One of the most important words insurance carriers will need to know heading into 2022 is simple: No.

At least, that’s according to Marie Carr, principal of global growth strategy, insurance and financial services at PwC US. She spoke with Carrier Management about PwC’s latest report, “Next in insurance,” which discusses the top issues facing the insurance industry in 2022.

The report found that as the gap continues to widen between leading and underperforming carriers, leading carriers aren’t relying on past success to drive them forward anymore. They’re identifying new ways altogether to remain relevant and grow. And by doing this, they’re learning to say no to anything that doesn’t fit their growth strategy.

Marie Carr

“Leaders know how to prioritize,” the report said.

This comes as the insurance industry has been disrupted in many ways, particularly by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Customer and employee expectations changed more in 18 months than they did in the previous two decades. This has put immense pressure on the industry, and carriers have had to adjust practically—in some cases, literally—overnight. Even though the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, the pace of change has remained relentless,” the report said. “Incremental change or hoping to avoid change altogether are no longer viable options.”

The report found that most insurers typically underinvest in their areas of strength and fail to act with urgency, and while that approach may have worked in the past, “companies that continue to work from three- to five-year timelines that are vague and lack strategic focus are likely to lose market share and perhaps even wind up as someone else’s acquisition.”

Carr added that one major industry disrupter accelerated by the pandemic is the use of technology.

“The pandemic has pushed every sector of the economy to suddenly be virtual and suddenly be digital,” she said. “And now, you move your grandparents online and have them ordering food because you don’t want them to go out, and all of a sudden that is a way that everyone is either expecting or becoming accustomed to interacting.”

With this in mind, she said learning to say no is an especially important approach for insurance carriers when investing in new technology.

“You need to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do that no one else does now,’ and then narrow it down to, ‘What are the tools I should have?'” she said. “And say no to all of those other things.”

“Customer and employee expectations changed more in 18 months than they did in the previous two decades. This has put immense pressure on the industry, and carriers have had to adjust practically…overnight. Even though the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, the pace of change has remained relentless.”

With so many different technologies out there, carriers will need to find the right tools that will allow them to carve out a space all their own in an increasingly competitive industry.

“New entrants are giving [customers] exactly what they want,” the report said. “If you can’t, you’re going to lose business and employees.”

Indeed, PwC found in 2018 and 2021 surveys of 6,000 insurance customers that the number of customers who said they would switch carriers due to a lack of user-friendly digital interface rose 80 percent in just those few years as younger generations entered the marketplace. The number of customers reporting that they expect 24/7/365 online support from their carrier rose 45 percent from 2018 to 2021, evidencing the fact that the switch to online is here and carriers that don’t adapt could be left behind.

“For the last 15 years, insurance has said, ‘We’re going to be easier to do business with, and we’re going to be more customer friendly,'” Carr said. “Now, you actually have to think about products as solutions, and you have to start with the customer, and you have to say, ‘What are their needs? What’s the unmet need?'”

The problem, according to PwC’s report, is that many carriers have struggled to establish a coherent tech strategy beyond simple “digitization.”

“There’s often a lack of clarity and correspondingly nebulous goals about how these substantial investments relate to the business,” the report said.

Carr encouraged carriers to focus on their customers’ unmet needs and say no to everything else.

“What are you going to say no to that’s going to help you decide what technology you need to invest in, whether that’s a full-out platform transformation, or whether it’s a simple tool that you partner with somebody else to pass through data and not worry about it,” she said.

Although the gap is widening between carriers that are pulling ahead and those that are falling behind, Carr doesn’t believe all is lost. She said in an increasingly technology-centric world, this creates unique opportunities.

“Here’s what I like about it, which is going to be counterintuitive,” she said. “Those who are left behind, those who maybe haven’t made the moves and now wake up and say, ‘We need to make moves,’ or maybe they were smaller, the ability to catch up and to leapfrog and to really invest now is at its greatest point ever.”

She said now is the time for carriers to own the spaces they want to be in because the playing field is much less linear than it has been in the past and there is more opportunity to be creative and bolder in their business strategies.

“You used to be able to say, ‘These are the biggest and the best. We’ll just do our part,'” she said. “Now, you actually can catch them. Why? Because you can partner and use an ecosystem and use a digital experience and slice and cut off a segment that you will absolutely own and understand better than they will. So, I think it is a tremendous time for leadership to really define who it is that they want to be.”

With all of this in mind, what is her advice to carriers as they define their business goals for 2022?

“Go big,” she said. “This is an easier time to identify that something’s going wrong, fix it and pivot than it ever was before. Make your goals bold and don’t be afraid to invest.”