Tag Archives: MGA

11 Insurtech Predictions for 2021

Despite what we all feared in March, insurtech has continued to flourish, with lots of capital supporting the sector in public and private markets, closer integration between incumbents and startups and promising solutions for longtime needs in SME and cyber. Keeping up the annual tradition, here are my 11 predictions for the insurtech market in 2021.

1. Do you want insurance with that? Insurance will be embedded in every financial and retail transaction

Because no one loves shopping for it, we will see more insurance being sold as part of another transaction, where the user has a high intention to buy. “Embedded” has been a buzzword in fintech for several years, best illustrated by Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) players like Affirm and Klarna. Embedded insurance started with travel insurance and extended warranties sold at point of sale, like Square Trade and Assurion. Branch Insurance now sells home and auto as part of the mortgage process, and Matic is embedding with mortgage servicers. 2021 will bring opportunities to embed insurance into transactions, with the goal being delivering a seamless experience of product plus protection.

2. 2021 will be the year for Plaid for Insurance

The original Plaid provides infrastructure to connect banks to financial apps like Venmo, which need access to a consumer’s bank account, so the user can take money from a bank and send it via Venmo, to the recipient’s bank. The explosion of financial apps drove dramatic growth at Plaid. Yes, the Department of Justice has sued to block the acquisition of Plaid by Visa. Worst case: Plaid is forced to go public at a valuation way above the $5.3 billion offered by Visa. In 2020, at least seven “Plaid for Human Resources” were funded. Data connections and enablement are critical across life, health and P&C insurance. In 2021, we will only see more pitches for Plaid for Insurance, and some of those pitches will be winners.

3. The robotic uprising: Automation will take over routine processes and improve customer experience

Automation will be used to support and empower the humans who are still in the process, starting with claims. Startups will accelerate the sale of automation to incumbent insurers, leading to improved customer satisfaction. Who wants to call an insurer to check whether the policy includes glass coverage? Consumers prefer to use their cell phones to text or speak, submit the claim and schedule the windshield replacement service. To show how quickly this change is happening: In 2019, State Farm ran ads mocking Lemonade’s bot; in 2020, State Farm led a venture investment in Replicant, which provides Voice AI to support human call centers. Faster, better customer service, which is cheaper for the carrier: Automation is a win-win with unstoppable momentum.

4. Playing for keeps: Deeper partnerships between incumbents and startups, accelerated by the pandemic

At the beginning of the insurtech phenomenon, way back in 2015, insurers responded by creating innovation groups and adding innovation KPIs to employee reviews. Following the law of unintended consequences, the result was incumbents starting a lot of experiments and proofs of concept with startups. It was frustrating all around, and many of those experiments failed. Now, insurers have moved the decision making back to the operating teams, and those teams are choosing partners to last. The pandemic has focused the efforts of incumbents. That focus will only get stronger going forward, as incumbents understand that they depend on startups to deliver the organization’s goals.

5. More startups will go full stack

Insurtechs will continue to take off their MGA training wheels. Following the high-profile IPOs of Lemonade and Root, 2021 will see full-stack carriers multiply. While the managing general agent model has the advantage of being capital-light and enables a startup to get to market quickly, structuring as full stack gives the startup maximum control over its product and customer experience. Capital is available to build a carrier, coming from multiple sources, as evidenced by sizeable fundraises by Pie, Kin, Hippo and several life insurance startups.

6. SME market will finally get the solutions it needs

At the end of 2019, I swore it was the last time I would predict the success of insurance solutions for SME. But there are finally some serious signs of success and traction in this market. Embroker, Vouch and Next Insurance continue to grow. And Bold Penguin has integrated with the flow of existing insurers, delivering value where incumbents could not. Finally, SME will have some good choices in protecting their businesses, thanks to persistent insurtechs!

See also: Has Pandemic Shifted Arc of Insurtech?

7. Achieving scale with coretech

Incumbents are yearning for alternatives to existing core systems, with an average age over 15 years, antiquated programming languages and vendor implementations measured in years. Two trends are providing hope here: no code/low code and coretech, delivering cloud-native core capabilities. The challenges of 2020 encouraged more incumbents and insurers to start limited implementations of no code and coretech. In 2021, we will start seeing a few insurers adopt these new approaches at scale.

8. Cyber insurance will lead the market in delivering dynamic risk protection

There have been many startups in cyber insurance, covering one of the existential threats for companies. Some startups have struggled by aiming at companies that are too small to afford the premium; others have chosen the wrong threat assessment partner and taken unwarranted risk. The whole market continues innovating and growing, which is good news, because cyber threats are also increasing. By combining real-time threat assessment with insurance, startup cyber insurers will deliver dynamic risk protection, enabling their customers to reduce risks as soon as they are identified. That may be a model for future real-time risk coverage in other business lines.

9. Parametric coverage will surge

Insurtechs will tackle claims costs and delays by eliminating the claims process, via parametric solutions. Defining a loss by reference to a standard objective index like rainfall in a specific geography is no longer reserved for markets like drought risk in developing countries. Now, insurtechs are delivering parametric cover for a range of risks, including earthquake, wind and cyber outages in developed countries. One driver is the user experience, where the insured no longer needs to trust the insurer to pay an indemnity claim promptly. Look for more kinds of risks to be covered by parametric solutions in 2021.

10. Record support for insurtechs at all stages

The pace of both early- and later-stage investments in insurtechs proves that investors remain enthusiastic about the market. Valuable business models built in fintech will serve as examples to its younger sibling, insurtech. There is still plenty of insurtech innovation to go around, and abundant capital to support it. We will see new launches and a record amount of capital raised across insurtech in 2021.

11. More big exits

The public market in 2020 has been the story of hot money looking for a home, and eager to pay up for future growth. Insurtech carriers Lemonade and Root went public via IPO, and Hippo is expected to become public either via initial public offering (IPO) or special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Metromile became the first insurtech carrier to be acquired by an SPAC. These successful exits will drive continued investment in insurtechs that are taking big swings, and we will see more public exits. We can also expect more insurtechs buying insurtechs, like Bold Penguin’s acquisition of Risk Genius and Next Insurance’s purchase of Juniper Labs. The target will be filling a specific strategic need for the acquirer, and buying is faster than building.

In addition to going public, insurtechs will find other options, including strategic exits. Prudential’s 2019 acquisition of Assurance IQ created a lot of hope, but insurers have not yet shown a broad willingness to pay startup valuations. Brokers, always ready to spot the main chance, have made a couple of acquisitions and can be counted on to find deals that deliver focused value to their existing clients. Verisk, Duck Creek, Guidewire all have public currency, and at least the latter two have created long lists of partnerships with startups. There will be multiple insurtech exits in 2021, ranging from additive deals between insurtechs all the way to more IPOs.

Secret to Leadership in Insurtech Innovation

Every day I probably see a dozen headlines about new insurtech breakthroughs and deals, but how many will actually succeed? How does one separate the leaders from the pretenders? Insurtech leadership isn’t about buying the technology, nor is it solely about inventing the technology.

Insurtech innovation is leveraging technology to improve the insurance experience. And technology is effective only when it is integrated into business processes and workflows and delivers measurable results over time. After all, insurtech should change the way insurance is sold.

Although I didn’t realize it when I started my first job in the ’80s, I was about to devote my entire career to insurtech innovation. Back then — long before program administrators would adopt standard software — there was no such thing as insurtech. Little did I know as I drove up and down the West Coast installing software on agency systems that I was on the cusp of something transformative. 

That was 30 years ago, but the lesson is clear: It’s impossible to build a culture of insurtech innovation overnight. Growth is the result of a relentless pursuit of better ways to underwrite and service commercial insurance — enabled by technology. 

This is not to take anything away from startups; they’re developing game-changing solutions. But to thrive as an insurtech innovation leader, you need more than a product. You need to surround the product with proper execution, the right people and sustainable partnerships. 

No. 1. Execution: Commit to Continuous Improvement

When you’re an MGA and not the risk bearer, you’re less susceptible to market swings but more vulnerable to obsolescence. So, you have to out-execute the market. 

It helps to have what I call a healthy paranoia — a state of vigilance where you’re always looking around the corner, keeping an eye out for the next challenge or potential disruption. Behind that paranoia must be humility, an admission that we don’t have all the answers and that, if we don’t remain alert, we could easily get tripped up and overtaken.

We must constantly ask ourselves how we can infuse established businesses with technology and analytics that will help them do what they’re doing better and convert them to a digital state that will survive disruption. We must take advantage of market disruptions to launch innovative products and write business even as other MGAs are exiting markets.

The heartbeat of innovation is continuous improvement, an inexorable pursuit of unattainable perfection, and it starts by questioning the status quo. MGAs are best positioned to play the role of facilitator, enabling efficiency for carriers, producers and the end customer. A facilitator’s role is to know what its partners need to be more efficient — to understand what will save them time, reduce costs and manage their capital. 

Over time it’s possible to build an entrepreneurial incubator that helps partners along the value chain gain a competitive advantage. As an MGA, seek to provide fast and accurate quotes for coverage against a volatile peril, backed by data collected from a number of external sources, with little input required of the agent. Not only will you reduce the agent’s time, labor and costs, but you’ll also provide benefit to the carriers, who can receive reports that show exactly how their capital is being deployed. Arrowhead developed such a program; after 2 1/2 years, it’s become successful and profitable.

See also: Reflections on Insurtech, Pandemic

No. 2. People: Identify the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Every organization, regardless of what it does, should recognize that its most important asset is its people. Your team members don’t have to be Elon Musk or Tim Cook, but they must have a passion for what you do and continually strive to take the friction out of insurance. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit are curious, deeply engaged, proud of their craft — and unafraid to experiment and push boundaries in pursuit of a better way. 

As it happens, with the right people in place, leadership will play an important role by playing less of a role. Insecure leaders can have a chilling effect on innovation. An effective leader insists on forward momentum over personal agendas, communicating that every team member belongs and that their contributions are valued. Rather than competing internally, teammates can then channel their energy toward doing what’s best for customers. 

As a leader, you also need to keep your ego and pride in check, and that’s never been more important than during the pandemic. There’s something about a turbulent period that fosters humility and reflection. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on everything we do and why — because it’s often difficult during normal day-to-day operations to see the forest through the trees and not to mistake movement for progress. Every team member must gain a clear understanding of what the organization is capable of, where the gaps are and where it needs to go.

No. 3. Partners: Get Each One Invested

The true mark of success is performance, and that’s not possible unless every party brings its best to the table. Insurtech startups bring technical expertise, digital and advanced analytics, agile development and quick decision-making. Insurance organizations bring industry knowledge, a broad customer base, historical data, the capital and an ability to implement and manage change. 

A program administrator is the nexus of this partnership and, as the facilitator, must ask the questions that help the partners collectively arrive at the desired result. Ask questions such as: 

  • What does the carrier need to improve profitability on a book of business?
  • What do producers need to improve their service or make the underwriting process less painful? 
  • What do insureds need to make their lives easier?

The successful MGA must evaluate opportunities in the insurtech space and adapt them to existing infrastructures to simplify commercial insurance buying, servicing and claims. After vetting an insurtech offering, for example, why not take the next step and do a “proof of concept” with a handful of producers in a carefully controlled pilot? If the pilot is successful and sustainable performance can be predicted, it can be rolled out across the entire program. Making prudent investments in technology, data and analytics will position your MGA to grow programs at a time when hard markets are ahead and risks will only become more complex and challenging.

Remember, you don’t make a penny until your partners sell something. Maintain a shared interest in their success — which means that, when a carrier considers making an investment, you should participate in the discussion, the evaluation process and the execution. Better yet, you should be initiating the discussion. 

See also: The Future Isn’t Just for Insurtech

Be a Pioneer

Insurance is hustling to catch up to other industries as it pursues a frictionless value chain. MGAs must scale technology to meet the challenge — whether it’s using machine learning to streamline medical billing, or enabling agents nationwide to quickly quote and bind small commercial insurance polices, or helping a claims administrator deploy staff and resources more efficiently using the science of predictive analytics. 

Fourth Step to a New, Successful Program

This is the latest post in our series on building a new MGA program. The first three steps and an introduction can be found here.

Technology can make or break a program business strategy. As we’ve covered in previous posts, distressed classes only remain distressed for so long until that market need is met. Agencies need a way to bring products to market quickly, or risk losing valuable potential business. Technology is key, but only if you choose your system wisely.

There are four options available when creating a program. You may use the insurance carrier’s system, homegrown software, a new enterprise rollout or a custom modular ISO/NCCI-ready system. Each has its pros and cons. The following is a summary:

As you can tell from the above analysis, the custom modular system is the best fit for programs. Let’s look at the characteristics of a new MGA program and how they match up with this option.

  1. Most programs today are written on an admitted basis. You therefore need a system that supports bureau content like ISO and NCCI. It should provide the latest rules, rates and forms and regular, accurate bureau content updates to remain in compliance.
  2. New programs are typically available in all 50 states. You may start off selling regionally, but you’ll need the ability to move quickly into all 50 states when you’re ready to expand. If your system doesn’t give you this flexibility, you’ll end up losing valuable market share in states you can’t enter fast enough.
  3. It is typical for a program writer to provide one-stop shopping for the industry it targets. Loyal agents prefer this because it is easy to access all that is needed for an account in one spot. So, you need a system that supports all or most business lines, including BOP and worker’s compensation.
  4. A custom product is key for success in the specialty insurance marketplace. But you shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel every time you create a program. Typically, 80% of the product can be straight ISO or NCCI and 20% customized. For the 80%, you need an ISO- or NCCI-supported product. For the 20%, you need a system that makes it easy to build customizations, such as endorsements, forms and rating equations.
  5. Program opportunities don’t last long. If you spot one, chances are one of your competitors has seen it, too. A system that supports programs needs to be implemented quickly – ready to write business in all 50 states in as little as 90 days. A large, enterprise-based system will simply take too long to implement; by the time it’s in production, it may be too late.
  6. Your program system should also be modular. You should be able to implement or change the functionality you need with no effect on the rest of your programs.
  7. You also want a system that is easy to understand and quick to learn. Underwriting and rating staff are expensive and hard to find, so you will most likely draw on existing staff for your new program. Your system should have a short learning curve that makes it easy for new users to come up to speed, and your vendor should provide adequate on-site training when you need it.
  8. Your program solution should easily integrate with other systems and components in your insurance environment, like agency management systems, underwriting workflow solutions and billing. Your technology provider should have proven APIs to make this connectivity seamless, fast and cost-effective.
  9. Your system should come at a cost that aligns with the scale of your business. You’ve done your homework, but new programs still come with a level of uncertainty. You want a price based on premium volume, not a large, fixed upfront cost.
  10. Make sure that your technology provider has robust reporting capabilities and that program data is easily accessible. Big data is the name of the game today. The more data you have at your fingertips, the better you can demonstrate to your carrier partner your ability to identify and react to trends in the market.

A final critical characteristic is the need for a well-established tech firm with a superior track record. Your vendor should have adequate resources to deliver what it promises, and a management team that supports a long-term approach to your success.

See also: How Technology Drives a ‘New Normal’  

There is a lot to consider when approaching the technology challenges of program business, and picking the right partner can mean the difference between business growth and stagnation. When it comes to program business, technology can deliver a critical competitive advantage.

First Step to a New, Successful Program

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts in which CJ Lotter, a 15-year industry veteran, shares lessons learned in the form of guidance to MGAs on the steps required to build a successful program. The first post is here.

The trend in insurance today is toward large volumes of policies with very little human intervention. Although the cost benefits may be attractive, this movement is leading us toward a commoditization of the industry where the only differentiator is price. Any business-minded person will tell you this is not a good position to be in. Ideally, you want to sell unique solutions that are difficult to replicate, raising the barrier to entry.

There is an alternative to commodity products. It’s called programs. The best program business is difficult to understand, labor-intensive and hard to automate. Unique underwriting expertise is required, and it should be hard to find and difficult to train. The role of technology in this market is to assist the process and provide the flexibility to adapt to unique risks, not to replace human ingenuity with mass automation.

For an MGA seeking to launch a new program, there are three types of opportunity that provide the greatest potential: a distressed class, a perceived distressed class and an underserved class.

A distressed class is one that most underwriters don’t understand or for which losses are difficult to predict. To underwrite this business, you need unique underwriting skills – an understanding of the nuances of the class and of the characteristics of the risk that could produce significant losses. Clever underwriting and careful selection of risks is key to remaining profitable in this niche. Heavy loss control may be required here, too. Your ability to make this riskier class safer is your competitive advantage.

See also: 10 Steps to Successful Insurance Program  

Nuclear plants are one example of a distressed business class. The dynamics of radioactive materials and the consequences of their incorrect handling are complicated. Losses are catastrophic and will most likely include loss of life, millions of dollars of property losses and loss of business income. Underwriting this class calls for highly trained underwriters who know a good risk from a bad one. These are specialists who can assess, for example, whether safety manuals and procedures are sufficient to minimize the potential for losses.

A perceived distressed class refers to business that potential competitors shy away from because their underwriters perceive it as too risky. By careful analysis, a clever underwriter can discover that what others thought were drivers of claims were indeed not so.

Ski resorts are one example of perceived distress. Underwriters may avoid this class because of the downhill ski exposure, while the real claims drivers are slips and falls in the restaurant. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point.

The underserved class is another spin on program opportunities. The less competition in a class, the better the chances for a successful program. There are many reasons markets avoid certain classes. It may be that the specific geographic territory is overly litigious or that the universe for this specific class is small. Whatever the reason, once you identify the issue and find a solution or compromise, you will have uncovered a program opportunity with little competition.

The class may also be underserved because a traditional “old school” risk taker with archaic systems is the only alternative for this specific class of risk. By providing modern technology with automation that makes it easy to do business, you can outperform the competition and capture your fair share of the market.

An example of this kind of risk may be trash truck operators in the boroughs of New York City. It’s a tough jurisdiction to write trash hauling insurance. A longtime traditional insurance company may have locked up the market. But at the same time, pricing may have crept up over the years, and customer service and loss control may be stale.

There is no meaningful competition in this space, and it’s ripe for the introduction of an MGA program. Start with an updated product offering that includes new coverages like data destruction and privacy, and dynamic pricing tuned to the characteristics of each individual risk. Round off the offering with quick quote turnaround, killer personalized service and fast and fair claims handling, and you’ve got a program that will attract business from the incumbents.

See also: Is There a Future for MGAs?  

So, there you have it – three scenarios that provide the first ingredients for building a new insurance program. Whichever you choose, when you create your program, ask the following question: “Will my program be so different that it will be difficult to duplicate, and so appreciated by buyers that price will not be the focus?” If your answer is “yes,” you have taken the first step to a successful program.

Excerpted with permission from Instec. A complete collection of Instec’s insurance industry insights can be found here.

10 Steps to Successful Insurance Program

This is the first in a series of posts in which CJ Lotter, a 15-year industry veteran, shares lessons learned in the form of guidance to MGAs on the steps required to build a successful program.

Creating a successful insurance program requires the execution of 10 essential steps that take advantage of market conditions, skills, partnerships and technologies.

Spinning up an insurance program is a lot like baking a cake. A good cake requires the right ingredients, the right amount of time to bake and meticulous crafting to ensure it looks and tastes great. Creating an insurance program is similar. It takes a combination of ripe market conditions, the right amount of time to grow and the skills to execute. In this post, we introduce the 10 steps to creating a successful program.

1. Size the Market

Prior to starting any program, it’s important to size the entire market. How many companies make up the market? How much premium is floating around your target market segment? How many agencies serve this segment? Spare no expense to gather the most current and accurate data you can find. And tap underwriting experts to find adjacent markets you may be able to enter quickly.

2. Analyze the Competitive Environment

Scan the competitive landscape to determine how easily you can enter the market. How is the market segment being served today? What kind of programs are already in the space? What other MGAs serve this market? To continue making a viable case for your program, you need to ensure there’s enough space for your solution. Ideally, you want to compete against an old school company that can’t rapidly adjust.

See also: Insurance Innovation’s Growth Challenge  

3. Profile the Industry’s Characteristics

Establishing the industry’s characteristics is much like Step One but at a much more granular level. Analyze the perceived threats and challenges. Examine as many dimensions as you can. How will the economy affect this market? Is climate change a key a factor? Is technology a potential catalyst for disruption? You’re looking for clues that suggest an industry with unique needs. You don’t want to create an insurance program for a commodity that is easy to insure. This would only lead to competition on price rather than service.

4. Spot and Attack ‘Perceived Distress’

Good, profitable programs are generally made up of difficult-to-insure business challenges. Ideally, you are looking for a distressed industry to serve, specifically a distressed class code. Perceived distress is the key here. Perceived distress essentially boils down to a gap in the insurance offerings available to your market that can be exploited by technology, underwriting advantage or better customer service.

5. Assemble Relevant Expertise

Identifying a strategic direction for your program establishes your road map. You hope you can bolster that through agency expertise. Your analysis of industry characteristics will give you the background you need to staff your program through internal or external hires. Assigning or hiring the right expertise can make or break a program. Ideally, you want underwriters with direct experience in the industry you are targeting.

6. Select the Right Technology

Of the many dimensions a company can compete on, technology may offer the biggest opportunity to differentiate in the Darwinian economy. Partnering with companies that do what you want to do and do it well is crucial. Competing on better technology can reduce your time to market so you can capitalize on perceived distress sooner than your competition – especially if the competition is a big, slow-moving, legacy insurance company.

7. Establish the Distribution Network

You’ve chosen your market, sized the competition, analyzed the industry and determined how to leverage expertise and tech. So, how do you sell this new thing? Start with the competition. How are they selling? Do they use agents? Do they have a dedicated team? Look for gaps in your competitors’ ability to deliver. Do they take three days to provide a quote? Use your superior technology and processes to deliver in one.

8. Build the Product

At this point, you have an idea of what the program offering will look like. But you still have a few critical questions to consider. Foremost is whether the product will be admitted or non-admitted. As a rule, you want to do as much admitted business as possible. If even one competitor provides an admitted option, you have no choice but to offer an admitted product.

9. Set the Pricing

Understanding the price elasticity in your market will help determine what it will take for your potential customers to leave their current provider. What can you offer or give them that is of more value? Can you underwrite more efficiently to lower the price? If you can maintain the customer experience while offering a price reduction from incumbent providers, you are in a sweet spot for program launch.

See also: Is Buying Insurance Like Ordering Food?  

10. Choose a Carrier

As an MGA, choosing the right carrier partner can make or break a program. Recent industry developments have made programs a strategic priority for carriers, and MGAs that underwrite and distribute profitably are in demand. If you can’t find a carrier partner, consider alternative capital sources such as pension funds and hedge funds, coupled with a fronting arrangement. This is a model that is growing in popularity as players along the value chain attempt to engage more directly with the policyholder.

This has been a brief overview of the 10-step process to bake a new insurance program. We will revisit this topic in future posts, providing a deeper look at the steps. Creating profitable programs is a vital skill in the new insurance world, and those that do it well will never have trouble finding work. You may not be able to bake a cake, but, with the profits your successful program delivers, you can just go out and buy one.

Excerpted with permission from Instec. A complete collection of Instec’s insurance industry insights can be found here.