Weekly Wrapup: Insurers see their business changing significantly

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

By now, most insurers are well on the path to digital transformation. A recent study of 99 insurers by analyst firm Celent finds that carriers are very motivated to change their internal processes, with "significant changes" reported in customer-facing areas like distribution, claims, underwriting, marketing and operations.

That can be explained by the motivating factors Celent found in its research," Digital Transformation in Insurance: Current State and Way Forward." Customer expectations and channel proliferation are cited by most insurers as the key drivers of transformation efforts. Both of these imply that insurance sees itself becoming more direct-to-consumer and has to re-architect its processes around always-on self-service.

Pressure from insurtechs is also ratcheting up interest among insurers. Celent says that carriers should actually "benchmark themselves against new entrants to insurance, other financial institutions such as banks and securities firms, and the best digital firms (Amazon, eBay, Apple, etc.) that continue to shape the experiences of consumers and intermediaries."

"Progress against other insurers is important, but consumers of digital measure success against all industries that serve them," write survey authors Mike Fitzgerald and Niall Williams.

At the same time, insurers have to watch out for other potential mines that could impact the business. This week, in an interview with CNBC, Warren Buffett -- the billionaire owner of GEICO parent company Berkshire Hathaway -- said he believes that a rise in autonomous cars will be a net negative for the auto insurance industry.

"It's very hard to tell who the winner will be" in autonomous driving, Buffett told the financial-news network. He expressed similar views last year, according to Fortune.

But that doesn't mean that insurance companies have to pack it in. Celent says that innovation champions within carriers can work to change the views of reticent executives in order to get them on board.

"The campaign to break company inertia, an impediment to change based on habit and history, requires consistent leadership throughout the firm," the report says. "Celent encourages insurance CEOs and CDOs to focus their efforts on building support for digital transformation among their direct reports and peers. Visible actions such as seconding key employees from operations areas (headed by the COO) or providing top-level subject matter experts (led by the line of business heads) to transformation teams communicates solid commitment."

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