Life Insurance Automated Underwriting – A 25 Year Journey

Automated underwriting has come a long way in the last 25 years. It may be surprising that there was automated underwriting 25 years ago. At that time, it was called ‘expert’ underwriting. The idea was right, but the timing was wrong. The underwriting engines were black box algorithms; there was no user interface; data was fed from a file to the system; programming was required to write rules; and specialized hardware was necessary to run the systems. Not surprisingly, this attempt at automating underwriting was dead on arrival.

The next major iteration occurred about ten years later. Automated underwriting systems included a user interface; rules were exposed (some programming was still required to change the rules); data interfaces were introduced to collect evidence from labs and the medical inquiry board; underwriting decisions could be overridden by the human underwriter; and workflow was provided. Some insurers chose to take a chance on this new technology, but it was not widely adopted. There were two strikes against it: cost and trust. The systems were expensive to purchase, and the time and costs involved in integrating and tailoring the systems to a specific company’s underwriting practice could not be outweighed by the benefits. The lack of benefits was partially because the underwriters did not trust the results. Many times this caused double work for the underwriters. The underwriters reviewed the automated underwriting results and then evaluated the case using manual procedures to ensure the automated risk class matched the manual results.

Moving ahead fifteen years to today, changes in the underwriting environment place greater demands on staff and management. Staff members are working from home, and contractors are floating in and out of the landscape, all while reinsurers are knocking on the insurer’s door. There are now state-of-the-art new business and underwriting (NBUW) systems that address the challenges associated with the new demands. The solutions do not just assess the risk but provide workflow, audit, and analytics capabilities that aid in the management process. Rules can be added and modified by the business users; evidence is provided as data so that the rules engine can evaluate the results and provide the exceptions for human review. Subjective manual random audits of hundreds of cases evolve into objective, data-driven perspectives from thousands of cases. Analytics provide insights on specific conditions and impairments over the spectrum of underwritten cases to provide a portfolio view of risk management. Underwriting inconsistencies become easy to find and specific training can be provided to improve quality.

.In our report, Underwriting Investments that Pay Off, Karen Monks and I found that the differences between insurers who are minimally automated and those that are moderately to highly automated are substantial.  For minimally automated insurers, the not in good order (NIGO) rates are four times higher, the cycle times are 30% longer, and the case manager to underwriter ratio is almost double compared to the metrics for the moderately to highly automated insurers. This outcome may not reflect your specific circumstances, but it is worth preparing a business case to understand the benefits. With the advances in the systems and the advantages provided for new business acquistion, there are few justifications for any company not to seek greater automation in their underwriting.  

To learn more about the adoption of current NBUW systems and the functionality offered in them, please read our new report, What’s Hot and What’s Not, Deal and Functionality Trends and Projections in the Life NBUW Market or join our webinar on this topic on Thursday, September 29.  You can sign up here.

 

 

Changing the Landscape of Customer Experience with Advanced Analytics

That timeless principle – “Know Your Customer” – has never been more relevant than today. Customer expectations are escalating rapidly. They want transparency in products and pricing; personalization of options and choices; and control throughout their interactions.

For an insurance company, the path to success is to offer those products, choices, and interactions that are relevant to an individual at the time that they are needed. These offerings extend well beyond product needs and pricing options. Customers expect that easy, relevant experiences and interactions will be offered across multiple channels. After all, they get tailored recommendations from Amazon and Netflix – why not from their insurance company?

Carriers have significant amounts of data necessary to know the customer deeply. It’s there in the public data showing the purchase of a new house or a marriage. It’s there on Facebook and LinkedIn as customers clearly talk about their life changes and new jobs.


One of the newest trends is dynamic segmentation. Carriers are pulling in massive amounts of data from multiple sources creating finely grained segments and then using focused models to dynamically segment customers based on changing behaviors.

This goes well beyond conventional predictive analytics. The new dimension to this is the dynamic nature of segmentation. A traditional segmentation model uses demographics to segment a customer into a broad tier and leaves them there. But with cognitive computing and machine learning an institution can create finely grained segments and can rapidly change that segmentation as customer behaviors change.

To pull off this level of intervention at scale, a carrier needs technology that works simply and easily, pulling in data from a wide variety of sources – both structured and unstructured.

The technology needs to be able to handle the scale of real-time analysis of that data and run the data through predictive and dynamic models. Models need to continuously learn and more accurately predict behaviors using cognitive computing.

Doing this well allows an carrier to humanize a digital interaction and in a live channel, to augment the human so they can scale, allowing the human to focus on what they do best – build relationships with customers and exercise judgment around the relationship.

Sophisticated carriers are using advanced analytics and machine learning as a powerful tool to find unexpected opportunities to improve sales, marketing and redefine the customer experience. These powerful tools are allowing carriers to go well beyond simple number crunching and reporting and improve their ability to listen and anticipate the needs of customers.

Guidewire Acquisition of FirstBest – A Wakeup Call for Core Suite Vendors?

The Guidewire acquisition of First Best should come as a wakeup call to other suite vendors in the marketplace.   Not to be a doomsayer, but the reality is the market for core system replacements is shrinking.  Many carriers are in the middle of a replacement or have already completed their replacement.  There are fewer and fewer deals to be had and more and more vendors in the marketplace chasing those deals.  

Let’s look at the numbers.   Donald Light’s recent PAS Deal Trends report shows that we’ve seen an average of around 85 deals a year over the last two years.  But there are more than 60 suite vendors out there.  Of those available deals, a very few key vendors – including Guidewire – will likely get half or more of them.   That leaves around 40 deals for the remaining 60’ish vendors.  That’s less than one each.  And that’s IF we assume the market will stay steady at 80-85 deals a year. This basic math shows that many core suite vendors will not get a single deal in 2017.  

So how can vendors satisfy their shareholders?  How can they generate growth and remain viable players?  The truth is some of them won’t.  But smart vendors are thinking about other options for growth.  And they have a few paths they can take. 

  • Sell things other than suites.  This is the tactic that Guidewire is showing with their recent announcement of the FirstBest acquisition and is also illustrated by their prior acquisitions of Millbrook and Eagle Eye.  Duck Creek is doing the same as shown by their acquisition of Agencyport.  Providing other core applications that carriers need allows a vendor to continue to grow their existing relationships, and allows them to create new relationships with carriers – even if the carrier doesn’t need a new core system.  Some vendors will purchase these additional applications; others will build them.
  • Sell to a different market – Insurity’s acquisition of Tropics lets them go down market to work with small WC carriers.  Their acquisition of Oceanwide gives them the ability to handle small specialty, or Greenfield projects.  While there are still plenty of deals to be done in the under $100M carrier market, most vendors can’t play in this space. Their price points won’t work for small carriers, and their implementation process won’t work. It’s too expensive and takes too many carrier resources.  The implementation process has to be drastically  different for a carrier with only 6 people in the IT department than it is for a larger carrier.   This strategy of going down market only works if a vendor can appropriately sell and deliver their solution to a small carrier while still making margin – and many vendors just can’t do that. 
  • Enter a different territory – Vue announced today they’ve entered Asia with Aviva; Sapiens entered the US by purchasing MaxProcessing.  And we see other vendors including Guidewire, EIS, and Duck Creek moving outside the US.
  • Sell services – many vendors provide cloud offerings – which provides a steadier stream of income.   Vendors such as CSC or The Innovation Group (prior to the split) had/have a large proportion of revenue coming from services.  Vendors like ISCS provide additional BPO services such as mail services and imaging.   

Any of these strategies are viable – but I predict we’ll see more vendors using them as the market for core system replacements shrinks.  Smart vendors are already thinking ahead, working on their long term strategy. 

Carriers who work with these vendors should be watching as well.  No one wants to work with a vendor that won't be here for the long term.  If you’re a carrier considering a new system –

  • Make sure your vendor is showing momentum – new sales.
  • Look to see what the signals are for their long term viability – will they be a survivor selling new suites?
  • Do they have the resources to create or acquire new capabilities like portals, analytics or distribution management?
  • Are they entering new markets, new territories or providing new service offerings?

If you don’t see these signals, you may want to start having a conversation with your vendors today. 

 

 

Complexities, Capabilities and Budgets

I've just published a new report called Complexities, Capabilities, and Budgets.   Here's a quick overview – ping me if you'd like to chat in more detail aboaut it.

Insurance is being transformed by rapid changes in information technology, skyrocketing customer expectations, rapidly evolving distribution models, and radical changes in underwriting and claims. How are IT organizations changing to accommodate the new capabilities they’re delivering, and how are budgets shifting to accommodate this transformation?

In this environment, IT leaders have had to become very smart about how to run, grow, and transform the business with relatively stagnant budgets. The most effective IT leaders have assumed a strategic role in guiding their companies.  

A growing number of leaders have made understanding and maximizing the value of IT a critical part of their missions. Insurers that have moved toward an outcome-based measure of IT value are increasing, and CIOs using value-based metrics are increasingly seen as more strategic members of the teams.

Most carriers have not increased IT resources significantly to meet these challenges.  Insurer IT budgets have stayed fairly flat as a percentage of premium over the past 10 years, although the percentage spent on maintenance is shrinking as carriers invest more in new capabilities. 

Looking out for the next two to five years, Celent believes that carriers will continue to rapidly deploy new technologies. Measurements of IT value will continue to mature and shift toward value metrics (those looking at the outcomes of cost, time, and value improvements) to rate the performance of IT. This will enable a more informed debate over where to spend scarce IT dollars. 

For many insurers, the approach toward IT budget construction and the measurement of value remains rooted in a traditional approach of centrally planned budgets and top-down portfolio metrics which can mask where IT value is being delivered,  IT organizations that are seen as more strategic are more likely to measure the overall financial impact of technology delivered.

Is State Farm Pre-positioning Itself for the End of Auto Insurance (and Maybe the End of Homeowners Insurance Too)?

Once in a while an insurance company asks me for advice—and occasionally even follows the advice which I provide.

I can say, however, that State Farm has never asked me for any advice about what they should do if the need for auto insurance disappears or substantially declines. Nor has State Farm ever asked me what they should do if the demand for homeowners insurance should take a similar dive.

Some readers may be wondering why would State Farm seek advice from your humble blogger about either topic?

Well, because I have been writing and talking about the end of auto insurance for four years. My just posted Celent Report, The End of Auto Insurance: A Scenario or a Prediction?  looks at how three technologies—telematics, onboard collision avoidance systems, and driverless cars—will depress auto insurance losses and premiums over the next 15 years.

I have also been writing and talking about the impact of the Internet of Things on the property/casualty industry for two years. Celent research subscribers can look at my reports: The Internet of Things and Property/Casualty Insurance: Can an Old Industry Learn New Tricks and Can a Fixed Cost Property/Casualty Industry Survive the Internet of Things?

So without even a word of advice from me, it looks like State Farm has pondered potential declines in auto and homeowners insurance; and decided to start some early positioning for itself and its agents if such things come to pass.

Proof Point: A new State Farm commercial called “Wrong/Right” shows a world without windstorms, traffic accidents, building fires, and emergencies. The commercial goes on to ask what about State Farm in such a world? The implied answer is that State Farm and its agents will be in the lending, wealth accumulation, and retirement income businesses. The tag line is “Here to help life go right.”

Which personal lines property/casualty insurer will jump in next?

Re-inventing underwriting: New ingredients for the secret sauce

Innovation is exploding across all aspects of underwriting and product management. New technologies are transforming an old art. But if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that carriers whose systems are not already capable of handling these changes will be alarmingly disadvantaged.  I've just published a new report looking at innovation in underwriting. 

Underwriting is at the core of the insurance industry. It is the secret sauce of the insurance industry. For hundreds of years, this process was accomplished through the individual judgement of highly experienced underwriters. Insights were captured in manuals of procedures and carefully taught to succeeding generations. 

Over the last few years, carriers have been heavily engaged in replacing core policy admin systems enabling a fundamental transformation of the underwriting process.  Gone are the days of green eye shades and rating on a napkin.  Gone are the days of identical products across the industry.  Gone are the days of standard rating algorithms used by all carriers. 

Carriers are using their newly gained technology capabilities to create dramatically different products, develop innovative processes driving efficiency, improve decisions, and transform the customer experience.  This transformation of underwriting is enabled by the ability to use business rules to drive automated workflow, but even more importantly this is a story about the fundamental transformation of insurance through the application of data.

This report looks at underwriting and product management and describes some of the newest innovations in each area with specific examples provided where publicly available.

What you’ll see is that almost every aspect of the underwriting and product management functions are being fundamentally transformed as carriers find new ways of utilizing and applying data. Carriers are using their newly gained technology capabilities to create dramatically different products, develop innovative processes driving efficiency, improve decisions, and transform the customer experience.

Key findings:

  • Carriers are using product innovation as a competitive differentiator and are experimenting with new types of insurance products that go well beyond basic indemnification in the event of loss.  Parametric products, behavior based products and products that embed services to prevent or mitigate a loss are becoming more common.
  • Predictive analytics are being used to better assess risk quality and assure price adequacy, as well as to control costs by assessing which types of inspections are warranted, or when to send a physical premium auditor, or when to purchase third party data.
  • Individual risk underwriting hasn’t gone away for commercial Ines, but the characteristics that are driving it are more quantified, requiring more data and more consistent data. 
  • The role of the product manager is changing dramatically to one of managing the rules rather than managing individual transactions.  This requires new skills and new tools. It also will drive changes in how regulators monitor carriers underwriting practices. 

We expect to continue to see innovative technologies being deployed in underwriting and product management over the next 3-5 years – especially in the following areas:

  • Carriers will continue to focus on product differentiation.  The Internet of Things will facilitate more behavior based products and more parametric products. Carriers will find new ways of embedding services within the product, or as part of the remediation after a claim. 
  • The role of the product manager will change dramatically focusing on deep understanding of rules.  Vendors will need to provide tools to better analyze the usage rates, the impact, and the stacking of rules. 
  • We’ll continue to see a massive eruption in the amount and types of data available.  Unstructured data such as in weather, car video, traffic cameras, telematics, weather data, or medical/health data from wearable devices will become even more available.  Carriers will invest in managing and analyzing both structured and unstructured data.  Implementation of reporting and analytic tools as well as supporting technologies – data models, ETL tools, and repositories – will continue to be major projects.
  • New technologies will create new exposures, drive new products, and generate new services.   From wearables, to advanced robotics, from artificial intelligence to gamification and big data, carriers will be applying physical technologies as well as virtual technologies to drive product development and risk assessment.

The available technologies to support property casualty insurance are exploding. Shifting channels, new data elements and tools that can help to improve decisions, provide better customer service or reduce the cost of handling are of great interest to carriers.  Investments are being made across all aspects of underwriting and product management. Staying on top of these trends is going to continue to be a challenge as new technologies continue to proliferate.  But if there is one lesson to be learned, it is that carriers whose systems are not already capable of handling these changes will be alarmingly disadvantaged.

For carriers who are already moving down this path, this report will shine a light on some of the creative ways carriers are transforming the process of underwriting.  For carriers who have not begun this journey, this report may be a wakeup call. The pace of change is increasing and carriers who continue to rely purely on individual underwriting judgment will find themselves at a disadvantage to those who are finding new sources of insights and applying them in a systematic manner to improve profitability. Wherever you sit, this rapid pace of change is exciting, empowering and galvanizing the insurance industry.

How can Insurers provide better service to their female clients?

Despite women’s rising workforce participation and escalating income, it appears that American women still have major gaps and unmet needs when it comes to achieving comfort and confidence with money. Whether by circumstance or by choice, women are finding themselves in roles where they must be responsible for long-term financial needs and security.

Female financial services clients are a substantial and overlooked segment of the market despite controlling a significant portion of the world’s wealth. A shift in demographics of women clients, including the significant wave of next-gen millennial clients, and the exponential growth in technological innovations across society and within the financial services industry present challenges and opportunities for insurers and the financial services industry. Surveys of affluent women show that they are dissatisfied with the services they receive from an advisor or the financial services industry as a whole.

In my report, Women, Money and  Realizing  Financial  Goals, I examine women’s attitudes  and aspirations for making  financial decisions.    Given the size and diversity of female clients across the generations in terms of behavioral characteristics, financial goals, technological aptitude, and product and service needs, insurers should increase their understanding of and investment in this particular section of the market, including thoughtful client segmentation, marketing efforts, and application of technology.

According to LIMRA, the number of women who are the sole or primary earner for their family with a child under the age of 18 continues to increase. However, their amount of life insurance coverage averages only 69% of men’s. Additionally, women with high personal incomes (more than $100,000) are less likely to have individual life insurance or group life insurance than men with similar personal incomes.

As insurance professionals, we should endeavor to better understand and better respond to the financial needs of women. The relationship between insurers and their female clients has improved, but there is more progress to be made in meeting women’s financial goals and needs. What plans do you have in place to better reach women insurance buyers?

The UK’s First Personal Insurance Policy for ‘driverless cars’: Too early or just in time?

Yesterday, we received a press release announcing the launch of a new insurance proposition targeted at personal use for ‘driverless cars’ from Adrian Flux in the UK. This news arrives hot-on-the-heels of the Queen’s Speech last month that announced the UK Government’s intention to go beyond its current ‘driverless’ trials in selected cities and legislate for compulsory inclusion of liability coverage for cars operating in either fully or semi-autonomous mode.

As the press release suggests, this may be the world’s first policy making personal use of driverless cars explicit in its coverage (we haven’t been able to validate this yet). Certainly, up until now, I suspect that most trials have been insured either as part of a commercial scheme or, as Volvo indicated last year, by the auto manufacturer itself or trial owner. 

What I find particularly interesting about this announcement is that they have laid the foundation for coverage in their policy wording and, in doing so, been the first to set expectations paving the way for competition.

Key aspects of the coverage (straight from their site) include:

  • Loss or damage to your car caused by hacking or attempted hacking of its operating system or other software
  • Updates and patches to your car’s operating system, firewall, and mapping and navigation systems that have not been successfully installed within 24 hours of you being notified by the manufacturer
  • Satellite failure or outages that affect your car’s navigation systems
  • Failure of the manufacturer’s software or failure of any other authorised in-car software
  • Loss or damage caused by failing when able to use manual override to avoid an accident in the event of a software or mechanical failure

Reflecting on this list, it would appear that coverage is geared more towards the coming of the connected car rather than purely being a product for autonomous driving. Given recent breaches in security of connected car features (the most recent being the Mitsubishi Outlander where the vehicle alarm could be turned off remotely), loss or damage resulting from cyber-crime is increasingly of concern to the public and the industry at large – clearly an important area of coverage.

Given the time taken to legislate, uncertainty over exactly what the new legislation will demand, and then for the general public to become comfortable with autonomous vehicles, I suspect that it may be quite a few years before a sizeable book of business grows.  Often, the insurance product innovation is the easy part – driving adoption up to a position where it becomes interesting and the economics work is much harder.

Maybe this launch is a little too early?  Or maybe it's just-in-time?  Regardless of which one it is, in my opinion, this is still a  significant step forward towards acceptance. I also suspect that some of these features will start to creep their way into our regular personal auto policies in the very near future. I wonder who will be next to move?

If you’re interested in learning more about the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on the insurance industry, why not register here for Donald Light’s webinar on the topic tomorrow.

 

Apax Partners adds Agencyport to its growing property/casualty technology investment portfolio

Today’s announcement of Apax Partners’ acquisition of Agencyport makes sense. This deal is a further commitment by Apax to the property/casualty software sector—following shortly after Apax’s announcement of its equity investment in the soon to be independent Duck Creek.

Insurers want the internal and external users of their systems to have seamless mobile access to new business and other functionality. Agencyport has developed one of the leading solutions for agents, brokers, and policyholders find information and execute transactions with insurers’ core systems.

As is true for any technology acquisition, the soon to be combined management teams of Agencyport and Duck Creek will need to focus on communicating the benefits of their new relationship to current and prospective customers—sending a “good before, better now” message. Providing “vendor neutral” support to Agencyport customers who do not use Duck Creek solutions and Duck Creek customer who do not use AgencyPort solutions will also be crucial.

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.