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Insurtech: Breaking Down the Walls

The marriage of “insurance” and “technology” — “insurtech” — continues to attract investment among P&C insurers, and startups specializing in insurance technology products are popping up all over. In fact, investment in insurtech reached $853 million in the first quarter of 2017 — a 50% increase over the same period in 2016.

While, to date, most insurtech products have focused on the distribution and sale of insurance, there is great opportunity for new insurtech innovations to offer superior customer service, which translates to loyal customers — the brass ring in a highly commoditized market.

Insurtech enables fast and personalized experience, any time and anywhere

Customers want to know that they will be looked after if any issues arise — even after a policy purchase. This means succeeding at a full range of customer interactions and touchpoints, from addressing customer questions about their bills, to working with a customer during the claims process. Customers expect these interactions to be personalized, fast, efficient and on their own terms. At the same time, insurers are looking to automate some processes, thereby increasing time savings and freeing employees to focus on more complex activities. Altogether, this is why technologies like artificial intelligence and chatbots have found a following in insurance.

See also: Insurtech: An Adventure or a Quest?  

Artificial intelligence, for example, enables personalized customer service from the initial interaction to processing a claim — often without any human interference at all. Artificial intelligence can analyze a customer’s profile and recommend insurance products best-suited for the customer. And, by removing human intervention, the potential for error decreases.

Chatbots, too, are gaining favor for their ability to do things like schedule an appointment or process a payment, any time and anywhere. Whatever a chatbot can’t help with can be elevated to a human, but just eliminating these types of simple tasks from employees’ to-do lists can be a boon to their productivity.

Industry is evolving

To be sure, traditional insurers are embracing insurtech to augment and improve their customer service. Insurtech distributors, too, are realizing the need to evolve and offer more than just great purchase experiences. In personal lines insurance, for example, distributors understand they must provide more than a great buying experience, so they are becoming insurers as a way to better control the customer experience. Metromile, for example, which became an insurer in 2016, recently launched a new automated claims service, which enables a more seamless claims experience. Now, Metromile more easily assesses whether a claim can be quickly processed and paid.

Improving customer service can be daunting, especially for traditional insurers that sell multiple products in various customer segments through a variety of channels. In a highly commoditized market, however, the customer experience is the all-important differentiator. By investing in insurtech innovations, insurers will find they have a leg up on the competition and will reap the rewards of satisfied, loyal customers.

The InsurTech Definition of Insanity

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? The reality behind, and perhaps even the origin of, this statement is the simple fact that change is hard. This is especially true in the antiquated, paper- and process-laden insurance industry, which has resisted any kind of fundamental upgrade for decades.

In the meantime, other industries have raised the bar of consumer expectations to a level where it is now unreasonable for the insurance industry to not respond.

In identifying what is needed to improve self-service opportunities, access, prices, personalized product variations and, in turn, the entire customer experience overall, insurers inadvertently shone a spotlight on the industry’s enormous technology gap. And, having made significant money in fintech, the investment community is driving considerable interest in insurtech.

See also: The Formula for Getting Growth Results  

Insurers are ramping up to take back control from the mentality of the “way it’s always been done” and “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

There are three things that insurers can do to change the insurtech definition of insanity, including evaluating and overhauling processes, establishing a transformation team and doing a little mythbusting.

Reinventing the Wheel

First things first. Take a good hard look at your processes, keeping in mind that, without a change in process, there will be no change in results. It’s time to reject, revamp and reinvent processes that were created as workarounds for things legacy systems can’t and won’t do. The insurance industry has accepted changes already in the last several years that no one could have predicted 10, 15 or 20 years ago. And, the on-demand economy is pushing further changes in product definition – what is billable and in what increments, who owns information, where it should be stored and who should have access. The processes that drove the insurance industry yesterday do not have a carte blanche license for tomorrow. Rubber, meet road.

Empowered AND Accountable

Second, choose the right transformation team. This may be made up of internal insurance domain subject matter experts (SMEs), of IT professionals with a working knowledge of the existing infrastructure and even of external insurtech vendor partners offering expertise with emerging technologies. But be aware that, as important as the makeup of the team is the mandate of the team; the transformation team must be both empowered and accountable for decisions and results. The right people will rise to this challenge instead of shying away from it. The insurance industry must collectively do a better job of creating an innovation environment where failure is a learning experience and not a cause for dismissal.

Shiny Bubbles?

Third, insurers must become futurists, fortune tellers and mythbusters. Sound unlikely? Admittedly, this is probably not going to happen, but in the absence of true foresight (or ownership of a Ouija board), insurers must avoid getting enamored of the next big thing or shiny object. In the past, technology vendors have been criticized heavily for throwing big advertising and marketing dollars behind vaporware, or going to market with half-finished products and using insurer customers as unsuspecting development partners. This trend is no less prevalent in the new insurtech revolution or among startups, as opposed to incumbent insurance technology vendors. Desire to take advantage of the latest technology trend or to jump on the insurtech bandwagon should not outweigh prioritization of technology initiatives with tangible business value, or due diligence to determine if a product is actually present behind the marketing and advertising curtain.

See also: Matching Game for InsurTech, Insurers

Resistance is Futile

Maybe the industry is taking the first step in a recovery program. Insurance has recognized there is a problem to be solved, and, by and large, there is acceptance that “resistance is futile.” Few insurers will maintain that the status quo must stand, technology advances must not be incorporated, products must not be made more flexible and processes must not be changed.

Technology can help the industry meet the demands of modern consumers, attract new talent, protect policyholder data, provide mobile access and on-demand products and relate better to Millennials but only if evaluated and implemented quickly and responsibly, and in conjunction with substantive process change. Those who don’t believe this to be true, and who are insistent on continuing to resist change, are likely to be victims of their own insanity.

What Does Success Look Like?

It seems every press release you read, every case study in the news, every session at industry conferences and every webinar on tap for the next six months will at some point mention the 100% implementation success rate of the vendor involved. That fact, in and of itself, throws serious shade on what really constitutes implementation success and dilutes the impact or validity of the concept as a whole, but should it?

Depending on where a person sits, implementation success can mean different things and may include different elements, technologies or metrics. Implementation success is therefore often qualified by varying criteria that are completely dependent on the role of the individual in the project or the company. To truly guarantee implementation success, all perspectives and perceptions must be considered and incorporated.

For the CEO, it’s all about the big picture. Sure, nearly all CEOs want an increased ability to process new business and grow the company organically, but time and again individuals in this role will focus on these key questions:

  1. Did we implement what we set out to implement?
  2. How will this implementation affect our ability to modify existing products or launch new ones?
  3. Does this implementation support our construction of a future-ready technology environment?

For the CFO, everyone instantly assumes a successful implementation is simply about being on-time and on-budget, and while those factors are definitely important, CFOs additionally want to know:

  1. What is the maintenance and licensing like on this new technology product, and how does it affect our total cost of ownership (TCO)?
  2. Does this implementation make other downstream or supporting systems obsolete, requiring the company to make additional technology investments in the coming year(s)?
  3. Does this implementation allow the company to retire existing legacy systems and recognize cost savings in maintenance and support of these systems?
  4. Is support or the professional services required to implement changes included in the initial contract price, or is it an additional, and continuing, charge?

For the CIO, data conversion is a crucial, yet truly not sexy, part of the package that allows one system to be turned off and the other turned on, so to speak. It is important to understand that while CIOs are often thought to have the most interesting, cutting-edge piece of the insurance technology puzzle, these individuals are not easily distracted by solutions, tools and gadgets that turn out to be little more than bright, shiny objects. Questions CIO typically focus on when measuring implementation success include:

  1. Does my internal team have the expertise today to maintain the new solution, including making simple changes without deep technology programming expertise or the ability to create and implement custom coding?
  2. Will I be able to easily integrate emerging technologies as the need arises?
  3. What is the upgrade path for this solution that will clearly demonstrate my company is not implementing legacy?

Other players, including the company’s heads of claims, underwriting and customer service, are counting on achieving a certain percentage of straight-through processing (STP), decreasing the time from first notice of loss (FNOL) to claim resolution, and still others are rabid about mobile access and self-service capability delivered via a portal. Alternatively, FAIR Plans, for example, are less concerned about growth and bottom line profits, but instead are focused on increasing internal efficiency and delivering a top-quality customer experience. Different strokes for different folks.

So, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the magical middle ground that will make everyone happy likely doesn’t exist. It’s back to the old saying that it’s impossible “to make all of the people happy all of the time.” The trick is knowing which stakeholders’ happiness is on the nice-to-have list and which is on the must-have list. Keep in mind, there are degrees of happiness, and incorporating even small pieces of capability can be important when it means validating stakeholders’ priorities and implying broader ownership across the enterprise.

Ultimately, what composes implementation success is unique to each company and should be well-defined for each company before the start of the project. All projects should have a well-defined set of expected outcomes from both business and technology that need to be achieved to have that project defined as a successful delivery. While budget and schedule can be a part of the objectives, they should not be the primary drivers. A successful implementation is one the delivers the required business and technology outcomes.

When the core system implementation itself is done right, with the right partners and a well-defined set of objectives, it leaves room for peripheral goals to be achieved at the same time with a faster ROI and the ability to get back to the business of insurance.

No More Need for Best-of-Breed Solutions?

Every five years or so, the insurance industry changes course. Hard market, then soft market. Keep the lights on, then innovate. Build, then buy. Outsource, then in-house. Best-of-breed, then suite.

Unlike with most politicians, some measure of this waffling is certainly beyond the control of insurers truly in the thick of it. However, other preferences reflect the uncertainty of markets and economies, the fluctuation of consumer expectations and demands and what some may call downright desperation to stay ahead of the curve.

Technology has long been recognized as an enabler, and it definitely fills that role when planned for strategically and implemented well. As the industry has taken up the challenge of providing faster, better, more personalized service to consumers, the demand for technology to facilitate the necessary processes has increased, as well. Core system modernization has become a top priority for insurers across all lines of business (LOBs). This means analyst firms and consultants are being engaged at a staggering (and expensive) rate to help spec out requirements, develop the request for proposal (RFP) and narrow things down to a very short list.

Interestingly, the biggest question for most insurers is not whether all of the core administration systems need to be replaced, but rather how and when is the best time to do it. Enterprise rip-and-replace projects traditionally come with a big stigma, a heavy dose of fear and bit of skepticism. Can it be pulled off successfully? With advances in technology such as the move toward cloud for deployment, the incorporation of configuration tools that promote insurer self-sufficiency and better implementation methodologies, the dark skies are definitely clearing.

Today’s most modern enterprise suites provide better integration, better capability and better results than niche-focused solutions of the past. While suite components can, by and large, all be implemented individually, pre-integration, reliance on a single data repository, use of a common architecture, an ensured upgrade path and common user interfaces mean these solutions still have a serious competitive edge over standalone systems. But does this really mean there is no more need for best of breed?

Better Integration

Once famous for creating silos and building “kingdoms” within the enterprise, insurance technology has come a long way. Recognition that insurance processes could be completed faster, and with greater assurance of accuracy, if every relevant employee was looking at the same information, insurers are turning to enterprise suites as the solution of choice. The core administration (policy, billing and claims) components of most modern enterprise suites offer increased integration and conveniently draw information for customer service representatives (CSRs), agents and underwriters from a single data or document repository. Further, by building on similar workflows, user interfaces (UIs) and processes, enterprise suites minimize change management issues and decrease downtime needed for training.

Better Capability

It’s pretty common to hear technology vendors talk about how their solutions let insurers concentrate on core competencies, but rarely is this turn of phrase actually applied to technology vendors. Insurance suites of the past typically built out full, robust capability for core administration processes, but only invested in the bare minimum when it came to supporting processes, functions and components. The best enterprise suites available today not only handle, but excel at, providing capability for peripheral processes that support core administration, including reinsurance, underwriting, document/content management, accounting/general ledger, agent/producer and consumer portals. This depth of capability was once only available to insurers through best-of-breed solutions, but now only highly customized situations and processes require such niche-focused systems.

Better Results

Even though everyone suspects it’s a much higher number, best guesses throughout the industry say that insurers replace core administration systems only once every eight to 10 years. That low frequency hardly allows internal IT staff to gain any kind of proficiency in implementation methodologies or change management. The tightly integrated nature of suite components eases implementation challenges measurably, and at the end of the day, once you get into a groove, why get out? By taking advantage of teams already established for one replacement project for another, insurers can lessen business interruption significantly. Plus, using an agile implementation methodology that incorporates iterative releases will eliminate the scope creep and missed expectations inherent to waterfall projects.


Five or 10 years ago, it may have been necessary to buy a best-of-breed technology solution to get capability specific to a certain LOB or process. However, modern enterprise suites, whether implemented together or individually, today offer the same robust capability once offered only by best-of-breed solutions, but with better integration, faster access to critical data, significantly easier upgrades and ultimately, better results.