Tag Archives: personal lines

Is Transformation Losing Steam?

Technology adoption in personal lines has been going on for a long time. Because of the early advent of personal auto data standards, technology adoption has been fairly easy (always a relative term). Many insurers have staked their industry competitive advantage on data and analytics – Progressive comes to mind. Others have been early adopters of advanced payment technologies – USAA is a great example. So, is it time for transformational technology adoption to plateau or even dip in the personal lines segment?

SMA has been conducting a survey on this very topic over the past decade. As one would expect, early results showed a good deal of learning and strategizing, with cautious investment. Over time, investment ramped up, as did implementations. But what about current results? Is the hype wearing down conviction?

Without reservation, we can state that adoption is not losing steam. The recently released SMA report Transformational Technologies in P&C Lines: Insurer Progress, Plans and Projections reveals that transformative technology interest and application is strong. In particular:

  • New user interaction (UI) – Chatbot technology and text messaging technology are keeping this area high on everyone’s list.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) – Given all the iterations of AI in the marketplace, the possibilities for adoption are almost limitless, and insurers are definitely keeping initiatives in motion.

Now, I don’t think that anyone reading this blog is stunned that UI and AI are still rolling in personal lines. They both will be for a long time due to the opportunities that keep arising and the strong bottom-line impact. However, the survey does show some noteworthy things – and not for their “rolling along” status.

  • There is a good news/bad news scenario developing in the UI/AI results. Many insurers are putting all their investment eggs into these two baskets and ignoring – or at best shortchanging – other transformational technologies. It is very hard not to run toward one or two areas that are delivering early value. However, insurers need to have an even view of all the transformational technologies that affect customers.
  • The SMA survey asks responders to identify the business areas that transformational technologies will affect. One of the choices is claims. Anyone who has read my recent blog Claims – Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place – No More! will understand that I am a huge fan of claims workers. They have a super-hard job, one that is at the very heart of what insurance companies are all about. The troublesome thing is that survey results show that claims impact was sometimes fairly low in areas where it should not be.

See also: Commercial Lines Embracing Change  

In all, the personal lines transformational technology report covers 11 technologies. It also provides a view of the impact of these technologies on 12 business areas. The trick is keeping the technologies and business impact areas in balance in terms of strategies and investment. Not every insurer will find business value in all 11 technologies; the key to keeping inertia at bay will be making conscious and well-considered decisions.

Foundational Tech for Personal Lines

The personal lines segment of the insurance industry is quite active today, with many initiatives and projects underway across the value chain. For many, the objective goes beyond incremental improvements to positioning the company for fundamental transformation. The many projects planned or in progress fall into three categories: Digital Enablement, Core Transformation and Data/Analytics. A newly published SMA research report, Foundational Technologies in Personal Lines Insurance, details the projects and initiatives underway in 2019 and beyond.

One of the major challenges we observe in personal lines is the struggle to balance the need to establish a modern, competitive foundation with incorporating new technologies to position for the future. Most insurers have very long lists of projects for things like enhancing portals; replacing or upgrading policy, billing or claim systems; and modernizing business intelligence solutions. These are the types of projects that SMA terms “foundational,” precisely because modern solutions in these areas are table stakes for success today. Incorporating innovative solutions from insurtechs and incumbent tech providers that leverage machine learning, the IoT, wearables, virtual payment technologies and more are highly desirable but difficult to build into operational plans. These advanced types of solutions are what SMA calls “transformational technologies” and will be the subject of a SMA research study and report.

See also: Emerging Technology in Personal Lines  

All the excitement and visibility tend to center on the transformational technologies, and there’s no question that there is tremendous potential for innovation that can create competitive advantage. Yet the No. 1 task for insurers today regarding technology is to ensure that the foundational technologies are in place to provide the levels of efficiency and effectiveness needed to compete while establishing a flexible base to build on. This is not to imply that insurers should wait to engage in any activity related to transformational technologies. On the contrary, it is imperative that insurers monitor, learn and experiment with new technologies that are most relevant for their business. Thus, the challenges of finding the right balance!

One other aspect of technology strategy and plans should be explored: the need to implement foundational technology solutions that already have some embedded transformational tech. Policy systems can leverage chatbots and AI. Billing solutions can begin to accommodate more advanced payment methods. Claim systems should already be leveraging solutions that use machine learning for fraud. Many other examples could be cited, as well.

Over time, the various transformational technologies will become foundational as many in the industry begin to incorporate them into their organizations. One by one, the advanced technologies will become table stakes, only to be replaced by a new set of transformational technologies, or at least by new, more sophisticated levels of the existing technologies.

See also: Insurtech and Personal Lines  

There are a wide variety of strategic choices that senior leadership teams must make today. Allocating scarce resources and budget dollars is as difficult as it ever has been, if not more so. However, the successful personal lines insurers in the digital age will be those that find the right blend of technologies of all manner to create flexible, responsive organizations.

For more information, see the SMA research report, Foundational Technologies in Personal Lines: Investment, Adoption, and Business Areas.

Where Will Unicorn of Insurtech Appear?

We are seeing a flurry of advances in the insurtech space, be it product innovations, reimagined service experience or reduced premiums for customers. A question I often get asked is why personal lines in insurance is blazing ahead of commercial lines when it comes to innovation. The easy answer is to just follow the money, specifically the funding trail.

Venture capitalists whose metric for early-stage startups is growth have rushed to personal lines as it is easier to show the volumes. Personal lines insurtech startups have focused on the distribution side of the problem – lowering the premium to increase the volume of transactions. Their lever for this rapid growth is a slick UI and a digital broker; betting on increasing throughput, consequently the adoption. In the subsequent rounds of funding, when the motive of the investors shifts from growth to profit, insurtech companies will realize that distribution is only one part of the equation, and not the core of the problem.

Insurtech companies are amazing, and they all solve a part of the problem. However, to solve systemic problems, companies need to attack improvements in the loss ratio (i.e. the product problem, not the distribution problem). More than the profitability of the insurer, the ripple effect across the insurance industry and other adjacent industries is massive (for example, think of the impact on workplace safety as opposed to underwriting workers’ compensation). So, for systemic industrial change, I think the commercial industry is better-placed than personal, even though it will take longer.

What Does the Anatomy of a Commercial Insurtech Unicorn Look Like?

Like all quick analyses, I look at this in two dimensions:

  • The opportunity
  • The execution needed  to deliver on the opportunity

Both of these point to commercial as a better option.

Opportunity Driven by Sharing Economy

The sharing economy is drastically reducing asset ownership, with car ownership in urban areas the most-cited example. This is a loss for personal auto and a gain for commercial auto (the car is going to be a computer, and cyber risk from the manufacturer will likely become the highest coverage). This trend exists in other areas, including home ownership, renting of equipment, physical storage, cloud computing etc., but it is not talked about as much.

The second shift I see happening is a fundamental change in the product structure from static to dynamic. Across all lines, the change in what you need to know upfront and what you will know throughout the life of the policy will change. The usage-based policy (sort of pioneered in parts in personal auto) will start to become the norm in commercial, despite having only a minuscule footprint currently (remember, these are exponential changes, and the initial doublings are not noticeable – think of the 0.01 megapixel camera becoming a 0.02 megapixel camera).

See also: 3 C’s for Commercial Brokers in 2018  

Executed With IoE and Machine Learning

Let’s have a look at how you can execute on these trends:

First, the current 1.5 to two touch points a year with the carrier become 365 touch points at least. The key touches in this sense are not human touches but data-driven touches. Both the upfront and post-bind data, the certainty and access of data on commercial is better, with access to personal lines data prone to consent due to privacy reasons (at least until DNA sequencers take privacy out of the equation). Meanwhile, in commercial, even if you were to replicate the existing forms (which you should NOT!) you can probably find 50% to 60% of the data — general company, financials, locations and parts of workers’ compensation, commercial auto, general liability and the directors and officers — to be as little as their names and addresses.

However, under a usage-based policy, even knowing 100% of the upfront static data is not enough; it is the dynamic IoE (Internet of Everything) data that shifts the paradigm. These IoE solutions that I talk about have already reached a level of maturity in industries such as mining, manufacturing and construction. They have been deployed in cutting machines, heating/cooling equipment, cranes, thermal cameras, traditional cameras, forklifts, trains and guided vehicles for years. This has enabled a level of sophistication in IoE solutions, which has data from running mission-critical systems (PLCs, data loggers, historians, etc.)

But why would a manufacturer or a construction company give a carrier this data?

Come to think of it, the true financial incentives to increase safety and decrease risk have never existed before! This has to come in to create a win-win scenario between the insured, its employees and the carrier. Despite the commercial insurtech not taking as much premium upfront, it will get to unlock many other opportunities, simply due to the data and touch points it has.

As you may have realized by now, other than driving loss prevention, what a commercial insurtech really does is switch the insurance from someone/something like the insured (“broad risk pools”) to someone exactly you (i.e. “pool of one”). One can argue this can be achieved on the wellness side with device data, but the industrial automation data has been collected and proven across many industries for 20 years now. The wellness data is just starting.

Disintermediation – Stating The Obvious

So far, we have got to the shape of this active, personal commercial insurtech unicorn. However, it would be remiss of me to not briefly talk about its distribution structure.

A traditional carrier spends around 30%-plus of direct written premium (DWP) between expenses and commissions to “touch” an insured 1.5 to two times a year. Now, if you want to be able to continuously “touch” an insured, both the acquisition, retention and renewal structure has to be re-imagined bottom up for it to scale. One thing is for sure that in a world of IoE and machines, “human” intervention is minimal; people simply will not be able to handle the volumes and variety of data. So, there is no chance a commercial insurtech unicorn will be intermediated.

None of this is just gleeful optimism; I will admit to there being regulatory hurdles. Despite having regulatory “sandboxes” setup, it is a massive step up for traditional regulators who are grounded in easy-to-regulate forms and structured data to switch to on-the-fly decisions, price adjustments made by machine learning algorithms and data flowing from the IoE devices. I see the legal and regulatory skills needed to maneuver the commercial insurtech company to being a unicorn to be as big, if not bigger, than the technology and algorithmic skills. This cannot be underestimated. My hope here is that ultimately any regulatory body remembers who they are regulating for: the insured.

See also: New Era of Commercial Insurance  

To Sum It Up

You can see an outline of what a potential commercial insurtech unicorn would look like. Instead of being reactive, impersonal and intermediated, the successful company will likely target loss ratio improvement with active, personal service, powered by a large network of data partners, commercial IoE partners and machine learning partners. To operate at a global scale, this unicorn will have to have low cost per digital touch, and hence it will likely be disintermediated.

There is already a large (and growing) opportunity for an insurtech to target major commercial segments in commercial packages, commercial auto and workers’ compensation. The solution options are massive, but the problem space is even bigger. As a word of caution, it isn’t just about technology here; the ability to carefully guide the company through the many regulatory hurdles is also essential.

I look forward to seeing the first commercial insurtech unicorn. I wonder who it will be?

Insurtech and Personal Lines

Insurtech is one of the hottest topics of conversation in the insurance industry with executives and professionals of all types joining in. The insurtech startup movement began in earnest about three years ago and is still trending up in terms of startups, funding and activity. Early insurer participants were primarily the large Tier 1 insurers, but a new wave of activity is reaching companies in the middle and smaller tiers. SMA tracks insurtechs globally (almost 1,200 now); mentors and advises insurtech firms; and assists insurers with insurtech strategies. Our research and analyses include assessments by line of business and business area.

SMA’s recently released research report, “Insurtech and Personal Lines: Examples, Use Cases, and Implications,”analyzes the current state of the insurtech world for P&C personal lines insurers. There are over 600 startups that SMA has identified as relevant for this industry sector. Despite all the activity and investment in insurtech, the debate continues about its implications. Should insurers view insurtech as a threat or as an opportunity? Will insurtech disrupt the industry, or will the movement fizzle out?

See also: 3 Forces Disrupting Personal Lines  

SMA’s opinion is this: Insurtech is important. It is not going away. It will play a major role in industry transformation, and insurers of every size must have an active strategy (even if it is just a defensive one). Distribution is a hot area for insurtechs in personal lines and is already having an important impact. New capabilities for underwriting, claims and other areas of the business are widespread and have great potential to improve operations, the customer experience, products and the management of risks. It is true that many partnerships and activities are in the early stages, and the impact on business results is minimal in the context of the huge insurance industry. But insurtech has been a major trigger for new insurer strategies and will be an important part of the transformation of insurance over the next five to 10 years.

Regarding demographics, about 65% of the startups are tech companies with solutions for insurers or agents/brokers. The remaining 35% are organized as insurance entities: either insurers, agents/brokers or MGAs. About one in five are focused on distribution, either providing new tech-based capabilities for agents/brokers or as digital agents. The MGA model is increasingly popular among this crowd. Many more insurtechs are built around data, especially the real-time data being generated by connected things.

Perhaps more important than the demographics are the partnerships, investments and projects that are underway. Insurer-insurtech partnerships now number in the hundreds, and the direct investment by insurers is in the billions. The positive business results from projects are encouraging, but the full impact will come in increasing measure over the next few years. Ultimately, we expect the personal lines insurance industry to look quite different in 10 years than they do today, and insurtech will be one of the change agents. From an insurer perspective, insurtech partnerships represent a great opportunity to be leaders in the new era of insurance.

See also: Insurtech Takes Aim at Personal Lines  

Note: This personal lines research report is a companion to a recently released report, Insurtech and Commercial Lines: A Surge of New Activity.

Commercial Lines: Best Is Yet to Come

The personal lines segment of the property and casualty (P&C) industry has been the golden child of late, having exhibited a willingness and apparent propensity for the adoption of new tech. While personal lines may be the first that place new technology has gained a foothold in the insurance industry, it is hardly where the real potential is hiding.

In contrast to personal lines, which has historically been the industry’s “volume game,” commercial lines remains a segment where high degrees of expertise and specialization allow insurers and brokers to carve out very specific and profitable niches in the market, making the definition of the best risks necessarily relative. The specificity of commercial lines business is precisely why these insurers are poised to become the beneficiaries of new tech driving efficiency gains up and down the value chain.

See also: Innovation: ‘Where Do We Start?’  

Right now, insurance companies are entertaining new ideas about what to cover, how to cover it and how to most effectively bring commercial insurance products to policyholders. In an era inundated by new tech, the bests ways for commercial lines insurers to identify, compete for and win the right to write the best risks include investing in solutions and partners that enable better communication, better products and significantly better distribution.

Better Communication

Within commercial lines, there’s a high degree of variation between how things get done depending on the characteristics of the risk (e.g., exposures, premium size, geography, etc.). The universal truth, however, is that there is a big market opportunity for technology to improve communication and collaboration between underwriters, brokers and policyholders. Insurance policies in general, and complex commercial policies in particular, take too long to write, require too much back-and-forth between brokers and underwriters and let too many premium dollars fall through the cracks due to inability to quickly close a customer.

What is perhaps saddest about the current state of affairs is that the breakdown in communication begins at the start of the sales process. A recent survey from Channel Harvest Research revealed that brokers wish insurers would put greater emphasis on what the company is willing to write. Commercial lines agents often invest significant data entry time on applications or key information into an insurer portal only to be declined due to underwriting ineligibility. One could easily equate such a situation to Amazon asking customers to submit an onerous, multi-page order form for something before revealing whether the product is even available.

Despite this kind of situation having been normalized in the insurance industry, it is also an area where new technology is already making a positive impact in typical insurance processes. The essential first step for any commercial insurer to get a look at the best or most desired risks is to clearly articulate the company-specific definition of the best risks. While this may seem almost oxymoronic, commercial insurers must be able to clearly define and communicate niches and specialties, so that business partners and channels know instantly what is within the company’s wheelhouse without wasting underwriting time with ineligible or undesirable risks.

Better Product

It seems safe to assume that no one responsible for the regulatory aspects of insurance product approval or filing has ever been heard saying “Boy, that was easy!” Regulatory complexities, to make matters worse, can be compounded when an insurer attempts to design and bring to market a non-standard product.

New insurtech entrants are doing everything from automating and managing the filing process with the multiplicity of state insurance divisions to providing artificial intelligence (AI) to identify like contract clauses that can be brought to bear when designing product. Because insurance is responsible for producing an astounding amount of legalese, taking collective advantage of it just makes good sense, doesn’t it? Thanks to insurtech, it’s increasingly possible to automate the development of contract language and manage getting it filed with insurance departments with almost Turbo Tax-like efficiency, helping insurers laser-focus on emerging market opportunities instead of on creating more legalese.

Better Distribution

In the age of the internet, too often there’s a rush to judgment that improving distribution means taking a product online or cutting out brokers and going direct. The truth is that better distribution is smarter, more targeted distribution that puts the buying decision in front of the potential policyholder at exactly the moment insurance is needed for something (and often this requires a broker, especially as you move up market).

See also: Insurtech Is Ignoring 2/3 of Opportunity

Some commercial insurers are finally starting to realize the thinking that every match must be a “home game,” and that distribution and underwriting (the sales process) must happen on a company website or portal, is hopelessly outmoded. Insurers today are delivering APIs to distribution partners, thereby empowering partners to create a native rate/quote/bind experience specific to the channel. Why can’t workers’ comp be sold directly in a payroll app? Why can’t a liability policy be issued directly from drone controller software? Why can’t a policy be endorsed at the time new equipment is procured? Why can’t a cyber policy be issued commensurate with the sign-up for AWS or GCP or Azure? There’s easily as much opportunity, if not more, to sell insurance at the point-of-sale (PoS) in commercial lines as the personal segment. By identifying the right buying trigger, insurers can tap into a supply line of the best risks.


At the end of the day, the definition of the “best” risks varies from one commercial lines insurance company to another, but ultimately, the best risks are those each company individually determines are a good fit for the company strategically. Figure out what best means to your company, clearly articulate your definition of best to the world, tailor product to cover the niche and sell the heck out of it.