Back to the Future

A long time ago, before joining Celent, I was part of the insurance industry from the insurer side and my work was to look for ways to improve the company’s processes and innovate. I really liked the job because you had to come up with ideas and accept that you had restrictions, and sometimes you had to face the sad truth that the technology supporting your ideas wasn't available.

Now at Celent, I’ve witnessed a whole new world of possibilities because, as part of Celent, we are exposed to many, many successful cases implementing technology in insurance through research and events, especially in events like our Innovation & Insight day (I&I day). This year our I&I day takes place in Boston, Massachusetts on April 4, and Celent will award the best Information Technology (IT) initiatives in insurance.

That day, Celent will be presenting winners in 5 categories.

  • Digital and Omnichannel
  • Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation
  • Innovation and Emerging Technologies
  • Operational Excellence
  • Data Analytics

The Model Insurer Award is recognition of an insurer’s effective use of technology in a certain area or theme, not necessarily a statement that the insurer is absolutely best in class (although some may be). Model Insurer success highlights the insurer’s ability to improve performance and meet market demands when tackling issues that face all insurers today.

For instance, do the below examples sound familiar to you?

  • Under new management, the business had to transform itself rapidly and replace 20-year old technology. This insurer had a major license renewal date two years out and would have been locked in by the vendor to a prohibitively expensive contract.
  • An insurance company needed to create a digital process to meet customer expectations of doing business, automate underwriting, reduce cycle time and minimize human touch.
  • Another insurer utilized digital connectivity and ratings engine cloud-based platform to achieve a faster process and empower various actors across the organization.

I’m sure the examples above are the types of projects you’d like to implement at your company, but these are just a sample of the case studies we received. This year we received around 60 case studies applying for our Model Insurer Award. Of those, fifteen will be awarded Model Insurer and one will be the Model Insurer of the Year.

Personally, this year has been different. This year, I was amazed about the quality of cases we received and methodology that insurers are using to implement their projects, which made very difficult to deliberate. I’m not saying this is bad thing, on the contrary; it is a sign that the industry is on the move and it is using the best technology available.

I wish I had a time machine like in “Back to the Future” to go back to the days I worked for insurance companies, and tell my younger self: “you cannot miss this event; it will help you with your project.”

So, this is my advice. If you are part of the insurance industry and you are working in IT projects, this is the type of events you may want to attend to benchmark and learn about initiatives around the world that would help you define yours.

Lost in Innovation?

So, how do you avoid getting lost in innovation? The simple (and maybe glib) answer might be to buy a map, a compass and start to plan your route. However, what do you do when there is no map, no obvious path to take and no-one to follow?

The last 24 months have seen an incredible amount of activity across the sector in experimenting with novel proposition concepts fuelled by emerging technologies in the internet of things, distributed ledgers and bot-driven artificial intelligence. Although each new concept shows promise, we are yet to experience a clear and obvious pattern for winning new clients or delivering a superior shareholder return using them. Many of the most exciting novel ideas (and many are genuinely exciting) are yet to see any real business volume behind them (see my earlier blog for additional context of what insurtech has to offer in defining the ‘dominant design’ for new tech-enabled propositions).

So, as an insurer faced with having to balance how much it should invest in these new concepts versus furthering the existing business in what is probably a highly successful and scalable model, two of the big questions we often hear from clients are: “Which of these nascent concepts are most likely to deliver real business value the fastest?” and “How much effort should I be devoting to exploring them today?” These are the questions that we looked to address at our latest event in London that we called ‘Lost in Innovation’, attended by just over 70 inquiring insurance decision makers.

Faced with uncertainty, we followed an agenda that focused on the things that an insurer can control, such as the innovation-led partnerships they enter, the skills they develop internally, the criteria used for measuring value, and the potential challenges ahead that they need to plan for.

Celent analyst Craig Beattie presenting on emerged software development approaches

Alongside presenting some of our latest research on the topic, we were joined on-stage by:

  • Matt Poll from NEOS (the UK’s first connected home proposition in partnership with Hiscox) shared his experience on the criteria for a successful partnership.
     
  • Jennyfer Yeung-Williams from Munich Re and Polly James from Berwin, Leighton, Paisner Law shared their experience and views on some of the challenges in the way of further adoption, including the attitude of the regulator and potential legal challenges presented by using personal data in propositions.
     
  • Dan Feihn, Group CTO from Markerstudy, presented his view of the future and how they are creating just enough space internally to experiment with some radical concepts – demonstrating that you don’t always need big budget project to try out some novel applications of new technologies.

So, what was the conclusion from the day? How do you avoid getting lost in innovation? Simply speaking, when concepts are so new that the direction of travel is unclear, a more explorative approach is required – testing each new path, collecting data and then regrouping to create the tools needed to unveil new paths further ahead until the goal is reached. Scaling concepts too early in their development (and before they are ready) may be akin to buying a 4×4 to plough through the scrub ‘on a hunch’ only to find quicksand on the other side.

Some tips shared to help feel out the way:

  • Partnerships will remain a strong feature of most insurer’s innovation activity over the next 12-24 months. Most struggle to create the space to try out new concepts. Also, realistically, many neither have the skills or the time to experiment (given that their existing capabilities are optimised for the existing business). Consequently, partnerships create a way to experiment without “upsetting the applecart”.
     
  • Hiring staff from outside of the industry can be a great way to change the culture internally and bring-in fresh new ideas…however, unless there is an environment in place to keep them enthused, there remains a risk of them turning ‘blue’ and adopting the existing culture instead of helping to change it.
     
  • There are several ways to measure value created by an initiative. The traditional approach is a classic ‘Return on Investment’ (RoI). However, RoI can be hard to calculate when uncertainty is high. To encourage experimentation, other approaches may be better suited, such as rapid low-cost releases to test concepts and gather data to feel the way. Framing these in terms of an ‘affordable loss’ may be another way to approach it – i.e. “What’s the maximum amount that I’m willing to spend to test this out?” – accepting that there may not be an RoI for the initial step. Although no responsible insurer should be ‘betting the house’ on wacky new concepts, reframing the question and containing exposure can sometimes be all that’s required to create the licence to explore.
     
  • There’s still an imbalance between the promise of technology and the reality of just how far end-customers and insurers are willing to go in pursuit of value. The geeks (or ‘path finders’) have rushed in first – but will the majority follows? Regardless, to avoid getting lost in the ‘shiny new stuff’, a focus on customer value, fairness and transparency around how data is being used need to be at the heart of each proposition – plus, recognising that the regulator will not be far behind.
     

In summary, the journey ahead needs to be less about the ‘what’ (with all of its bells, whistles and shiny parts) and more about the ‘how’ (deep in the culture of the firm and its willingness to experiment – even in small ways) – at least while the map to future value is being still being drawn.

Celent continues to research all of these topics, including assessing the different technologies and techniques that insurers can use. Feel free to get in touch to discuss how Celent could assist your organisation further.

Celent clients will be able to access the presentations from the event via their Celent Account Manager.

Long Live Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation

When I started working at Celent back in November 2007, one of the research topic we were covering extensively was the legacy system modernization or replacement topic. Nowadays, legacy modernization remains a topic that has still a high importance in insurance CIOs’ agenda across the globe. Indeed based on our 2017 insurance CIO survey and out of 150 responses received across the globe, 57% of insurers are currently working on legacy modernization system projects. Another 10% are in the planning process and 11% will begin new legacy transformation projects next year.

It is therefore important for us to help our insurance customers understand what embarking in a core system replacement or modernization project means. While the benefits of modernizing core legacy systems are clear and compelling (gaining a competitive advantage — or achieving competitive parity, reducing operational and IT costs, making better underwriting and claims decisions, seizing analytic advantages when information and processes become completely digital), there are a lot of factors at play from the definition of the new system requirements, the approach to be chosen between the development of a new system and the purchase of a package or a best-of-breed component, to the selection of the optimal partners. Another crucial part of a legacy system replacement is the implementation of the new system as it can represent a major challenge notably in terms of project management, customization effort and migration. Implementations are particularly challenging when they involve multiple vendors and integrations.

To help our insurance customers figure out all the factors at play, every year we describe some cases in the frame of our Model Insurer program. This year we will be presenting the three cases we have received among more than 20 submissions in the frame of our Innovation & Insight Day event, which will take place in Boston on the 4th of April 2017. In addition to presenting the legacy modernization category award winners, we will also explain why they have decided to replace their legacy systems and what opportunities have been identified. We will also describe the implementation effort and draw out lessons learned. For those of you who will not be able to make it in person, we will publish a report profiling the three winners but I hope to meet you in big number at our event in Boston.

Learning from the Best: Operational Excellence from a Model Insurer Viewpoint

I am privileged again this year to be part of the team that judged the Celent Model Insurer nominations. My focus is on the nominations in the Operational Excellence theme. In reality, every nomination demonstrates a high degree of operational excellence. It is a tough job to choose only three winners in the category. 

You may wonder how Celent decides which nominations are the best of the best. We look at the disciples included in successful operational outcomes. Achieving operational excellence, requires transforming processes and systems into competitive advantages by making them leaner, faster, more flexible and of higher quality.

It’s not just what is done, but how it’s done. The project should have lasting effects and transform the organization in multiple aspects: Processes, Technology, Culture and Business Model

This year’s operational excellence nominations run the gamut from project methodology to straight through processing to infrastructure outsourcing.  Following are examples of a few of the nominations: 

  • A P&C insurer in the Cayman Islands moved to a virtual business. Instead of replacing their on premise infrastructure, they transitioned to a cloud environment for all systems including: core insurance operations, human resources, and call center. By moving to a third-party cloud provider, the insurer could go global to support local operations with consistent technology expertise to host and maintain the applications.
  • One of India’s leading life insurance companies which had experienced tremendous growth of 380% in the last financial year required a simple, streamlined and cost effective system to service their growing customer base and extend the enterprise for continued growth and market penetration. The company implemented a document management solution for processing new business and claims. The solution is designed so that it requires no or minimal manual intervention for the end-to-end document life cycle process.
  • An innovative testing solution created in collaboration between a North American P&C insurer and its vendor was implemented after it was found that the existing testing environment, approach and methodology was causing delays and quality assurance problems for the transformation program. The solution is a cloud based, open-source testing environment that has reduced both risk and cost by improving the quality of the testing. 
  • A North America supplemental benefits insurer adopted an Agile project methodology in response to its need of modernization and in recognition that it will undergo more change as the industry continues to capitalize on social, mobile, wearables, etc. The change brought about increased accountability, efficiency and organization that have allowed the company to be poised and ready for all opportunities, producing results at record speed.
  • A reinsurer based in Europe implemented artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to allow automatic verification of clauses in contracts and matching of official comments stored in a large database.  This allows experts to focus their attention on parts of the contract that have not been seen before and will allow back searching thought any collection of documents for clauses containing issues of interest as well as comparing contracts on a clause level with calculated accuracy scores.   

As you can see from this sampling of nominations, choosing the winners was hard.  However, it is easy for you to be on hand to network with and learn from the insurers and vendors who submitted the winning projects.  Please join Celent in Boston on April 4 for Innovation and Insight Day where the winners of the 2017 Model Insurer awards will be announced.  You can register here.   

The new customer experience – or how so many carriers are getting journey mapping wrong

Journey mapping, the process of defining the customer experience, is an activity that has been gaining in popularity over the last two years.  Carriers are using this technique to document the existing customer experience in order to identify areas to improve.  The underlying assumption is that a superior customer experience will drive retention and perhaps improve new business.  Which makes sense.  After all, it’s pretty evident that customers are demanding a different relationship model from their insurers.  They are looking for more transparency and simplicity. They are increasingly self-directed and financially literate.  And they are demanding increasing participation. 

Their expectations are increasingly driven by experience in non-insurance categories.   I can see where my uber car is real-time – why can’t I tell if my claim check has been issued.   I can custom assemble a new pc online with instant knowledge of all the options available and the price associated with them – why can’t I tell what additional insurance options are available and what they cost.   I can get recommendations from Amazon on what I might like and what others like me are purchasing – why can’t I get  good recommendation from a carrier to help me compile the best package of coverages, terms and conditions to suit my profile. 

While efforts have been made to drive effectiveness for insurance processes from an internal perspective, there are still many areas where improvements are possible from a customer perspective. So carriers are working to define an extraordinary experience for customers. They’re defining personas, mapping the new business acquisition process, the billing process, claims, complaint handling, customer inquiries, and all the major processes that occur when customers interact with carriers. 

But that’s the problem. Carriers are focusing on optimizing all those places where the customer and the carrier interact.  Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this.  Carriers should make sure that interactions are optimized.  Focusing on automating decisions, automating correspondence, and using workflow to assure tasks are completed in a timely manner can have a dramatic effect on delivering a consistently good experience.  Omni channel, real time, digitization – all those trendy words – are very relevant here. But it’s not enough.

If you really want to build loyalty, think about the customer experience when they aren’t interacting with you. Let me give you an example. 

Allstate has a target market of motorcycle riders, and has a mobile app for them called GoodRide.  The app is available for both Allstate customers and non Allstate customers.  It helps riders keep track of all repairs and maintenance.  They can plan a ride –  checking weather, locate gas, and even find others to ride with as it is integrated to social media. They can track their ride by adding notes, adding photos and tracking miles ridden. There’s even a gamification element that awards badges.   And by the way, they can report a claim, check proof of insurance and pay their bill.  So this application really looks at what motorcycle riders are looking to do outside of the insurance interaction and embeds the insurance interactions within the full context of the customer’s life and where insurance itself plays a role rather than simply looking at the interactions discreetly.

In the commercial lines world, a similar application could be industry based and provide tailored risk management materials, an “Ask an Expert” corner where customers can check in with risk management consultants,   create a Facebook-like collaboration mechanism for customers to talk to each other,  arrange discounts on products relevant to the industry.  and of course, access their policy online, pay a bill, pull a loss run or handle other interactions. 

Expanding the customer experience beyond the pure insurance interactions makes a carrier more relevant to a customer by engaging in their everyday lives and looking for ways of adding value within context.  And it creates a way to have an ongoing conversation with a customer – building personal loyalty. 

So – is customer journey mapping a good idea?  Of course.  Are carriers thinking big enough? That is a different question.

What I will say, is exactly what I told a carrier earlier today –  The secret to organic growth?  Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match. 

DOL Fiduciary rule delayed

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order that begins the process of rolling back Dodd-Frank. He also signed an executive memorandum that directs the Labor Department to review the effect of its fiduciary rule on investors’ ability to access financial advice. If there is an adverse effect, the memorandum authorizes the DOL to rescind and revise the rule.

The DOL rule has been a point of particular discussion since the inauguration between a group of us at Celent and our parent company, Oliver Wyman. The discussion focused not on whether the rule would be implemented but instead on how insurers should plan and react. It would be easy to believe that President Trump’s executive memorandum is the first step in the revocation of the rule because it is delaying it. It is certainly a believable outcome; however, we believe delaying preparation would be the wrong decision for a number of reasons.

Most prominent among them is that there is considerable uncertainty as to what Friday’s delay actually means. Insurers are, by definition, in the business of assessing and hedging risk and not knowing how the DOL review will turn out has risk associated with it. We believe that the right response is to hedge this risk by continuing to prepare for the implementation of the rule, even if the rule is likely to be modified or even rescinded.

Why? Because the fiduciary rule as it written today might happen. It might go into effect with a modest delay. It is easy to see a path that results in changes in compensation in the qualified market. It is even conceivable that this rule, or a similar one, would ultimately affect the entire life insurance and annuity market. There is considerable precedent, globally. For example, the UK implemented their Retail Distribution Review (RDR) in 2013.

In simple terms, the end consumer, ultimately, will believe that a rule that requires advisors to make decisions in their best interests would be popular. We suspect most of them expect that their advisors already do this!

There is clearly a cost of implementing the new rules and this cost is significant. However, most companies have already made the majority of their investment and completing these efforts makes sense. We are even hearing from advisors that they believe that conforming to the rules of a fiduciary could be a competitive advantage. You can see it now: “I work in your best interests. My competitors don’t”.

This is not the time or place to debate the topic in detail, but we would welcome the conversation. We would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Feel free to email me directly at tscales@celent.com. If I get enough feedback, I’ll post a summary soon.

You might also find a few publicly available reports from Oliver Wyman interesting:

Implications of the Trump administration for financial regulation

The State of the financial services industry in 2017

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