The privacy bomb and cost of personal data debt

I often hear architects talk about technical debt but it strikes me that a different debt is waiting for insurers.

Imagine a world where the regulator says that a customer owns data about the customer, regardless of where it is stored. The key observation here is the decoupling of ownership and control with storage. Most regulators have gone nearly this far and made statements about consumer ownership of consumer data, so perhaps it's not out of step with reality. This is discussion so far but perhaps the technology hasn't caught up with the intent. If we ignore the limits of technology …

There are perhaps 3 models emerging:

  • A. The data remains where it is and is controlled from there. Requires APIs…
  • B. The data moves as customer moves. Requires data standards…
  • C. Customer data is held in a shared environment. Requires APIs and data standards

Let's take a moment to really think that through for an insurer. If you hold data about a customer in your systems, that data is owned by another party. Ownership here is a complex word – it implies but is not limited to controlling access to the data, determining appropriate use of the data, revoking access to the data, determining how long that data is kept.

Scenario A
What if the storers are obliged to provide these controls to the owner of the data and actually – what if that obligation exists regardless of whether that owner is a customer?

Such a scenario may make it prohibitive for insurers to capture and store data directly. What would the world look like in such a scenario? Insurers would request access to customers data and have to disclose why they want the data, what they will do with it and perhaps the algorithms used  in order to offer products. Such a world might favour insurers with simpler pricing algorithms that are more expensive but customers understand what is being done with the data.

If we take it a step further, in theory there would be intermediaries emerge who help manage consumer data and help consumers simply share their data with trusted partners. I would suggest most people would not dig into the detail of who is sharing what so a service that says, "we've found these 15 services that only use the data in these ways and we've packaged that up for you" would be most welcome.

If however, we take existing businesses into this world then suddenly enterprises will be faced with the issue of how do they offer appropriate controls and management around the data already in place.

The standard already exists for sharing information in this way leveraging OAUTH as is used by Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and Facebook.

Scenario B
The cost for doing migration and conversion will lie with the party holding the data. A different type of debt.

This is the model the insurance industry is assuming will come to pass but it requires shared data standards which are harder to implement than API standards. There is also the issue of potentially lossy data migrations – I.e. The quality of the data is reduced in the migration – will this be 'OK' from a regulatory point of view?

Further this is more confusing for a consumer since the mechanism and means to manage access to the data will change each time there is a move. An approach intended to increase portability and movement could become an inhibitor as consumers grow concerned about retraining.

In theory though, this would allow insurers to differentiate on trust and service – a place where they already play.

Scenario C
The greatest challenge with a shared environment is who is the trusted party? Google, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn among others have made moves into authentication but they don't hold all the data and regulators in multiple countries are seeking to grasp control and this is a topic for Insurtech startups as well.

Some see Blockchain as a possible solution – the data in a shared open place, but secured and encrypted.

At this point this seems like the least likely solution, requiring the greatest cooperation and investment from the industry and governments. Regulators at this point seem to be supporting the other two.

Which will come to pass
There is a clear trend with private data becoming more valuable, but the cost of storing it is becoming more onerous. Regardless of which of the scenarios comes to pass or if some other scheme emerges – insurers must balance the cost of storing the data and the value it may bring now and in the future.

The Great Pokemon Experiment

Nintendo's latest mobile phone (and mobile) game just keeps smashing records – it's already the biggest mobile game in the US and is looking set to become a worldwide phenomenon.

It's not relevant to insurance though is it? Well it is sort of introducing new risks with players being mugged and wandering into dangerous places including Downing Street in London apparently.

What's more interesting to me though is the mix of gamification, rewards for movement and the way it is making people meet up in novel locations.

Two opportunities sprang to mind for the industry:

  • What's most interesting to me is that if we were to measure health app's impacts by how far they get people to walk Pokemon Go could be the biggest health app of 2016, despite only launching in July. I'm curious how the Vitality and similar propositions rewarding customers for healthy behaviour will respond to the sudden uptick in activity. 
  • From an advertising point of view and ability to drive foot traffic to say, an agents office, Pokemon Go has huge potential – potential not missed on the developers as hidden code in the game already points to a hook up with McDonalds. For now though, if you have a Pokemon gym at your office location it might be a great time to do a little advertising or push that recruitment drive you've been thinking about.

As a technologist the photos springing up around the world of "Squirtle" being found in toilets (be careful where you point the camera) also goes to show how augmented reality has become mainstream as well, along with the threats AR and virtual reality could pose in at least distracted walking. I love that the digital and physical world are coming together and it's actually bringing families together too.

Whilst some will marvel at this latest craze, for those insurers with investments in the real world like agencies, offices, billboards – and for those that are agile enough – this surprise trend could serve as a great marketing route to catching all the customers, as well as all the Pokemon.

One last look back at Google Compare

It’s old news by now that Google is shutting down Compare, its financial services and insurance comparison site. It wasn’t open long – less than a year. When Compare was first announced, the industry reacted with warnings that this was a major disrupter in insurance distribution. With the massive audience that Google has, the industry expected that Google was going to swoop down and capture the online insurance market – which by the way is pretty big – typically 75% of prospects research online and 20-25% of all new auto policies are purchased on line according to those who track this type of metric.   So what happened? Well, the fundamental idea of capturing the online market is a sound idea. And Google was pretty smart at avoiding all the hard technical costs of building out the aggregator engine by partnering with those who had already done the hard work – like, Coverhound and Bolt.   But the business model of an online aggregator is hard. There are three models – online agents – who earn full commissions. That wasn’t really Google’s deal. They weren’t interested in any of the after service or ongoing relationships. A traffic generator – sending a potential lead to another site and being paid for the eyeballs. Well, that’s not very lucrative either – and frankly, Google can make money through their own advertising and search capabilities. Spending the money to build an online quoting front end only adds cost to something they already do quite well, thank you.   So why would Google have invested the money in an online quoting front end? To take advantage of a lead model. With a lead model, the aggregator collects data, processes a request for quote and sends a highly qualified lead to be fulfilled. The price per lead is significantly higher than the price for traffic. But there’s a fundamental challenge with this model. For the lead to be valuable to a carrier, the lead has to actually purchase insurance. And because a lead is sold to multiple carriers, the acquisition costs rise for a carrier.   Let’s say a lead is sold for $5 to ten carriers. The aggregator makes $50 for that lead. But only one carrier actually writes the lead. If ten leads are sold, and each carrier writes one, the aggregator makes $500 but the carrier has spent $50 for that lead. Play out a competitive situation where the leads aren’t equally distributed, and you can see that the acquisition costs can rapidly rise. If I only get one lead out of twenty, I’ve spent $100 for that lead. If I only get one lead out of $30 I’ve now spent $150 for that lead – which now is pretty close to what I’d probably be paying an independent agent. And what if the customer NEVER buys – and simply goes in looking for prices so they have a comparison to an off line model? The numbers rise rapidly. Remember those numbers above – 75% shop on line and 25% purchase on line. That means that only one in three leads actually results in a sale. Assuming leads are distributed evenly, an aggregator will distribute 165 leads before I close one. That brings this $5 lead fee up to $82.50 –, which is pretty expensive. The way to make those economics work is to increase the conversion rate so that more of the leads a carrier purchases actually ends up buying a policy.   So while carriers are very interested in participating in the online marketplace, they really want to work with those aggregators who are successful at converting traffic to leads that will convert to policyholders. The online agent model is attractive as the carrier doesn’t pay until the policy is written. The traffic model is similar to online advertising, so that works as well. But the success of a lead model is a combination of the price of the lead and the likelihood of closing that lead – which is dependent on the number of carriers the lead is sold to and the propensity to buy.   So here’s where Google lost an opportunity with Compare. They thought they could convert relatively low paying traffic into high paying leads simply by putting a quoting front end on and didn’t think through what they could have done to improve the conversion rates. With their analytical power, Google could have created a truly disruptive experience by providing consumers with a powerful recommendation engine. Google is a master at finding out information about individuals from social media and other publicly available data. They could have created an algorithm that used the information about the lead to tailor and target recommendations.   Personal auto isn’t that hard. If we were talking about commercial, it’s a much harder set of algorithms. But honestly, it’s not that hard to create something that tells a customer that given their location, the value of their home, the type of vehicle and their driving record, 64% of people like you choose this limit/deductible/additional coverage etc. And getting a personalized recommendation drives conversion. When people trust that the advice is good, they’re willing to buy. We’ve seen many examples of how inserting advice and recommendations into the quoting process drives conversion.   When I personally go to get an online quote – it’s part of my job – I enter information that shows I own a home in California and I drive a luxury car. So why oh why do the aggregator sites today recommend minimum limits coverage to me? My car is worth more than that. Today, trusting the advice from an aggregator site is dicey. And that is why policyholders continue to rely on the advice of an agent. Does this mean the role of aggregators is dead? No.   But Google missed a major opportunity to truly disrupt by providing a powerful recommendation engine that could use their ability to easily find information about individuals and combine it with their powerful analytical abilities. They ended up creating just the same thing we had back in the 90’s. Kudos to them for killing it quickly – but they missed an opportunity to use their capabilities to make the model work.  

How to grow your book of business

Most carriers in North America work with independent agents. Although the majority of premium for personal lines is written direct, that is largely concentrated in a few large carriers. Carriers who use independent agents know that high production from agents is correlated with strong relationships. However, beyond encouraging a strong personal relationship with an underwriter, what else can a carrier do to systematically build a stronger connection with an agent and grow their book? Celent surveyed a group of agents to understand those areas most likely to make a carrier the agents’ top choice. The report addressed the following key research questions:
  1. When it comes to placing business with carriers, what criteria are most important to an agent?
  2. How are top carriers performing on those criteria?
  3. Where should carriers prioritize their investments in order to drive growth?
Key Findings
  • It is easy to think that price is the most important factor when it comes to where an agency chooses to place business. Competitive products and price certainly are important; however, even more important than products and price is the responsiveness of the underwriter. A fast underwriting decision is also quite important with over 60% of agents stating this is a must-have.
  • Money matters to agents although the specific components are not essential to all agents. The most important component is commissions. Interestingly enough, 40% stated that the commission rate does not necessarily have to be competitive. Only 30% said incentive compensation programs were must-haves – and 40% said they were nice to have or didn’t matter at all
  • Beyond that, agents also look for support in other areas. A strong brand is important, as it is easier to sell a company where the prospect already has an emotional connection. Marketing, training, and consulting support is seen as important by more than half the agents and especially younger agents who may benefit more from these types of services than older established agents may.
  • Mobile tools and social media support are generally not seen as important items to most agents – but there is a significant generational difference here. 25% of younger agents see mobile as a must-have compared to 4% of those over 60. Generational differences will become more important to carriers as baby boomer agents increase their rate of retirement and are replaced by GenX and Millennial agents.
  • Agents want carriers to invest in those tools that are most important in helping them perform their job of writing business and providing customer service to the policyholder. Most important to agents is continuing to build out both the integration with the Agency Management System and expanding the functionality of the Portal. Least important to agents are features such as mobile apps, online certificates of insurance, online commission statements, and access to marketing materials.
Looking ahead, the industry is likely to continue to experience increasing channel complexity and increasing regulation, which means there are opportunities both to improve the agent experience and to reduce costs along the way.  Carriers who are looking to drive growth by improving the agent experience should start by looking at their technology offerings and make sure they are delivering the functionality that is most important to their agents. This report presents the results of an online survey conducted during May 2015 of independent insurance agents. It contains 13 figures and 1 table. You can find it here: Driving Growth by Optimizing the Agent Experience

Strategic issues in insurance distribution management

Carriers use a variety of techniques for growing the book and most consider distribution management as a key component of their growth strategy. They are expanding channels, adding distributors, moving into new territories, and working to optimize their existing channel to improve customer acquisition and retention. Some carriers are investing in improving the servicing of distribution channels. Others are focused on managing the compliance aspects of distribution management — assuring the distributors have the right licenses, and that state appointments are made in a timely manner. Many carriers are concentrating on using compensation tools and techniques to more effectively stimulate production. To understand what top carriers are doing in this area, I conducted a survey of carriers around this topic. The goal of the survey was to understand how the carriers are organized to manage the distribution channel, what types of techniques they use, how effective those techniques are, and what challenges they face. Check it out here.
  • In most organizations, a formal Distribution Management organization has primary responsibility for channel management. Managing relationships and compliance are seen as the biggest issues they face.
  • A wide variety of compensation techniques are used by carriers and most say they get value from those programs – although carriers report that it is more important to calculate compensation accurately than to assure compensation is effective at driving desired business. Some techniques such as incentive comp and contests may only be available to top tier or qualifying agents – but receive mixed reviews on their effectiveness. Only 25% of those offering incentive compensation programs see them as effective. “Having an incentive compensation program isn’t highly effective, but not having one would be even worse.”
  • Most carriers rely on a variety of different systems to manage compensation – including Excel and find efficient calculation and distribution of compensation to be quite challenging. For many, the ability to administer a compensation program easily is the key driver as to whether the program will be offered. While they may wish to utilize a particular technique, their technologies create barriers.
  • Compliance is another challenging area with many carriers in the early phase of considering additional automation.  Fewer than half of carriers have automated any of the major processes – validating licenses, processing an appointment or providing self-service to distributors. Those that have automated the processes generally report them as delivering value.
Managing the distribution channel requires discipline in a number of areas – from managing the day-to-day relationship, assuring the distributor is in compliance with the licenses and appointments, and strategically managing compensation. However, carriers face significant challenges in performing these tasks efficiently. Carriers looking to improve distribution effectiveness use technology as a strategic differentiator.

Customer segmentation, fad or future?

Traditionally insurers have been structured by line of business and some have grouped those around personal lines and commercial lines to differentiate businesses from people. With the opportunities of varied distribution channels and more sophisticated technologies insurers are starting to be much more granular in their view of the customers. Insurers have now the chance to move from their traditional top notch markets and be able to create an offering to attract the different segments. Some of these moves include Microinsurance targeting people in the base of the pyramid and Small and Medium Business (SMB) insurance products. Microinsurance products are being launched almost every month in different parts of Latin America. Most recently it was announced that Asomi and Redcamif will be launching an initiative in El Salvador with life insurance policies written by Pan American Life Insurance Group (Palig) with premiums as low as $0,68 per month. Some brokers, large ones, are moving into the SMB market but using its affinity platforms instead of their commercial platforms to support this business. While originally SMB should have fallen into commercial, they realize that it requires processes and the agility expected also in their affinity business. In another interesting move, Metlife Mexico announced yesterday the creation of a new division that will sell to socio economic segments C and D and to young people, those that are not the usual target of insurers. According to the classifications developed by AMAI, a Mexican association, the country’s population is divided into five segments: AB (people with high purchasing power and income), C+ (people with higher-than-average incomes, whose families are headed by someone with a college degree and have at least two cars), C (people with middle incomes, whose families are headed by someone with a high school degree and have both a car and the ability to take one trip per year), D+ (people with incomes slightly below average, some secondary education and no family vehicle), D (people with low income levels and a fairly austere way of existence, who have a primary school education and who lack access to traditional banking services). Metlife Mexico will be offering simple and flexible products while also developing better distribution channels, with emphasis in the use of technology. Software vendors are coming in also to provide solutions towards being more granular. Solutions around analytics to better understand your customer, digital to better serve them and master the points of contact, core processing and BPM to adjust your products and processes accordingly, just to mention a few. Last year Guidewire presented its vision on how a core system will be able to support customer segmentation already delivering some required functionality. Core systems are just another gear in the engine and it’s important that vendors acknowledge how they need to integrate into other solutions for the insurer to be able to deliver a customer segmented value proposition. While I believe customer segmentation is where the industry needs to go, it is not without huge challenges. Insurers need to address the differences and purchase attitudes of those different segments.  Omni-channel is one of the aspects, but also dealing with channel conflicts and regulation. Products need to be tailored in a way that can be flexible but capable of scaling massively, and this means looking into pricing, packaging, marketing, distribution and servicing. Processes need to be adjusted in order to provide the correct value to each segment. At the end of the day you don’t want to be perceived as under-performing and not providing the required value, but neither you want to over deliver if this means excess of cost and important cuts in your margins. My final thoughts for you. How will your structure look as you move into serving segments? How will this affect reporting and statistics by the way, which today is seen by line of business (even by regulators)? Are you ready? Are we ready?

Life Insurance Sales Illustrations: Same as it ever was

Blog Soundtrack:  “Once in a Lifetime” – Talking Heads A recent project caused me to revisit the business process->capability->requirement model for life insurance sales illustration systems. This is a topic dear to my heart since my first insurance job focused on sales illustration, agent enablement and new business for a life insurer at a time when US life sales illustrations may have reached peak complexity. It was the mid-1980s, interest rates were high, TAMRA(7702) had yet to be passed and new life insurance products had internal code names like “Tax Dodge”.  It was a great time to learn life insurance product mechanics, alternative distribution strategies and financial planning scenarios. Today’s insurance sales environment is certainly much tougher and one would think if anything the tools used to sell insurance would be much more powerful and finally honed, but I find that the critical capabilities for sales illustrations have not changed greatly over the last 30 years. There are certainly more caveats as no government-regulated industry disclaims less over time, there are more customer suitability rules but the underlying suitability requirements have not evolved greatly and if anything the “solves and scenarios” used by producers are less complex than before. Most of the new capabilities seen today are around mobility, focusing on tablets and smartphones, better graphics, and greater integration into the overall sales process. The most “innovative” concept talked about in the industry today is centralization of calculations through shared product configuration engines to enable a single implementation of product from sales to policy administration. This is actually more of a process improvement based on the Celent Innovation model and is  only practical if a carrier is willing to buy an end-to-end solution from a single vendor and be willing to do illustrations in connected mode. This last requirement is problematic as producers are pushing for mobility solutions that can work in no/low signal areas as well as the local Starbucks.   Why hasn’t the industry bar for sales illustration capabilities continued to rise over time? We can’t blame our technology vendors since they are generally more than capable of meeting new requirements in other application areas, if the market demands them. The problem lies within that demand, as the insurer’s approach to the individual life insurance market has not evolved. Celent believes that distribution paralysis and the continued belief that consumers must be heavily persuaded to invest in life insurance before they will buy, has stifled innovation in life insurance distribution which then depresses the market for innovative technology in the space. eApplication probably has the most traction in transforming life insurance new business today, even though the concept has been in existence for many years. So are we doomed to illustration mediocrity? No. Celent believes that the insurance industry is on the cusp of significant distribution change driven by connectivity/mobility, big data, changing consumer demographics and the dynamics of financial planning that will require innovation in life insurance illustrations around complex scenario planning, on-plan financial tracking and real time information requirements that will require greater “solve” capability and data integration than before. And I suspect many of the sales illustration vendors look forward to a more dynamic and competitive market where they differntiate through thought leadership in distribution transformation. “Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down…Same as it ever was…” Credits – Chris Frantz, David Byrne et. al.  

Digital Insurance and the Customer: Mind the Gap!

Let’s play Jeopardy together! If the most frequently given answer from a panel of insurance customers is “Don’t know,” what was the question?

It was: “Which UK insurer do you think is the most innovative?”

For those who think that is an exaggeration of the common opinion that the insurance industry is not innovative at all, let me tell you that the second most frequently given answer was “None.”

As Jo Hind – Industry Head, Finance at Google – explained during the first presentation of the Digital Insurance and the Customer: Mind the Gap! event Celent organized in collaboration with Google, the pace of change is accelerating. More and more people are using digital communication means to get information about financial products, including insurance policies, and among others mobile devices are getting great traction. To pave the ground for the rest of the event, Jo left the audience with simple but relevant questions to insurers: How important is mobile to the insurance business? Are insurers optimizing and planning for the four-screen world (computers, TVs, pads, and smartphones)? How can insurers engage better with their customers? Are products offered by insurers meeting consumer expectations?

When Craig Beattie followed Jo’ s final interrogations with the Celent views on the customer, Google, and UK car insurance based on research he and Catherine Stagg-Macey published recently, we – in the audience – could not anticipate that the phlegmatic British analyst would provide the audience with such an insightful and dynamic analysis of the reasons for and consequences of the changing behaviour of insurance online shoppers. After this moment of brilliance, it was time for people to take their breath and enjoy the networking break to exchange about what had just been exposed to them by Google and Celent.

The audience had opportunities to share their thoughts during the discussion panel session which ended the whole event. Ian Morgan – Industry Leader Financial Services at Google – moderated the session, which saw Jem Eskenazi – CIO of Groupama Insurances, Ollie Holden – Solution Delivery Director at LV=, Catherine Stagg-Macey – Head of EMEA Celent insurance, and Jo Hind debate about mobile and digital insurance predictions. The audience was asked to provide its opinion on these predictions before they were discussed in more detail with the panelists.

Let’s play Jeopardy again! What question related to the Celent event summarized above will result in the following answer? “Certainly.” It is: “Are insurers who were present in the audience going to view digital insurance and the customer differently from now on?”

Vertafore’s Move Helps Insurers Gain a Bigger Piece of a Smaller Pie

Vertafore’s purchase of Kaplan Compliance Solutions is another step towards delivering on the ease of doing business promise to insurance distribution professionals. It is an indication of the consolidation of vendors along vertical lines as providers deliver solutions that can solve multiple problems in producer management.

Managing the insurance distribution chain involves disparate administrative functions such as configuring compensation plans, administering payment and reconciliation, registering and licensing of producers and tracking education requirements. To a producer, all of these tasks are part of a single process — maintaining and growing a critical relationship. However, in a many insurance companies, multiple departments perform separate tasks in the chain. Systems and work processes have been separated according to history and habit.

When service issues arise, agents are not interested in knowing that different people are handling different parts of the process using systems that do not “speak” to one another. They would like their commission or licensing or education inquiry to be resolved immediately with as little time investment as possible.

In the New Normal environment of a low-growth economy, it is critical to increase production within existing agents (keep them happy), necessary to expand into new channels (bring them onboard quickly and with minimal hassle), and essential to monitor performance of all sales activities (know who is doing what and take action appropriately). Celent believes there is an opportunity for insurance companies to gain market share through the execution of a strategic approach to producer lifecycle management. Carriers can gain competitive advantage in their distribution efforts if they bring together and consolidate these various processes to create an integrated approach that delivers higher quality service, more reliable information, and lower costs.

Accomplishing this goal will require process optimization and integrated automation. In order to meet these objectives, leading insurers will manage producer relationships in a more holistic manner. Vendors will continue to consolidate, form partnerships, and build solutions which facilitate these process changes.

An "official" guide to writing applications for the mobile web?

Mobile insurer apps have seen a great deal of press and investment in the last year, it’s about time the mobile web saw some attention too. Every insurer that Celent has spoken to about mobile apps has also invested in the mobile web – that is to say that insurers are working towards ensuring their existing web sites also work with smart phones, tablets and other portable devices. The World Wide Web Consortium, the international standards body behind other internet technologies, has published a best practices document for building applications in the mobile web. For each of the 32 best practices and the 3 additional advisory notes the document offers advice on what the best practice is and how to achieve it. Also available are a simple set of reference cards for the best practices that may be more useful to developers and of course, there is a mobile friendly version of the material as well. This document then is a must read for e-business and technology leaders in insurers and for the service providers working with them. In our recent research, we have found that the top insurers all have some sort of mobile app and that these have functionality that stretch across the full life cycle of an customer from a person looking to purchase a car or looking for information about insurance products through quoting, finding agents, buying insurance and all the way to making a claim. Many of the apps make novel use of smart phone features such as location information and the ability to store data. Since these capabilities are coming to the mobile web with the arrival of HTML5, this set of best practices can only grow in significance. The document has existed as a proposed recommendation for some time with a veritable who’s who of the Internet involved in it’s authorship. The document moved to a full recommendation on the 14th December 2010. The document can be found here: and the reference card here: The cheat sheet site is available here: