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How to Reimagine Insurance With IoT

In our hyper-connected world, it’s no longer just our phones and computers that are connected to the Internet; our homes, our cars and even our own bodies are, too. Voice-activated smart-home systems, wearable fitness trackers and drones are becoming more and more commonplace, showing the profound impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on our everyday lives – and our businesses.

With global spending on IoT devices and services expected to reach $1.7 trillion by 2020, digital disruption is infiltrating every vertical market, including the insurance industry. In the wake of this disturbance, we are seeing a dramatic rise in investments in innovative digital insurance startups, also known as “insurtechs.” Just as “fintechs” are disrupting the financial services industry, insuretechs are challenging traditional broker-based insurance business models. Now, to meet the needs of today’s consumers who expect anytime, anywhere service and support, incumbents are faced with two options: digitally transform their organizations or go out of business.

Driving disruption: Insurtechs and IoT behind the wheel

In 2015, insurtech investments more than tripled, from $700 million to $2.5 billion, as venture capitalists embrace creative, new business models that reimagine insurance by leveraging Internet-enabled devices, self-serve technologies and peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms. For example, Sequoia Capital recently provided U.S. P2P startup Lemonade with $13 million in initial funding to offer consumer insurance based on self-serve technology. In addition, some of the world’s largest insurers, such as Aviva and MetLife, have formed their own, internal venture capital funds to invest in startups that could propel their digitization efforts.

See also: Insurance and the Internet of Things  

Despite these efforts, the insurance industry is actually one of the least-prepared for the changes that IoT, sensors, big data sources and other disruptive technologies will bring. In fact, a 2016 survey showed that only 36% of respondents from insurance companies said that their organization can use insights from new data sources to boost company value. The good news is that insurers seem to understand the impact that digitization will bring, and the speed and scope of the disruption. A BI Intelligence survey reports that 75% of insurance executives expect to feel pressure to innovate from new data sources, such as IoT devices, within three to five years.

Unlocking new capabilities, new markets with IoT

Insurers must embrace insurtechs and consider the many ways that IoT can help them differentiate themselves in a rapidly changing landscape. With IoT, insurance companies can leverage big data analytics to better understand and underwrite risk, improve loss prevention and even predict consumer behavior. In the home insurance realm, security systems, video monitors, smoke detectors and other “connected home” appliances allow carriers to obtain significant data to help mitigate homeowner risk. Or, car insurance carriers can provide users with applications that monitor driving habits, allowing them to predict risks based on the collected data (as well as give users discounts for safe driving records). We even see property insurance companies using drones to quickly and accurately assess damages, and simplify their adjusters’ workflows.

In addition, the visibility into risk allotted by IoT and internet-enabled devices allows insurers to tap into opaque and difficult-to-serve markets, like cyber liability insurance. This is great news for both insurers and clients. Still, fewer than 10% of companies have cyber insurance, and just seven insurers control about 80% of the entire market. Instead of relying on questionnaires and limited data for underwriting cyber risk, insurers can use IoT technologies and in-depth threat analytics to perform more detailed assessments – and gain a bigger slice of the market.

The customer experience is still king

All this talk about digitization, self-serve technology and changing customer expectations raises a huge question: Where does the agent fit? Will customers be more inclined to rely solely on mobile technology and new types of devices to conduct business, and forgo traditional, “face-to-face” interactions? Rest assured, that is not the case. Rather, insurers can use digital transformation as a means to develop more personalized, engaging experiences that strengthen customer relationships and serve as a competitive differentiator.

In many situations, insurers in the midst of digital transformation are employing agent and digital business models. With “agent and digital,” consumers have the best of both worlds – quick, convenient access to information and purchase of products through mobile devices and other channels, as well as one-on-one, real-life service when they need it. Moreover, these technologies allow insurers to obtain a 360-degree of the client and use analytics to evaluate their behavior, anticipate their needs and offer the best products with the right price, at the right time. Plus, insurers can better connect customer journeys across channels, from new customer acquisition to on-boarding, to service, to claims and more.

Mobile tools are especially useful for agents working in the field. They can quickly consult their carriers’ experts for real-time advice on complex transactions, and even directly connect the customer with the carrier to help close deals and resolve issues faster. The result is a happier customer and a more informed, productive agent.

See also: How the ‘Internet of Things’ Affects Strategic Planning  

As we embark on a new year, the heat is on for insurers to digitally transform themselves, or they will undoubtedly fall behind. However, bringing their digital strategies to life involves more than simply investing in insurtechs and acquiring new technological capabilities. Successfully implementing digital transformation requires insurers to effectively align those technologies to their business strategies and scale them across their entire enterprise. In the end, the insurers that do so will find themselves with greater market share and, more importantly, happier, lifelong customers.

The Story Behind the Lemonade Hype

I am a sucker for new stuff. I bet many of you are, as well. If news of the iPhone 7’s release date caused you to immediately organize your camping gear for a week-long sidewalk holiday at your local Apple store, then you know what I am talking about. Beyond our excitement for the next iPhone or Tesla, apparently we also get all giddy for new insurance, as well.

Recently, an insurer named Lemonade has popped up on the scene and has caused quite a ripple. Here are some recent news headlines:

Wow! Give that publicist a raise. That is some quality publicity.

But it was when I saw this headline, “The Sheer Genius of Lemonade – A Whole New Paradigm for Personal Lines Insurance,” on InsNerds that I knew I had to speak out. Next thing I know, my good friend Tony Canas at InsNerds convinced me to write this response.

To start, this article is NOT a criticism of Lemonade or what it is trying to bring to the consumer. Insurance is in desperate need of heart and soul. No, what this article will do is splash some cold water on the hype inferno that appears to have taken over the sane minds of our industry. Allow me to go point-by-point with my issues:

Is Lemonade really peer-to-peer insurance?

Whether it is called peer-to-peer — or fashionably referred to as P2P — Lemonade ain’t it. Lemonade is a standard insurance company. You pay premiums, and the company pays claims from the general pool of funds. There are no peer groups insuring one another. There is no distribution model of peer invitations or referrals. The only “peer” element of the business model is that you will, as a customer, be grouped with others like you for the sole purpose of dispersing any underwriting profits to a charity of the group’s choosing. Now, there is a reason for this, but, seriously, was anything I just described even remotely connotative of peer-to-peer? Want to know what peer-to-peer looks like, see Friendsurance or Guevara.

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Is Lemonade really insurtech?

Sure, Lemonade is an online-only firm. And, yes, you can buy its insurance products through an app on your phone, where a bot named Maya will help you with your coverage selections, but Lemonade is still just an insurance company with a fancy website. I can buy insurance from other insurance companies where I can choose from dealing with a website, walking into an agent’s office or calling an agent over the phone. Lemonade has eliminated two options and given me a sole option that is little different from what I could have had before. And before you start screaming, “But I don’t want to call anyone or drive to any office,” just keep in mind that having options makes the experience better. Insurance is complicated enough that, occasionally, I would like to call someone or walk into an office and scream my head off. I deserve that option!

See also: Could an Incumbent Act Like Lemonade?  

What about the bot and the machine language? Isn’t that technology? It is technology in the sense that there are computer scientists engineering a robot to replace a human. But if the experience is crummier than just dealing with a human, it is a wasted effort.

In an attempt to play fair, I will reverse my position on this one — if it can be shown that the robot can handle the firestorm that comes when the company is hit with its first major natural catastrophe.

But isn’t it awesome that Lemonade’s underwriting profits go to charity?

One of the big marketing ideas coming from Lemonade is the unique feature of aligning the interests of policyholders and the insurer by taking excess profits and donating them to charity in the name of the peer group. Fraud is a big deal in insurance, and most insurers have systems in place to detect and counteract fraud. The charity angle from Lemonade is an attempt to prevent fraud from happening by linking the monetary loss because of fraud not to the big-bad insurer but to a softer, more sympathetic victim. Fundamentally, if you are a Lemonade policyholder and your claim is fraudulent is any way, you are depriving some charity of much-needed funds.

It is an interesting concept, but I don’t believe it will have much of a financial punch. The first drawback is that property insurance — being exposed to natural catastrophes (CAT) — is subjected to infrequent but occasionally massive losses. What appear to be underwriting profits in the quiet years between CATs are really opportunities to strengthen your balance sheet for the inevitable hit. As Lemonade expands to other states, its inability to build surplus because of the charity and the corporate status (see below), will really hamper the company’s business model. Lemonade is now, and will fully be, reliant on reinsurance to back its entire program. That by itself is not terrible, but, with full reliance on reinsurers, the excessive profits that the company thinks it will avail itself of, in reality, just go to the reinsurer. Think about this: If the reinsurer is taking all the risk, why would Berkshire Hathaway or Lloyds of London (two of the reinsuring entities for Lemonade) not want to profit from the transaction? These excess underwriting profits will simply transfer from insurer to reinsurer. My prediction is that the charitable donations will, in most years, be nonexistent or minuscule in comparison with premiums paid.

My second issue with the charity angle is that I don’t think it will bring the alignment of interest that Lemonade expects. One reason is that, if I am correct about the excess profits not materializing, then just the intermittent scheduling of charitable givings makes the whole exercise uninteresting to the insured, in my opinion. If Lemonade can’t provide a significant charitable donation in most years, the alignment will lose its appeal simply because the policyholders won’t be able to hang their hats on it. Perhaps worse, the charity angle may lose effectiveness because Lemonade is also marketing that it pays claims “super fast.”  Super fast claims handling (which, on Lemonade’s website, the company touts as a check in minutes), invites fraud. I think there is a major conflict of the business model. If your marketing message is that you can get a claims check in a few minutes without having an adjuster or claims rep work the claim, then your message is music to those upon whom the charitable message will have no impact. An an insurance buyer and seller, I know that out of super low prices, super fast claims handling and excess profits to charities, I can only choose one of those angles. More than one seems difficult. Getting all three strikes me as impossible.

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A broker by any other name…

Lemonade is a broker by another name. Another of Lemonade’s selling points is that insurers have a conflict of interest because they make money by denying claims. Lemonade purports to have absolved itself of this conflict by not actively acting like an insurer. Here’s how:

Lemonade is actually two companies. It is a risk-bearing insurance company AND a brokerage firm. When you buy a policy from Lemonade, the 20% fee goes immediately to the brokerage firm. The remaining 80% stays with the insurer. The paper on which the insurer is based is a B-corporation, which essentially makes it a non-profit. So it is the brokerage part of the business that is the money maker. That is the entity that secured all that seed-funding. Sequoia Capital knows a thing or two about making sound investments. It doesn’t do non-profits. And once the fee from the premiums the policyholder pays gets swept into the Lemonade’s brokerage company, it will not be used to pay claims, at all… ever. It is income, free of insurance risk. If the insuring entity ever goes insolvent, all the fees will be protected.

There is nothing wrong with this. The model has already been used successfully by other insurers. But, by acting as a broker, Lemonade has shifted its risk from the risk of loss or damage of the client toward that of a trusted adviser that only has one product to sell and gets a 20% commission for selling that one product. What if its product is NOT the best choice for the client? Will Maya the bot steer the buyer elsewhere like a traditional agent would? No. How forcefully will Maya point out all the flaws and gaps of Lemonade’s ISO style homeowners policy? Will Maya give direction to the insured about the flood or earthquake policy the client really should have but can’t buy through Lemonade? Somehow, I can’t match the hype and excitement of seeing a broker selling an average product, even if it’s sold via a robot.

See also: Why I’m Betting on Lemonade  

Lastly, I want to challenge the major premise of Lemonade — that insurers make money by denying claims. As a professional in the business for 20 years, I find that this is the one selling point that Lemonade and its marketing keeps touting that upsets me the most. It upsets me because it isn’t true. In fact, I have seen the opposite. I have seen emails or communications from senior executives to staff adjusters onsite during a natural disaster that flat out instructed adjusters to move quickly, be fair and, if there is any doubt about the damage, settle IN FAVOR of the policyholder. I am not naive enough to believe insurers never play fast or loose with their claims handling, but, by and large, insurers pay their claims. In the property area in which Lemonade competes, those policies it sells are legal contracts. Many a court battle has been fought to word the contract so that claims can be settled quickly and fairly. Lemonade is implying that it will be different; it is almost implying that it won’t deny claims. Are there really claims that insurers have denied (and acknowledged via the court system) that Lemonade would not have denied? I seriously doubt it.

Look, I like new things. You like new things. Lemonade is the new thing on the 300-year-old block. But the shiny new aspects that Lemonade is bringing to the table don’t appear to be worthy of the hype, in my opinion. I give them an “A” for effort in maximizing the hype to drive attention and sales. But insurance is all about the long game. The real key performance indicators (KPIs) are retention, combined ratios and customer satisfaction. Those will take years to sort out. Is Lemonade truly in it for the customer; does it really want to revolutionize the business model; or is the exit strategy already in place?

The world is watching. I hope it succeeds.

Firms Must Redefine Cyber Perimeter

The rising business use of cloud services and mobile devices has opened a Pandora’s box of security exposures.

Software as a service (SaaS) tools such as Salesforce.com, Gmail, Office 365 and Dropbox, as well as social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are all being heavily leveraged by companies to boost productivity and collaboration. This SaaS trend also has opened up a whole new matrix of access points for malicious attackers to get deep inside company networks.

Wall Street recognizes that all organizations will have to acknowledge and make decisions on how to mitigate new business risks introduced by cloud services. And big bets are being placed on new technologies to help companies get a handle on these fresh exposures.

See also: The Need for a Security Mindset

ThirdCertainty recently sat down with David Baker, chief security officer at Okta, a cloud identity management vendor that’s one of dozens of security vendors developing cloud security systems. A $75 million round of private investment last fall pushed Okta’s market valuation to more than a billion dollars, vaulting it into so-called “unicorn” status.

Okta’s backers include a who’s who of venture-capital firms that are placing big bets on cybersecurity plays: Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, Altimeter and Glynn Capital, among others.

Baker talked to us about this particular big bet on cybersecurity tech. The text is edited for clarity and length.

3C: Congratulations on achieving unicorn status.

Baker: Thank you. We have a lot of work to do as a company to continue growing. The problem that we solve is really about enabling companies —  enterprises, as well as small, medium and big companies — to adopt the cloud.

3C: How would you frame the big challenge?

Baker: The problem for companies now is that the things I need to access in the cloud bring a whole host of security concerns. I have users working within my four walls, and they have to authenticate into these applications where I have critical business data. It could be information about my company’s source code, or email or all of the files we share. So what’s needed is a secure way of authenticating users into all of those systems.

It also is a challenge to provision that identity into the downstream applications and, just as importantly, to de-provision users. So when a user eventually is transferred to a different group or is terminated, their access has to be disabled. So it’s about managing that identity and also managing the access of that identity to these cloud services.

3C: Lots of employees set up their own Gmail or Dropbox account to be more productive. It sounds like they shouldn’t be doing that?

Baker: Correct. The security piece is knowing what set of tools you want your employees using, and then making sure you have an authentication mechanism in place to enable them to go securely into those cloud-based applications.

See also: Cyber, Tech Security Start to Merge

3C: The company sets the rules, and its employees should use only the company-sanctioned versions?

Baker: Correct. Users get exactly the version of Dropbox the company wants them to use, not their own personal account. Okta creates a secure connection to that version. The IT administrator can give the employees access to hundreds of apps. Right now, we have connectors to well over 4,000 different applications across the internet.

3C: Seems like we’re extending the traditional network perimeter. It’s not just the on-premises servers and clients that companies have to be concerned with, it’s everything out in the internet cloud that employees might try to use.

Baker: I’ll do you even one better. The perimeter really exists with respect to identity. When I’m sitting at home or in the coffee shop and using my cellphone to get access into an application, I am now the perimeter. So that’s why we like to say, really, identity is the new perimeter.

This article first appeared at Third Certainty.

More stories related to cloud security:
Be selective about what data you store and access from the cloud
Cloud apps routinely expose sensitive data
SOC-2 compliance crucial for keeping data safe in the cloud