets and liabilities. Further, it helps you see whether you have enough support to accomplish your goals, or where you need to invest time and effort to build that support. When you can see who is an ally and who is an enemy, you can plan your next steps. “What can I negotiate? What can I exchange? Do I have something of value that they want?” It’s called “politics” for a reason—this kind of “horse-trading” is what our elected officials do.
Any kind of organizational sea change—a merger or acquisition, a large-scale restructure, any new line of business, any succession planning any geographic expansion requires a political road map at this level of detail. These are all highly disruptive events to most businesses.
Frankly, I see too many people blindsided by disruption because they simply failed to maintain an accurate road map of the political terrain they are trying to navigate.
By the way, if you’re looking for the science behind these ideas, Google “social network analysis.” You may be surprised to learn that it has nothing to do with Facebook, Twitter or YouTube!
Because influence doesn’t show up on org charts, you need to invest the time and effort to visualize that information for yourself.
You are welcome to use my system of color-coding and notes, or develop a system that works for you that shows the flow of influence we call “office politics.”
Rigorous triangulation allows you to trust your insights-which are invaluable when dealing with disruption.