October is a busy month for insurance technology conferences. I am fortunate in my job to be able to attend these events, and I always come into the end of the year with a refreshed gauge on the major challenges and opportunities facing our industry.
Having attended six events in the last five weeks, I can report that the interest in innovation is at an all-time high. In multiple presentations, speakers outlined how changing consumer preferences, improved technical capabilities, and powerful market forces are reshaping our industry. “Digital,” “digitization,” and “digitizing” seemed the most frequently used words, followed closely by “innovation.” However, despite all the talk and attention about change, I observed a problem — there were not many insurance leaders attending. Given the need to gain perspectives on how to move the industry forward through the forces that are under way, this is a red flag.
As a data point, consider InsureTech Connect. (Full disclosure: Oliver Wyman, the parent company of Celent was the main sponsor of the conference.) The inaugural event crushed its attendance goals, attracting more than 1,500 professionals. It brought together groups of people that traditionally do not attend the same show: – insurers and reinsurers, technology startups, venture capitalists, and private equity firms. An analysis of a random sample of more than 700 attendees shows that there were equal numbers from startups and from insurers. I would hope that the 2,700 US insurers would be better represented.
Of the insurers that were there, most were from the firms which have stated publically that they are aggressively pursuing innovation in their business models. Undoubtedly, these folks were taking the pulse of their competition and looking for opportunities. However, the numbers demonstrate that the vast majority of carriers were not there. In addition to the small number, I noticed that, of those attending, most had titles which were at the execution level, not the decision-making level. There were some some senior leaders, but not as many as I would hope.
At the other, more traditional conferences, there was great interest, and some concern, in new technology, emerging business models, and the Insuretech market. Many of the questions dealt with “What are our competitors doing?” “How do we learn more or get more involved?” “What are the real opportunities and threats?” There clearly is a desire to know and understand what is under way.
My headline from the conference season is: “you must be present to win”. As insurers finalize their plans for 2017, I encourage them to broaden the number and type of conferences for the coming year and include a mix of both “traditional” and “emerging” gatherings, Particular emphasis should be placed on attendance by senior leaders with decision-making responsibility.
Such adjustments will be a welcome indication that our industry is moving beyond words and into action.