COVER Magazine connected with Dean Richardson, Director of Insurer Sales at SSP, a global insurance software provider, to discuss their 2020 experience and the opportunities presented for 2021.
COVER: Please can you give us a bit of your thoughts on 2020. Which part of the role technology played in general, stood out most for you?
Dean: I guess, personally, we have all been impacted by this global pandemic and whilst I am not sure we will ever return to “normal”, we revert back to a hybrid model a “new norm” of working from home and the office. I think, individually, we have all learned or relearned what is of value to us, which isn’t the material things we have craved in the past, but experiences, our family and our health. Professionally though there have been moments in our history that marked significant turning points for the industry, and I believe we’re just coming to the end of one of these moments for insurance.
If 2020 was defined by a single global market shock, the COVID-19 pandemic, then 2021, in the business sense, will be defined by how organizations respond to this new norm. There are also key lessons from recent history which we should look to learn from. If you look back to the most recent example of a similar shock, which was the 2008 financial crisis, then our industry, financial services and insurance must learn the lessons of the aftermath of that. After that financial crisis, the following years, we were so preoccupied with recovery and compliance to new regulations that were introduced as a result, insurers and UMAs took their eye off the investment in new technology that could provide a competitive advantage.
That led to the rise of the Fintechs and Insurtechs, etc, as banks and insurers were distracted. It opened up the market for new high-tech entrants, such as Lemonade, etc. Post COVID-19 we are looking at a new norm focused on investment in new technology so that we don’t allow a gap in the market again.
COVER: Even before COVID, we knew that we needed to digitize, we knew we needed to get closer to the consumer, but we again needed a burning platform. So, as an insurance software provider, looking at the insurance industry from that perspective, what do you think were the most challenging issues for insurers last year?
Dean: I guess the most challenging issues and the insurance response was fairly consistent globally. Initially it was all about existing customers. There was an immediate pivot to providing existing customers with self-service online, while insurer and UMA staff couldn’t get into the office. Even though there was a
lockdown, customers and policyholders still needed to be served and customers needed to access their accounts online, retrieve their policies, print insurance certificates etc.
This initial response subsequently evolved as insurers started moving back into growth mode. They wanted to introduce new quote and buy capabilities to support new customer acquisition. At SSP the demand was so high that we changed our strategy in 2020 as a response to the demand that we saw globally; launching a new Customer Quote & Buy component as a wrap-around for insurer and UMA legacy policy admin systems, just.
COVER: So from an innovation perspective, did you see insurers sort of step up in terms of coming up with innovative ideas, or did they still rely quite a bit on you as the software provider to assist him or to come up with the ideas?
Dean: I think the challenges insurers faced, without having agile tech platforms that are customer centric, that support how a customer wants to engage when a customer wants to engage, were problematic. Those insurers and UMAs aren’t going to be winning any awards in 2021! The market is waking up to the fact that insurers need technology platforms that can pivot fast and react to all kinds of scenarios, even ones that we don’t contemplate at the moment. So, we’ve seen a significant drop in what I’d call “point-in-time systems”.
There is no place anymore for small sticking plasters to address whatever today’s business problem may be. That strategy won’t survive in 2021. We’ve seen a massive increase in insurers and UMAs, beefing up their digital strategies and, in Africa specifically, a willingness to adopt and benefit from cloud technologies.
From a technology perspective, we’re seeing a massive acceleration in this change. The pace of change has significantly increased and our forecast now is that we will move from where we were in 2020, to where we thought the market would be from a tech perspective in 2025 in a 12 month period.
COVER: Do you think insurers and UMAs have started thinking a bit more holistically about their digitalization strategies, and are looking at it more as an overall business strategy, rather than just sort of certain issues within the company?
Dean: Oh, absolutely. We’re seeing the changing landscape in front of us. Policy admin systems of old have been core to an insurer’s operation forever, but the pandemic has been the wake-up call. It is causing insurers to realize that monolithic systems will not support them going forward and they have got to be customer centric and digital first. We are seeing the rise of the “platform era”, where the tech is seen as the core of the business and not just a system of record, with platforms that comprise a pre-integrated best of breed components that in turn support the network effect.
So, the more application/provider contributors to the platform, the more users will use it, which attract more application providers to the platform.
But, let’s not forget the “new norm”. We also have to support our distributed workforce. We have all experienced some form of lockdown globally when the majority of us worked from home. I am not sure we will ever fully return to the office. There will be some form of hybrid model so, from a system or platform perspective, it has got to support the workforce, working anywhere they are, at any time of the day.
COVER: Based on your past experience in Africa and especially lessons from the diversity from country to country, is there anything specific or any angle that SSP will be focusing on in 2021, when it comes to Africa?
Dean: I think when it comes to Africa, SSP are well positioned insofar as we began our own transformation journey four years ago. As a business we invested $50 million in defining, building and delivering a single cloud native insurance platform that will serve all of our global territories, for all the different segments; whether it be broker, UMA or Insurer. We have been able to prove this by delivering our SSP Insurance Platform for customers across five continents now.
In 2020 we became the first insurance software vendor to deploy its software in the AWS Cape Town region, to support our growing African customer base. We have transitioned from deploying software on-premise to being cloud first and by the end of 2021 will be cloud only. The benefits are just huge. Aside from providing outstanding customer and broker journeys, giving insurer staff a holistic 360-degree view of their client, our platform consumes third party data both as a proxy for rating and pricing and to inform the customer journey by reducing the question set, whilst providing real-time business analytics and predictive modelling so insurers can steer their business.
The thing I am most excited about, especially for our African customers, is the adoption of cloud technology and a cloud-native platform. Functional benefits aside, our “DevOps” model, will provide small incremental upgrades for our insurers and UMAs to the platform every 10 weeks, each one delivering new capabilities and building upon the benefits of the last one.
This continuous process of platform improvement means that our customers will stay evergreen and the best is that it should be the last upgrade our customers ever make.