Small commercial insurance moves online…because it’s too low margin to do offline?

Matthew Josefowicz

There was an interesting article today on PC360 about the state of small business online. The article echoed many of the themes and issues we raised in our report last summer, Direct Online Small Commercial Insurance.

The article had some interesting quotes from direct players like Insureon and Hiscox, both of which were featured in our report. But it also contained this quote, which raises an issue we didn’t mention last summer:

“The Hartford is committed to a multichannel distribution model in its small commercial business and independent agents are at the center of the distribution strategy,” says Ray Sprague, senior vice president of small commercial insurance at The Hartford, but adds that the vast majority of small businesses operating in the U.S. today are often too small for many independent agents to profitably acquire and serve (emphasis added).

This resonates with several comments that small commercial CIOs made at a meeting I attended last week. There’s a big SOHO small commercial market that’s too small for most agents to care about. I believe insurers will increasingly look to the direct channel to be able to meet this market demand.

Related research and blog posts:

Systems of Engagement, Core, and Analytics are Major Topics at IASA

Our team is just back from the annual IASA conference, which provided the opportunity to meet with dozens of CIOs and solution providers over a couple of days.

In general, insurers and vendors appear to have been investing heavily in technology over the last year or so, with carriers launching major initiatives in core systems and analytics and vendors improving their products both in core engineering and in UI.

In contrast to prior years where technology investments appeared to be focused primarily on cost reduction or mitigation of technology risk, there was one overwhelming theme in the private discussions and panels our team participated in: meeting rapidly changing customer demands.

While we continue to see very strong interest and activity levels in core systems among insurers of all sizes and sectors, there was a notable focus this year on systems of engagement as well. Agent portals, customer portals, responsive technology, and mobile were frequent topics of conversation among the carriers our team met with. Some insurers feel overwhelmed by the problem and lack the expertise to develop a strategic roadmap in an effective way, and there’s a high level of interest in vendor partners that can help them get there.

We found many of the same themes in discussions at the Research Council Meeting. Our report from that meeting is available online and is free to clients and council members.

This World Wide Web thing is going to be big, big, big!

Matthew Josefowicz


CERN, where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web (sorry, Al Gore), has re-posted the first ever webpage on its 20th anniversary. http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

With the 10th ACORD/LOMA Forum coming up and my 11th consecutive appearance on the Analyst Panel (including the last independent ACORD conference), it’s interesting to reflect on the fact that the web was already 10 years old in 2003, and most insurers were still debating whether it would really have an impact on their businesses.

Evolving Channel Preferences

Matthew Josefowicz

Accenture published a new survey this week about consumer preference on buying home and auto insurance. The headline of the press release was “U.S. Auto and Home Insurance Customers Turn to Digital Sources to Obtain Information and Quotes, but Prefer Using Agents to Buy Products.”

The first two bullets in the summary of findings were:

  • Nearly three-quarters (76 percent) of consumers express a preference for setting up and paying for their auto and home insurance policies in person with an agent, and more than half (58 percent) indicate a preference for doing so via the Web.
  • When asked where they prefer to obtain quotes, 43 percent of respondents choose websites, while 26 percent choose over the phone and 26 percent in person. A much smaller percentage (four percent) chooses mobile applications.

 
The first question seems to have allowed for multiple preferences. Despite the headline, this doesn’t look to me like a preference for agents. This looks like an openness to using agents, but a growing preference for online channels even to buy — more than 50% of consumers.

e-Processing in Life Insurance

Chad Hersh

At The Life Insurance Conference this week in New Orleans, Rob McIsaac, Tom Benton and I had the opportunity to present on the topic of e-processing. The event, which is co-managed by LOMA, LIMRA, the Society of Actuaries, and the ACLI, had the largest number of carrier attendees we’ve seen in years. The topic proved popular with nearly a full house, which I found ironic since we’ve been discussing this topic for the last decade.

Our presentation focused on the “app through issuance” process, and approached the topic from three viewpoints—the high-level viewpoint of the analyst, a more narrowly focused view of bringing the theory down to reality, and the carrier’s viewpoint based on Tom Benton’s recent experience implementing a modern solution that included new business, underwriting, and issuance (among other areas). Topics included those three areas and how they can be improved through e-processing. We dived down into the implementation process and how to improve success rates through better implementation approaches and program structures, as well as developing models for execution and governance.

Additionally, we took a look at the common challenges carriers face when undertaking e-processing projects, as well as the potential pitfalls. We looked at the benefits that Tom expected from his implementation, as well as the benefits actually achieved. Overall, our joint conclusion was that these projects—though difficult—have a strong ROI and are a key aspect to staying competitive among increasingly tech savvy agents, brokers, and new distribution channels.

Technology is not a “what,” it’s a “how.”

Matthew Josefowicz

I’ve seen a number of blog posts and articles over the past year warning agents not to get too excited about social media, since insurance prospects still favor other sources of information over social media…like personal friends and family.

As if social media wasn’t one of the most important ways that personal friends and family communicate.

This reminded me of a general principle for insurance and financial services technology: Technology is not a “what,” it’s a “how.”

No company needs a web strategy, a mobile strategy, a cloud strategy, or a social media strategy. What they all need is an awareness of the roles that these technologies play (or will play) in how their customers want to do business and how their companies can operate most efficiently.

For example, our Social Media and Independent Distribution report this year showed that 25% of agents/brokers under the age of 40 use social media to communicate with their underwriters. But this doesn’t mean insurers need a social media strategy, it means they need to incorporate an understanding of social media into their distribution strategies.

 

 

December New Research Roundup

Summaries of all reports are available for free downloads on our site. Some of our recent reports include…

Business and Technology Trends

  • Business and Technology Trends: Commercial Lines. Commercial market pricing is showing a decided recovery, leading commercial lines carriers to invest in core systems replacement, agent portal functionality, and business intelligence and predictive analytics.

(see full list of Business and Technology Trends Reports at http://www.novarica.com/sectorreports/)

CIO Surveys, Best Practices, and Case Studies

  • US Insurer IT Budgets and Projects for 2013. Modest budget increases, core PAS replacement projects, business intelligence, agent portal enhancements, and mobile and social media pilots are all on the 2013 priority list for insurer CIOs.
  • Best Practices Case Study Compendium 2012. These case studies, the fruit of the first annual Novarica Research Council Impact Awards, provide a useful set of examples of impactful IT projects. They offer insurer business and IT executives detailed examples across a broad range of diverse industry initiatives.

Novarica Market Navigators

Executive Briefs and Checklists

  • Minimizing Project Risk Checklist. Insurers’ core missions are tied to managing risk in a cost effective and predictable manner. This brief illuminates common factors that contribute to IT project failure and offers a checklist to reduce project risk.
  • Insurance IT Transformation Checklist. In order to survive and thrive in the future, CIOs need to facilitate and support business transformation efforts. This report provides a roadmap of things to consider for a transformational program.

The Economist on Big Data in Insurance

Matthew Josefowicz

The Economist has a new article on the transformational role of 3rd-party data in insurance, Insurance data: Very personal finance. It’s a good article and worth a look just to see how this issue is being presented in the general business press.

For more on this, see our new reports on:

and our blog posts on:

Re-Imagination of Nearly Everything

Matthew Josefowicz

Mary Meeker of KPCB put out her annual “State of the Internet” presentation yesterday. If you haven’t already checked it out, it’s online here.

The most compelling section for me starts on slide 29, “Re-Imagination of Nearly Everything – Powered by New Devices + Connectivity + UI + Beauty – Where we are now…” Most of the slides in this section focus on media & content businesses, personal content management (photos, notes, scrapbooking), and similar areas that have been transformed by the ubiquity of the internet and mobile connectivity, but there are also slides on business collaboration, payments, and other areas.

For example, slide 68 is the re-imagining of personal borrowing and lending, comparing the bureaucratic bank lending process to the streamlined and flexible technology-enabled peer-to-peer lending process.

While Ms. Meeker doesn’t offer a slide on insurance, many of the slides in the Re-Imagining section spoke to coming changes in the insurance market, and resonated (for me) with my recent post on simplifying the customer experience and preparing to manage new levels of complexity in data and operations.

Slide 85 is titled “Magnitude of Upcoming Change Will be Stunning – We are Still in Spring Training.” While the focus is on info tech and internet businesses, many of the points Meeker raises here will have a game-changing impact for insurers, including

  • “Fearless and Connected Consumers”
  • “Unprecedented combo of Focus on Technology AND Design,”
  • “Beautiful/Relevant/Personalized Content for Consumers”

Insurers need to be actively planning for how they will adapt to this rapidly changing world.

The Multi-Channel Imperative

Matthew Josefowicz

Good discussion on today’s webinar about mutli-channel communication with Generali. One of the biggest challenges for insurers is that unfortunately, new channels don’t necessarily displace old ones across the board. As this chart from our multi-channel survey report shows, agents gravitate towards the most convenient channel for each task.

My key takeaways for webinar attendees today:

  • The nature of the insured/distributor/company relationship has changed due to the increased flow of information
  • Distributors and customers expect rich information, speed and convenience, choice of channels with consistent experience
  • There are no more acceptable excuses for delays, inaccurate, or inaccessible information.
  • Insurance companies are investing to keep up with these increased expectations.