Sink or Swim: A Mid-Term View of Virus Impact
Denise Garth | May 28, 2020
If the past three months were an allegory, it might read like this:
“Some insurance executives were standing at the top of a tall water slide with a bit of excited trepidation when an impatient kid came up from behind and pushed them onto the slide without a warning.”
The excitement of new digital opportunities was the view from the top.
The fear of jumping down the slide was holding many companies back.
And the kid was COVID-19 — telling insurers that holding up the line wasn’t an option.
If there’s a silver lining to that pugnacious kid, it will be that he knew just how to elicit a response. You can’t get into the benefits of the digital pool by simply looking at what it takes to get there. The destination requires you to either jump or get pushed.
For tech companies like Majesco, nothing can be more exciting than transporting insurers from the heights of their high-level planning into the fulfilling position of becoming a truly digital, data-savvy provider of services and products. Even though COVID-19 has pushed insurers along a track they were slowly moving on, those insurers may be better off for having been pushed to accelerate their journey.
In our last Insurance Perspectives blog, we replayed a portion of an insightful conversation between myself and three of my fellow insurtechTop 50 influencers discussing "Perspectives on Insurance’s Future: A Near-Term View." For an expanded version of our conversation you can hear the complete Majesco webinar, “The Future of Insurance Post-COVID-19: Insights, Learnings & Recommended Actions from Top 50 InsurTech Influencers.”
Joining me were Sabine Vanderlinden, Co-Founder & Investor, Startupbootcamp InsurTech, Chris Cheatham, CEO of RiskGenius and Mike Connor, Co-Founder and CEO of Silicon Valley Insurance Accelerator.
In this blog, we focus on the mid-term view. What can insurers expect out of the next 6-18 months? What kinds of new product needs are going to arise out of the COVID-19 aftermath? If insurers are feeling pushed, are there any ways they can gain control and take advantage instead of free-falling into the future?
The Link Between COVID-19 and Cyber Insurance
In a Gartner survey from late March 2020, 74% of CFOs expect to move at least 5% of their workforce to “permanently remote positions” after the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more striking, nearly 25% of CFOs expect to move 20% of their employees to work from home — primarily for the cost savings. Many insurtechs set their businesses up as fully digital and work from home operations previously. Now with COVID-19, we see this shifting with traditional insurers like Nationwide.
Understanding that work from home necessitates a new level of system security, I posed this question to the group: “How is the need for cyber insurance going to rise because of COVID-19?”
“The cyber market was already hardening, so standalone policy limits were dropping as ransomware attacks and other cyber events were a concern,” said Chris. “It seems like those types of ransomware attacks are only going to increase….everyone working at home only exacerbates the potential for cyberattacks.”
Chris went on to point out that work from home may create a gap in the marketplace because businesses will need cyber insurance cover with limits that aren’t currently available.
“I'm going to be closely watching that,” he said, “and seeing who steps in to take care of those cyber policies that are needed for businesses that have a totally new workforce they weren't planning on.”
Sabine pointed out that part of what will shape the industry, including its response to cyber needs, has to do with those areas in which companies were either prepared or they weren’t.
“Large companies which were uncomfortable having their employees work from home, realized that they were more productive working from home. They are looking at potentially allowing the work from home to continue and so they need to build the right infrastructure, with the right technology to actually enable that to happen.”
“I think there are two sides — the cyber risk is a concern, but there are also valuable experiences and benefits that may come out of this situation.”
Of course, the difficulty with capitalizing on any product or service opportunity within insurance is that you can’t just “launch.” There is the matter of pricing, the matter of limits (as Chris pointed out), and the matter of risk. Just how easy or difficult is it to measure something like cyber risk? Mike weighed in on this element of the equation.
“We have to be careful about what it really takes to assess somebody's cyber risk profile whether that's at home or a small business or large business.”
Companies that jump the gun on providing underwriting or products that evaluate cyber risk profiles without the necessary evaluation and validation period or data, may find pursuing those opportunities have done more damage than good. Post-COVID, this principle is useful across all new opportunities. Just because there is a need, doesn’t mean that insurers are adequately prepared to meet that need. From a digital and data preparedness perspective, companies shouldn’t apply knee-jerk reactions to opportunities that require a deeper understanding of the risk and what it takes to truly assess and mitigate that risk. Those that are more complex should be slotted for mid instead of short range development. Mike also pointed out that there is a corollary link for insurers between preparing for home offices and preparing for new workspaces.
“In speaking with more advanced insurers their thinking goes deeper than just remoting workers. They are thinking about how they will physically layout new buildings, and office configurations in a post-COVID world”
The Link Between Language, Litigation and Market Opportunity
Insurance policy language is in the spotlight in today’s news. Most customers, however, don’t understand the deep tie between policy language and the actual ability of a product to be fiscally-sound, with the proper risk ratios and premium levels. Policy language is everything. In many ways, it is technology that has allowed for the loosening of language as data streams and AI allow us to transform “reality” into analytics that give insurers insight.
Our panel sought to answer the question, “Does policy language need to be re-evaluated in light of the pandemic?”
“There is going to be a lot of litigation around property insurance policies. We’re already seeing class action lawsuits being filed…Without a doubt people will have to re-evaluate policy language as court decisions start to evolve.”
“I think long-term, people are going to have to evaluate how these policies are structured. Forms and endorsements create confusion with common consumers…We were already seeing a move towards integrated insurance policies — policies that are easier to understand. Simplifying insurance policies in the United States is going to be important.”
Commonly, when customers are looking for “loopholes,” that will help them make a claim, it can be a signal that future customers will be amenable to paying for a new type of coverage. Gaps in insurance are often opportunities. So, looking into the mid-range future, are we looking at an opportunity for the insurance industry to address new gaps and risks with new products? For example, could there be a gap type of insurance for employees that have to be furloughed for a period of time?
“As the opportunities emerge, as they start to become clear, I think we're going to see an increase in innovation,” said Mike. “A company out of Singapore, Singlife, has provided a life insurance policy that comes with a debit card. You can vary what you pay into the policy or what you take out of the policy over time. My guess is we'll see some of that merge into income protection, at an individual level.”
That kind of coverage would address income gaps for employees, and it would certainly sell effectively as a group/voluntary product. Employers might appreciate how it could keep them from losing valuable resources in times like COVID-19. But the key to providing those kinds of coverages comes back to digital capabilities. Can a carrier craft an experience that matches with both the need and the situation? COVID-19 has created a situation that begs for a digital touch.
The Mandate of the Mid-Term: Digital Experience
Mike said that another approach to accelerating digital transformation is being evaluated by carriers. What they are looking for are partners that offer fully digital solutions and processes that they can outsource to. So, an opportunity for InsurTechs and other vendors is to provide outsourceable processes that people can step into and give them a fully digital capability faster and less expensively then they could do on their own.
This spurred further conversation around being able to create digital experiences and the different capabilities surrounding those experiences. For the capabilities that are needed, cloud-first core systems are necessary. Waiting another three or five years is likely not viable. Our panelists echoed this point. Now that insurers have been pushed, there is a clock ticking.
“What I see and hear is a big focus on automation and operational digitization, the model and processes,” Sabine interjected. “Some startups are seeing opportunities to improve underwriting and provide data sources to avoid this in the future. Building processes around them will build resilience.”
Sabine also thinks we can learn from digital trends found in China’s startups and in today’s real-time data power players, such as Netflix
“We would not be able to do much if we didn’t have real time access. We are leaning on our iPads and Netflix and streaming. Being able to access data rapidly from home is so important to us, and this is where companies like Netflix and Uber came from. We just need to be mindful that cloud-based systems will be super relevant and will become a differentiator for any business that wants to see success in the future.”
“We are going to see a lot of customers that are irritated with carriers they can't get through to because they don't have digital processes in place. People are going to move to those organizations that can accommodate (those processes). I believe that if you’re not digital or you’re not digitally capable in the next 2-3 years, you’re probably going to get acquired or go out of business.”
So that is the mandate of the mid-term. Go digital to survive … and thrive. At a minimum that means moving to the cloud, embracing digital platforms to create new customer experiences, accessing real-time data with advanced analytics via artificial intelligence and machine learning, and leveraging an ecosystem of partners via APIs to access new capabilities and data sources.
Now that insurers have been pushed into the digital world, they should accept the plunge and make opportunities out of their circumstances. It is an opportunity to drive operational innovation and disruptive innovation to create a new future of insurance.
Digital experience has now become the No. 1 priority across all lines of business. This crisis has exposed less than desirable customer experiences. As a result, projects will likely be reprioritized to digital and cloud-based platform solutions – giving flexibility, scalability and variable costs needed going forward.
COVID-19 has said to insurers, “It’s time to move.” That is the mid-term view in a nutshell. Is your organization ready?
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