US patents in 2015 – who are the leaders?

US patents in 2015 – who are the leaders?
I thought this chart from the firm Statista was interesting and topical given my post from last week. What particularly caught my eye was their observation that IBM is number one for the 23rd straight year. In addition, over 2,000 of their patents focus on cloud computing and cognitive computing, both areas of particular interest to insurance and the broader financial services industry. And for those that wonder (like me), Apple was in 11th place, just 18 patents short of 10th.   Infographic: Top 10 U.S. Patent Recipients | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

Insurance companies are embracing technology — for investment

Insurance companies are embracing technology — for investment
Celent frequently observes that many insurers, particularly in the Life space, are running aging, if not antique, software systems. They rely heavily on mainframe systems, often in languages such as COBOL that are becoming more difficult to support. The positive news is that our research shows continued growth, if modest, in IT budgets with modernization and innovation a frequent focus. With this as the foundation, it is interesting to see continued growth in insurance company’s venture capital arms in financial services oriented technology, or Fintech. Industry research shows an incredible growth path in Fintech start-ups, from a modest 400 or so in 2010 to over 12,000 in 2014. While the numbers are not yet in, we expect the 2015 numbers to continue this dramatic growth path. The insurers with venture capital arms are too numerous to list, but are a who’s who in the industry. Examples include AXA Strategic Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, American Family Ventures, and Transamerica Ventures. While many of the examples are US-based, it is a global phenomenon. A great example is Ping An Ventures, a subsidiary of the Chinese insurance company Ping An. Celent tracks many of the insurance related investments and we see several focus areas. One is in financial management and modeling, such as Roboadvisors, across both Life and Health. Good examples include Northwestern Mutual’s acquisition of Learnvest and AXA Strategic Ventures and MassMutual Venture’s investment in Limelight Health. MassMutual is also the parent company of Haven Life, a fully online sales organization dedicated to Life insurance. Other hot areas, not surprisingly, include analytics and the ever popular Internet of Things. The most recent investment, announced just yesterday, is AXA Strategic Ventures’ investment in Neura. Neura’s tagline is “Enrich your products with personalized insights from the lives of people who use them”. While a little heavy on the buzzwords, the basic view is that Neura analyzes data about you and recommends personalizations based on that information. The basic premises appears to link the Internet of Things, such as your Fitbit, to your social media presence, to your calendar and more. There are, of course, other companies overlapping this space (with 12,000 new companies, you would expect competition), such as Vitality and Life.io. The competition is encouraging, as it fosters continuous innovation. As the Millennials now outnumber Baby boomers (at least in the US), new technologies to engage them in insurance can be game changers. I am particularly intrigued with the technology companies, like these, that are focusing on changing the entire approach to Life insurance. The life insurance sale has always been focused on a negative experience – death of a love one. No one wants to talk about dying, and everyone wants to believe they will live many more years. When I talk to people that are just reaching an age where they really need life insurance, I get push back, and a lot of it, about everything else more important in their lives. My response that they need to protect their family often falls on deaf ears. By changing the discussion from “you are going to die”, to “how can we help you live longer”, we are opening up a much more comfortable discussion. In addition, this is a generation that will share everything on social media, to the point of embarrassment, so asking for more information to make their experience more intimate should be fairly easy. The investments and technology are exciting. It is wonderful to see insurance organizations finally catching the technology wave, after lagging for so long. Whether it be the Internet of Things, Usage based insurance, Micro insurance, behavioral underwriting or more, the staid insurance industry is breaking out. Some technologies are even a bit fun, such as the expanded usage of drones. Now before I get you too excited about the reinvention of insurance, I suggest you read a counterpoint to this post, from my colleague Donald Light, entitled A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance. He makes some very valid points about the managing our excitement. Another colleague, Craig Beattie, shares a similar bit of skepticism in his post What if… the insurance industry didn’t innovate? I guess I am forever the optimist and want to believe the excitement and change is real.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I went to a two hour meeting to reinvent insurance
It was in the Galaxy InternetBubble, stardate 2000.12.1. I was at a technology firm that was riding the Internet rocket up—and a couple of years later rode it back down. (It actually made a soft landing, and those early Web-anauts lived to tell the tale). In those heady early days of the web, there was a general feeling that the Internet was going to “change everything.” True, there wasn’t a lot of clarity about what “everything” or “change” were, but it was something many people said (and possibly believed). In any event, there was a steady stream of VC-funded insurance start-ups that would visit us, asking for our vision of what the web would wrought—while we were trying to think of some ways to be hired by those start-ups to make those visions real. If any of this sounds familiar to anyone, let me know. So there I was, minding my insurance Subject Matter Expert business, and someone asked me to attend a meeting that afternoon. The purpose of the meeting was to reinvent insurance. And I thought, “Why not?” I entered the conference room, and saw that the other attendees (bright and articulate professionals each and every one of them) had very limited insurance experience. No one in the room (with the exception of your humble blogger) could have defined hazard, exposure, or probable maximum loss, or the law of large numbers, and so on. At the end of the two hours, we had in fact not reinvented insurance. There was no follow-up meeting. Why bring up this bit of ancient history? Because we have arguably entered another period in which claims are made that technology, or digital, or insurtech is going to, if not change everything, at least disrupt everything. As an example, see these Celent reports about the end of auto insurance, or the Internet of Things, or digital strategies. If you want to separate the disruptive wheat from the buzz-based chaff this time around, here are some basic questions to ask:
  • Does the proposed use of a new technology impact the basics of the insurance model?
  • Can it scale?
  • Will it change the relationships among cost, price, and value in a way that is fair to the insurer, the distribution channel and the policyholder?
If the answers to these questions are all yes, maybe maybe someone will reinvent insurance this time around. This time around, may the In-Force be with us.

Silicon Valley? No, Chilecon Valley

Silicon Valley? No, Chilecon Valley
In previous blog posts regarding fintech in Latin America my position was, and remains, that one of the reasons for being behind is that it lacks of a “Silicon Valley” equivalent. Efforts to create a fintech ecosystem, as Finnovista is doing, become a good alternative to overcome the absence of a geographical pocket of innovation. Particularly consider the market fragmentation of Latin America comprised by 19 countries, some of which have 3M inhabitants to Brazil having +200M. People in most countries may speak the same language but markets are far from being similar just for that. Under (or against?) these circumstances, Chile is working to become Latin America’s Silicon Valley. One of its most attractive initiatives is “Start-Up Chile”, created four years ago to transform the Chilean entrepreneurial ecosystem. It began with a question: “What would happen if we could bring the best and brightest entrepreneurs from all around the globe and insert them into the local ecosystem?” The initiative offers work visas, financial support, and an extensive network of global contacts to help build and accelerate growth of customer-validated and scalable companies that will leave a lasting impact on the Latin American ecosystem. The idea is to make the country a focal point for innovation and entrepreneurship within the region. Start-up Chile, with only four years, is a start-up itself but it has a good starting point and great potential:
  • Chile has demonstrated for years its entrepreneurial spirit, with Chilean companies competing successfully in various industries (air transportation, financial services, and retail, just to mention a few) and a stable economy.
  • This year two Chilean start-ups were the winners of the BBVA Open Talent in Latin America: Destacame.cl, aiming to financial inclusion by creating a credit scoring based on utility payments; and Bitnexo which enables fast, easy and low cost transfers between Asia and Latin America, using Bitcoin.
While other countries and cities in the region are working in offering support to start-ups, it seems Chile is leading the way. Hopefully this triggers some healthy competition in the region, which in the end will benefit all. In the meantime, let’s meet at Finnosummit in Bogota – Colombia next February 16th. Join financial institutions, consultants, tech vendors, startups and other digital ecosystem innovators, to learn how startup driven disruption and new technologies are reshaping the future of financial services in the region. Remember to use Celent’s discount code C3L3NT20% for a 20% discount on your conference ticket.  

Personal musings from one of the world’s first InsurTech incubators

Personal musings from one of the world’s first InsurTech incubators
Last Friday (and flowing into the weekend), I was privileged to take part as a mentor in the final selection process for the first “InsurTech” cohort of the StartupBootcamp’s accelerator programme targeted at the insurance industry. This programme claims to be one of the first specialist “InsurTech” accelerators to be run globally by an independent firm. The programme has attracted pretty impressive backing from the industry with firms like Admiral, Allianz, Ergo, Intesa SanPaulo, LV=, Momentum, LBG/Scottish Widows, Tryg and UnipolSai taking partnership roles. To give you an idea around the scale of achievement of those who got through, the process started with circa 1.3k interviews, 250+ applications, 42 short-listed ideas and then whittled down to just 18 finalists…from which just 10 could be accepted onto the program. These ten firms will now go on to be mentored during their start-up phase, have their ideas challenged and further developed from people within the industry and independent entrepreneurs and, in doing so, build the network they will need to both attract funding and find new clients. Over the two days that I spent with the finalists, there were a number of themes that came through the submissions. Here are my personal musings: Data featured strongly across nearly all of the initiatives. Having access to either unique sources of data (whether from a home move, from a travel plan or from connected world) and a model for assessing underwriting risk appeared to be a winning combination. Digital engagement, aggregation and ‘robo-advice’ are hot topics. What I found most interesting was the focus on underserved markets, whether targeting prospects with poor health records, in difficult to reach populations around the world, or educating Gen-Y/Z of the value of insurance. Addressing underserved markets profitably is a big issue that the industry often struggles with. A fertile area if tackled well. What impressed me the most, however, was the passion and sense of purpose displayed by the teams in fixing something that just feels ‘plain wrong’ to them. The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change the industry’s client engagement experience and liability profile. Five initiatives related to the IoT were submitted. Three were focused on wellbeing, one on the connected home and one on drones. Although it didn’t quite make it into the final ten, I found the drone initiative fascinating. With Amazon and others itching to launch commercial drone services at scale, this is a market that is set to grow. Drone insurance could be the next ‘fleet’ or ‘auto insurance’ (as was pointed out by my fellow mentor Charles Radclyffe). Certainly, the current risk models in use today are immature and unlikely to be adequate for a world where autonomous vehicles are delivering packages across our heads 24×7 (assuming the regulator allows it). Sadly, the drone initiative didn’t quite make it into the final ten. Personally, I wonder if it’s just maybe a little too early, but perhaps still one to watch for the future? As with anything IoT related in insurance currently, each initiative will face a shared challenge. Although the proposition concepts may be compelling, the instrumentation rate of adoption will ultimately set the pace for growth. The IoT is still in its infancy across the industry and convincing prospective clients to share their instrumented personal data is no small undertaking. Data permissions are a growing concern for both individuals and regulators. It was refreshing to see some of the propositions pitch personal digital vaults as part of their propositions, whether for managing data from connected devices, personal wellbeing or personal belongings. Although it’s not yet clear how the market will develop for these services or how they will be monetised beyond a simple subscription model, services like these may suddenly find themselves in the limelight once regulators step in to protect personal privacy. Regulatory compliance. It wouldn’t be the insurance industry unless there was at least one idea focused on regulatory compliance. What if you took all of your regulatory compliance reports produced, aggregated them, and then analysed them? A really simple idea without a huge amount of cost involved. It was a refreshing couple of days. I look forward to seeing how their ideas and propositions develop over the next year. If you’d like to know more about each of the final ten, details can be found here.

Scary thought: What happens when the worlds of startups and insurers collide?

Scary thought: What happens when the worlds of startups and insurers collide?
Scary044Accelerators, incubators, hackathons and labs, oh my! There have been an increasing number of partnerships between insurers and start-up technology companies in the past year. It is an exciting time, full of possibilities and I don’t mean to pour cold water on the enthusiasm, but… What happens when fast-moving startups meet governance-heavy insurers? When faced with a joint decision, how will professionals who have spent a career avoiding risk reach agreement with their partners who seek out risk? To what degree should action plans be coordinated and how is that done if one group is using an agile development method while the other prefers waterfall? Do these differences really matter, or will the incentive to deliver something really cool power through such differences? It is time to ask this question, along with what is, and isn’t working, and what actions will improve results. Celent is excited to partner with Silicon Valley Innovation Center to assess the current state of innovation partnerships in insurance. We value your views would like to invite you to participate in a survey. Leave your email and I will send you a summary report. The goal of this survey is to accelerate insurance industry innovation / transformation by identifying effective partnering methodologies and processes. It specifically focuses on the relationship between incumbent insurers and start-up firms. It takes under 10 minutes to complete. Hope you will add your views: Click here to start

In the quest of making fintech a reality in Latin America

In the quest of making fintech a reality in Latin America
The fintech ecosystem has been evolving and maturing in Latin America for the last three years mainly due to the effort of some participants, including Celent, to connect all key players of the fintech ecosystem. Unlike the USA where there are geographical pockets of Innovation, as Silicon Valley, that brings the actors together based on proximity, nothing like this exists in Latin America Furthermore, the individual (country) market size is significantly smaller when compared to the USA. Fortunately technology allows business to be conceived global or at least regional and therefor provide the scale needed for a fintech start-up to be viable. For these reasons, it is essential to work an ecosystem, a network of participants, regardless of their geographic location in Latin America. I do not foresee a sustained and increasing development of fintech start-ups and initiatives in the region without the existence of this ecosystem. In this last three years we have seen many cases of “me too” fintech start-ups. While this is not bad, it doesn’t show creativity either. Happily we have also seen completely innovative ventures, especially around blockchain, but without this being the sole focus. There are all kinds of fintech start-ups; in payments, leveraging the use of data and focusing on customer experience; in loans, traditional and new models such as crowdfunding and Peer-to-Peer (P2P); in insurance distribution and risk management leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) just to mention a few. How is this playing for the insurance industry? I believe that the insurance industry is at a tipping point in fintech although I see it more developed out of Latin America. I believe there is a great opportunity gathering and using data for underwriting, claims, and fraud detection; taking advantage of the IoT to develop new personalized products and working on claims prevention; in distribution enabling new channels and becoming more digital and technology reliant, and even using P2P models; engaging with customers in new and improved ways; and discovering how disruption in payments can be leveraged in insurance. In insurance (P&C, life and health) we are seeing that traditional players start moving towards digital environments and interactions, experimenting with technologies such as telematics and with the opportunities arising of the IoT. In Latin America this is incipient, but we see that it improves every year. According to our most recent research 41% of insurers in the region have a formal innovation program which has been running, as minimum, for 2 years and 35% indicated that it doesn’t have a formal program yet. The fact that only 8% of them are focusing on disruptive innovation allows us to think that change will be slow, mostly based on incremental innovation, unless some external factor can accelerate change. The main insurance companies globally are either funding accelerators, have created their Innovation labs, or have established funds to invest in fintechs. However, innovation is often difficult for established players and initiatives of new players appear seeking mainly to innovate in product, distribution, customer experience and looking to benefit from the IoT for both underwriting and claims. Ingenie, one of the pioneers in offering a pay-per-use model based on telematics alongside its strategy of risk prevention, is not really an insurer but a technology company that was forced to go direct as a consequence of the lack of interest from established insurers in adopting a pricing and underwriting model based on the use and individual behavior of the insured. This model is no longer a novelty and has been adopted by many insurers around the world; it is even being replicated in property, life and health insurance. Recently John Hancock announced the launch of an incentive program based on the insured to share data related to its health, but it is not the only one; Discovery was one of the pioneers to launch it many years ago in South Africa. Oscar offers it for health, along with a digital-only user experience. Friendsurance, in Germany, has adopted a model based on social networks and P2P insurance that although it is oriented to auto, it could be applied to other risks (including microinsurance). In parametric insurance (aka index based insurance) using sensors and data, we have seen initiatives as Kilimo Salama aiming to market agriculture insurance massively, in segments that otherwise was not viable to serve. This is indeed an interesting case of extreme digital, with innovation applied in all the insurance life cycle. An area that we still see relegated in Latin America is the widespread use of data, a historic deficit that in many cases can be represented by the difficulty of something as simple as not having a claims database at industry level. Blockhain, for its novelty, is another area where insurers haven’t yet stepped in. Distribution, in the region, is mostly not under the control of the insurer; the direct channel is insignificant in volume when compared to the intermediated business, therefore innovation depends to a large extent of the capabilities of the distribution channels to adopt new technologies and rethink their own models. In this sense banks distributing insurance, where bancassurance is permitted, as well as the largest brokers seem to be in a privileged position to capitalize this opportunity, but suffer the same challenges that other large established players and the final word has not been said yet. Could an external player, someone that understands digital, data and customer experience, change the market dynamics? They are certainly doing so in banking, especially around payments. Google has already entered the insurance industry, on the distribution side, in United Kingdom and the USA. The founders of Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd acquired shares of Ping An Insurance Group Co of China Ltd in a deal valued at $4.7 billion of dollars in December 2014, in what I see as another major threat to the industry from the outside, but taking positions to be able to integrate the business, from distribution to assuming and managing risks.
Three Giants in Internet Finance

Three Giants in Internet Finance

I foresee that in personal lines insurance we will get used to buy from companies that offer the best digital shopping experience, being these insurers and intermediaries that were able to adapt by learning how to compete in a digital world, or new players coming from the digital retail sector. In commercial lines I don’t foresee a threat from the outside in the short or medium term regarding distribution, but a deeper use of technology by insurance companies to become more efficient in the marketing of insurance. The level of advisory and specialization required makes it difficult to envision it can be transformed into a digital experience of purchase and servicing in a short-medium time frame. Nevertheless, in both cases, insurers will continue to be the one assuming risks, just as how banks fund and service credit lines. In this sense insurers must offer flexibility and agility in creating new products, but mainly with the ability to do it based on the use of data, the IoT, and easily integrating with its ecosystem. We will be meeting on February 16th 2016 in Bogotá – Colombia at Finnosummit to discuss the opportunities and challenges for the fintech ecosystem in Latin America. Fintech start-ups can participate of the Finnosummit Challenge, a great opportunity and very interesting prizes for winners. If you want to attend Finnosummit be sure to use Celent discount code: C3L3NT20%. See you there!  

A pivotal day for the insurance industry

A pivotal day for the insurance industry
There were a few key assumptions underlying Celent’s End of Auto insurance report:
  1. Cars would crash less, requiring lower claims expenditure and lower premiums
  2. Cars would drive themselves, liability would shift to manufacturers and ‘driver insurance’ would be a thing of the past
Today with Volvo’s announcement (also linked here) that they would accept all liability for the car in autonomous mode we see the first of three steps towards the end of auto insurance. This is a key moment in human history, a pivotal moment that will redefine how human beings travel albeit that may not be apparent today. Today, this looks like an inevitable check box on the route to autonomous cars. It is in fact both. Now the other manufacturers must follow suit or relegate themselves to manufacturing cars with no autonomous ability. Immediately, Blockbuster and Kodak come to mind. Initially they may deal with this through captive insurers but this will change over time. I mentioned this is the first of three steps. The next inevitable one will take place in the court of law, perhaps after the first death where the car was liable. Here the specifics will be tested and understood. This will be a different milestone in different jurisdictions. The third step will be a few years from now, when the autonomous systems have had enough time to partially fail due to poor maintenance. I am assuming we still own the cars at that point we’re not just renting them by the hour. At this point clarity will be given to who is responsible for making sure an autonomous system is still fit to drive on the road. Governments and lawmakers will have to define a minimum capability that is required before one can turn on the system. In some countries it may happen sooner than others but one imagines this will be a reactive exercise as manufacturers challenge their liability due to customers meddling with or failing to maintain the equipment. As interesting and drawn out as these second and third steps are, history will show they are insignificant compared to the point in time when the first manufacturer stood up and said they would accept full liability for their cars when in autonomous mode. Update: Other manufacturers are already following suit. and the Volvo CEO is already calling on the US government to establish testing guidelines as part of the speech.

Why private equity investment in insurance makes sense

Why private equity investment in insurance makes sense
As many of you know, the latest buzzword is FinTech. Considerable money is coming to vendors that are attempting to define the next major technological leap in financial services. This chart, from CB Insights, shows the explosive growth in FinTech investments. It is an exciting time. CB chart What I find interesting is that Private Equity firms are also finding the more traditional insurance market interesting. For example, Moelis Capital made an investment in Insurance Technologies last fall. Insurance Technologies focuses on the front-end of Life insurance, including illustrations and electronic applications. More recently, Moelis Capital announced an investment in FAST Technologies, which focuses on the Life Policy Administration System (PAS) space. Another example is Thoma Bravo, which announced in August that they had purchased iPipeline, another competitor in the front-end space. To me, these investments make sense. They may not be as technologically sexy as something like roboadvisors, but the market is ripe for improvement. The age of the policy administration systems in use is somewhat staggering, with systems that have been in production for decades. On the front-end, the Life insurance market is still surprisingly dependent on a paper application. As someone who has been a part of this space for many years (measurable in decades), it is nice to see that the market finds room to improve.