Rethinking the role of the intercap

Craig Weber

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Feb 9th, 2016

The trend-naming fashion of capital letters in the middle of words continues. I believe those “InterCaps”—also known as “BumpyCaps” and “CamelCaps”—are mostly a marketing trick intended to make terms sound important. I find them annoying.

The hot example of late is FinTech. Plus its close cousins, BankTech, InsurTech, and RegTech. They’re popping up everywhere, including within the hallowed halls of Celent. We are all guilty of putting a new veneer on something that has been around for ages.

What does that capital T in Tech imply, and why do the terms get such rapt attention? Is applying technology to the business of financial services new, and more worthy of our attention today than it was years ago? Is how we manage new technology fundamentally changed? I don’t think so.

Maybe the point is to let us collectively off the hook for pursuing technology change so casually (was that it?) for the last 50 years. I can imagine the bank or insurance CIO, late in his/her career, saying, “Hey, if we had FinTech 30 years ago, this place might look a damn sight different by now!” Right, that’s what we were missing: Technology startups! Youngsters in hoodies!

The truth behind technology and the financial services industry requires no such defense. Changing the world through application of technology didn’t depend on the arrival of startling new tools, or dorm room genius, as helpful as those might be in today’s world. It required a risk/reward shift. As an industry, we didn’t change because we didn’t have to. Our existence was not threatened by new consumer behaviors. Our livelihoods were not at risk from upstart competitors. We took a hard look at the costs and benefits of new technology, and behaved accordingly. Which meant…changing…slowly.

But something is certainly different today. I believe that existential threats are emerging for our industry. We are now at risk. I’m firmly convinced that relationships between consumers and their financial providers are changing, with the industry’s participation or without it. There is a new dynamism, and it is clear that the entire ecosystem is feeling the impact.

Instead of looking at FinTech and all the other Techs with an annoyed editor’s eye, maybe I should embrace the way intercaps communicate something important. They’re a stylistic irritation. But they’re also a visual cue that helps us rethink technology. And that is sorely needed in these times of powerful disruption.

Well sir, we’re not Amazon: online support lessons for insurers

Tom Scales

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Feb 1st, 2016

I just got off the phone from a 40 minute phone call with an insurer that provides benefits to my family. I won’t name the company, as that is not the point of this blog post, but I thought I would share my experience. I am certainly hopeful that this could not happen at any of the companies for which our readers work.

The same insurer handles my Group life and Dental coverages. It is a well-known company. I had previously registered for their website, so I logged on to print my new dental card, so I could get all seven of us to the dentist. When I logged on, it only showed my Life coverage, but not dental. Nothing on the site let me add it, so I resorted to the next best thing.

I called.

The wait was about what I expect – about 10 minutes – before they actually connected me to a person. After providing my entire life history (or at least it felt that way), to validate I am who I am, the customer service rep banged away at her keyboard for a solid 5 minutes before declaring that she could not send me id cards – that my account did not allow it. Getting beyond the fact that this is simply silly, she transferred me to web support.

Back in the queue for another 10 minute wait, I finally spoke to a helpful gentleman who could set me up to access my dental account.

Except he couldn’t.

First, he explained that I had to have a second web account to view Dental. Apparently the siloed nature of their organization spilled over to their customers (Strike one). Then after being on hold for another 5 minutes, he came back to let me know that he could not set me up because my employer did not allow us to have an online account. Even when assured that my colleague DID have allow web accounts, he stuck with his guns. I tried, repeatedly, to convince him that my company would not have made that decision (Strike two).

I finally gave up, ended the call and emailed our internal benefits coordinator. She responded that all I had to do was register for the site again, using a second email address. Naturally, this worked, contrary to what the insurer repeatedly told me (Strike three).

Now, why did I title the blog as I did?

Because my experiences with my insurer are not unique. I recently had trouble returning an online order from a major big box home improvement store. They wanted everything short of my first born to allow me to return a defective product. I had to jump through many hoops and take the product back to their local store. To make it worse, they wouldn’t be able to replace it. I’d have to order it again, and, by the way, the price went up $120.

During that call, I commented that their service was complicated and poor and paled in comparison to Amazon.

To which he replied: “Well sir, we’re not Amazon.”

No, no you’re not. And I haven’t ordered anything else from them either, but Amazon gets my business regularly.

The moral of the story? Oh there are so many:

  • Don’t show your organizational weaknesses to the customer. You may be siloed, but that shouldn’t make it difficult for the customer.
  • Make sure your support people actually know what they’re doing. The solution set should not include “making something up so the customer will go away.”
  • Customers expect your service to equal those of other providers. Admitting that you’re not Amazon just reinforces this notion.

I could go on and on, but it is a lesson the insurance industry needs to learn. We lag behind virtually every other industry in online support.

Now I don’t want to leave on a negative note, because there are insurers in our industry that excel at online support. My auto insurer is wonderful.

What’s a bit ironic is that once I got setup on the two almost identical websites for this insurer, the web experience is wonderful.

One prediction for 2016 is about to come true – our event on February 3rd

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Jan 28th, 2016

With just under a week to go until our event at The Magic Circle in London is on February 3 I though it worth reflecting on 2016 and the folly of predictions in today’s world.

One of the key challenges for any organisation trying to respond to an unpredictable future is the hockey-stick graph or geometric growth that is increasingly describing adoption and the impact of technology on our society. That is to say that the figures stay relatively flat and predictable and then grow out of all proportion to what went before. Adoption of the Internet is a good example, the rise of the smart phones and that of tablets is another.

Some may still argue that wearables as a fad has passed, citing them being around for a while but not really seeing the growth one would expect. Perhaps though, this is the false sense of security brought by the flat bit of the graph? The same is true of self-driving cars, a concept that’s been alive and well in Hollywood and on TV shows for decades (anyone remember the Hoff and Kit?) and is only now starting to creep onto real world roads.

If the trends of cheaper and ubiquitous technology continue then these trends could at some point see that hockey stick moment, that massive growth in adoption and impact. For insurers – just reacting may not be good enough, instead perhaps it is worth spending time thinking: it is only a matter of time until it is ‘normal’ for clothes and accessories to be internet connected, for cars to drive themselves and for people to live longer through better management of their health.

This is precisely the type of thinking we’re hoping to bring to our event, which will be a mix of folks who are on the curve of some of these changes and also some tools to help insurers plan and respond.

So while I’m waiting for my Internet connected suit to come along (not that fanciful, you can already get connected yoga-pants and nappies that tweet) and the car that drives me to work – I look forward to spending some time those of you can attend our event next week to discuss the future of insurance and to ask the question, What if … ?

Will your next insurance administration system be on the Blockchain?

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Jan 27th, 2016

Policy, claims, and billing administration systems have not fundamentally changed since their inception. Yes, there have been technical improvements, but the basic model remains the same as originally designed – each insurer buys (or subscribes) to a version of code to use against their own database and (hopefully) integrate with external sources to service a client. This is about to change with the advent of Blockchain 2.0.

With an appreciative nod to material developed by our parent company, Oliver Wyman, here is a brief summary of this technology (Celent subscribers will have access to a full report on this platform in the very near future):

Blockchain is built on a series of innovations in organizing and sharing data. The objective is to create a single version of the truth, used by all participants, which contains a much richer dataset than exists in any one system today. This, in turn, enables new industry processes to be developed based on the use of transparent real-time data, immediate settlement of transactions and the expansion of auto-executing “smart” contracts with business logic encoded into the ledger.

The technology incorporates two facets, a blockchain (lower case) which is the process of adding blocks of cryptographically signed data to form perpetual and immutable records, and distributed ledgers – a database architecture where all participants in a system collaborate to reach a consensus on the correct state of a shared data resource. Applying business rules to this infrastructure, called smart contracts, drives transactions immediately.

Real time data exchange, increased security, and more efficient settlement of transactions and processing are some of the benefit areas waiting to be realized. Before this though, the platform must solve hurdles including scalability issues, regulatory concerns, and common standards and governance.

To this last point, our brethren in the banking industry have joined the R3 consortium to begin to address the challenges. Founded in New York City in September last year by nine founding banks, it now has 42 members spread across multiple geographies. It is led by a startup organization and is in its very early stage — the technology team is being built and initial use cases have not been completed.

But what of insurance?

Celent is aware of insurers who are active in this space. Most are leveraging the investments made in an innovation infrastructure (Innovation Labs, Centers of Excellence, co-development partnerships, accelerators) to conduct limited experiments with Blockchain. However, these efforts are individual and not connected.

Is there a similar group of 9 insurers that want to work together to explore the opportunities and coordinate on standards? Or is there a policy, claims, or billing technology provider who is going to fill this void? We expect movement in these areas in the first half of the year with some possible ways forward identified by year-end.

US patents in 2015 – who are the leaders?

Tom Scales

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Jan 21st, 2016

I thought this chart from the firm Statista was interesting and topical given my post from last week. What particularly caught my eye was their observation that IBM is number one for the 23rd straight year. In addition, over 2,000 of their patents focus on cloud computing and cognitive computing, both areas of particular interest to insurance and the broader financial services industry.

And for those that wonder (like me), Apple was in 11th place, just 18 patents short of 10th.

 

Infographic: Top 10 U.S. Patent Recipients | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

Insurance companies are embracing technology — for investment

Tom Scales

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Jan 21st, 2016

Celent frequently observes that many insurers, particularly in the Life space, are running aging, if not antique, software systems. They rely heavily on mainframe systems, often in languages such as COBOL that are becoming more difficult to support. The positive news is that our research shows continued growth, if modest, in IT budgets with modernization and innovation a frequent focus.

With this as the foundation, it is interesting to see continued growth in insurance company’s venture capital arms in financial services oriented technology, or Fintech. Industry research shows an incredible growth path in Fintech start-ups, from a modest 400 or so in 2010 to over 12,000 in 2014. While the numbers are not yet in, we expect the 2015 numbers to continue this dramatic growth path.

The insurers with venture capital arms are too numerous to list, but are a who’s who in the industry. Examples include AXA Strategic Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, American Family Ventures, and Transamerica Ventures.

While many of the examples are US-based, it is a global phenomenon. A great example is Ping An Ventures, a subsidiary of the Chinese insurance company Ping An.

Celent tracks many of the insurance related investments and we see several focus areas. One is in financial management and modeling, such as Roboadvisors, across both Life and Health. Good examples include Northwestern Mutual’s acquisition of Learnvest and AXA Strategic Ventures and MassMutual Venture’s investment in Limelight Health. MassMutual is also the parent company of Haven Life, a fully online sales organization dedicated to Life insurance.

Other hot areas, not surprisingly, include analytics and the ever popular Internet of Things.

The most recent investment, announced just yesterday, is AXA Strategic Ventures’ investment in Neura. Neura’s tagline is “Enrich your products with personalized insights from the lives of people who use them”. While a little heavy on the buzzwords, the basic view is that Neura analyzes data about you and recommends personalizations based on that information. The basic premises appears to link the Internet of Things, such as your Fitbit, to your social media presence, to your calendar and more. There are, of course, other companies overlapping this space (with 12,000 new companies, you would expect competition), such as Vitality and Life.io. The competition is encouraging, as it fosters continuous innovation. As the Millennials now outnumber Baby boomers (at least in the US), new technologies to engage them in insurance can be game changers.

I am particularly intrigued with the technology companies, like these, that are focusing on changing the entire approach to Life insurance. The life insurance sale has always been focused on a negative experience – death of a love one. No one wants to talk about dying, and everyone wants to believe they will live many more years. When I talk to people that are just reaching an age where they really need life insurance, I get push back, and a lot of it, about everything else more important in their lives. My response that they need to protect their family often falls on deaf ears. By changing the discussion from “you are going to die”, to “how can we help you live longer”, we are opening up a much more comfortable discussion. In addition, this is a generation that will share everything on social media, to the point of embarrassment, so asking for more information to make their experience more intimate should be fairly easy.

The investments and technology are exciting. It is wonderful to see insurance organizations finally catching the technology wave, after lagging for so long. Whether it be the Internet of Things, Usage based insurance, Micro insurance, behavioral underwriting or more, the staid insurance industry is breaking out. Some technologies are even a bit fun, such as the expanded usage of drones.

Now before I get you too excited about the reinvention of insurance, I suggest you read a counterpoint to this post, from my colleague Donald Light, entitled A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance. He makes some very valid points about the managing our excitement. Another colleague, Craig Beattie, shares a similar bit of skepticism in his post What if… the insurance industry didn’t innovate?

I guess I am forever the optimist and want to believe the excitement and change is real.

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A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance

Donald Light

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Jan 15th, 2016

It was in the Galaxy InternetBubble, stardate 2000.12.1. I was at a technology firm that was riding the Internet rocket up—and a couple of years later rode it back down. (It actually made a soft landing, and those early Web-anauts lived to tell the tale).

In those heady early days of the web, there was a general feeling that the Internet was going to “change everything.” True, there wasn’t a lot of clarity about what “everything” or “change” were, but it was something many people said (and possibly believed). In any event, there was a steady stream of VC-funded insurance start-ups that would visit us, asking for our vision of what the web would wrought—while we were trying to think of some ways to be hired by those start-ups to make those visions real. If any of this sounds familiar to anyone, let me know.

So there I was, minding my insurance Subject Matter Expert business, and someone asked me to attend a meeting that afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was to reinvent insurance. And I thought, “Why not?”

I entered the conference room, and saw that the other attendees (bright and articulate professionals each and every one of them) had very limited insurance experience. No one in the room (with the exception of your humble blogger) could have defined hazard, exposure, or probable maximum loss, or the law of large numbers, and so on. At the end of the two hours, we had in fact not reinvented insurance. There was no follow-up meeting.

Why bring up this bit of ancient history? Because we have arguably entered another period in which claims are made that technology, or digital, or insurtech is going to, if not change everything, at least disrupt everything. As an example, see these Celent reports about the end of auto insurance, or the Internet of Things, or digital strategies.

If you want to separate the disruptive wheat from the buzz-based chaff this time around, here are some basic questions to ask:

  • Does the proposed use of a new technology impact the basics of the insurance model?
  • Can it scale?
  • Will it change the relationships among cost, price, and value in a way that is fair to the insurer, the distribution channel and the policyholder?

If the answers to these questions are all yes, maybe maybe someone will reinvent insurance this time around.

This time around, may the In-Force be with us.

You are the Magic!

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Jan 14th, 2016

Our event at The Magic Circle in London is on February 3 and it is approaching fast. Our external speakers are set to tell us how their companies are challenging long-held assumptions about the way insurance works.

But, part of the programme will also involve the participants. We plan to invest a portion of our time together letting you, the attendees, run the meeting. With so many talented, skilled insurance professionals in one place, we want to tap into that brainpower! Of course, we can’t go into too much detail about what is planned, as magic depends on surprise, but…here is a short preview.

We will ask attendees to provide their perspective on a number of scenarios and then break into groups to exchange perspectives. We are in the process of finalizing the scenarios now, but to give you an idea of what we are considering. What if…

  • Cars don’t crash?
  • People don’t die?
  • Insurance products are service contracts, based on the avoidance of loss, rather than on indemnity?
  • Pricing is determined by activities and instead of basing rates on rating categories, they are based on behaviors?
  • Technology and social norms allow individual risks to socialize their coverages and seek partners to share in deductible / low loss payments?

Our goal is to give everyone an approach that they can take back to their company, modify appropriately and use to gain some consensus on the way forward. We also plan to have some fun!

If you have not registered, here is the link:

See you soon!

A consolidation wave is reshaping the EMEA PAS vendor landscape

Jan 5th, 2016

At Celent, we have been writing reports profiling policy administration system (PAS) vendors for a long time. In the European, Middle East and African region (EMEA) we have covered up to 50 vendors in some of our bi-annual reports and we know there were approximately twice more active in this region of the world.  The most recent report focused on life PAS in EMEA can be found here.

Since our first look at the PAS market in the EMEA region in 2007 we have predicted that its fragmentation and its heterogeneity would lead to a consolidation. It is fair to say that we have been wrong with our prediction or without less humility we can say we have been right but our timing was bad. Indeed, it seems that the consolidation phase we predicted has started to materialize a few year ago but certainly not as early as we thought. In other words we have observed a surge in mergers & acquisitions over the past few years and we think it will still accelerate in the coming months. The most recent acquisition that validates our view is the acquisition of the Danish vendor Edlund by  KMD Group that has been announced this week.

Overall we see various kinds of acquisitions:

  • Software integrators-driven acquisitions: large software integrators are trying to diversify their service offering through the acquisition of insurance system IP. The best example of this type of strategic move is for instance the acquisition of Wyde by MphasiS a few years ago.
  • The Private Equity (PE) firms-driven acquisitions: there is a growing interest to invest in the insurance core system space for PE firms. The best examples of this type of acquisitions are the contribution of Riverside in the merger between Charles Taylor and Fadata or Waterland Private Equity investment in Keylane that now combines activities of various PAS vendors including formerly branded LeanApps, Quinity, Mantcore and more recently the German vendor called Geneva-ID.
  • The core system vendor-driven acquisitions: PAS vendors understand they can grow quicker if they merge with a competitor. Sapiens acquisition of FIS Software and IDIT or Prima Solutions acquisition of Albiran a few years ago are good examples.

As already mentioned we expect more M&A to come and we are glad to help our insurance clients to navigate this changing market.

 

Silicon Valley? No, Chilecon Valley

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Dec 29th, 2015

In previous blog posts regarding fintech in Latin America my position was, and remains, that one of the reasons for being behind is that it lacks of a “Silicon Valley” equivalent.

Efforts to create a fintech ecosystem, as Finnovista is doing, become a good alternative to overcome the absence of a geographical pocket of innovation. Particularly consider the market fragmentation of Latin America comprised by 19 countries, some of which have 3M inhabitants to Brazil having +200M. People in most countries may speak the same language but markets are far from being similar just for that.

Under (or against?) these circumstances, Chile is working to become Latin America’s Silicon Valley. One of its most attractive initiatives is “Start-Up Chile”, created four years ago to transform the Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem. It began with a question: “What would happen if we could bring the best and brightest entrepreneurs from all around the globe and insert them into the local ecosystem?”

The initiative offers work visas, financial support, and an extensive network of global contacts to help build and accelerate growth of customer-validated and scalable companies that will leave a lasting impact on the Latin American ecosystem. The idea is to make the country a focal point for innovation and entrepreneurship within the region. Start-up Chile, with only four years, is a start-up itself but it has a good starting point and great potential:

  • Chile has demonstrated for years its entrepreneurial spirit, with Chilean companies competing successfully in various industries (air transportation, financial services, and retail, just to mention a few) and a stable economy.
  • This year two Chilean start-ups were the winners of the BBVA Open Talent in Latin America: Destacame.cl, aiming to financial inclusion by creating a credit scoring based on utility payments; and Bitnexo which enables fast, easy and low cost transfers between Asia and Latin America, using Bitcoin.

While other countries and cities in the region are working in offering support to start-ups, it seems Chile is leading the way. Hopefully this triggers some healthy competition in the region, which in the end will benefit all.

In the meantime, let’s meet at Finnosummit in Bogota – Colombia next February 16th. Join financial institutions, consultants, tech vendors, startups and other digital ecosystem innovators, to learn how startup driven disruption and new technologies are reshaping the future of financial services in the region. Remember to use Celent’s discount code C3L3NT20% for a 20% discount on your conference ticket.