John Hancock Launches Blockchain Program

Jon Leslie

Last week, Coindesk reported that John Hancock is starting to explore development using the blockchain.

While it’s becoming common in financial services overall (as Novarica VP Jeff Goldberg noted in a blog post a few months ago), this represents the first instance of an insurance company per se (excluding USAA, whose work in the area is likely focused more on banking applications) disclosing an exploratory program around blockchain.

As Jeff and I wrote last year in Bitcoin and Insurance: An Overview and Key Issues, adopting blockchain is not just an opportunity for some good press (and a helpful recruiting tool for tech-oriented millennials to boot) but also smart from a long-term strategic perspective. In our brief, which offers an overview of the area and a brief explanation of blockchain’s mechanics, we argued that insurance, as consisting of financial contracts between trusted parties, is a natural domain in which to apply a “trust machine” like blockchain. In areport on the same subject from earlier this year, Ernst & Young discussed the same subject in great detail, pointing to a number of likely use cases, including “micro-insurance”, “cyber liability”, “P2P”, and better distribution of highly personalized/regionalized products.

Naturally, however, the time-to-market for blockchain-based insurance is gated by regulatory issues, as well as by the perfectly reasonable fact that many of the products to which it is likely most suited still have yet to be invented.

John Hancock in its first phase does not appear to be planning to build anything related to insurance. Instead, a small group of their own developers, in partnership with a few startups, are prototyping an internal “employee rewards program”. This lean and iterative approach sounds like a smart way to build institutional knowledge around a potentially revolutionary, raw, and challenging technology. As a database, network, and a currency system all in one, blockchain really is a unicorn, (as many suggest, perhaps most analogous to the web itself in terms of its technical novelty). Therefore, any company that hopes to “fast follow” in this area will need to have a firm foundation of institutional understanding on which to stand.

As Matthew Josefowicz has pointed out before, technological disruption is not unlike that Hemmingway quote about how ones goes bankrupt: “first it happens gradually and then all-at-once”. While we’re still definitely in this gradual phase, it’s reasonable to expect only small dividends from these R&D programs. On the other hand, taking a relaxed “let’s see what happens” approach, of the sort many media companies in 90’s took to the web, may seem ill-advised when reflected upon after an “all-at-once” kind of transition.

We expect to see more carriers launch these sorts of exploratory programs in the coming months.

A Challenging Environment in the Industry

Frank Petersmark

I recently had the opportunity to participate as a judge for the ACORD Insurance Innovation Challenge held in Des Moines. The event brought together seventeen startups who each had five minutes to pitch their ideas and approaches, and another five minutes to field questions from the judges. Two winners were chosen who now move on to the finals competition in conjunction with ACORD’s annual meeting. There are several of these Challenge events being conducted in the U.S. and Europe, and at least part of the idea is to attract more innovative and entrepreneurial thinking to the insurance industry.

The View from Outside

The Challenge has the benefit of providing some perspective on how innovative and entrepreneurial types view the industry as a potential market. If this event was any indication, many innovators view the industry the same way fighter pilots viewed certain kinds of combat missions – as a target rich environment.

Nearly all of the participants were from outside of the insurance industry, and their startup ventures focused mostly on data aggregation for customer centricity, process improvements for policyholder and agent service improvements, and seamless straight through processing for underwriting and claims decisions. In short, many of the things that the industry doesn’t do particularly well currently. As I said, a target rich environment.

“Capital Rich and Service Poor”

Encouragingly, there were a few venture capital firms present, and a couple were even from insurance companies. Both the startups and the venture capital firms view the industry as capital rich and service poor, and that means opportunities for the kinds of approaches that will make a difference to the next generation of policyholders who many of these startups hope to turn into lifestyle customers.

Minimizing Distracted Driving

One of the startups focused on distracted driving by actively monitoring drivers and their behaviors, resulting in reports that indicate what adjustments might be made to improve safety and reduce premiums. The interesting part about their approach was that they had the ability to dynamically turn off smartphone apps that tend to cause distracted driving if given permission to do so.

Nudging Consumers Towards Healthier Behaviors

Another startup focused on the kinds of lifestyle changes that would result in customized life insurance products that included rebates or modifications for health related activities. Interestingly, their premise counts on the fact that the new generation of consumers is much more willing to share private information about their lifestyles in exchange for financial or other benefits, a fact that the industry has been slow to pick up on generally.

Shared Service Drones for UW and Claims

Still another had the bright idea of becoming a third party provider of a drone service that insurers would use for property assessments during the policy and claims processes. The startup would use vetted and licensed drone operators and charge a flat fee per fly by. That has a lot of potential.

Optimizing Existing Marketing and Processes

Finally, there were a few startups that sought to smooth cumbersome processes – one for reinsurance coverage by creating an online marketplace to connect needs with coverages, and another that proposed using advanced analytics to personalize the travel insurance market, thus leading to more sales.

More Change, More Responsibility for Corporate Leaders

In all, there were encouraging signs that the industry has begun to wake up to the fact that the ground is moving underneath it, and if in the end the industry doesn’t move quickly enough to keep its balance, there are others who will.

From our perspective, our recent research on the relationships between insurance CIOs and their boards of directors, and our view that the industry should appoint more board members with deep technology experience to their boards, is reflective of where the industry needs to go. There are even a few carriers that have begun to appoint board level technology committees as way to place the competitive and market implications of a well-executed technology strategy in their proper place – at the strategic top of the company. We’ll be presenting our research on this topic at the NAMIC Annual Convention on September 25-28, 2016 in Vancouver, BC, Canada. In the meantime, on to the next Challenge.

Novarica Council Gathers Insurer CIOs to Address The First Year of the Future

Matthew Josefowicz

Nearly 70 IT leaders from more than 50 insurers gathered last week at the 9th Annual Novarica Insurance Technology Research Council Meeting to participate in panels and workshop sessions with their peers, get insights from Novarica’s senior team, and attend keynote sessions from outside experts on operational transparency and cyber-security.

The First Year of the Future

We dubbed last year “The Year the Future Arrived” for insurance, when nascent trends like wearables, Internet of Things, consumer internet giants’ interest in the sector, and a growth of direct sales beyond personal lines became a reality. This year, the clock is no longer counting down, but counting forward.

Keynote: Nine Trends and Issues…


My keynote focused on our Novarica Nine for 2016 and Beyond, looking how these and other trends are shaping the industry, as well as what kinds of technology strategies insurers are taking to address these trends, and how they are managing their IT organizations to deliver these capabilities.

…100 Technology-Enabled Capabilities


We also reviewed our expanded “Benchmarking the New Normal” framework, which we will publish this summer, looking at deployment rates for 100 key technology-enabled capabilities across functional areas like product, marketing, distribution, customer engagement, billing, claims, and finance/operations and technology areas like data, digital, and core.

CIO Panel: Core, Agile, Evolving Customer and Employee Dynamics

Our CIO Panel, which included Kate Miller of Unum, Scott McClintock of OneBeacon, and Paul Brady of Arbellla, addressed strategic issues ranging from core systems replacement to embracing agile development to redesigning their organizations to make insurance IT an attractive career option for millennials.

Operational Transparency for External and Internal Customers

Our guest keynote, associate professor Ryan Buell of Harvard Business School, presented his research on operational transparency and its impact on customer service to a tremendously responsive and engaged group. We’d invited Dr. Buell to join us because his research is so applicable not just to the insurance customer experience, but to the relationship between IT and other business units. See this recent post for more on this session

Novarica Research on Core Transformation, Data, Digital

On the second day, the Novarica panel of Rob McIsaac, Martina Conlon, Mitch Wein, and Jeff Goldberg from our team discussed some of their recent research and customer projects in areas like core systems selection, transformation project assurance, data strategy, meeting agents’ digital needs, and a wide range of other trends and best practices.

Discussion Groups of CIO Members Focus on Their Key Issues

Special interest group discussions for group voluntary benefits, individual annuities, individual life, personal lines, specialty, commercial lines, and workers comp explored recent research relevant to each sector. In discussions co-led by a Novarica expert and a CIO chairperson, these groups addressed topics like enrollment standards, impact of the DOL fiduciary ruling, market dynamic changes, ISO rating, and core systems vendors.

Cyber-Security Threat Evolution and Preparation

Distinguished professor and Department of State cyber-security adviser Dr. John Savage gave a closing keynote on the cyber-security, emphasizing the importance of managing security beyond perimeter protection and staying engaged with industry groups to monitor the evolution of new threats globally.

Knowledge-Sharing and Networking

novarica-councilCouncil members valued the opportunity to network and learn from each other in a private, vendor-free environment, and many of the special interest groups have already made plans to meet again later this year. We’ll be publishing a report summarizing the discussions and panels next month, and the 10th Annual meeting will occur in late April, 2017.

For more information on joining the Council, senior insurer IT executives are invited to visit and request membership. Membership is free and has no obligations.

Operational Transparency, Agile, and Perceived Value

Matthew Josefowicz

Our guest keynote speaker at the recent Novarica Insurance Technology Research Council Meeting was professor Ryan Buell of Harvard Business School, who presented some of his recent research on operational transparency and its impact on customer service.

Transparency Changes Perceptions

The main finding of Dr. Buell’s research is that service providers perform better when they see the impact that their work has on customers, and that customers are more appreciative and feel better served when they see the work that has gone into providing services to them.

Here’s a video of Dr. Buell presenting on this topic as it relates to government services, from his website:

I invited Dr. Buell to join us after encountering his research online, and realizing how important this topic was not just for insurance customers, but for the internal customers of insurance IT leaders.

Insurance is an opaque product

For customers, insurance is an invisible and mysterious product. Few customers know what goes into underwriting and issuing a policy or processing a claim. Even for distributors, a major source of frustration is not understanding when or how decisions are being made. Some insurers have found that simple process additions like progress bars, proactive process notifications, or simple explanations can have an impact on customer and agent satisfaction levels.

IT is also an opaque product

IT is an equally opaque product to its internal customers. Leaders and staff in other business units generally have a poor understanding of IT, why things that seem simple are complex, how long tasks actually take, and generally just what the heck those technology guys are doing all day. This lack of understanding and lack of transparency leads to frustration and turns other business executives towards trying to manage IT with the only tool they do understand: budgets. This rarely leads to value creation.

For IT, Agile is helping

With the mass adoption of Agile development by insurers, this is starting to change. One of the main benefits of Agile is enforcing regular communication and review of progress between technology staff and other business units.

As shown below, the majority of insurers report that this is improving end-user satisfaction with delivered products, relations between IT and other business units, and even IT job satisfaction.


Through frequent interactions and reviews, other business units feel greater ownership in IT projects, and IT feels like it’s making a difference in achieving overall business goals.

Future collaboration

We believe that insurers can benefit from an operational transparency orientation in multiple areas, and we’re currently in discussion with Dr. Buell about future collaboration and activities with our team and Novarica Research Council members. Contact me if you’re interested in learning more.

Related Research

  • Novarica Nine Insurance Technology Trends and Issues for 2016
  • Agile at Insurers 2015
  • Digitalization and Disruption: Thoughts from the MI IASA Conference

    Frank Petersmark

    I recently attended the MI IASA Spring Conference where I presented recent research on the continued and disruptive digitization of the insurance industry. The research resonated with many of the carrier IT and financial people in attendance, who find themselves and their companies at various points along the digitization continuum. One of the central themes that emerged in the ensuing discussions was how many in the room viewed this transformational trend as both a risk and an opportunity. Which way it was viewed really depended on the perspective of the viewer, with the more security oriented in IT expressing concerns over security, and the more customer (agent and policyholder) focused on the potential for engagement and information sharing.

    That dividing line was more nuanced than it sounds, as on the whole most of the attendees of the session and of the conference were engaged in trying to figure out how to position their carriers and organizations for the digital onslaught to come. However, where the dividing line became a little less nuanced was in the positioning actions that many of the carriers in attendance were taking. During some of our discussions it became clear that the conference attendees represented a microcosm of what’s going on the industry overall, and that’s the creation of digital haves and have-nots. The interesting part about that was the fact that not a single conference attendee I engaged with indicated that their company was making a conscious decision to be a digital have-not; rather, it was in the ways their respective companies viewed the potential of digitization that was the tip-off.

    For those who were focusing on the security and data protection concerns, and the need to tightly control the kinds of devices and platforms, the move to digital looms more as another threat that has to be dealt with rather than an opportunity to leverage. In fairness, their concerns are far from unfounded, but focusing on the potential problems and issues with digitization is missing the forest for the trees. As with any new technological trend, there will be issues and attitudes that have to be dealt with.

    On the other hand, several of the attendees I spoke with were very excited about the possibilities of a digital insurance world, and the promise that brings for improving relationships, processes, and products. Many indicated that their companies were utilizing portals and mobile platforms for things like agent and policyholder self-service, and as a way to reach new market opportunities. The results seemed mixed thus far, but experimentation and adjustment are all part of the equation when adopting new capabilities. The same attendees were also interested in the ways a new generation of employees, agents, and policyholders might want to interact with and leverage digital capabilities and how they should be thinking about that inside carriers. It was also true that many of the attendees were just trying to figure it all out, and that’s fine so long as that figuring out process leads to actionable initiatives.

    The good news was that there seemed to be widespread recognition among the carrier attendees from the financial, business, and IT functions, that the digitization of the industry was going to proceed whether their companies were ready for it or not. That readiness, and an orientation toward the opportunities that digital presents, will become the difference markers between the insurance industry digital haves and have-nots.

    Related Research:

  • Hot Topics for 2016
  • Novarica Nine for 2016
  • Benchmarking the New Normal: 50 Advanced Capabilities for P&C Insurers
  • Preparing for Digital Transformation
  • Insurance Enterprise Software Reverticalizes

    Matthew Josefowicz

    This week’s announcement of Accenture’s spin-off of Duck Creek Technologies to a joint venture with a private equity firm underscores a trend we’ve seen in the insurance enterprise software and services market — increased verticalization.

    When we first started tracking M&A in this space nearly a decade ago, we focused significant attention on the tech giants like IBM, MSFT, ORCL, and SAP, pictured on the left of our 2015Q2 market view below, as well as the financial investors, pictured on the right.


    Source: Insurance Software M&A Update 2015 Q2

    While financial investors have gotten much more active in this space in the last five years (lured no doubt by the successful Guidewire and Majesco IPOs), the tech giants are no longer much of a factor. They seem to be focusing much more on their horizontal strengths like cloud and data analytics.

    Why is this happening? Well, insurance enterprise technology is not like general enterprise technology. It has a distinctive and closely-connected customer community that values vertical expertise and relationships above all, it requires maintaining a network of partnerships or a comprehensive set of vertical services, and has a business rhythm and sales process that rarely aligns with that of horizontal enterprise technology companies.

    Insurance technology companies have been most successful on their own, and frequently struggle to maintain relevance when they are swallowed up by larger companies with broader markets. Right now, most of the M&A activity in this space is taking place among the vertical insurance software providers themselves. We expect this to continue for the foreseeable future.

    Talking to the Board, Talking to Millennials (and How the Two are Related)

    Matthew Josefowicz

    As insurers increasingly become tech companies that sell insurance, ensuring that the highest levels of management understand that technology is a source of competitive advantage rather than a risk should be on every CIO’s list of priorities for 2016.

    Our annual Quick IT Benchmarks report provides Insurer CIOs with data on the state of IT spending and initiatives at their operational peers. These benchmarks are designed to provide both an opportunity for self-assessment and a tool to help CIOs communicate with senior management at their companies. In a recent report on Technology and Corporate Governance in Insurance (check out the webinar here), we found that few corporate boards have the experience to manage IT in a strategic way, yet that’s precisely what will be required over the next few years as boomers retire and millennials take their place in society.

    This generational change, and the change in mindset it will necessitate in insurers, is the real theme of our recent report on the Internet of Things. While the IoT is not exactly pervasive yet, the larger point is that it’s symptomatic of a change in the expectations consumers, agents, and employees have of technology. Proactive, usability driven, smart – how many insurer’s systems currently measure up to these expectations?

    Related Research

    Looking Long Term: News from the 2016 Life Insurance Conference

    Tom Benton

    This week I attended the 2016 Life Insurance Conference, jointly hosted by LIMRA, LOMA, SOA and ACLI. The focus of the conference was “Looking Long Term”, with sessions ranging from e-delivery for distribution, predictive analytics and other operational-focused areas to transformation, innovation and future capabilities, including a session I presented on “The Forecast is Clear: More Cloud in The Future”.

    The opening keynote speakers were Jim Morris, CEO Pacific Life, and Josh Linkner, a best-selling author on innovation. Both presented thoughts on how the life and annuities business is looking to the future.

    In Morris’ keynote he discussed how Pacific LIfe has taken a look at their future customers and developed principles for success, including speed/focus, relationships, flexibility and alignment. For example, they have initiatives now for simplifying processes and their products. I noted that absent from the strategy is “use cool new technology” – their focus is on better customer experience.

    Linkner gave five steps to what he called “everyday innovation”. Actually he called the five steps “five obsessions of innovators”, which included “Get Curious” and “Get Scrappy”. One of his key points was that to be innovative, an organization needs to encourage creativity, which often leads to disruptive ideas.

    My session on cloud computing was well attended – life insurers and vendors alike are interested in the adoption of cloud-based delivery in the industry. After describing where SaaS, IaaS and PaaS solutions fit into the array of options for external delivery of IT services, I presented information from Novarica’s recent survey of digital, mobile and cloud capabilities and their use at insurance carriers. Adoption of SaaS for core systems is just starting at Life carriers, but as our survey showed, many large and some midsize carriers are using SaaS-based non-core solutions. These carriers noted that speed of delivery and the ability to provide unique capabilities were the key drivers for implementing in the cloud, and focused on security, performance and pricing when considering specific vendors. Insurers are generally finding value in cloud deployment, but still face challenges with lack of predictability in pricing and with upgrades. Most notably, few are considering any formal ROI or metrics for these efforts, which is an issue for most IT transformation projects across the industry.

    Overall our survey found that cloud and SaaS solution adoption is growing at life insurers, with most large insurers and a growing number of midsize insurers planning to grow, enhance or maintain current capabilities. The forecast is clear – there will be more cloud in the future for life insurers.

    If you are interested in getting a copy of my slides and in discussing them further, please contact me at

    Update from the CIO Insurance Summit

    Rob McIsaac

    It is amazing to think that we’re already into the second quarter of 2016. The year is moving fast, and with it the opportunity to see how carriers are responding to the urgency of a “new normal” is coming into clearer focus. I had the good fortune to be able to be the “Master of Ceremonies” for the CIO Insurance Summit in NYC on April 5th, which clearly provided insight into what is on the mind of participant carriers. The pace of activity is notably picking up for many lines of business although, as one of my mentors once shared, it is important to avoid confusing activity with progress. Real progress appears to be somewhat elusive but the quality of the dialogue definitively appears to be elevated. 2016 promises to be a very interesting time.

    From our sessions in NYC a number of clear themes emerged that are worth sharing.

    Cloud deployments are getting more real even as concerns remain in some quarters. We had a wide ranging discussion related to the opportunities and concerns that seem to concurrently emerge around the use of cloud based options for carrying mission critical workloads. In many organizations it appears that “security” and “compliance related risks” remain at the forefront of an inability to foster faster adoption. As we explored this, I discovered that many companies still haven’t made the connection that efforts to move CRM (SalesForce) and e-mail (Office 365) have already broken through a barrier that appeared daunting to carriers in the very recent past. Having effectively put these installations to the test, carriers with these implementations are increasingly willing to acknowledge that the security models are as good as, if not better than, what they are able to implement for their own environments. As additional mission critical workloads migrate toward this type of deployment (e.g., Workday for HRD and financials), it helps to push organizations to articulate what the real concerns are and how to best address them. The reality is that this is frequently not so much a technology issue as it is one that is linked to emotional, political or organizational issues that need to be addressed before the discussion turns to the selection of a hosting service. For CIOs and their teams getting in front of the issue to do effective education of business partners as well as developing a point of view on which cloud based providers are best positioned to be part of their tool kit (they are not all created equal) can be part of an effort to build momentum and organizational support. Going “full to bright” in a short timeframe may be too much for many organizations to accept, which runs the risk of triggering an enterprise immune system reaction that can be painful.

    Data governance remains a significant concern. With a myriad of business units, products, core record keeping systems, and rules of engagement that may conflict from one line of business to another, this remains an area of notable concern – and investment – at carriers we spoke to. Most carriers still lag far behind the banking world in terms of an ability to understand their business from the outside looking in (rather than from the inside looking out). However, there continue to be advances in the idea that there is value in gaining a full view of both customer and producers, and that the investment in both technology and business process to allow for achieving informational insights from internal data can be quite high. A common theme among participants appears to be the desire to construct a 360-degree of customers but that breaking through some of the organizational barriers within companies can be daunting. For carriers considering this challenge, investing time and money to really build a robust data governance facility can be highly valuable. Even some of the compliance related effort for Know Your Customer (KYC) initiatives can also create operational and marketing benefits if used correctly. Once again, however, one of the challenges that can be most difficult to overcome is the “human” one. If line of business executives and managers are focused on optimization at the business unit level, while data analytics efforts around customers are focused at the enterprises level, the inherent conflict can substantially mute any resulting benefits to the organization. Being clear that this is not purely a technology issue is key to achieving desired outcomes. One key reality that becomes clear as companies talk about their desire to use better analysis of data to improve a range of business outcomes: while many talk about Big Data, struggles remain with managing Small Data in quantity.

    Definitive plans to address Millennial needs remain elusive although awareness is elevated. We had a lively discussion about this issue, focused on a number of key challenges facing carriers. At a time when 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day (and concurrently 9,000 children are born to Millennial parents each day) the opportunities associated with getting positioned to take better advantage of market dynamics would appear to be very clear. That said, most carriers acknowledge that they have not yet “cracked the code” on how to best position themselves in terms of both products and service models that will effectively speak to a new generation of potential consumers. We discussed some of the efforts being put forward by companies to better understand these dynamics (e.g., MassMutual’s coffee shops) but a reality is that the answers to changing market needs will require some level of experimentation and testing of hypotheses, an approach which may well be counter-cultural for the very organizations whose long term success is impacted by their ability to start thinking differently. Avoiding a “Kodak Moment” can be a function of how well carriers deal with a range of challenges including the demographics of their agency forces; the average age of an agent in the USA is now 59 with an estimated 25% of today’s agents potentially leaving the business by 2018. Concurrently, a number of carriers noted that their own HR policies and procedures do not appear to be adjusting appropriately to deal with the increased velocity of voluntary turnover associated with the emerging Millennials who will represent 50% of the USA labor force by 2020. Mentoring programs, efforts to create more varied experiences that allow for expanded horizontal movement within organizations, and increased flexibility related to geographic location have proven to be effective “tools of the trade” for some organizations as they’ve moved to adjust to a new reality, but the broader trend remains clear. The emerging generation of employees will have a very different relationship with employers in the foreseeable future than their parents or older siblings did. Implementing procedural changes for everything from employment procedures to knowledge management will be important to operational effectiveness.

    The increased urgency at carriers is timely. With cycle times across many facets of the business being reduced, user tolerance for poor experiences being driven down and the competitive threats from many quarters being elevated, the current planning horizon is moving with surprising speed. Welcome to the future!

    If you’d like to get a copy of the presentation materials used in NYC, please let me know by sending me a note at

    On the Internet, No One Knows You’re a Small Insurer

    Tom Benton

    Recently, Chuck, Thuy and I attended the IASA Boot Camp in Hilton Head Island, SC. The event was started a few years ago by IASA to provide vendors with education and training on the industry, as well as networking and discussing IASA’s events and opportunities. This year’s sessions focused on learning more about how to better engage insurers and understanding their processes for vendor selection and solution purchase decisions. I had the opportunity to speak to the attendees about the challenges facing small carrier technology leaders.

    Smaller insurers, typically with less than 25 IT staff and with net premium in the low $100M’s, face the same challenges as their larger peers: modernizing aging core systems, improving customer experience and finding ways to better leverage analytics. These and other concerns are more difficult for smaller carriers since they have fewer resources to dedicate to solutions. As vendors have matured their products and implementations in recent years, they are looking for ways to better meet the needs of smaller insurers.

    The Boot Camp also featured presentations on how carriers make purchasing decisions, and on the second day there were lively roundtable discussions on topics that included RFI (Request for Information) and POC (Proof of Concept) processes, and how to better approach the sales process, including demos. I was part of an interesting session that included consultants that have coordinated RFI and POC processes, including me at Novarica, and vendors who have been through various processes from carrier-led to consultant-led. The key takeaway was that frequent and focused communication plays a key role in the success of the process, in particular when the process is used to prepare both vendor and carrier for a partnering relationship.

    If you’re interested in learning more about our work with smaller insurers, please feel free to contact me directly