You have surely heard it said that small businesses are the growth engine for America. Today, the phrase has a special ring to it for benefits insurers. The small business market is often viewed as an opportunity attractive to growth-minded insurers because the focus of the majority of carriers is on the larger, highly-competitive end of the market.
Drones, bots, blockchain, AI and machine learning are what everybody is suddenly talking about. Start-ups with cool names like Trov, Slice, Goji and WeSavvy are the talk of the insurance town, yet just a year or two ago core transformation toward becoming a digital insurer was all the rage, and the names of core vendors filled the headlines. Now, it seems like all the cool stuff is happening peripherally to the core and some great examples peppered the lively discussion of Insurtech and next-gen insurance at the recent SMA Summit.
When it comes to benefits insurance market expansion…it’s good to be a “yes” man
What stood out this year at the LIMRA Group and Worksite Benefits Conference was all of the talk around small businesses. Yes, it is an election year. But no, this was not just an echo of every candidate’s familiar refrain about how small business is the growth engine for America and must be supported. For benefits insurers, this is an every year issue. Carriers struggle to make small business a plank in their platform for business growth. The result is that growth opportunities are left on the table while the majority of carriers are forced to battle over the same books of business in the large and jumbo case markets.
Something is altering the basis of competition in the voluntary benefits marketplace
As we get ready for Super Bowl 50, there’s no better lesson for business than the half-time adjustments made by coaches and players. Teams go into the big game with a plan that they’ve prepared and practiced all week and when they show up, they are ready to execute. This is not too dissimilar to how some of the group benefits carriers have planned and prepared for the shifts within the voluntary benefits marketplace and have been putting up points.
LIMRA’s Group and Worksite Benefits Conference was once again a vital and energetic meeting place for the industry. EIS Group has been a premier sponsor for the past three years, and we have had many conversations with talented people who are struggling with the transformation taking place within the industry and how to respond to it with their hard-to-adapt legacy technology.
The results are in from our second annual Enrollment Technology Survey, and guess what? There are really no surprises. The results of our survey of LIMRA Enrollment Technology Conference attendees and others didn’t show large differences with our 2014 survey. But, like a tipping point being reached in a slow arch, some small measures give clues to the direction of insurer initiatives in enrollment plans and enrollment technology. And unfortunately, technology infrastructure limitations are still standing in the way of insurers being able to execute their growth strategies.
This year’s Toronto ICTC event was ablaze with early spring optimism as the snow melted outside. The Insurance-Canada.ca team put together a very forward-thinking agenda with the theme of “The Digital Customer Experience.” It brought to town insurance experts and executives ready to explore a broad array of trend topics from geospatial risk management, cyber risk, social data analysis, and telematics to connected home, connected car, and omnichannel solutions.
“Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” asks the popular nursery rhyme. While it's hardly surprising that Google is poised to pilot its auto insurance comparison shopping site in Q1, given the hints and speculation, it's still an ominous portent. Forrester analyst Ellen Carney describes this development as having “big implications for insurers.” However, the question this news asks insurers might be better framed as “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf pack?” For as big as Google is, it is not a lone wolf.
The overarching threat for insurers is disruption of the prevailing distribution ecosystem by new entrants. Speculation about other entrants includes Amazon and Apple, but a host of interested companies—some already active, such as Overstock and Walmart—when considered together have the power to change insurance distribution. Distribution is currently a crowded space of agents, brokers, aggregators, banks, retailers, exchanges, and other parties. A recent Accenture Global Research study quantified the threat as two-thirds (67 percent) of insurance customers who would consider purchasing insurance products from organizations other than insurers, including 23 percent who would consider buying from online service providers such as Google and Amazon.
Remember when the model for engaging with consumers was as simple as sending out enrollers with disconnected laptops and that was considered high tech? How times have changed. It's now a consumer-centric environment where consumers expect to choose how, where and when to interact. In a consumer-centric environment expectations run high, the long term success rate of group-based carriers and voluntary insurers depends on the ability to interact in an omnichannel environment – a bar set particularly high by the retail industry. The fact is, given the sheer range of channel options and product choices that exist in the marketplace today, insurers have a tremendous opportunity to build a strong connection with consumers.
Enrollment options are expanding. With dozens of third-party vendors (including the emergence of new market places that include public and private exchanges) the opportunity for carriers to successfully increase their enrollment rates and get their products out to the various markets has never been greater.