Disruptive influencers and levers of change are surrounding the insurance industry at an increasing speed and intensity that is challenging industry practices, assumptions, and business models. One of those outside-the-industry and economic influencers is the shared economy, recently highlighted in the SMA research brief, Crowdsourcing and Open Innovation: Powering the Sharing Economy. According to a Forbes article in January 2013, it was estimated that for 2013 the revenue flowing through the shared economy directly into peoples’ wallets would surpass $3.5 billion, with growth exceeding 25%. At this rate, peer-to-peer sharing was moving from an income boost to becoming a disruptive economic force.

Just look at a recent profile by Silicon Valley Business Journal, where Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick confirmed that Uber raised another $1.2 billion following a record year of growth in which it expanded the number of cities it serves by more than 400 percent to 250 cities in 50 countries. Astonishingly, Uber, founded just four years ago, previously raised $1.5 billion, including $1.2 billion in June, when the "post-money" valuation was $18.2 billion, compared to today's post-money valuation of about $41.2 billion. Now that is a disruptive economic force!

The shared economy is empowering individuals and businesses to access specialized skills, resources, goods, or services from anyone, anywhere, and at any time based on a need for point in time. It is disrupting existing business and industries while spawning new business models, leveraging the combination of crowdsourcing, open innovation, and technology to create new companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and many others across different industries (profiled in the SMA brief mentioned above). As noted in the report, traditional companies (including insurers) and their brands cannot afford to be left out of the shared economy.

We noted that insurers must reorient their business practices from product development to services aimed at meeting the needs of this new market segment and creating more value and a deeper customer experience. We asked insurers to think about key questions and issues: How will shared services business models redefine risk or identify new risk? What new products and services can you develop for these emerging new businesses? For your customers that are less interested in ownership and more attracted to access, rental, reuse, or subscription, how can you personalize these products and services for them? And most importantly, how could the shared economy concept be used to create a new type of insurance company, challenging the traditional view?

The report and blog got a lot of media attention. Subsequently, shared service start-ups began reaching out to express their frustration with the insurance industry. One particular CEO of a new start-up who had just received another round of funding and was preparing to launch his business, shared his frustration:

“I just wanted to let you know that I have found the hardest problem to solve as the CEO, is that after talking with 12 different insurance companies, I am still stuck on finding someone to write a policy for me! I am not sure you can overstate the tsunami of change that insurers are trying to avoid. It is frustrating to me as a CEO trying to get my company going.”

His statement says it all. Insurers either can’t or won’t see the influencers and levers of change, and in failing to do so, are closing their eyes to the impact to their businesses in terms of revenue and customers. Meanwhile, they are leaving the door open for competitors to fill the need, especially those from outside the industry.

One company, Erie Insurance, did announce the same day they were offering what they believed to be a first-of-its-kind coverage to protect drivers who use ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. They initially offered it in two states and would make it available in others states depending on consumer response. Erie noted the new car insurance coverage solved a longstanding problem for drivers in the ridesharing economy by eliminating confusion over what's covered and when it’s covered. While encouraging, it seems rather late in the game, given that companies like Uber have been around for four years. And it does not address the growing set of other business models.

Now a new company has stepped forward to meet the need! In the December 4, 2014 Silicon Valley Business Journal it was reported that Peers, a nonprofit-owned company is developing products and services for workers in the "sharing economy." Peers was founded and funded with money from a number of founders of “sharing economy” companies and has a membership of 250,000 in just a year. Peers has rolled out its first two offerings, including a home rental liability insurance policy, which works for any short-term rental platform. It provides up to $1 million for personal injury or damage to property sustained by a renter and also includes compensation for lost income up to $5,000 as a result of damage to a home by a renter or their invitee. The policy costs $36 per month, can be purchased for a single month, is available nation-wide from insurance broker Porter & Curtis, LLC, and is underwritten by United Specialty Insurance Co.

Shelby Clark, the CEO of Peers noted in the article that "While sharing economy workers are finding new ways to fill their income gaps, they are also encountering challenges they've never had to deal with before, such as an inability to find the financial products they need or concern over the stability of their income. By combining the collective purchasing power of the Peers community, Peers is able to pioneer innovative solutions to new problems. Sharing economy workers are not alone, and they shouldn't feel that they need to navigate these issues alone.”

For insurers, this should be a wake-up call on many fronts, from the lack of seeing and responding quickly to new market needs to seeing the emergence of a new competitor in Peers. While Peers is partnering with an insurer to underwrite the products, they have a growing customer base for which they are meeting insurance needs with new, innovative products and the services they are developing. In the process, they are gaining customer loyalty and potentially owning the customer in a fast growing new market segment, one that may be replacing existing segments.

In the SMA Research, we suggested the overriding and most critical question for insurers is not if, but how will they embrace the shared economy, crowdsourcing, and open innovation – first to get in the game, then to influence change, and ultimately to win. Well, one insurer is in the game. And one new competitor with a large and growing customer base is now in the game. This outside-in move is a game changer. What will your next move be?

Contact me at dgarth@strategymeetsaction.com if you’d like to learn how SMA can help you on the innovation journey and discover new opportunities for the insurance industry. Click here to learn more about SMA’s research.

This blog has been reprinted with permission from Strategy Meets Action.

Denise Garth is a partner at Strategy Meets Action. 

Readers also are encouraged to respond to Denise using the “Add Your Comments” box below.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

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