Insurers must harness data, technology and human capital if they are to operate more efficiently and profitably in the current environment, but as AXIS Capital’s Albert Benchimol tells EXPOSURE, offering better value to clients may be a better long-term motive for becoming more efficient.

Efficiency is a top priority for insurers the world over as they bid to increase margins, reduce costs and protect profitability in the competitive heat of the enduring soft market. But according to AXIS Capital president and CEO Albert Benchimol, there is a broader, more important and longer-term challenge that must also be addressed through the ongoing efficiency drive: value for money.

“When I think of value, I think of helping our clients and partners succeed in their own endeavors. This means providing quick and responsive service, creative policy structures that address our customers’ coverage needs, best-in-class claims handling and trusting our people to pursue their own entrepreneurial goals,” says Benchimol.

“While any one insurance policy may in itself offer good value, when aggregated, insurance is not necessarily seen as good value by clients. Our industry as a whole needs to deliver a better value proposition — and that means that all participants in the value chain will need to become much more efficient.”

According to Benchimol — who prior to being appointed CEO of AXIS in 2012 served as the Bermuda-based insurance group’s CFO and also held senior executive positions at Partner Re, Reliance Group and Bank of Montreal — the days of paying out US$0.55-$0.60 in claims for every dollar of premium paid are over.

“We need to start framing our challenge as delivering a 70 percent-plus loss ratio within a low 90s combined ratio,” he asserts. “Every player in the value chain needs to adopt efficiency-enhancing technology to lower our costs and pass those savings on to the customer.”

With a surfeit of capital making it unlikely the insurance industry will return to its traditional cyclical nature any time soon, Benchimol says these changes have to be adopted for the long term.

“Insurers have to evaluate their portfolios and product offerings to match customer needs with marketplace realities. We will need to develop new products to meet emerging demand; offer better value in the eyes of insureds; apply data, analytics and technology to all facets of our business; and become much more efficient,” he explains.

Embracing technology

The continued adoption and smarter use of data will be central to achieving this goal. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what data we can access and insights we can leverage to make better, faster decisions throughout the risk transfer value chain,” Benchimol says.

“If we use technology to better align our operations and costs with our customers’ needs and expectations, we will create and open-up new markets because potential insureds will see more value in the insurance product.”

“I admire companies that constantly challenge themselves and that are driven by data to make informed decisions — companies that don’t rest on their laurels and don’t accept the status quo”

Technology, data and analytics have already brought improved efficiencies to the insurance market. This has allowed insurers to focus their efforts on targeted markets and develop applications to deliver improved, customized purchasing experiences and increase client satisfaction and engagement, Benchimol notes.

The introduction of data modeling, he adds, has also played a key role in improving economic protection, making it easier for (re)insurance providers to evaluate risks and enter new markets, thereby increasing the amount of capacity available to protect insureds.

“While this can sometimes raise pricing pressures, it has a positive benefit of bringing more affordable capacity to potential customers. This has been most pronounced in the development of catastrophe models in underinsured emerging markets, where capital hasn’t always been available in the past,” he says.

The introduction of models made these markets more attractive to capital providers which, in turn, makes developing custom insurance products more cost-effective and affordable for both insurers and their clients, Benchimol explains.

However, there is no doubt the insurance industry has more to do if it is not only to improve its own profitability and offerings to customers, but also to stave off competition from external threats, such as disruptive innovators in the FinTech and InsurTech spheres.

Strategic evolution

“The industry’s inefficiencies and generally low level of customer satisfaction make it relatively easy prey for disruption,” Benchimol admits. However, he believes that the regulated and highly capital-intensive nature of insurance is such that established domain leaders will continue to thrive if they are prepared to beat innovators at their own game. “We need to move relatively quickly, as laggards may have a difficult time catching up,” he warns.

“In order to thrive in the disruptive market economy, market leaders must take intelligent risks. This isn’t easy, but is absolutely necessary,” Benchimol says. “I admire companies that constantly challenge themselves and that are driven by data to make informed decisions — companies that don’t rest on their laurels and don’t accept the status quo.”

“We need to start framing our challenge as delivering a 70-percent plus loss ratio within a low 90s combined ratio”

Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving market and transformed business environment, AXIS took stock of its business at the start of 2016, evaluating its key strengths and reflecting on the opportunities and challenges in its path. What followed was an important strategic evolution.

“Over the course of the year we implemented a series of strategic initiatives across the business to drive long-term growth and ensure we deliver the most value to our clients, employees and shareholders,” Benchimol says.

“This led us to sharpen our focus on specialty risk, where we believe we have particular expertise. We implemented new initiatives to even further enhance the quality of our underwriting. We invested more in our data and analytics capabilities, expanded the focus in key markets where we feel we have the greatest relevance, and took action to acquire firms that allow us to expand our leadership in specialty insurance, such as our acquisition of specialty aviation insurer and reinsurer Aviabel and our recent offer to acquire Novae.”

Another highlight for AXIS in 2016 was the launch of Harrington Re, co-founded with the Blackstone Group. “At AXIS, our focus on innovation also extends to how we look at alternative funding sources and our relationship with third-party capital, which centers on matching the right risk with the right capital,” Benchimol explains. “We currently have a number of alternative capital sources that complement our balance sheet and enable us to deliver enhanced capacity and tailored solutions to our clients and brokers.”

Benchimol believes a significant competitive advantage for AXIS is that it is still
small enough to be agile and responsive to customers’ needs, yet large enough to take advantage of its global capabilities and resources in order to help clients manage their risks. But like many of his competitors, Benchimol knows future success will be heavily reliant on how well AXIS melds human expertise with the use of data and technology.

“We need to combine our ingenuity, innovation and values with the strength, speed and intelligence offered by technology, data and analytics. The ability to combine these two great forces — the art and science of insurance — is what will define the insurer of the future,” Benchimol states.

The key, he believes, is to empower staff to make informed, data-driven decisions. “The human elements that are critical to success in the insurance industry are, among others: knowledge, creativity, service and commitment to our clients and partners. We need to operate within a framework that utilizes technology to provide a more efficient customer experience and is underpinned by enhanced data and analytics capabilities that allow us to make informed, intelligent decisions on behalf of our clients.”

However, Benchimol insists insurers must embrace change while holding on to the traditional principles that underpinned insurance in the analog age, as these same principles must continue to do so into the future.

“We must harness technology for good causes, while remaining true to the core values and universal strengths of our industry — a passion for helping people when they are down, a creativity in structuring products, and the commitment to keeping the promise we make to our clients to help them mitigate risks and ensure the security of their assets,” he says. “We must not forget these critical elements that comprise the heart of the insurance industry.”