I was talking about the financial crisis to an executive at a large life insurer recently. Given the steady stream of dismal financial news over the past two months, you might have expected it to turn into a “woe is me!” conversation. But in fact, the opposite occurred.
“We’re doing fine,” the exec told me, “and quite frankly we’re patting ourselves on the back for sticking with our investment strategies.” Their CFO had apparently resisted the pressure to chase high returns and is now being hailed internally as a quiet hero. As a result of his tenacity, the company is well positioned to invest in technology, service innovation, and perhaps even acquisitions of some less fortunate (less lucky? less well-run?) companies.
This is one example of an insurer doing things right, and doing things well. Somehow the bad news about our industry blares from the rooftops, while success stories like this get little notice. We’ve tried to elevate the success stories through our annual Model Carrier research, which offers a series of short case studies on effective use of technology. But it is difficult to battle the perception that insurers are laggards in terms of their business and technology strategies.
This theme of the capable insurer came up again last week at a Celent breakfast event in London. My colleague from Oliver Wyman, Andy Rear, used the term to frame a discussion around the strategies of insurers poised for success. His thesis—that capable insurers are emerging, particularly those that effectively manage customers, create rational service models, maintain operational agility, and recycle capital rapidly—really struck a chord with me.
There will always be winners and losers in the battle for premium dollars and customer loyalty. And we agree with Andy that the winners will have clearly defined strategies that make them more nimble and responsive to constant market changes. Getting there, as always, will be a challenge. But examples are emerging, so we know it can be done.