Dan White, Managing Partner: Ninety Consulting
Where should the innovation focus for insurers be in 2021, and what lessons can be learned from the unprecedented year it follows?
The insurance industry response during COVID19 – offers of flexible premiums or free added-value services, such as mental health counselling – went some way in building customer brand appreciation and trust. Another outcome is an increased expectation that insurers will provide more meaningful risk solutions for the resilience and sustainability of their clients against the backdrop of depressed economies and continuing anxieties of living with a high-risk pandemic.
Building systemic risk resilience for global-scale events requires industrywide backing to bring in scalable and ground-breaking innovation. One way for insurance to deliver on this ask is through even greater emphasis on innovation than it is currently doing. Smart technology firms operating cloud computing and backed with agile investors make it simpler for insurers to test new ideas rapidly and with lowered investment risk. Insurers can develop ideas with a sandbox approach, running pilots, developing proofs of concept, and implementing ideas that build on the momentum developed during 2020. Many of Ninety Consulting’s clients have said the pandemic made the impossible possible in terms of the speed of the insurance industry’s innovation and willingness to change; at Ninety Consulting, we hope this cando attitude will stick around.
Insurers in developed markets may draw inspiration from other lines and insurers in other geographical locations, and even from other industries. Providers in Asia, startups coming into the market and incumbents alike, are making big and bold bets on innovation fuelled by technology. They are building direct digital distribution and point-of-sale channels, creating innovative protection products for first-time, younger buyers and building partner ecosystems with eCommerce, telecom and banking firms.
At a broad level, insurer innovation is more intensive than ever, across all leading insurance markets and insurers, with some variation in themes and objectives. Most insurers are working on a similar set of ideas – innovation leaders are more oriented towards emerging and futuristic ideas, and fast followers are scaling up market-proven innovations. Some insurers have also recognised the potential to unlock financial and qualitative value by innovation in distribution, servicing and operational efficiency.
However, we are yet to see a quantum leap into the heart of key issues or a real game changer. Take risk classification in life insurance as an example. The nature of work and living is extremely dynamic today, yet traditional definitions of occupation continue to drive classification, even though many first-time insurance buyers are likely to change occupations or even work in more than one industry at the same time. Health morbidities and job losses due to economic recessions are becoming more common as causes of early retirements, but retirement products still use traditional models of retirement age. Somehow the changing nature of risks in human life and economic activity is yet to drive change in the way risks are qualified. So it’s a good thing innovation is an established priority of insurance companies now – either as a part of the organizational strategy or the strategy within line functions, such as product design, operations or claims.
The year 2021 can potentially become the watershed moment for insurance innovation. At Ninety Consulting, our analysis suggests two overlapping innovation movements: ongoing, insurer-level product innovation and, encompassing this, a large-scale systemic shift toward “Insurance with a Social Purpose”. In some respects, COVID19 is the catalyst that is bringing new awareness and intensity in creating systemic change.
Success relies on understanding innovation in the sector at large and shaping plans around market-ready solutions as well as those with unexplored potential.
This blog is abridged from a report published by Ninety Consulting: “Insurance Idea Pulse 2021” available upon application via their website https://ninety.com/insurance-idea-pulse-2021/.