Tag Archives: start-ups

Why Start-Ups Win on Small Business

As more companies invest in insurtech, we know that the small business insurance market is in the crosshairs of a number of start-ups, because small businesses are underserved and often underinsured. What many have failed to discuss is the impact that serving a small business has on carriers and brokers and how innovation could help these folks, as well.

It is both challenging and costly to manage a small businesses book because serving these smaller, often first-time business owners comes with more questions, more time spent on renewal and more upkeep. Small businesses often do not have someone solely responsible for operations, and, thus, business owners are figuring out insurance on their own, with little time or patience to learn every intricacy of the insurance process.

See also: Start-Ups Set Sights on Small Businesses

However, the small business market makes up $100 billion of the $1 trillion insurance market. While not serving these businesses comes with a cost, serving these businesses poorly perhaps comes with a greater cost — not the least of which could be the loss of trust, if not the loss of a customer for life.

Without the right systems in place, brokers and carriers will continue to feel the burden of serving small businesses, and small business owners will continue to feel confused about their insurance needs.

So the truth that no one is talking about is: Innovation goes beyond helping small businesses; innovation helps everyone, carriers and brokers included.

So, what is the solution?

When many insurance veterans hear the words “start-up,” “innovation” or “change,” they roll their eyes, and they have the right to. After all, many of these folks have dedicated their lives to selling insurance and managing books worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Traditional carriers and brokers have built strong brands and have served billions of businesses, both large and small.

At CoverWallet, we don’t take the expertise of those who have come before us lightly, but we know that finding a better way to acquire, retain and improve lifetime value of small businesses policies in a more cost-effective way is an essential path forward for traditional carriers and brokers. What’s important to understand is that many carriers and larger brokers aren’t well-positioned to take on completely innovating their tech stack, which is where start-ups can fill an unmet need.

Start-ups can innovate and build faster and can focus on a single group, while traditional carriers and brokers have largely been forced to focus on many groups, businesses and sizes of business. Overall, start-ups are better poised to:

  • Acquire customers: Quotes and binds can take a long time, and carriers are more apt to focus on larger accounts. However, start-ups with an online application can serve businesses faster, moving from quote to bind in record time.
  • Service customers: Finding information about insurance online is tough, but with peer comparison tools, informative landing pages and support any way you want it (email, chat, phone) a customer can get questions answered in 1-2-3.
  • Retain customers: Retention of small businesses for traditional carriers and brokers gets tougher and tougher year-over-year as customer expectations grow. Many small business owners will at least shop around for a new quote when renewal time comes up, typically because they are disappointed with the level of customer service they have received. Start-ups focused on small businesses, providing a digital solution, built-in notifications and renewal reminders will likely make customers more comfortable with renewing — again and again.

This is not to say that introduction of start-ups into the insurance world means the end of traditional carriers and brokers. Quite the opposite. While start-ups are better-positioned in some ways, even the most innovative start-ups will need the help and support of traditional carriers and brokers.

See also: InsurTech Boom Is Reshaping Market  

Partnering with a start-up, especially one that focuses on making insurance a digital experience, from the bind to policy management, will no doubt prove valuable for today’s insurers. Doing so will allow carriers and brokers to focus on their largest binds and will reduce the cost of maintaining smaller businesses for the carrier.

Having a strong digital presence and giving customers a way to buy online will be essential to the future of the industry. What is important for all players to understand, from start-ups to brokers to carriers, is that the most successful way forward is together.

Innovation Trends in 2016

For the past few years, the innovation rate in the global insurance industry has run at peak levels, in good part because of digitization, which continues to be a pervasive influence—if not as disruptive as early projections.

Initial expectations of a departure from traditional distribution channels turned out not to be the case. Clients preferred direct, personal contact when buying insurance products. While online channels have not generated major changes—for example, in the vehicle insurance sector in Italy (5% of premiums today are generated online, compared with 1% in 2012) —telematics has had a substantial impact. It represents 15% of all insurance policies today in Italy. (These policies did not exist in 2002.)

Digital transformation is, of course, leaving its mark in four macro areas.

First, consumer expectationsA Bain survey suggests that more than three out of four consumers expect to use a digital channel for insurance interactions.

Second, product flexibility: The traditional Japanese player, Tokio Marine, for example, started offering temporary insurance policies via mobile phone, e.g., travel insurance limited to the dates of travel and personal accident coverage for people playing sports.

Third, ecosystems: They are created when the insurance value proposition depends on collaboration with partners from other sectors. For example, when Mojio sells a dongle (at, say, a supermarket) that requires connection to an open-source platform to be installed in a car, third-party suppliers are able to extract driving data from that platform and create services based on it. Onsurance, for one, offers tailor-made insurance coverage based on the data collected.

Fourth, services: Insurers today are moving away from the traditional approach of covering risks to a more comprehensive insurance plan, which includes additional services.

Connected insurance: a telematics “observatory” to promote excellence 

The fact that the Italian insurance market represents the best of international automotive telematics practices gave rise to the idea of creating an “observatory” to help generate and promote innovation in the insurance sector. Bain, AniaAiba and more than 25 other insurance groups are among its current participants.

The observatory has three main objectives: to represent the cutting edge of global innovation; to offer a strategic vision for major innovation initiatives while reinforcing the Italian excellence paradigm; and to stimulate research and debate concerning emerging insurance issues such as privacy and cyber risk.

The Observatory on Telematics Connected Insurance & Innovation, will focus not only on vehicle insurance (where Italy has the highest penetration and the most advanced approach worldwide), but on additional important insurance markets related to home, health and industrial risk, which, I am convinced, represent the next innovation wave.

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Italy is currently the best practice leader in connected insurance. Italian expertise in vehicle telematics is finding applications in other insurance areas, particularly in home insurance—where Italy is the pioneer—and in the health sector, where we recently launched our first products.

InsurTech on the rise

Another sector that has seen an increased number of investments in 2016 is InsurTech. Until last year, attention focused on many types of financial service start-ups. Today there is significant growth in investments in insurance start-ups: almost $2.5 billion invested in the first nine months of 2015, compared with $0.7 billion in 2014 [according to CB Insight]. Many new firms are entering the sector, bringing innovation to various areas of the insurance value chain. The challenge for traditional insurers will be to identify firms worth investing in, and also to create the means for working with those new players.

The challenge is integration

Ultimately, the main challenge for insurers will be to find ways to integrate the start-ups into their value chains. The integration of user experience and data sources will be key to delivering an efficient value proposition: It is untenable to have dozens of specialized partners with different apps in addition to the insurer’s main policy. It will be necessary to manage the expansion and fragmentation of the new insurance value chain.

To come up with an answer to this problem, start-ups are generating innovative collaborative paradigms. One example is DigitalTech International, which offers companies a white-label platform that integrates various company apps and those of third-party suppliers into a single mobile front end, even as it offers a system for consolidating diverse client ecosystems (domotics, wearables, connected cars) into a single  data repository.

Integrating and managing complex emerging ecosystems will be one of the greatest challenges in dealing with the Internet of Things (IoT) for the insurance industry.

(A version of this article first appeared on Insurance Review.)

What to Expect on Management Liability

Gradually, over the last four-plus years, several management liability insurance (MLI) carriers have shifted their underwriting appetite and guidelines nationally, most dramatically in California. These changes have included some combination of:

·         Increased rates
·         Increased retentions
·         Reductions in coverage
·         Reductions in total limits offered
·         Reductions or removal of wage and hour defense cost sub-limits
·         Non-renewal of insureds based on industry, asset size, financial condition or loss experience.

This is quite a change, as for the previous 10-plus years there has been a surplus of capacity and MLI carriers were eager to write accounts at very attractive rates and terms. While there are still numerous MLI carriers with significant capacity, including some new entrants, the marketplace appears to be reaching a point where this capacity will no longer be use to offer the terms and pricing that we had been accustomed to seeing. This raises the question, “Why?”

Based on our conversations with MLI carriers in this niche, here are a few of the reasons:

·         Poor economic conditions five to seven years, ago leading to a significant spike in the frequency of employment practices liability (EPL) and directors and officers (D&O) related claims

·         Dramatically rising EPL claims expenses (even if a claim is without merit — remember, these policies cover defense costs)

·         Significant and continual increase in the filing of wage and hour claims (wage and hour suits are up 4.7% in the last year and 437% in the last decade)

·         Uptick in D&O claims involving bankruptcy-related allegations, breach of contract, intellectual property, federal agency investigations and judgments, family claims  and restraint of trade

·         The duty-to-defend nature of the policies, forcing carriers to provide a wide expanse of defense coverage for what might be arguably uncovered claims or insureds

What can our current (and new) non-profit and privately held management liability insureds expect as a result of the changes in the marketplace?

Our recommendation is to set expectations as follows:

·         There will be increases in retentions and premiums.

·         Smaller clients will need to absorb bigger percentage increases in premium and retention (as well as possible reductions in coverages), although in many situations the incumbent carrier will still be the best option if the increases are not outrageous.

·         A reasonable degree of competition and capacity will still be available for the larger management liability client. This may help mitigate increases in premium and retention.

·         Increases will be felt by insureds located in major cities (carriers generally still like risks in smaller cities and outside of states such as California, Florida, Illinois, New York and New Jersey).

·         Coverage for the defense of wage and hour claims will be more difficult to obtain and, when available, likely more expensive to purchase and with possibly lower limits or higher retentions.

·         Non-renewals by some carriers, based primarily on class of business or location. Some of these classes of business include:

o    Real estate

o    Healthcare

o    Restaurant/retail

o    Social media

o    Pharmaceuticals

o    Tech/start-ups

·         Carriers are asking for much more underwriting information than they have previously, especially if the insured has challenging financials, the insured is seeking additional funding or the insured has a challenging loss history.

Since 2010, Socius has been advising our clients that the MLI market appeared to be trending toward a hardening, following on the heels of numerous years of softness. As we get deeper into 2015, we continue to believe that this is the case.  The gradual transition that we initially described has, in fact, taken firm hold. We hesitate to pronounce the market as officially “hard” only because we hear rumblings that suggest that market conditions could very well deteriorate further, making what we consider hard today even harder.

For the moment, the watchword to agents and brokers is: “Manage expectations!  Difficult news is coming, so let clients know early – and often.”

8 Make-or-Break Rules for Innovation

In my last posting, I laid out three reasons for why large companies should out-innovate start-ups to capture the disruptive opportunities that are being enabled by a perfect storm of technological innovations. In this post, I offer eight rules for how they can do so.

Based on research on thousands of innovation efforts—both successes and failures—that went into The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups, corporate innovators should apply these rules to help their companies get out of their own way and leverage their assets. By doing so, they can take better advantage of innovation opportunities than start-ups can. The eight rules fall under three general categories that distinguish winners from losers: Thinking Big, Starting Small and Learning Fast.

Successful innovators “think big” by considering the full range of possible futures. They facilitate innovation by daring to pursue “killer apps”—new products and services that might rewrite the rules of a category.

By contrast, failed innovators tend to “think small.” They assume that change will be a slight variant of the present and just look for incrementally faster, better or cheaper innovations.

Here are three rules designed to help you think big:

Rule 1. Context is worth 80 IQ points. As you start to “think big,” you must understand the information-technology environment in which you are operating. Six technological innovations—combining mobile devices, social media, cameras, sensors, the cloud and what we call emergent knowledge—are reshaping both what is possible and the competitive landscape in every information-intensive industry.

Mary Meeker, the noted business analyst, argues that these technologies are putting more than $36 trillion in market value up for “reimagination.” ($36 trillion is the total market value of the 10 industries most vulnerable to change over the next few years.) You must understand all the traditional forces inside your industry and come to grips with these six technological megatrends, both individually and in combination.

Rule 2Embrace your doomsday scenario. Thinking big is not just about bold aspirations; it also requires understanding the starkest threats facing your organization.

One reason to look for doomsday scenarios is that it helps spot vulnerabilities and spark improvements even if doomsday never comes. Another reason is that it helps to build alignment. Getting beyond vague views and developing detailed, shared views of existential threats and how quickly they might arrive can help management teams develop consensus on timing and move forward in unison. But people tend to avoid thinking about truly worst-case scenarios, so this rule is designed to make sure that they do so.

Rule 3. Start with a clean sheet of paper. A markets change, large companies’ strategic assets too often become liabilities. Success brings with it priorities to juggle, budgets to protect, bonuses to maximize, resources to defend, loyalties to reward, egos to stroke. People have all sorts of incentives in big organizations to slow or halt innovation, and many manage to do so.

That’s why it is important to periodically start with a clean sheet of paper and think about key trends and looming inventions, then envision how everything could come together to transform the business—without worrying about what people, capabilities and other assets have to be added or subtracted to become that perfect version of the business.

Start Small

Successful companies “start small”after thinking big. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon for one potentially big idea, they break the idea down into smaller pieces for testing and take the time to make sure that key stakeholders are working in unison.

By contrast, companies that fail in the face of a disruptive technology tend to swing from complacency to panic. Initially, they not only don’t see the opportunities; they can’t accept that they’re in danger. When they finally see the disruption, they panic. They make a last-chance, massive bet on a single idea—only to have it not pan out. Here are three rules that ensure you are starting small:

Rule 4. First, let’s kill all the finance guys. To start small, make sure you don’t settle on financial projections too soon; they can’t be accurate, and they hamstring innovation. By definition, disruptive innovations deal with future scenarios that are hard to read and where the right strategy is not clear; the right strategy has to emerge over time.

This rule, then, is a reminder to take a more iterative approach to understanding the finances of new businesses. A culture has to be established, beginning at the very top of the organization, that says newborns get to crawl and walk and maybe even start preschool before their talents are evaluated.

Rule 5. Get everyone on the same page. While the tendency is to leap into action as soon as a possible killer app is identified, it is crucial to take the time to step back, assess where the organization is and identify possible impediments to change. One challenge is to understand who wins and who loses if the envisioned innovations succeed. If an innovation has to kill the core business to succeed, it won’t be possible to get everyone to embrace it. Those in the existing business will always try to kill rather than be killed. In some cases, you can delay an uprising by being discreet. In other cases, where those not on the same page can’t cripple you, you can be overt and simply pit a new business against the existing one (while protecting the new efforts sufficiently).

Another challenge is to understand the cultural implications of the desired innovation. Many executives believe they can change a culture to suit a strategy, rather than try to make the strategy fit the culture. That route is possible but usually takes longer than most are willing to admit. Sometimes it is better to work with what you’ve got. The key is to understand that there is no silver bullet to managing change. Instead, you must form a cleared-eye view of the particular circumstances that must be addressed and manage accordingly. Remember Nelson Mandela’s admonition, “Lead from the front but don’t leave your base behind.”

Rule 6Build a basket of killer options. Once you are ready to start building killer apps, make sure to invest only small amounts and test a number of possibilities. At the early stages, any fledgling killer app is more likely to fizzle than sizzle. Do not waste a lot of money plunging toward The Answer. What you really want is a finely nuanced understanding of The Question. Do this by employing the discipline associated with financial options. Rather than investing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to build out a full-fledged business, invest in iterative experiments that can be expanded as they prove out, or be set aside if they don’t.

It is important to limit the number of options to a handful. Innovations of transformative potential require CEO attention—which is limited—to make sure the efforts are protected from the organizational antibodies; to make sure they do not take on a life of their own; and, to shepherd them to scale if their potential proves viable. (In most organizations, only the CEO can play this role.) Our experience is that the right number is around three “killer options” and no more than five.

Learn Fast

In addition to thinking big and starting small, successful innovators “learn fast.”They take a scientific approach to innovation. They figure out how to gather comprehensive data and quickly analyze both what’s working and what isn’t. They have the institutional discipline to set aside or alter projects based on that analysis. By contrast, companies that fail have neither the time nor the inclination to learn. They fall into the “it’s all about implementation” trap and end up expertly implementing a failed strategy. Here are two rules to make sure you are learning fast.

Rule 7. A demo is worth a thousand pages of a business plan. Too often, early success or optimism about a big idea quickly transforms it into a conventional business development program: a long march where the only acceptable outcome is to get a product to market. As a result, people do all the analysis they can, however imprecise, and the result becomes The Plan. Some of this is due to habit—planning is what big companies do, and business initiatives can’t typically proceed without detailed business plans and reams of confirming spreadsheets.

Our research revealed the need for less planning and more testing. Rather than prematurely building out the new business, keep prototyping to explore key questions, such as whether the technology will work, whether the product concept will meet customer needs and whether customers will prefer it over the competitive alternatives.

Rule 8. Remember the Devil’s Advocate. Setting up the right process for demos, prototypes and scaling is crucial but only half the battle. The other half is making sure you ask the tough questions during the process and remain open to hearing uncomfortable answers. Devil’s advocates are individuals or groups whose role is to stress test critical assumptions, key forecastsand other make-or-break aspects of a potential killer app. The goal is not to interject an abject naysayer into the decision-making process but rather to drive at the answer that best serves the long-term success of the organization. Nor is the goal to relegate the task of critical thinking to the devil’s advocate. Instead, the devil’s advocate process serves as a safety net, and, because everyone knows that tough questions are forthcoming, they’ll be more likely to confront them.

Done right, a devil’s advocate frames the most important questions that need to be answered before moving to the next stage of commitment. The advocate also guides the process along, making sure that the right amount of uncertainty is reduced at each step and that the possibility of a graceful exit is always preserved.

* * *

Following these eight rules won’t guarantee killer-app-level innovation. Business is a contact sport. Some companies win. Some companies lose. That won’t change.

What following these rules will do, however, is help you overcome the biggest barriers to innovation and turn size into an advantage. You’ll do a far better job of sensing what’s really going on in your market and of putting yourself at the forefront of the powerful trends that are transforming our economy.

3 Reasons Why Big Firms Should (and Can) Out-Innovate Start-Ups

The chief innovation officer of a Fortune 1000 company relocated to a Silicon Valley outpost far from her New York corporate headquarters. She now spends most of her time holding court with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs about stakes in hot start-ups. It is never clear who is courting whom in those meetings, though the general attitude in the Valley is that there is more dumb money than good start-ups. Her goal is not to maximize financial returns on her investments—even a 200% return would not be material to her corporation’s financials. Instead, she is essentially outsourcing her company’s innovation strategy to start-ups.

Do these stories sound familiar?

Like too many of their peers, these smart and savvy veterans were stymied in their efforts to get their companies to innovate. They resigned themselves to a conventional wisdom that has taken root in recent decades: that start-ups are destined to out-innovate big, established businesses. Consider, such pessimists contend, that 227 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list just 10 years ago are no longer on the list.

Based on personal experience with hundreds of large company innovation successes and failures, and research into thousands more, however, I have found that this conventional wisdom just isn’t true. Or, at least, it need not be. Yes, small and agile beats big and slow, but big and agile beats anyone—and that combination is more possible than ever.

There are three reasons why innovators at large companies should be optimistic about their ability to beat start-ups.

1. Start-ups aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Yes, Silicon Valley has the cachet, but Harvard Business School research shows that the failure rate for start-ups runs as high as 95%. Start-ups, as a group, succeed largely because there are so many of them, not because of any special insight.

What’s more, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that entrepreneurs are saddled with most of the risk while financiers capture most of the rewards. Entrepreneurs invest their time, reputations and accumulated expertise for modest salaries and long hours in the hope of gaining huge rewards at “exit,” when the start-up goes public or is acquired. NBER researchers found, however, that start-ups rarely pay off for the entrepreneurs who slave away at them. Of companies that reached an exit (after a median time of 49 months from first venture funding), 68% resulted in no meaningful wealth going into the pockets of the entrepreneurs. These numbers add up to pretty long odds for corporate innovators looking to find greener pastures as an entrepreneur.

The story is not much better for strategic investors chasing start-ups through venture capitalists. Numerous studies, including a 2012 study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a more recent one by Cambridge Associates, show that venture capital has delivered poor returns for more than a decade. VC returns haven’t significantly outperformed the public market since the late 1990s, and, since 1997, less cash has been returned to investors than has been invested in venture capital. Risk and reward have not correlated.

Vinod Khosla, a billionaire venture capitalist and cofounder of Sun Microsystems, tweeted a revealing line from an executive at one of his companies in 2012: “Entrepreneurs really are lousy at predicting the future… VCs are just as bad.”

2. Scale is more valuable than ever.

In the context of today’s immense technology-enabled opportunities, large companies have growth platforms that would take start-ups years to build. Incumbents have products with which to leverage new capabilities such as mobile devices, pervasive networks, the cloud, cameras and sensors. Social media can amplify brand power and customer relationships. Large companies also sit on mountains of market and customer data and are therefore in the best position to extract knowledge from big data.

The possibilities are startling. And tapping into them isn’t optional. A perfect storm of six technological innovations—combining mobile devices, social media, cameras, sensors, the cloud and what we call emergent knowledge—means that more than $36 trillion of stock-market value is up for what some venture capitalists are calling “reimagination” in the near future. That $36 trillion is the total market valuation of public companies in the 10 industries that will be most vulnerable to change over the next few years: financials (including insurance), consumer staples, information technology, energy, consumer goods, health care, industrials, materials, telecom and utilities. Incumbent companies will either do the reimagining and lay claim to the markets of the future or they’ll be reimagined out of existence.

3. The roadmap for leveraging scale while avoiding innovation landmines is clearer than ever.

Since the start of the Internet boom some two decades ago, so many companies have looked to information technology to innovate that there’s now a track record showing what works and what doesn’t. The problems that have stifled innovation in large companies are now known and can be avoided. These problems are not inherent to bigness. 273 companies that were on the Fortune 500 list 10 years ago are still thriving and remain on the list. Compare that 55% success rate against the 90%-plus failure rate of start-ups.

Large companies can out-innovate both existing and start-up competitors by undertaking a systematic innovation process of thinking big, starting small and learning fast. I outlined this roadmap for how to—and how not to—innovate in a recent LinkedIn post. It is also thoroughly annotated in my books Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From The Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups (both written with Paul Carroll).

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I am not arguing that there is no place for entrepreneurship or start-ups. Start-ups as a group will continue to be an economic engine driving innovation, jobs and wealth. But any individual start-up, or even a small portfolio of start-ups, is far from a better bet for corporate veterans seeking better jobs or more successful innovation.

Rather than jumping from the frying pan into the fire, corporate innovators should consider staying put and focus on tearing down the barriers stifling their company’s innovation efforts. Yes, small and agile start-ups look very attractive when viewed from the confines of a big and slow bureaucracy. Big and agile is an even more attractive position.

Do you agree? I’d love to get your thoughts!