Blockchain in insurance – who needs it, anyway?

Blockchain in insurance – who needs it, anyway?
Interesting feedback from Celent’s What If… Conference in London last week. We were fortunate to have both Leanne Kemp and Pascal Bouvier present on blockchain in insurance. Surprisingly, the extensive treatment of the subject received mixed reviews. Some attendees were pleased and stated that discussing blockchain was valuable and that these conversations, in insurance, are rare and are just beginning to take place. Others felt that the time could have been better used reviewing a subject which has more relevance to insurance. It was mentioned that the technology was for payments, banking, and securities trading. The comments reminded me of the early 2000s, when online retailing began to impact business. I recall insurance industry veterans’ comments about the opportunities for the internet. Summarizing generally, it was something like: “Well, it is a great way to sell plane tickets and books, but it won’t catch on in insurance. Insurance is different.” We see how that has worked out. In 2014, our Celent colleague, Zilvinas Bareisis, positioned blockchain this way in his report, The Disruptive Potential of Bitcoin: Why Everyone in Financial Services Should Care: “Just like HTTP became a protocol for information exchange, Bitcoin, Ripple, and other decentralized ledger-based solutions might be seen as the protocols for value exchange, promising exciting possibilities, some of which are difficult to imagine at this stage.” However, evidently there are insurers that are not only paying attention, but are investing significantly. Allianz announced work with six startup companies in their accelerator in Nice, France. Also, just this week, AXA made public their USD$55million investment in a blockchain technology company. So, is this the “new internet”? Without a doubt, there are huge challenges to blockchain in insurance. The technology still requires maturation around scalability and latency. Additionally, regulatory aspects are yet to be determined. However, it is clear that, right now, some insurers are placing some hefty bets and others can’t even find the casino.

Will your next insurance administration system be on the Blockchain?

Will your next insurance administration system be on the Blockchain?
Policy, claims, and billing administration systems have not fundamentally changed since their inception. Yes, there have been technical improvements, but the basic model remains the same as originally designed – each insurer buys (or subscribes) to a version of code to use against their own database and (hopefully) integrate with external sources to service a client. This is about to change with the advent of Blockchain 2.0. With an appreciative nod to material developed by our parent company, Oliver Wyman, here is a brief summary of this technology (Celent subscribers will have access to a full report on this platform in the very near future):
Blockchain is built on a series of innovations in organizing and sharing data. The objective is to create a single version of the truth, used by all participants, which contains a much richer dataset than exists in any one system today. This, in turn, enables new industry processes to be developed based on the use of transparent real-time data, immediate settlement of transactions and the expansion of auto-executing “smart” contracts with business logic encoded into the ledger. The technology incorporates two facets, a blockchain (lower case) which is the process of adding blocks of cryptographically signed data to form perpetual and immutable records, and distributed ledgers – a database architecture where all participants in a system collaborate to reach a consensus on the correct state of a shared data resource. Applying business rules to this infrastructure, called smart contracts, drives transactions immediately. Real time data exchange, increased security, and more efficient settlement of transactions and processing are some of the benefit areas waiting to be realized. Before this though, the platform must solve hurdles including scalability issues, regulatory concerns, and common standards and governance.
To this last point, our brethren in the banking industry have joined the R3 consortium to begin to address the challenges. Founded in New York City in September last year by nine founding banks, it now has 42 members spread across multiple geographies. It is led by a startup organization and is in its very early stage — the technology team is being built and initial use cases have not been completed. But what of insurance? Celent is aware of insurers who are active in this space. Most are leveraging the investments made in an innovation infrastructure (Innovation Labs, Centers of Excellence, co-development partnerships, accelerators) to conduct limited experiments with Blockchain. However, these efforts are individual and not connected. Is there a similar group of 9 insurers that want to work together to explore the opportunities and coordinate on standards? Or is there a policy, claims, or billing technology provider who is going to fill this void? We expect movement in these areas in the first half of the year with some possible ways forward identified by year-end.