How life insurers can make underwriting investments that pay off

There is much to automate in the new business process but where should automation dollars be spent to provide the best returns? The new Celent report, Making Life Insurance Underwriting Investments That Pay Off, provides a framework for answering this question. Celent’s analysis divides the new business and underwriting process into 22 logical components of work. Each component is subdivided into potential levels of automation ranging from minimal automation to highly automated. Through an online survey insurers graded themselves in each of the processes according to their level of automation.  The results were not surprising; however they highlighted how far behind the life insurance industry lags in this area.

Automation blog graphic

Automated new business and underwriting processes carry the promise of improved results, but can come at a significant cost, including the hard costs of purchasing technology as well as the softer costs of implementing it and changing processes.  Celent’s analysis showed that automation does indeed improve key measures related to productivity, accuracy and time which can help offset the costs.

One of the keys to reaping the rewards of the investment is to define the strategic goals prior to the automation. Some life insurers have a strategy to be a low cost provider and may achieve low cost through significant investment in rules automation. Others want to provide a high level of service and may focus on the customer experience by automating the customer-facing processes. 

Key questions to ask when deciding where to automate:

  • What is the strategic focus?
  • What tasks are being done, and by whom? Does that actor have to do them?
  • Where can automation create capacity to grow the book of business?
  • Where can automation create a better decision?
  • Where can automation create a better customer experience?
  • Which level of automation will result in the best key metric results?

Are your investments paying off? Insurers can use Celent’s latest report to compare their level of automation to the underwriting capabilities framework and their peers to ascertain if they are making the most of their underwriting automation investments.

Reporting from Celent’s Model Insurer Asia Summit

If 2015 was the year of FinTech, 2016 will surely be the year that InsurTech comes into its own. Celent has been presenting our views on InsurTech and emerging technologies at insurance conferences throughout Asia for some time now, so naturally we see this as a welcome—and inevitable—development.

We held our 7th Annual Model Insurer Asia Awards event in Singapore last month, with presentations focusing on InsurTech and digital financial services. Celent Research Director Karlyn Carnahan set the tone with a keynote presentation on the challenges facing insurers as customers are increasingly seeking real-time, digital interactions tailored to their personal needs and channel preferences. Karlyn outlined the steps to becoming a digital insurer and provided many insights on how insurers can embrace the digital paradigm. In the afternoon session, Karlyn also led a peer-to-peer discussion on how insurers in Asia are responding to these significant changes in the digital landscape.

We were delighted to have GoBear, one of the stars of Asia InsurTech, on the program. GoBear is an online financial services aggregator with a decidedly digital offering that is expanding at a remarkably fast pace throughout Southeast Asia. In his keynote presentation, GoBear’s CEO Andre Hesselink discussed how his firm developed their product with the goal of better serving consumers while at the same time satisfying the business needs of their suppliers, the insurance carriers. Quite the balancing act I am sure.

Celent Analyst KyongSun Kong presented the results of Celent’s annual Asia Insurance CIO survey, revealing that nearly 80% of insurers surveyed are engaged in digital transformation initiatives.

Finally, we came to the heart of the event: the Model Insurer Asia Awards themselves. This year we celebrated best-practice technology initiatives at 14 insurers, including ICICI Lombard General Insurance, Taikang Insurance, multinationals Aegon and MetLife, and online insurance innovator DirectAsia, among many others. All winning initiatives are profiled in our report Celent Model Insurer Asia 2016: Case Studies of Effective Technology Use in Insurance.

Who has the best life insurance new business and underwriting system?

Celent has published a new report, North American LHA New Business and Underwriting Systems: 2016 ABCD Vendor View, in which Celent profiles fourteen providers of new business and underwriting systems. Each vendor responded to a request for information. Seven vendors met the criteria for inclusion as a potential Xcelent winner. The seven vendors eligible for the awards provided a demonstration and briefing of their billing solution.

Due to the ongoing economic conditions that continue to have an adverse impact on life insurance application volumes, insurers have strong interest in reducing the cost of acquisition, processing and issuing life insurance applications. Automating the new business and underwriting functions are critical components in reaching a level of straight-through processing (STP) for new business. Insurers hope that these systems will help reduce unit costs and improve margins. Celent believes that these initiatives are necessary to help the insurers address growth, service, and distribution mandates, in addition to reducing the cost per policy issued.

After years of development that started almost 30 years ago, automated underwriting systems have become highly flexible in allowing insurers to define and configure underwriting rules and workflow. Most systems include or integrate into eApplications. Data from the applications drive reflexive questioning and identify risk classes associated with application data. They offer high levels of automation when gathering third party medical requirements and flag risks when the third party data results are outside of the ranges set by the rules. They also can deliver decisions to the point of data entry or to an underwriter.

New business image

The interest in new business and underwriting systems is on the upswing. Deciding the best new business and underwriting system is unique to each insurer. The goal of the report is to provide detailed information so that an insurer will be able to make an informed decision on which systems may be the best for them.

Regulators will hug their blockchains – takeaways from Consensus 2016

"Show of hands, how many people don't know insurance at all?"

I attended the blockchain (BC) conference Consensus2016 this week and came away with some enhanced perspectives about the technology and its market. The ability to immerse myself in the subject, hear multiple points of view, and learn about different projects was extremely valuable. Here are my highest level takeaways along with some general observations.

 

Specific take-aways:

Regulators will love their blockchains
The transparency and audit trail capabilities of BC will reduce frustration, lower costs, and increase the effectiveness of regulators. Delaware’s announcement to move selected regulatory processes to the BC is an early recognition of this potential.

Benefits beyond the technology
The power of BC to eliminate counterparty risk, stop reconciliation, and increase efficiency were discussed repeatedly, but I also noted a few subtle, nuanced, and powerful benefits related to the BC development process. The most significant examples are the benefits that arise when multiple organizations partner to build a shared BC. Because the companies are building a common automation platform, their joint development results in a single set of code to automate contracts and identical data definitions. This eliminates the unintended consequences that currently result from a traditional approach — where organizations agree on legal terms but then automate them separately. I am now looking at BC with one eye on what the tech delivers and one on what the process around it yields.

Nascent, but sufficient to test with
No doubt the platforms will continue to develop, but based on reported activity in capital markets, banks and insurers, the tech is moving forward in leading corporatations, most in a testing mode. One insurer offered an intriguing insight based on their experience to date. They found as they started testing, their use cases all dealt with processes which already have existing automation solutions in place, with the goal of efficiency/cost improvements. However, they found that they were not getting traction/attention from their senior executives that they expected and needed. They have since pivoted and are now focusing their BC testing on problems that do not currently have automation solutions in place. (by the way, this insurer is another example of a firm which is using its innovation infrastructure to execute their BC tests. They are being done in their innovation lab under the governance in place for experimentation projects — see my previous blog about a similar approach taken by John Hancock.)

General observations:

Evangelism
There are strong emotions associated with this technology. The implementations that deliver financing and banking services to developing economies, or that improve health care, certainly warrant an emotional reaction. However, when I hear comments like “BC technology’s impact will be as significant as the railroad in the 1800s,” my hype alarm goes off. I suppose I haven’t been indoctrinated yet, but neither have the majority of financial services executives.

Market transition
Suppliers are changing from geeks to suits, from startups to more established tech and consulting firms. In some comments during a number of presentations and occasional tweets and audience reactions, I detected a curious, and unhelpful, undercurrent of antagonism towards this shift. The economics of BC will inevitably move it to the enterprise. In fact, its full promise cannot be realized without this change. I am confident that virtually everyone attending a conference like Consensus2016 wants to see the tech reach its potential, but, as a first time attendee, it sure seemed that not everyone was acting that way. I am looking forward to catching the vibe in next year's show.

Kudos to the organizers Coindesk for developing a solid, varied program and for executing it well.

How do insurance providers develop an agile IT infrastructure?

Insurers have always faced the challenge of taking products and solutions to market faster and doing so at lower cost. The sources of this challenge are not new – changing partner and customer expectations, increased and new competition and demanding regulators with perhaps the addition of the current financial climate.

Insurers have risen to each challenge, offering new ways to interact with their customers, offering new products and tracking their processes against new requirements. However, warning signs loom as insurers are increasingly finding that each of these solutions involve adding something new, encumbering their infrastructure with the latest systems, applications and integrations. Insurers already suffer from heterogeneous and complex IT landscapes and many are in the throes of large, costly programs designed to simplify and reduce costs.

The challenge today is a little more specific from those in the past: How can an insurer increase in agility, speed to market and flexibility while keeping the support and maintenance costs manageable?

Insurers are increasingly realising the benefits of a Software as a Service (SaaS) approach for some parts of their IT landscape. The promise of being up and running on an out of the box solution can be very appealing for activities that don’t differentiate the insurer or are well understood. While these solutions continue to be additive, they don’t increase the load on the IT infrastructure team beyond the due diligence exercise. However, many of the areas that need the greatest speed to market are differentiating and require customisation – how can insurers achieve that without increasing complexity?

Is Cloud the Answer?
There has been much discussion about cloud and how this is changing the way start-ups and businesses deal with their IT infrastructure. Insurers exist in a heavily regulated environment and are rightly hesitant to jump on the latest technology fad to solve their problems. However, dismissing the developments in cloud and SaaS propositions altogether for their core operations may be throwing the baby out with the bath water, along with possibly the bath as well.

There is value in considering cloud-thinking or a cloud style approach to problem-solving when considering the insurer’s infrastructure. Central to enabling cloud is simplifying, standardising and above all automating activities with IT infrastructure. Once the common activities one needs to do are automated this frees up costly team members and time to look at other problems. Through automation one can keep adding new applications and solutions to the IT landscape with a lower impact on support and maintenance costs, enabling an insurer to remain flexible, agile and keep their costs manageable.

It is time for the IT department to look internally and apply the same automation and efficiency thinking of their business counterparts to their own operations. Regardless of an insurer’s position on cloud, there is value in applying cloud-thinking. Consider how automation and simplification can increase predictability, supportability and quality in IT Operations. If appropriate, take that learning and move some services to the cloud.

In practice this approach doesn’t simplify the IT landscape and move everything to one “cloud” way of doing things. Rather it accepts the insurance industries need for complexity, for flexibility in approach and seeks to enable a fast and cost efficient approach to deliver it.

 

Your customers hate your group email box (and you should too)

I’m currently dealing with two group email box issues. In one instance, I’m a frustrated customer, irritated beyond belief by the lack of response to my repeated email service requests. In the other instance, I’m the party ultimately responsible for a group email box, and I’m getting an earful from a frustrated customer. The overlay of these two, unrelated incidents is perfect: Some sort of cosmic justice is clearly being served.

Stages of Group Email Box Grief

You might be familiar with the Kübler-Ross model, which shows how grieving people progress through Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I think something similar happens when any of us try to use a poorly managed group email box. It goes something like this:

  • Hope. After the initial disappointment of not finding a human being with whom we can interact directly, we console ourselves that, at least, our problem has been recognized by our service provider. By creating a named email box, the service provider is clearly implying that help is a click or two away. Got a generic question about your health plan coverage? Email coverage@xyzhealthplan.com. Need help from someone in Finance to get an expense check cut? Why, ExpenseTeam@yourcompany.com sounds like a productive place to turn. But the relief at finding such elegant, targeted service solutions is often short-lived.

  • Perplexity. After a day or so of non-response, we wonder. Did I really send an email to that email box? Did it get through? If it got through, did anyone read it? This stage is characterized by self-doubt and forensic examination. We check and recheck our Inbox, Spam Folder, and Sent Mail under the (reasonable, by the way) assumption that if the tool was working, someone would have responded by now.

  • Dismay. A week has passed. On the realization that no process could possibly take this long, Dismay sets in. In this stage, we ratchet up the pressure, typically by resending our original note with a snarky addition, like, “I really would like to hear from someone on this! Please?”

  • Anger & Activation. At this stage, we realize that help is not forthcoming. For most of us, this happens between Day 7 and Day 8. (Though my experience with them suggests that Millenials make the entire progression from Hope to Anger & Activation in as little as an hour.) We start looking for alternatives, as confidence in the system plummets. In the extreme, we try to get face to face with someone who can solve our problem (“I’m going to drive in to the cell phone store and make them solve this billing issue!”). But alternatives include calling switchboards and asking for the CEO, starting a Twitter rant, or activating a defection to other providers. None of these reactions enhance a customer relationship.

The Service Provider’s Response

As a service provider myself, I’m embarrassed to admit that emails to info@celent.com don’t always get perfect, productive responses. Of course we have a process in place that routes inbound queries to more than one person, to make sure we don’t run into out of office issues. But things occasionally fall through the cracks, due to technical reasons (e.g., aggressive, evolving spam filters), scheduling quirks (e.g., all Celent staff are in the same meeting), or simply due to human nature.

The latter category is particularly vexing. When several people are responsible for something, the real-world effect is that no one feels responsible. I’m convinced that using an info@ email box inevitably lessens the sense of accountability and responsibility that drives all effective service teams. Add in the dynamic of impersonal, electronic communicationswhich by its nature generates less empathy than a simple conversation between two human beings and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

In this annoying age of one-to-many communication (says the blogger, ignoring the irony), there’s a strong case to be made for enabling more direct, personal connections. Many companies will resist this old-fashioned, and by some measures, expensive, view. They will go down the path blazed by online retailers, and try in vain to provide acceptable service levels via FAQ and info@ email boxes. But the price they will pay is customers who frequently progress to Anger & Activation, and then walk away grumbling.

A smarter play is for firms to foster real relationships with their customers. For me, that means going old school. Making it easier for customers to navigate to a real person who is ready to listen and willing to solve problems. I’ve told my team to plaster their direct contact info on every report, presentation, and marketing piece. I’ll keep the info@celent.com address open as a benign trap for spammers. But the rest of you are encouraged to email me directly at cweber@celent.com.

For sustained innovation, it is not only the “What” but also the “How”

I read an excellent article recently by CoinDesk on John Hancock Insurance Company’s testing of blockchain in insurance. This is one of the early, public declarations that insurers are exploring the potential of this technology. Jamie Macgregor and I also explored this subject recently in the report: Blockchain in Insurance: Use Cases

There is another important angle to the John Hancock story that lies beyond the technology. In our approach to innovation at Celent, we separate the “what” of innovation (blockchain, artificial intelligence, analytics that personalize the customer experience) from the “how”. How companies execute on innovation involves building repeatable processes, incentive systems, and cultures of experimentation that establish a new “way we do things around here”. Note that John Hancock’s LOFT program provided the mechanism through which the insurer could test blockchain. Next week, month, year it will be a different “what” to feed into the “how” machine.

Beginning in the Q3 of last year, Celent research observed the pattern that leading financial services companies which have invested in the "how" of innovation are beginning to gain fast mover advantage over those that have not.  We expect to see an increasing, widening gap between those insurers which have investe in the how of innovation and those that have not. The leaders will use their innovation machines to more rapidly and effectively figure out how to make the “what” of the possible real in their organizations.

Internet of Things – NBA edition, round 2

For those of you that follow our blog, you may have read my post from April 8th, entitled Internet of Things – NBA edition. If not, then I’d suggest you click the title and read that post first.

Given we’re in round 1 of the playoffs, this post feels even more timely. The basic premise of the first post revolved around the use of wearables in sports, more specifically during games. As it turns out, there was recently a follow-up article on ESPN.com:

NBA union, wearable tech company Whoop to meet Tuesday

As I mentioned, the use of wearables goes well beyond just the technology, particularly to the ownership of the data.

I particularly liked the quote from the Whoop CEO, Will Ahmed: "…let's not deprive athletes of in game analysis. It's their careers at stake and data is not steroids."

As wearables get to be more and more ubiquitous, it will be interesting to follow their use. We see the benefit in insurance programs, such as Hancock’s Vitality, but the ultimate use of the information shows so much opportunity to truly change our lives. It will be fun to follow.

A golden day for insurance: Celent 2016 Model Insurer winners

In the historic Museum of American Finance, surrounded by golden exhibits including gold bars, a gold Monopoly game and even a gold toilet(!), the 2016 Celent Model Insurers were announced yesterday.  Part of our annual Innovation and Insight Day, we had over 150 insurance professionals in attendance (and over 300 in total), it was a great day for networking, idea sharing, learning about award winning initiatives and hearing inspiring speakers talk about the future of financial services. 

Yaron Ben-Zvi, CEO and co-founder of Haven Life, was the Model Insurer key note speaker. He discussed how Haven is using technology to reach a younger, digital-savvy customer with a life insurance experience that meets their expectations. He spoke about the journey from ideation to reality for their term insurance products which can be purchased online in only 20 minutes. He encouraged the audience to “think big but start small” and to apply the learnings along the way.

The Haven Life presentation was followed by the main event, the announcement of the 2016 Model Insurer winners. Every year, Celent recognizes the effective use of technology projects in five categories across multiple business functions.  We produced our annual Model Insurer Case Study report which clients may download here.  This year there were fifteen insurers recognized including Zurich Insurance, the Model Insurer of the Year.  Here are the winners: 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The quality of the submissions this year is a clear indication the industry is turning a corner and embracing transformation, digital initiatives, innovation and valuing data analytics.  It is inspiring to see the positive results the insurers have achieved and a pleasure to recognize them as Model Insurers for their best practices in insurance technology.

How about your company? As you read this, are you thinking of an initiative in your company that should be recognized? We are always looking for good examples of the use of technology in insurance. Stay tuned for more information regarding 2017 Model Insurer nominations.  

 

Young, broke, and no credit: Financial services reborn

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You are young, broke, and don’t have any credit. You also don’t have many bright prospects since you have never been independent and you don’t even have a bank. Sound like most 20 year olds? It certainly might. However, I’m talking about The United States of America in 1790. When our nation began we were in a tough spot and did not have very many prospects. Luckily, Alexander Hamilton, supported by George Washington and other leaders, had the vision to build what we now recognize as our modern financial system.

What does this have to do with today? At Celent, we are convinced that a confluence of forces places Financial Services at another crossroads. Customer expectations and digital technologies are combining to compel a transformation across the industry. We expect this will play out as a rebirth of financial services, one that will combine the DNA of our past with digital processes to create a new industry, related to the one we know now, but not the same.

Drawing inspiration from the past is the theme of this year’s Celent Innovation & Insight Day #celentiandi. We look forward to hosting over 350 financial services professionals at the Museum of American Finance in New York City on Wednesday. We will use this unique location to take the best lessons learned from the past and apply them to the opportunities of the future.

Our agenda includes keynotes from a global venture capital leader, Nadeem Shaikh of the Anthemis Group, the CEO of an insurance blockchain start up, Leanne Kemp of Everledger, and, of course, the recognition of our 2016 Model Bank and Model Insurer award winners. You can find all of the details here.

This year, we are introducing a new feature, an interactive emerging technology expo area that we call the Geek Playpen. Attendees will have the opportunity to touch, feel, and experience items like virtual reality goggles, drones, and onmichannel digital platforms. There will even be an example of using location-aware mobile devices to assist in the evacuation of buildings. We thank our inaugural Geek Playpen sponsors Cognizant, Mindtree and Relay IT for their participation.

Safe travels to all joining us and we’ll see you soon!