Tag Archives: organizational culture

The Future of Underwriting

We recently conducted an industry survey, and 80% of industry executives expect underwriting to be significantly different in the next five years. 94% expect it to be significantly different by the end of the next decade. Essentially, we all agree that it’s changing. The question then becomes, what will different look and feel like? And how ready are we?

I was encouraged by the answers we got. Certainly, industry leaders are aware of the drivers of change and demands that must be satisfied – data, efficiency, profitability, automation. However, words emerged that evoke a different feeling for the underwriting organization of the future – dynamic, creative, innovative, intuitive and evolved. The words paint a picture of change – both the look and the feel that we can all get excited about. The key to effective transformation – bringing those words to life – is to embrace them through an intentional framework of both strategic planning and change readiness. 

When we think about 2030, the next years are full of possibilities. There will be opportunities to rethink and redefine underwriting to achieve organizational goals or corporate digital transformation strategies. But there will also be opportunities to fulfill the company mission internally and externally, satisfy employees and make a difference in the community. These goals can be achieved incrementally, starting wherever you are today. The first step is getting a clear vision of the future state. Paint your own picture, choose your words wisely and start with an outside-in view. Who are your customers, and what do they think, feel and desire? 

Starting from that goal, your organization can work backward to precisely select the digital enablers and strategic initiatives that will optimize your resources to deliver that vision. You’ll redesign the roles and processes in advance to ensure you capitalize on the new technologies to really transform your organization. And you can hire and upskill for them in advance. You will also be able to effectively lead the change by creating cultural readiness and bringing your people with you on the journey. 

See also: AI in Commercial Underwriting

Organizational culture underpins and supports the ability to address all of these critical areas in a cohesive and forward-looking way – so that leaders and team members throughout the organization are both contributing to the ideation and growth continuously and are ready and able to adopt change quickly and regularly. You’ll find your teams are collaborating across silos and developing solutions to customer or business challenges that create wins for all areas. This ideal state could be described as a culture of courage, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It forms an ecosystem that is self-sustaining in terms of both fulfilling the company vision and attracting and retaining the talent necessary to achieve that on a continuing basis. While culture inevitably starts at the very top, employees at all levels are engaged, empowered and contributing their unique and diverse ideas to solve business challenges or make good decisions on an individual basis. This engagement and risk-taking are rewarded, solutions are developed and employees have incentives to perform as they see their contributions clearly aligned with the company vision.

Each organization, using strategic focus and big thinking paired with tangible action steps – the “what” and “how” – can redefine their future and bring it to life. Both the look and the feel of underwriting will change. We believe the best way to get there is to flip the lens and let the business and people lead the effort, updating processes, with all of it enabled by technology. Creating a culture of change readiness and innovation today pays dividends immediately and is the best way to accelerate this journey toward the future.

SMA and Boundless Consulting have written a research paper on this topic and designed a framework to guide organizations on this journey. 

Is Your Organization Open to New Ideas?

Recently, I wrote about innovation and changing the way we acknowledge, nurture and incorporate it into our organizational culture. There are many areas where our industry desperately needs transformation and innovation. Our very survival depends on new ideas.

We at SMA are witnessing remarkable progress — innovation is on a bullet train! — but we have some observations about the opportunities and the obstacles for new ideas. There are high hopes for a boatload of great ideas — creative product offerings, process improvements, better ways to engage the customer, more effective service modes, new approaches to capitalize on maturing and emerging technologies, etc. But the reality is that in many organizations, the innovation path is lined with obstacles that leave potentially success-producing concepts off the table and out of the picture. In many cases, these roadblocks are not intentional — in fact, they are not even apparent to the very leaders who are working hard to stimulate innovation.

Some insurers are open to any and all new ideas — every single one! Any and all innovation ideas are nurtured. In contrast, other insurers have targeted their innovation efforts by assigning teams to look at specific process areas or business lines. A project approach makes it easier to manage and measure but can limit the scope of the vision. Other insurers designate the responsibility for innovation to a department head, frequently IT or a line of business. With this approach, responsibility is assigned, typically with accompanying funding, but it too can be limiting because of unintended gatekeepers and biased priorities.

Innovation requires a nurturing environment, one that encourages people to submit ideas with the confidence that this is a place to explore and experiment – to assess the state of readiness, address potential obstacles, find probable pitfalls and measure the potential for success with the assurance that failure is acceptable. Once an idea is explored, there needs to be a place for it to mature and flourish or a graceful way to table it until timing is right, and in some cases a gentle way to kill it. The ideal is an environment with no gating criteria, no judgment, no politics.

Embracing true transformation and innovation requires a thorough and straightforward examination of the current role innovation is allowed to play within your organization. To discover the roadblocks, begin by asking these five questions:

  • Is there a genuine acceptance that valuable ideas can come from any level within our organization?
  • Are employees empowered to offer suggestions without the fear of embarrassment or possible reprimand?
  • Is there authentic encouragement for an exchange of opinions?
  • Does a pathway for fresh ideas exist?
  • Have we demonstrated administrative as well as executive support for innovation in general?