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New Entrants Flood Into Insurance

New entrants seem to be coming out of the woodwork in insurance. The insurtech movement, the advance of emerging technologies and the appetite of the global tech titans are all contributing to new entrants, new partnerships and new business models. A few recent examples illustrate the new interest in insurance from those both inside and outside of the insurance industry.

  • WeWork partners with Lemonade. In what seems like a very natural partnership, WeWork plans to offer its WeLive members renters’ insurance through Lemonade. WeLive members rent fully furnished apartments from WeWork for short-term situations.
  • Credit Karma enters insurance. This fintech intends to build on customer relationships to expand into auto insurance. While the initial focus will be education – helping Credit Karma customers understand how credit and adverse driving affects insurance rates – the longer-term goal is to provide yet another shopping/comparison site.
  • BMW and Swiss Re partner for ADAS scores. BMW Group and Swiss Re will collect telematics data from vehicles related to the use of ADAS (Automated Driver Assistance Systems) and build scores that can be used by primary insurance companies.
  • Lending Tree buys QuoteWizard for $370 million. Fintech Lending Tree, which has been on a buying spree, moves into insurance with the acquisition of insurance comparison shopping site QuoteWizard.
  • Travelers partners with Amazon for the smart home. Travelers will set up a digital storefront on Amazon featuring smart home devices for a discount (especially security-related devices) as well as discounts on homeowners’ insurance.
  • JetBlue invests in insurtech Slice. This appears to be a pure investment play, but it is still interesting that an airline would be following insurtech and seeking investment opportunities.

Something is going on here. It is not as if there have never been new entrants or that companies from other industries have ignored insurance. But the flurry of activity and innovative partnerships, investments and market approaches may represent a bigger trend. Insurance is transforming, and, despite some of the doom and gloom warnings, a case can be made that there is more opportunity than ever for the industry. Even in the examples provided above, the emphasis is more on new opportunities than displacing incumbent insurance players. Indeed, in the Swiss Re and Travelers cases, the incumbents are part of the new partnerships – and these are just two of many examples.

See also: 5 Cs of Transformation in Insurance  

One of the main themes of the examples highlighted above is the attention on distribution and customer relationships. While insurtechs are working with insurers on many opportunities to improve underwriting, claims, and other areas, so far the new entrants from outside the industry don’t appear to have the appetite to underwrite risk and handle claims. This may change, but it is likely that there will be even more interest from outside insurance in capitalizing on customer relationships. Above all, these new entrants and innovative partnerships serve to accelerate the transformation of insurance.

New Applications for Drones

Drones are becoming widely used in a variety of industries, including insurance. As mentioned last week, millions are expected to be sold in 2017, with PwC calculating the global market for the commercial application of drones at more than $127 billion. So how are insurers using drones right now, and what opportunities are arising?

Though drones could theoretically benefit many different aspects of insurance operations, to date the most common application has been roof inspections conducted by certified insurance assessors before payment is made on claims for storm or hail damage. Traditionally, assessors use ladders to climb onto roofs and sometimes need harnesses if the roof is high or steep enough. A manual inspection can take half a day.

See also: Drones + Gig Economy = Win for Insurance  

A 20-minute drone inspection captures around 350 images of the property in question and provides data that can be used to identify moisture trapped in roofs, produce 3D models and elevation maps, calculate flood or wildfire risk and derive property measurements.

This gives insurers several good reasons to carry out these drone inspections. Here are some notable examples in the area:

  • Erie Insurance, an American traditional insurer active in the auto, home, commercial and life insurance sectors, is generally credited as the first insurer to use drones to inspect roof damage. It received approval from the American Federal Aviation Authority in the spring of 2015.
  • Betterview is an insurtech devoted to using drones for property inspections. The company announced this April that it had executed 6,000 rooftop inspections in the last two years and then signed a partnership agreement with Loss Control 360, which makes software for insurance carriers and inspectors. “We have seen insurers allocate budget dollars in 2017 to move from concept to real production use,” Betterview CEO David Lyman told the Insurance Journal. “In 2018, we expect to see a significant ramp up in the use of drones by insurers and reinsurers.”
  • Travelers has used drones to inspect damaged roofs since 2015. The carrier provides insurance-specific drone pilot training to its claims teams; by May this year, it had trained 150 pilots and expected to train hundreds more before the end of the year.

But it’s not just roof damage that drones are being used for.

Beyond roof inspection

The French global insurer AXA reported in 2016 that it was using drones in a variety of applications in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico and Turkey. The business case is simple— to assess claims, drones can go places that are risky for humans: into fire-damaged buildings, into places where chemical toxicity is suspected and into manufacturing plants or other areas that have been subject to natural or other disasters.

AXA is developing tools and platforms to use drone images more efficiently, including this new data source in its claims adjustment processes.

Coupling imaging technologies with advanced analytics is proving useful across industries. Drones are being used in disaster management, geographic mapping, crop monitoring, supply chain monitoring, storm tracking and weather forecasting, to maintain power lines, monitor traffic flows and conduct surveillance—all instances that may assist insurers to dynamically adapt and innovate on insurance products and risk cover, especially for short-term cover.

Country Financial is, for example, using drones to identify issues in fields that are hard to spot with just “boots on the ground.” It says its crop claims adjusters using drones can scout three times as many acres as an adjuster on foot. This technology also gives farmers more information to consider when choosing how much crop insurance coverage they need, the company says, and it means more insurance plans can be based on enterprise-level data rather than county numbers.

Evolving drone technology

While these examples provide a snapshot of the growing use of drones in P&C insurance inspections, they also highlight some of the limitations of current applications.

Regulators require drone pilots to maintain line-of-sight during a flight, limiting the range of a drone’s flight. New regulations—and wider use of fixed-wing drones—could dramatically boost this range, with corresponding increases in the amount of property a single flight could cover. Technology and regulation could also conceivably enable greater autonomy for drones in the future, allowing a single pilot to oversee multiple drones at once.

See also: What Is the Future for Drones?  

A recent Businessinsider.com article highlights the emergence of generation seven of the technology, with the announcement of 3DRobotics’ all-in-one drone, Solo. These next-generation smart drones have built-in safeguards and compliance tech, smart accurate sensors, platform and payload interchangeability, automated safety modes, enhanced intelligent piloting models and full autonomy, full airspace awareness, auto action (take-off, land and mission execution). Imagine the future opportunities these drones will open up for insurers.

Quick Takes From Insuretech Connect

Last week, I was excited to attend the first Insuretech Connect conference, which brought together entrepreneurs, VCs and industry insiders to focus on the innovative (and some say disruptive) developments within the industry. I wanted to get a closer view of the emerging technology and begin to hear a clearer message about how these developments are connected with the core issues facing the industry, such as: the industry in total very rarely delivers cost of capital returns; the products are complex, and structured in ways that make them not easily consumable by customers; there is aversion to new risks by the carriers given lack of credible loss information used for pricing; a third of P&C premium is absorbed in cost of sales and delivery, an unsustainable figure; etc.

With the event behind us, here are my top takeaways:

1. There are fantastic stories beginning to emerge about the engagement of millennials (notoriously uninterested in insurance products) that over time could be hugely instructive for the broader industry.

Both Trov and Lemonade are genuinely different, with an experience that is more akin to a social media exchange with your friends as opposed to the arduous image (and sometimes reality) of most insurance buying, servicing and claims interactions. Both appear to have genuinely rethought the product being delivered.

In the case of Lemonade, the company has removed the implicit contention between insured and customer with an affinity-oriented dimension: Excess premiums not used to pay claims go to a charity of the customer’s choice. These factors alone (I will cover more below) fundamentally reposition the insurance provider in the mind of the consumer.

Trov is delivering an on-demand, single-item, micro-duration coverage – a genuinely innovative product concept. The takeaway here is that true innovation in customer experience is unlikely if there isn’t innovation in the product. Trov also provides its user with an app that has real value to the consumer independent of the insurance cover — effectively the app is a a super-easy-to-use personal asset register.

The “value in use” delivered in this app is a launch point for an entirely different type of engagement. Metromile is doing the same thing with its free smart driving app, which helps you with  where you parked your car, with diagnostics and maintenance and with trip planning. The Metromile app has tremendous value to its users independent of the usage-based insurance the app provides.

So the real question for the industry is whether Lemonade and Trov are just great ingenuity to deliver renters and single-item coverage to a segment that is meaningfully under-penetrated and uninterested in insurance, or whether these fundamental innovations will be harnessed and applied by others not just elsewhere in personal lines but in commercial and specialty lines, as well.

2. Unsurprisingly, the conference was dominated with many who are endeavoring to attack the distribution part of the value chain by changing customer experience and the cost to deliver those experiences. Many of the entrepreneurs are borrowing pages from the countless other categories that have gone through dramatic changes in distribution (financial services, travel, etc.).

It is early days, but I look forward to companies such as Embroker, which is legitimately trying to re-create the entire customer-broker experience (focused on the more complex middle-market commercial risks), with technology as a critical enabler.

One far narrower example is Terrene Labs, which is a really interesting play on big data that potentially flips the application-for-insurance process for commercial insurance on its head. Effectively, the company is developing the technology that combs the public domain to create a near-completed (and far-higher-quality) insurance application based on only a handful of questions. I highlight this venture led by the ex-CIO of Great American as he is seeking to improve the customer experience in small commercial while simultaneously slashing the front-end agency cost of entering the application data to carrier’s on-line systems.

I suspect that the much-anticipated launch of Attune, the initiative backed by Hamilton-Two Sigma-AIG, will feature this sort of change in experience. I anticipate the developments next year on distribution are going to be far more robust and measurable.

3. While there is an intensifying discussion about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the exponentially increasing data that can be accessed to evaluate risk — including sensor technology that can convert risk taking into a continuously monitored, pay-as-you-go model (even in liability classes) — most of this is futurist stuff. The exceptions are usage-based insurance (UBI) in auto, some modest developments in smart home and increasingly smart machinery monitoring you find in a variety of commercial applications.

Yet one company really stood out in its ambitions. The company, Understory, has been installing micro weather stations (wireless, solar-powered, etc.) to get a far more finite view of rain, hail, wind, etc. than the National Weather Service can provide. During a panel discussion, the CEO noted that the company can put 60 of these micro weather stations in a city for the cost of a single large radar system (around $200,000).

It is difficult to cite the specific loss to the industry of straight-line wind and hail (it runs in the tens of billions of dollars in the U.S. alone each year), and hail loss is notoriously difficult given the sometimes long tail to discover it and, in certain cases, the high fraud rate and difficulty to empirically verify whether a hail storm that occurred during a specific period of insurance coverage caused the damage.

But the sort of innovation occurring at Understory was one of the few focused on a core aspect where the risk takers can improve performance and meaningfully reduce loss costs. This is not to say that the many excellent developments around machine learning and predictive analytics applied to underwriting and claims is not similarly attacking these sorts of costs, it is just that Understory is unusual in that it is a tangible quantum improvement in data that can drive improvement in loss costs.

Look out for the next wave of “Understories” and to more tangible results from the variety of vendors pushing the machine learning/big data angle for both claims and underwriting,

4. I finish with my “not so impressed” takeaway. The most obvious aspect missing at the conference was a good economic understanding of the insurance industry by many of the entrepreneurs selling their wares. In some cases, including panelists, they were flatly wrong in their assertion and some showed little regard for the facts.

Even Daniel Schreiber, the CEO of Lemonade (whom I found to be thoroughly entertaining, insightful and articulate about many things, including behavioral economics), responded to a query from the interviewer/moderator in a way that indicates that some independent research suggests that the pricing of Lemonade’s product is a fraction of competitors. Schreiber suggested that the 25% cost for distribution (I interpreted this as total commission) and 40% total operating costs for the industry, compared with the “20% management fee Lemonade charges its customers,” is a key contributor to the difference in costs.

Underlying Schreiber’s comments was an obvious point that the cost of today’s insurance product to the customer is far too high and that innovation has to drive down costs for the insurer and prices for the consumer. At least Schreiber took on the issue in a thoughtful way.

Unfortunately, though, the 25% and 40% numbers are simply wrong. I go back to the factual economics of our industry. The INDUSTRY IN TOTAL DOES NOT EARN COSTS OF CAPITAL, so the industry in total is not getting paid for the risk it is taking. In 2015, 31% of premium (not 40%) went to sales and service. In personal lines, the numbers are far lower. As a reference point, Progressive’s total expense ratio is just under 20%, and Travelers homeowners expense ratio hovers around 28% (with a large part in commissions, given their retail distribution model ).

I am not suggesting that the industry is not ripe for some disruption, but that those are seeking to disrupt (or even enable) it need to understand the macroeconomics and then follow the money (kind of what Understory is doing).

Back to Lemonade. I can imagine that the company has built its infrastructure in such a way that the investors will get an appropriate return from the 20% management fee. I can further imagine that the model may self-select a better class of renters than the wider population and that maybe the fundamental proposition reduces fraud-driven loss costs, so a far lower price could be justified. Yet only a few of those at the conference started with a good foundation of industry and value chain economics, an understanding of the unique regulatory and product attributes that will remain for the foreseeable future, and where and how underwriting and loss performance can be improved.

As these issues come into focus, I suspect that the innovations will begin to fulfill the expectations that are building in the insurtech space.

A New Frontier for Venture Capital

With sales of ping pong tables declining and with first-quarter IPO numbers the lowest since 2008, many are wondering whether we are in the midst of another tech bubble and, if so, when it will burst. Despite a record amount of money flowing into venture capital, funding for startups is drying up.

Rather than believing in every single unicorn, VCs need to believe in insurance. As insurance tech investment has skyrocketed ($2.65 billion in 2015) and is expected to increase in 2016, a shift in how money is invested in Silicon Valley is beginning to take place. Investors are jumping into the insurance tech ecosystem, and, as software is increasingly pervasive in the industry, insurance startups are attacking a wide range of different pain points. Given the rapid expansion in available information, artificial intelligence and IoT technologies, innovative carriers and data-rich competitors from outside the industry may be poised to spark transformations in a number of insurance markets. From commercial auto and health aggregators to providers and solutions, the space is rapidly growing.

Why Invest?

For starters, insurance has the two components any VC-backed startup longs for: 1) Poor customer experience issues across the board and 2) an industry that has been necessary since the 1800s. While venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have been investing and building new offerings, this seems odd to others because, from a consumer perspective, the insurance industry is highly regulated and mundane. But insurance is — and will always be — in demand because people and businesses are looking for ways to minimize risk. Let’s not forget that the industry contributes close to 8% GDP in the U.S. and employs more than 2 million people.

Insurance represents a significant part of the S&P 500 index and has seen a ton of M&A growth ($13 billion) in 2015 alone. Even though it is overlooked for a variety of reasons — regulations, low profit margins, lack of innovation, etc. — technology’s influence is providing the industry with changes that are necessary to stay afloat. Now, consumers can shop for better rates and compare prices easily, while agents and underwriters can better manage data and provide more precise quotes.

The workforce is also changing significantly, and the option for working outside of the traditional employer relationship is on the rise. Individuals need insurance and traditional models are ill-suited to accommodate, so it’s no wonder newer models are coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on this need for change. The workforce inside the industry is changing as well, with the average age of an agent at 59 and with one-fourth of the workforce expected to retire by 2018. Companies are targeting millennials in hopes of boosting numbers and more changes.

While VCs have typically avoided regulated industries, the revenue base in insurance is incredibly high, and investors are paying attention. Because of disruption, M&As, the widespread consumer dissatisfaction with dominant carriers and the Affordable Care Act’s new marketplace for individual plans, innovators are jump-starting a revolution.

Time-to-Invest Indicators

The commercial lines insurance market is starting to undergo the same kind data analytics revolution that first occurred in personal auto, which caused market consolidation over the past two decades. From 1970-92, Progressive averaged a 3% annual profit margin on underwriting insurance, whereas its competitors averaged a 7% annual loss. In 1992, Progressive had $1.45 billion in premium — it now holds $16.5 billion in premium. By implementing predictive analytics, Progressive’s pricing sophistication adversely selected competitors, and the company was able to gain considerable market share. Today, the top 10 personal auto carriers represent 71% of the market. Workers’ compensation, which is often considered the leading indicator for momentum across all of commercial lines, already has companies showing signs of a market share shift.

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The above graph shows several companies’ growing market share from 2009-14, with notable gains from analytically-driven companies like Berkshire Hathaway and Travelers.

Something else to keep an eye out for is the important connection between the Internet of Things (IoT) and insurance. IoT is influencing just about every industry, and it’s been predicted that, by 2020, IoT will reach a billion dollars. From driverless cars to connected homes, IoT is already hitting insurance. Liberty Mutual just acquired IoT startup Notion to help reduce water leakage and burglaries, while State Farm is already offering discounted rates to homeowners who have a Nest thermostat or smoke detector. Insurance companies are interested in these technologies because they ultimately provide better benefits to the customer.

Another reason to invest in insurance is simply that carriers themselves are investing. Insurers, who arguably have the best view of their own business and the complexities that come with it, are increasingly recognizing technology’s potential to offer real-time monitoring of vehicles, homes and all other areas of risk exposure. The main ways carriers are doing it now is by investing in emerging startups and tech giants — and even creating innovation and VC organizations internally.

From emerging tech trends to market share consolidation, insurance investment is rapidly growing. According to data from CB Insights, the first quarter of the year was the second largest ever for investment in insurance technology with more than 45 deals raising $650 million.

The industry is growing fast — with deals, acquisitions and innovations — and we can expect to see more traction in the next few years.

Obamacare: Where Do We Stand Today?

The healthcare industry is changing – same old headline. Since we’ve been in the industry, the “unsustainable” cost increases have been the talk every year, yet somehow we have not reached a tipping point. So what’s different now? How has ACA affected the healthcare industry, and more specifically the insurance companies?

The drafters of ACA set up a perfect adverse-selection scenario: Come one, come all, with no questions asked. First objective met: 20 million individuals now have coverage.

Next objective: Provide accurate pricing for these newly insured.

Insurance companies have teams of individuals who assess risk, so they can establish an appropriate price for the insurance protection. We experience this underwriting process with every type of insurance – home, life, auto. In fact, we see this process with every financial institution, like banks, mortgage companies and credit card companies. If a financial institution is to serve (and an insurance company is a financial entity), it has to manage risks, e.g., lend money to people who can repay the loan. Without the ability to assess the risk of the 20 million individuals, should we be surprised that one national insurance carrier lost $475 million in 2015, while another lost $657 million on ACA-compliant plans?

If you’re running a business and a specific line has losses, your choices are pretty clear – either clean it up or get out.

See Also: Healthcare Quality and How to Define It

Risk selection is complex. When you add this complexity to the dynamics of network contracting tied to membership scale, there is a reason why numerous companies have decided to get out of health insurance. In 1975, there were more than 2,000 companies selling true health insurance plans, and now there are far fewer selling true health insurance to the commercial population. Among the ones that got out were some big names – MetLife, Prudential, Travelers, NYLife, Equitable, Mutual of Omaha, etc. And now we’re about to be down to a few national carriers, which is consistent with other industries – airline, telecommunications, banking, etc.

Let’s play this one out for the 20 million newly covered individuals. The insurance companies have significant losses on ACA-compliant plans. Their next step – assess the enrolled risk and determine if they can cover the expected costs. For those carriers that decide to continue offering ACA-compliant plans, they will adjust the premiums accordingly. While the first-year enrollees are lulled into the relief of coverage, they then get hit with either a large increase or a notice to find another carrier. In some markets, the newly insured may be down to only one carrier option. The reason most individuals do not opt for medical coverage is that they can’t afford it. If premiums increase 15% or more, how many of the 20 million have to drop coverage because premiums are too expensive? Do we start the uninsured cycle all over again?

Net net, ACA has enabled more people to have health insurance, but at prices that are even less sustainable than before. ACA offers a web of subsidies to low-income people, which simply means each of us, including businesses, will be paying for part or all of their premium through taxes. As companies compete globally, this additional tax burden will affect the cost of services being sold. As our individual taxes increases, we reduce our spending. While ACA has the right intention of expanded coverage, the unintended consequences of the additional cost burden on businesses and individuals will have an impact on job growth.

While it’s hard for anyone to dispute the benefits of insurance for everyone, we first need to address the drivers behind the high cost of healthcare, so we can get the health insurance prices more affordable. Unfortunately, ACA steered us further in the wrong direction. Self-insured employers are the key to lead the way in true reform of the cost and quality of healthcare.