Priorities for Insurers in a Post COVID-19 World

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way customer’s view, buy and assess the products they buy and insurance is no exception.  Companies in all industries have had to change the way they operate to manage the critical processes that impact the customer’s experience and purchase decision.

Home is now the center of the universe for both consumers and the companies that provide products to consumers. This critical link between home and the outside world is now paramount. Whether or not this will remain true post Covid is difficult to say. Perhaps Yogi Berra said it best: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

This pandemic however will likely have a permanent impact on the way companies operate. Industries whose high-flying growth helped create the modern global city have necessarily abandoned ritzy downtown offices for on-line alternatives and companies are seeing the benefits.

According to McKinsey & Company, “Many companies have been forced to accelerate investment in e-commerce and expand their capabilities such as in regards to customer delivery. The ramifications of these shifts will be felt for some time and continue to shape consumer choices long after the pandemic is over.”


Remote Work

For most companies remote work has lowered costs and increased productivity per employee.  An on-site worker for example costs an employer an average of $10,000 per year in real estate expenses and in a recent FlexJobs survey 51% of respondents said they were more productive when working from home. In another survey, company’s report seeing productivity of remote workers increasing by as much as twenty five percent compared to when they worked on-site.

Additionally, companies are also no longer confined by geography when recruiting key employees and remote work has fostered an improvement with employee loyalty. Eighty one percent of respondents from the FlexJob survey said that having remote work options would increase their loyalty to their employer.

Not only are companies understanding the benefits of remote work so are their employees. Many have taken this opportunity to move to areas more affordable leading to significantly improved living conditions. According to the same FlexJobs survey, 73% said that since COVID-19, working from home improved their work-life balance. This allowed them to spend more time with their partner, family or pets. More than one third of respondents in the FlexJobs survey indicated they spent two or more hours each workday commuting to and from the office.

Eliminating the commute is one of the many reasons remote workers have been more productive. Remote work has fostered happier, healthier and more productive employees who have less commuting stress, greater location autonomy and a better work-life balance. It will be extremely difficult, even foolish to’ buck this trend.’ Companies will have to embrace a new agile, digital, remote workforce.

For insurance companies, several have come to the realization that many operations can be effectively undertaken away from the office with employees working virtually while maintaining productivity and a streamlined service. In fact, COVID-19 is accelerating the digitization of back-office processes. Critical processes like pricing, underwriting and case install must and can be made accessible and manageable to a new distributed, on-line workforce.

The pandemic is powering a permanent shift away from office-based teams which will have a dramatic impact on company culture. Insurers must adopt tools that foster collaboration and keep workers engaged. Consequently, control and security frameworks must be hardened to keep up with increased cyber threats.


A New Customer Engagement Model

Home is the new primary access point for customer interactions. As a result, insurers will have to embrace a new on-line consumer engagement model.

The shift away from face-to-face distribution will gain momentum and self-service will increasingly dominate customer interactions. Indeed, regulatory supervisors have been proactive in encouraging the use of digital channels with initiatives such as encouraging digital service delivery and relaxing previous face-to-face requirements.

As consumers have grown accustomed to buying more and more products and services online, expectations for fast delivery times continue to rise. On-line consumers of insurance will therefore expect real time feedback during the insurance purchasing process. Insurance companies will be forced to integrate front-end consumer facing applications to back-end systems in order to facilitate automated workflow and instantaneous product recommendations and coverage approvals.


Highlights and Recommendations

Remote work has fostered a familiarity and trust with on-line services. This has removed many of the barriers to information sharing on-line. Policyholders and prospects are likely more willing to have their personal data used to provide them a more personalized product or granular premium.

Integrating consumer facing applications to back-end systems will better enable tools like AI and machine learning. By engaging the customer in an on-line session, insurance companies will be able to ascertain consumer needs in real-time and make offers based on the customer’s unique situation. Insurance generally follows life.

As we begin to emerge from this crisis, a new on-line engagement model will facilitate a clearer and more holistic view of how customer’s lives will have shifted and how an insurance company can best meet the customers’ newly discovered needs.

As on-line users reveal profile, usage and expectation data, insurance companies will be able to more effectively:

  • Tailor product and service offerings to customers’ needs
  • Increase credibility and boost consumers’ trust in the company
  • Increase customer engagement
  • Facilitate the attraction of new customers

The recent technical innovations triggered by the pandemic have been accelerating in response to the challenges of life under lockdown.  Many of these innovations have been introduced incredibly quickly, demonstrating just how fast things can change. A return to ‘business as usual’ would be a monumental failure of imagination. We’ve learned just how vulnerable business can be to disruption and now industry has the opportunity to make sure we remain resilient. This could be the most hopeful legacy of these most challenging times. The insurance companies who embrace these new realities will be the winners in this post COVID-19, changed world.


Addressing Radical Change

Today the insurance sector is undergoing radical change driven by digital transformation, cost reduction, increased competition, and the need for better engagement tools to drive a superior customer experience.

COVID-19 has only accelerated the rate of this radical change.

FJA delivers technology solutions to help carriers profitably combat current and future challenges, no matter how big or small, and that facilitate a competitive edge. Our end-to-end or modular solutions allow carriers to profitably build, sell, manage and distribute products that meet their customers’ needs. They are designed to address the specific needs of insurance carriers and their customers by automating the critical processes that facilitate an insurance company’s ability to improve profit and deliver superior customer experiences.

Build or Buy Software? How Insurance Companies Can Preserve Value

As a former management consultant I was often faced with the question: Build or buy? I would always first frame the discussion with whether the activity, in this case building software is “core” to the company or “context”. This framework illuminates whether value is being created or destroyed by the decision to insource or outsource.

Core activities are those that generate shareholder value, where the firm can differentiate on any variable that impacts the customer purchase decision.  Context tasks are everything else. The goal of context activities is to execute them as efficiently in as standardized manner as possible. A firm should always insource core activities and outsource context activities.

The interaction between core and context determines how much value gets through to the marketplace.  Without careful management, context interferes with core. Bearing the total cost of context activities destroys value.  Creating value from enterprise activities is about disengaging the company from context – recapturing scarce resources to refocus on core activities.  When making these decisions companies should consider:

  • If resources were freed from context activities what could they do to create shareholder value?
  • What work that resources perform would they be willing to surrender provided they were assured it would be handled correctly?

For insurance companies, their core competency is underwriting risk – building software is therefore not a core activity but rather a context one.  The only time it would make sense for a company to stray from core is where there is a process or workflow that is so unique to the company that it requires internal development because there is not a commercial solution available.

When there is a commercial solution available any company would be better off buying.  In the case of software companies they bear only marginal costs (i.e. product built for many) whereas if an insurance company builds the software, they bear the total cost. Some of the major issues insurance companies would face building their own software include:

  • Time to market delays. Lots of time is required to determine the exact business needs, write the code, integrate with other business systems, and adapt to user requests after deployment. Lost revenue and / or a reputational hit could occur as the carrier prolongs a bad process until they can deploy the fix.
  • An insurance companies IT or HR staff will be required to train users and support the application indefinitely.
  • Staying current is challenging when business needs rapidly change. When applications that are integrated with homegrown software release new versions, adaptations of the insurance carriers own software will be required.  This leaves too much room for error particularly when software is not a core competency.
  • Typically, homegrown applications have lower and oftentimes incomplete functionality compared with a vendor’s product.

The pace of technology innovation is accelerating at an exponential rate, making it difficult for the average internal IT group to cope with this pace of change. The struggle commonly lies in the fact that they not only have to create the software internally, but they must also maintain and upgrade it indefinitely.  The advantages of buying are clear:

  • Ready-made solutions, available when you need them.
  • Greater flexibility and adaptability.
  • Thousands of hours have already gone into developing the application and working out the kinks.
  • Expert support and training are available to existing and future staff with no additional burden on your IT or HR teams.
  • Typically, functionality is enhanced through customer feedback, anticipating your changing business needs rather than reacting to them.

Unleashing Latent Value in Group Insurance

Group Insurance companies find themselves surrounded by a rapidly evolving competitive playing field shaped by new market entrants using technology to radically change the industry and healthcare companies seeking to combat margin compression by looking toward securing revenue from more profitable lines of business.

Health insurance companies pose a more immediate threat. They have access to the same distribution networks as group carriers and many have acquired non-health or group insurance companies. And while the integration of non-medical products in the form of bundling has not proven successful to date, when compared to group insurance companies, health insurance companies are investing significantly more in digital transformation and data and analytics – signaling that the clock is ticking for group carriers. Group insurance companies are particularly vulnerable because very little of their investments are allocated to grow or transform their data and analytics capabilities. Investment in data and analytics to date are primarily focused on running and maintaining existing, antiquated systems. Moreover, there is not much emphasis on integration (e.g. product consolidation) and limited agreement on what data assets mean. This is particularly true for midsize life and group companies.

When it comes to new market entrants, what makes these interlopers unique is they aren’t just technically savvy folks looking to build a better mousetrap. They are also marketing and sales organizations looking to crack a new market. They seek to offer customers what they want, through the channels they want, when they want at a lower price – they are not burdened by inefficient, unresponsive legacy environments, they are digital natives. According to a recent report, almost 30 percent of customers globally are willing to buy insurance products from tech companies such as Amazon and Google. This means that traditional providers must develop an operating model that can satisfy evolving customer preferences.

Many of these well-intentioned outsiders, however, don’t quite comprehend the inherent complexities of the insurance ecosystem. Things like the long tail of liability claims, state-by-state regulation, and the technical challenges of a data-heavy industry and their impact on product management and product development. Product development in the insurance industry is not a quick or easy proposition. There are many hindrances and so far these new entrants from outside the industry don’t appear to have the appetite for it – this is where traditional group insurance companies can have the advantage against this nascent threat.

Whether the threat to group carriers is from healthcare insurers or new market entrants, product proliferation can be used as a strategy to manage industry rivalry and deter entry. In a mature market such as insurance, most companies have a product in each market segment or niche and compete head-to-head for customers. If a new niche develops, the leader will get a first-mover advantage but soon all the other companies’ catch-up, and once again the competition is stabilized and industry rivalry reduced. Product proliferation thus allows the development of a stable industry based on product differentiation and not price – that is, non-price competition based on the development of new products. The non-price competition will also help group carriers overcome cutthroat pricing the digital natives hope to evoke. The battle lines would be drawn over a product’s perceived quality and uniqueness, not over its price.

Unfortunately for most group Insurance companies, they are hindered by a patchwork of applications. When it comes to product management they have applications, infrastructure, and employees as discrete, standalone entities and not as interconnected systems. They have built in-house legacy systems to meet their specific business needs but not necessarily the needs of their customers. Rather than focusing on developing an internal IT team to build a solution from the ground up, group insurer’s would be well-served integrating a commercially available platform that allows them to unlock the value currently trapped by these legacy systems and processes – one that consolidates all product data. That way group carriers can focus on their core competency and push these context activities (non-core such as software development and systems integration) off to those whose core competency it is.

Consolidating product data must be considered a strategic imperative for group insurance companies. Today upwards of seventy percent of insurance companies are exploring predictive modeling in the area of automated, simplified, or accelerated underwriting. A select few are leveraging data analytics and predictive modeling for new product development – particularly in the health and property & casualty segments. For example, in response to three states making it illegal to price products based on credit scores, some P & C insurers have used predictive modeling to develop new pricing models and products based on where consumers live or drive. When it comes to health insurers, some are using data analytics to identify customers who potentially have gaps in healthcare coverage (e.g. from high-deductible plans) to target for gap products like hospital indemnity and accident policies. For group carriers, product bundles, riders, add-ons could be developed similarly. Consolidating product data can help a group carrier:

  • Determine which variables outside the rating plan are predictive of underwriting results
  • Determine what is the most predictive rating variable
  • Better understand which external data can help more clearly understand price risks
  • Anticipate the needs of its insured’s and quickly answer those needs with relevant, useful products

Products for group carriers do not have to be confined to traditional indemnification or reimbursement contracts. Instead of writing a check when something bad happens, group insurance carriers can look to create a service that stops the bad thing from happening altogether, or at least mitigates the severity and/or cost. Services such as diet plans integrated with critical illness or life policies could reduce the severity of an illness or lengthen the life of an insured. Providing access to a network of urgent care centers integrated with a mobile application as part of an accident policy might reduce the cost of reimbursement and improve brand loyalty. Services if done right will lead to higher revenues and less volatile profits. Customers today do not want to buy a product; they want their problems to be solved. Having product data in a single data store will allow carries to collect and juxtapose additional data from disparate sources such as third-party apps (e.g. Social media) to determine customer preferences and customer behavior, allowing for the ability to synthesize that data into timely, granular recommendations – none of which can be done without first consolidating all product data.

There are immediate cost savings benefits too. Take policy amendments such as adding a rider for example – one that might apply to multiple products (e.g. Life Insurance, Long and Short-term Disability, Critical Illness). Every form typically goes through the same process for review – underwriting, claims, marketing, etc. Policy language must be agreed upon and in compliance with regulatory requirements. Having all product data consolidated into a single data store:

  • Provides efficient access to product form filings to identify controversial or non-compliant provisions in order to modify or supplement them on a state by state basis, ensure compliance with state requirements and limit DOI interrogatories
  • Facilitates the development of form libraries (e.g. policy forms, endorsements, applications, notices, etc.) for new insurance products
  • Enables a speedy, globally coordinated product launch via a large group of partners (e.g. campaign vehicles, channel partners to pitch to employers, etc.
  • Squeezes costs and delays out of the marketing value chain
  • Allow carriers to compile pertinent information from insurance statutes and regulations and organize it for ease of review and reference.
  • Allows the entire globally distributed enterprise to collaborate on the best use of product assets
  • Can isolate policy/claim characteristics that point to fraud
  • Provides the ability to Identify variables that provide insights to reduce litigation expense

Creating new or improved products and services to replace existing ones will play an important role in defending group insurance companies from existing or nascent market threats. Automating the product development and subsequent state filing process will be a critical component of success for group insurance companies in the future. It will become increasingly important for insurers to collect and analyze data in order to understand consumer behaviors and deliver products that match those needs. New product development requires a great deal of information from many stakeholders. As the speed of markets, technology, regulation, competition, and inputs increases and as more of these elements become critical to a particular product, the complexity, and speed with which a carrier acquires and analyzes information must also increase. In order for insurance companies to realize the many benefits of new product development as a first step, product data must be consolidated into a single data store. Once product data is in a central repository product development can be automated yielding increased speed-to-market and revenue, reduced costs, and improved accountability for compliance through a defined audit trail.

The question is not whether the data is available but rather is it accessible? Group insurance companies investing in new product development will be able to establish a fast mover advantage to differentiate with products and services in an increasingly competitive market.