Digital Insurance: Partnering For The Game Of Life

Kai Görlich and Christian Jaerschke

Digitalization is a threat – and an opportunity – for one of our oldest industries. As the insurance industry faces upstart competitors and challenging economics, they must reinvent their businesses to survive.

Life is inherently risky. It’s only natural that human beings invented insurance to help mitigate some of the disastrous losses that we were bound to encounter. The earliest insurance contracts were marine policies written in Genoa, Italy, in 1347. The first known company that sold insurance to the public was Hamburger Feuerkasse (still in business today), which was established in 1676 to provide fire insurance. The insurance industry grew right along with the industrialization of the world. Today, we can insure the most important areas of our lives: health, wealth, employment, and property to name just a few.

Insurance companies have taken steps to eliminate risks over the years. Some were instrumental in demanding innovations such as fire hydrants and building sprinkler systems and, in many cases, require them before underwriting a given risk. However, the focus for the last several centuries has still been on responding to loss rather than preventing it.

But the insurance industry is on the verge of a fundamental shift – driven by increased digitization, more advanced analytics capabilities, and disruptive threats from new entrants and business models. Insurance companies are not only facing rising costs, intense competition, a challenging regulatory environment, and increasing customer expectations. But they also have the opportunity to harness technology and data in novel ways to create entirely new business models that proactively manage – and even eliminate – risks for customers.

From threat to opportunity

The insurance industry is under pressure, but it also has access to a number of technologies that could enable better customer service and expand their businesses beyond traditional offerings. Advancements in computing are helping companies in all industries transform Big Data into actionable insights. And the universe of available data is expanding every day thanks to increasingly cost-effective sensors, wearable computing options, and other technologies capable of providing a stream of ambient intelligence about the world.

The number of Internet-connected devices and sensors (14.8 billion as of February) will grow to 50 billion by 2020, according to Cisco. And Intel predicts that there will be 200 billion Internet-connected things in 2030. But that is not all that will impact the industry over the coming years:

  • The speed of analytics will intensify thirty-fold by 2030, with 95% of queries answered in mere milliseconds, according to SAP estimates.
  • By 2020, the digital data universe will grow to 44 zettabytes, and brings the potential to be analyzed and used to generate insight will grow from 22% to 37%, according to EMC and IDC.

The industry can harness these technologies not only to improve internal operations and productivity, but also expand their revenue-generating opportunities and improve the customer experience. While insurers are already harnessing automation to improve efficiency and experimenting with new business models in the areas of product development (micro-insurance) distribution (Web and mobile) and pricing (micro-segmentation), more dramatic shifts are ahead. According to Prof. Professor Dr. Fred Wagner from the Institut für Versicherungslehre in Leipzig, Germany, the future of insurance is not just insurance but has to be expanded beyond risk and investments.

Lessons from the outside

Insurance companies must disrupt themselves before they are disrupted  – embracing innovation in the areas of customer experience, product and service development, and risk management. And some promising new entrants are already beginning to shake up the industry.

  • New York-based Lemonade, with investors including Aleph and Sequoia Capital, wants to become the world’s first peer-to-peer property and casualty insurance provider. The company recently hired a chief behavioral officer who previously worked with Intuit to motivate people to save more and Intel on worker productivity.
  • Sure, launched in 2014, is a so-called episodic insurance company that will offer on-demand accident, life, property, casualty, and warranty policies. Its first product is flight insurance that travelers can purchase up to the time they take off that ends when they land. The company’s app also features analytics called Robo-Broker, which uses information about customer behavior to recommend products.
  • Trov, another mobile on-demand insurance platform that offers insurance for specific products (a new racing bike or digital camera) for a specific amount of time, is currently available in Australia with plans to launch in the U.S. in 2017.
  • Canopy Health Insurance says it offers consumers simpler, cheaper healthcare coverage by featuring just five individual plans and a smaller network of core providers.
  • Zoom+, which began as a chain of retail healthcare clinics in the Pacific Northwest, recently expanded into an integrated healthcare delivery system with on-demand insurance options aimed at tech- and health-savvy consumers. Its digital platform offers online scheduling, paying, and access to results for X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scans and its newest primary care clinics aimed at optimizing human performance using food, movement, and relationship as medicine. It also offers in-person assessments and labs with a board-certified naturopathic physician and ongoing medical coaching through video and e-mail.

Insurance companies face significant indirect competition as well. Customer expectations are influenced by their experiences in other areas and with companies in other industries such as Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. They want frictionless, personalized, and relevant experiences.

However, insurers can adopt best practices from other industries. Take the automotive industry, for example. Customers can configure the cars they choose to buy, making it easy for the prospect to purchase a complex, customized product. Insurers also have the opportunity to do the same with products to manage new and complex risks. They can take a page from retailers’ approaches to omnichannel management. Like companies in the travel and hospitality industries, insurers can explore compelling offerings and pricing as well as loyalty program management. They can apply banking approach to personal finance management and offer insurance customers personal risk management services. According to Prof. Wagner, insurers should follow the innovation strategies from other industries and build their own innovation frameworks with partners from different industries to create new ideas and business models outside the classical insurance business.

Smart insurance: building richer customer relationships

Moreover, insurance companies can expand beyond traditional products and interactions and become a more involved – and more positive – presence in their customers’ lives and, in the process, redefine their business models.

In the traditional insurance paradigm, insurers interact with their customers less than 1% of the time – when the product is purchased and a claim is submitted. These companies are missing opportunities to build better relationships with customers during the other 99% of the time and to sell them value-added products and services. By increasing the customer touch points, they can also shift the focus from paying for a loss, which is a process that can often be complex and frustrating for customers, to helping customers live better lives.

Using more detailed data, insurance companies can remind customers on their smartphones that it’s time, for example, to service their vehicle or suggest ski insurance for a customer who often hits the slopes. Companies can offer digitally enabled premium services such as financial coaching or retirement planning. They can partner with other companies to offer discounted products and services, including all-weather tires or fitness trackers, that will ultimately improve their customers risk profiles. They can use data and analytics to improve their core insurance offerings to deliver context-based offers that are relevant to customers, simpler insurance products, and smarter pricing. The emerging sensor ecosystem opens up opportunities for new “pay-as-you-drive” (usage-based) or “pay-how-you-live” (outcome-based) pricing strategies that consumers demand. Insurers can also explore entirely new insurance product categories, such as peer-to-peer insurance.

Progressive was an early leader in the usage-based auto insurance space offering the opportunity to receive discounts based on their driving habits by delivering data through a telematics device installed in a consumer’s car. Late last year, the company announced it was developing a mobile app to automatically monitor and measure drivers’ data – such as time of day, mileage, and hard braking – to earn discounts without the connected device. At the end of each trip, the mobile app will give drivers personalized information, including a star-based rating, a data summary, a map of their drive, and tailored driving tips, to help improve their score. There is growing interest in the use of dashboard cameras to gather accident data and encourage safer driving.

State Farm Insurance has partnered with ADT offers homeowners discounts on smart home security and monitoring systems that help measure in-home risk. Aviva Ventures, the venture capital arm of the UK insurer, invested in Cocoon, maker of an internet-connected home security device. AXA is partnering with Samsung on the development of a secured connected car ecosystem that will encourage safer driving and help consumers get access to better insurance rates.

American International Group Inc. (AIG) announced it is investing in an early stage startup developing advanced analytics and wearable devices to improve worker safety. The $58 billion insurance company invested in a startup called Human Condition Safety, which is using artificial intelligence and data modeling to help workers, their managers, and worksite owners prevent injuries in some of the highest risk settings such as manufacturing, energy, warehousing and distribution, and construction. The system correlates data from a worksite environment with historical data on workplace incidents and determines how best to prevent injuries before they happen. Workplace accidents kill one person and injure 153 others every 15 seconds. Instead of simply providing benefits to clients after these tragedies occur, AIG is looking to cognitive computing to partner with its customer to reduce those risks as well.

FItsense is a Singapore-based startup building a data analytics platform aimed at helping data insurance companies personalize life and health insurance for customers with wearables. By taking the data from a user’s wearable (like Fitbit or Jawbone), insurance providers can make more accurate risk perditions based on actual data and reward users who live healthier lifestyles with lower insurances costs and premiums.

Your new life coach

Successful insurance providers will move beyond underwriting and loss management to become life partners for their consumers – using data, technology, and strategic partnerships to provide simple, friendly, personal, relevant, and holistic products and services.

Using real-time analytics and risk assessment, companies could provide fully customized insurance based on individual use charged by the hour and activity and click. Insurance products might include service add-ons from partners aimed at reducing risk. The financial and claims management aspects of the business will be largely automated or outsourced, taking a back-seat to value-added, customer-facing interactions. The future will be focused less on paying for loss than preventing it, which will result in closer and potentially more valuable customer relationships.

Just as the first insurance carriers transformed the risks of the shipping industry or wood homes into viable marine and fire insurance businesses centuries ago, insurance companies today have the power to turn disruption risk into an opportunity for more expansive, profitable, and customer-centric business models. With this approach, the can work closely with partners and technology innovators to help their customers better manage life’s complexities.

Download the executive brief A New Paradigm for the Insurance Industry.


To learn more about how exponential technology will affect business and life, see Digital Futures in the Digitalist Magazine.