The (re)insurance industry is at a tipping point. Rapid technological change, disruption through new, more efficient forms of capital and an evolving risk landscape are challenging industry incumbents like never before. Inevitably, as EXPOSURE reports, the winners will be those who find ways to harmonize analytics, technology, industry innovation, and modelling.
There is much talk of disruptive innovation in the insurance industry. In personal lines insurance, disintermediation, the rise of aggregator websites and the Internet of Things (IoT) – such as connected car, home, and wearable devices – promise to transform traditional products and services. In the commercial insurance and reinsurance space, disruptive technological change has been less obvious, but behind the scenes the industry is undergoing some fundamental changes.
The ‘Uber’ moment has yet to arrive in reinsurance, according to Michael Steel, global head of business development at RMS. “The change we’re seeing in the industry is constant. We’re seeing disruption throughout the entire insurance journey. It’s not the case that the industry is suffering from a short-term correction and then the market will go back to the way it has done business previously. The industry is under huge competitive pressures and the change we’re seeing is permanent and it will be continuous over time.”
Experts feel the industry is now at a tipping point. Huge competitive pressures, rising expense ratios, an evolving risk landscape and rapid technological advances are forcing change upon an industry that has traditionally been considered somewhat of a laggard. And the revolution, when it comes, will be a quick one, thinks Rupert Swallow, co-founder and CEO of Capsicum Re.
“WE’RE SEEING DISRUPTION THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE INSURANCE JOURNEY”
Other sectors have plenty of cautionary tales on what happens when businesses fail to adapt to a changing world, he explains. “Kodak was a business that in 1998 had 120,000 employees and printed 95 percent of the world’s photographs. Two years later, that company was bankrupt as digital cameras built their presence in the marketplace. When the tipping point is reached, the change is radical and fast and fundamental.”
While it is impossible to predict exactly how the industry will evolve going forward, it is clear that tomorrow’s leading (re)insurance companies will share certain attributes. This includes a strong appetite to harness data and invest in new technology and analytics capabilities, the drive to differentiate and design new products and services, and the ability to collaborate.
In particular, the goal of an analytic-driven organization is to leverage the right technologies to bring data, workflow and business analytics together to continuously drive more informed, timely and collaborative decision making across the enterprise. And while there are many choices with the rise of insurtech firms, history shows us that success is achieved only when the proper due diligence is done to really understand and assess how these technologies enable the longer term business strategy, goals and objectives.
One of the most important ingredients to success is the ability to effectively blend the right team of technologists, data scientists and domain experts who can work together to understand and deliver upon these key objectives. The most successful companies will also look to attract and retain the best talent, with succession planning that puts a strong emphasis on bringing Millennials up through the ranks. “There is a huge difference between the way Millennials look at the workplace and live their lives, versus industry professionals born in the 1960s or 1970s – the two generations are completely different,” says Swallow. “Those guys [Millennials] would no sooner write a cheque to pay for something than fly to the moon.”
If (re)insurers drag their heels in embracing and investing in new technology and analytics capabilities, disruption could well come from outside the industry. Back in 2015, Lloyd’s CEO Inga Beale warned that insurers were in danger of being “Uber-ized” as technology allows companies from Google to Walmart to undermine the sector’s role of managing risk.
Her concerns are well founded, with Google launching a price comparison site in the U.S. and Rakuten and Alibaba, Japan and China’s answers to Amazon respectively, selling a range of insurance products on their platforms.
“No area of the market is off-limits to well-organized technology companies that are increasingly encroaching everywhere,” says Rob Procter, CEO of Securis Investment Partners. “Why wouldn’t Google write insurance… particularly given what they are doing with autonomous vehicles? They may not be insurance experts but these technology firms are driving the advances in terms of volumes of data, data manipulation, and speed of data processing.”
Procter makes the point that the reinsurance industry has already been disrupted by the influx of third-party capital into the ILS space over the past decade to 15 years. Collateralized products such as catastrophe bonds, sidecars and non-traditional reinsurance have fundamentally altered the reinsurance cycle and exposed the industry’s inefficiencies like never before.
“We’ve been innovators in this industry because we came in ten or 15 years ago, and we’ve changed the way the industry is structured and is capitalized and how the capital connects with the customer,” he says. “But more change is required to bring down expenses and to take out what are massive friction costs, which in turn will allow reinsurance solutions to be priced competitively in situations where they are not currently.
“It’s astounding that 70 percent of the world’s catastrophe losses are still uninsured,” he adds. “That statistic has remained unchanged for the last 20 years. If this industry was more efficient it would be able to deliver solutions that work to close that gap.”
Collaboration is the key to leveraging technology – or insurtech – expertise and getting closer to the original risk. There are numerous examples of tie-ups between (re)insurance industry incumbents and tech firms. Others have set up innovation garages or bought their way into innovation, acquiring or backing niche start-up firms. Silicon Valley, Israel’s Silicon Wadi, India’s tech capital Bangalore and Shanghai in China are now among the favored destinations for scouting visits by insurance chief innovation officers.
One example of a strategic collaboration is the MGA Attune, set up last year by AIG, Hamilton Insurance Group, and affiliates of Two Sigma Investments. Through the partnership, AIG gained access to Two Sigma’s vast technology and data-science capabilities to grow its market share in the U.S. small to mid-sized commercial insurance space.
“The challenge for the industry is to remain relevant to our customers,” says Steel. “Those that fail to adapt will get left behind. To succeed you’re going to need greater information about the underlying risk, the ability to package the risk in a different way, to select the appropriate risks, differentiate more, and construct better portfolios.”
Investment in technology in and of itself is not the solution, thinks Swallow. He thinks there has been too much focus on process and not enough on product design. “Insurtech is an amazing opportunity but a lot of people seem to spend time looking at the fulfilment of the product – what ‘Chily’ [Swallow’s business partner and industry guru Grahame Chilton] would call ‘plumbing’.
“In our industry, there is still so much attention on the ‘plumbing’ and the fact that the plumbing doesn’t work, that insurtech isn’t yet really focused on compliance, regulation of product, which is where all the real gains can be found, just as they have been in the capital markets,” adds Swallow.
Blockchain however, states Swallow, is “plumbing on steroids”. “Blockchain is nothing but pure, unadulterated, disintermediation. My understanding is that if certain events happen at the beginning of the chain, then there is a defined outcome that actually happens without any human intervention at the other end of the chain.”
In January, Aegon, Allianz, Munich Re, Swiss Re, and Zurich launched the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative, a “US$5 billion opportunity” according to PwC. The feasibility study will explore the potential of distributed ledger technologies to better serve clients through faster, more convenient and secure services.
“BLOCKCHAIN FOR THE REINSURANCE SPACE IS AN EFFICIENCY TOOL. AND IF WE ALL GET MORE EFFICIENT, YOU ARE ABLE TO INCREASE INSURABILITY BECAUSE YOUR PRICES COME DOWN”
Blockchain offers huge potential to reduce some of the significant administrative burdens in the industry, thinks Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re. “Blockchain for the reinsurance space is an efficiency tool. And if we all get more efficient, you are able to increase insurability because your prices come down, and you can have more affordable reinsurance and therefore more affordable insurance. So I think we all win if it’s a cost saving for the industry.”
Collaboration will enable those with scale to behave like nimble start-ups, explains Karl. “We like scale. We’re large. I’ll be blunt about that,” he says. “For the reinsurance space, what we do is to leverage our size to differentiate ourselves. With size, we’re able to invest in all these new technologies and then understand them well enough to have a dialogue with our clients. The nimbleness doesn’t come from small insurers; the nimbleness comes from insurance tech start-ups.”
He gives the example of Lemonade, the peer-to-peer start-up insurer that launched in 2016, selling discounted homeowners’ insurance in New York. Working off the premise that insurance customers lack trust in the industry, Lemonade’s business model is based around returning premium to customers when claims are not made. In its second round of capital raising, Lemonade secured funding from XL Group’s venture fund, also a reinsurance partner of the innovative new firm. The firm is also able to offer faster, more efficient, claims processing.
“Lemonade’s [business model] is all about efficiency and the cost saving,” says Karl. “But it’s also clearly of benefit to the client, which is a lot more appealing than a long, drawn-out claims process.”
By collecting and utilizing data from customers and third parties, personal lines insurers are now able to offer more customized products and, in many circumstances, improve the underlying risk. Customers can win discounts for protecting their homes and other assets, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and driving safely. In a world where products are increasingly designed with the digital native in mind, drivers can pay-as-they-go and property owners can access cheaper home insurance via peer-to-peer models.
Reinsurers may be one step removed from this seismic shift in how the original risk is perceived and underwritten, but just as personal lines insurers are tearing up the rule book, so too are their risk partners. It is over 300 years since the first marine and fire insurance policies were written. In that time (re)insurance has expanded significantly with a range of property, casualty, and specialty products.
However, the wordings contained in standard (re)insurance policies, the involvement of a broker in placing the business and the face-to-face transactional nature of the business – particularly within the London market – has not altered significantly over the past three centuries. Some are questioning whether these traditional indemnity products are the right solution for all classes of risk.
“We think people are often insuring cyber against the wrong things,” says Dane Douetil, group CEO of Minova Insurance. “They probably buy too much cover in some places and not nearly enough in areas where they don’t really understand they’ve got a risk. So we’re starting from the other way around, which is actually providing analysis about where their risks are and then creating the policy to cover it.”
“There has been more innovation in intangible type risks, far more in the last five to ten years than probably people give credit for. Whether you’re talking about cyber, product recall, new forms of business interruption, intellectual property or the huge growth in mergers and acquisition coverages against warranty and indemnity claims – there’s been a lot of development in all of those areas and none of that existed ten years ago.”
Access to new data sources along with the ability to interpret and utilize that information will be a key instrument in improving the speed of settlement and offering products that are fit for purpose and reflect today’s risk landscape. “We’ve been working on a product that just takes all the information available from airlines, about delays and how often they happen,” says Karl. “And of course you can price off that; you don’t need the loss history, all you need is the probability of the loss, how often does the plane have a five-hour delay?”
“All the travel underwriters then need to do is price it ‘X’, and have a little margin built-in, and then they’re able to offer a nice new product to consumers who get some compensation for the frustration of sitting there on the tarmac.”
With more esoteric lines of business such as cyber, parametric products could be one solution to providing meaningful coverage for a rapidly-evolving corporate risk. “The corporates of course want indemnity protection, but that’s extremely difficult to do,” says Karl. “I think there will be some of that but also some parametric, because it’s often a fixed payout that’s capped and is dependent upon the metric, as opposed to indemnity, which could well end up being the full value of the company. Because you can potentially have a company destroyed by a cyber-attack at this point.”
One issue to overcome with parametric products is the basis risk aspect. This is the risk that an insured suffers a significant loss of income, but its cover is not triggered. However, as data and risk management improves, the concerns surrounding basis risk should reduce.
The evolution of the cyber (re)insurance market also points to a new opportunity in a data-rich age: pre-loss services. By tapping into a wealth of claims and third-party data sources, successful (re)insurers of the future will be in an even stronger position to help their insureds become resilient and incident-ready. In cyber, these services are already part of the package and include security consultancy, breach-response services and simulated cyber attacks to test the fortitude of corporate networks and raise awareness among staff.
“WE DO A DISSERVICE TO OUR INDUSTRY BY SAYING THAT WE’RE NOT INNOVATORS, THAT WE’RE STUCK IN THE PAST”
IoT is not just an instrument for personal lines. Just as insurance companies are utilizing data collected from connected devices to analyze individual risks and feedback information to improve the risk, (re)insurers also have an opportunity to utilize third-party data. “GPS sensors on containers can allow insurers to monitor cargo as it flows around the world – there is a use for this technology to help mitigate and manage the risk on the front end of the business,” states Steel.
Information is only powerful if it is analyzed effectively and available in real-time as transactional and pricing decisions are made, thinks RMS’ Steel. “The industry is getting better at using analytics and ensuring the output of analytics is fed directly into the hands of key business decision makers.”
“It’s about using things like portfolio optimization, which even ten years ago would have been difficult,” he adds. “As you’re using the technologies that are available now you’re creating more efficient capital structures and better, more efficient business models.”
Minova’s Douetil thinks the industry is stepping up to the plate. “Insurance is effectively the oil that lubricates the economy,” he says. “Without insurance, as we saw with the World Trade Center disaster and other catastrophes, the whole economy could come to a grinding halt pretty quickly if you take the ‘oil’ away.”
“That oil has to continually adapt and be innovative in terms of being able to serve the wider economy,” he continues. “But I think we do a disservice to our industry by saying that we’re not innovators, that we’re stuck in the past. I just think about how much this business has changed over the years.”
“It can change more, without a doubt, and there is no doubt that the communication capabilities that we have now mean there will be a shortening of the distribution chain,” he adds. “That’s already happening quite dramatically and in the personal lines market, obviously even more rapidly.”