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Where Are Driverless Cars Taking Industry?

While more than half of individuals surveyed by Pew Research express worry over the trend toward autonomous vehicles, and only 11% are very enthusiastic about a future of self-driving cars, lack of positive consumer sentiment hasn’t stopped several industries from steering into the auto pilot lane. The general sentiment of proponents, such as Tesla and Volvo, is that consumers will flock toward driverless transportation once they understand the associated safety and time-saving benefits.

Because of the self-driving trend, KPMG currently predicts that the auto insurance market will shrink 60% by the year 2050 and an additional 10% over the following decade. What this means for P&C insurers is change in the years ahead. A decline in individual drivers would directly correlate to a reduction in demand for the industry’s largest segment of coverage.

How insurers survive will depend on several factors, including steps they take now to meet consumer expectations and needs.

The Rise of Autonomous Vehicles

Google’s Lexus RX450h SUV, as well as 34 other prototype vehicles, had driven more than 2.3 million autonomous miles as of November 2016, the last time the company published its once monthly report on the activity of its driverless car program. Based on this success and others from companies such as Tesla, public transportation now seems poised to jump into the autonomous lane.

Waymo — the Google self-driving car project — recently announced a partnership with Valley Metro to help residents in Phoenix, AZ, connect more efficiently to existing light rail, trains and buses by providing driverless rides to stations. This follows closely on the heels of another Waymo pilot program that put self-driving trucks on Atlanta area streets to transport goods to Google’s data centers.

In the world of personal driving, Tesla’s Auto Pilot system was one of the first to take over navigational functions, though it still required drivers to have a hand on the wheel. In 2017, Cadillac released the first truly hands-free automobile with its Super Cruise-enabled CT6, allowing drivers to drive without touching the wheel for as long as they traveled in their selected lane.

Cadillac’s level two system of semiautonomous driving is expected to be quickly upstaged by Audi’s A8. Equipped with Traffic Jam Pilot, the system allows drivers to take hands off the vehicle and eyes off the road as long as the car is on a limited-access divided highway with a vehicle directly in front of it. While in Traffic Jam mode, drivers will be free to engage with the vehicle’s entertainment system, view text messages or even look at a passenger in the seat next to them, as long as they remain in the driver’s seat with body facing forward.

While the Cadillacs were originally set to roll off the assembly line and onto dealer lots as early as spring of 2018, lack of consumer training as well as federal regulations have encouraged the auto manufacturer to delay release in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Volvo has met with similar constraints as it navigates toward releasing fully autonomous vehicles to 100 people by 2021. The manufacturer is now taking a more measured approach, one that includes training for drivers starting with level-two semi-autonomous assistance systems before eventually scaling up to fully autonomous vehicles.

“On the journey, some of the questions that we thought were really difficult to answer have been answered much faster than we expected. And in some areas, we are finding that there were more issues to dig into and solve than we expected,” said Marcus Rothoff, Volvo’s autonomous driving program director, in a statement to Automotive News Europe.

Despite the roadblocks, auto makers’ enthusiasm for the fully autonomous movement hasn’t waned. Tesla’s Elon Musk touts safer, more secure roadways when cars are in control, a vision that is being embraced by others in high positions, such as Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

“Automated or self-driving vehicles are about to change the way we travel and connect with one another,” Chao said to participants of the Detroit Auto Show in January 2018. “This technology has tremendous potential to enhance safety.”

See also: The Evolution in Self-Driving Vehicles  

We’ve already seen what sensors can do to promote safer driving. In a recent study conducted by the International Institute for Highway Safety, rear parking sensors bundled with automatic braking systems and rearview cameras were responsible for a 75% reduction in backing up crashes.

According to Tesla’s website, all of its Model S and Model X cars are equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors capable of detecting both hard and soft objects, as well as with cameras and radar that send feedback to the car.

Caution, Autonomous Adoption Ahead

The road to fully autonomous vehicles is expected to be taken in a series of increasing steps. We have largely entered the first phase, where drivers are still in charge, aided by various safety systems that intervene in the case of driver error.

As we move closer to full autonomy, drivers will assume less control of the vehicle and begin acting as a failsafe for errant systems or by taking over under conditions where the system is not designed to navigate. We currently see this level of autonomous driving with Audi Traffic Jam Pilot, where drivers are prompted to take control if the vehicle departs from the pre-established roadway parameters.

In the final phase of autonomous driving, the driver is removed from controlling the vehicle and is absolved of roadway responsibility, putting all trust and control in the vehicle. KPMG predicts wide-scale adoption of this level of autonomous driving to begin taking place in 2025, as drivers realize the time-saving and safety benefits of self-driving vehicles. During this time frame, all new vehicles will be fully self-driving, and older cars will be retrofitted to conform to a road system of autonomous vehicles.

Past the advent of the autonomous trend in 2025, self-driving cars will become the norm, with information flowing between vehicles and across a network of related infrastructure sensors. KPMG expects full adoption of the autonomous trend by the year 2035, five years earlier than it first reported in 2015.

Despite straightforward predictions like these, it’s likely that drivers will adopt self-driving cars at varying rates, with some geographies moving faster toward driverless roadways than others. There will be points in the future where a major metropolis may have moved fully to a self-driving norm, mandating that drivers either purchase and use fully autonomous vehicles or adopt autonomous public transportation, while outlying areas will still be in a phase where traditional vehicles dominate or are in the process of being retrofitted.

“The point at which we see autonomy appear will not be the point at which there is a massive societal impact on people,” said Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, at the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2017. “Because it will take a lot of time to make enough autonomous vehicles to disrupt, so that disruption will take place over about 20 years.”

Will Self-Driving Cars Force a Decline in Traditional Auto Coverage?

At present, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that 94% of automobile accidents are the result of human error. Taking humans largely out of the equation makes many autonomous vehicle proponents predict safer roadways in our future, but it also raises an interesting question. Who is at fault when a vehicle driving in autonomous mode is involved in a crash?

Many experts agree that accident liability will be taken away from the driver and put into the hands of the automobile manufacturers. In fact, precedents are already being set. In 2015, Volvo announced plans to accept fault when one of its autonomous cars is involved in an accident.

“It is really not that strange,” Anders Karrberg, vice president of government affairs at Volvo, told a House subcommittee recently. “Carmakers should take liability for any system in the car. So we have declared that if there is a malfunction to the [autonomous driving] system when operating autonomously, we would take the product liability.”

In the future, as automobile manufacturers take on liability for vehicle accidents, consumers may see a chance to save on their auto premiums by only carrying state-mandated minimums. Some states may even be inclined to repeal laws requiring drivers to carry traditional liability coverage on self-driving vehicles or substantially alter the coverage an individual must secure.

Despite the forward thinking of manufacturers such as Volvo, for the present, accident liability for autonomous cars is still a gray area. Following the death of a pedestrian hit by an Uber vehicle operating in self-driving mode in Arizona, questions were raised over liability.

Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of South Carolina with expertise in self-driving cars, indicated that most states require drivers to exercise care to avoid pedestrians on roadways, laying liability at the feet of the driver. But in the case of a car operating in self-driving mode, determining liability could hinge on whether there was a design defect in the autonomous system. In this case, both the auto and self-driving system manufacturers and even the software developers could be on the hook for damages, particularly in the event a lawsuit is filed.

Finding Opportunity in the Self-Driving Trend

Accenture, in conjunction with Stevens Institute of Technology, predicts that 23 million self-driving vehicles will be coursing across U.S. highways by 2035.

As a result, insurers could realize an $81 billion opportunity as autonomous vehicles open new areas of coverage in hardware and software liability, cybersecurity and public infrastructure insurance by 2025, the same year that KPMG predicts the autonomous trend will begin to rapidly accelerate. Simultaneously, Accenture predicts that personal auto premiums, which will begin falling in 2024, will hit a steeper decline before leveling out around 2050 at an all-time low.

Most of the personal premium decline is due to an assumption that the majority of self-driving cars will not be owned by individuals, but by original equipment manufacturers, OTT players and other service providers such as ride-sharing companies. It may seem like a logical conclusion if America’s love affair with the automobile wasn’t so well-defined.

Following falling gas prices in 2016, Americans logged a record-breaking 3.22 trillion miles behind the wheel. Even millennials, the age group once assumed to have given up on driving, are showing increased interest in piloting their own vehicles as the economy improves. According to the National Household Travel Survey conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, millennials increased their average number of miles driven 20% from 2009 to 2017.

Despite falling new car sales, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows that car ownership is actually on the rise. Eighteen percent of Americans purchase a new car every two to three years, while the majority (39%) make a new car bargain every four to six years.

Americans have many reasons for loving their vehicles. Forty percent say it’s because they enjoy driving and being in their cars, according to a survey conducted by Cars.com.

ReportLinker reveals that 83% of people drive daily and that half are passionate about the behind-the-wheel experience of taking on the open road. Another survey conducted by Gold Eagle determined that people even have dream cars, vehicles that they feel convey a sporty, luxurious or efficient image.

Ownership of autonomous vehicles would bring at least some liability back to the owner-occupant. For instance, owing to security concerns, all sensing and decision-making hardware related to the Audi Traffic Jam Pilot system is held onboard. With no over-air connections, software updates must be made manually through a dealer.

In situations like these, what happens if an autonomous vehicle crash is tied to the driver’s failure to ensure that software was promptly updated? Auto maintenance will also take on a new level of importance as sensitive self-driving systems will need to be maintained and adjusted to ensure proper performance. If an accident occurs due to improper vehicle maintenance, once again, the owner could be held liable.

As the U.S. moves toward autonomous car adoption, one thing becomes clear. Insurers will need to expand their product lines to include both commercial and personal lines of coverage if they are going to take part in the multibillion-dollar opportunity.

Preparing for the Autonomous Future of Insurance

Because the autonomous trend will be adopted at an uneven pace depending upon geography, socioeconomic conditions and even age groups, Deloitte predicts that the insurers that will thrive through the autonomous disruption are those with a “flexible business model and diverse product mix.”

To meet consumer expectations and maintain a critical focus on customer acquisition and retention, insurers will need a multitude of products designed to protect drivers across the autonomous adoption cycle, as well as new products designed to cover the shift of liability from driver to vehicle. Even traditional auto policies designed to protect car owners from liability will need to be redefined to cover autonomous parameters.

Currently, only 25% of companies have a business model that is easily adaptable to rapid change, such as the autonomous trend. In insurance, this lack of readiness is all the more crucial, considering the digital transformation already underway across the industry.

According to PwC, 85% of insurance CEOs are concerned about the speed of technological change. Worries over how to handle legacy systems in the face of digital adoption, as well as the need to accelerate automation and prepare for the next wave of transitions, such as autonomous vehicles, are behind these concerns.

As insurers look toward the complicated future of insuring a society of self-driving automobiles, we believe that focusing on four main areas will prepare them to respond to the autonomous trend with greater speed and agility.

Make better use of data

Consumers are looking for insurers to partner on risk mitigation. To meet these expectations, insurers will need to start making better use of data stores, as well as third-party sources, to help customers identify and reduce threats to life and property. Sixty-four percent want their insurer to provide real-time notifications about roadway safety, while, on the home front, 68% would like to receive mobile alerts on the potential of fire, smoke or carbon dioxide hazards.

“Technology is changing the insurer’s role to one of a partner who can address the customer’s real goals – well beyond traditional insurance,” said Cindy De Armond, managing director, Accenture P&C core platforms lead for North America, in a blog.

Armond believes that as insurers focus more on the customer’s prevention and recovery needs, they can become the everyday insurer, integrated into the lives of their customers rather than acting only as a crisis partner. This type of relationship makes insurer-insured relationships more certain and extends longevity.

For insurers and their insureds, the future is likely to be more about predicting and mitigating risk than about handling claims, so improving data capture and analytics capabilities is essential to agile operations that can easily adapt to new trends.

See also: Autonomous Vehicles: ‘The Trolley Problem’  

Focus on digital

Consumers want to engage with their insurer in the moment. Whether that means shopping online for coverage while watching a child’s soccer game or making a phone call to ask questions about a policy, they expect to be able to engage on their time and through their channel of choice. Insurers that develop fluid omni-channel engagement now are future-proofing their operations, preparing to survive the evolution to self-driving, when the reams of data gathered from autonomous vehicles can be used to enable on-demand auto coverage.

Vehicle occupants will one day purchase coverage on the fly, depending on the roadway conditions they encounter and whether they are traveling in autonomous mode. Forrester analyst Ellen Carney sees a fluid orchestration of data and digital technologies combining to deliver this type of experience, putting much of the power in the hands of the customer.

“On your way home, you’re going to get a quote for auto insurance,” she says. “And because your driving data could basically now be portable, you could do a reverse auction and say, ‘Okay, insurance companies, how much do you want to bid for my drive home?’”

To facilitate the speed and immediacy required for these transactions, insurers will need to digitally quote, bind and issue coverage.

Seek automation

In the U.K., accident liability clearly shifts from the driver to the vehicle for level four and five autonomous automobiles. As driverless vehicles become the norm, the U.S. is likely to adopt similar legislation, requiring a fundamental shift in how risk is assessed and insurance policies are underwritten. Instead of assessing a policy on the driver’s claims history and age, insurers will need to rate risk by variables related to the software that runs the vehicle and how likely owners are to maintain autonomous cars and sensitive self-driving systems.

The more complicated underwriting becomes, the more important automation in underwriting will be. Consumers who can get into a car that drives itself will have little patience for insurers that require extensive manual work to assess their risk and return bound policy documents. Even businesses will come to expect a much faster turnaround on policies related to self-driving vehicles despite the complexity of the various coverages that will be required. In addition, on-demand coverage will require automated underwriting to respond to customer requests.

According to Lexis Nexis, only 20% of commercial carriers have automated the quoting process, and less than half are investing in underwriting automation.

Invest in platform ecosystems

McKinsey defines a platform business model as one that allows multiple participants to “connect, interact and create and exchange value,” while an ecosystem is a set of connected services that fulfill multiple needs of the user in “one integrated experience.” By definition, an insurance platform ecosystem in the age of autonomous vehicles would be a place where consumers and businesses could research and purchase the coverage they need while also picking up related ancillary services, such as apps or entertainment to make the autonomous ride more enjoyable.

Consumers are in search of ecosystem values today. According to Bain’s customer behavior and loyalty study, consumers are willing to pay higher premiums to insurers that offer ancillary services, such as home security monitoring or an automotive services app, and they are even willing to switch insurers to get time-saving benefits like these.

More important to insurers is the ability to partner with other carriers on coverage. Using a commission-based system, insurers offer policies from other carriers to consumers when they don’t have an appetite for the risk or don’t offer the coverage in house. This arrangement allows an insurer to maintain a customer relationship, while providing for their needs and price points.

See also: Autonomous Vehicles: Truly Imminent?  

As the autonomous trend reaches fruition, insurers will need to have access to a wide range of coverage types to meet consumer and business needs, and not all carriers will be able or want to create the new products.

Extreme Customer Focus Prepares for the Future

Insurers can prepare for autonomous vehicle adoption by establishing an extreme customer focus, dedicated to establishing enduring loyalty as insurance needs change. Loyal customers spend 67% more over three years than new ones. As the insurance marketplace opens up to the sale of ancillary services, gaining wallet share from loyal consumers will certainly help to boost revenues as demand for traditional products decline, but to stay competitive, insurers will need a broader mix of coverage types.

While current coverages have remained largely unchanged over the decades, the coming years will see an industry in flux as insurers phase out outmoded types of coverage while phasing in new products and services. In this environment, the platform ecosystems may be the most critical aspect of bridging the gaps.

Today, they allow insurers to fulfill the needs of price-sensitive consumers while also meeting the evolving needs of their customers. Tomorrow, platform ecosystems will provide the “flexible business model and diverse product mix” that Deloitte says will be critical to success for insurers in the autonomous age of driving.

Will Technology Kill Auto Insurance?

The auto insurance industry has been experimenting with technology and tools that are completely changing the way we think about cars.

Self-driving vehicles, ride-sharing and vehicles that include their own insurance in the sticker price are all recent innovations — innovations whose long-term effects are not yet known.

With the rise of autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing came questions about liability and its related coverage: Who will insure self-driving cars? Who is liable in a ride-sharing accident scenario? As vehicle fleets replace individual ownership, who should carry the coverage necessary to pay medical bills, repair costs and other losses in case of a crash?

The changes on the horizon have prompted some commentators, like Deutsche Bank’s Joshua Shanker, to predict that today’s auto insurance industry simply won’t exist in 20 years.

Is the demise of auto insurance imminent? Is it likely? Here, we explore the pressures on traditional auto insurance and the ways the field may shift in the next one to two decades.

Self-Driving Cars: Who Will Insure Them?

Self-driving cars are predicted to change the driving habits of entire nations — and to significantly reduce the cost of auto insurance. A 2015 study by Metromile and Ferenstein Wire estimated that self-driving vehicles would save their owners nearly $1,000 a year on insurance premiums on average, according to Gregory Ferenstein.

The study was based in part on data showing that, as of 2015, none of Google’s self-driving vehicles had been in an accident caused by the technology, only by human error, reported Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic. Since then, there have been notable instances of tech errors leading to accidents, including the March 2018 death of a pedestrian. More on that in a minute.

Still, many commentators have drawn the same conclusion from the data: Prevented accidents mean prevented claims, which will reduce premiums. Even big name investors like Warren Buffett have made such predictions with regard to self-driving vehicles, CNBC’s Elizabeth Gurdus reports.

See also: Industry 4.0: What It Means for Insurance  

The Reality on the Ground

Yet the reality may not be so easy to achieve. For one thing, self-driving cars have yet to be tested in the same wide range of conditions human drivers face daily, says Peter Hancock, a professor of psychology and engineering at the University of Central Florida. Seeing how these cars handle bad roads, inclement weather and similar challenges is essential to understanding whether they’ll really replace human drivers — and how to insure them if they do.

In 2015, Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson said that Volvo would accept “full liability” for any losses occurring when a Volvo vehicle was in full autonomous mode, indicating a future in which liability coverage for self-driving vehicles is a question of product liability, not driver behavior.

Yet, to date, other automakers haven’t rushed to join Volvo in making a similar promise. While Google and Mercedes have self-insured, as a rule “auto manufacturers are not that keen on taking on the insurance risk,” says Rick Huckstep at the Digital Insurer. Automakers have spent billions of dollars on developing automated technologies, and “they didn’t do this to then have to carry 100% liability for whatever happens on the road.”

Revising Timelines

Even if self-driving cars adopt a commercial liability or product liability approach to coverage, thus eliminating the need for individual drivers’ coverage, a 10- to 15-year timeline may still be ambitious, says Simon Walker, group chief executive at First Central Group. The technology, while ever more widely tested, is not yet commonplace.

Determining regulatory, licensing and liability questions will likewise take years; attempts to start that process now have met with uncertainties because the tech isn’t in common use. Customers will need to gain confidence in autonomous vehicles, and their driver-required cars will have to age their way onto the scrap heap.

All this is unlikely to happen in just 10 years, or even in 20. And with 10 to 20 years, auto insurers have time to adapt. Some have already begun, in fact. Julia Kollewe at the Guardian cites Adrian Flux, a U.K. insurer, which in 2016 announced what it called the first-ever auto insurance policy for driverless vehicles. The policy covers not only the conventional situations other policies address, but also autonomous-vehicle-specific topics like software updates, satellite or navigation system failure and loss or damage from hacking.

If this U.K. company can do it, says Julia Eddington at the Zebra, so can U.S. companies, although they may face more complexity due to the overlapping world of state and federal regulations. As of mid-2018, however, 29 states had enacted driverless vehicle liability laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which could pave the way for faster adaptation by existing auto insurers.

Improved Safety Features: Are Crash-Proof Cars Possible?

Self-driving cars aren’t the only way that technology may end the need for auto accident coverage. Safety technology is improving, as well, and Volvo’s promise to cover liability for its cars while in autonomous mode isn’t the only goal the automaker has set to change the vehicle liability landscape.

In 2008, Volvo announced an ambitious plan: to create a crash-proof vehicle that would result in zero injuries or deaths, and to do it by 2020. In 2013, according to Viknesh Vijayenthiran at Motor Authority, and again in 2016, Volvo announced its intention to stay on track to create its injury- and death-free vehicles by 2020.

Volvo still has a little more than a year to reach this goal, and its statistics indicate the company is on the right track. Volvo won a 2018 Which? Award in the U.K. for “the company’s solid safety record that put it ahead of other short-listed candidates.”

Awards and strong statistics are evidence that Volvo is moving in the right direction when it comes to safety, but until this technology is perfected, insurance coverage remains a necessity — and completely autonomous driving technology still has a long way to go.

A Car and Its Coverage: A Package Deal?

Tesla is also betting on the safety of its technological advances, and in a way that presents an additional challenge to traditional insurance companies: by including auto insurance coverage in the sticker price of their vehicles.

Tesla is experimenting with selling “insurance and maintenance included” vehicles in Asia, according to Business Insider’s Danielle Muoio. The price for insurance and maintenance incorporates Tesla’s data about the car’s safety features, including its autopilot system. By including the insurance price in the car, Tesla says, the company believes it offers a better deal to consumers, because many auto insurance companies don’t account for the autopilot system in the same way Tesla does.

Tesla may have a point. “If you’re hoping to shave down your premiums, buying an automated vehicle might not be the right move,” Shift Insurance head of business development Raphael Locsin tells Entrepreneur. However, some companies do consider certain other driver assistance features, like electronic stability, when calculating discounts.

Insurance companies’ hesitation may be prudent at the moment. A March 2018 Tesla crash with the autopilot turned on proved fatal for the driver, according to Jack Stewart at Wired.

Selling vehicles, autonomous or otherwise, with the insurance included in the sales price offers a hybrid approach between purchasing coverage from traditional auto insurers and placing the burden on automakers to cover their vehicles as consumer products. While Tesla has gambled on the approach, it remains the only automaker to do so; even the products-liability model has had more buy-in from the makers of self-driving vehicles and their technology.

“Insurance included” models seem the least likely of the self-driving insurance options to threaten the traditional auto insurance industry in the next two decades. Yet they indicate a willingness of companies to take risks to try new models, which are worth noticing.

What to Expect in the Near Future

Self-driving vehicles piloted by technology that prevents accidents is a powerful vision of the future. It provides a sense of excitement and hope.

It also provides challenges to traditional auto insurance companies, many of which are already struggling with auto insurance premiums in a world where many people have eliminated vehicles from their lifestyles. For a $220 billion industry that supports more than a quarter million jobs, the threat is significant, says Patrick Lin at Forbes.

Yet technology’s death knell for auto insurance may not be as close as it appears.

Driver involvement in vehicle operation is likely to be a necessity for many more years, and drivers will need insurance as long as they must take the wheel. Human error will continue to be a factor in accidents. And demand for insurance against theft, acts of nature and technological glitches will persist even in a world where cars do their own driving.

How to Prepare for Self-Driving Cars

For decades, privately owned, privately insured cars have been so common that few people have questioned these models of transportation and the associated risk.

Property and casualty insurers deal with thousands of individual vehicle owners and drivers as a result. Insurers deal with those drivers’ mistakes, too. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that human error plays a role in 94% of all car accidents.

The entire auto insurance industry is built on this humans-and-their-errors model. But autonomous vehicles stand to turn the entire model on its head — in more ways than one.

Here are some of the biggest changes self-driving cars are poised to make to the auto insurance world and how P&C insurers can prepare for the shift.

Vehicle Ownership

Most conversations about self-driving cars and insurance focus on questions of fault, compensation and risk.

In a 2017 article for the Harvard Business Review, however, Accenture’s John Cusano and Michael Costonis posited that an even bigger disruption to P&C insurance practices would be a change in patterns of vehicle ownership.

“We believe that most fully autonomous vehicles will not be owned by individuals, but by auto manufacturers such as General Motors, by technology companies such as Google and Apple and by other service providers such as ride-sharing services,” Cusano and Costonis writes.

Indeed, companies like GM and Volvo are already exploring partnership with services like Lyft and Uber, as keeping self-driving vehicles on the road as much as possible amortizes their costs more effectively.

Paralleling the autonomous vehicle/ride-sharing partnership trend is a decrease in vehicle ownership. Young adults and teens are less interested in owning vehicles than their elders were, Norihiko Shirouzu reports for Reuters. Instead, they’re moving to more walkable areas or using ride-sharing services more often, already putting pressure on auto insurance premiums.

See also: Time to Put Self-Driving Cars in Slow Lane?  

U.S. roads are likely to be occupied by a combination of human-driven and self-driven vehicles for several decades, Cusano and Costonis estimate. As ownership trends change, however, P&C insurers’ focus on everything from evaluating risk to branding and outreach will change, as well.

Connected closely to the question of ownership is a second question: Who is at fault in a crash?

Fault Ownership

NHTSA’s statistics on human error as a crash factor imply that reducing the number of human drivers behind the wheel would reduce accidents. A McKinsey & Co. report agrees, estimating that autonomous vehicles could reduce accidents by 90%.

Taking human drivers’ mistakes out of the equation means taking human fault out of the equation, too. But questions of human fault stand to be replaced by even more complex questions regarding ownership, security and product liability.

Several automakers have already begun experimenting with approaches that upend traditional questions of fault and liability. Concerned over the patchwork of federal and state regulations in the U.S., Volvo President and CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced in 2015 that the company would assume fault if one of its vehicles caused an accident in self-driving mode.

The statement appears to apply to Volvo’s vehicles during the development and testing phases, according to Cadie Thompson at Tech Insider. It is too early to tell whether the company will extend its acceptance of fault to autonomous Volvo vehicles that function as full-fledged members of the transportation ecosystem. Nonetheless, the precedent of automakers accepting liability has been set — and, as automakers continue to explore partnerships or other models of fleet ownership, accepting liability or even providing their own insurance may become part of automakers’ arsenal, as well.

Ultimately, Volvo seems unconcerned about major liability shifts. “If you look at product liability today, there is always a process determining who is liable and if there is shared liability,” Volvo’s director of government affairs, Anders Eugensson, told Business Insider. “The self-driving cars will need to have data recorders which will give all the information needed to determine the circumstances around a crash. This will then be up to the courts to evaluate this and decide on the liabilities.”

Meanwhile, in Asia, Tesla is trying another method: including the cost of insurance coverage in the price of its self-driving vehicles, according to Danielle Muoio at Business Insider.

“It takes into account not only the Autopilot safety features but also the maintenance cost of the car,” says Jon McNeill, Tesla’s former president of sales and services (now COO of Lyft). “It’s our vision in the future we could offer a single price for the car, maintenance and insurance.”

Doing so would allow Tesla to take into account the reduced accident risk of the autonomous system and to lower insurance premium prices accordingly. This might reduce the actual cost of the vehicle over its useful life.

The NHTSA has already found that accident risk in Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot are 40% lower than in vehicles without, and the company believes insurance coverage should reflect that, according to Muoio.

If P&C insurers don’t adjust their rates accordingly, Tesla is prepared to do so itself.

Future Ownership

Property and casualty insurers seem torn on how self-driving cars will affect their bottom line.

On the one hand, “insurers like Cincinnati Financial and Mercury General have already noted in SEC filings that driverless cars have the potential to threaten their business models,” Muoio reports.

On the other, 84% don’t see a “significant impact” happening until the next decade, according to Greg Gardner at the Detroit Free Press.

Other analysts, however, believe the insurance industry is moving too slowly in response to autonomous vehicles.

“The disruption of autonomous vehicles to the automotive ecosystem will be profound, and the change will happen faster than most in the insurance industry think,” KPMG actuarial and insurance risk practice leader Jerry Albright tells Gardner. “To remain relevant in the future, insurers must evaluate their exposure and make necessary adjustments to their business models, corporate strategy and operations.”

KPMG CIO advisory group managing director Alex Bell agrees. “The share of the personal auto insurance sector will likely continue to shrink as the potential liability of the software developer and manufacturer increases,” Bell tells Gardner. “At the same time, losses covered by product liability policies are likely to increase, given that the sophisticated technology that underpins autonomous vehicles will also need to be insured.”

See also: The Unsettling Issue for Self-Driving Cars  

Major areas of concern in recent years will likely include product liability, infrastructure insurance and cybersecurity.

Meanwhile, the number of privately owned vehicles — and individually insured drivers — on the road will likely continue to drop, placing further pressure on auto insurance premiums.

What should P&C insurers to do prepare? Cusano and Costonis recommend the following steps:

  • Understand and use big data and analytics. As Eugensson at Volvo notes, autonomous vehicles will generate astounding quantities of data — data that can be used to pinpoint fault. It can also be used to process claims more quickly and efficiently, if insurers are prepared to use it. Building robust data analysis systems now prepares P&C insurers to add value by analyzing this data.
  • Develop actuarial frameworks and models for self-driving vehicles. As Tesla’s insurance experiment and NHTSA data indicates, questions of risk and cost for autonomous cars will differ in key ways. P&C insurers that invest the effort into developing and using more sophisticated actuarial tools are best-prepared to answer these questions effectively.
  • Seek partnerships. The GM/Lyft and Volvo/Uber ventures demonstrate how partnerships will change the automotive landscape in the coming years. Insurers that identify and pursue partnership opportunities can improve their position in this changing landscape by doing so.
  • Rethink auto insurance. Currently, P&C insurers’ auto work involves insuring large numbers of very small risks. As our relationship to vehicles changes, however, insurers will need to change their approach, as well — for instance, by moving to a commercial approach that trades many small risks for a few large ones.

Autonomous vehicles are poised to become one of the most profound technological changes in an era of constant change. Fortunately, the technology to manage this change is already available for insurers that are willing to embrace a digital future.

industries

Outsiders Retreat From Insurance

Cargill, Monsanto, Wells Fargo and John Deere are officially out of the crop insurance business, according to a recent article from Bloomberg. Large companies like these expanded into different aspects of the agriculture industry over the past few years, and their debut in the insurance industry made quite an impact. With their newly acquired insurance operations, they were the market players to watch – and now we’re watching them leave the industry.

Behind this exodus is the matter of profit. Large companies, especially those that are publicly traded like Monsanto and John Deere, have a different perspective on risk and profit than the typical insurer.

Let’s take crop insurance profit and loss over the past couple years, which is driven by fluctuations in crop prices. As Bloomberg explained, “Bumper harvests have sent corn, the biggest U.S. crop, to less than half its 2012 peak, ratcheting down the premiums farmers pay to insure against loss. Other crops have also seen steep price declines.” At the same time, the broader insurance industry has been seeing lackluster results. The most recent numbers from the Congressional Research Service indicate an underwriting loss of $1.3 billion in 2012 and profit of $657 million in 2013. For insurers, although these are not welcome results, the reality is that there will be challenging years – and insurers are accustomed to anticipating them. They are in for the long haul. But large, diversified commercial companies such as Cargill, John Deere and Monsanto have a much harder time adjusting to these financial results.

So, were these big external players a collective blip on the map, or a real disruption? A pattern visible across many industries offers a possible answer. Large companies diversify around their current offerings, and, if the results are disappointing, they realize the expanded offerings are not core to their business. Google has been extremely successful in most of its diversification, but Google+, its social network offering, never became the powerhouse the compay had hoped would challenge Facebook. If these large companies are unsuccessful, they often leave the new industry.

This is not to downplay the role that new entrants have in the insurance ecosystem. They push our thinking and ways of doing business in directions that might otherwise have taken years for the industry to adopt. New players like Haven Life and Google are not attempting to be the same old insurer, only better. Their goal is to disrupt the business of insurance and to create something in a niche that the industry had not perceived. The disruption they cause can take many forms, from new solutions to new distribution channels. They can go after these markets without owning the entire process – and, in doing so, they create real changes in how the insurance industry has to operate.

Driverless cars will present similar challenges. Volvo and Ford have both mentioned the possibility of covering product liability insurance. How will this affect the insurance industry? Will automakers really cover the liability, or will they front it? Autonomous vehicles will change the insurance landscape by opening doors for these new thinkers. But will the insurance industry need to step in to present new insurance products that provide the necessary coverage? What role will insurers play in the new auto world?

Disrupters like Monsanto, Cargill and John Deere were not in the market for a long time, but they do have an impact. They invested in changing the claims process, and they applied data, analytics and automation in areas that were previously very manual – which causes us to rethink other processes. We can hope that their new ways of doing business opened some eyes in the industry. They did not change the game so much as establish that the game needs to be changed.

Waves of Change in Digital Expectations

In the first of this three-part blog series, titled “Bringing Insurance Distribution Back Into Sync Part 1: What Happened to Insurance Distribution?”, we talked about the seismic shifts that have rocked traditional insurance distribution and about how insurance companies need to adopt a 2D strategy to thrive in this new environment.

There are four fundamental drivers of the seismic changes:

  • New expectations are being set by other industries—the “Amazon effect”;
  • New products are needed to meet new needs, and risks are distributed in new channels;
  • Channel options are expanding;
  • Lines are blurring between insurance and other industries.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss how the final three fundamental drivers have contributed to an environment of challenges and great opportunities. Those who adopt a 2D strategy will be better-prepared to seize the opportunities:

  • First, by optimizing the front end with a digital platform that orchestrates customer engagement across multiple channels
  • Second, by creating an optimized back end that effectively manages the growing array and complexity of multiple distribution channels beyond the traditional agent channel

New Products

Customer expectations, behaviors and risk profiles are evolving thanks to technology, social trends and other changes happening around us. These are driving the need for new insurance solutions and, consequently, new distribution methods, such as:

  • We all know about autonomous cars and increasing car safety technology. Autonomous cars have created questions about where liability lies in the event of an accident involving one of these vehicles. Volvo has laid down a challenge to the auto and insurance industries with its recent announcement that it will assume liability for crashes of its Intellisafe Autopilot cars.
  • The sharing economy—whether it’s for transportation, lodging, labor or “stuff”—has created a multitude of questions regarding coverages. People have realized they don’t need to buy and own cars or pay for hotel rooms when they can use someone else’s stuff for a cheaper price. People who own these items can monetize them when they’re not being used.
  • Cyber risk has been around for a long time, but numerous high-profile hacks have made it a hot topic again.
  • And, finally, the Internet of Things: Connected cars, homes and personal fitness trackers are generating lots of data with tremendous potential to improve pricing and create products and services, while at the same time reducing or eliminating risk.

The seismic impact has resulted in companies developing and offering new products to meet the changing needs, preferences and risks being driven by consumers. There are several relatively new peer-to-peer companies that have entered the market, such as Friendsurance, insPeer, Bought by Many and the recently announced start-up Lemonade. Metromile addresses the sharing economy trend with its product for Uber drivers, and addresses the niche market of low-mileage drivers.

Google Compare, with its focus of “being there when the customer wants it,” has rapidly expanded from credit cards (2013) to auto insurance (early 2015) and now to mortgages (December 2015), all the while expanding to new states and adding product providers to its platform with a new model that leverages customer feedback.

John Hancock is using Fitbits as part of the company’s Vitality program, which started in South Africa and which uses gamification to increase customer engagement and lead to potential discounts. Tokio Marine Nichido is using mobile (in an alliance with NTT Docomo) to distribute “one-time insurance” for auto, travel, golf and sports and leisure. HCC, which was recently acquired by Tokio Marine, has a new online portal for its agents to write artisan ontractors coverage for small artisan contractor customers.

The overarching theme in all these examples is that each company is pioneering ways of distribution, not just new products or coverages. Many companies are direct e-commerce because they are low premium, quick turnaround/short duration and potentially high volume; they are not well-suited for agent distribution.

Expanding Channel Options

Channel options and capabilities for accessing insurance are expanding rapidly. New brands are entering the market, giving customers new ways to shop for, compare and buy insurance.

Comparison sites, online agencies and brokers—such as Bolt Insurance Agency, Insureon, PolicyGenius, CoverHound, Compare.com and the Zebra—are relatively new to the market and are gaining significant market interest and penetration. There are also new brands in the U.S. selling life and commercial direct online, like Haven Life, Assurestart and Hiscox. Berkshire Hathaway will jump into the direct-to-business small commercial market in 2016, a potential game-changing move for the industry.

Finally, there are some intriguing new players that are focusing on specific parts of the insurance value chain.

  • Social Intelligence uses data from social media to develop risk scores that can be used for pricing and underwriting.
  • TROV is a “digital locker” with plans to use the detailed valuation data it collects to create more precise coverage and pricing for personal property.
  • Snapsheet is the technology platform behind many carriers’ mobile claims apps, including USAA, MetLife, National General and Country Financial.

Blurring Lines

The insurance industry is so valuable that outside companies are trying to capture a share. This has created a blurring of industry lines. Companies like Google, Costco and Wal-Mart are familiar brands that have not traditionally been associated with insurance, but they have offered insurance to their customers. The first time most people heard about these companies’ expansions into insurance, it probably struck them as unusual, but now the idea of cross-industry insurance penetration has become normal.

In addition, insurance products are blurring and blending into other products. For example, Zenefits and Intuit are considering bundling workers’ compensation with payroll offerings.

So, what does all of this mean?  There are two key implications from all of this for insurance companies.

First, multiple channels are now available to and are expected by customers. There are many ways for customers to research, shop, buy, pay for and use insurance (as well as almost all other types of products and services). Most customers demand and use multiple channels depending on what they want or need at the time. They are more ends-driven than means-driven and will pick the best channel for the task at hand.

Second, multiple channel options give customers the freedom to interact with companies anywhere, anytime, in just about any way.  But this only works if these channels are aligned and integrated. An organization can’t just add channels as new silos; they must be aligned, or they will do more harm than good.

So, while distribution transformation and digital capabilities promise an easier, better experience for customers, they actually result in increased complexity for insurers. Orchestrating all these channel options is hard work and can’t be done with legacy thinking, processes or systems. This expansion of channels requires insurers to optimize both the front end and the back end of the channel ecosystem.  In my next blog post, we’ll discuss these in more detail.