Tag Archives: m&a

Innovation Challenge for Commercial Lines

Let’s be realistic. Managing customer requirements is expensive and exhausting with current structures for commercial insurance operations! While insurtech is currently seen as incorporating technology into an organization to produce new products or touch customers in new ways, it also must mean breaking down existing operational silos and building new, streamlined structures.

Any reengineering should incorporate strategic innovation and technology to ensure that all parties have aligned objectives to rapidly respond to new opportunities and exit unprofitable ones while improving operational efficiency and controlling costs.

Operational Silos – Release the wrecking balls!!!

Commercial insurance companies consist of various operational silos. Unfortunately, over the years, these silos have subsumed the key functions of underwriting and claims and, in effect, are controlling the overall strategy and direction of a company’s risk appetite without substantive feedback from underwriting and claims – the teams that actually interact with customers! There are numerous reasons why these operational silos have been implemented, but a key reason is the inclination to avoid risk.

Yes, there is a touch of irony here, as the industry is supposed to be in the business of assuming risk — but these companies are protecting their balance sheets while attempting to manage increased regulatory requirements. If you are an underwriter or claims manager, climbing over the ice walls in the Game of Thrones must appear easier than dealing with the daily internal operational challenges.

The primary support that operational silos receive means that underwriting and claims team struggle to receive resources and appropriate technology investments to support existing business, improve service and produce innovative, effective and profitable risk management products in an extremely competitive market.

See also: How Insurtechs Will Affect Agents in 2017  

We are repeatedly informed that insurers spend between 20% and 40% of each dollar/pound/euro of premium on costs of operations and customer acquisition costs, marketing and distribution. I would argue these costs do not factor in costs due to internal frictions — and they are VERY expensive! Prioritizing operational silos means that internal imbalances affect all areas of the organization:

Product deliverables – Whose team are you actually on?

For those who would argue that the structure of commercial insurance companies is not a hindrance to producing business or creating products, I’d like to share a real-life example of how one commercial insurance company saw its market share and resulting profitability significantly reduced due to its own operational silos:

The underwriting teams’ inability to respond quickly to market conditions was driven by a lack of support and priority by the legal and governance departments. The company had no streamlined collaborative protocols between departments to support new product or policy form development, nor was technology used to manage the product development process.

Company A’s internal operational silos restricted a path for innovation, reduced long-term value and allowed competitors to reduce Company A’s market share. The company’s poor execution also evidenced the inability to respond quickly to market changes — brokers and competitors began to challenge Company A’s market leadership abilities.

Compliance operations – The growing beast

The disconnect between regulators and commercial insurance compliance is a pet peeve of mine — instead of investing in systems that improve compliance by streamlining internal processes, risk identification and risk management, companies have greatly expanded compliance staff numbers over the years and added another silo of operations. This operational expansion slows customer support, increases costs and still contains high levels of inefficiency. Of course I’m aware that compliance is critical, but there are easier and more cost-effective ways to achieve compliance goals and improve regulatory reporting.

My team at Artemis Specialty conducted a London market broker survey in 2015 to identify how quickly the market develops products and the quality of service — the results were depressing. Brokers expressed a growing concern that underwriters were spending as much as 40% of their time on internal and regulatory functions in lieu of servicing business.

Further discussions indicated that many commercial insurance companies have inadequate technology in place to support their business. Effective technology will provide underwriting and claims personnel with the required tools to meet corporate underwriting, claims and regulatory guidelines and reduce the number of compliance employees (no, I’m not anti-compliance employee). Additionally, underwriting and claims teams can focus 100% of their time on new and existing customers — the key reason they are employed!

Innovation labs – Another operational silo?

A number of commercial insurance entities have created innovation labs, which, at first glance, is an admirable step to introduce disruption — but it does raise a number of questions:

  1. Will the lab be viewed and managed internally as an additional operational silo?
  2. If the innovation lab is separate from existing operations, how will it challenge the status quo?
  3. Where is the buy-in at all levels of the company? How do you create excitement across the entire organization to participate in innovation experiments?
  4. Can the lab be described as innovation if it is only created to digitize existing legacy products?

Internal disruption is difficult, but M&A is easier? Seriously?

Over the past 15 years, it has become glaringly obvious that it is time to develop a new business model for our customers — they deserve it! So, why is internal disruption difficult?

During the last 10 to 20 years, there have been numerous commercial insurance mergers and acquisitions. Companies instill a new corporate identity in to the acquisitions and new employees while integrating legacy systems. If a company is capable of a merger and acquisition, why is it not capable of implementing and managing its own internal disruption to create innovative, efficient and customer-focused environments?

I have restructured numerous departments over the years to refresh the innovation culture, create products, improve efficiencies and increase customer service and satisfaction — surely this can be replicated throughout an organization and at the corporate level? How many operational meetings have I attended over the years to push for improved internal collaboration, efficiencies and the transformation of the broking, underwriting or claims operations and processes? Why is the response almost always: “It’s too difficult.”

See also: 10 Predictions for Insurtech in 2017  

Many analysts cheer when companies are acquired or merged, as there is now “scale” and a reduction of costs through layoffs and other efficiencies. I have attended numerous analysts’ calls throughout my career and noted they rarely question M&A technology efficiencies in depth; in fact, it’s rare when technology questions are raised during annual or quarterly financial investor and analyst updates. Will analysts and investors now raise more technology questions due to the increased insurtech enthusiasm and press? I would be a bit more curious about how a company is meeting new technological challenges and its impact on future company profitability.

Existing commercial insurance strategies of top-line growth or releasing underwriting reserves are not sustainable — nor is it a sustainable strategy to create mass layoffs when the former strategies no longer work.

A new commercial insurance model is not about implementing a digital front end to create a smoke-and-mirrors modernization image to support existing products — nor is it simply about partnering with or acquiring an insurtech company. It’s about breaking down existing operations and rebuilding a collaborative and innovative model to improve operational efficiency, control costs, create innovative products, improve customer engagement experiences and produce sustained profitability. Let’s break down these barriers!

M&A: the Outlook for Insurers

Mergers and acquisitions in the insurance sector continued to be very active in 2016 on the heels of record activity in 2015. There were 482 announced transactions in the sector for a total disclosed deal value of $25.5 billion. Deal activity was driven by Asian buyers eager to diversify and enter the U.S. market, by divestitures and by insurance companies looking to expand into technology, asset management and ancillary businesses.

We expect the strong M&A interest to continue, driven primarily by inbound investment.

With the election of a new president and the transition of power in January 2017 comes tax and regulatory uncertainty, which may temporarily decelerate the pace of deal activity. President Trump is expected to prioritize the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, tax reform and changes to U.S. trade policy, all of which have unique and potentially significant impact on the insurance sector. Further, the latest Chinese inbound deals have drawn regulatory scrutiny, with skepticism from the stock market regarding their ability to obtain regulatory approval.

Bond yields have spiked over the last few months and are widely expected to continue to increase. The increase in yields should improve insurance company earnings, which is likely to encourage sales of legacy and closed blocks.

Highlights of 2016 deal activity

Insurance activity remains high

Insurance deal activity has steadily increased since the financial crisis, reaching records in 2015 both in terms of deal volume and announced deal value. While M&A declined in 2016, activity remained high, with announced deals and deal values exceeding the levels seen in 2014. In 2015, deal value was driven by the Ace-Chubb merger, valued at $29.4 billion, which accounted for 41% of deal value.

See also: A Closer Look at the Future of Insurance  

Significant transactions

Key themes in 2016 include:

  • Continued consolidation of Bermuda insurers, with the acquisitions of Allied World, Endurance and Ironshore. Drivers of consolidation include the difficult growth and premium environment.
  • Interest by Asian insurers in continuing to expand their U.S. footprint — accounting for two of the top-10 transactions.
  • Expansion in specialty lines of business as core businesses have become more competitive. This is evidenced by (i) Arch’s acquisition of mortgage insurer United Guaranty as a third major business after P&C reinsurance and P&C insurance; (ii) Allstate’s acquisition of consumer electronics and appliance protection plan provider SquareTrade to build out its consumer-focused strategy; and (iii) the agreement by National Indemnity (subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway) to acquire the largest New York medical professional liability provider, Medical Liability Mutual Insurance, a deal expected to close in 2017.
  • More activity in insurance brokerage, which accounts for two of the top-10 deals.
  • Focus on scaling up to generate synergies, as evidenced by the acquisitions done by Assured Guaranty and National General Holdings.
  • Continued growth in asset management capabilities, as exemplified by New York Life Investment Management’s expanding its alternative offerings by announcing a majority stake in Credit Value Partners LP in January 2017 and MassMutual’s acquiring ACRE Capital Holdings, a specialty finance company engaged in mortgage banking.

Key trends and insights

Sub-sectors highlights

Life & Annuity – The sector has been affected by factors such as Asian buyers diversifying their revenue base, regulations such as the fiduciary rule by the Department of Labor and the SIFI designation, divestitures and disposing of underperforming legacy blocks, specifically variable annuity and long term care businesses.

P&C – The sector has been experiencing a challenging pricing cycle, which has driven insurers to 1) focus on specialty lines and specialized niche areas for growth and 2) consolidate. We have seen large insurance carriers enter the specialty space. Furthermore, with an abundance of capacity and capital, the dynamics of the reinsurance market have changed. Reinsurers are trying to adjust to the new reality by turning to M&A and innovation in products and markets.

Insurance Brokers – The insurance brokerage space has seen a wave of consolidation given the current low-interest-rate environment, which translates into cheap debt. The next consolidation wave is likely in managing general agents, as they are built on flexible and innovative foundations that set them apart from traditional underwriting businesses.

See also: Key Findings on the Insurance Industry  

Insurtech has grown exponentially since 2011. According to PwC’s 2016 Global FinTech Survey, 21% of insurance business is at risk of being lost to standalone fintech companies within five years. As such, insurers have set up their own venture capital arms, typically investing at the seed stage, in efforts to keep up with the pace of technology and innovation and find ways to enhance their core business. Investments by insurers and their corporate venture arms are on pace to rise nearly 20x from 2013 to 2016 at the current run rate.

Conclusion and outlook

The insurance industry will be affected by the proposed policies of the Trump administration, especially on tax and regulatory issues. Increasing bond yields and the Fed’s latest signal about a quick pace of rate increases in 2017 are expected to improve portfolio income for insurers.

  • Macroeconomic environment: U.S. equity markets have been rallying since the election, with optimism supported by President Trump’s policies to boost growth and relieve regulatory pressures. However, the rally may be short-lived if policies fail to meet investor expectations. While the Fed is widely expected to raise rates in 2017, other central banks around the world are easing, and uncertainty in Europe has spread, with the possibility that countries will leave the euro zone or the currency union will break apart.
  • Regulatory environment: The direction of regulatory and tax policy is likely to change materially, as the president has campaigned for deregulation and reducing taxes. Uncertainty around the DOL fiduciary rule has been mounting even though President Trump has not spoken out on the rule; some of his advisers have said they intend to roll it back. His proposed changes to Obamacare will affect life insurers, but at this juncture it is hard to estimate the extent of the impact given the lack of specifics shared by the new administration.
  • Sale of legacy blocks: Continued focus on exiting legacy risks such as A&E, long-term care and VA by way of sale or reinsurance. In 2017, already, there have been two significant announced transactions, AIG paying $10 billion to Berkshire for long-tail liability exposure and Hartford paying National Indemnity $650 million for adverse development cover for A&E losses.
  • Expansion of products: Insurers will focus on expanding into niche areas such as cyber insurance (expected to be the fastest-growing insurance product fueled by a slate of recent corporate and government hacking). Further, life insurers are focusing on direct-issue term products.
  • Technology: Emerging technologies including automation, robo-advisers, data analysis and blockchain are expected to transform the insurance industry. Incumbents have been responding by direct investment in startups or forming joint ventures to stay competitive and will continue to do so.
  • Foreign entrants: Chinese and Japanese insurers have keen interest in expanding due to weak domestic economies, intent to diversify products and risk and hope to expand capabilities.
  • Private equity/hedge funds/family offices: Non-traditional firms have a strong interest in expanding beyond the brokers and annuities business to include other sectors within insurance, such as MGAs.

Possibilities for Non-Traditional M&A

2015 was a record year for announced insurance deals, as long-anticipated industry consolidation finally started to occur. Several factors have driven consolidation, notably slow economic growth and persistently low interest rates, both of which have limited opportunities for organic growth and forced insurers to reconsider their long-term competitive strategies. Combined with record levels of corporate capital and private equity funding, these pressures have created the perfect opportunity for both buyers and sellers.

Historically, regulatory or financial pressures have driven insurance carve-outs. [An insurance carve-out is a transaction in which a seller divests part of its business (e.g., a particular customer group, product line or geographic area) rather than an acquirer buying the entire enterprise. The seller typically benefits from exiting sub-scale or unprofitable lines, while the acquirer is able to increase scale or geographic reach.] These pressures typically have included repayment of emergency funding received during the financial crisis, fulfillment of regulatory conditions for receiving state aid, divestment to free up capital and improve solvency ratios in preparation for Solvency II, or the shoring up of capital via asset sales following losses.

In recent years, we have seen the industry move away from complex multi-line business models. Insurers are exiting sub-scale business lines to improve returns and compete in an environment in which technology is disrupting tradition business drivers. There are many insurers considering carve-out transactions or IPOs as sellers, and there are even more looking to build market share by acquiring and consolidating businesses with their existing operations.

See also: Insurance M&A Stays Active in 2016  

However, insurance carve-outs tend to be more complex in both transaction structure and post-merger integration than an acquisition of an entire insurance enterprise, and require careful planning and execution to successfully separate the acquired business (“SpinCo”) from its former parent (“RemainCo”).

What should executives be aware of when they consider these types of transactions?

  • Planning and Organization
    • Confidentiality, maintaining optionality and speed of execution are critical to maximizing deal value.
    • The flexibility to execute deals via alternative structures (described below) helps maintain optionality. In addition, a thorough understanding of the M&A landscape is necessary for sellers to run a competitive sales process and for buyers to understand how to properly position themselves for success.
    • To facilitate speed of execution, executives need to simultaneously focus on multiple priorities, including deal execution, separation planning and negotiation of transitional service agreements (TSAs). Leading practices include having a transaction committee that can rapidly make decisions and a project office that guides the planning effort.
  • Transaction Structures
    • Acquisitions of an entire insurance enterprise typically involve the purchase of all of a holding company’s issued stock. The holding company, its subsidiary legal entities, assets and liabilities, products and licenses, people, technology and infrastructure transfer to the control of the acquirer at close. A carve-out requires a different approach. It is rare that the business being sold is fully contained within a single subsidiary legal entity. More frequently, the business being disposed of is written across numerous legal entities and is mingled with business that is core to, and remains with, the vendor. Therefore, carve-outs typically use a mix of strategies to separate the insurance business of SpinCo from RemainCo:
    • Renewal rights – The acquirer receives an option or obligation to renew the acquired business in its own legal entities.
    • Reinsurance – Renewal rights may be accompanied by reinsurance transferring the economics of the historical book either to the acquirer, to other entities owned by the vendor or to a third party.
    • Fronting – Certain domiciles, such as Japan and the U.S., require regulatory authorization of products or rates prior to their availability to policyholders, and such product approval frequently takes longer than regulatory approval for a change of control. When an acquirer doesn’t have regulatory approval to immediately write the business in its own legal entities, the transaction structure typically allows an acquirer to:
      • Continue to issue and renew policies using the vendor’s legal entities for a defined period of time, and
      • Assume the economics of the business via reinsurance. The acquirer frequently is responsible for administering the business (which is still the legal and regulatory responsibility of the vendor’s legal entities) via a servicing agreement.
    • Stock transactions – These are used when assets and liabilities can be segregated into legal entities (e.g. using the European Economic Area’s (EEA) insurance business transfer mechanisms), or when a legal entity, such as a specialist underwriting agency, specifically supports the business being sold.
      • Transfer of assets and contracts/TSAs – Just as the insurance business being sold may be diffused across the vendor’s legal entities, the same may also apply to the people, facilities, technology and contracts with sellers that support the business. While a certain portion of these will clearly align either to SpinCo (and will transfer at close) or RemainCo, there will be a significant subset (particularly in IT and corporate services) that support both and are not easily divisible. For such functions where SpinCo is heavily reliant on the resources of its former parent and it is not possible for the acquirer to fully replace such services prior to the transaction closing, a TSA provides the acquirer and SpinCo with continuing access to and support from RemainCo’s resources after close.

Negotiating the TSA

TSAs provide access to the resources and infrastructure of the former parent for a defined period. While in certain simpler transactions, TSAs can be for as little as three months and require only that the support provided previously be maintained at the same service levels and at the same cost basis, it is more common that acquirer and vendor during the months prior to close:

  • Understand and define the reliance of the business being sold on its parent (and vice versa);
  • Set the duration post-close for each service required under the TSA;
  • Agree on the charging basis e.g. fixed monthly fee, usage, hourly rates (for tax efficiency, each service is usually priced individually);
  • Establish service levels and post-close governance processes.

The acquirer should set realistic timeframes for exiting from individual services. The complexity of insurance policy administration systems, the frequent integration of certain capabilities (such as billing, commissions, and contact centers) across products and the need to separate networks, migrate data centers and implement replacement mainframes frequently require TSAs of 24 to 36 months.

TSAs also may cover centrally provided non-IT services, including HR/payroll/benefits administration, facilities management, procurement, compliance or financial and management and regulatory reporting. However, the duration of these TSAs tend to be shorter – usually a few months, or sufficient to support regulatory and financial reporting for the period following close.

Ideally, the acquirer should seek as much flexibility as possible with the duration of the TSA. It should have the right to terminate the TSA early, the option to extend it at pre-agreed rates and the inclusion of force majeure clauses (a natural catastrophe can significantly affect exiting from a TSA).

Contract assignment and access to shared reinsurance

An area of often-underestimated complexity in carve-outs is the need to ensure that the separated business can continue to receive the benefit of third-party contracts with suppliers, distributors and reinsurers. In most jurisdictions, contracts cannot simply be novated (the insurance business transfer mechanisms of the EEA provide certain exceptions), but instead each contract must be evaluated to determine if assignment simply requires notification to the counterparty or its express consent.

The challenges that arise in contract transfer are both:

  • Logistical – 85% of counterparties contacted typically respond at first instance. However, a recent carve-out had more than 50,000 contracts that needed to be assessed, prioritized and migrated. In this instance, chasing down the remaining 15% was a real challenge.
  • Commercial – Certain experienced counterparties, knowing the tight timeframe for most transactions, may try to renegotiate better terms either prior to the contract being assigned to the acquirer, or prior to permitting the vendor to use the contract to provide services under the TSA.

Also important in a carve-out is a clear apportionment of access to historic reinsurance programs shared between the vendor’s continuing business and the business being sold, as well as definition of the resolution process for any post-close disputes.

Executing close

Transaction close for virtually all insurance carve-outs is triggered by the receipt of one or more regulatory consents enabling the execution of fronting, reinsurance and stock transfer agreements.

When migrating staff and assets supporting SpinCo to the acquirer, supporting staff and assets are moved into a legal entity, the ownership of which transfers at close in certain cases. However, when the relevant staff are not employed or supporting assets are not owned by legal entities transferring to the acquirer at close, there will need to be arrangements for the valuation and transfer of both tangible and intangible assets (e.g. trademarks) and the offering of employment and enrollment in benefits to selected staff by the acquirer. This is a significant logistical exercise for an HR function.

See also: Group Insurance: On the Path to Maturity  

Insurance carve-outs are also particularly challenging for finance functions:

  • The combination of renewal, reinsurance and legal entity acquisition in the transaction structure complicates accounting immediately post-close.
  • Cross-border acquisitions can include acquirers and sellers with different accounting standards (e.g. IFRS, U.S. GAAP, statutory and JGAAP) that often have very different rules on the treatment of assets and liabilities.
  • The practice of closing at a month or quarter end – which in some ways can simplify the transition – may also introduce a tight and immovable timeframe for external financial and regulatory reporting.

Lastly, although there typically will be several months between the deal being agreed upon and the close, this may not be sufficient time – particularly in larger acquisitions across multiple locations – to roll out the acquirer’s networks and desktop technology prior to close. Therefore, full access to the acquirer’s IT capabilities may need to wait until later in the integration.

Post carve-out integration

While an acquisition of an entire enterprise provides a pre-existing governance structure, an insurance carve-out typically includes fewer members of senior management and requires rapid integration of functional management within the acquirer’s existing structure, the expansion of governance and compliance structures to include the acquired operations and the establishment and communication of delegations of authority and decision-making rights.

Due diligence should have provided the acquirer with initial hypotheses as to the organizational capabilities required by the combined organization, interim and end-state operating models, and opportunities for synergies.

As with any insurance acquisition, synergies in carve outs are typically realized through:

  • Functional consolidation.
  • Platform consolidation and process standardization, which enhances productivity and enables staffing efficiencies.
  • Facilities and infrastructure reduction, and
  • Reduced costs through more efficient third-party vendor selection.

PwC’s research indicates that the most successful acquisitions are those that develop momentum by demonstrating tangible integration benefits in the first 100 days. Accordingly, the acquirer should act fast but should also be prepared to revisit pre-deal assumptions and revise its integration roadmap as the two organizations integrate and new information becomes available.

Conclusion

Based on what we see in the market, notably a recent succession of P&C and reinsurance megadeals, we predict that insurance industry consolidation will continue apace. Multi-line insurers have divested themselves of numerous franchises and this trend seems likely to continue. Because these types of transactions are complex and depend on many internal and external factors, companies that are considering such moves will need to be aware of and address the many challenges and issues we describe above.

This article was written by John Marra, Mark Shepherd, Michael Mariani, and Tucker Matheson.

10 Predictions for Insurtech in 2017

It’s time to reflect on the passing year, mark my predictions from last year and throw some light on what I see 2017 holding in store.

In my post from this time last year, I made a number of predictions, so, now, I wanted to look at how I did. Feel free to jump in and see how close to the mark I was and share your perspectives.

Reviewing 2016 — How did I do?

1. Fintech and insurtech.  In last year’s piece, I said that 2015 was the year of the zone, loft, garage and accelerator and that this would continue in 2016 with more focus. Regarding fintech and insurtech, I was right. We have seen some heavyweight investment (more so in the U.S. and Asia) and no major failures, to my knowledge. Trending up. Points: 1. 

2. Evolution of IoT. In 2015, I wrote, “2016 will be the year we all realize (IoT) is just another data/automated question set.” Evolution here is continuing, but not at the pace I expected. New firms such as Concirrus (and many others) have come up with some great examples of managing and leveraging the ecosystem. Points 2.

3. Digital and data. At the end of last year, I said 2016 would continue to be a big area of growth for both. There’s been progress, yes, and pace and traction ahead of what’s expected. Points 3.

4. M&A will continue but will slow. I think this has slowed this year, with two of the three major regions in the latter half of the year focused on Brexit and the U.S. election. Now, folks are trying to work out where that leaves fintech/insurtech. Points 4.

5. Will the CDO Survive? I said I thought we’d see a move back to the chief customer officer. Well, no sign of my chief customer officers yet! (Although, after writing this, I came across three chief customer officers, so it’s a start). Have you ever asked an insurance company or people inside the company “who owns the customer?” To me, we’re still product-centric rather than customer-centric. Points 4.

6. New business models. I said last year that we’d need to be clear on what the new business model will be — and what it needs to be. This year, there’s been lots of talk in this area, including here at Deloitte in our Turbulence Ahead report. We identified four business models for the future: 1) Individualization of insurance, 2) Off-the-shelf insurance, 3) Insurance as utilities and, finally, 4) Insurance as portfolio. It may take longer for this to materialize, but, without doubt, these models are coming. See my colleague Emma Logan describe these here. Points 5.

7. What we buy and sell. I believed that, last year, we’d move away from a product mindset to become more relevant and convenient. But we’re still in talking mode, although the ideas here are evolving rapidly. Expect an all-risks policy in Q2 2017. Points 5.

8. Cyber is the new digital. There has been an increase in the number of products and players, but there still hasn’t been any personal cyber policy. I expect that to come in 2017 still. Points 6.

9. Partnerships and bundling. In 2015, I thought we’d see a big rise in the partnerships between insurers and third parties. That’s happened. Points: 7.

So I’m marking my 2015 predictions as 7/9 (or 78% ) — a good effort, but I may have been a bit too ambitious.

See also: 4 Marketing Lessons for Insurtechs  

Moving into 2017

Re-reading the above, I still feel all my predictions are valid, be it the end of the CDO, the birth of personal cyber or an all-risks policy. I’ve been involved in enough conversations over the last 12 months to say these are all very real, although some are closer to seeing the light of day than others.

Moving into 2017, here are my top 10 trends to watch:

  1. Speed. Almost all conversations about insurance start with a statement that we’re not moving quickly enough — from transforming and modernizing the legacy estates to quite simply getting products to market quicker. We can no longer wait six months to launch new or updated products. Look at those who managed to capitalize on Pokemon Go insurance cover. In insurance, we’ll move from fast walking to jogging and sprinting. But take caution: This is still a marathon, and there’s still a long way to go. In fact, as Rick Huckstep wrote recently, the sheer speed at which the insurance market has grown in the last 21 months is part of the challenge and attraction.
  2. AI, cognitive learning and machine learning. AI has been long bandied around as a material disruptor. On the back of collecting/orchestrating the data, it’s critical to drive material insight and intelligence from this and allow organizations, brokers and consumers to make subsequent decisions. In 2017, AI will come of age with some impressive examples, including voice. In 2016, we saw Amazon’s Echo and Google Home product launches, as well as some insurers — like Liberty Mutual — giving voice a try. Imagine asking freely, “Am I covered for…?” or, “What’s the status of my claim?” Adding this skill to the mix will likely be table stakes. In addition, AI will augment other solutions to drive value, e.g. robotic process automation, which I wrote about here. All this boils down to getting a better grip on the amazing data we have already while leveraging the vast open data sets available to us.
  3. Line of business focus shift. The insurtech world will make a definitive shift from all the wonderful personal line examples to SME (the next obvious candidate) and to more specialty and complex commercial examples. Will Thorne of the Channel Syndicate wrote a great piece on this in November. While the challenges are harder and more complex, I believe the benefits are greater once we get to them.
  4. Believers. The market has polarized somewhat between those who believe in major innovation and are pushing hard, and those who don’t (or have a different focus and near-term objectives). The range is from those who worry about the next 90 days/half-year results to those who are actively looking to cannibalize their business and investing to find the most efficient way to do this. Here, there’s no right or wrong, with hundreds of organizations strewn across the path. I still believe more will move to the cannibalization route as the first carriers start to unlock material value in 2017, including continued startup acquisition. Oliver Bate (Allianz) had an interesting and positive perspective on this during his company’s investor day in November.
  5. Scale and profitability. Over the last 12 to 18 months, I’ve seen some great startup organizations; internal innovation and disruption teams; VCs; and more. Now is the time to work out how we industrialize and scale these. This is the very same challenge the banking and fintech communities are going through. If you’re an insurance company with 30 million or 80 million global customers, should you be worried about Startup X that has 10,000 or 100,000 customers? If they do manage to scale, can they do so profitability? This reminds me of a recent article about how unprofitable Uber is, but, with millions of engaged customers, they have our attention now. Profitability will become front and center. In fact, Andrew Rear over at Munich Re Digital Partners put together a good post on what the company looks for and why he and the team chose the six they did.
  6. Orchestration. With all of these startups in insurtech, we’ll need to quickly understand what role they play. Are they a platform play, end product play, point disruptor or something else? Regardless, given the volume and velocity of data generation, the importance of both API connectivity and the ability to orchestrate it will increase dramatically. For me, these are table stakes.
  7. External disruptors. In the Turbulence Ahead The Future of General Insurance report released earlier this year, we identified six key external disruptors that are happening regardless of the insurance industry. These are 1) the sharing economy, 2) self-driving cars and ADAS, 3) the Internet of Things, 4) social and big data, 5) machine learning and predictive analytics, and 6) distributed ledger technology. The key for me within insurance is to identify what role we’ll play. I believe we’ll continue to firmly be the partner of choice for many given our societal and necessary position in the global economy.
  8. Micro insurance. Here, I specifically mean the growth of micro policies, covering specific risks for specific times. Whereas we typically annually see 1.1 policies per customer, we’ll see eight to 10 micro policies covering a shorter period (episodic or usage-based insurance) as per our business models described in the Turbulence Report. This will be true for all lines of business. We’ve already seen some great launches in this space — including Trov, which partnered with Munich Re in the U.S., AXA in the U.K. and SunCorp in Australia. There’s been global access through partnering with established players that has created a new way to market to the next generation. While we switch this on manually by swiping left and right (given some of the external disruptors and location based services), this will very much be automatic going forward. Insurers will need to find new ways to orchestrate, partner and find value to bring in clients. It won’t be just one policy, it will be many that they orchestrate to deliver clients everything they need.
  9. Blockchain and DLT. I almost didn’t include blockchain here, but two factors have led me to include this for the first time: 1) the number of requests we’re now seeing in the market for both specific solutions and more education/use cases and 2) the fact that nine of the 18 startups in the FCA’s new Sandbox are blockchain-related. In 2016, we saw lots of PoC examples, trials and the first live insurance product on the blockchain (see: FlightDelay). Some use cases are more developed than others, and some markets are more suitable than others (I’m still looking for good examples in personal lines), so I believe this will evolve in 2017 but that there won’t be scale breakthroughs. However, along with the World Economic Forum, I firmly believe that “The most imminent effects of disruption will be felt in the banking sector; however, the greatest impact of disruption is likely to be felt in the insurance sector.” We still must ask, “why blockchain?” Just because you can use it? It needs to be the right solution for the right business problem. Horizontal use cases such as digital identity or payments offer compelling use cases that can easily be applied within insurance. In many ways, blockchain, for me, feels much more like an infrastructure play in the same way we would do core systems transformation (policy, claims, billing, finance, etc.)
  10. Business as usual — for now! Partly related to No. 4, we still need to run our business. How we do this and how we set up for the future will be another challenge — not just from a technology perspective but from a people and organization design perspective. (How we work, collaborate and more.) What are the transition states from our current models to a new world in 12, 24 or 36 months. Forward-thinking organization are putting plans in place now for their organizations in the years to come. This will become more important as we embed, partner and acquire startups and move toward new ways of engaging and working with customers.

Interestingly, there are now also so many accelerators, garages, hubs, etc. that startups all now have a lot of choices regarding where to incubate and grow. This presents a whole new challenge on the rush to insurance disruption.

See also: Asia Will Be Focus of Insurtech in 2017  

Finally, there are two other observations I wanted to share:

  1. China. While I don’t spend any time in China, it’s hard not to be in awe of what is going on — specifically, the speed and scale at which things are happening. China’s first online insurer, Zhong An, did an interview with Bloomberg regarding what the company is doing with technology (including blockchain) and, more importantly, its scale ($8 billion market cap in two years, 1.6 billion policies sold) — and the only concern from the COO, Wayne Xu, is that the company isn’t moving quickly enough! Step away from this and look further to what’s happening with disruption in general with Alipay and others from the BAT (China’s equivalent of GAFA — Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent) is simply amazing. There’s a good FT article on Tencent, the killer-app factory, and the sheer speed and scale of disruption.
  2. Community. The global insurtech (and fintech) community is an amazing group of people from around the world who have come together across borders and time zones to further challenge and develop the market. Each geography has its own unique features, mature players, startups, labs, accelerators, regulators and, of course, independent challenges. We don’t always see eye to eye, which makes it all that more rewarding because you’re challenged by industry veterans and outside-thinking entrepreneurs. This year’s InsureTech Connect in Las Vegas with more than 1,600 people was truly amazing to see. Things have clearly moved far beyond a small isolated hive of activity with varying levels of maturity to a globally recognized movement. It was great to meet and to see so many carriers, startups, VCs, regulators and partners looking to further the conversation and debate around insurance and insurtech. This community will, no doubt, continue to grow at a fast pace as we look for insurtech successes, and I look forward to seeing how the 2017 discussion, debate and collaboration will continue.

As always, I look forward to your feedback! What I have I missed?

Here’s to an exciting 2017!

Insurance M&A Stays Active in 2016

Insurance M&A markets remained active in the first half of 2016 despite the lack of mega deals. The largest transaction this year was BB&T Corp. acquiring wholesale insurance broker Swett & Crawford for $500 million in cash from London-based Cooper Gay Swett & Crawford.

On a relative basis, the announced deal activity and value declined compared with 2015, where we saw a record number of transactions in the sector. 2015 was a transformative year in the insurance sector, with several mega deals, including ACE Ltd.’s acquisition of Chubb Corp. for $28 billion, Tokio Marine acquiring HCC Insurance Holdings for $7.5 billion and Meiji Yasuda Life acquiring StanCorp Financial for $5 billion.

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  • Deal volume remains strong, with 232 announced deals in 1H 2106, 87% of which were composed of insurance brokers.
  • There was a slight decline in transaction multiples with the median price-to-book multiple for insurance deals at 1.8x vs. 1.6x in 2H 2015.
  • There were no mega deals (deals more than $1 billion) announced during 1H 2016. The largest deal announced was $500 million.

Highlights of 1H 2016 deal activity

Insurance Activity Remains High: U.S. insurance deal volume had been steadily increasing since 2013. While volume remained high in 1H 2016, it has declined compared with the same period in 2015. Announced deal values in 1H 2016 were nowhere close to the record levels seen in 2015.

Significant Transactions: BB&T announced its acquisition of Swett & Crawford Group, growing its wholesale brokerage business in the U.S. Massachusetts Mutual announced its acquisition of MetLife’s U.S. retail adviser force, allowing the expansion of its U.S. client base. MetLife chose to divest in response to the looming Department of Labor fiduciary rule.

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Key Trends and Insights

Sub-sectors highlights

  • The persistent low interest rate environment has weighed on life insurers’ investment portfolios. Furthermore, the unprecedented U.K. vote to break away from the EU increased the volatility of both the U.S. dollar and the euro value relative to the pound, and it decreased the likelihood of near-term rate increases by the Fed. Last year, major deals involved the largest Chinese and Japanese life insurers venturing out of their home markets. While Asian investors still have an active interest in expanding, regulatory uncertainty remains for Chinese buyers pending the resolution of the announced Fidelity & Guaranty Life acquisition. We expect momentum to pick up from small to medium-sized companies, as they are focused on building much-needed scale and the need to comply with enhanced regulations.
  • The insurance broker segment continues to be the most active in terms of deal volume. This year, we have seen the five most active regional brokers to be Hub International, AssuredPartners, Arthur J. Gallagher, Confie Seguros California and Acrisure.

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Conclusion and Outlook

We expect activity to intensify for the remaining part of the year as insurers are focused on the disruption to their businesses because of technology, adapting to an evolving regulatory landscape and an uncertain macroeconomic environment.

  • Technology: According to the 2016 PwC Global FinTech Survey, 21% of insurance business is at risk of being lost to standalone InsurTech companies within five years. The rise of shared mobility, the “gig” economy, robotics and sensors are disrupting several areas of insurance. Incumbents have been responding by direct investment in startups or by forming joint ventures to stay competitive. Recent examples include ACE’s investment in CoverHound and Marsh’s acquisition of Dovetail Insurance.
  • Macroeconomic environment: The global market volatility, persistent low interest rates and the uncertainty around Brexit continue to constrain insurers’ revenues and profitability. Life insurers have used both divestitures and acquisitions to manage the damaging impacts of the low-return environment and transform their business models. There is renewed interest in diversifying asset management capabilities by way of acquisitions.
  • Regulatory environment and shareholder activism: Increased scrutiny and uncertainty have heavily influenced insurers’ business models and strategies, forcing many to exit businesses. The recent DOL fiduciary rule continues to be an obstacle for life/annuity insurers, as it can cause insurers that use exclusive agents to evaluate their product offerings and firm structure. Recent examples include MetLife shedding its U.S. adviser unit to Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance and AIG selling its Advisor Group to Lightyear Capital and PSP Investments. AIG continues to simplify its organization, in part because of the aggressive stance from activist investor Carl Icahn.
  • Foreign entrants: Asian insurers — specifically Japanese insurers looking for growth and Chinese insurers seeking diversification — have a continued interest in U.S. and European insurers.
  • Private equity/hedge funds/family offices: Non-traditional firms have maintained strong interest in runoff, long-tail liabilities. They have expanded beyond insurance brokers and the annuities business to include other sectors within insurance, including managing general agents.

About the data: The information presented in this report is an analysis of deals in the insurance industry (excluding managed care) where the target company, the target ultimate parent company was located in the U.S. Deal information was sourced from S&P Global Market Intelligence and includes deals for which targets are: Insurance underwriter and insurance broker (multiline, property and casualty, life and health, title, mortgage guaranty and financial guaranty). Certain adjustments have been made to the information to exclude transactions that are not specific to the sector or incorporate relevant transactions that were omitted from the indicated mid industry codes. This analysis includes all individual mergers, acquisitions and divestitures for disclosed or undisclosed values, leveraged buyouts, privatizations and acquisitions announced between Jan. 1, 2014 and June 30, 2016, with a deal status of completion, definitive agreement or non-binding letter of intent. Percentages and values are rounded to the nearest whole number, which may result in minor differences when summing totals.

This article was also written by Mark Friedman, Christopher Gaskin and Ritendra Roy.