As the June 30 deadline approaches for this year’s SMA Innovation in Action Awards, I’m looking forward to seeing the innovative strides that insurers and solution providers have made in the past year. The market is changing so quickly that adaptability is key.
The SMA Innovation in Action Awards recognize insurers of all types and sizes who are rethinking, reimagining and reinventing the business of insurance. In recent years, we have recognized a number of traditional, established companies that are propelling themselves forward. They have combined the best strengths of our industry today with the best new ideas from insurtech and the digital world. And this convergence of the old and the new is the true path to success.
Our winners have showcased this type of mindset by blending their existing projects and goals with very targeted uses of insurtech, emerging technologies and new data sources.
Experiment with new technology and customer experiences. John Hancock’s Vitality Program (2016 winner) engages policyholders through gamification and personalized guidance to increase their healthy activities, like exercise and annual physicals. Policyholders can report data online or through a free wearable fitness tracker. In the next phase of this project, John Hancock has expanded the customer engagement model to now provide discounts on healthy foods from participating stores. Each time the policyholder buys a healthy food, the discount and brand appear on the checkout receipt, reinforcing John Hancock’s role as their partner in healthy living. In addition to the creative application of emerging technologies, John Hancock is shifting from a transactional relationship with their customers to one based on value-added services.
Engage with emerging technologies. Texas Mutual (2016 winner) tackled a loss-prevention challenge, engaging workers to learn and follow onsite safety procedures by creating virtual reality scenarios to train construction workers. Texas Mutual’s Safety in a Box app was designed for easily accessible, familiar technology: the user’s mobile phone with a free cardboard viewer. Texas Mutual also distributed viewers at construction industry conferences and filmed in both English and Spanish to reach a broader audience.
Incubate innovation. Incubating Haven Life (2015 winner) internally allowed MassMutual to test a new business model: selling life insurance completely online in about 20 minutes. Underwriting Haven Life’s policies relies on external data fed through proprietary algorithms, reducing the time and complexity for the applicant.
Look at the big picture – but start small. Motorists (2016 winner) completed the first phase of its plan to achieve complete organizational transformation within 10 years. The ultimate goal is to operate as an “85-year-old startup” designed for innovation and collaboration, and the company redesigned a key workspace to foster this cultural shift. It built around cutting-edge technology to enable work to shift seamlessly across time zones and continents. This first step is intended to encourage more collaborative work styles to spread throughout the company, bringing Motorists closer to its vision.
One of the best parts of our awards program is to showcase how innovation is flourishing within our industry – and not just with greenfield insurers or those partnering with insurtech firms. Together, John Hancock, Texas Mutual, MassMutual and Motorists have more than 400 years of experience in writing insurance. They demonstrate how no company is ever too established to embrace change.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
On April 6, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) released its long-awaited fiduciary rule. It is clear that things will never be the same. While the fiduciary rule is limited in the products that it applies to, it is a clear sign that the time has arrived for the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights.
Some complain bitterly about the rule — William Shakespeare has Queen Gertrude say in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” — but there is clearly a trend, with the DOL’s fiduciary rule, the proposed rule by the SEC, new consumer protection rules for seniors and the amount of complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. To go from Shakespeare to a more modern poet: Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a-changing.”
It is time for the insurance industry to wake up. If the way business is conducted remains as is on products not covered by the fiduciary rule, there will be further regulations and scrutiny thrust upon the insurance world, and there will less opportunity to have a voice at the table.
Insurance Agents, Distribution Systems and Reasonable Compensation:
The traditional agent system has been fading away over the last couple of decades. There are very few companies that still have their own “captive” agents. “Captive” agents are those who primarily represent one specific insurance company such as Northwestern Mutual Life, New York Life, Mass Mutual, State Farm, Farmers, Allstate, etc. and who receive office space and other support from that company.
Most insurance is now sold by agents who represent multiple insurance companies and who try to find the optimal coverage for their clients at the most affordable premiums. Of course, there are agents who are driven by commissions, and those are the ones who are most affected by the fiduciary rule and whatever comes next. Acting in the best interests of a client is something the majority of agents strive to do, but enough agents don’t that this type of regulatory change is warranted.
Insurance companies are rethinking their distribution strategies, as shown by MetLife and AIG. MetLife recently sold off its Premier Client Group (retail distribution entity with approximately 4,000 advisers). American International Group (AIG) sold off its broker-dealer operation. And a number of insurance companies have withdrawn from the U.S. variable annuity marketplace over the last few years: Voya (formerly ING), Genworth, SunLife and Fidelity stopped selling MetLife Annuities.
The real concern for insurance companies and agents is that they will no longer be able to sell a product that can’t be fully justified as suitable to clients. In other words, selling the annuity with the highest commission and the best incentives will no longer cut it. While the DOL rule only applies to those annuities sold in qualified plans, is it really a stretch of the imagination to consider class action lawsuits against agents who are not following the same practices outside of qualified plans?
And of course there is the issue of reasonable compensation. Reasonable compensation under the BICE is not specifically defined and is certainly open to interpretation. The DOL notes several factors in determining reasonable compensation: market pricing of services and assets, the cost and scope of monitoring and the complexity of the products. There is the interpretation that advisers who have more education (certifications, degrees, licenses, etc.) may be able to justify higher fees or commissions. This is also a good thing as this will encourage advisers to improve their skill set and be of better service to their clients. The Insurance Quality Mark is a great way for agents to show their level of expertise and professionalism.
That Ticking Sound You Hear?
The current distribution system is ineffective with the types of products sold and the accompanying incentives. Agents receive higher compensation for less competitive products, and they receive incentives for making sales targets. This is traditional for sales in any industry. However, as we’ve seen in the investment community, there are few traditional commissioned stock brokers and investment advisers, while the majority are now fee-based planners. Consumers expect more and are more financially literate. The Internet especially has changed the way financial products are sold. And insurance is part of the financial world.
The Securities Exchange Commission may finally be spurred to move forward with its own fiduciary regulation. SEC Commissioner Mary Jo White has stated that fiduciary reform is in order at the commission, and that the SEC should harmonize the rules for investment advisers and broker-dealers serving retail clients.
And will FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), NAIC (National Association of Insurance Commissioners), the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate or some other body move forward with their own set of rules and regulations?
The marketing material that I see from many firms is, “We put our customers first.” Thomas E. Perez, the secretary of labor, said in an interview: “This is no longer a marketing slogan. It’s the law.”
The pressure is on annuity companies and insurance companies to design simpler products with lower fees and increased transparency.
Everyone needs to rethink the entire sales and policy management process and follow the best practices outlined in the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights. It requires insurance agents to place their clients’ (insurance consumers) best interests first to the best of their ability. The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights focuses on common-sense, thorough communication and providing quality service in a way that benefits everyone. Following the Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights is a win for everyone.
The Bottom Line:
Insurance agents, insurance brokers and insurance companies can be the leaders in providing insurance consumers with rights or can be led by follow-ups to the DOL’s fiduciary rule. The DOL’s fiduciary rule is not the end, it is only the beginning.
Again, it is good business for everyone when firms must fairly disclose fees, compensation and material conflicts of interest associated with their recommendations and not give their advisers incentives to act contrary to their clients’ interests. (It’s a sad state that such a requirement is necessary.)
The future is up to us. If we start to treat annuities and cash value life insurance as the complex financial vehicles that they are and start to better educate our clients and ourselves and carefully service them, then there will be positive outcomes. If we continue with the current approach, lack of education and disclosure, more contracts will terminate and there will be significant negative consequences for policy/contract owners and their beneficiaries, and agents may very well find themselves as defendants in litigation.
The Insurance Consumer Bill of Rights:
The Right to Have Your Agent Act in Your Best Interest: to the best of her ability. Keep in mind that agents are not fiduciaries and are agents of the insurance company(ies). An agent recommendation should not be influenced by commissions, bonuses or other incentives (cash or non-cash). An agent should not collect a fee and a commission from the same client for the same work.
The Right to Receive Customized Coverage Appropriate to Your Needs: An insurance agent should review your potential coverage needs per each line of coverage under consideration and take into account any existing coverage. Any new recommended coverage must fill a need (gap in coverage). Any replacement must be carefully reviewed with all pros and cons considered and presented in writing to the consumer.
The Right to Free Choice: You have the right to receive multiple competitive options and to choose your company, agent and policy. Agents, brokers and companies must inform you in simple language of your coverage options when you apply for an insurance policy. Different levels of coverage are available, and you have the right to know how each option affects your premium and what your coverage would be in the event of a claim.
The Right to Receive an Answer to Any Question: You’re the buyer, so you have the right to ask any question and to receive an answer. The answer should fully and completely address your question or concern in full and be understandable. If you don’t understand something, you as as the buyer have a duty to ask questions, and, if you still don’t understand, you shouldn’t buy that policy.
The Right to Pay a Fair Premium: There must be full disclosure on how policy premiums are calculated and the impact of different risk factors specific to the type of coverage proposed. Also, information should be provided on factors that may reduce the premium in the future.
The Right to Be Informed: You need to receive complete and accurate information in writing – anything said or promised orally must be put in writing. This includes full Information on any recommended insurance company, including name, address, phone number, website and financial strength rating(s).
The Right to be Treated Fairly and Respectfully: This includes the right to not be pressured. If there is a deadline, the reason must be presented. If an offer is too good to be true, then it most likely is too good to be true. Insurance agents and companies should keep information private and confidential.
The Right to Full Disclosure and Updates: You must receive notice of any changes in the coverage in easy-to-understand language and any relevant changes in the marketplace. All relevant information and disclosure requirements (required or not) on an insurance product must be presented to the client. You must receive in writing a summary of all surrender charges, length of surrender period and any additional costs for early termination. In any replacement situation, all pros and cons must be submitted in writing.
The Right to Quality Service – You must be able to have your coverage needs reviewed at any time upon request, whenever a major event would affect coverage and at least annually. The agent must determine if changes have occurred with the client or in the marketplace that would dictate changes to the insurance coverage. This includes prompt assistance on any claims.
The Right to Change or Cancel Your Coverage: This right must come without any restrictions or hassles.
U.S. life-annuity insurers will enter 2016 in relatively good financial condition but facing exponential changes from rapid advances in technology, rising customer expectations and growing competition. These market shifts will require insurers to reinvent their strategies, services and processes, while coping with nagging financial, economic and regulatory uncertainty. Fortunately, after years of bolstering their balance sheets, life-annuity firms are in a strong position to invest in the innovations and technologies needed to fuel future growth.
Growing customer expectations
Digital technology will continue to transform the life-annuity industry in the coming year. From anytime, any-device digital delivery to customized services, today’s diverse insurance customers will demand flexible solutions that go beyond one-size-fits-all product offerings. To take advantage of these trends, insurers will need to adopt a customer-centric approach that relies on deeper relationships, more personalized advice and more rigorous information. At the same time, life-annuity insurers must integrate emerging distribution technologies to reach customers through multiple channels, all without disrupting traditional distribution.
Millennials and mass-affluent consumers, in particular, are seeking the latest digital tools, such as on-demand insurance apps and robo-advisers for automated, algorithm-based financial advice. Meanwhile, insurers are establishing omni-channel platforms to reach and service customers more effectively and exploring the use of wearables and health monitors for usage-based life insurance. Advanced analytics, such as predictive models, combined with cloud and on-demand technologies, will provide insurers with the instruments to re-engineer front and back offices.
To fast-track digital transformation, insurers are turning to partnerships and acquisitions. For example, in 2015, Northwestern Mutual purchased online planner LearnVest to provide more customized support to customers. Other insurance firms, such as Transamerica and Mass Mutual, have set up venture capital firms to invest in digital service providers.
But digital innovation also carries greater risks. Digital technologies make insurers more vulnerable to financial fraud, data theft and political activism. Privacy breaches are becoming a bigger concern as insurers gain wider access to sensitive financial and health data. Even the use of social media is exposing firms to risks from reputational damage.
Competitive pressures are building
As digital technology becomes more pervasive, insurers will face greater competition from new digital start-ups. Although much of the recent innovation in financial services has occurred in the banking and payments sector, insurance is now squarely in the cross-hairs of new digital providers. One example is PolicyGenius, which is offering digital platforms to help consumers shop for insurance. With the recent launch of Google Compare, the rise of InsuranceTech will gain momentum in 2016.
But competition will also come from existing insurers leveraging new digital solutions and business models. For example, John Hancock recently launched Protection UL with Vitality, which rewards life-insurance policyholders for health-related activities monitored through personalized devices. In 2016, more insurance stalwarts will jump on the digital bandwagon through new product development, acquisitions and alliances. At the same time, changing insurance attitudes and practices among Millennials will spread to other age groups. Insurance firms reluctant to embrace innovations for fear of cannibalizing their own market space may be overtaken by more nimble firms able to capitalize on a shifting insurance landscape.
Uncertain economic and regulatory conditions
Life-annuity insurers are operating in a tenuous economic and financial environment with sizable downside risk. In 2016, global economic weakness will continue to be a worry, particularly as emerging market growth decelerates, financial volatility escalates and the U.S. economy muddles through a presidential election year. Regulatory and monetary tinkering will further complicate macro conditions.
The political landscape is likely to remain gridlocked at the federal and state levels as the election cycle concludes. Tax policies are unlikely to change in 2016, but insurers should prepare for new post-election regulatory headwinds in 2017. Insurers should also stay on top of the Department of Labor’s evaluation of fiduciary responsibility rules, which will remain a disruptive force in 2016.
Regulations originally designed for other industries and jurisdictions are being extended into the U.S. insurance market. International regulators are moving ahead with further development of Solvency II and IFRS. The NAIC and state insurance departments are adjusting risk-based capital charges and will react to the first year of ORSA implementation.
Mixed impact on life-annuity insurers
Premiums will grow moderately in 2016. Individual life premium growth will be particularly sluggish, as consumers remain focused on retirement savings. Faced with equity market volatility, consumers will continue to invest in fixed and indexed annuities and avoid variable annuities.
To cope with torpid market conditions, insurers will focus on growing premium and investment income, managing risks and controlling costs. Companies will continue to identify opportunities to improve return on equity through active balance sheet and back-book management. Among the strategies are investments in organic and inorganic growth, seeking reinsurance and capital market capacity and returning excess capital to shareholders. M&A activity will likely accelerate in 2016 as Asian insurers and private equity firms continue their interest in U.S. insurance companies.
Margin compression will dictate sustained emphasis on cost management through centralized control, technology upgrades and better integration of business units. With mission-critical information becoming more accessible, data-driven business decisions are moving to the C-suite. At the same time, regulatory demands and business imperatives are elevating risk management responsibility to the C-suite and board.
STAYING IN FRONT OF CHANGE: PRIORITIES FOR 2016
In 2016, life-annuity insurers will need to take decisive measures to cope with market upheavals – or risk the consequences. By staying in front of change, insurers can strengthen customer relationships, build market share and gain competitive advantage. Tapping their strong capital positions, insurers will invest in new technologies, systems and people that will allow them to capture their future.
Specifically, leading insurers will focus on the following pathway to change:
1. Pick up the pace of business transformation and innovation
Time to reboot
The life and annuity industry has never been considered highly innovative or nimble. But the convergence of technological, regulatory and customer trends is creating a perfect storm, with the power to upend the industry. EY’s 2015 Retail Life and Annuity Survey of senior executives identified the need to embrace new market realities in 2016, highlighting innovation as a top strategic priority. To cope, industry leaders must act now to rethink their business approach:
Priorities for 2016
Create a company-wide culture of innovation. To foster transformation, insurers will need to break away from their conservative leanings, and create a culture that encourages new thinking. Such a culture should allow for greater experimentation, and even short-term failures, to achieve long-term success. Senior leaders through to middle-managers should champion change and avoid the danger of the status quo.
Drive innovation through cross-functional teams. In 2016, life and annuity insurers will need to cut across organizational silos to drive innovation. Establishing cross-functional teams of sales, underwriting and policy administration can lead to new ideas
that enrich the customer and distributor experience. Similarly, a cross-functional team of actuarial, finance and risk management can help build consensus around new analytical and risk approaches.
Share information openly. Overcoming departmental silos will not be easy. Executives should ensure that information-sharing occurs at the right time and that teams are working from the same set of high-quality data. To avoid time-consuming reconciliations, managers will want to address data discrepancies across business units. Using skilled program managers to track progress against timelines and budgets can help.
2. Reinvent products and services for the new digital consumer
Addressing ever-rising customer expectations
In 2016, life insurance and annuity products will need to come to grips with tectonic shifts in consumer expectations and behaviors. Driven by their experiences in other industries, customers will demand greater digital access, better information and quicker service. Failure to respond will make it difficult for insurers to acquire and retain customers. Fast-moving insurers are redefining their customer relationships and products and services to cope with these new market dynamics.
Priorities for 2016
Offer anytime, anywhere, any-device access. Banks now provide customers with unprecedented 24/7 access and self-service on multiple devices, from PCs to smartphones. In 2016, life insurance customers will expect a similar anytime, any-device experience from insurers from point of sale and throughout the relationship.
Provide greater transparency to customers. In today’s digital world, customers expect clearer product information and pricing transparency. To respond, insurers should reduce the complexity and definitional rigidity of current life insurance products, while providing a more streamlined and transparent issuance process.
Deliver more flexible solutions. Insurers will need to emphasize product flexibility to cost-conscious customers and offer hybrid products that combine income protection, such as long-term care and disability insurance, with life and retirement coverage. For high-net-worth customers, insurers should stress the tax advantages of life insurance and annuities and develop features to compete with alternative investment products.
Build continuing engagement with customers. The life and annuity industry has long suffered from “low engagement” with customers following the initial sale. More customer engagement will minimize the risk of customer indifference and potential disintermediation. Developing an integrated, personalized digital experience that leverages the latest mobile and video technology will be a key to success.
Move toward a service orientation. To differentiate themselves, insurers will want to shift from a product placement to a trusted adviser approach. With established personal relationships in place, and access to more flexible products and services, new sales will occur more naturally in response to customer needs.
3. Adjust distribution strategies for technological and regulatory shifts
The rise of omni-channel distribution
Technological and regulatory changes are prompting life and annuity insurers to think beyond traditional distributors. For example, robo-advisers, growing in popularity in the wealth industry, could offer insurers a way to reach the underserved mass-affluent market. Yet, unlike property and casualty carriers, life and annuity insurers have made little progress in selling through digital channels. Looking ahead to 2016, life and annuity insurers may find themselves losing market share if they fail to adapt to an omni-channel world.
Priorities for 2016
Prepare for new fiduciary standards. In 2016, the Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary rule could upend existing distribution models. The rule strengthens consumer protection, constrains distributors and alters compensation for advisers providing retirement advice. Similar changes in the UK widened the gap in personal financial guidance between wealthy and mid-market customers – a potential impact in the U.S. The ability to recommend specific products may become more difficult, creating a ripple effect on retirement sales and advice.
Adapt services for new distribution models. Insurance firms, particularly those focusing on retirement services, will find themselves under pressure to transform their distribution platforms. In 2016, insurers should consider developing products for an “adviser-less” distribution model that delivers financial and product information directly to consumers through digital platforms. Insurers will need to adjust compensation systems to meet new fiduciary requirements, while maintaining existing distributor relationships.
Explore the use of robo-advisers. Robo-advisers represent a new self-service channel aimed particularly at younger, tech- focused consumers. In 2016, insurers will need to consider the best way to incorporate robo-advisers into their current distribution platforms-through internal development, partnership or acquisition. To help make that decision, insurers should ask themselves: Would the robo-adviser be a new distribution channel, a supporting tool for current distributors or some combination of the two approaches? Insurers will need to evaluate the costs and potential impact of integrating systems to improve sales and service. And with regulations in flux, firms will want to give compliance and suitability careful attention.
4. Reengineer processes to drive efficiency and market growth
Building operational agility
Changing customer expectations are opening up new opportunities for life-annuity insurers to grow their business through innovative products, solutions and go-to-market strategies that focus on the customer experience. However, existing process silos and legacy systems can restrict operational flexibility, so insurers may need to focus on reengineering processes and systems in the year ahead.
Priorities for 2016
Determine if your systems are ready for rapid market change. Today’s assembly line approach to policy quoting, issuance and administration can slow application turnaround and detract from the customer and distributor experience. Once a policy is issued, legacy administrative systems can limit the ability of customers and distributors to access current account information, especially policy values, and to self-service their accounts. This problem can be exacerbated as customers purchase additional products from the insurer, particularly if those purchases are on different platforms.
Ensure that your systems can stand up to new regulatory rigors. Policy issuance and administration are not the only areas affected by process silos and legacy systems. Regulatory changes and risk management imperatives are putting pressure on finance to improve the quality and speed of reporting, as well as the use of advanced analytics for predicting and stress testing trends. As companies expand into new geographic markets and lines of business, the complexity of reporting and analyzing data is multiplied. A review of your systems through a regulatory lens could be helpful.
Invest in next-generation processes and analytics. Recognizing the importance of operational excellence to future strategies, insurers will continue to invest in straight-through-processing in 2016 to speed application turnaround times. They will also use more advanced analytics to enable underwriters to minimize the amount of required medical data, slash decision- making time and improve accuracy. Data consolidation projects will remain a high priority for many IT departments.
Revamp IT systems built for simpler times. During 2016, insurers will need to improve and replace IT systems that have reached the end of their useful life and are no longer fit for purpose. Unlike past investment cycles in IT systems, when one generation of hardware replaced another, the emergence of cloud technologies and on-demand solutions create new flexible options that can be implemented more quickly.
Consider partnerships that will facilitate transformation. To support critical business data processes, life-annuity insurers should explore creating strategic alliances with outside specialists. Insurers have already worked on consolidating legacy information systems and integrating data from around the firm, which will facilitate their transition to cloud and on-demand platforms. However, management must clearly understand the auditing, control and business risks of taking that leap.
5. Bring in the right talent to lead innovation
A growing talent gap
Life and annuity insurers are finding that driving innovation will take fresh ideas and new talent. As they age, distribution teams are falling out of sync with emerging consumer demographics.
The result: Life insurance and annuity sales to younger generations are declining, a trend that will only build momentum over time. In 2016, insurers will want to meet this challenge head-on by developing initiatives to attract young, diverse workers.
Priorities for 2016
Take concrete actions to compete for talent. The talent shortage affects every layer of the organization, from gaps in senior executive roles to deficiencies in technical skills. At the same time, the industry’s image as staid and risk-averse often does not appeal to the brightest and most promising young people, who view fast-growing technology companies as their employers of choice. Insurers will need to compete fiercely for the talent required to build the next-generation insurance company.
Go beyond image-building to attract fresh blood. Executives recognize that simply burnishing the industry’s image will not be enough to draw in new talent, such as data scientists and digital experience designers. In 2016, insurers need to offer greater flexibility in work locations, find creative ways to motivate and reward employees and fine-tune talent management programs.
Make diversity a strategic imperative. Workforce diversity is more than a compliance exercise; it offers a powerful way to achieve key strategic objectives. An employee base that reflects the customer universe is better-equipped to respond to changing customer needs. Diverse teams make better decisions by avoiding groupthink. In 2016, life and annuity insurers will broaden their efforts to attract a workforce representing a mix of cultural, demographic and psychographic backgrounds.
6. Put cybersecurity high on the corporate agenda
Escalating cyber risks
Leveraging social media, the cloud and other digital technologies will expose life and annuity insurers to greater cyber risks in 2016. These risks can run the gamut from financial fraud and corporate terrorism to privacy breaches and reputational damage. To protect their businesses and their clients, insurers will need to take strong measures to keep their technical platforms air-tight.
Priorities for 2016
Make cybersecurity a priority. Inadequate cybersecurity can cause a serious financial, legal and reputational fallout. In today’s digital age, hacking often involves organized crime looking to steal data and trade secrets for financial gain. Cyber attacks can also be politically motivated to disrupt organizations. Whatever the motive, insurers will want to ensure that growing digital connections between their systems and outside parties are well-protected.
Take a broad view of the potential risks. Cybersecurity is not the only data-related risk for insurers to consider. Privacy issues surrounding consumer and distributor information are a mounting area of concern, especially as insurers use that data in product pricing, underwriting and target marketing. In addition, social media can make insurers vulnerable to reputational risks – in real time.
Safeguard customer data from misuse. Although consumers have grown accustomed to providing personal information to third parties, there is still uneasiness over usage, especially when it involves sensitive consumer medical and financial information. Insurance firms, particularly those with a global client base, need to stay abreast of emerging privacy regulations that could affect the use of digital technology and analytics. Crucially, insurers must invest in internal firewalls that protect personal data from misuse.
Assess your exposure to data sovereignty risks. As insurers move toward cloud computing and on-demand solutions, issues surrounding data sovereignty are becoming more complex. In a hyperconnected world – where a U.S. insurer might partner with a Dutch firm using a data service in India – the concept of data residing in one jurisdiction is difficult to apply. To cope, insurers will want to set up processes to monitor changing data regulations around the world and their impact on their businesses.
This piece was written by Doug French and Mike Hughes. For the full white paper, click here.