After 100 years of doing the same old thing, the insurance market has experienced huge changes over the last decade. The world’s biggest insurance players are making significant investments in new technology, and partnering with small, nimble startups as they embrace ‘insurtech’. This is a heartening trend to see from companies whose size, history and conservative culture have traditionally conspired to stifle innovation. Here are five ways insurers are fighting to remain relevant in the face of new and disruptive competitors.

Apps

When you think about insurers going digital, the first thing you might think of is apps. Some insurers have been very creative in their use of these, especially in the healthcare space. Last year Mercer partnered with digital healthcare service babylon to launch Mercer Harmonise. The platform draws together all a user’s recorded health, financial, and insurance data, letting them contact medical professionals via videocall or text, and track key organ functions and cholesterol levels. Users can set health and financial goals, get wealth reports, and buy retirement products, protection, car and home insurance via the platform.

Cashing in on the popularity of the Apple Watch, Fitbit and other wearable devices, Bupa also launched a social fitness tracking app called Bupa Boost. It lets users track data from their wearables and set health goals. The social element fosters competition through team challenges or even messaging colleagues via the app.

Some car insurance providers, meanwhile, now offer customers discounts on their premiums when they use telematics or ‘black box’ apps which use an in-car sensor to monitor their driving.

Automated claim handling and bots

In the household insurance space, an app called Trov is trying to reinvent the customer experience by allowing people to insure items against loss, theft or damage with just a swipe on their smartphone. It makes item cataloguing and claim reporting easy with a function to upload photos to the app, and promises processing within minutes using an automated claims bot rather than a human agent. Trov also generates real-time pricing and allows users to turn their insurance cover on and off whenever they wish. As artificial intelligence develops, we will likely see chatbots interacting more with customers on behalf of insurers.

Blockchain

Insurers have been quick to embrace blockchain technology, the wizardry underpinning virtual currency Bitcoin. It allows a digital record of transactions to be created, stored, and then shared across a network. Deloitte notes blockchain can be used in telematics, to help streamline payments of premiums or claims, reduce fraud by logging the claim history of an item, or build more accurate risk models. It can also be used effectively in peer to peer insurance. All this data held about you can be used to personalize the service you get and the price you pay, assuming you give your consent for it to be used. How best to gain customer consent is likely to be a hot button issue in the future of the industry.

Internet of things

Some insurers are partnering with small tech disruptors to explore innovation in the internet of things. One project launched by Hiscox and insurtech startup Neos allows customers to monitor and control their connected homes through an app. It gathers data from security cameras, smoke alarms, and even moisture sensors, notifying the user of any unexpected changes. This data can be used to prevent household incidents, reducing losses for the customer and risk for the insurer. Meanwhile, at the end of 2015, Aviva announced the first investment through its new venture capital arm would be in Cocoon, a maker of smart home security devices.

Incubators and accelerators

Speaking at an insurtech event held in London in November, Ariel Berman, vice president of AIG, said his firm has launched an innovation bootcamp to nurture new ideas, and has been acquiring technologies by partnering with other firms. For example, AIG has moved a team from the City to London’s creative hub, Shoreditch to work with a startup. “We realised some companies can deliver better solutions faster than we can,” said Berman.

Other insurers have also seen the potential in nurturing new industry disruptors.  Startupbootcamp InsurTech, for example, is a global insurance accelerator programme backed by major insurers including Admiral, Allianz, Lloyds Banking Group, Scottish Widows and Swiss Re. Each year, it chooses what it views as the 10 most promising insurance technology startups from around the world and gives them support and access to potential investment.

Berman noted he is concerned about a potential bubble given the amount of investment startups are now attracting. “I worry about whether we are running in to another dotcom bubble. A lot of money is going in to fintech,” he said “Some of the ideas are great, but many companies with poor products are still getting the financing and the market share because we are being blighted by the gold rush.”

However, he added: “It has to happen, the revolution. It is not a sustainable market as it is.”

Hannah Smith
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Hannah Smith

During almost ten years spent as a journalist, Hannah has held a number of senior roles in the B2B space, including acting editor and deputy editor of Investment Week, and news editor at Fund Strategy. She specialises in asset management and also has a passion for personal finance.
Hannah Smith
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