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Examining the growth of ecosystems and the trend’s implications for insurers.

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Insurance companies have the opportunity to create new sources of revenue by rethinking their traditional roles and adopting an ecosystem mind-set.

An ongoing drive toward digitization has put the insurance industry on the verge of a paradigm shift. The pace of change has accelerated thanks to tremendous increases in the volume of electronic data, the ubiquity of mobile interfaces, and the growing power of artificial intelligence.

In the early years, companies that digitized were at the forefront of the industry. Today, digitization has permeated every level of the competitive landscape.

Society’s growing reliance on digital technologies is not only reshaping customer expectations but also redefining boundaries across industries. Insurers cannot avoid this phenomenon: as traditional industry borders fall away, the future of insurance stands to be greatly influenced by platforms and ecosystems.

A platform is a business model that allows multiple participants (producers and consumers) to connect to it, interact with one another, and create and exchange value. The most successful companies in the digital era, including Alibaba, Amazon, and Facebook, were all designed on platform business models.

An ecosystem, meanwhile, is an interconnected set of services that allows users to fulfill a variety of needs in one integrated experience. Consumer ecosystems currently emerging around the world tend to concentrate on needs such as travel, healthcare, or housing.

Business-to-business (B2B) ecosystems generally revolve around a certain decision maker—for example, marketing and sales, operations, procurement, or finance professionals.

To succeed in ecosystems, insurers will have to take a hard look at their traditional roles and business models and evaluate opportunities to partner with players in other industries. They must also understand how ecosystems will shift value pools and change the nature of risk.

Adopting an ecosystem mind-set will be an arduous journey for many insurers, but those that understand this evolving landscape can take the first steps to creating new revenue sources.

Ecosystems typically provide three types of value:

  1. They act as gateways, reducing friction as customers switch across related services.
  2. They harness network effects.
  3. They integrate data across a series of services.

Insurers in digital ecosystems

For insurers, shifting from an industry to an ecosystem perspective requires a significant change in how they define their role in the economy. Currently, insurers act primarily as risk aggregators.

They have a passive and limited relationship with customers, which increases their exposure to disintermediation, disaggregation, commoditization, and invisibility. If insurers were to lose their distribution and customer relationships, they would be left with few options to reinvent their business models.

Adopting an ecosystem perspective—reevaluating the traditional business model and considering partnerships with players both within and outside the industry—could reinvigorate insurers’ digital strategies.

Role of the new insurer

Insurers can play multiple roles in an ecosystem. For example, the personal-mobility ecosystem offers a range of opportunities to expand into areas such as vehicle purchase and maintenance management, ride-sharing, carpooling, traffic management, vehicle connectivity, and parking. As a result, insurers have a range of opportunities to expand their roles.

Partnerships will be critical

As ecosystems enable and necessitate a focus on risk prevention, forging partnerships will be a critical priority. For reference, executives need look no further than their recent efforts to partner with Internet of Things (IoT) providers, which they pursued in an effort to offset their disadvantage from a lack of customer touchpoints and engagement. Insurers should embrace a similar mind-set to assemble fruitful alliances.

The industry has already seen a number of high-profile partnerships between established insurers and tech and analytics start-ups.

Insurers have been targeted in all parts of the value chain by insurtech companies as much as by other industry players. Although these newcomers are populating every part of the value chain (Exhibit 2), their focus to date has been on the more easily accessible slivers of the industry—mainly distribution, particularly in property and casualty insurance.

Since innovation from insurtechs actually aims to contribute to the insurance value chain (except distribution for large players), insurance executives should view potential partnerships with insurtechs as positive.

The rise of ecosystems involves multiple firms coming together in symbiotic relationships to achieve greater value for themselves than they could capture alone.

Shifting value pools

Although digital leaders have made incursions into different industries based on their ability to own the technology pathway, other focused efforts could offer openings for insurers as they evaluate ecosystems.

Ownership of the customer relationship

Distribution has been the target of disruption primarily because digital natives have successfully demonstrated that ownership of the customer relationship is a stepping-stone to an ecosystem play. The core of the insurance industry is highly regulated, which gives insurers a competitive advantage due to their regulatory skills and huge capital requirements.

Risk engine and analytics

Insurers have strong analytics capabilities compared with their peers in other industries; analytics has been a core component of the traditional insurance business model. Digital ecosystems offer traditional insurers valuable opportunities to use analytics to evolve and expand their business models.

They could facilitate the evolution of existing insurance businesses by advancing risk assessments, for instance, by considering safety measures such as connected-home solutions. Insurers can also use analytics to enhance pricing and risk-accumulation control.

As different businesses generate growing volumes of data, risk management will continue to demand increasing amounts of data modeling and advanced analytics. Because of their established analytics capabilities, insurers in new digital ecosystems can provide analytics-as-a-service to other industry players.

This offering could include predictive-modeling and optimization services that enable faster and smarter business decisions across all industries within the entire analytics value chain.

Changing nature of risks and new markets

The risks that need to be insured are changing significantly for two primary reasons. First, uncertainty will be reduced as tracking and predictive technology improves.

For example, connected cars have fewer accidents and breakdowns, predictive maintenance reduces business interruptions, and wearables help ensure a healthier lifestyle. Second, substantial changes in risk distribution and actuarial models (for example, due to an increasing number of long-tail risks) are further aggravating this trend.

A resulting demutualization could shift the focus to predicting and managing the risks of individuals rather than communities. As a consequence, premiums can be expected to come under pressure, reducing what have traditionally been rather stable revenue streams.

Although the inclusion of new addressable markets could offset lost revenues, insurers must take a more holistic view of the developments and opportunities available.

Ecosystem players have the capability to scale at a far faster rate than companies could in the past. Ecosystem strategy can facilitate the expansion of insurers into adjacent and completely new areas of business by using complementary services.

Options include offering innovative hybrid solutions in insurance and services offerings with partners from other industries (for example, predictive maintenance, smart parking, and preventive care). Insurers could also enhance their risk engineering by harnessing insights based on sensor data from other industries.

Last, insurers could draw on their analytics expertise to offer proprietary data and analytics solutions to third parties—for instance, through data marketplaces.

Devising and implementing an ecosystem strategy will require sustained dedication and commitment. Executives aiming to kick-start an ecosystem strategy should focus on a couple of areas. First, not all of the total value at stake is going to be up for grabs for all players in the distribution economy.

Therefore, all players must identify and prioritize the ecosystems in which they can play and win. Second, an ecosystem strategy requires strong performance across multiple dimensions, including culture, technology, and customer engagement.

Insurers should determine the critical capabilities that will act as differentiating factors in an ecosystem and assess whether their organization has sufficient horsepower in these areas.

A huge opportunity for insurers who can react fast

The rise of ecosystems is simultaneously one of the greatest opportunities, biggest threats, and most daunting challenges of digitization. Not all industries and players are equally well suited to pursue this opportunity, and companies that dive in might not be able to capture all of the value at stake.

Large, at-scale insurers are somewhat better suited to evolve into orchestrators. However, this wave of ecosystems does provide a chance for some players to realign priorities and initiatives and leapfrog the competition in the process.

Becoming an ecosystem player requires far more than technology investments alone. Instead, insurers must take a 360-degree view of the organization across multiple dimensions to ensure that their investments align with the requirements. Answering several key questions can help shape the discussion:

Strategy: Where does ecosystem strategy rank in the organization’s priorities?

Customers: How does the organization’s customer ownership, access, and engagement look?

Partnerships: Does the organization have a strong network of partners that will allow it to extend beyond traditional industry boundaries?

Technology: Is technology seen as the fuel for the organization’s strategy?

Talent: Is the organization positioned to attract and retain the most innovative and entrepreneurial talent?

Culture: Are customers at the center of everything that the organization does?

The rise of ecosystems is the natural result of digitization. Organizations with adaptability at the core of their design and strategy will be poised to use it to their advantage. Evolution has taught us that it is not the strongest species that survive, but the ones most responsive to change.

 

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Insurance

Climbing the Power Curve: Winning in the Insurance Market

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Insurers can take concrete, evidence-backed actions to move them in the right direction and, cumulatively, improve their odds of long-term success. Purposeful, bold moves aimed at shifting resources, boosting underwriting margins and productivity, and delivering on a series of programmatic M&A deals can dramatically improve an insurer’s odds of reaching the top quintile of economic profit. While these moves may sound instinctive, many companies fail to pursue them rigorously. In fact, these moves are most powerful when undertaken in combination, at or beyond the thresholds of materiality described in this narration. The point isn’t that there’s a magic formula for achieving strategic differentiation. Rather, by taking a hard look at the potential of your key initiatives to achieve bold results in these areas, one can get a realistic forecast of the odds that one’s strategy will transform performance.

Understanding the power curve and how to apply it

Research identified a power curve—proof that economic profit is unevenly distributed among insurance companies (exhibit) across geographies from 2013 to 2017. The power curve illustrates the uneven distribution of insurance industry economic profit.

These findings may come as a wake-up call to insurers that find themselves outside the top quintile—but embarking on an effort to move up the power curve is difficult.

How to move up the power curve

Research shows that moving up the power curve requires a laser focus on the factors such as foundational factors and bold moves that have an outsized impact on success, measured as economic profit.

Pursuing the five bold moves by Insurers

While the five bold moves may seem intuitive, and many companies may already be doing them in some form, two factors set these actions apart. First, magnitude and intensity matter; these efforts force insurers to break free from their standard processes of investment and initiative prioritization. Even if a company is doing something in each of these dimensions, how much it is doing often makes a difference. In other words, strategy is not only about the directionality of moves but also their materiality.

Second, the impact of these moves is cumulative. Companies that employ three or more of these moves in concert are likely to be propelled up the curve. Findings show empirically that companies that focus on multiple moves over time can learn from and adapt to them, reaping even further benefits.

Dynamically shift resources between businesses

Some carriers offer customers too many legacy products that do not produce meaningful profit. These legacy products take attention away from distribution, product development, and policy administration. Instead, companies should reallocate capital to higher return-on-equity (ROE) activities and away from lower-ROE lines of business. Proactive measures are critical given the sector’s highly competitive pricing environment.

Resource allocation should also be employed across various strategic lines, not just products. Based on research, the threshold for outperformance is the reallocation of 60 percent of surplus generated over a decade. Insurers that optimize their business mix accordingly have a better chance of improving their odds of ascending the power curve. This threshold parallels our findings across industries that dynamic resource reallocators gain approximately three to four more percentage points of total return to shareholders each year compared with low reallocators.

Other companies have increased economic profit by divesting underperforming assets. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007–08, a number of companies exited underperforming businesses through closed-block transactions through either legal entity sales or reinsurance transactions. These transactions were with organizations that were more natural owners of the distressed assets by virtue of their capital structures or business models. These back-book transactions, when thoughtfully structured, have freed up capital that helped move sellers up the curve.

Reinvest a substantial share of capital in organic growth opportunities

Reinvesting earnings in profitable and well-performing businesses is a reliable way to increase economic profit, but finding these opportunities has been challenging for many insurers over the past ten years. Companies meet the threshold in this area if they are in the top 20 percent of the industry by strategic reinvestment relative to new business premiums; typically, that means spending 1.7 times the industry median.

Often considered innovators in the industry, companies that achieve this high ratio of reinvestment to sales have a track record of introducing disruptive products and services, enabling them to grow faster than their peers. Indeed, these insurers are successful at finding accretive internal rates of return. And as they push the boundaries of new offerings, they are often able to achieve higher margins (and ROEs) thanks to the reduced competition at the vanguard.

Pursue thematic and programmatic M&A

The third move centers on the use of programmatic M&A, an important approach for insurers with financial flexibility and access to available targets. A programmatic approach to M&A focuses on executing a series of deals in which no individual deal is larger than 30 percent of market cap but in which the total over ten years is greater than 30 percent of market cap. This is often done in thematic areas of technology and capability building or in extensions to new product lines and geographic markets. Typically, programmatic M&A outperforms both pursuing very large transactions and avoiding M&A altogether. By using a series of small, thoughtfully curated transactions to advance innovation and growth, programmatic acquirers have several advantages: they can simplify integration, avoid competitive bidding, and facilitate the exploration of new opportunities without committing large amounts of capital up front. This approach to M&A also enables more effective acquisition of new capabilities, such as digital and analytics.

Enhance underwriting margins

The fourth bold move involves making ROE improvements through better underwriting and lower loss ratios—a particularly important objective given how, as a core competency of all insurers and particularly in the P&C segment, underwriting efficiency can serve as a differentiating factor that leads to higher economic profit. Insurers accomplish these results either through privileged access to particular customer segments or better use of customer or risk data through analytics. Benefits from productivity improvement are often reinvested to improve product margins. To maximize the odds of moving up the curve, companies need to be in the top 30 percent of the industry by gross underwriting margin.

Make game-changing function improvements in productivity

Insurers feel continued pressure to reduce costs because of increasing price transparency, the effects of digitization, and low interest rates. Indeed, new entrants are closing the gap on incumbents. It’s generally recognized that even though the loss ratio has the greatest leverage, insurers benefit significantly from improving efficiency, lowering expense ratios, and increasing revenues per employee. Many executives in the industry believe that a dramatic wave of efficiency and retooling will crest in the next three to five years, and many are embarking on these high-ambition, enterprise-wide efficiency journeys now. Research reveals that to maximize the odds of entering the top quintile, companies should aim for a cost improvement that is in the top 30 percent of the insurance industry.

The odds of moving up the curve become exponentially larger as insurers pull more levers, while a strategy that does not incorporate any of the moves will likely fail. Indeed, the CEO, CFO, other senior executives, and board members can often use these bold moves as a test of strategies brought to them by their teams. Strategies that neglect to engage these actions typically have a one in ten chance of succeeding, compared with one in two (or better) for those that do.

Rather than thinking about strategy as primarily a matter of frameworks and broad themes, leaders should ask themselves what they are doing to make bold moves along the five dimensions that matter and whether efforts already underway are truly significant. The extent of the moves matters a great deal—materiality matters, not just directionality. And CEOs are in a unique position to calibrate materiality; this, in fact, is one of the greatest aspects of their role and a productive means of challenging their teams. If proposed plans don’t meet the required threshold of activity to bend the odds of moving up the power curve, they are likely not aggressive enough. What often gets in the way is a resource allocation process hindered by social dynamics. Other common obstacles include a lack of objectivity on opportunities and an insufficient understanding of critical thresholds needed to move the needle. As a result, too many companies simply check the box on certain priorities while investing too little in the ones that truly matter.

Improved economic profit is within reach for insurers that can adjust their business models in the face of an efficient market and inject a newfound objectivity into their strategic processes. Indeed, insurers that have a favorable endowment, navigate industry and geographic trends, and make bold moves will be in a good position to climb the power curve.

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