Tag Archives: odyssey re

Who Will Win: Startups or Carriers?

Who will win: carriers or startups? It’s a question that has dominated conference panels, opinion pieces and many of the conversations I’ve had with insurance industry friends and colleagues throughout 2018. On the surface, this question feels appropriate. For many consumer-facing insurtech startups, their valuation is rooted in the promise of capturing market share from large carriers. While this has led to a major boom in the number of direct-to-consumer (DTC) insurtechs, in reality, 2018 hasn’t yielded any new startups that are able to make a significant dent in the collective portfolios of the large insurers (Lemonade aside). As many carriers are awaiting the fruits of their multiyear organizational transformation programs, the lack of inroads may prompt a sigh of relief. If the trends we have seen this year continue, perhaps there will be enough time for the product innovation to spring from within the old guard, keeping the industry pecking order intact.

Not so fast.

Reframing the Debate

Before breathing their sigh of relief, carriers might start asking themselves another question: If not carriers, then whom? As far as innovation goes, we continue to see resistance across the large carriers to properly invest in a “test and learn” approach for their internal product development teams. At the end of the day, standing up a new product that would generate only $10 million in additional annual premiums just doesn’t get the runway it would for a startup. Instead, we’re seeing the rise of venture groups, innovation labs and incubators (Metlife Techstars, NYLV, SOMPO Digital Labs, etc.) that are to innovate, then potentially bringing the work in-house.

Adrian Jones, who leads investment and reinsurance terms to insurtech startups for SCOR, recently wrote about changing market conditions for reinsurers and their increased exposure to getting “disrupted.” Jones outlines how simpler and leaner startups have eaten away at the markets with the highest profit margins for reinsurers. This has the potential to become one of the most significant factors affecting the consumer space in 2019. Given their new financial exposure, reinsurers will be highly motivated (in a way that carriers currently are not) to adapt and discover new ways to increase their returns. This very well could be the fuel needed to truly ignite the customer experience (CX) advancements the industry has been promising. For a reinsurer, $10 million in annual premium from a startup is not only $10 million. It’s a path to diversify their risk portfolio and, more importantly, to develop an acquisition channel that can yield much higher margins than the current carrier model.

See also: Insurtech: Revolution, Evolution or Hype?

In the larger conversation, reinsurers are generally seen as key observers in the carrier vs. insurtech showdown, not major players. But given their advanced underwriting capabilities, global footprints, lack of direct customer acquisition workforce and substantially less technical debt compared with their carrier siblings, with the right set of partners reinsurers can provide the scale and expertise the new players typically lack. This enables startups to focus on their differentiators: seamless customer experiences and innovative acquisition strategies.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that this trend isn’t new. Many insurtech “darlings” are already taking advantage of this partnership model. Jetty is backed by Munich Re, Root Insurance by Odyssey Re and Ladder Life by Hannover Re. Noteworthy is what these startups can offer consumers outside of the coverage itself. Jetty offers financial resiliency for renters. Root has an IoT-powered auto insurance underwriting model based on mobile data. Ladder Life has significantly trimmed their underwriting questions for term life. Yes, there may be flaws in each value-add example, but that is beside the point. These startups are able to experiment with modified underwriting parameters, and, once they fine tune these products for the masses, the major carriers will pay heavily either by losing market share or by acquiring the startups.

In a recent conversation with an executive from one of the largest P&C insurance companies, the executive told me that he sees reinsurers like Munich Re as very strategic partners, yet an ever-growing risk because, in his words, Munich Re could “start cutting us out.” The threat is real.

What Should Carriers Do?

For starters, carriers need to identify how to enable a top-notch customer experience (CX). In 2018, there has been plenty of talk about improving customer journeys, but few incumbents have released anything remarkable. The time is now for mid-sized insurers and MGAs. There is no reason not to take a cue from the reinsurer playbook. Whether it’s backing an insurtech, creating a direct-to-consumer channel (like our friends at ProSight) or forming platform integration partnerships (as AP Intego is doing), there are opportunities to jump into the fray because the space is perfectly fragmented. Identifying a similarly positioned insurtech is a promising strategy for carriers with a wealth of data in niche markets. But working with an insurtech or building a DTC offering requires underwriting customization and collaboration. If that’s not something a carrier excels at, determining how to leverage existing technology or marketing capabilities is critical. For those with a technology strength, parametric insurance, such as Jumpstart and Floodmapp, may be a better fit. It’s an emerging market I especially have an affinity for.

See also: How to Partner With Insurtechs  

Regardless, it’s important that carriers develop a set of hypotheses on what will make them successful in whatever their new venture may be. At Cake & Arrow, we heavily rely on design thinking and qualitative research as a low-cost approach to validate strategies. Overall, being nimble, cross-functional and exceptionally tactical will be critical to success, which is why I consider large-scale organizational transformations not applicable here.

If all else fails, get the pocketbooks ready, because we will see no shortage of bidding wars in the coming year.

This article originally ran at Cake & Arrow

6 Minutes of History From 2016

We knew that 2016 would be big.

To capture the flavor of the pace and magnitude of change, I wrote a series of blogs where I likened the dramatic shifts in insurance technology to what happened during the original Italian Renaissance, when education, money, art and science combined to create quantum leaps forward and redefined trade and the economy, the social scene and technological advancement.

So here we are at the end of 2016, and I think we can make a case that 2016 was not only pivotal and groundbreaking but that it was historic on the scale of a Renaissance. At no time in the history of insurance can we find one year that includes this many game-changing events AND a rapid pace of continuing advancement.

My thinking is that if the 525,000 minutes of 2016 were actually historic, then perhaps they deserve their own six-minute look back. To keep things short, I’ve split the 2016 trends into one-minute discussions.

Insurtech — From independent ideas to industry-wide imperatives

Do you remember where you were when you first heard the term “insurtech”? Its first connotations were regarding those out-in-the-stratosphere ideas from independent tech and insurance startups as an extension of fintech regarding important-but-not-disruptive ideas in insurance. You may have heard the term “insurtech” in 2015, but it certainly went mainstream in 2016 as its own vertical focus separate from fintech.

Conversations around insurtech grew, but, more importantly, the influx of capital that advanced the proliferation of startups and greenfields based on new tech capabilities and business model disruption were unprecedented — bringing insurtech from its fintech roots into a completely mainstream, independent, industry-wide wave of innovation. Many traditional insurers and reinsurers hopped on the insurtech wave and showed interest in capturing their own slices of the creative pie. From accelerators like the Silicon Valley Insurance Accelerator (SVIA), Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) and Plug and Play to the first InsureTech Connect meeting in Las Vegas in October with more than 1,500 executives in attendance, insurtech became the “hottest” thing in the industry, giving insurers of all sizes and lines of business pause to consider their strategies. Even S&P recognized the impact of insurtech as having “a complementary place in the traditional insurance world, despite remaining uncertainty in the industry about how it will function on a wide scale.”

See also: The Insurance Renaissance, Part 5  

The insurance industry may never have had this much activity, excitement and concern on the promise and potential of insurance disruption and reinvention.  From the launch of Lemonade, Slice, Haven Life and more insurers and MGAs, the shift to a customer-centric rather than product-centric view is creating a customer experience not unlike the Amazon experience. 2017 will continue to see existing insurers and reinsurers looking to stand up a new brand and business model to capture the next generation of customers and position for growth.

Emerging technology engages insurers

What emerging technologies are we seeing as having made an impact in 2016 with real operational impact? There is artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. There are new sensors and their ability to capture the unseen aspects of operation and life. Protective technologies in vehicles, property and health are growing. There is live streaming data and video from smart phones and drones. Data’s organizational and visual capabilities are improving with new tools.

We could drone on.

But the reality is that the mobile, connected and ethereal digital world is using real-time data to gain insight and manage, reduce or eliminate risk in the physical world to a greater degree than ever before. There used to be “an app for that.” Now, there’s a sensor for everything on the Internet of Things. The world is fast becoming an omni-channel portal into daily life. The distance from “emerging technology” to mainstream tech usage is measured in months, not years, shattering Moore’s Law.

Emerging technologies span a diverse realm for insurers — if you consider that new technology can be worn on a wrist, flown pilotless through the sky or operate entirely within the digital networks of processors and servers. It’s no wonder that an insurance renaissance is in full swing. The space age has given way to the digital age, where it seems like anything may be possible — it just takes imagination, creativity and thinking outside the traditional box. Digital technologies have penetrated previously untapped data mines, allowing machine failure to be predicted and prevented; human risk to be captured and calculated; and insurer risk to be managed, mitigated and eliminated, creating a new value proposition, new products and new services for customers.

New and innovative businesses launches

Disruption makes use of plug-and-play ideas and technologies. Traditional insurance organizations were tightly wound balls of string, operating everything within that ball. Connections were immovable. Processes attempted to be neat and tidy, but they were always struggling with the “messiness” of adaptation. Today’s insurtech resembles Legos in insurtech’s ability to fulfill conceptual opportunities. Imagine a pile of sensors, another pile of devices and yet another “pile” of data streams. Then ask yourself, “What can your mind dream up today?” In 2016, businesses were busy dreaming up enough disruptions to disturb the sleeping giants of insurance.

Slice made a mobile app that integrates with a hybrid homeowner/commercial product. Lemonade used an AI bot to act as agent on a peer-to-peer insurance platform. Haven Life (launched in 2015 but entered 33 new states in 2016) reconsidered how data streams could improve the life underwriting experience for term life.  And then there were new distribution options with companies like Ask Kodiak, Insurify and PolicyGenius — to name a few — deconstructing and redefining the insurance value chain/business model.

Just like building with Legos, there seem to be no end to the combinations of startup and greenfield businesses that can launch using new business models, technologies and great ideas across all aspects of the insurance value chain to meet new customer needs, expectations and demands. This is one area where 2017 will certainly trump 2016 — we may only be seeing the beginning of the innovation wave — but expanding from venture-capital-backed to existing insurers standing up their own greenfield and startup businesses.

Reinsurers invest in insurtech and startups

With the reinsurance market having excess capital, reinsurers took big moves to be major players in insurtech — from investing in technology companies to new startup insurance and MGA businesses. In addition, many are looking at all the disruption around and within insurance and developing, incubating and testing new insurance products to take to market, either directly or through customers or partners.

Consider reinsurers’ investment in Trov, Lemonade, Root and Slice; Munich Re’s investment and focus on mobility and autonomous vehicles; or XL Group and the establishment of XL Innovate, a specialized venture capital fund pursuing investments in financial technology, new opportunities for insurance underwriting and related analytics, globally. Swiss Re, Hannover Re, Odyssey Re, Maiden Re and others are rapidly making moves as well.  Consistently, these investments are in new operational models, new products or meeting new risks — creating a path to underserved or new markets.

See also: Insurtech: One More Sign of Renaissance  

As noted in a recent article, all this insurtech activity is raising the expectation on the importance of reinsurance capital to support new business models and back technology startups. In the process, insurtech startups are looking to disrupt the risk to capital value-chain in insurance by deconstructing and collapsing the value chain and by cutting out primary carriers or brokers, as well as costs, and placing the risk directly with reinsurers, leveraging unused capital. We expect to see increased activity from reinsurers that will likely begin to look at partnering with existing insurers/customers to collaborate on new products and with emerging technologies or by standing up a new brand or greenfield, continuing the deconstruction of the traditional insurance value chain.

Cloud goes mainstream

In 2016, the case for core system platform in the cloud reached the tipping point — from a nice-to-have to a must-have. Its logic has grown as capabilities have improved and cost pressures have increased. Though cost is a consideration and modern functionality is important, rapid industry change is fueling a renaissance in insurance models. The startup insurer or the greenfield insurance concept needs a system solution built for rapid deployment. New products often need new processes, making cloud capabilities a catalyst for creative product development. Nothing can make an insurer feel more cutting edge than moving from idea to rollout in the short timeframes that cloud solutions provide.

Many insurers are taking advantage of the same pay-as-you-use principles as consumers themselves. They are sharing system solutions with cloud-based technology. 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 time, capital, resources and budgets.

Insurers 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. The window of opportunity is open to insurers that wish to prepare their business models, products, processes and systems to embrace the pay-as-you-go culture

This makes cloud a nearly-universal solution, fitting the needs of both startups and traditional insurers with plans for growth and expansion. In 2016, cloud became a mainstream option — an imperative for insurers needing a competitive edge.

Perspectives on the Pace of Change

The world recently lost John Glenn, a famous American astronaut and long-time U.S. senator. Glenn was born in 1921, only 18 years after the Wright Brothers tested flights at Kitty Hawk. He lived to pilot jets, was the first person to orbit the earth in a spacecraft, then later flew on two Space Shuttle missions at the age of 77. His life is a great example of the growing pace of change — in a world that moved from mechanization to digitization.

See also: A Renaissance, or Just Upheaval?  

Yet as much as changed in Glenn’s lifetime, today’s advancements are eclipsing all of them in pace and disruption. The systems that create knowledge through data and analysis are truly powerful forces that will ignite perpetual improvement and a new world of connected living. Insurance, once concerned with risk management on a large scale, will be focused on learning and understanding risk down to an individual policy-level, with a craving for more knowledge as it becomes available. If 2016 proved to be an insurance renaissance fueled by insurtech, it is very likely that 2017 will provide us with an even greater shift in the midst of an industry rebirth.

How much will change?

We have all of 2017 to find out!