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Insurtechs Are Specializing

Money has been pouring into insurtechs, reaching a record of almost $2 billion in Q4 2019. Since 2018, investors have put more than $1 billion per quarter into companies seeking to shake up the industry. Not a single market segment has been untouched.

In 2020, the focus will be on innovating with insurtechs that enable incumbents. One report found that 96% of insurers said that they wanted to collaborate with insurtech firms in some way. Those surveyed favored partnerships and the software as a service (SaaS) approach to developing new solutions. There’s a rapidly growing list of insurer and insurtech partnerships.

See also: An Insurtech Reality Check  

Insurtechs are developing to solve niche problems, and most aren’t aiming to tackle every vertical or every phase of the process. We all know the saying, jack of all trades, master of none. Insurtechs are focused on being the master at very specific parts of the value chain. Allianz has partnered with Flock, an insurtech startup offering pay-per-flight drone insurance; Aviva partnered with Digital Risks in the U.K. to develop insurance for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and State Farm partnered with Cambridge Mobile Telematics to deliver usage-based insurance to drivers in the U.S.

One big driver of these partnerships is the inability of one company to do everything at once. Synergies can be realized when combining complementary skills. In Germany, Generali formed a partnership with Nest to offer homeowners insurance that leverages Nest’s smart home technology. Nest’s technology detects smoke and carbon monoxide and sends alerts to customer’s phones, reducing the risk for the insurer. Nationwide’s partnership with sure.com allows it to sell renters insurance through an app; Nationwide is still handing the underwriting and policy management separately. 

More and more, incumbents are working with several insurtechs that integrate to bring change to every aspect of the industry. 

Insurtechs bring the speed, agility and technological skills that incumbents need.

As Deloitte’s 2020 Insurance Outlook pointed out, “Despite some attempts to upgrade legacy marketing and distribution systems… carriers continue to struggle to drive more effective connections with consumers accustomed to online shopping and self-service.” Trying to bring legacy systems into the current age of digitization simply isn’t working, and, if incumbents try to build in-house, they face a longer time to market and higher costs.

Partnering with an insurtech company allows incumbents to quickly bridge the innovation gap, where technology changes faster than their ability to keep up. The estimated timeframe to develop solutions in-house is around 18 months, whereas you can be up and running in as little as three months if you partner with an insurtech. Moreover, incumbents that partner can respond more quickly to changing customer demands and lessen their risk of losing market share to a competitor. 

See also: How Tech Makes Sector Safer, Smarter  

For their part, insurtechs have realized that seeking to disrupt and replace incumbents can be too costly. To run a successful insurance company, you need significant capital, which is difficult for startups to raise. The insurance industry is also regulation-heavy, making it difficult for newcomers to find a place. Startups struggle to access the complex networks that support insurers. The industry presents too many barriers to independent disruption, but partnership benefits everyone involved.

Insurers are ready to innovate and have the data and distribution networks to support large-scale rollouts. Insurtechs have the technology and the agility to come into a large organization in the midst of change, work with its legacy systems, partner with insurtechs solving other problems in the supply chain and provide immediate value in moving them into the digital world. Both sides of the equation are ready and willing to realize the benefits of working together.

Could an Insurer Be the Next Sears?

The thought of a major insurance company, and its brand, disappearing from the market seems impossible to comprehend and more like the stuff of an attention-grabbing headline. But that’s probably what everyone once thought about Atari, Commodore, Kodak, Nokia, Polaroid, Blockbuster, The Sharper Image, Enron, Blackberry, DeLorean, Radio Shack, Motorola, Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, HMV, Palm, AOL, Compaq, Borders, Circuit City, Pan Am, Netscape, Nortel – and now Sears.

As I was reviewing the NAIC 2018 insurance industry rankings and market share, I could not help but notice that some significant trends were accelerating. In the private passenger auto insurance line of business, Geico has overtaken Allstate to take the #2 spot with a 13% market share and continues to close in on State Farm, whose share has dropped to 17%. In fact, Geico has publicly stated its intention to overtake State Farm soon.

Now this does not mean that State Farm or Allstate is at risk of going out of business anytime soon, but it does underscore the power of market trends that could over the longer term displace carriers that are not paying attention.

Consolidation among top tier insurers is one of the many ways that insurance brands will disappear. According to Deloitte’s 2019 Insurance M&A Outlook report, the aggregate deal value of P&C acquisitions grew by 316% to $34.1 billion in deal value, up from $8.2 billion in 2018. American Family, the 10th largest U.S. auto insurer, recently acquired a number of smaller competitors, including Ameriprise Auto & Home, Main Street America, the General and Homesite. And #13 Kemper recently acquired Infinity. Also, in 2018, #19 Hartford Insurance acquired specialty insurer Navigators.

Just as Amazon’s direct-to-consumer model disrupted brick-and-mortar retailers, insurers that deliver and service consumer products and services digitally and on mobile devices will continue to outpace competitors that operate in a “middleman” distribution model. Auto insurance insurtechs such as Metromile, Root and now others will not displace tier 1 auto insurers but will further erode their customer base, particularly those in indirect distribution models.

See also: Insurance 2030: Scenario Planning  

The Internet of Things, consisting of an estimated 50 billion “always on” sensors in connected cars, property and factories and on people by 2030, is enabling the development of very different on-demand and other types of insurance products that lend themselves to fulfillment by smaller, technology-driven companies, further displacing traditional insurers.

As if these threats were not enough, look for car manufacturers to pile on by leveraging connected cars to exert greater control over the sale and design of auto insurance as well as the collision repair claims process. And the potential nail in the coffin – autonomous (self-driving) cars will shift risk and responsibility from “drivers” to manufacturers and software developers – ultimately eliminating auto insurance as we know it.

Insurance carriers that recognize the implications of all of these trends are already making strategic plans to defend themselves. State Farm is in the midst of a long-term restructuring plan that will see it shed thousands of jobs and consolidate its facilities into three major U.S. operational hubs and in 2015 sold its substantial Canadian business to Desjardins. But eliminating overhead alone will likely not be sufficient.

Others are pursuing strategies to alter product offerings to focus on risk prevention and avoidance, to diversify out of traditional insurance into protection products, alternative transportation and travel services and to develop strategic partnerships with auto manufacturers. Others are restructuring and positioning their companies for eventual acquisition, merger or sale.

See also: Innovation: ‘Where Do We Start?’  

A historical side note: Sears founded Allstate in 1931 and sold its products in the Sears tire and battery department. Allstate was spun off as an independent company and went public in 1993.

Major insurance brands may not disappear any time soon, but their dominance and longevity can no longer be taken for granted.

Blockchain: A Hammer Looking for a Nail?

Netting of subrogation payments, the exchanging of payments between carriers at regular intervals instead of on a claim-by-claim basis, is a concept that has been around since the mid-1990s. It is once again back in the news with the announcement that State Farm is developing its own blockchain solution to net subrogation payments between itself and another unnamed carrier. Some say this is an innovative solution for the use of blockchain for the insurance vertical, but is it really nothing more than a hammer (blockchain) looking for an old nail (payment netting)?

All will agree there is room for vast improvement in reducing friction of the subrogation workflow, including the exchanging of funds. Carriers send thousands of checks to each other on a monthly basis in the settlement of subrogation claims – the same process that has occurred since the beginning of time relative to the subrogation process. It’s expensive, involving the printing of checks, mailing costs and the labor to apply funds by the receiving company. Each payment needs to be broken down and applied in the claims system to the individual lines of coverage for the original claim payment and then balanced out in the accounting platform. In a “netting” scenario, the total value of what two companies owe each other is issued by one payment, but then still has to be reconciled on both an outbound and inbound basis, making sure to reconcile every claim that is affected. Remember, each side of the payment has premium ramifications. Many touchpoints, applications and processing.

No wonder this has been an issue, but why does it still garner so much focus, with the advancement of financial technology and the reduction of check processing fees? Shouldn’t we now be focusing on a more holistic solution for the industry affecting more than just the payment?

In the mid-1990s, banking costs drove the netting conversation as a way to reduce fees, but the industry wasn’t able to come together on how to solve the problem. Competitive pressures, internal constraints and the problem of how to reconcile the carriers’ multiple platforms contributed to the futility of the conversation. Industry organizations even tried to solve the problem but with no success.

9/11 changed forever how the banking industry dealt with checks. The country was brought to a standstill for three days due to air traffic being halted (remember, checks were physically moved between the Federal Reserve branches on a daily basis via planes at that point). One of the outcomes of this national tragedy was the implementation of the Check 21 Act in 2004, allowing the image of the check to have the same “value” as the original check. Financial technology, better known as fintech, was developed to place the imaging process of the check into the hands of the business customer, allowing it to image the payment and send it to the bank. The banking industry gave the insurance carrier a digital scanner so the carrier could do the teller’s job of scanning the payment instead of the bank incurring that cost, but the insurance industry still had to manage the application of funds manually as it did before.

Great move for the banks and yet carriers couldn’t figure out their now 10-year problem of netting even though technology existed to take that scanned copy of the payment and automatically apply it to the claim file via new insurance technology. No changes were required to claim platforms of the paying carrier or how the receiving company had to apply the funds – just a straight automation opportunity with a substantial labor savings. However, the major carriers still pursued the netting solution even though the problems they were originally trying to solve were no longer an issue.

See also: Blockchain: Seizing the Opportunities  

We are now 15 years removed from the introduction of fintech by the banking industry, and the netting conversation remains! Banks allow their business customers to image and deposit their checks through a scanner. Consumers manage their accounts through their mobile devices along with the ability to transfer money to each other through apps such as Venmo or Paypal. Moving money has become extremely inexpensive, with the result for all of us being the reduction in the processing fees. Then why does netting continue to be promoted as a problem that needs to be solved when the costs have dramatically decreased? One does have to wonder.

The industry is working through various use-cases for blockchain, and, yes, you guessed it, the financial transaction of the netting of payments is still being pursued. The original problem of check processing costs is no longer an issue, while the same issues of allocating the information to both claim files remains. Participation remains problematic, but the level of concern increases if a blockchain is being managed by one of your competitors. Who has access to the data? Where is it stored? How can it be used? Does a netting solution created and managed by a carrier create a competitive advantage for that carrier?

If we can get beyond these questions, the bigger issue remains as to why time, money and effort are being used to address a 20-plus-year-old issue that can be handled via existing technologies rather than complicating the process with the additional friction of netting being added to the industry’s expense? Maybe the alternative is to use blockchain to digitally transform the subrogation workflow affecting LAE in dollars rather than cents while also maximizing recoveries.

Our industry will continue to evolve and build on new technologies. Let’s be sure to swing our hammers at nails supporting the future building blocks rather than those 20-year-old rusted out nails.

How AI Is Redefining Insurance Industry

The insurance industry has operated with great consistency and clear processes for many years. People may not always like or agree with how things work, but nearly everyone from the consumer to the provider essentially goes with it — no uprisings to drive change, no big shakeups. That is until recently. Seemingly all of a sudden, artificial intelligence (AI) is infiltrating the insurance industry, which may be a bit scary to those devoted to long-established practices.

In reality, we are witnessing relatively quick developments and sparks of innovation, considering the overall life cycle of the insurance industry. And what AI offers — now and promises to in the future — is anything but scary. It’s actually quite exciting as the industry enters a truly transformative period that will result in greater efficiency, significant cost savings, and far better service and care.

What Constitutes AI

AI has become one of the biggest buzzwords in the tech landscape, so I want to define what it really means, particularly as it pertains to the insurance industry. AI is a computerized system that exhibits behavior that is commonly thought of as requiring human intelligence. Taking this a step further, it essentially translates to machines acquiring a certain level of “human-ness” so that interactions with software become more like interactions with real people. It also mandates that a system has the ability to learn and improve on its own.

Advances in AI come because of a number of factors, but, undoubtedly, consumer-based technologies have led the charge. Voice, machine learning, computer vision and deep learning have been refined in consumer products, services and platforms, but they are now being combined to create really powerful automated solutions for some of the biggest issues organizations face.

See also: 4 Ways Machine Learning Can Help  

Specific to the insurance industry, novel AI-based applications can shift the workforce and advance what companies are able to assess and offer as well as how quickly they can do it. And this is just over the short term. McKinsey predicts that AI “has the potential to live up to its promise of mimicking the perception, reasoning, learning and problem solving of the human mind. In this evolution, insurance will shift from its current state of ‘detect and repair’ to ‘predict and prevent,’ transforming every aspect of the industry in the process.”

The Rise of Insurtech

This may sound a bit abstract and futuristic, but AI advances have already led to a whole new market segment: insurtech. A slew of new companies have popped up, showcasing strong growth by bringing AI and machine learning to market with the industry’s very specific and nuanced needs in mind. For example, Cyence, which was acquired by Guidewire Software, developed a platform to ascertain the financial impact of cyber risk and management of risk portfolios; and Cape Analytics provides a service to property insurers that combines AI and geospatial imagery to analyze property and streamline the underwriting process — and these are just two examples. Other AI-based companies have emerged to reduce costs in claims operations, identify various insurance protection options, and transform mobile and social media marketing for insurance companies.

The insurtech segment is not defined by new players alone. Several incumbents have also dipped their toes into the AI waters to develop innovative applications. State Farm developed Distracted Driver Detection that uses dashboard camera images. Allstate has ABIE, a virtual assistant to help agents with information regarding Allstate’s commercial products, and Progressive now applies machine learning on top of data collected from client drivers through the “Snapshot” mobile app.

What Does It All Mean?

First and foremost, the rise of insurtech indicates that the insurance industry is changing profoundly as it modernizes. The ability to analyze countless data points in mere seconds opens ways to assess and predict that humans simply cannot hope to accomplish. This does not mean that humans are no longer needed in the industry. Quite the contrary. People still possess higher-level thinking skills that machines are not equipped to gain. The capacity to factor in intangibles, to make judgment calls, to see and interpret what lies beyond the screen — these are human skills that will always be in demand.

See also: Key Challenges on AI, Machine Learning 

In this light, AI and machine learning applications should be leveraged to streamline and better inform the decisions that humans must make. When this happens, workers are freed to focus on the facets of their jobs that matter the most. In addition to benefits to workers, organizations experience multiples of improvement in cost savings by increased efficiency, accuracy and better predictions generally. Simultaneously, customer service and patient care improve by providing answers and resources tailored to their specific case in a fraction of the time.

Perhaps the most exciting impact of insurtech, however, will be the new business models that arise. The notion of how we administer care will change, as will the way we construct policies for individuals and companies. Essentially, what has never been possible before is suddenly on the table. The options may appear overwhelming or even threatening to the existing way of life, but AI and insurtech have arrived. The advancements that will occur over the next decade will be extraordinary for all constituents. Pay attention and embrace the innovation long needed in the insurance industry.

Finally, an Insurer Proud of Agents

The debate on insurance innovation has been dominated recently by comments generated as a result of the State Farm TV ad where this insurance giant celebrates the superiority of its thousands of human insurance agents compared with the AI-based chatbots.

Lemonade — a smart U.S. insurtech startup — has credited itself as the target of this ad, because its marketing story is that a chatbot is just as good – if not better – than any human insurance agent. It does appear that Lemonade’s platform does need to learn a bit more about how insurance works, as AIs have regularly paid out more in claims than they’ve collected in premiums.

Many comments on various social platforms have called the commercial, “the worst commercial I’ve seen,” creepy, freaky and hilarious. Many blame the insurance giant for releasing this “attack ad.” Even our friend Chunka Mui has written a well-articulated censure to this ad.

However, we love this ad. We hope this discussion will encourage two calls to action for insurance companies:

  1. Be proud of the way you do business
  2. Master the art of communication.

Be Proud of Your Business Model

Let us start with the first aspect. In the past years, technology arrogance and a sort of politically correct tech-speak have forced the storytelling of the largest insurers around the world to, on one side, shyly hide that real people generate the vast majority of their business and, on the other hand, celebrate any insurtech proof of concept as evidence of their innovation, even when it has an immaterial impact on profit.

It seems insurance companies have felt embarrassed by their agents, brokers and other distribution partners. Most of their innovation efforts have been on solutions that in some way challenge their greatest asset, the human agent and broker.

“The last agent is already born” is a slide title we have seen at industry conferences for the last 10 years, but as of today, all around the globe, the sale of P&C insurance continues to be dominated by agents and brokers (excluding a few exceptions like the retail auto business in the U.K.).

See also: Digital Survival Tools for Agents  

For life insurance, digital distribution accounts for less than 1% of global sales.

It is great news to finally see a large insurer that is very proud of its agents. We love this communication because it is not hypocritical and gives a clear message both to customers and to agents: This is the way (through agents) we do business, and this is the reason why we do it this way.

We are not celebrating or encouraging “old school” thinking. We are firm believers in insurance innovation – and agree with Chunka that chatbot, machine learning and AI use cases are among the technologies that will have the greatest impact on the future of the insurance sector.

However, we are also pragmatic. We want to provide a view about insurtech that is different from the superficial mainstream. We think it is a pity to let the innovation cheerleaders – people raising their pom-poms at any PR released news but are not able to distinguish a loss ratio from a combined ratio – guide the debate about the future of the insurance sector.

The mantra of our activities in the insurance sector around the world is “all the players in the insurance arena will be insurtech,” meaning organizations where technology will prevail as the critical enabler for the achievement of their strategic goals. So, we believe insurtech is much more than digital distribution.

Our view is that insurtech is a superpower for insurers, a terrific enabler for performing the job of insurance in a better way: to assess, to manage and to transfer risks.

The world is full of opportunities for reinventing each step of the insurance value chain through technology and data usage. Moreover, an insurance company has a key opportunity to share these superpowers with its agents, brokers and distribution partners.

Many insurers already understand that not involving their distribution system in corporate innovation is a wasted opportunity, so these carriers have introduced technologies that can enhance the capabilities of their human intermediaries. Instead, we have seen only a few players communicating effectively and consistently to support their agents and brokers. Because of this, carrier innovations are frequently perceived as threats by agents and brokers.

Insurance companies don’t need to create this kind of barrier. Maintaining this conflict only pleases the innovation cheerleaders who not like and want to get rid of intermediaries.

Master the Art of Communication

Let’s move to the second call to action. The insurance sector has always experienced bad press and has never excelled at storytelling. The new generation of insurtech startups are demonstrating the power of a consistent and modern communication strategy. The startup that has started the discussion about this ad is the best example of this communication ability. From our perspective, Lemonade’s two years of case history must be studied in marketing courses at any university. There is a lot for the current industry to learn.

The company has pretended to be the good guys who will be the remedy for a broken business. This home insurance startup has positioned itself as champions of trust. Everyone remembers the company for the fixed percentage of premium it charges – the iconic slice of pizza – while all the rest is used to ensure they will always pay claims, and whatever is left goes to charities.

In today’s age of post-truth, only a few people go deeper, study and try to understand fully. Therefore, that slice of pizza celebrated by insurtech cheerleaders has flown tweet to tweet, article to article, conference to conference. Moreover, consistent and well-orchestrated communication has fed this mechanism.


What does “all the rest is used to ensure they will always pay claims” mean? In the long and wordy FAQs, the startup mentions the necessity to cover “internal reinsurance,” reinsurance costs and other expenses. Therefore, at the end, the maximum amount available for the charity giveback is 40% of premiums.

The terrific 40% giveback happens only in the theoretical scenario where there are zero claims within the peer group. In a scenario with claims at 40% of the premiums (40% loss ratio) or above, the giveback is zero. This means there is a giveback only if the loss ratio is lower than 40%.

See also: Important Perspective for Insurance Agents  

Insurance is a contract where someone promises to indemnify another against loss or damage from an uncertain event as long as a premium is paid to obtain the coverage. On average, the U.S. home insurance business line had a loss ratio of 74% in 2017 (an exceptionally high year; 46% has been the lowest loss ratio in the past five years). This means that 74 cents have been used to indemnify the policyholders for each dollar collected as premium.

In the age of post-truth, the Insurtech startup we talked about pretends to be the good guy that will fix a broken business model because it guarantees to pay – as claims or giveback – at least 40 cents for each dollar collected as premium within each peer group.

It seems clear to us that the insurance incumbents have more arguments for claiming they are the good guys, but they have only to develop consistent and modern communication storytelling.

Following are some suggestions on next steps that insurance companies can take:

  • Be proud of and support your agents, brokers and distribution partners
  • Encourage them to be part of your innovation initiatives
  • Develop a frictionless process to help the people who distribute your products better engage with policyholders
  • Learn how to tell a better story – about your company and your agents and brokers and distribution partners.

What ideas do you have for helping the industry to help agents and broker better protect their clients?