The ABCD of Emerging Technology

The ABCD of Emerging Technology

Alphabet Blocks A to D

Celent has mapped over 45 emerging technologies in P&C and a similar number in Life & Health. That's way too much for an insurer to handle and the pace of technological change outpaces the industry's capacity to absorb it. You could say though that there is a set of 4 emerging technologies with the most potential to profoundly affect insurance; the ABCD of emerging technology:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Blockchain
  • Cloud
  • Data (big and small)

The four altogether become a strong enabler for Digital. Digital interactions, digital products, digital claims, everything digital. Digital becoming important to meet the expectations of customers that want insurance to be simple, right now, as I want it, when I want it, and relevant to me. On the other hand, many consumers are still not being attracted by insurance; creating a protection gap. Digital comes as a possible response to close this gap, and in the process has the ability to profoundly change insurance as we know it. Actually, we may not call it insurance anymore. It may just be something that comes as a warranty of the product or service. Have I gone mad?

Imagine cars with assisted driving. There is an accident involving the autopilot function and the manufacturer claims no responsibility. Who is going to buy this car after that incident? No surprise then to see some car manufacturers, vested in automated driving, indicate that they will assume liability. Of course they will, and in the process what they are doing is to offer their customers a guarantee that the product will perform as indicated in the user manual. By being able to monitor the car status they are also able to prevent accidents or breakdown. So in the future will you get car insurance or a manufacturer warranty?

You can imagine any other product that can be monitored, for example as part of the IoT. All these products will generate data, and that data will enable their manufacturers to provide a service; in many cases that service will be a preventive one. See the trend here?

Today many digital initiatives in insurance still rely on the use of a call center. That's not digital because it implies human to human interaction. Each interaction needs of a human in the call center, so each interaction adds cost as there is no way you can make the human person be digital. The use of chatbots or robo-advisors enabled by artificial intelligence and natural language capabilities allow digital interactions, where each interaction can be taken simultaneously by a robot with no, or marginal, cost to do it. By robot don't think about a physical robot but software instead. Just as the one used by Lemonade to settle claims fast.

Artificial intelligence with machine learning capabilities also allows us to mess with a huge amount of data; discovering new patterns. The more information ingested to these machines the better answers you get. The more is used, the more it learns, the smarter it gets. Even most importantly, this technology today is very good at taking repetitive and predictable processes and doing it faster, better and cheaper than humans. You are smart, you don't need me to explain how this is relevant to insurance, do you?

Technology as the one described here is available on demand and in the cloud. Need more computing power? being in the cloud can solve that problem very easily. Pay as you go? cloud deployments make this technology available at a per use price. Basically cloud makes technology accessible to anyone.

Blockchain is the glue that can hold it all together. Digital and physical assets (that can be digitized) can be stored in the blockchain. The IoT could be linked to blockchain. Then, any rules applicable to digital transactions can rely on smart contracts. Finally by providing trust and provenance through a decentralized body blockchain becomes the basis to catapult digital in any scale, even when peers don't know each other.

Are you mastering the ABCD of emerging technology? Not yet? Don't be left behind; insurers around the world have already started. Want to find more about how insurers can take advantage of emerging technology and innovation? Contact me or any person at Celent. We will be happy to dive into this with you.

The Future May Be Closer Than You Think: Cat Bonds Traded on Blockchain

The Future May Be Closer Than You Think: Cat Bonds Traded on Blockchain

In June @JamieMacgregorC and I published a Celent report, Blockchain in Insurance: Use Cases which included a scenario we labeled “Alternative Marketplaces”. We described it as a blockchain that provided a:

shared environment for placing insurance risk, where brokers or the insured and the insurer capture the status of the risk, including exposure, risk share, and policy conditions. Smart contracts are then used to ensure collection and disbursement of premium amounts and the checking of coverage in the event of an incident. The distributed ledger acts as the record of risk placement, including layers and participants.

We didn’t expect that, in July, we would see an announcement that @Allianz and their partner, Nephila Capital, had completed a proof of concept around trading catastrophe bonds on a blockchain.

In general, there are challenges with blockchain technology regarding handling large transaction volumes, managing complex rules, and delivering acceptable response time performance, but this announcement is an indication that the platform is moving forward.

Regulators will hug their blockchains – takeaways from Consensus 2016

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:

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.

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

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.

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.