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.

Conversation systems and insurance — one experience

To start with full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the Amazon Echo. We have them throughout the house, and have automated our home so Alexa can control most light switches, ceiling fans and more. We play music through them, ask for the weather, schedule appointments, and more.

All my kids are believers from our 5 year-olds on up. It’s fun to hear one of my five year-olds ask Alexa to play the song YMCA and then burst into full song, including the dance. My one personal recommendation. If you have an Echo and children, turn off voice purchases. I found out the hard way.

So I thought I would check out how Alexa does with insurance. My plan is to try all the skills and leverage them into a report. I may even have to purchase one of Google’s new Google Home devices just to compare them in this use case.

So I spent considerable time this morning trying to get an auto quote. Let’s just say the outcome was that I gave up. I won’t name the insurer, as I am sure that their Alexa skill works well in other areas such as information sharing and likely works for others to get a quote, but it sure did not for me. I do want to give credit to the insurer, as they are out on the bleeding edge doing these quotes.

First it asked me my birth year. It heard 1916. That’s not when I was born, but that’s what it heard. I tried to correct it, using the instructions it had provided, but no dice. I gave up and started over, only to be born in 1916 again. This time it was so stuck I had to unplug the Echo. I was surprised, as Alexa’s voice recognition amazes me.

I’m old, but I’m not 101 years old.

I finally made it through on the third try with very careful enunciation. Made it through my wife’s birth year and the fact we’re both married (apparently being married to each other wasn’t important).

Got to the question on what body style. I tried convertible, since, well, it is a convertible. That wasn’t an option. Since the app had prompted 2 door car as an example, I tried it. Um, no. That’s not supported. That seemed odd, but I tried car. Apparently car is OK.

Made it through miles driven a year.

Go to age of the car. My car is a little older, but no antique. However, apparently 12 years old is fatal, as the app crashed with “Sorry I am having trouble accessing your skill right now”.

OK, odd, but wireless sometimes blips, so no problem. Started over for the fourth time.

Worked my way through all the questions, enunciating very, very carefully and got to age of my car.

Yep. Crashed again.

At that point, I gave up and decided to write a blog instead.

Or I could have played a game of Jeopardy with Alexa.

Smartphones, Apps, and Other Stuff

In 1985 when I was a kid in school, one of my favorite TV shows was Robotech, also known as Macross in some regions. They had the technology (alien technology by the way) to transform fighter planes into mechanical robots (a bit like Transformers), however they did not have either cellphones or smartphones. Instead, they had mobile cabs that would travel around the city looking out for when to pick the person up. Not to mention, in some episodes, they even had some kind of Google glasses. It was all very cool stuff in 1985.

Fortunately for us all, today we have our own smart stuff in the form of a super computer in our pockets – being the smartphone. Many of us no longer need to run to a red box to make a call; and a long with smartphones we have data usage, internet, and apps.

The great challenge with smartphones for insurers, is how to engage with customers in this mobile world; that is, how to make apps attractive to them beyond the basic proposition of moving consumers to the mobile channel in order to lower the operating cost.

In insurance, availability of mobile apps varies by region and by country, so does functionality.  In most countries property and casualty insurers are taking the lead, especially to connect to auto insurance policy holders to provide them with a very array of self-servicing features through the app. In many countries, insurers need to work with the regulators hand in hand to find the best ways to boost financial inclusion and the use of insurance through digital channels.

In a recent Celent’s report, we found that at least 80% of P&C insurers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal offer apps to their clients"

In Latin America availability of consumer-focused apps in insurance grew from 21% in 2013 to 39% in 2016"

So we expect in the following years that Latin American insurers keep up other regions. Not to mention that Insurers are very interested in mobility and they plan to invest in this technology.  To learn more about this report, please click here.

Going back to my story, there were occasions where the main character couldn't be contacted because there were no mobile phones, only robots, and maybe the outcome of the story might have changed.  It was 1985 for a story created much earlier; more than 30 years ago, but now mobility, artificial intelligence, robotics, and analytics are a reality.

Technology is playing a very important role enabling insurers to engage customers, and as part of the insurance industry, we need to be aware of these advancements. If you are interested in insurance technology and want to know more of case studies around world, Celent will be awarding the best technological initiatives in our 2017 Innovation & Insight Day in Boston on April 4, 2017

Also, if you are or know of an insurance company which exhibits best practices in the use of technology, please click here and complete the nomination form. Submissions are being accepted until December 16, 2016.  Categories include:

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

For more information about the Model Insurer program click here, leave a comment, or email me directly at lchipana@celent.com. I’d be more than happy to talk with you. The Celent team and I are looking forward to hearing from you and meeting you in person at the 2017 Innovation & Insight Day.

The Evolving Role of Architects

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had the great opportunity to spend time with IT architects of various sorts both inside and outside of the insurance industry. The discussions have been illuminating and offer different visions and futures both for technology that supports insurers and for the future of the architecture function in insurers.

One of the main events that allowed for this conversation was a round table held in London with architects from insurers. The main topics were the relevance of microservices style architectures to insurance, the role of the architects in AI and InsurTech and the future role of architects at insurers. Another event that offered an interesting contrast was the inaugural London Software Architecture Conference which I'll call SACon below (Twitter feed).

Microservices

I won't fully define microservices here but briefly it’s an approach to delivering software where each service is built as it’s own application which can be scaled independently from other services.

Microservices as a way of delivering software was the default approach at the SACon. There were sessions where architects sharing stories about why sometimes you had to work with a monolith or even making the case for not having the services in discrete applications. Meanwhile at the round table the monolith was the default still with the case being made for microservices in some parts of the architecture.

There are use cases where microservices make a great deal of sense, particularly in already distributed systems where a great deal of data is being streamed between applications. Here the infrastructure of microservices and the libraries supporting the reactive manifesto such as Hysterix and Rx* (e.g. RxJava) and indeed one insurer related their use of microservices to support IoT. Others discussed using this style of approach and the tooling surrounding these architectures to launch new products and increase change throughput but in all cases these were far from replacing the core architecture.

For now microservices is not the default for insurer software but is certainly a tool in the box. An observation or two from SACon from those looking to adopt: First it doesn’t solve the question of how big a service or a component is, something architects need to discuss and refine and; Second, microservices needs a great deal of automation to make work, a topic covered in our DevOps report to be published shortly.

Architects and AI

I have a background with training and experience both in computer science, AI and machine learning. One thing that I noticed going to the analytics conferences where AI is discussed is the absence of IT representation – plenty of actuaries, MI/BI folks, marketing folks – was this a place for architects?

Most insurers present at the round table had activity within the organisation for AI. For the most part only data architects are involved in this discussion – AI being distinct from business and applications architecture for now. It’s my opinion that AI components will form part of the wider applications architecture in the future, with AI components being as common place as programmed ones.

Architects and InsurTech

Here is an area where architects can more immediately contribute in a meaningful way both in reviewing opportunities and unique capabilities from InsurTech firms and in discussing integration where acquisition rather than investment is the goal.

The challenge here of course is the age old challenge for architects – to have a seat in the discussion the architect function needs to demonstrate the value it can bring and it’s internal expertise.

Finally, one amusing discussion I had was with a few architects from startups. As I discussed legacy systems they also related seeing legacy systems in their organisations – albeit the legacy systems were 2 or 4 years old rather than 20 or 40 years old. The intriguing thing here was the reasons for them becoming legacy were the same as insurers – availability of skills, supportability and responsiveness to changing demands. It may hearten architects at insurers that start ups aren’t immune to legacy issues!

 

 

In search of a new ‘dominant design’ for the industry. What does insurtech have to offer?

There is little in the world of insurtech happening today that insurers couldn’t arguably choose to do for themselves if they were motivated to do it. They have the capital to invest. They have resources and could hire to fill gaps in any new capabilities required. They importantly understand the market and know how to move with the trends. And yet, despite having all of these things, they readily engage with the start-up community to do the things that arguably they could do for themselves.  So, why is that?   

In Making the Most of the Innovation Ecosystem, Mike Fitzgerald’s observes the main cultural differences between insurers and the start-ups they court. These cultural differences give us a strong clue as to why insurers engage with start-ups, even though on paper they do not and should not need them.

Alongside these deep cultural differences, I believe that there is another angle worth exploring to help answer the question, and that’s the market’s maturity stage and, with it, the strategies required to succeed.

One model that helps explain this relates to the work of Abernathy and Utterback on dynamic innovation and the concept of the ‘dominant design’. To be relevant to this discussion, you first need to believe that we’re on the cusp of a shift from an old world view of the industry based upon a well-understood and stable design towards one where substantial parts of the insurance proposition and value network are up for grabs. You also need to believe that, for a period at least, these two (or more) worlds will co-exist.

So, here’s a quick overview of the model (in case you’re not familiar with it)…

Settling on a “Dominant Design”

First introduced way back in the mid-1970s and based upon empirical research (famously using conformance towards the QWERTY keyboard as an example), Abernathy and Utterback observed that when a market (or specifically a technology within a market) is new, there first exists a period of fluidity where creativity and product innovation flourishes. During this period, huge variation in approaches and product designs can co-exist as different players in the market experiment with what works and what does not.

In this early fluid stage, a market is typically small, and dominated by enthusiasts and early adopters. Over time, a dominant design begins to emerge as concepts become better understood and demand for a certain style of product proves to be more successful than others. Here, within an insurance context, you'd expect to see high levels of change and a preference for self-build IT systems in order to control and lower the cost of experimentation.

Once the dominant design has been established, competition increases and market activity switches from product innovation to process innovation – as each firm scrambles to find higher quality and more efficient ways to scale in order to capture a greater market share. This is the transitionary stage. 

Finally, at the specific stage, competitive rivalry intensifies spurred on by new entrants emulating the dominant design, incremental innovation takes hold and a successful growth (or survival) strategy switches to one that either follows a niche or low-cost commodity path. Within an insurance context, outsourcing and standardisation on enterprise systems are likely to dominate discussions.

Applying the ‘dominant design’ concept to the world of insurance and insurtech

Building upon the co-existence assumption made earlier, within the world of insurtech today, there are broadly (and crudely) two types of firm: (1) those focused on a complete proposition rethink (such as Trov, Slice and Lemonade); and (2) those focused on B2B enablement (such as Everledger, Quantemplate and RightIndem). The former reside in ‘Fluid’ stage (where the new ‘dominant design’ for the industry has not yet been set and still may fail) and the latter in the ‘Transitionary’ stage (where the dominant design is known, but there are just better ways to do it).

Figure: Innovation, Insurance and the 'Dominant Design'

picture4

(Source: Celent – Adapted from Abernathy and Utterback (1975)

Outside of insurtech, within the 'Specific' stage, there is the traditional world of insurance (where nearly all of the world’s insurance premiums still sit by the way) that is dominated by incumbent insurers, incumbent distribution firms, incumbent technology vendors, and incumbent service providers.

So what? 

What I like about this model is that it starts to make better sense of what I believe we’re seeing in the world around us. It also helps us to better classify different initiatives and partnership opportunities, and encourages us to identify specific tactics for each stage – the key lesson being "not to apply a ‘one-size fits’ all strategy to the firm".

Finally, and more importantly, it moves the debate on from being one about engaging insurtech start-ups purely to catalyze cultural change (i.e. to effect the things that the incumbent firms cannot easily do for themselves) towards one begging more strategic and structural questions to be asked, such as will a new ‘dominant design’ for the industry really emerge?, what will be its time-frame to scale?, and what specific actions are required to respond (i.e. to lead or to observe and then fast-follow).

Going back to my original question “What does insurtech have to offer?”. Insurers can do nearly all of what is taking place within insurtech as it exists today by themselves…but, as stated at the start of this blog, if, and only if, they are motivated to do so.

And there’s the rub. Many incumbents have been operating very successfully for so long in the ‘specific’ stage optimizing their solutions that making the shift required to emulate a ‘fluid’ stage is a major undertaking – why take the risk?. However, this is not the only issue that is holding them back. For me, the bigger question remains one of whether there is enough evidence to show the existence of an emerging new ‘dominant design’ for the industry in the ‘fluid’ stage that will scale to a size that threatens the status quo. Consequently, in the meantime, partnering and placing strategic investments with insurtech firms capable of working in a more ‘fluid’ way may offer a smarter more efficient bet in the meantime.

In a way, what we’re seeing today happening between insurers and insurtech firms  is the equivalent of checking out the race horses in the paddock prior to a race.  Let the race begin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is the innovation in Individual life and annuity?

I had the pleasure of attending an amazing event last week in Las Vegas. The InsureTech Connect event drew over 1,500 people, from insurers to vendor to investors. Given the unprecedented size of an inaugural event, I was very impressed with how well the event worked. The sessions were good, but for me, the opportunity to have individual meetings with key industry players was even better. Our own Oliver Wyman was the primary sponsor of the event.

As I cover individual and group products, plus health and have an experience in P&C, I personally got a lot out of the event. I did have one major observation which I think speaks of the individual life and annuity industry. While I did not do a scientific study, I would estimate that over 50% of the content was focused on P&C insurance. This is not particularly surprising as they have all the cool technology like drones. My estimate was that the group insurers and health insurers were about 45% of the content, with an emphasis on topics like wellness programs and direct to consumer exchanges.

If you did the math, this only leaves 5% of the content for individual life and annuity products and that may very well have been a stretch. There was one session on eliminating the health data gathering for underwriting, which was well done and well attended, but past that, not so much.

Some insurers are diversifying, into Group or Wealth management, but I would not characterize that as innovation.

So what is holding us back as an industry? There are many things, from risk aversion, to length of the application to the sheer amount of data required for underwriting. I could write pages and pages on the topic, which explains why the next blog post you read from me is likely going to discuss the report I am finishing on this exact topic.

The potential for disruption in the space is huge and the coveted Millennial buyer is looking for just such innovation. Let’s make it happen.

The 2017 Model Insurer Nominations Start Now

It’s been five months since we awarded Zurich with our top distinguished award, Model Insurer of the Year, during our Innovation & Insight Day (I&I Day) on April 13. I&I Day has been growing and gaining recognition since its inception over 10 years ago. Over last two years, more than 250 financial services professionals joined us in New York City at Carnegie Hall in 2015 and at The Museum of American Finance in 2016 to celebrate the Model Insurer winners.

From September 15, we will be accepting Model Insurer nominations. The window for new entries will close on November 30. We are looking forward to receiving your best IT initiatives. You may be announced as a Model Insurer at our I&I Day in 2017. The Model Insurer award program recognizes projects that essentially answer the question: What would it look like for an insurance company to do everything right with today’s technology? It awards insurance companies which have successfully implemented a technology project in five categories:

  • Data mastery and analytics.
  • Digital and omnichannel technology.
  • Innovation and emerging technologies.
  • Legacy transformation.
  • Operational excellence.

Some examples of initiatives that we awarded early this year are:

Model Insurer of the Year   

Zurich Insurance: Zurich developed Zurich Risk Panorama, an app that allows market-facing employees to navigate through Zurich’s large volumes of data, tools and capabilities in only a few clicks to offer customers a succinct overview of how to make their business more resilient. Zurich Risk Panorama provides dashboards that collate the knowledge, expertise and insights of Zurich experts via the data presented.

Data Mastery & Analytics

Asteron Life: Asteron Life created a new approach to underwriting audits called End-to-End Insights. It provides a portfolio level overview of risk management, creates the ability to identify trends, opportunities and pain points in real-time and identifies inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the underwriting process. 

Celina Insurance Group: Celina wanted to appoint agents in underdeveloped areas. To find areas with the highest potential for success, they created an analytics based agency prospecting tool. Using machine learning, multiple models were developed that scored over 4,000 zip codes to identify the best locations.

Farm Bureau Financial Services: FBFS decoupled its infrastructure by replacing point to point integration patterns with hub and spoke architecture. They utilized the ACORD Reference Architecture Data Model and developed near real time event-based messages.

Digital and Omnichannel

Sagicor Life Inc.: Sagicor designed and developed Accelewriting® , an eApp integrated with a rules engine; which uses analytic tools and databases to provide a final underwriting decision within one to two minutes on average for simplified issue products.

Gore Mutual Insurance Company: Gore created uBiz, the first complete ecommerce commercial insurance platform in Canada by leveraging a host of technology advancements to simplify the buying experience of small business customers.

Innovation and Emerging Technologies

Desjardins General Insurance Group: Ajusto, a smart phone mobile app for telematics auto insurance, was launched by Desjardins in March 2015. Driving is scored based on four criteria. The cumulative score can be converted into savings on the auto insurance premium at renewal.

John Hancock Financial Services: John Hancock developed the John Hancock Vitality solution. As part of the program, John Hancock Vitality members receive personalized health goals. The healthier their lifestyle, the more points they can accumulate to earn valuable rewards and discounts from leading retailers. Additionally, they can save as much as much as 15 percent off their annual premium.

Promutuel Assurance: Promutuel Insurance created a new change management strategy and built a global e-learning application, Campus, which uses a web-based approach that leverages self-service capabilities and gamificaton to make training easier, quicker, less costly and more convenient.

Legacy Transformation

GuideOne Insurance: GuideOne undertook a transformation project to reverse declines in its personal lines business. They launched new premier auto, standard auto, and non-standard auto products, as well as home, renter and umbrella products on a new policy administration system and a new agent portal.

Westchester, a Chubb Company: Chubb Solutions Fast Track™, a robust and flexible solution covering core business functionality, was built to support Chubb’s microbusiness unit’s core mission of establishing a “Producer First,” low-touch mindset through speed, accessibility, value, ease-of-use and relationships.

Teachers Life: Teachers Life has achieved a seamless, end-to-end online process for application, underwriting, policy issue and delivery for a variety of life products. Policyholders with a healthy lifestyle and basic financial needs can get coverage fast, in the privacy of their own homes, and pay premiums online in as little as 15 minutes.

Operational Excellence

Markerstudy Group: Markerstudy implemented the M-Powered IT Transformation Program which created an eco-system of best in class monitoring and infrastructure visualization tools to accelerate cross-functional collaboration and remove key-man dependencies.

Guarantee Insurance Company: In order to focus on their core competency of underwriting and managing a large book of workers compensation business, Guarantee Insurance outsourced its entire IT infrastructure.

Pacific Specialty Insurance Company: Complying with their vision is to become a virtual carrier, meaning all critical business applications will be housed in a cloud-based infrastructure, PSIC implemented their core systems in a cloud while upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth in bandwidth demands.

If you have completed a project during the last two years that you feel is a role model for the industry, don’t hesitate to send us your initiative here. You may be the next Model Insurer of the year.

For more information about the Model Insurer program click here, leave a comment, or email me directly at lchipana@celent.com. I’d be more than happy to talk with you. The Celent team and I are looking forward to hearing from you and meeting you in person at the 2017 Innovation & Insight Day.

See you there!

How the IoT caused the Internet of Upside Down

The architecture around the Internet of Things and the constraints it poses has fascinated me for a long time. The good news for insurers is integrating the Internet of Things into insurance processes has some fairly common patterns now as described in my recent report [http://celent.com/reports/emerging-architecture-internet-things]. For those with responsibility for the infrastructure of the Internet however, it is providing some interesting headaches. 
 
Upside down?
Why do I say upside down? In the early days of the Internet it was a collection of machines each with broadly the same importance connected together. As information services moved onto the Internet, followed by commerce and retail sites, banks and insurers and then streaming companies the Internet shifted more towards many machines seeking to consume from a (relatively) few machines. 
To support this demand architectures evolved to n-tier structures where data storage areas sat behind application servers, which sat behind web servers and then, not that long ago, caching servers and content delivery networks. 
The Internet has become a pyramid with a consumers machines at the bottom, hooked up to broadband geared towards downloading content quickly and increasingly powerful infrastructures delivering that content to be consumed. 
 
And then homes became data rich farms…
Suddenly homes are the sources of data everyone wants! Key information possibly of use to insurers even, now sits on devices at the bottom of the pyramid. In practice the Internet is shifting more towards the structure it had originally, but the infrastructure supporting todays services is not well suited to this new paradigm – or perhaps one that has re-emerged. 
 
In practice, most of this activity has moved from a pyramid to a less structured cloud already but software of the Internet is still catching up. 
 
So as you're looking at InsurTech firms or attending InsTech groups spare a thought for those poor architects and operations staff of the Internet and the headaches you're causing. 

The Great Insurance Experiment

There is a battle going on today for the future of the insurance industry. Like other industries there are those within the insurance industry and new entrants who are seeking to test whether alternate, digital models will prevail. As a participant in the industry and an observer the intriguing thing for me is no one has proven the existing model is actually broken or that there is a better proposition out there. It seems the telematics experiment I wrote about a few years ago is expanding in focus.

I'm sure taxi drivers said the same when faced with Uber, hotels with AirBnB, the print industry, the travel industry, etc. However let's look at the benefits of digital propositions to customers and see if they apply to insurance.

Transparency
One of the key benefits of digital propositions is transparency and low prices – something that telematics and IoT propositions endeavour to deliver for consumers. The peculiar thing about insurance is that transparency and too much data is at odds with what insurance tries to achieve. Put another way, insurance is designed to hedge the risks to a population across the whole population, so that individuals pay a reasonable price and those that suffer a significant loss are reimbursed disproportionally to what they put in. Absolute data and visibility – transparency in its purest form – will reveal the poor risks and in practice deprive them of the very service they need. Good for some who will not see a loss, but not good for all and not good for society as a whole.

Propositions in this area have moved towards education and rewarding behaviours that reduce risk – the win-win for insurer and client. Many have observed that this is arguably not insurance but rather risk advice, engineering and management. Others observe that claims prevention is absolutely part of insurance and has been all along, albeit the tools of old have been regulation, law and classical education rather than the digital variants.

Existing experiments reveal customers care do care about not claiming, about limiting the impacts of a claim and about small rewards for good behaviour. Regulators have also shown they're keen that all parts of society have access to financial services and insurance at a reasonable cost. Use of transparency and data can go so far in insurance but there are limits to how far it can disrupt.

Control
Another key benefit of digital propositions is the just in time and just enough nature of them – the ability to finely control the product and as a result the costs. This is another area that is being tested in insurance with micro control over what is and isn't on cover available to customers via their phone.

The challenge here of course is that this again removes some of the hedging. By assigning a cost per item turning everything on will typically yield a higher price for insurance than a classic contents policy which offers blanket cover for items in a property or even while travelling.

The other benefit of the classic policy is that one doesn't have to engage with it. It's all well and good that one can turn cover for items off and on quickly but to really take advantage of this capability the insured has to care deeply about the level of cover or the cost.

There will be customers who want this level of control in their insurance and will actively seek it – but for the mass market a good enough policy at a reasonable price will be just fine.

The long tail
Now here we could see some disruption, or at least shake up of the market. We're already seeing some splits in the market as people interested in health rewards take up the various incarnations of vitality insurance, young people take up telematics car insurance after being priced out of the classic policies. There will be customers interested in control over their policies, customers who give up human interaction in favour of digital cost control.

In this way we might see smaller, more agile companies with lower cost bases taking their share of the market by satisfying a niche.

Conclusion
In practice, the jury is still out and the experiment still continuing. Do todays consumers want the products they have always been offered or something new? What of tomorrows customers?

What does Brexit mean… ?

This is the question on everyone's lips. I had delayed writing this in the event that some clarity emerged but in day 5 of Brexit that clarity and certainty is proving elusive – indeed uncertainty seems to characterise the whole affair. This has been a discussion within the European team (thanks to Jamie and Nicolas) for some time and this post will briefly concentrate on the impact of the events so far on insurers with operations and interests in Europe. This will not discuss the UK governments response thus far.

The only certain thing about Brexit as it stands is uncertainty. Will Brexit really happen? When will the process start? Who is negotiating? What is the opening position? What we can say with some confidence there will be little regulatory and legal change in the short term and some unknown quantity of regulatory and legal change in the medium term.

The key unknown is the continuing participation in the single market and the other institutions in Europe, particularly the passporting. This more than Brexit itself, will define how strongly businesses with operations in the UK will respond.  Those with headquarters and staff in the UK to be present in the EU will need to reconsider this position if Britain leaves the single market as well as the EU – or indeed if any of the agreements reached put this position in jeopardy.

Uncertainty breeds volatility in the markets, a depressed investment environment and bond rates will hit the market further, particularly life insurers. This could well impact sales of investment products across the EU and UK until some certainty is restored. Existing products would not be safe either, with some investors looking to cash out.

The outlook for technology investment is trickier. If anything the pressures for reducing costs, agility and flexibility will be exacerbated. In the short term it is reasonable to assume reduced investment with alternate investments and clarity increases. It is plausible that this will affect the InsureTech market as well – particularly in London.

For UK insurers, It is likely that the FCA will engage with insurers and the ABI as the UK seeks to set out how it differentiate itself from the EU which will require agility and flexibility from the insurers to adapt to the new opportunities. A similar process may occur within the EU.

As is probably clear above, the one thing needed is clarity.

Do follow our Brexit posts from the wealth management team as well