Several years ago, property and casualty insurance executives were looking over their shoulders anxiously at a growing number of internet startups. Who were these scruffy people wearing black turtlenecks? Could they really “disintermediate” legacy providers that had been around for a century or more?
Since then, we’ve all evolved. By now, most brands know they have inherent strengths that are hard to dislodge. The startups have matured, too, and they clearly have something to offer the market. We’re now working with companies in both camps, helping them navigate this new normal, where collaboration, acquisition and competition are all plausible options.
Some insurers may think they’ve dodged a bullet. But insurtech’s threat is more stealthy, and no less powerful.
Insurtech: the new, new thing?
At this fall’s InsureTech Connect trade show, literally thousands of people descended on Las Vegas to show and examine the latest offerings, from core systems, predictive analytics tools and anything-as-a-service to pitches addressing distribution, pursuing unserved niche markets, offering comparative pricing and broker services and more.
In our recent report on the state of insurtech, we cautioned insurers to look beyond the many truly interesting offerings now coming to market. As impressive as these tools are, we urged decision makers to stay focused on the capabilities that make their companies unique.
See also: Has a New Insurtech Theme Emerged?
What do insurers really do?
So, what are those capabilities? At holiday dinner tables, you may find yourself talking to a relative about what insurance is, and why it’s important. You may say something like, “We create products that help manage risk by sharing the possibility of individual loss with a larger pool of users.” This explanation held true for a long time, but,
with the rise of insurtech, it may not be the best way to look at your business.
That’s because many insurtech companies have emerged to manage the firehose of data that now shapes our world: the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable health devices, connected cars, artificial intelligence and more. Of course, there’s still a role for insurers when someone else captures and gets the insight from that data. But it’s a commodity role, driven by who is willing to write a policy to offset the risk at the lowest rate. There won’t be many winners, and the margins won’t be attractive.
Some insurers see their business as settling claims and handing out checks. But when someone else is using telematics to assess driving habits, or social media to understand lifestyle risks, who will be able to monetize this data? Increasingly, underwriting depends on getting deep into the data-driven weeds. If you’re not there, recognize that someone else will be.
The rise of outside money
There’s another factor shaping insurance today: the amount of private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) money flooding into the industry. An industry as highly capitalized as insurance was bound to have external investors come knocking eventually. Now, they have.
To be blunt, many insurance systems are too costly and too slow. PE and VC firms have seen this, and they’ve said to themselves, “I don’t have to be perfect, and I know I can be more efficient than this. Even if I’m only a little bit better than the legacy players, I can make a very healthy profit.” It’s a form of arbitrage, and competition could soon get a lot tougher.
With the acceleration of insurtech and related technologies such as cloud and artificial intelligence, PE and VC firms have found a way in that doesn’t require them to show a century of stability. They can do very well developing an insurtech play for very specific aspects of the P&C value chain. Many traditional companies are finding themselves in a commoditized business, without the structure of a commodity manufacturer.
Finding your way to play
Some of the most exciting developments in technology are now reshaping the insurance industry. That spells new opportunities and new risks. With the rise of PE and VC funding, we now see competition emerging from companies with significant resources—and they’re privately held so they can be more patient investors.
See also: Advice for Aspiring Leaders in Insurtech
Legacy insurance companies still have enormous advantages, and many opportunities to win. But most won’t be able to do it alone, and there are many examples of insurers that wasted time (and money) on the wrong insurtech acquisition or partnership. As the cycles of innovation and capital movement accelerate, you’ll need to be more focused than ever on the capabilities that make your company great. Insurtech is a game-changer. Make sure you’re playing the right game.