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The insurance tech equation

By Choon Yan for Techcrunch.com

Insurance policies can be complex, and some policyholders may not understand all the fees and coverages included in a policy.

Indeed, people typically buy policies on unfavorable terms. In 2014, two major insurers,Blue Shield and Cigna of California, were suedfor misrepresentation of the coverage network, which caused delays for their consumers in accessing needed health care. Yet, insurance should help societies and individuals mitigate catastrophes’ impact through the way it changes who bears the cost of losses.

“There are 46 insurance companies in Fortune 500, with an average age of 95 years. Cumulative market cap is more than $1T,” said Spencer Lazar of General Catalyst Partners. However, according to Morgan Stanley/BCG consumer’s survey, half of policyholders have one or less interactions per year with their insurers — and less than 60 percent of those who made the contact are satisfied with the experience.

Underwriting and closing a policy may take several days, even several weeks. Once the policy is underwritten, claims management and customer service are cumbersome due to the insurer-centric and paper-based structure. The commission structure of the status quo is such that agents and insurers make the process a misalignment of interest between the insurers and policyholders.

Fortunately, it is not a lost war for insurer incumbents, as they have their competitive advantages. Incumbents have the consumers’ trusted brand perception and existing coverage network, regulator’s policed compliance and licenses, as well as the most analytical actuarial talents.

An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. The financial stability and strength of an insurance company is a major consideration when buying an insurance contract.

To understand the insurance business better, it has to start from their business model. Insurers’ business profit can be reduced to a simple equation: Insurer’s profit = sum of earned premiums and investment income on premiums after underwriting cost and claim expenses.

Insurers must see themselves in the prevention business on top of the protection business.

With the dawn of the pension scheme and a changing workforce that has increased the number of freelancers, startups are exploring the nexus of technology and insurance in an attempt to wake the dinosaurian industry.

In 2014, insurance tech startups raised just over $740 million in venture and equity funding. Just a year later, funding to insurtech companies rose by 350 percent, to $2.65 billion in annual funding, according to CB Insights. These insurtech startups may open new streams of premiums, encourage investment income, find a leaner method to underwrite costs or effectively manage claim expenses.

Earned premiums

The emergence of digital-first insurers has created a new business model on delivering value to consumers. The world’s biggest insurtech startup is Zhong An, valuated at $8 billion after being invested in by three Ma (Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Tencent’s Pony Ma and China’s second largest insurer, Ping An’s Ma Mingzhe).

It opened new segments of insurance, where traditional insurers did not touch: Zhong An partnered with Alibaba for coverage on returned goods’ delivery charges and even drone/mobile phone damage policies tailored to the new digital economy. Besides tackling the new digital frontier, Zhong An is essentially innovating on distribution, with a more integrated sales channel embedded as part of the e-commerce shopping process rather than depending on the traditional third-party agent distribution model.

Despite huge commissions, traditional insurance agents fail to provide significant added value.

Anthemis-backed Trov creates customization of home insurance by allowing coverage of individual key items rather than a predefined set with an average payout. An app-based mobile platform helps easily collect information about the things users bought through photos, market values, receipts and other product details.

With Trov, users can always see the total value of the things they own and have stored on Trov and track their value over time. With detailed records close at hand, it can be used as information to decide on the level of insurance coverage with Trov’s partnered insurers serving in the backend. A one-stop shop like this is able to capture a use case and add more value with protective insurance products.

Investment income

Insurtech such as Friendsurance, Guevara and stealth Sequoia-backed Lemonade are banging big on P2P insurance models. Using a sharing economy approach, users are invited to form small groups of policyholders who pay partial premiums into a pool to use for small claims. Policyholders are able to get back the remaining pool of money at the end of the year, after claims. Claims-free policyholders are able to obtain higher cash back, which is a clear financial benefit for fair behavior to reduce fraud and claims expenses.

Most importantly, these P2P models can possibly rethink how to make short-term liquidable investments on the pooled money and higher returns bet on other premiums.

Underwriting cost

With distribution channels being increasingly digital, will insurance agents end up in the same fate as the local bank branch? Despite huge commissions, traditional insurance agents fail to provide significant added value. Thus, new intermediaries are welcomed, especially online tools that are scalable.

SaleMove brings in-person customer experience online by offering website surfers an option to talk to live representatives via video, which aims to give potential leads more meaningful information than just poking around randomly. Furthermore, it allows insurers to mitigate the effects of not having the human touch in insurance sales, and tailor products for possible completion of micro-insurance online.

There are going to be more insurers leveraging IoT devices.

“With Big Data and AI, there are lots of new opportunities with low cost through the use of technology on marketplace and micro-insurance models, especially in developing economy like Asia with growing mobile penetration,” saidDr. Lee Kuo Chuen, fintech thought leader and 20-year investment visionary. The core competence of insurance is ready for a big leap, thanks to all sorts of new technologies, such as machine learning and data analytics.

AdviceRobo solutions make use of a machine learning platform that combines data from structured and unstructured sources to score and predict risk behavior of consumers. For instance, it provides insurers with preventive solutions, applying big behavioral data and machine learning to generate the best predictions on default, bad debt, prepayments and customer churn resulting in individualized risk assessment.

Claims expenses

Insurers must see themselves in the prevention business on top of the protection business that they are already in.

Data is going to drive healthcare, which indirectly impacts insurance. Data can be leveraged to individually underwrite and personalize insurance for people. Metromileinnovates in the preventive business by rewarding car owners with lower premiums for fewer miles driven (through a plugged-in car sensor).

There are going to be more insurers leveraging IoT devices, such as fitness tracker Fitbitand environment sensor uHoo. Perhaps the speed and ease with which self-automating smart contracts could be changed within the blockchain could see more insurance policies that reflect actual personalized risk in a real-time manner. However, the industry has to make good strides in not creating sub sectors of the society that can’t buy insurance due to big data rendering them as less attractive risks.

Bauxy, Claim Di and Snapsheet are all about mobile solutions that help insurers make a leap in customer engagement to become much more effective every step of the new digital journey. Claims adjusters obtain the tools to enjoy an automated experience; a mobile solution enables consumers of insurers to settle a claim completely virtually. The solution simplifies claims, reduces the operation costs and increases touch points between insurer and customer, leading to better satisfaction.

Gone are the days when insurers are the perfect intermediaries to underwrite decisions or own the narrative of how insurance products get pushed to end users. IoT with inexpensive sensors will have a transformational impact on how insurance policies are underwritten. New digital entrants with strong customer relationships can formulate personalized policies and distribute more efficiently.

According to World Bank, the global population is set to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 34 percent of global growth in worker population (aged 15-64) lies in South Asia. Although B2B insurtech CXA and many financial comparison sites are operating in the underinsured and uninsured region, much of the insurtech innovations and targeted consumers are still primarily located in Western and China markets.

I believe the next generation of Fortune 500 insurers will have to partner with various stakeholders, including the unmentioned regulators, to drive cost low and premium acquisition high on the equation in a consumer-centric way, as well as replicating successes in high-growth emerging markets.

FEATURED IMAGE: BRIAN A JACKSON/SHUTTERSTOCK

The article first appeared in Techcrunch.com

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