I love the passionate debates we have in the insurance industry about finance, business, strategy, underwriting, marketing, sales, technology and other topics.
And we also debate about words: what the words in insurance policies mean and what the words in strategic communications are signaling.
But my favorite debate now is the one the industry is having about a single word: InsurTech. You’ve probably heard assertions like these in the discussions about the pros and cons of InsurTech:
- Carriers don’t understand InsurTech because they are so focused on managing their legacy systems.
- Carriers don’t “get” what InsurTech can bring them since they’ve been around for 100 years and just want to protect what they have.
- Agencies don’t take the time to use InsurTech right. They’re too busy trying to pitch the next policy.
- InsurTechs don’t get insurance. They’re outside-the-industry, Silicon Valley types who just want to disrupt an industry they don’t know. And they’ve got plenty of money to do it. Once they realize how hard it is and what a long time frame they face, they’ll pack up and leave.
- InsurTech firms want to grab consumers away from agents and brokers with an easy-to-use website. If they cut out the agent or broker, well, that’s survival of the fittest.
- Carriers and agents have always done things a certain way, and they’re not going to change now—especially not because some new InsurTech firm tells them so.
- If an InsurTech thinks it can step in and dictate to a carrier or agency, it better think about the fact that it’s never taken an application, issued a policy or taken a first notice of loss.
- InsurTech really holds the promise of transforming a technologically broken insurance industry—if only carriers and agents would realize it.
And so on. You could fill in your own most and least favorite statement about InsurTech. And you could rebut any statement that gets under your skin.
Admittedly, there’s a grain of truth in the clichés above. And the targets of those criticisms need to deal with and respond to the perceptions, even if they’re false.
For myself, I’ll speak out against the idea that agencies just want to sell the next insurance policy. Sure, agents want to sell. But the ones I know want to find, sell and keep clients whom they can serve well and profitably over time. Technology clearly plays a role in that, but it’s got to play an even bigger part in making agency workflows better.
Whether you work for a carrier, agency or brokerage, solution provider, technology company, or another firm, the word “InsurTech” represents something much more important than convention coffee break chat or social media bravado:
Insure: The continued growth and profitability of traditional insurance competitors (whether carriers, service providers, or agents and brokers) depend on their ability to implement workable, efficient processes. Technology solutions will drive that needed change. But agents will always want to have the human touch—not just because they’ve used it for decades but also because it’s effective.
Tech: The ability of startups and other InsurTech investors to reach critical mass depends on their ability to cooperatively integrate with business partners both traditional and new. Those who understand that this is a trillion-dollar legacy industry will realize that while change can take place, it might not take place quickly.
I’d like to share my perspective on behalf of AVYST because my firm blends experiences from within the independent agency system and outside the industry altogether. Our founder and CEO, Marc Still, calls himself a “recovering” investment banker. Marc first invested in a tech-savvy property/casualty independent agency in 2012 and then formed AVYST in 2016. As an outsider, he became acutely aware of the frustrations, inefficiencies and limitations of business development workflows in the sales process.
My own background is with an agency, a carrier and insurance member associations. We both call what we do at AVYST “enabling” insurance firms to run their workflows better.
Marc is fond of saying: “We believe in enabling the independent agent and broker channel because it’s the best option for the insurance consumer.”
Capgemini, the French multinational firm that provides outsourcing, consulting, technology and professional services, describes”enabler” InsurTech firms as “specialists that offer unique tech expertise to incumbent insurers as well as to other new-age firms…”
Consulting firm McKinsey reports, “The majority of commercial InsurTechs (63 percent) focus on enabling the insurance value chain and partnering with incumbents. Only a small number of InsurTechs (9 percent) are attempting to fully disrupt the insurance market.”
Traditional insurance firms are more than ready for this type of approach. Capgemini notes that more than 70 percent of executives interviewed “said enablers could help them tackle the critical needs of policyholders or the market.”