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February 1, 2017

Why CIOs’ Heads Are on a Swivel

Summary:

Disruption is now coming from multiple directions simultaneously; in a study, CIOs describe how they are reacting.

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In the face of growing commoditization, carriers increasingly focus on innovation as they describe their development plans and go-to-market strategies.

Recently, we spoke to 10 carriers from the Novarica Research Council spanning both the P&C and L&A segments. The insights and perspectives we gained provide a fascinating view of an industry facing significant changes in its markets, customer demographics and persistently low interest rates, which make outside-the-box thinking a necessity.

Innovation is the father of disruption in the insurance industry, and that disruption is now coming from multiple directions simultaneously, so CIOs have their heads on a swivel. CIOS view the most significant source of innovation and disruption as coming from outside the industry—specifically, banking and financial services firms, which tend to require more rapid adoption of advancing technology. Within the industry, insurtech startups are the main sources of innovation, bringing ideas, technologies and processes from other verticals into insurance.

See also: How to Master the ABCs of Innovation  

When it comes to leveraging these perspectives for innovation, the P&C industry is further along than L&A. Many P&C CIOs have put together a combination of insurtech startups, customer experience designers from outside the industry and traditional management consultants to build capabilities. L&A CIOs are still largely looking for that sweet spot of combining outside and inside industry expertise to start getting their arms around what innovation means to them and their companies.

Once a carrier has decided to incorporate innovation, CIOs have to make the move from conceptual to concrete by sponsoring formal activities that encourage creative thinking. While P&C carriers are, by and large, further along the innovation curve, L&A carriers appear to be making greater use of tools like hackathons and ideathons to foster a culture of innovation. Appointing an internal “innovation champion,” whether a person or a team, has become commonplace in L&A carriers. Innovation champions serve notice that innovation is a priority and that resources will be allocated accordingly.

CIOs also have to consider a range of new technologies to support, and even to drive, their innovation efforts. Right now, AI-themed solutions like robo-advice apps are top of mind for CIOs. Wearable devices are more important for life insurers, while semi-autonomous vehicles and telematics are more important to P&C insurers. Drone-based technologies and data collection will continue to be important to both P&C and L&A insurers.

Supporting innovation efforts can also mean recognizing the need to reach outside their own spheres of experience for help. A common approach is to create a venture capital entity separate from the core insurance business. Another approach is pursuing strategic alliances directly with insurtech startups or others, who might have the intellectual know-how, but not the resources and structure, to move ideas from concept to reality. Finally, some insurers are using “flanker” brands, which serve as alternatives to the traditional parent brand, as an entry into the innovation world. These can do things that the parent brand may not allow for.

Like any other initiative, those focused on innovation need funding. L&A insurers favor the traditional budgeting route, and some have levied a corporate “tax” on other business units as a way to aggregate budge monies for innovation. The short-term risk here is that such an approach could cause political or cultural issues inside an insurer. P&C insurers, perhaps due to their having had more time in the innovation space, have found other ways to fund innovation initiatives. Some have gone so far as to carve out a whole separate innovation budget and create “innovation centers,” responsible for coming up with as many ideas as possible and turning the most promising ones around into prototypes quickly, without bureaucratic interference. In terms of investing in innovation, both P&C and L&A CIOs have discovered the power of investing in cultural change and adaptation, looking both inside and outside their organizations for inspiration and new ideas. Many have created innovation centers or loosely coupled investment funds to engage with startups, universities and think tanks. That trend is likely to accelerate as more insurers get serious about innovation.

Understandably, insurers want to see that innovation is leading to new products, more effective and efficient processes, better customer service and, of course, higher profits. Along with that comes a desire to measure and quantify the effectiveness of innovation initiatives (measuring is simply what insurers do, after all). The industry, though, has yet to land on a quantitative and qualitative set of metrics to accurately gauge how successful an innovation project has been. Both P&C and L&A CIOs are for the most part still coming around to the idea that some innovation efforts can pay dividends without those dividends being directly measurable.

See also: Where Will Real Innovation Start?  

Innovation is becoming increasingly important to insurers in 2017, and it requires support from senior leadership to succeed. Insurance is an industry that is generally very conservative, and innovation is all too often looked at with skepticism, or even hostility. Innovation can be hard work that requires a dedication of resources and a willingness to take new risks. It can also require new organizational structures and an acceptance that an asset (e.g., a traditional brand) can also be a liability. Carriers simply cannot double down on the strategies from the past. Innovation is frequently about breaking things and a willingness to walk away from traditional approaches to products, distribution models and operations.

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About the Author

Rob McIsaac is a senior vice president of research and consulting at Novarica, with expertise in IT leadership and transformation as well as technology and business strategy for life, annuities, wealth management and banking.

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