Insights — October 11, 2018

In the new age of disruption, what really is insurance?

The insurance industry attempts a redefinition at InsureTech Connect 2018

by Emily Smith Cardineau

“Somehow we have created a monster and it’s time to turn it on its head for our customers and think about providing some certainty of protection.” – Inga Beal, CEO, Lloyds of London

In an early-morning plenary session at this year’s InsureTech Connect in Las Vegas, Rick Chavez, Partner and Head of Digital Strategy Acceleration at Oliver Wyman, described the disruption landscape in insurance succinctly: while the first phase of disruption was about digitization, the next phase will be about people. In his words, “digitization has shifted the balance of power to people,” forcing the insurance industry to radically reorient itself away from solving its own problems toward solving the problems of its customer. It’s about time.

For the 6,000 + attendees at InsureTech Connect 2018, disruption in insurance has long been described in terms of technology. Chavez rightly urges the audience to expand its definition of disruption and instead conceive of disruption not just as a shift in technology but as a “collision of megatrends”–technological, behavioral, and societal–that is reordering the world in which we live, work, and operate as businesses. In this new “world order” businesses and whole industries are being refashioned in ways that look entirely unfamiliar, insurance included.

This kind of disruption requires that insurance undergo far more than modernization, but a true metamorphosis, not simply shedding its skin of bureaucracy, paper applications, and legacy systems, but being reborn as an entirely new animal, focused on customers and digitally enabled by ongoing technological transformation.

In the new age of disruption …

1. Insurance is data

Soon each one of us will be generating millions of data sets every day – insurance can be the biggest beneficiary of that” – Vishal Gondal, GOQUii

While Amazon disrupted the way we shop and Netflix disrupted the way we watch movies, at the end of the day movies are still movies and the dish soap, vinyl records, and dog food we buy maintain their inherent properties, whether we buy them on Amazon or elsewhere. Insurance, not simply as an industry but as a product, on the other hand is being fundamentally altered by Big Data. 

At its core, “insurance is about using statistics to price risk, which is why data, properly collected and used, can transform the core of the product,” said Daniel Schreiber, CEO of Lemonade during his plenary session on day 2 of the conference. As copious amounts of data about each and every one of us become evermore available, insurance at the product level– at the dish soap-dog-food level–is changing.

While the auto insurance industry has been ahead of the curve in its use of IoT generated data to underwrite auto policies, some of the most exciting change happening today is in life insurance as life products are being reconceived by a boon of health data generated by FitBits, genetic testing data, epigenetics, health gamification and other fitness apps. In a panel discussion entitled On the Bleeding Edge: At the Intersection of Life & Health, JJ Carroll of Swiss RE discussed the imperative of figuring out how to integrate new data sources into underwriting and how doing so will lead to a paradigm shift in how life insurance is bought and sold. “Right now we underwrite at a single point in time and treat everyone equally going forward,” she explained. With new data sources influencing underwriting, life insurance has the potential to become a dynamic product that uses health and behavior data to adjust premiums over time, personalize products and service offerings, and expand coverage to traditionally riskier populations. 

Vishal Gandal of GOQuii, a “personalized wellness engine” that is partnering with Max Bupa Insurance and Swiss Re to offer health coaching and health-management tools to customers believes that integrating data like that generated by GOQuii will “open up new risk pools and provide products to people that couldn’t be covered before.” While some express concern that access to more data, especially epigenetic and genetic data may have the adverse effect of excluding people from coverage, Carroll remains confident that it is not insurers who will benefit the most from data sharing, but customers themselves.

1. Insurance is in the background

“In the future, insurance will buy itself automatically” – Jay Bergman, Verily

Some of the most standout sessions of this year’s InsureTech Connect were not from insurance companies at all, but from businesses either partnering with insurance companies or using insurance-related data to educate their customers about and/or sell insurance to their customers as a means of delivering more value. 

Before unveiling a new car insurance portal that allows customers to monitor their car-related records and access a quote with little-to-no data entry, Credit Karma CEO Ken Lin began his talk with a conversation around how Credit Karma is “more than just free credit scores,” elucidating all of the additional services they have layered on top of their core product to deliver more value to their customers. Beyond simply announcing a new product launch, Lin’s talk was gospel to insurance carriers, demonstrating how a company with a fairly basic core offering (free credit scores) can build a service layer on top to deepen engagement with customers. It’s a concept which touches upon what was surely one of the most profound themes of the conference–that like free credit scores, insurance only need be a small piece of a company’s larger offering. This may mean embedding insurance into the purchase of other products or services (ie. how travel insurance is often sold) or it may mean doing what Credit Karma has done and layering on a service offering to deepen engagement with customers and make products stickier.

Assaf Wand, CEO of the home insurance company Hippo spoke to both of these models in his discussion with David Weschler of Comcast about how their two companies are partnering together to make insurance smarter and smart homes safer. When asked about what the future of insurance looks like, Wand put it plainly when he said “Home insurance won’t be sold as insurance. It will be an embedded feature of the smart home.” Jillian Slyfield, who heads up the Digital Economy Practice at Aon, a company that is already partnering with companies like Uber and Clutch to to insure the next generation of drivers agrees – “We are embedding insurance into these products today.”

Until this vision is fully realized, companies like Hippo are doing their part to make their insurance products themselves fade into the background as they offer additional services for homeowners, “Can I bring you value that you really care about?” Wand asked, “Wintering your home, raking leaves, these are the kinds of things that matter to homeowners.”

3. Insurance is first and foremost a customer experience

The insurance industry has to redefine our processes… go in reverse, starting with the customer and re-streamlining our processes around them” – Koichi Nagasaki, Sompo

To many outside of the insurance industry, the idea of good customer experience may seem unremarkable, but for an industry that has for so long been enamoured by the ever-increasing complexity of its own products, redefining processes around customers is like learning a foreign language as a middle-aged adult. It’s hard and it takes a long time and a lot of people aren’t up to the task.

The insurance industry has been talking about the need for customer centricity for a while now, but many companies continue to drag their feet. But customer centricity is and remains more than a differentiator, it’s now table stakes. How this plays out for the industry will look different for different companies. Some will turn to partnerships with insuretechs and other startups to, as discussed above embed their products into what are already customer-centric experiences and companies. Rick Chavez of Oliver Wyman would rather see the industry “disrupt itself,” as he believes it’s critical that companies maintain the customer relationship. In his plenary sessions he sites the German energy company Enercity as a company that disrupted itself. Operating in a similarly regulated industry, rather than becoming just a supplier of energy, the company invested heavily in its own digital strategy to become a thought leader in the energy space, a trusted advisor to its customer, and to deliver an exceptional digital experience that, among other things, leverages blockchain technology to accept bitcoin payments from customers. For Chavez, insuretech is already a bubble, and “If you want to succeed and thrive in a bubble, make yourself indispensable.” The only way to do this, he believes is to maintain ownership over the customer experience, because in today’s digital economy, the customer experience is the product.

But to own the customer experience and succeed will require insurance companies to completely reorient their business practices and processes – to start with customer and the experience and work backward toward capabilities. In the words of Han Wang of Paladin Cyber who spoke on a panel about moving from selling products to selling services, “It’s always a questions of what does the customer want? How do they define the problem? And what is the solution?” 

4. Insurance is trust

“The world runs on trust. When we live in a society where we have lots of trust, everyone benefits. When this trust goes away, everyone loses.” – Dan Ariely, Lemonade

During a faceoff between incumbents and insuretechs during one conference session, Dylan Bourguignon, CEO of so-sure cinched the debate with a single comment, calling out large insurance carriers: “You want to engage with customers yet you don’t have their trust. And it’s not like you haven’t had time to earn it.” This, Bourguignon believes, is ultimately why insurtechs will beat the incumbents.

Indeed the insurtech Lemonade spent a fair amount of stage time preaching the gospel of trust. Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and Chief Behavior Officer at Lemonade delivered a plenary session entirely devoted to the topic of trust. He spoke about trust from a behavioral standpoint, explaining how trust creates equilibrium in society, and how, when trust is violated, the equilibrium is thrown off. Case in point: insurance. Insurance, he explained, has violated consumer trust and in turn has thrown off the equilibrium–the industry doesn’t trust consumers, and consumers don’t trust the industry, a vulnerability which has left the insurance industry open to the kind of disruption a company like Lemonade poses.  As an industry, insurance is incentivized not to do the thing they have promised to do, which is to pay out your claims. And while trust is scarcely more important in any industry as it is in insurance, save in an industry like healthcare, the insurance industry is notoriously plagued by two-way distrust.  What makes Lemonade unique is that they have devised a system that removes the conflict of interest germane to most insurance companies – as a company, they are not incentivized to not pay out customer claims. In theory, their profits are entirely derived by taking a percentage of the premium; anything left over that does not go to pay out a claim is then donated to charity. The result: if customers are cheating, they aren’t cheating a company, they are cheating a charity. Ariely described several instances where customer even tried to return their claims payments after finding misplaced items they thought had been stolen. “How often does this happen in your companies?” he asked the audience. Silence.

And it’s not just new business models that will remedy the trust issues plaguing insurance. It’s new technology, too. In a panel entitled Blockchain: Building Trust in Insurance by IBM executives from IBM, Salesforce, Marsh, and AAIS discussed how blockchain technology has the capacity to deepen trust across the industry, amongst customers, carriers, solutions providers, and underwriters by providing what Jeff To of Salesforce calls an “immutable source of truth that is trusted amongst all parties.” Being able to easily access and trust data will have a trickle down effect that will impact everyone, including customers, employees and the larger business as a whole–reducing inefficiencies, increasing application and quote-to-bind speed, eliminating all the hours and money that go into data reconciliation, and ultimately making it easier for carriers to deliver a quality customer experience to their customers.

While the progress in blockchain has been incremental, the conference panel demoed some promising use cases in which blockchain is already delivering results for customers, one example being acquiring proof of insurance for small businesses or contractors through Marsh’s platform. With blockchain, a process that used to span several days has been reduced to less than a minute. Experiences like these–simple, seamless, and instantaneous – are laying the groundwork for carriers to begin the long road to earning back customer trust. Blockchain will likely play an integral role this process.

5. Insurance is social good

“We need insurance. It is one of the most important products for financial security.” – Dan Ariely, Lemonade

For all of the the naysaying regarding state of the industry that took place at InsureTech Connect, there were plenty of opportunities for the industry to remind itself that insurance isn’t all bad, and its core it is something that is incredibly important to the stability of people across the globe. Lemonade’s Daniel Schreiber called it a social good, while Dan Ariely of Lemonade told his audience, “We need insurance. It is one of the most important products for financial security.”  Similar sentiments were expressed across stages throughout the conference.

In fact, in today’s society in which income disparity is at one of the highest points in recent history, stagnating wages are plaguing and diminishing the middle class, more people in the United States are living in poverty now than at any point since the Great Depression, the social safety net is shrinking by the minute, and more than 40% of Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $400 emergency, insurance is more important than ever.

For Inga Beal, CEO of Lloyds of London, insurance has a critical role to play in society, “It goes beyond insurance–it’s about giving people money and financial independence,” she said during a fireside chat. She goes on to describe findings from recent research conducted by Lloyds which determined that by the end of their lives, men in the UK are six times better off financially than women. When designed as a tool to provide financial independence and equality for everyone, insurance can play an important role in addressing this disparity. While this has been a focus in emerging markets, financial stability and independence is often assumed in more developed markets, like the US and Europe. But in reality, it is a problem facing all markets, and increasingly so.  Ace Callwood, CEO of Painless1099, a bank account for freelancers that helps them save money for taxes agrees that insurance has an important role to play, “It’s our job to get people to a place where they can afford to buy the products we are trying to sell,” he said.

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