In 1997, the CEO of a Silicon Valley company told me I should give up on being an insurance broker and look for a new job because I was about to be disintermediated. Technology would let carriers and clients connect directly, and nothing I did could stop the movement of history.
Well, I ignored his advice, and the brokerage part of the insurance supply chain has grown by a factor of 25 in the past two decades.
But many people are now warning again of disintermediation. Was my friend just too early in his prediction? Will the doomsayers be right this time?
In a word, no.
First of all, disintermediation rarely happens as rapidly or completely as the technologists tend to think, with their binary, one-zero, on-off approach to the world. There are actually many more bank tellers today than there were when ATMs were introduced decades ago and were supposed to put tellers out of business. Remember when realtors were going to disappear, as buyers and sellers connected directly? Realtors are thriving. Even travel agents are still around despite the spread of sites like Expedia. There are only about 40% as many as there were two decades ago, but they deliver more value now, because they handle more complex problems or have developed specialties, such as exotic fly-fishing vacations that few have the expertise or confidence to plan on their own.
Insurance is even less likely to face disintermediation than bank tellers, realtors and travel agents because, if you think finding a fishing guide in Alaska is hard, try explaining how a workers’ compensation “experience modification” is factored or how the Affordable Care Act will affect the buying public if the new administration has its way. Even though the rise of comparison sites suggests that policies are easily comparable, they are not. It takes sophistication, based on lengthy experience, to help a client evaluate his or her needs and to sort through all the carriers and policy options to find the right fit. Product, price and relationship all have to fall into the right place at the right time.
Besides, as the founder and chairman of Insurance Thought Leadership, I have a ringside seat on the startups that are providing tools that will make the broker’s role even more important than it is now. In addition to the main site, where nearly 800 thought leaders have published more than 2,500 meaty articles on innovative ideas, we recently launched the Innovator’s Edge, which is tracking the more than 725 insurtech startups. I can say with confidence that the role of the broker will broaden for the foreseeable future.
Here are just some of the companies that will help ensure that all of us brokers have a Happy New Year – and many more to come:
–RiskGenius – This startup, run by Chris Cheatham, uses artificial intelligence to instantly compare and contrast policy coverage and produce a report in layman’s terms. That helps clients see what’s going on. It also helps brokers keep track of changes in policies, making back offices much more efficient — serving clients better, at lower cost.
The RiskGenius solution plays into a trend that seems to be generally missed but that will be profound, in insurance and elsewhere. While some entire jobs will be automated — look at what robots are doing to many manufacturing jobs — the broader effect is that pieces of jobs will be automated. It used to be that every senior executive had a secretary, but as typing, some answering of phones, some scheduling and so forth have disappeared from assistant jobs, the span has become one assistant for every two, four or even larger numbers of executives. The same sort of winnowing of functions will happen with brokers, because of solutions like RiskGenius’. Brokers and brokerages will take on more strategic work as they let go of the more mundane tasks that can be taken on by technology.
–Refer.com, run by Thomas Gay, likewise makes brokers more efficient as we prospect for business. While social marketing and social selling have attracted so much attention, but haven’t panned out, Refer.com scours the internet 24/7 to find topics of interest to prospects and puts them in an email format. The system prompts the broker about the optimal pace at which to send the emails, providing a high-tech, high-touch approach that can build the sort of referral network that brokers crave.
–Agency Revolution, whose CEO is Michael Jans, offers complementary capabilities by automating marketing campaigns — for instance, sending out emails on clients’ birthdays, as policy renewals near, etc.
–Pypestream, which has the good fortune to have ITL advisory board member Donna Peeples as its chief customer officer, can greatly improve customer service for larger brokers. Pypestream’s chatbots mean that customers can text queries to brokers — a means of communication that so many prefer these days — rather than call and wait on hold, negotiate a phone tree or face some other indignity. The chatbots filter through the texts, query any and all back-office systems that have anything to contribute and answer routine questions so fast that Pypestream sometimes has to slow the response so the client isn’t tipped off that it’s really dealing with a computer. Clients are happier, and brokers offload routine questions so they can handle more substantive issues.
–GAPro, where Chet Gladkowski is chief marketing officer and chief information officer, also can make brokers much more efficient by providing what it calls verification as a service. GAPro addresses the huge time sink that is certificates of insurance. These are important, because they let parties to a deal know that other parties are carrying the requisite insurance — but they’re only as good as the paper they’re printed on (or the PDFS that contain them). Just because someone can show he had insurance a month ago doesn’t mean that certificate is still in force today, when the deal is finally coming together. Brokers spend an inordinate amount of time verifying these certificates — but GAPro automates all that, so it’s possible for everyone to know in real time the insurance status of all relevant parties. Again, this means faster and better service for clients.
–GroundSpeed automates loss runs and the processing of claims data, simplifying a complex, painful process and letting clients and brokers see on a dashboard all the claims they’ve made under an insurance policy.
–Risk Advisor, whose founder is Peter Blackmore, helps brokers extend risk management services to small businesses. These services had previously been practical only for larger businesses, because of the expense of the work involving in identifying and mitigating an individual business’ risks. But Risk Advisor has automated the process so much that far smaller companies can enjoy the sort of attention and expertise that big clients have traditionally received. That change pushes brokers in the direction that both they and clients would like to move: The brokers will increasingly help prevent losses rather than coordinate payment after losses occur.
–WeGoLook, whose founder and CEO is Robin Smith, provides arms and legs (and brains) to brokers for any sort of service. Her 30,000 “Lookers” across the U.S. are currently handling tasks such as taking photos and gathering other information after car accidents, but their work is really limited only by our imaginations, because they give us the sort of inexpensive, free-lance workforce that Uber has brought to transportation. How valuable is the sort of service that WeGoLook can provide? Well, Crawford just announced that it was buying 85% of WeGoLook in a deal that puts a $42 million valuation on this young startup.
This list of seven companies is just the start, as a visit to the Innovator’s Edge will show you. So, my bet is that if my Silicon Valley friend and I reconvene in 20 years, we’ll see that the role of the broker has become even more strategic and has moved by leaps and bounds beyond where it is today.
The absence of risk profiling at the point of purchase in most commercial insurance transactions globally leads to uncertainty about how much insurance is appropriate and how to structure coverage. This uncertainty greatly magnifies the extent of under-insurance and or non-insurance, which undermines the value and reputation of the insurance industry and its advisers.
Without the certainty provided by a risk profile, the divergence of interests for insureds and the insurance industry can determine whether clients are under-insured or even not insured at all. The divergent interests include:
Insureds will logically try and keep premium costs down, which often affects the levels of insurance and whether to even insure. This can often result in under-insurance or non-insurance in the event of a claim.
Insurance advisers and underwriters will often encourage higher limits and more coverage to give their clients (insureds) the best protection in the event of a claim, which is their primary purpose.
Digital risk profiling can greatly reduce the extent of under-insurance and non insurance, particularly for higher risks, by providing independent, industry-specific risk exposure, control and benchmarking guidance for insureds and their advisers.
An extract from a sample risk profile (from the RiskAdvisor digital library) is shown below. In this example, the client risk assessment is shown in the light blue for insurable risks and green for business risks. Independent industry and risk area specific risk benchmarks are shown ( in purple) to help provide guidance for clients and their insurance advisers to better assess potential risk exposures for their industry sector, to help reduce the potential for under-insurance or non insurance.
Once a client-specific risk profile is created, then the more intelligent matching of insurance with risk can occur as a result of:
Higher risks being identified in a risk profile, which are usually the ones that are more likely to be considered for insurance. Without the identification of these higher risks and their consequence, under-insurance or non insurance is more likely to occur.
Higher risks that can be insured can be shown as distinct from uninsurable business risk, creating much clarity on under-insurance and non-insurance before any claims.
The inclusion in a risk profile of some form of risk consequence rating assessment creates the opportunity to better quantify the amount of coverage that is required, which again reduces the risk of under-insurance or non-insurance.
With low-cost online digital risk profiling now available for business insurance, there is a wonderful opportunity for the insurance industry and advisers to better match insurance coverages with actual client risk through documented risk profiles, reducing the instances of under-insurance or non-insurance and the potential for negligent advice claims.
Perceptions about conflicts of interest in the insurance industry frequently damage reputations. Profiling clients’ risks before recommending insurance reduces conflict-of-interest perceptions surrounding issues like sales commissions, over-/under-insurance and inappropriate/inadequate insurance. Risk profiling can improve the insurance industry’s reputation, letting insurance professionals:
Engage with clients as trusted risk advisers rather than insurance product sellers.
Demonstrate more intelligent matching of risks and insurance.
Tailor the insurance product to specifically identified risks.
Provide greater clarity on both uninsured and insured risks.
Reduce under- (and non-) insurance through greater focus on higher risks.
Ensure that insurance products are offered for the highest risks and that premiums are spent on areas of highest risk accordingly.
Eliminate perceptions of over-insurance by using risk matching.
The inclusion in risk profiles of independent risk benchmarking for specific industries and multiple risk areas also assists in ameliorating perceptions of conflict of interest. Independent benchmarking provides quantifiable and empirical guidance that is not aligned to an insurance adviser’s commercial self-interest.
Until now, in the absence of conveniently accessible benchmarking, hundreds of thousands of advisers have typically found risk profiling to be a time-consuming manual process. For this reason primarily, the use of risk profiling for commercial insurance buyers globally has been very limited and sporadic.
The Risk Advisor digital risk library of 160,000 exposures and controls and 6,000 benchmarks, for 600 industries and 60 risk areas has been built to make risk profiling easy for insurance advisers and their clients.
Risk profiling can improve insurance adviser reputations, and it can reduce compliance breaches and negligence. All of the outcomes from risk profiling contribute to enhanced reputations and help achieve regulatory compliance. An Economist survey highlighted that these are the greatest areas of concern across many industries, not just the insurance industry.
LRN (lrn.com ), which has E&C (reputation risk) training for more than 25 million employees of organizations globally, does annual surveys that suggest that conflicts of interest are a major area of reputation risk concern across a wide range of predominantly U.S. companies, industries and business sectors, as shown below.
The digital technology era presents a wonderful opportunity for the insurance industry to elevate its reputation, which has heretofore been hurt, often unfairly. The insurance industry pays billions of claims every year, and insurance advisers play an invaluable role in the sustainability of business through risk protection.
As longtime practitioners in the international risk and insurance sector, the Risk Advisor team members are excited about the opportunity for digital risk profiling to support the insurance industry and its dedicated professionals in getting the great reputations they deserve.
This is the second in a series of three articles. The first is here.
With the entire insurance industry at a tipping point, where many of the winners and losers will be determined in the next five to 10 years, it’s important to think through all the key strategic factors that will determine those outcomes. Those factors are what we call STEEP: social, technological, environmental, economic and political.
In this article, we’ll take a look at all five.
Social: The Power of Connections
The shifts in customer expectations present challenges for life insurers, many of which are caught in a product trap in which excessive complexity reduces transparency and increases the need for advisers. This creates higher distribution costs.
A possible solution lies in models that shift the emphasis from life benefits to promoting health, well-being and quality of life. In a foretaste of developments ahead, a large Asian life insurer has shifted its primary mission from insurance to helping people lead healthier lives. This is transforming the way the company engages with its customers. Crucially, it’s also giving a renewed sense of purpose and value to the group’s employees and distributors.
Further developments that could benefit both insurers and customers include knowledge sharing among policyholders. One insurer enables customers to share their health data online to help bring people with similar conditions together and help the company build services for their needs. Similarly, a DNA analysis company provides insights on individual conditions and creates online communities to pool the personal data of consenting contributors to support genetic studies.
A comparable shift in business models can be seen in the development of pay-as-you-drive coverage within the P&C sector. In South Africa, where this model is well advanced, insurers are realizing higher policyholder retention and lower claims costs.
This kind of monitoring is now expanding to home and commercial equipment. These developments are paving the way for a move beyond warranty or property insurance to an all-’round care, repair and protection service. These offerings move the client engagement from an annual transaction to something that’s embedded in their everyday lives. Agents could play an important role in helping to design aggregate protection and servicing.
In banking, we’ve seen rapid growth in peer-to-peer lending; the equivalent in insurance are the affinity groups that are looking to exercise their buying power, pool resources and even self-insure. While most of the schemes cover property, the growth in carpooling could see them play an increasing role within auto insurance.
Technological: Shaping the Organization Around Information Advantage
More than 70% of insurance participants in our 2014 Data and Analytics Survey say that big data or analytics have changed the way they make decisions. But many insurers still lack the vision and organizational integration to make the most of these capabilities. Nearly 40% of the participants in the survey see “limited direct benefit to my kind of role” from this analysis, and more than 30% believe that senior management lacks the necessary skills to make full use of the information.
The latest generation of models is able to analyze personal, social and behavioral data to gauge immediate demands, risk preferences, the impact of life changes and longer-term aspirations. If we look at pension planning, these capabilities can be part of an interactive offering for customers that would enable them to better understand and balance the financial trade-offs between how much they want to live off now and their desired standard of living when they retire. In turn, the capabilities could eliminate product boundaries as digital insights, along with possible agent input, provide the basis for customized solutions that draw together mortgages, life coverage, investment management, pensions, equity release, tax and inheritance planning. Once the plan is up and running, there could be automatic adjustments to changes in income, etc.
Reactive to preventative
The increasing use of sensors and connected devices as part of the Internet of Things offers ever more real-time and predictive data, which has the potential to move underwriting from “what has happened” to “what could happen” and hence more effective preemption of risks and losses. This in turn could open up opportunities for insurers to gravitate from reactive claims payer to preventative risk adviser.
As in many other industries, the next frontier for insurers is to move from predictive to prescriptive analytics (see Figure 2). Prescriptive analysis would help insurers to anticipate not only what will happen, but also when and why, so they are in a better position to prevent or mitigate adverse events. Insurers could also use prescriptive analytics to improve the sales conversion ratio in automated insurance underwriting by continually adjusting price and coverage based on predicted take-up and actual deviations from it. Extensions of these techniques can be used to model the interaction between different risks to better understand why adverse events can occur, and hence how to develop more effective safeguards.
Environmental: Reshaping Catastrophe Risks and Insured Values
Catastrophe losses have soared since the 1970s. While 2014 had the largest number of events over the course of the past 30 years, losses and fatalities were actually below average. Globally, the use of technology, availability of data and ability to locate and respond to disaster in near real-time is helping to manage losses and save lives, though there are predictions that potential economic losses will be 160% higher in 2030 than they were in 1980.
Shifts in global production and supply are leading to a sharp rise in value at risk (VaR) in under-insured territories; the $12 billion of losses from the Thai floods of 2011 exemplify this. A 2013 report by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and PwC concluded that multinationals’ dependencies on unstable international supply chains now pose a systemic risk to “business as usual.”
Environmental measures to mitigate risk
Moves to mitigate catastrophe risks and control losses are increasing. Organizations, governments and UN bodies are working more closely to share information on the impact of disaster risk. Examples include R!SE, a joint UN-PwC initiative, which looks at how to embed disaster risk management into corporate strategy and investment decisions.
Governments also are starting to develop plans and policies for addressing climatic instability, though for the most part policy actions remain unpredictable, inconsistent and reactive.
Developments in risk modeling
A new generation of catastrophe models is ushering in a transformational expansion in both geographical breadth and underwriting applications. Until recently, cat models primarily concentrated on developed market peak zones (such as Florida windstorm). As the unexpectedly high insurance losses from the 2010 Chilean earthquake and the 2011 Thai floods highlight, this narrow focus has failed to take account of the surge in production and asset values in fast-growth SAAAME markets (South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East). The new models cover many of these previously non-modeled zones.
The other big difference for insurers is their newfound ability to plug different analytics into a single platform. This offers the advantages of being able to understand where there may be pockets of untapped capacity or, conversely, hazardous concentrations. The result is much more closely targeted risk selection and pricing.
The challenge is how to build these models into the running of the business. Cat modeling has traditionally been the preserve of a small, specialized team. The new capabilities are supposed to be easier to use and hence open to a much wider array of business, IT and analytical teams. It’s important to determine the kind of talent needed to make best use of these systems, as well as how they will change the way underwriting decisions are made.
Emerging developments include new monitoring and detection systems, which draw on multiple fixed and drone sensors.
Challenges for evaluating and pricing risk
Beyond catastrophe risks are disruptions to asset/insured values resulting from constraints on water, land and other previously under-evaluated risk factors. There are already examples of industrial plants that have had to close because of limited access to water.
Economic: Adapting to a Multipolar World
Struggling to sustain margins
The challenging economic climate has held back discretionary spending on life, annuities and pensions, with the impact being compounded by low interest rates and the resulting difficulties in sustaining competitive returns for policyholders. The keys to sustaining margins are likely to be simple, low-cost, digitally distributed products for the mass market and use of the latest risk analytics to help offer guarantees at competitive prices.
The challenges facing P&C insurers center on low investment returns and a softening market. Opportunities to seek out new customers and boost revenues include strategic alliances. Examples could include affinity groups, manufacturers or major retailers. A further possibility is that one of the telecoms or Internet giants will want a tie-up with an insurer to help it move into the market.
More than 30% of insurance CEOs now see alliances as an opportunity to strengthen innovation. Examples include the partnership between a leading global reinsurer and software group, which aims to provide more advanced cyber risk protection for corporations.
Surprisingly, only 10% of insurance CEOs are looking to partner with start- ups, even though such alliances could provide valuable access to the new ideas and technologies they need.
Growth in SAAAME insurance markets will continue to vary. Slowing growth in some major markets, notably Brazil, could hold back expansion. In others, notably India, we are actually seeing a decline in life, annuity and pension take-up as a result of the curbs on commissions for unit-linked insurance plans (ULIP). Further development in capital markets will be necessary to encourage savers to switch their deposits to insurance products.
As the reliance on agency channels adds to costs, there are valuable opportunities to offer cost- effective digital distribution. Successful models of inclusion include an Indian national health insurance program, which is aimed at poorer households and operates through a public/private partnership. More than 30 million households have taken up the smart cards that provide them with access to hospital treatment.
The already strong growth (10% a year) in micro-insurance is also set to increase, drawing on models developed within micro-credit. The challenge for insurers is the need to make products that are sufficiently affordable and comprehensible to consumers who have little or no familiarity with the concept of insurance.
Rather than waiting for a market-wide alignment of data and pricing, some insurers have moved people onto the ground to build up the necessary data sets, often working in partnership with governments, regional and local development authorities and banks and local business groups.
The urban/rural divide may actually be more relevant to growth opportunities ahead than the emerging/developed market divide. In 1800, barely one in 50 people lived in cities. By 2009, urban dwellers had become a majority of the global population for the first time. Now, every week, 1.5 million people are added to the urban population, the bulk of them in SAAAME markets.
Cities are the main engines of the global economy, with 50% of global GDP generated in the world’s 300 largest metropolitan areas. The result is more wealth to protect. Infrastructure development alone will generate an estimated $68 billion in premium income between now and 2030. Urban citizens will be more likely to be exposed to insurance products and have access to them. Urbanization is also likely to increase purchases of life, annuities and pensions’ products, as people migrating into cities have to make individual provision for the future rather than relying on extended family support.
Yet as the size and number of mega-metropolises grow, so does the concentration of risk. Key areas of exposure go beyond property and catastrophe coverage to include the impact of air pollution and poor water quality and sanitation on health.
A Lloyd’s report comparing the level of insurance penetration and natural catastrophe losses in countries around the world found that 17 fast-growth markets had an annualized insurance deficit of $168 billion, creating threats to sustained economic growth and the ability to recover from disasters.
Political: Harmonization, Standardization and Globalization of the Insurance Market
Government in the tent
At a time when all financial services businesses face considerable scrutiny, strengthening the social mandate through closer alignment with government goals could give insurers greater freedom. Insurers also could be in a stronger position to attract quality talent at a time when many of the brightest candidates are looking for more meaning from their chosen careers.
Government and insurers can join forces in the development of effective retirement and healthcare solutions (although there are risks). Further opportunities include a risk partnership approach to managing exposures that neither insurers nor governments have either the depth of data or financial resources to cover on their own, notably cyber, terrorism and catastrophe risks.
Impact of regulation
Insurers have never had to deal with an all-encompassing set of global prudential regulations comparable to the Basel Accords governing banks. But this is what the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and its sponsors in the G20 now want to see as the baseline requirements for not just the global insurers designated as systemically risky, but also a tier of internationally active insurance groups.
The G20’s focus on insurance regulation highlights the heightened politicization of financial services. Governments want to make sure that taxpayers no longer have to bail out failing financial institutions. The result is an overhaul of capital requirements in many parts of the world and a new basic capital requirement for G-SIIs. The other game-changing development is the emergence of a new breed of cross-state/cross-border regulator, which has been set up to strengthen co-ordination of supervision, crisis management and other key topics. These include the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) and the Federal Insurance Office (FIO) in the U.S.
Dealing with these developments requires a mechanism capable of looking beyond basic operational compliance at how new regulation will affect the strategy and structure of the organization and using this assessment to develop a clear and coherent company-wide response.
Technology will allow risk to be analyzed in real time, and predictive models would enable supervisors to identify and home in on areas in need of intervention. Regulators would also be able to tap into the surge in data and analysis within supervised organizations, creating the foundations for machine-to-machine regulation.
A more unstable world
From the crisis in Ukraine to the rise of ISIS, instability is a fact of life. Pressure on land and water, as well as oil and minerals, is intensifying competition for strategic resources and potentially bringing states into conflict. The ways these disputes are playing out is also impinging on corporations to an ever-greater extent, be this trade sanctions or state-directed cyber-attacks.
Businesses, governments and individuals also need to understand the potential causes of conflict and their ramifications and develop appropriate contingency planning and response. At the very least, insurers should seek to model these threats and bring them into their overall risk evaluations. For some, this will be an important element of their growing role as risk advisers and mitigators. Investment firms are beginning to hire ex-intelligence and military figures as advisers or calling in dedicated political consultancies as part of their strategic planning. More insurers are likely to follow suit.
The final article in this series will look at scenarios that could play out for insurers and will lay out a way to formulate an effective strategy. If you want a copy of the report from which these articles are excerpted, click here.
Since the start of the decade, we’ve encouraged insurers and industry stakeholders to think about “Insurance 2020” as they formulate their strategies and try to turn change into opportunity. Insurance 2020’s central message is that whatever organizations are doing in the short term, they need to be looking at how to keep pace with the sweeping social, technological, environmental, economic and political (STEEP) developments ahead.
Now we’re at the mid-point between 2010 and 2020, and we thought it would be useful to review the developments we’ve seen to date and look ahead to the major trends coming up over the next five years and beyond.
Where are we now?
Insurance is an industry at the tipping point as it grapples with the impact of new technology, new distribution models, changing customer behavior and more exacting local, regional and global regulations. For some businesses, these developments are a potential source of disruption. Those taking part in our latest global CEO survey see more disruption ahead than CEOs in any other commercial sector (see Figure 1), underlining the need for strategic re-evaluation and possible re-orientation. Yet for others, change offers competitive advantage. A telling indication of the mixed mood within the industry is that although nearly 60% of insurance CEOs see more opportunities than three years ago, almost the same proportion (61%) see more threats.
The long-term opportunities for insurers in a world where people are living longer and have more wealth to protect are evident. But the opportunities are also bringing fresh competition, both from within the insurance industry and from a raft of new entrants coming in from outside. The entrants include companies from other financial services sectors, technology giants, healthcare companies, venture capital firms and nimble start-ups.
How are insurers feeling the impact of these developments?
The insurance marketplace is becoming increasingly fragmented, with an aging population at one end of the spectrum and a less loyal and often hard to engage millennial generation at the other. The family structures and ethnic make-up within many markets are also becoming more varied and complex, which has implications for product design, marketing and sales. This splintering customer base and the need to develop relevant and engaging products and solutions present both a challenge and an opportunity for insurers. On the life, annuities and pensions side, insurers could design targeted plans for single parents or shift from living benefits to well-being or quality of life support for younger people. On the property and casualty (P&C) side, insurers could create partnerships with manufacturers and service companies. Insurers could also offer coverage for different lifestyles, offering flexible, pay-as-you-use insurance or providing top-up coverage for people in peer-to-peer insurance plans.
As the nature of the marketplace changes, so do customer expectations. Customers want insurers to offer them the same kind of easy access, show the same understanding of needs and provide the sorts of targeted products that they’ve become accustomed to from online retailers and other highly customer-centric sectors. Digital developments offer part of the answer by enabling insurers to deliver anytime, anywhere convenience, streamline operations and reach untapped segments. Insurers are also using digital developments to enhance customer profiling, develop sales leads, tailor financial solutions to individual needs and, for P&C businesses in particular, improve claims assessment and settlement. Further priorities include the development of a seamless multi-channel experience, which allows customers to engage when and how they want without having to relay the same information with each interaction. Because the margins between customer retention and loss are finer than ever, the challenge for insurers is how to develop the genuinely customer-centric culture, organizational capabilities and decision-making processes needed to keep pace with ever-more-exacting customer expectations.
Most insurers have invested in digital distribution, with some now moving beyond direct digital sales to models that embed products and services in people’s lives (e.g., pay-as-you drive insurance).
A parallel development is the proliferation of new sources of information and analytical techniques, which are beginning to reshape customer targeting, risk underwriting and financial advice. Ever greater access to data doesn’t just increase the speed of servicing and lower costs but also opens the way for ever greater precision, customization and adaptation. As sensors and other digital intelligence become a more pervasive element of the “Internet of Things,” savvy insurers can – and in some instances have – become trusted partners in areas ranging from health and well-being to home and commercial equipment care. Digital technology could extend the reach of life, annuities and pension coverage into largely untapped areas such as younger and lower-income segments.
Availability of both traditional and big data is exploding, with the resulting insights providing a valuable aid to customer-centricity and associated revenue growth. Yet many insurers are still finding it difficult to turn data into actionable insights. The keys to resolving this are as much about culture and organization as the application of technology. Making the most of the information and insight is also likely to require a move away from lengthy business planning to a faster and more flexible, data-led, iterative approach. Insurers would need to launch, test, obtain feedback and respond in a model similar to that used by many of today’s telecom and technology companies.
A combination of big data analytics, sensor technology and the communicating networks that make up the Internet of Things would allow insurers to anticipate risks and customer demands with far greater precision than ever before. The benefits would include not only keener pricing and sharper customer targeting but a decisive shift in insurers’ value model from reactive claims payer to preventative risk advisers.
The emerging game changer is the advance in analytics, from descriptive (what happened) and diagnostic (why it happened) analysis to predictive (what is likely to happen) and prescriptive (determining and ensuring the right outcome). This shift not only would enable insurers to anticipate what will happen and when, but also to respond actively. This offers great possibilities in areas ranging from more resilient supply chains and the elimination of design faults to stronger conversion rates for life insurers and more effective protection against fire and flood within property coverage.
These developments are coming to the fore against the backdrop of enduringly slow economic growth, continued low interest rates and soft P&C premiums within many developed markets. Interest rates will eventually begin to rise, which will cause some level of short-term disruption across the insurance sector, but over time higher interest rates will lead to higher levels of investment income.
On the P&C side, reserve releases have helped to bolster returns in a softening market. But redundant reserves are being depleted, making it harder to sustain reported returns.
The faster growing markets of South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East (SAAAME) offer considerable long-term potential, though insurance penetration in 2013 was still only 2.7% of GDP in emerging markets and the share of global premiums only 17%. Penetration in their advanced counterparts was 8.3%. Rapid urbanization is set to be a key driver of growth within SAAAME markets, increasing the value of assets in need of protection. Urbanization also makes it harder for those from rural areas to call on the support of their extended families and hence increases take-up of life, annuities and pensions coverage. The corollary is the growing concentration of risk within these mega-metropolises.
Disruption and innovation
Many forward-looking insurers are developing new business models in areas ranging from tie-ups between reinsurance and investment management companies to a new generation of health, wealth and retirement solutions. The pace of change can only accelerate in the coming years as innovations become mainstream in areas ranging from wearables, the Internet of Things and automated driver assistance systems (ADAS) to partnerships with technology providers and crowd-sourced models of risk evaluation and transfer.
At the same time, a combination of digitization and new business models is disrupting the insurance marketplace by opening up new routes to market and new ways of engaging with customers. An increasing amount of standardized insurance will move over to mobile and Internet channels. But agents will still have a crucial role in helping businesses and retail customers to make sense of an ever-more-complex set of risks and to understand the trade-offs in managing them. On the life, annuities and pension side, this might include balancing the financial trade-offs between how much they want to live off now and their desired standard of living when they retire. On the P&C side, it would include designing effective aggregate protection for an increasingly broad and valuable array of assets and possessions.
Companies can bring innovations to market much faster and more easily than in the past. These companies include new entrants that are using advanced profiling techniques to target customers and cost-efficient digital distribution to undercut incumbent competitors. It’s too soon to say how successful these new entrants and start-ups will be, but they will undoubtedly provide further impetus to the changes in customer expectations and how insurers compete.
In the next two articles in this series, we look at how all these coalescing developments are likely to play out as we head toward 2020 and beyond and outline the strategic and operational implications for insurers. While we’ve set a nominal date of 2020, fast-moving businesses are already assessing and addressing these developments now as they look to keep pace with customer expectations and sharpen their competitive advantage.
What comes through strongly is the need for reinvention rather just adjustment if insurers want to sustain revenue and competitive relevance. As a result, many insurers will look very different by 2020 and certainly by 2025. As new entrants and new business models begin to change the industry landscape, it’s also important to not only scan for developments within insurance but also maintain a clear view of the challenges and opportunities coming from outside the industry.
For the full report from which this article is excerpted, click here.