Tag Archives: Uberization

The Uberization of Insurance

Our nomination for word of the year is, by far, “uberization.”

This term is used to describe the growing deluge of companies that offer on-demand services from cars to homes to labor, and much more. Many commentators view this economic transformation as a revolution that will see our entire economy shift from one of consumption, to one of access.

And we think they’re correct.

The Rise of On-Demand

The key to an “uberized” economy is where on-demand services meet crowdsourced labor solutions. You see it everywhere. Even traditional businesses are learning new tricks from an avalanche of high-profile acquisitions. Whether it’s Expedia’s purchase of Homeaway, GM’s buyout of Sidecar or Ford’s investment in Lyft, this shift is becoming more undeniable.

On-Demand for Insurance

Now, on-demand services are coming to the insurance industry, the most risk-averse industry, by its very nature. The insurance industry has become more nimble–mostly out of necessity, but that’s a story for another day.

See also: How On-Demand Economy Can Prosper  

Insurance carriers are learning quickly that they need to adapt to the demand of, well, on-demand services. And the integration of the gig economy is the next step in the business evolution of the traditional insurance sector.

Tough Questions for the Insurance Industry

What does the “uber of insurance” mean? What opportunities and challenges does it bring to the industry? The gig economy, sharing economy, 1099 economy, on-demand economy or whatever you want to call it isn’t going away, and consumer participation continues to grow.

Earners, consumers and the old guard of the supply chain are eager to find ways to diversify and optimize business solutions.

How do you satisfy the demand for on-demand data gathering? Claims handling and processing? How does the insurance industry gather the data it needs effectively, efficiently and accurately?

Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have not only demonstrated that they fill a need in the marketplace, but often they do it better than the traditional options – as uncomfortable a thought as that may be for the old guard in the supply chain.

Can this model work for the insurance industry? It can, and this is how.

Hug Your Smartphone, Save a Tree

Mobile technology is your new best friend when it comes to data gathering for claims handling and processing. The insurance industry is traditionally paper-intensive. Paper is no longer a security blanket, but a wet blanket weighing down processes and impeding efficiency.

Candy Crush and Capturing Data

It’s easy to marvel at the innovation of smartphones from the most addictive apps to the most useful. I won’t get into my Candy Crush addiction; I’m seeking professional help.

The point is to make smartphones work for you and your business processes. Today, smartphones are essential to the daily lives of most of us, providing communication, connectivity, schedules, entertainment and even our wallets. Think about how you can leverage people’s familiarity and affinity for their smartphones by merging it with your smart application development and deployment.

Capturing data has never been easier than point and click…Oops, I mean a finger swipe.

Now more than ever data can be captured, optimized and automatically entered into your data systems and processes. This new process can facilitate the seamless flow of data into business processes without risking it getting stuck to the bottom of someone’s shoe, misfiled, misplaced or eaten by the proverbial dog.

For the notepad next to your computer: seamless data integration at the point of data capture.

It sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?

Sharing Is Caring

First referred to as the sharing economy or the gig economy, the “uberization” of the workforce didn’t originate with Uber. But I’m still voting for “uberization” for word of the year. Merriam-Webster is next on my contact list.

People have always done odd jobs that fit their skill set, hobby, or need. Uber, Turo, Airbnb and WeGoLook through mobile technology have taken this tried-and-true individual entrepreneurship spirit not only to the next level, but to a measurable impact on the economy. Just consider recent sharing economy industry projections made by PwC. I won’t spoil it for you, but you’ll soon be acquainted with the word “mega trend.”

See also: Uber’s Thinking Can Reinvent the Agent  

Crowdsourced labor solutions not only provide diversified earning opportunities, but they also provide options to workers, consumers and businesses alike. Remember our talk about being nimble?

All parties can scale up or down as they choose. They can also select where and how they participate in the gig economy and leverage it to provide for their financial or business goals.

As these on-demand solutions grow, expand and diversify, companies and consumers will have the opportunity to test and identify the best solutions for them, all with a swipe of their smartphone.

Free Market for Solutions

Some will argue the gig economy is the free market at its best, others will argue it’s at its worst. Like anything, it comes back to how individuals and companies strategically apply these solutions to their business challenges.

In the insurance industry, data gathering and claims processing will always resolve around how you can do it faster and better and with fewer mistakes. As the saying goes, “time is money.”

With the help of technology, the reach of smartphones and crowd labor — insurance companies can standardize and streamline data gathering, claims processing and other simple tasks while controlling costs.

For instance, why dispatch an employee across the metro, county, state or even country, incurring all the related expenses, time delays to gather data and take pictures when you can dispatch someone who’s already there?

Not only do you save time travel, and employee productivity, but thanks to the near-universal familiarity with smartphones and standardized mobile apps, you don’t have to train workers.

What if there was an Uber of Insurance? It’s not really a matter of “if” anymore, but of “when” and “how.” The when is now, and the how is through the growing relevance of the insurtech disruption.

Uber’s Thinking Can Reinvent the Agent

I read the article Nick Lamperelli wrote after attending the Insurance Disrupted conference titled “No, Insurance Will Not Be Disrupted,” with his conclusion that there are insurmountable barriers to the “Uberization” of insurance. I’ve developed great respect for Nick’s perspectives. But our team at Insuritas disagrees.

We think disruption within insurance (at the Uber level) is emerging. We just need to think about insurance in a very different way, much like how Uber thought about the ubiquitous taxi cab and getting a customer from point A to point B while making sure the customer actually enjoyed the ride. Uber knew a vehicle was a requirement to provide the ride, so they focused on reimagining the role of the driver to deliver a new, and enjoyable, customer experience. There are approximately 234,000 licensed taxi drivers in America – and there are approximately 466,000 licensed insurance agents.

Our Perspective

When our team thinks about the three primary actors in insurance – the insured, the agent and the carrier – we’ve drawn a couple of conclusions. First, we’ve concluded that the insurance carrier will not be replaced. The scale and immense capital required to insure the unknown is substantial. We believe carriers will continue to transform their businesses. Automated pricing algorithms and streamlined delivery systems will continue to emerge, particularly as the actuarial science and actual claims history affirms that the new algorithms and modified delivery systems work. There will just be winners and losers among the current providers.

Some thought leaders have been looking at the disruption in banking, particularly in lending, and suggesting insurance disruptors will try to mimic OnDeck, Kabbage, SOFI and Lending Club. These banking disruptors are making loans by underwriting repayment risk using nontraditional and publicly available data points and algorithms (e.g. “likes” on Facebook, Glassdoor ratings, LinkedIn contacts, etc.) to determine if a borrower is likely to meet her repayment obligation. Until there is a market cycle downturn, no one will know if these new underwriting algorithms using publicly available data will prove to be prescient or a disaster.

Some folks are thinking this same type of “disruption” is available for a new generation of insurance carriers. We think it’s important to remember that these new online lenders do risk losing the $100,000 they might lend to a borrower, but they can only lose the $100,000 they lent to a borrower. With insurance, unlike repayment risk, claims risk is open-ended, and the open-endedness of claims loss requires capital levels that make an entirely new model carrier entrant unlikely.

Just as Uber concluded that the role of the car should not be replaced in providing the customer with a satisfactory ride, our team has concluded that the insurance carrier will not be replaced in providing the actual insurance. Insurance customers, like taxi cab customers, aren’t happy with the current experience, so just as Uber decided to look at the licensed taxi driver, we decided to look at the licensed agent.

Uber and Insurance

Uber thought long and hard about the one actor it could reimagine to deliver the customer a simple, comfortable ride: the licensed taxi driver. Uber didn’t disrupt the product – i.e. the car – because it knew people still need a vehicle from point A to point B. Uber simply reimagined the driver experience so the customer got what he wanted. Uber reimagined a new generation of “drivers” operating with elegant new tools to finally deliver a ride the way a customer wanted it, a ride experience the customer would love. That includes: clean and detailed cars because of personal vehicle ownership; technology to better understand each driver’s addressable market; instant guidance on where the customer wanted to go and the most efficient way to get there; ways for the customer to instantly access a picture of the car and driver; the ability to rate, rank and celebrate great service instantly that in turn automatically leveraged more business for the driver; the ability to coordinate multiple riders on a single trip to multiple destinations to save time and money and lower the environmental impact of the ride; and a simple, instant payment method … and that’s just to name just a few.

Uber didn’t eliminate the driver. It couldn’t. Uber simply reimagined a driver who delivered the product a customer wanted – a comfortable ride. Consumers responded, and the rest is history.

Now, think about insurance. The actors are very similar – just think about insurance rather than a taxi ride:

  • the consumer is anxious for a new insurance experience;
  • the insurance carriers are like the ubiquitous taxi cab the taxi driver uses – the carrier may be a bit old and clunky with aging operators and legacy distribution capabilities (not as upgradable as a Toyota Camry), but, as the car is needed to get the customer from point A to point B, the carrier is currently the only source for the risk management products the consumer needs;
  • the licensed agent, who like our licensed taxi driver is the licensed intermediary who delivers the product the consumer wants. And we think it helps to think of the term “agent” globally – agent, broker, MGA, direct writer, core system, raters, IVANS, ACCORD, LeadGen – the collective delivery system of the insurance products to the customer today. Is it possible to reimagine the agent?

We believe the customer is simply looking for a better insurance experience. And, as with Uber, we are focused intensely on the agent. We see the same challenges Uber saw: Traditional agents and all the stakeholders surrounding them are strongly committed to the notion that there is only one way to deliver a customer/insurance experience, and it is through them.The taxi industry stakeholders were (and still are) insisting, “We have the vehicles, the licensed drivers, the medallions, the ride meters, the street maps, the taxi parking spaces, the taxi license, etc. and thus are the only platform able to deliver the ride the customer needs.”

Uber didn’t eliminate the driver; it simply reimagined the work and found a new generation of drivers delighted to deliver a reimagined ride. In that same way, our team is reimagining the licensed insurance agent in America.

A Customer Reimagines an Agent

What do today’s insurance customers want? The ability to shop, compare and buy all of the risk management products they need to protect themselves, their families and their small businesses in a simple, one-stop, omni-channel, comfortable and advisory shopping experience. They want to be able to buy multiple products in a single shopping cart, make a single payment at checkout and have an online insurance account that stores all of their insurance information so they never have to provide the same information twice, never have to keep paper records and buy and cancel all additional products using their online insurance account. The list would be long, all tied to a simple notion: a trusted, comfortable insurance experience.

Now, this is the hard pivot for all of us in insurance. Imagine in 2008 that someone asked you what you wanted from a taxi ride, and you ticked off all of the things the Uber driver actually delivers today, and that list was turned over to the taxi cab industry. Could you ever imagine the taxi industry getting close to delivering what you wanted? Ask that same question of insurance customers, let them tick off everything on their wish list for a great insurance experience, and hand that list over to the insurance industry.

The Reimagined Agent 

For insurance carriers, delivering their product to the customer requires a three-step process:

  • The application – collecting public and nonpublic information (NPI) about the character and collateral of a prospective insured;
  • The quote – once an application is complete, using actuarial science to profitably underwrite and price the claims risk;
  • The sale – once a price is accepted, payment is collected and coverage is bound.

We can leave it to historians to explain how we got here, but there’s a massive infrastructure, including more than 400,000 insurance agents and a multibillion-dollar lead-generation industry in America, designed to sell insurance products to the customer. It is a system almost as old as the taxi system. Go back to your list of things a customer might want for an insurance experience. How about, “I want a trusted adviser who works for me and gets me what I need in a safe and frictionless environment”?

As consumers, we don’t like providing private, nonpublic information to anyone, and we are reluctant to engage with people whose job it is to collect it, period. We never have, whether dealing with insurance agents, mortgage originators, tax preparers, government regulators, auto lenders, nurses, doctors, landlords or attorneys.”

Is it possible to imagine a new type of licensed agent with the tools (just like the ones the Uber driver has) that would let them provide a transformative insurance shopping experience: a simple, comfortable insurance purchase? Can we imagine a new generation of agent that can instantly access all of the public and non-public information about a customer’s character and collateral, deliver it to a wide stable of insurance carriers in exactly the format they need it, get instant quotes from the carriers that reflect the customer’s risk tolerance and assets to be insured, be available to provide any of the advisory insights the customer might want — all at exactly the moment the customer has an insurance need? What about a new generation of agents, fulfilled in their work as risk managers and customer advocates, operating in a seamless, frictionless ecosystem in service to the customer?

Similarly to how Uber has built a new generation of drivers, we are building a new generation of agents, who are empowered and excited to deliver insurance solutions to consumers, who are operating inside companies that have long and deep trusted brand equity with the customer and that have access to everything a carrier needs to know about their character and collateral, eliminating the dreaded insurance interview and application. Our new agent never prospects, sells or steers a customer; she simply focuses on delivering a frictionless shopping, buying and post-purchase service experience tailored to each customer exactly at the instant the customer needs it. We believe the role of an agent, with a completely reimagined operating environment, is more important and more valuable than ever before.

More than 5,000 consumers and small business owners ask our agents for help every month. Our agency owners have addressable markets and underwriting packets on more than five million households and get more than 30 million web visits a month with no cost of customer acquisition and application preparation. Our partners have underwriting packets filled with everything a carrier needs to know about character and collateral, ready to be delivered instantly to the carrier, and our reimagined agent is like the Uber driver who is simply focused on providing a concierge level of service to a consumer who has to buy insurance, making sure price, coverages and support are all frictionless.

In 2009, Uber imagined a new kind of taxi driver. In just six years, 162,037 reimagined Uber drivers are at work, earning $6 per hour more than the legacy taxi driver, while self-employed, controlling their destiny and glad to be providing the customer with a safe and comfortable ride. A new generation of agents is emerging, reimagined to reflect what the customer actually wants. We are very excited, as the customer is starting to respond.

How On-Demand Economy Can Prosper

Even some of the most successful innovators in history would tell you, “Don’t quit your day job.” George Eastman worked full-time while tinkering in his mother’s kitchen on the inventions that let him found Eastman Kodak in the late 1880s. A century later, Steve Wozniak worked at Atari while developing the computer that he and Steve Jobs would turn into Apple. The fact is: No matter how great the idea, or how great a worker’s skill, it’s hard to mesh with an existing enterprise or any other group.

The reason is explained by Nobel laureate economist Ronald Coase in his influential 1937 essay, “The Nature of the Firm.” He theorized that people choose to organize themselves in companies and corporations rather than contracting their services out directly because of transaction costs. He cited: search and information costs; bargaining and decision costs; and policing and enforcement costs. “Within a firm, these market transactions are eliminated, and in place of the complicated market structure with exchange transactions is substituted the entrepreneur coordinator, who directs production,” he wrote.

Essentially, marketing, selling, pricing, negotiating and getting paid as a self-employed person isn’t all rainbows and unicorns – the work critical to running a business can be enormously complicated, time-consuming and costly.

Thanks to technology, much has changed since 1937. Mobile connections, broadband and ubiquitous data have reduced transactional search and information costs considerably. It is much easier, faster and economical for a small business to effectively compete with larger firms.

There has been a major shift in our buying behavior, too – consider how profoundly Amazon or iTunes has altered the way we discover, compare and purchase goods. Companies like Uber have used technology to reduce our search and information costs, as well as our bargaining and decision costs and policing and enforcement costs. If reducing one transactional cost shifts the economy, then reducing all three transforms it….

We are now officially unlocking the potential of the on-demand economy – one that will revolutionize the 21st century workplace and workforce. It’s so new, we haven’t decided on a name for it yet; it goes by various monikers like Uberization, the gig economy, the on-demand economy, the access economy and the peer-to-peer economy.

This on-demand economy offers the exchange of goods and services between individuals instead of from business to consumer. The people providing goods and services aren’t necessarily employed by the company connecting them with the customer, either. Many are independent contractors or freelancers.

Technology acts as the intermediary automating the handling of pricing and payments, vetting providers through a user-rating system and matching providers with consumers’ needs. This intermediary speedily brings together supply and demand via a platform that can be controlled by an app on any mobile device. The platform makes information available and accessible in the manner most efficient for the business, ensuring that transactions that are started are more likely to be concluded. The platform often obviates bargaining, directly polices its members, enables community-driven self-policing and enforces the terms of interaction. The costs of this coordination is added to each peer-to-peer transaction.

The new economic model is a highly efficient, productive and cost-effective marketplace. Platforms like Luxe, Lyft and Uber offer transportation services; Caviar, Doordash and Munchery deliver food from local restaurants; Instacart will shop for and deliver grocery orders; AirBnB, HomeAway and Onefinestay connect renters and homeowners offering available space with people seeking accommodations; Handy, Taskrabbit and Thumbtack will help a household find an available plumber, drywaller, cleaner or furniture assembler; and delivery services like Postmates and Shyp will pick up, pack up and send packages.

There appears to be no lack of supply or demand in this rapidly evolving phenomenon. Almost 53 million Americans currently serve as providers to on-demand platforms, at least part-time. Having goods and services on demand satisfies our need for “instant gratification” and allows consumers to find a broad array of competitively priced services 24/7 – they can get what they want, when they want with the touch of a few buttons.

The advantages for providers are many, too. No longer saddled with the time-consuming chores of the self-employed, like marketing and promoting services, negotiating transactions or chasing down payments, the on-demand economy provides freelancers with a turnkey, hassle-free method of accessing a large market of ready-and-willing customers whenever they want to work. It’s freelance freedom and flexibility with almost no barriers to entry.

You don’t need to be an economist to envision how the on-demand economy business model can benefit the marketplace as a whole: The Ma & Pa local restaurant that can easily deliver through a fleet without incurring staffing costs can substantially expand its market and service underserved markets. People can now use their cars to transport passengers and generate income rather than leave vehicles parked in driveways, resulting in a very good use of underutilized resources;. And, when a student can help an eBay seller package and deliver parcels on the fly, a job and professional support network are created that had not previously existed.

The new economy is here. It’s poised to democratize the marketplace and its workforce by maximizing underused assets, creating jobs, expanding markets and meeting the needs of underserved markets, all while creating a faster, easier way for us to get what we want, when we want it.

But this new business model comes with new world challenges as the distinction between personal and commercial activities becomes blurry. To thrive, policymakers, regulators, insurers and the companies enabling the new economy will have to work together to design a platform that protects consumers when they are operating as businesses.