Insurers must look forward, not backward, in post-coronavirus world

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Insurance product creation historically has been based on historical data – the rearview mirror view. It always has been, and there is value in doing so. Past trends are likely to be repeated, and coverages and rating need to reflect that. And insurance departments require years of historical data to approve changes. However, there is a fundamental change afoot that cannot be ignored. The once-in-100-years event is rapidly headed toward becoming a once-in-10-years event. And as COVID-19 has shown, “we’ve never seen this before” is a veritable constant. As a society, and thus as insurers, never before have we experienced 9/11, the Fukishima nuclear disaster, Hurricane Sandy’s impact, the SARS and MERS global reach, and the list can go on. A stark reality is that the past is no longer the only predictor of future outcomes. And there are tools available to help with this.

Non-Traditional External Data. There is clear value in using internal and traditional external data in product development. However, as current and not too distant past events show, “we’ve never seen this before” is not reflected in that data. As an industry, we have new friends in the amount of scientific data that is now available and the technology providers that can make that data consumable. A good example of this is the recent SMA Transformation in Action Award winner Sompo International, in partnership with Praedicat. Sompo was interested in emerging risk. They wanted to know what the next possible asbestos-like event might be so that they could react to it now. Praedicat was able to bring ML, NLP and AI, and scientific data sources to this discovery process. This is the windshield view! And what we, as an industry, need to include as a standard part of product development (and business decisioning) activities.

Clarity of Coverage. An early mentor told me that most people don’t care about their insurance coverage until they need it. One can debate the accuracy of that statement, but it does lead to the issue of clarity of coverage. People need to understand their coverage in order to care. Unfortunately, there are already a number of lawsuits about what is and isn’t covered under certain policies related to COVID-19 outcomes. And this happened after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, etc. This will never go away entirely, but it certainly can be mitigated. For example, for many insurers, due to mergers and acquisitions, it is not clear what is or is not covered within their total book of business. This is an area where technology can assist via AI to review and compare coverages between old and new products so that coverage issues can be addressed and clarified. Again, a little more windshield and less rearview mirror.

Creative New Services. Not too long ago there were some insurance departments that would not approve services within insurance products. Fortunately, that has largely disappeared. Insurers are attaching mitigation services to cyber policies and IoT device implementations. Insurers can play an important part in extending services. Product development initiatives should include services analysis as a routine part of activities. Services development can take advantage of the learnings coming out of external data analysis – are there gaps a service can address? Some InsurTechs have homed in on this. For example, Jumpstart Recovery provides financial relief for whatever a person needs in the event of an earthquake outside of a traditional earthquake policy. Their website identifies examples of pet care, camping supplies, and document restoration. And Jumpstart Recovery is parametric based, so there is creativity on several fronts. Maybe there’s a place for a similar attachment to a standard WC or business interruption policy to cover gaps in the event of a pandemic. More windshield thinking!

Right now, there is so much going on, it’s really hard to think about the creative and technology-based products and services that insurers can deliver to individuals and businesses. But things will settle down and COVID-19 will get under control. However, on some fronts, there’s reason not to return to the same old way of doing things because the risks we insure are changing rapidly. “We’ve never seen this before” isn’t going away. As insurers, we need to step up and be prepared, not just to preserve internal financial results, but because we can continue to improve society with the right tools, data, and insights. Products and services need to be based on the forward thinking – windshield view – as much as it has been the historical – rearview mirror – process of the past. We are in a time when technology can be the facilitator. Out of adversity comes progress.

This blog entry has been reposted with permission from SMA.

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