How life insurers can make underwriting investments that pay off

There is much to automate in the new business process but where should automation dollars be spent to provide the best returns? The new Celent report, Making Life Insurance Underwriting Investments That Pay Off, provides a framework for answering this question. Celent’s analysis divides the new business and underwriting process into 22 logical components of work. Each component is subdivided into potential levels of automation ranging from minimal automation to highly automated. Through an online survey insurers graded themselves in each of the processes according to their level of automation.  The results were not surprising; however they highlighted how far behind the life insurance industry lags in this area.

Automation blog graphic

Automated new business and underwriting processes carry the promise of improved results, but can come at a significant cost, including the hard costs of purchasing technology as well as the softer costs of implementing it and changing processes.  Celent’s analysis showed that automation does indeed improve key measures related to productivity, accuracy and time which can help offset the costs.

One of the keys to reaping the rewards of the investment is to define the strategic goals prior to the automation. Some life insurers have a strategy to be a low cost provider and may achieve low cost through significant investment in rules automation. Others want to provide a high level of service and may focus on the customer experience by automating the customer-facing processes. 

Key questions to ask when deciding where to automate:

  • What is the strategic focus?
  • What tasks are being done, and by whom? Does that actor have to do them?
  • Where can automation create capacity to grow the book of business?
  • Where can automation create a better decision?
  • Where can automation create a better customer experience?
  • Which level of automation will result in the best key metric results?

Are your investments paying off? Insurers can use Celent’s latest report to compare their level of automation to the underwriting capabilities framework and their peers to ascertain if they are making the most of their underwriting automation investments.

Reporting from Celent’s Model Insurer Asia Summit

If 2015 was the year of FinTech, 2016 will surely be the year that InsurTech comes into its own. Celent has been presenting our views on InsurTech and emerging technologies at insurance conferences throughout Asia for some time now, so naturally we see this as a welcome—and inevitable—development.

We held our 7th Annual Model Insurer Asia Awards event in Singapore last month, with presentations focusing on InsurTech and digital financial services. Celent Research Director Karlyn Carnahan set the tone with a keynote presentation on the challenges facing insurers as customers are increasingly seeking real-time, digital interactions tailored to their personal needs and channel preferences. Karlyn outlined the steps to becoming a digital insurer and provided many insights on how insurers can embrace the digital paradigm. In the afternoon session, Karlyn also led a peer-to-peer discussion on how insurers in Asia are responding to these significant changes in the digital landscape.

We were delighted to have GoBear, one of the stars of Asia InsurTech, on the program. GoBear is an online financial services aggregator with a decidedly digital offering that is expanding at a remarkably fast pace throughout Southeast Asia. In his keynote presentation, GoBear’s CEO Andre Hesselink discussed how his firm developed their product with the goal of better serving consumers while at the same time satisfying the business needs of their suppliers, the insurance carriers. Quite the balancing act I am sure.

Celent Analyst KyongSun Kong presented the results of Celent’s annual Asia Insurance CIO survey, revealing that nearly 80% of insurers surveyed are engaged in digital transformation initiatives.

Finally, we came to the heart of the event: the Model Insurer Asia Awards themselves. This year we celebrated best-practice technology initiatives at 14 insurers, including ICICI Lombard General Insurance, Taikang Insurance, multinationals Aegon and MetLife, and online insurance innovator DirectAsia, among many others. All winning initiatives are profiled in our report Celent Model Insurer Asia 2016: Case Studies of Effective Technology Use in Insurance.

Who has the best life insurance new business and underwriting system?

Celent has published a new report, North American LHA New Business and Underwriting Systems: 2016 ABCD Vendor View, in which Celent profiles fourteen providers of new business and underwriting systems. Each vendor responded to a request for information. Seven vendors met the criteria for inclusion as a potential Xcelent winner. The seven vendors eligible for the awards provided a demonstration and briefing of their billing solution.

Due to the ongoing economic conditions that continue to have an adverse impact on life insurance application volumes, insurers have strong interest in reducing the cost of acquisition, processing and issuing life insurance applications. Automating the new business and underwriting functions are critical components in reaching a level of straight-through processing (STP) for new business. Insurers hope that these systems will help reduce unit costs and improve margins. Celent believes that these initiatives are necessary to help the insurers address growth, service, and distribution mandates, in addition to reducing the cost per policy issued.

After years of development that started almost 30 years ago, automated underwriting systems have become highly flexible in allowing insurers to define and configure underwriting rules and workflow. Most systems include or integrate into eApplications. Data from the applications drive reflexive questioning and identify risk classes associated with application data. They offer high levels of automation when gathering third party medical requirements and flag risks when the third party data results are outside of the ranges set by the rules. They also can deliver decisions to the point of data entry or to an underwriter.

New business image

The interest in new business and underwriting systems is on the upswing. Deciding the best new business and underwriting system is unique to each insurer. The goal of the report is to provide detailed information so that an insurer will be able to make an informed decision on which systems may be the best for them.

Regulators will hug their blockchains – takeaways from Consensus 2016

"Show of hands, how many people don't know insurance at all?"

I attended the blockchain (BC) conference Consensus2016 this week and came away with some enhanced perspectives about the technology and its market. The ability to immerse myself in the subject, hear multiple points of view, and learn about different projects was extremely valuable. Here are my highest level takeaways along with some general observations.

 

Specific take-aways:

Regulators will love their blockchains
The transparency and audit trail capabilities of BC will reduce frustration, lower costs, and increase the effectiveness of regulators. Delaware’s announcement to move selected regulatory processes to the BC is an early recognition of this potential.

Benefits beyond the technology
The power of BC to eliminate counterparty risk, stop reconciliation, and increase efficiency were discussed repeatedly, but I also noted a few subtle, nuanced, and powerful benefits related to the BC development process. The most significant examples are the benefits that arise when multiple organizations partner to build a shared BC. Because the companies are building a common automation platform, their joint development results in a single set of code to automate contracts and identical data definitions. This eliminates the unintended consequences that currently result from a traditional approach — where organizations agree on legal terms but then automate them separately. I am now looking at BC with one eye on what the tech delivers and one on what the process around it yields.

Nascent, but sufficient to test with
No doubt the platforms will continue to develop, but based on reported activity in capital markets, banks and insurers, the tech is moving forward in leading corporatations, most in a testing mode. One insurer offered an intriguing insight based on their experience to date. They found as they started testing, their use cases all dealt with processes which already have existing automation solutions in place, with the goal of efficiency/cost improvements. However, they found that they were not getting traction/attention from their senior executives that they expected and needed. They have since pivoted and are now focusing their BC testing on problems that do not currently have automation solutions in place. (by the way, this insurer is another example of a firm which is using its innovation infrastructure to execute their BC tests. They are being done in their innovation lab under the governance in place for experimentation projects — see my previous blog about a similar approach taken by John Hancock.)

General observations:

Evangelism
There are strong emotions associated with this technology. The implementations that deliver financing and banking services to developing economies, or that improve health care, certainly warrant an emotional reaction. However, when I hear comments like “BC technology’s impact will be as significant as the railroad in the 1800s,” my hype alarm goes off. I suppose I haven’t been indoctrinated yet, but neither have the majority of financial services executives.

Market transition
Suppliers are changing from geeks to suits, from startups to more established tech and consulting firms. In some comments during a number of presentations and occasional tweets and audience reactions, I detected a curious, and unhelpful, undercurrent of antagonism towards this shift. The economics of BC will inevitably move it to the enterprise. In fact, its full promise cannot be realized without this change. I am confident that virtually everyone attending a conference like Consensus2016 wants to see the tech reach its potential, but, as a first time attendee, it sure seemed that not everyone was acting that way. I am looking forward to catching the vibe in next year's show.

Kudos to the organizers Coindesk for developing a solid, varied program and for executing it well.

How do insurance providers develop an agile IT infrastructure?

Insurers have always faced the challenge of taking products and solutions to market faster and doing so at lower cost. The sources of this challenge are not new – changing partner and customer expectations, increased and new competition and demanding regulators with perhaps the addition of the current financial climate.

Insurers have risen to each challenge, offering new ways to interact with their customers, offering new products and tracking their processes against new requirements. However, warning signs loom as insurers are increasingly finding that each of these solutions involve adding something new, encumbering their infrastructure with the latest systems, applications and integrations. Insurers already suffer from heterogeneous and complex IT landscapes and many are in the throes of large, costly programs designed to simplify and reduce costs.

The challenge today is a little more specific from those in the past: How can an insurer increase in agility, speed to market and flexibility while keeping the support and maintenance costs manageable?

Insurers are increasingly realising the benefits of a Software as a Service (SaaS) approach for some parts of their IT landscape. The promise of being up and running on an out of the box solution can be very appealing for activities that don’t differentiate the insurer or are well understood. While these solutions continue to be additive, they don’t increase the load on the IT infrastructure team beyond the due diligence exercise. However, many of the areas that need the greatest speed to market are differentiating and require customisation – how can insurers achieve that without increasing complexity?

Is Cloud the Answer?
There has been much discussion about cloud and how this is changing the way start-ups and businesses deal with their IT infrastructure. Insurers exist in a heavily regulated environment and are rightly hesitant to jump on the latest technology fad to solve their problems. However, dismissing the developments in cloud and SaaS propositions altogether for their core operations may be throwing the baby out with the bath water, along with possibly the bath as well.

There is value in considering cloud-thinking or a cloud style approach to problem-solving when considering the insurer’s infrastructure. Central to enabling cloud is simplifying, standardising and above all automating activities with IT infrastructure. Once the common activities one needs to do are automated this frees up costly team members and time to look at other problems. Through automation one can keep adding new applications and solutions to the IT landscape with a lower impact on support and maintenance costs, enabling an insurer to remain flexible, agile and keep their costs manageable.

It is time for the IT department to look internally and apply the same automation and efficiency thinking of their business counterparts to their own operations. Regardless of an insurer’s position on cloud, there is value in applying cloud-thinking. Consider how automation and simplification can increase predictability, supportability and quality in IT Operations. If appropriate, take that learning and move some services to the cloud.

In practice this approach doesn’t simplify the IT landscape and move everything to one “cloud” way of doing things. Rather it accepts the insurance industries need for complexity, for flexibility in approach and seeks to enable a fast and cost efficient approach to deliver it.

 

Your customers hate your group email box (and you should too)

I’m currently dealing with two group email box issues. In one instance, I’m a frustrated customer, irritated beyond belief by the lack of response to my repeated email service requests. In the other instance, I’m the party ultimately responsible for a group email box, and I’m getting an earful from a frustrated customer. The overlay of these two, unrelated incidents is perfect: Some sort of cosmic justice is clearly being served.

Stages of Group Email Box Grief

You might be familiar with the Kübler-Ross model, which shows how grieving people progress through Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I think something similar happens when any of us try to use a poorly managed group email box. It goes something like this:

  • Hope. After the initial disappointment of not finding a human being with whom we can interact directly, we console ourselves that, at least, our problem has been recognized by our service provider. By creating a named email box, the service provider is clearly implying that help is a click or two away. Got a generic question about your health plan coverage? Email coverage@xyzhealthplan.com. Need help from someone in Finance to get an expense check cut? Why, ExpenseTeam@yourcompany.com sounds like a productive place to turn. But the relief at finding such elegant, targeted service solutions is often short-lived.

  • Perplexity. After a day or so of non-response, we wonder. Did I really send an email to that email box? Did it get through? If it got through, did anyone read it? This stage is characterized by self-doubt and forensic examination. We check and recheck our Inbox, Spam Folder, and Sent Mail under the (reasonable, by the way) assumption that if the tool was working, someone would have responded by now.

  • Dismay. A week has passed. On the realization that no process could possibly take this long, Dismay sets in. In this stage, we ratchet up the pressure, typically by resending our original note with a snarky addition, like, “I really would like to hear from someone on this! Please?”

  • Anger & Activation. At this stage, we realize that help is not forthcoming. For most of us, this happens between Day 7 and Day 8. (Though my experience with them suggests that Millenials make the entire progression from Hope to Anger & Activation in as little as an hour.) We start looking for alternatives, as confidence in the system plummets. In the extreme, we try to get face to face with someone who can solve our problem (“I’m going to drive in to the cell phone store and make them solve this billing issue!”). But alternatives include calling switchboards and asking for the CEO, starting a Twitter rant, or activating a defection to other providers. None of these reactions enhance a customer relationship.

The Service Provider’s Response

As a service provider myself, I’m embarrassed to admit that emails to info@celent.com don’t always get perfect, productive responses. Of course we have a process in place that routes inbound queries to more than one person, to make sure we don’t run into out of office issues. But things occasionally fall through the cracks, due to technical reasons (e.g., aggressive, evolving spam filters), scheduling quirks (e.g., all Celent staff are in the same meeting), or simply due to human nature.

The latter category is particularly vexing. When several people are responsible for something, the real-world effect is that no one feels responsible. I’m convinced that using an info@ email box inevitably lessens the sense of accountability and responsibility that drives all effective service teams. Add in the dynamic of impersonal, electronic communicationswhich by its nature generates less empathy than a simple conversation between two human beings and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

In this annoying age of one-to-many communication (says the blogger, ignoring the irony), there’s a strong case to be made for enabling more direct, personal connections. Many companies will resist this old-fashioned, and by some measures, expensive, view. They will go down the path blazed by online retailers, and try in vain to provide acceptable service levels via FAQ and info@ email boxes. But the price they will pay is customers who frequently progress to Anger & Activation, and then walk away grumbling.

A smarter play is for firms to foster real relationships with their customers. For me, that means going old school. Making it easier for customers to navigate to a real person who is ready to listen and willing to solve problems. I’ve told my team to plaster their direct contact info on every report, presentation, and marketing piece. I’ll keep the info@celent.com address open as a benign trap for spammers. But the rest of you are encouraged to email me directly at cweber@celent.com.

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