Tag Archives: SaaS

Zenefits: Disrupting Lives, Not Just the Insurance Industry

I’m sure you are as tired of reading about Zenefits as I am of writing about it, but, as much as I may want to, it’s hard to turn away from a train wreck in progress.

Wendy Keneipp and I have spent more time reading, writing and talking about Zenefits than we care to admit. We have spent time analyzing its model, discussing how to compete against the company and breaking down its impact on the industry. But this past week has had us shaking our heads at its arrogance and recklessness. I would like to promise this will be my last article about Zenefits, but, well….

No doubt you have recently read about Zenefits’ allegedly selling insurance without proper licenses, and we have now learned the company “may have” (according to new CEO David Sacks) taken shortcuts on at least some of the licenses it did have. May have?! At least take real ownership of the failures, Mr. Sacks!

According to several online articles, the shortcut Zenefits “may have” taken involved writing a program called Macro, which made it appear as if individuals were completing the 52 hours of online training required by the state of California to obtain a license when, in fact, they weren’t. According to a BuzzFeed.com article, those wannabe brokers were then required to sign their name, under risk of perjury, certifying they had completed the required training when, in fact, they hadn’t.

The lack of conscience, level of arrogance and number of culpable “leaders” required to execute on something like this is absolutely mind-blowing. It was bad enough when we thought this was simply a misguided company, confused as to whether it was a tech company or an insurance broker, but that possibility pales in comparison with the malicious company it is proving to be.

Zenefits garnered untold positive press for disrupting an industry and for becoming the fastest-growing SaaS (software as a service) company in Silicon Valley history, but now we are learning just how ugly the reality was behind that thin veil of success.

More than disrupting an industry, Zenefits has built an organization that is disrupting people’s lives—and not in a positive way.

Here are the victims:

INVESTORS

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this group because they provided the currency that fueled Zenefits’ reckless behavior; they are clearly part of the problem. It was investors who perpetuated a RIDICULOUS valuation and, in doing so, put untold pressure on the company to grow at a rate that would somehow validate the investors’ irrational exuberance over the Zenefits machine.

But, in addition to fueling the behavior, the investors are also victims; they invested in an illusion. They had every reason to believe their investment would be protected by legitimate (albeit misguided) business practices. It should have been reasonable for investors to assume the growth they were witnessing—and using to substantiate their investment—was being driven in a legal manner. It wasn’t.

We have already seen Fidelity cut the valuation of its investment in half. What will be the final financial toll on other investors once the dust settles? How much of investors’ collective $500,000,000 will be lost?

CLIENTS

Zenefits’ clients are potentially victimized in two ways. The first potential problem they could run into is having policies canceled as a result of having been written by non-licensed brokers. While I’m certain this is a possibility, I think it is unlikely the carriers would want to take that black eye. What is a more certain, yet difficult to measure, victimization is the fact that Zenefits’ clients did not have access to adequate advice and guidance in making policy decisions in the first place.

It would be one thing if Zenefits was simply in the online gaming business (as an example). If it was, the model would be to allow customers to download a free game and then make money by selling additional services/features. Essentially, if the game sucks, oh well. Unfortunately, Zenefits chose to play a much more serious game in a highly regulated industry.

Zenefits’ model infringes on two of the most critical aspects of client’s lives: their financial and medical well-being.

When Zenefits takes this responsibility as carelessly and recklessly as it has, it puts people’s financial lives at risk. Even worse, Zenefits could put people’s (literal) lives at risk. That may sound overly dramatic, but protecting the financial lives of its clients (employers and employees alike) and ensuring clients have coverage in place that provides for the right medical attention at time of need, is at the core of what this industry does, has always done and must continue to do for its clients.

For Zenefits, insurance is merely an afterthought, a means to an end, a way to finance the technology it touts as “free.” The company really should be ashamed for hijacking something so critical to people’s well-being and using it so carelessly.

ADVISERS

This may surprise you, but I also see the young advisers of Zenefits as victims. While I have been more than willing to share my criticism of their inexperience in the past, I believe these are mostly well-intentioned young professionals.

The Zenefits leadership team sold these young men and women on a vision that is simply proving to be an illusion. They were sold on the idea of disrupting an industry, being a part of a “unicorn” organization doing something that hasn’t been done before. Who wouldn’t buy into something like that?

Now, don’t get me wrong; while inexperienced in the business world, these young folks still had a personal responsibility to know right from wrong. They had to know they were cheating when they skirted the 52-hour requirement. And, they had to know the personal risk they were taking when they signed their name claiming to have completed training they hadn’t.

Bad on them for not taking a stand. But, even worse on the leadership team for putting them in that position.

I can hear the arguments against me on this point, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, anytime someone in a position of authority uses their power to coerce and take advantage of a subordinate, there is a level of victimization.

NOW WHAT?

Of course, I don’t know how the rest of this story is going to play out, but I have my suspicions.

I don’t see how David Sacks can be allowed to remain as CEO. He has received great praise for the email he sent to the Zenefits employees, and he is being hailed as the leader who will correct all of what ails Zenefits. Maybe he will be, but I have serious doubts.

The positive media response to his succession scares me. Not that I think Parker Conrad should have remained CEO, but because the change seems to be providing Zenefits a free pass—if not in the eyes of regulators, at least in the public eye.

Outside our industry and Silicon Valley, most people have no idea about how this company has been operating. I guarantee you that Zenefits is about to take its marketing and sales machine to a much higher gear. And there are countless business owners oblivious to the potential danger of a purchase through Zenefits who are awaiting promises of easier HR, shiny user interface and no cost. These business owners need, and deserve, to be protected by the regulators put in place to provide such protection.

In my opinion, Sacks, as the chief operating officer, was as culpable for Zenefits’ failures as anyone. As the executive in charge of all things operational, how could he not have known about the lack of licenses or the fraudulent acts taking place under his nose? And, if he somehow didn’t know, that is simply another kind of failure on his part. How can he be allowed to remain?

I also don’t see how state insurance departments can allow Zenefits to earn another dollar off another insurance policy. The company has left too many victims in its wake, and I believe it is about to go on an even more aggressive hunt for even more “victims.” How can Zenefits be allowed to remain in the insurance business?

It’s time for Zenefits to transform its business model, get out of the insurance business and operate as the technology company it has always been; it’s time for the company to start putting people ahead of growth. After all, done properly, taking care of people first ensures growth will take care of itself. And, if you can’t take care of people and turn a profit, you don’t deserve to be in business.

I’m not holding my breath, however. As a self-described “hyper-growth addict,” Sacks has to manage his addiction with the demands and responsibilities of his new role—a role in which he will have to balance the demands of leading a company in a highly regulated industry (requiring attention to detail and ethical behavior above all else) against the demands of delivering an acceptable return for investors who have entrusted him with $500 million of their money. Early results are not very promising.

Stay tuned. I’m certain there’s more to come.

A version of this article was originally published on Crushing Mediocrity. The article appeared here at Q4intel.com.

Ceded Reinsurance Needs SaaS Model

Ceded reinsurance management is still a technology backwater at insurers that manage their reinsurance policies and claims with spreadsheet software. These manual methods are error-prone, slow and labor-intensive. Regulatory compliance is difficult, and legitimate claims can slip through.

Insurers recognize they need a better solution, and there’s progress. While quite a few insurers have implemented a ceded reinsurance system in the last few years, many more are planning to install their first system sometime soon. They want to have software that lets them manage complex facultative reinsurance and treaties and the corresponding policies and claims efficiently in one place.

Insurers looking to upgrade any kind of system have better choices today than ever about how and where to implement it. While licensing the software and running it on-premises is still an option, virtually every insurer is considering putting new systems on the cloud in some way. Nearly every insurer expects vendors to include a SaaS or hosted option in their RFPs.

That’s not surprising. A 2014 Ovum whitepaper said 52% of insurers it surveyed are currently earmarking 20% to 39% of new IT spending on SAAS, while 21% are spending 40% to 59%.

The definition of SaaS is not set in stone, but let’s try for a basic understanding. SaaS normally means that the insurer pays the vendor a monthly fee that covers everything—the use of the software, maintenance, upgrades and support. The software is hosted more often at a secure cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services that offers a sound service level agreement.

A ceded reinsurance system is an especially good candidate for a SaaS or a hybrid solution (more on that later). It’s an opportunity for insurers and IT professionals to get comfortable with SaaS on a smaller scale before putting a core system such as a policy administration system in the cloud.

SaaS is attractive for several key reasons. One is that it can save money. Instead of paying a large upfront fee for a perpetual software license, the insurer just pays a monthly, all-inclusive “rental” fee. The software vendor and the cloud-hosting vendor provide both the application and underlying software (such as Oracle or WebSphere) and servers. All the insurer needs is a solid Internet connection. And if your building is hit with a flood or earthquake and has to close, business won’t stop, because users can access the system from almost anywhere.

Having the experts run, maintain and upgrade the software is another big advantage. Instead of having internal IT people apply patches and updates, the vendor—which knows its own software better than anyone else—keeps the application going 24/7. Because it is doing the same thing for many customers, there are economies of scale.

Lower upfront costs and the ability to outsource maintenance to experts mean that even small and medium-sized insurers can afford a state-of-the-art system that might be out of reach otherwise. But even big insurers that have the money and funds to buy and staff a system can still find SaaS to be a compelling option. Whether the insurer is big, small or mid-sized, SaaS offers a platform that may never become obsolete.

Additionally, going the SaaS route can get your system up and running faster, as you won’t need to buy hardware and install the system on your servers. How long it will take depends on the amount of customization required and on the data requirements.

Scalability is another plus. When the business grows, the customer can just adjust the monthly fee instead of having to buy more hardware.

A 2014 Gartner survey of organizations in 10 countries said most are deploying SaaS for mission-critical functions. The traditional on-premises software model is expected to shrink from 34% today to 18% by 2017, Gartner said.

While these are powerful advantages, there are some real or at least perceived disadvantages with SaaS. Probably the biggest barrier is willingness to have a third party store data. A ceded system uses nearly all data from the insurance company, sometimes over many underwriting years, and executives must be comfortable that their company’s data is 100% safe when it’s stored elsewhere. That can be a big leap of faith that some companies aren’t ready to make.

A hybrid solution can be a good way around that. More common in Europe, hybrid solutions are starting to catch on in North America. With this model, the software and data reside at the insurer or reinsurer, which also owns the license. The difference is that the vendor connects to the insurer’s environment to monitor, optimize and maintain the system. As with SaaS, the insurer’s IT department has little involvement with continuing operations. All that is work is outsourced.

How much access does the vendor have to the insurer’s data and systems under a hybrid solution? There are various options, depending on the insurer’s comfort level.

What’s the right solution for a ceded reinsurance system to your company? Each company is unique, and the best answer depends on many factors. But whether you go the on-premises route, choose SaaS or use a hybrid solution, you’ll get a modern system that handles reinsurance efficiently and effectively. Your company is going to benefit greatly.

How to Avoid Pitfalls in Insurance Innovation

The words “disruption” and “innovation” are in everyday lexicon surrounding many concepts, products and services. At times, it seems almost impossible to navigate the full range of opportunities for insurance innovation. This makes it extremely difficult to make the right choice to adopt a specific technology or strategy to redefine or reinvent a business.

Certainly, budgets are not limitless, and time is scarce. How do we ensure that we invest in the right technologies at the right time and prioritize the investments in proper order? How do we make sure that the opportunity to adopt a new technology is not being overlooked or unintentionally delayed?

Innovation Teams

Many insurance carriers deployed innovation teams to stay on top of the technological landscape and drive forward-thinking decisions. These teams have done a marvelous job.

Yet, even with these teams in place, most organizations seem to drastically fall behind in adopting the technology early enough to make the most impact. With modern, cloud-based SaaS offerings that can be fielded without internal IT investments, with very little set-up requirements and with lean operations provided by young ventures that drive most of the innovative technologies to the front lines, why do we still find it difficult change?

In a recent article, Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur recognized for customer development methodology that led to the Lean Startup movement, described two of the most common issues with deploying innovations teams to drive organizational change. The first: making it easy for innovation teams to drive the selection of the right business units to field the solutions as soon as possible. The second: ensuring that the organization separates the execution part of the business, which operates an existing business model, from the innovation business unit, which is modifying the existing model or creating one.

Beyond the Innovation Noise

The key to a successful continuous innovation cycle is looking beyond the hype and the related group think about innovations.

Technologies such as big data, analytics and Drones receive a lot of attention. However, getting full value from them is far from simple.

Big data, for example, interprets information with analytics tools. To derive value from it, however, it is important to identify what purpose is to be achieved, what data is important and where to acquire it — before using the analytics. Experts say the most critical, time-consuming and expensive part of adopting big data comes from the effort required to analyze the business and all of the data sources, so the upfront investment is quite high.

The spotlight on drones often seemingly ignores the limitations of the technology. In certain weather conditions, like wind, rain and fog, the control of the drone becomes challenging, and the video quality drops. In addition, use of drones is highly unscalable, as one operator can only control a single drone within the line of sight.

In addition, satellite imagery can be significantly more effective in collecting real-time aerial imagery of an area hit by a storm, if visibility allows. This is a possible threat as real-time satellite technology becomes more affordable to the masses.

Is there a future in drones? Absolutely, but it will take time to perfect this technology, as the industry is still exploring the right fit in the field. This is where looking outside the box provides the clues that prevent falling into a common innovation trap.

Think Outside the Box, Think ROI

Sometimes, looking too closely at a solution creates a commitment to a technology that has a much longer innovation and implementation cycle than expected. Playing with new technology is always fun, and there is value in being recognized as the first to explore new tools for the organization. However, the goal has to be generating a competitive advantage that provides the highest benefits – the best ROI.

Today’s most important technologies are the ones that can be implemented with very low up-front investments in IT support and employee training and the ones that can simplify or even eliminate the largest, most unscalable and expensive operations.

Technologies that deliver enhancements to existing business processes like mobile tools, real-time video communications, litigation document management solutions and field resource planning and dispatch platforms are easier to acquire and evaluate. These technologies are less expensive and cause less conflict with an existing part of the business. At the same time, they deliver substantial tactical improvements in operations and can be quickly deployed within the necessary workflow.

Larger-scope solutions such as claims management, policy management and billing systems typically require a significant modification or a complete replacement of existing systems. Implementation or upgrade of these systems is a high-risk exercise, while the projected ROI is mostly strategic — long-term efficiency, productivity and other future capabilities.

To assess the value of investment in a specific technology, most enterprises have adopted the Lean Startup model, piloting software before full adoption. There is, however, a significant difference between a proof-of-concept and a proof-of-value approach to identifying the right technologies. Proof of concept starts at the business problem and validates a solution using specific technologies, while proof of value begins by looking for a specific solution to a known business problem. The first validates that the technology works; the latter ensures the investment is worthwhile.

For any organization looking to continuously change and innovate, the right approach is in proof of value – being able to quickly assess and adopt solutions with the lowest barriers, fastest implementation and highest returns.

7 Imperatives for Moving Into the Cloud

For property and casualty insurance carriers, growth is hard-fought in an environment of compressed margins, regulatory scrutiny, increased competition and customer expectations for anywhere/anytime service. Add unsteady economic conditions, low interest rates that decrease investment income and catastrophic losses from significant events such as Hurricane Sandy into the mix, and insurers are finding that their tried-and-true business methodologies that worked well pre-2008 are in desperate need of a facelift. Growth is especially challenging for insurance carriers with inflexible legacy technology systems, as well as small and mid-size carriers that lack the resources to make the product and operational changes they need to remain relevant and profitable.

Insurance carriers must navigate an environment that rewards nimbleness and flexibility, but to do so requires that insurers modernize their current systems and processes. Consider the example of bringing a new product to market. At most insurers, the process may take six months or more, with a price tag reaching seven figures. By the time the product is ready to launch, the dynamics in the market have shifted, or perhaps a new regulation has been legislated. The insurer has two equally unappealing choices: Launch the product as is and never realize a return on investment, or delay launch and retool the product, increasing the R&D price tag and losing potential revenue and market share.

There is a better way: Updating legacy systems with flexible and scalable Software as a Service (SaaS) computing capabilities allows P&C insurers to rapidly capitalize on opportunities and support growth. This article presents seven imperatives for the P&C insurance industry based on industry research and analysis, and outlines how a SaaS implementation can address each imperative.

IMPERATIVE 1: INCREASE SPEED-TO-MARKET 

In an Accenture survey of insurance industry professionals, more than seven of 10 (72%) respondents indicated that it takes their organization six months or more to launch a major product. In today’s constantly changing environment, six months is a long time indeed, and it’s likely that the market looks different than when product development began. However, insurers that are able to rapidly offer innovative products and services through multiple channels can take advantage of shifts in the market and exploit the slowness of competitors. Today, “slow and steady” doesn’t win the race.

Compared with legacy system-based product development, which requires coding, scripting and testing, a SaaS infrastructure by design incorporates more nimble and configurable software, significantly reducing development time and eliminating the cost of hiring a vendor or consultant to make coding changes. In addition, SaaS provides rapid provisioning of live and test environments to further increase speed-to-market. Lastly, SaaS requires minimal investment in hardware, software and personnel. Insurers can use a pre-configured infrastructure to reduce development costs by more than 80% over comparable legacy systems, according to Donald Harrell, senior vice president of marine, exploration and production for Liberty International Underwriters. This, in turn, reduces the risk for product launches.

IMPERATIVE 2: QUICKLY RESPOND TO MARKET AND COMPETITIVE CHANGES

Those insurers not able to turn on a dime may be in trouble because so many of their competitors are preparing to invest in technologies and processes that will help them design, underwrite and distribute products and services more quickly. More than 80% of insurance CEOs are planning to increase investment in technology, and more than 60% plan to develop their capacity for innovation. Innovation must continue after product launch, and SaaS allows insurers to retool products as market drivers dictate.

The ability to revamp an existing product is particularly attractive to small or mid-size insurers launching products to a relatively small target market. With SaaS, insurers are able to bring niche products to market that would otherwise not deliver enough ROI to justify the investment. Likewise, if a product is not profitable, an insurer can make changes and quickly reconfigure the product rather than being forced to offer an unprofitable or marginally profitable product because it’s too costly to make changes.

Insurers can also more effectively price products. SaaS is charged on a subscription or consumption basis, so costs are more closely aligned with the revenue being generated by the new product.

IMPERATIVE 3: REDUCE COSTS TO MAINTAIN PROFITABILITY

As the U.S. economy slowly improves, P&C profitability is starting to improve as well. However, there is little cause for celebration. Fitch Ratings warns insurers that the current pricing cycle may be running out of steam, forcing insurers to cut expense levels to maintain profitability. Now is the time for insurers to put in place cost-saving strategies. With a SaaS infrastructure, insurers can innovate and offer new products and services without incurring capital expenses.

Rather than implement an expensive technology infrastructure, SaaS allows insurers to leverage preconfigured infrastructure and reduce IT resource requirements, staffing and professional services fees. In fact, SaaS up-front costs are typically less than 20% of the development costs of legacy systems. SaaS pricing models have also matured, giving insurers access to a variety of bundled and unbundled pricing options.

IMPERATIVE 4: AUTOMATE AND STREAMLINE UNDERWRITING

A survey of insurance professionals by FirstBest Systems found that 82% of respondents believe that their insurer’s underwriters spend less than half of their time actually underwriting, with the majority of underwriter time spent on data collection and administrative tasks. Insurers understand that giving underwriters the automation tools they need to do their jobs effectively is key to improved underwriting, but many believe that the technology is problematic, with 81% citing lack of data integration as limiting underwriting productivity. In contrast to legacy underwriting systems, SaaS allows insurers to easily incorporate rules to automate the underwriting process and increase underwriting ratios and revenues.

SaaS also allows for streamlined data integration as opposed to off-the-shelf packages that often need extensive modification, thus eliminating a major stumbling block to optimal productivity for underwriters.

IMPERATIVE 5: SUPPORT NEW DELIVERY CHANNELS

Mobile technology continues to be top-of-mind for many carriers, with more than 60% planning to add new mobile capabilities for policyholders and agents. Notes Novarica partner Matthew Josefowicz, “As the use of smartphones and especially tablets displaces the use of desktops and laptops in more areas of personal and professional life, support for these platforms is becoming critical to insurers’ abilities to communicate electronically across the value chain.” The problem for carriers is that legacy systems were not designed to run on mobile devices. However, SaaS, with its more modern coding, is able to provide both a better user interface and operational efficiency for smartphones and tablets. SaaS allows insurers to distribute products through a variety of new channels (e.g., banks, car dealerships) that would not be possible with legacy systems.

Creating and recreating websites and portals quickly and inexpensively means that insurers can more readily compete with “disrupters” that use a direct-to-consumer model. Insurers can design multiple portals for different geographies, languages and associations in near-real time. Deloitte reiterates the importance of mobile and other delivery channels for insurers: “No one can afford to take their distribution systems for granted. More insurers are likely to grow bolder in exploring alternative channels to capture greater market share, catering to the needs and preferences of different segments while cutting frictional costs.”

IMPERATIVE 6: COLLABORATE WITH THIRD PARTIES

Insurers are increasingly relying on third parties for a variety of integration services, including regulatory compliance, sophisticated data analysis, geo-location capabilities for risk assessments and risk ratings for more accurate underwriting and risk pricing. Integration between carrier legacy systems and third-party providers is typically problematic because of proprietary file formats and other issues that make it difficult to share data. In contrast, SaaS provides links to existing interfaces for access to third-party databases. Integration reduces costly, error-prone and time-consuming manual intervention.

IMPERATIVE 7: IMPROVE THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

The majority of insurers (91%) believe that future growth depends on providing a special customer experience, according to Accenture’s survey. However, getting the relevant and up-to-date data they need to give customers a personalized experience is a critical challenge for 95% of respondents.

In the same survey, only 50% of insurers say that their carrier leverages data about customer lifestyles to determine the products and services most likely to meet customer expectations; 70% rate themselves as “average” or “weak” in their ability to tailor products and services to customers’ needs. A similar number (64%) give themselves low ratings for their ability to provide innovative products and services. Poor service — or even average service — is no longer acceptable. Consumers are accustomed to personalized experiences such as shopping on Amazon or booking airline tickets on a travel site, and expect a similar type of experience from their insurer.

Thomas Meyer, managing director of Accenture’s insurance practice, says, “To pursue profitable growth, insurers need to achieve the kind of differentiation that allows organizations like Apple to charge a premium while building customer loyalty. As Apple has shown, the answer is consumer-driven innovation that creates an exceptional user experience.” SasS enables insurers to access the data points they require to differentiate their products throughout the customer experience. In a market commoditized by regulations and related factors, insurers that can leverage SaaS to deliver a straightforward, simple process to customers will give themselves a competitive advantage.

 CONCLUSION

In an accelerated market where change is the new constant, P&C insurance carriers cannot afford to continue to do business as usual. Imperatives such as speed-to market, responsiveness to customer demands, new delivery channels, cost reduction and improved underwriting make it necessary for insurers to explore new methods of providing products and services to customers. SaaS, with its flexibility, scalability and low cost, is a technology imperative if carriers hope to grow and remain competitive.

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