Two executives from PwC kicked off the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s Women in Insurance event in Chicago on Tuesday with some shocking statistics, painting a future of never-before-seen challenges and unique opportunities for the industry.

Tim Ryan, vice chairman, markets, strategy and stakeholders leader with PwC and Kelly Buchanan, managing director of PwC’s insurance advisory, told 320 attendees at the event that leadership is the key factor driving the industry’s health.

“There could not be a better time for insurers to be in the insurance business,” Ryan told the group. Ryan noted that even though business is doing well, it's also doing good, meaning that North American businesses, insurers included, are making a significant difference in their local communities.

According to Ryan, the industry owes its present health to leadership, as leaders deal successfully with changes to the environment, demographics and other moving variables.

“Consider the mass migration in population to our cities,” he said. “This concept of urbanization is driving huge opportunities for companies of all sizes and changing almost every aspect of how we do business.”

Population growth and climate change will collectively represent other challenges, as global leaders address shortages of food, water and energy in the next few decades.

Ryan noted that big data will be critical to dealing with the coming population growth of the age 70 and older segment, predicted to grow from 350 million to 1 billion in the next 10 years.

Buchanan agreed, stating that insurers don’t have 3-5 years to wait for big data advantages to become a reality. “The question that should be asked is ‘What key decisions need to be made immediately to drive the organization forward?’ It’s about information advantage.”

Buchanan echoed Ryan’s sentiments, noting that further challenges remain, such as the loss of institutional knowledge, inefficient claims processing, effective investing and the many changing variables impacting underwriting. “Now, how do drones play into underwriting and claims challenges? We need to stop and think about the impact these issues will have.”

Ryan noted that against these dire predictions, insurers will have to innovate, collaborate and rely on their leadership’s effective responses. “With these huge challenges before them, leaders in the insurance industry are actually learning how to fail,” he said. “Learning fast from failure is a critical component that most businesses are facing, and as insurance leaders embrace failure, they are forced to try new things with employees, their business partners and their solution providers to address this.”

Buchanan’s advice to insurers is to “go deep,” acting on mega trends such as micro marketing. “You have the opportunity to make an impact using organized courage,” she said. “Remember, the power of many is much stronger than the power of a few.”

Buchanan offered MetLife as an example of an insurer recognizing a mega trend in consumerism, and thinking outside the box with pilot-testing the sale of one-year term life insurance. “Partnering with Walmart, MetLife’s micro marketing campaign includes packaging its products in an actual box, and making it available at the retail level.”

Ryan agreed, adding that successful insurers recognize that mega trends don’t just affect the company, but the community at large.

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