Japanese Insurers Poised for Technology (r)evolution
In Japan, Internet banking and online brokerage have been around for some time. The Internet revolution is taking a bit longer to come to the Japanese insurance industry. Currently, most insurers’ web sites are limited to providing information and some online tools, such as premium calculators or financial planning simulators. Customers who want to actually buy some insurance are directed to call a contact center, which will then mail application materials to the customer. In 2008, though, two firms–SBI AXA Life Insurance, a joint venture between Softbank Investment and AXA; and Lifenet Insurance, a greenfield firm– began to offer fully online insurance sales for the first time in Japan.
But for the most part, the insurance industry here has yet to realize the benefits of Internet-era communications in reducing processing cycles, supporting agents, or improving customer service. Here and there some new technologies have been adopted—some firms have built basic agent extranets and offer some online policy and claims information to their customers. The basic building blocks for a more integrated insurance infrastructure, however, are not in place. SOA is in its infancy in Japan, and the use of standards is limited. “Business intelligence” software generally takes the form of embedded Excel spreadsheets used by analysts and underwriters in lieu of more efficient assisted workflow solutions.
Change is on the horizon, however. Japanese insurers have seen foreign entrants succeed in taking large chunks of their market share, particularly in new product areas like retirement and health products. This has focused their attention on some of the techniques used by the foreign entrants, such as the BI used to support direct marketing, and more flexible core systems.
Due to a long-term trend towards declining market size—a result of the country’s shrinking population–Japanese insurers are also under intense pressure to reduce costs. This is driving even large domestic insurers for the first time to consider international vendor solutions and even outsourcing. As insurers move towards more modern, flexible PAS and claims systems, they will look to update their infrastructures, introducing more remote channel capabilities for their salesforce and agents as well as their customers. We expect the technology landscape at Japanese insurers will be transformed steadily, and in the end significantly, over the next few years.