Re-inventing underwriting: New ingredients for the secret sauce

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.

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

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.

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

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.

John Hancock launches Vitality 2.0, rewarding life insurance consumers for healthy eating

John Hancock launches Vitality 2.0, rewarding life insurance consumers for healthy eating

As many of you know, John Hancock introduced the Vitality program to the US Life insurance market a year ago this month. At its core, the program offers discounts and earns points for healthy living. It is a program that has been offered for over 15 years in other markets, originating in South Africa. The program is exclusive, in the US Life insurance market, to John Hancock.

Today Hancock make another major announcement in enhancing the program and it directly, and positively, affects the health and pocketbooks of their customers.

The core of the new program is a partnership with major grocery chains, headlined by Walmart. Hancock Vitality members will get discounts, up to $600 per year, on health foods when they participate in the program, as well as points in the program that could reduce their premium up to 15%. This is measureable money and can go far towards offsetting the cost of the insurance. The real benefit, though, is continuing to encourage healthy living. In the case of Walmart, and likely other groceries, the savings are printed on the receipt, so the customer can be immediately aware of their savings.

Policyholders also gain access to nutrition information, at no charge, from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Just last week, a study was released that for the first time, the number of people in the world that are obese outnumber those that are under weight.

The study also shows that China and the US have more obese people than any other countries. Given the disparity in population, this confirms what we already know – Americans are dangerously overweight.

While we would not expect that this program alone will have a measurable impact on obesity in the general population, it certainly can for Hancock’s policy holders.

For more information, see John Hancock’s press release. We will be watching this development closely as it takes off.

Troll insurance, cyberbullying, and millennials

Troll insurance, cyberbullying, and millennials
As I read through my myriad of promotional mail, I came across an interesting insurance offering – troll insurance. Chubb, a multinational insurance company, is offering its clients in the UK the first ever troll insurance. Chubb personal insurance policy holders will be able to claim up to £50,000 (approximately US$75,000) towards expenses that include professional counseling, relocation due to online abuse, or time spent off work due to cyberbulling. Cyberbullying is defined by the insurer as three or more acts by the same person or group to harass, threaten or intimidate a customer. The inclusion of cyberbullying into Chubb’s policies is a result of a survey of the target audience and brokers. Although the new policy is primarily tailored towards worried parents, adults who become victims of online abuse will also be covered. The policy money can be used to pay a reputation management team that would restore the person’s public image, or even to hire a forensic specialist to trace the origins of the trolling. However, the coverage is pricey. It can only be purchased as part of Chubb’s top-of-the-line home insurance package which costs at least £2,500 ($3,730) per year and is targeted at high-net-worth individuals. While I find it unfortunate that this type of insurance is required, I applaud Chubb for creating an innovative product to cover a gap in the current insurance offerings. Online harassment has real consequences, but the law against it tends to be hit or miss. Ironically, a few American insurers have policies pertaining to cyberbullying, but they protect people who are accused of the offense rather than the victims or harassment. Insurers continue to look for ways to be relevant to the Gen-Xers and Millennials in the marketplace. Chubb’s troll insurance provides a coverage that is relatable to these tech savvy demographics. It’s time for this insurance in North America as well.

Insurers are investing in data scientists

Insurers are investing in data scientists
A few weeks ago I described a few results of a survey we have launched during the last quarter of last year around the role and importance of data in insurance. My blog post can be found here. Since then we have published a report summarizing the findings of this survey that our members can find here. An interesting trend we identified based on this survey was the need for insurers to hire more data scientists with advanced degrees and strong background in data and computer science. Indeed we think technology is not enough nowadays and insurers need to also invest in people with deep skills in this domain. I recently came across the following article from INN: Sentry Insurance Gifts $4 Million to Grow Data Science. It seems to validate our findings and I expect to see more of these kinds of initiatives going forward.

The secret to profitable organic growth? Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match

The secret to profitable organic growth? Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match
Maintaining growth and relevance is more challenging than ever for carriers. It is a hyper-competitive market with new entrants, a poor investment market, and rapidly changing customer expectations.  
  • Customers are demanding a different relationship model from their insurers. They are increasingly demanding transparency and simplicity with simpler contracts, clearer pricing disclosures and tailored recommendations with extraordinary service.
  • They are more and more self-directed and using non-traditional third party advice. Clients are more financially literate and are increasingly relying on aggregation and comparison tools. They look more for concepts than for entities – diminishing the value of advertising.
  • They are demanding collaboration and participation in product choices, claims, and risk management. They expect proactive communications that demonstrate knowledge of the customer. They expect customer service to be fast, excellent, and available through any channel they choose.
  Whether you define your customer as a policyholder or an agent, (it’s a matter of religion in this industry), expectations are being driven by innovations by non-insurance players. Uber provides instant information availability without long waits on the phone, which gives control and transparency to the customer. Amazon recognizes their customers and provides product and service recommendations that come to the customers without any additional work. Apple provides variations on their products that allow customers to choose among the different value propositions and the flexibility to change those purchases with minimal hassle.   But limited customer interactions in insurance have pushed incremental innovation to focus on products rather than customer experience.   As ardent incrementalists, most players in the insurance industry look at the customer experience from the inside out by thinking about all the points where WE touch a customer. However, being good at the discipline of focusing on customer experience requires taking a broader view of customers’ lives and the context in which they are interacting with the brand. Those who excel at customer service are masters at looking from the outside in, understanding what is going on in a customer’s life when THEY touch us and then delivering unexpected signature moments across a broader expanse of experiences.   Certainly efforts have been made to drive effectiveness for insurance processes, nevertheless, there are still many areas where improvements are possible. The way forward requires a comprehensive digital view that goes well beyond process automation. By recognizing that customer experience is about more than designing a clean and friendly user interface (UI), insurers can move beyond the superficial and achieve real results.   The technology is there to support this. But what keeps us from moving forward? Surprisingly, few carriers have anyone who owns the entire customer experience. Customer experience is usually owned by organizational silos. When no one owns the experience, it becomes a low priority. If there are limited metrics, or metrics which don’t focus on the quality of service from a customer viewpoint, then there are too many competing priorities to drive investments here.   Digital makes possible a level of engagement that was never possible before. But beware – the democratization of digital technology is eroding competitive barriers. And to meet customer expectations in an increasingly digital world, carriers will be required to make both cultural and physical shifts to incorporate new systems and processes while harnessing data and using real time analytics.   Like it or not, customer and distribution partner behaviors and expectations are changing the business model. It is not just about reducing expenses and writing more business. Carriers have to look at new distribution models, new product types well beyond pure indemnification products, and revolutionizing the customer experience.

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.

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.

Free advice for auto manufacturers: how to sell the experience of driving an autonomous car

Free advice for auto manufacturers: how to sell the experience of driving an autonomous car
I rarely, actually never, give advice to automobile manufacturers because I am an insurance technology analyst, and not an automotive analyst. But as more and more and more auto manufacturers make announcements about their plans to get autonomous cars on the road, ready or not—the dire implications for automobile insurance cannot be ignored. So on occasion I do find myself thinking about what autonomous cars will mean for manufacturers. In particular, since the marketing of cars emphasizes the driving experience so heavily, what will the automakers do when all they can offer is a riding experience? I mean a rolling home office, or family room, or man cave, or walk-in closet only has so much appeal.  And yes I know that all these cars will be totally connected, but still how many touchscreens will entertain a car buyer/driver during the morning commute? So I do have an answer: virtual reality! Not just any virtual reality, but a virtual reality that makes the passenger in an autonomous car believe that he or she is actually driving that car—with appropriate physical artifacts (steering wheel, pedals, brakes, dashboard, etc.); and a choice of scenic and challenging routes.  If Disney can create rides that make people feel like they are accelerating, de-accelerating, steering, and cruising, why not GM and Toyota? As mentioned, this advice is free. But if any manufacturer reading this post is so inclined, please send a large check to Celent (not to me, alas). Thanks.