Weekly Wrapup: Digging into the insurance innovation 'danger zone'

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The Weekly Wrapup is an analysis of the week's insurance tech news from the editors of Digital Insurance.

The staff of Digital Insurance has just returned from our third Dig | In: The Digital Future of Insurance conference, held over three days in Austin, Texas. The biggest Dig | In so far included nearly 1,300 attendees and 200 speakers. Key themes discussed over the course of the conference included the impact of drones on claims, how new risks drive transformation strategies and what the next age of insurance digitalization will look like.

On the technology side, artificial intelligence was a particularly hot topic. Not only did a number of exhibitors bring that technology to the forefront, but many of the carrier side executives attended sessions and took meetings in hopes of learning how to better define AI and unlock its potential. One suggestion I encountered in conversation was to begin with small pilots of AI, in order to be able to present real results to return-seeking management.

The next day, John Geyer, SVP and chief innovation officer for MetLife, echoed this sentiment in his talk on how to survive the innovation "danger zone." In his time leading MetLife's Enterprise Innovation Office, Geyer said that after 18 to 24 months of work, top-level executives begin to look for tangible results from innovation efforts.

"If you haven't set the right expectations and can't deliver in that time, you're in trouble," Geyer explained. He said there were five keys he follows to ensure that his teams stay on track:

  • Stay relevant, linking innovation efforts to strategy. "You need to express your goals in terms that are relevant to the leaders of the company," he says.
  • Work with friends, finding the right people in the organization to champion innovation. "No executive in 2018 is going to say innovation isn't important, but only about 30% really get it," he asserts. "Do a thorough cross-examination to identify people who are really invested."
  • Speak in business terms and be ready to present a portfolio. "This means being ready to talk about return on revenue," Geyer explains.
  • Get better every day, seeing failures as opportunities to learn. "Mindful failure occurs via the continuous questioning and learning where you were wrong in your assumptions," he says.
  • Finally, lean on small tests to avoid big failures that can set you back.

To me, that last point -- which dovetails with the conversation I had about artificial intelligence earlier -- is most important to keep in mind. Transformation is likely to happen slow and incrementally, but can snowball before too long, and the savvy companies that identified winning trends and brought them in aggressively, but carefully, will be the leaders.

Dig | In's second speaker, Kate Sampson of Lyft, told the audience that only half a percent of all miles driven are done via rideshare. That's not very much in the grand scheme of things. But even that has been enough to completely change the conversations around personal mobility, the nature of risk and the future of auto manufacturing. A small pilot of some new digital innovation may not take up a large percentage of a carrier's book. But -- to continue my Star Wars metaphor from a couple weeks ago -- as Yoda says, "Size matters not."

Shortly after saying so, of course, the Jedi master raises a sunken ship from a swamp. Things that may seem small and insignificant now could end up being the defining technologies of the future. A former executive from Progressive once told me about watching the computer for hours waiting for the first policy to be sold online. And we have had a number of these moments pile up in the last few years: the first drone-supported claim; the first chatbot interaction.

Digital insurance innovators should heed Geyer's advice in order to bridge the worlds of transformation and day-to-day process. It's the best way to make sure that your efforts to raise the ship live on.

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Insurtech Artificial intelligence Machine learning MetLife