Tag Archives: root insurance

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

3 Forces Disrupting Personal Lines

Five years ago, insurance-focused technology conferences were attended mostly by insurance carriers and large consulting firms. Now, I’m amazed and encouraged at both the size of the audiences and the diversity of the audiences – a melting pot of venture firms and eager entrepreneurs, as well as all the traditional industry folk. “Insurtech” is starting to get some serious attention, and for good reason.

There are new funding announcements every couple weeks, new conferences popping up left and right and corporate venture funds now at almost all major carriers. The funding in this space alone has risen from $740 million in 2014 to $2.65 billion in 2015, and as a category insurance tech has seen 50% more deal activity in 2016 year to date than in all of 2015 combined.

As Peter Thiel has said, “Humans are distinguished from other species by our ability to work miracles. We call these miracles technology.” We’ve seen technology revolutionize other industries, and now it’s our time.

Our industry has been here before, and, every time, new companies have emerged while incumbents have suffered. Technology has cycled through the industry many times, each time weeding out the latent and rewarding the agile.

What’s different this time is the pace of change – winners will become losers faster than we’ve ever seen. This time, three forces will significantly affect the personal lines insurance industry: shifts in consumer purchasing behavior, the proliferation of data and the interplay between data and consumers.

The mobile-first era

Technology makes life easier for consumers, and we’ve seen a shift in behaviors because of it (or is it the other way around?). Regardless, as a result of this shift, mobile is the fastest-growing retail channel, and “one click” ordering has become the standard.

See also: Blockchain Technology and Insurance  

Unfortunately, as an industry, we are far behind. The industry standard still touts a 15-minute purchasing experience as a win – on a computer. Despite the inherent value of convenience, the mobile experience is far more tenuous for consumers than other distribution channels across all major competitors. Consumers are asked to enter in form field after form field designed for a desktop, but on a mobile device and with only two thumbs. The result is a digital experience that ranks worse than government services.

We’ve seen this trend before. The internet had a very similar effect on our industry in the late ’90s and early 2000s and continues today. With the exception of Progressive, Geico and USAA, most large carriers still struggle to understand how to compete in an internet-first world. These three companies successfully cornered the market by embracing the internet while the rest of the industry doubled down on the spiraling agent-model.

It’s clear that we’re trending toward the same pattern with mobile. Today, it’s a relatively level playing field. Those who support a mobile-first experience will win big. Those who are late to the game won’t ever catch up.

Open the data floodgate

The rise of mobile means access to new data, and new data is paramount for our industry. A fundamental value that insurance companies provide to the economy is the ability to price and understand risk. Data is essential to this understanding.

As Seth Lloyd of MIT says, humans used to be hunters and gatherers of data. With technology, data is now flying by us every second, and the real challenge is successfully understanding how to capture, sort and use this data.

Smart mathematicians and engineers have already figured this out to a large extent, creating supercomputers able to do machine learning mathematics on large quantities of data, producing insights never before seen. However, despite the accessibility of these improved techniques, most actuarial modeling is still based in classical statistics and generalized linear modeling.

The interactions: data + consumer

These two trends — the customer move to mobile first, and the proliferation of data — are difficult to manage alone. When combined, the interaction becomes disproportionately challenging. This has created an environment where the industry has largely pegged new data collection against consumer experience, rather than executing on both simultaneously.

For example, telematics through OBD II programs have been major efforts of the industry. The reality is these devices are confusing for consumers, the value proposition to them is meager and the process of receiving the device, plugging in the device and returning the device is starkly arduous in contrast to modern consumer purchasing experience expectations.

Smartphones can now do everything an OBD II device can, and, with connected cars, these OBD II devices are completely obsolete. The question is whether carriers will continue to throw good money after bad, or realize the sunk cost of OBD II programs and begin investing in new technologies.

See also: Insurtech: One More Sign of Renaissance  

And it’s not that the industry isn’t spending money on IT – it is. Armies of engineers working on old technologies are provided with hundreds of millions of dollars to attempt to overhaul policy management systems. Billion dollar companies specializing in just fixing policy management systems exist, capitalizing on the inability and incompetence of the industry.

The dawning of insurance tech

The industry has for too long mistreated technology, looking at it as a cost of doing business, rather than an investment in consumer experience and better data management. It is rare, if ever, that you see a seasoned engineer in the C-suite at an insurance company or even on the board. Talented engineers run from the industry. Can you blame them? The agile engineer, eager, stumbles into a lagging and latent system. It’s almost the start of a bad joke.

The result is that all of these implications and their interactions with one another have cost consumers dearly. The purchasing experience is confusing and onerous. The price is unfair, based off the same data as 20 years ago and off out-of-date statistical modeling. Consumers are paying for an inefficient system.

This is clear to the venture community, and clear to many entrepreneurs. The industry has been protected by regulation, capital and complexity. These barriers may have slowed the pace, but, increasingly, we are seeing startups that are not partnering with existing carriers, but becoming carriers. This is the beginning of a new end for car insurance. Technology will continue to create miracles, and these miracles will belong to the consumer.