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Insurance & Innovation: The Challenge of Change

Last week, I was the opening keynote speaker for a small insurance industry group — and had senior executives of quite a few major property & casualty and life insurance companies in the room.

As always, I undertook an extensive amount of detailed research on the latest status of innovation within the industry. In addition, I looked back on my research and interview notes for previous keynotes for CEOs and other executives for the largest insurance companies in the world.

(Last December, I was the opening keynote for the annual Insurance Executive Conference in New York City; in the room was the CEO for Transamerica Life, among others; this is typical of many talks I’ve done within the industry over the course of 20 years)

"Kicking off Executive Leadership Council meeting with our friends @GAMAIntl  & keynote @jimcarroll in Amelia Island"

@IntellectSEEC – “Kicking off Executive Leadership Council meeting with our friends @GAMAIntl & keynote @jimcarroll in Amelia Island”

Let’s face it: the trends are real. The industry will be disrupted by tech companies. Existing brokerage and distribution networks will be obliterated as more people buy insurance direct. Predictive analytics will shift the industry away from actuarial based historical assessment to real-time coverage. Policy niches, micro-insurance and just-in-time insurance will drive an increasing number of revenue models. The Internet of Things (iOt) and healthcare connectivity will provide for massive market and business model disruption. I could go on for hours!

To gauge the current thinking within the industry as to “how to deal with what comes next,” my session included some hands-on, live interactive text-message polling.

Right out of the bat, I asked the participants if they felt ready for the massive disruption now underway in the insurance sector.

And the fact is, they are not:

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Having said that, they know that they are in the midst of some pretty significant change — the majority indicated that they believe that the insurance industry will not look anything in 10 years like it looks today.

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The reaction in the room parallels that of a recent Accenture study that I referenced in my keynote:

  • CSO’s at global companies and 94% of CSO’s at insurance companies agree that tech will “rapidly change their industry in 5 years”
  • fewer than 1 in 5 CSOs in insurance believe their companies are prepared
  • fewer than 1 in 10 believe their companies are “high value achievers”

A similar observation was found in a recent PWC study on the insurance industry:

  • “Nine in 10 insurance executives polled by consultant PwC reckon at least part of their business is at risk over the next five years – a greater proportion than in any other area of finance”

Clearly, these executives know that something needs to be done to deal with the potential for business model disruption in the industry. Yet is the industry prepared to deal with it?

Not really:

  • “Fewer than 50 per cent of respondents in the life and general insurance sectors said they would increase IT spending to help them access new customers.” Fintech is booming – but where are 
the insurance tech startups? 
29 September 2015, City AM

Here’s the current problem: there is tremendous potential for complacency to seep into the industry, particularly as Google has pulled back from its’ Google Compare initiative. (This service let people use a Google tool to do comparison shopping for insurance policies from major carriers; the CEO of Google Compare also spoke at the New York event last December).

  • “Google’s initial failure shows technology firms won’t necessarily have “an easy road” to success in the new sector.” Beating Silicon Valley to the Punch; Digitizing Insurance, 11 March 2016

Is the complacency warranted? Not in my view — I think most tech companies, when disrupting an industry and suffer an initial setback, come back in a bigger and more significant way. It’s most likely that when Google, Amazon, Apple and other tech companies  come back in to disrupt insurance, they won’t be working with major carriers to do it!

  • “Expect that when the megatechs enter the insurance space, they will insist on taking control of a much bigger portion of the sales journey, positioning themselves as an alternative end-to-end solution provider, not just a lead generator.” Life Insurance Disruption, Asia Insurance Review, June 2016

Does the insurance industry have the innovation culture necessary to deal with the potential for what comes next? My next poll gave me a pretty stark response — the industry continues to be bound up in some pretty significant organizational sclerosis.

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Is there a way out of this mess? Can the industry fix the clear strategic mismatch which exists?

In my keynote,  I suggested that disruption in such a significant issue that it really needs to be dealt with at the level of the Board; strategy needs to be kicked up a notch; clear responses and actions are warranted.

Quite clearly, specific responsibility needs to be put in place to implement a  disruption-strategy. Back to the Accenture report:

  • “Companies that have put in place chief digital officers and chief innovation officers and who report directly to the CEO tend to have a dedicated focus on technology-focused initiatives …. That’s a sign that they and C-level peers are taking technology-disruption seriously.”

Industry insight also clearly shows that insurance companies must “partner-up” to deal with the fact they simply don’t have the technology expertise to compete with Google, Amazon and others.

  • “an overarching theme …. not least among them insurers .. is that they cannot face technology driven innovation by themselves” – “How to disrupt the high-tech disruptors”
National Underwriter & Health
September 2016

Are many insurance companies following the path to partner up? Sadly, no:

  • “Only 28% of the respondents said they explored partnerships with fintech companies and less than 14% actively participated in ventures or incubator programmes.” Insurance Companies Slow in 
Bridging Fintch Gap, Mint, July 2016

I’ve been providing strategic level guidance to senior executives in the global insurance industry for over 20 years.

The issues, challenges and opportunities are stark. They’re real. They’re not going away.

Will most companies survive? Maybe not. Stay tuned!

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