What a Difference a Year Makes

According to FinTech Global, this may not be the best time to be getting involved in insurtech. As of May, 2017, interest in insurtech was on the wane. Investments in insurtech were down more than 70 percent in the first quarter of 2017 vs. the first quarter of 2016. And here in North America, plumbing was looking like a better bet than insurtech:

The share of InsurTech deals in North America has been progressively decreasing since 2014, falling to only 37.7% in Q1 2017. The first quarter of the year also saw the overall amount invested in North American companies fall below the amount invested in their European peers for the first time, with $72.2m and $89.9m invested, respectively.

Yeah. It’s a terrible time to be in insurtech … unless it’s not.

Oops …

According to FinSMEs (“a fast-growing blog and represents a realiable [sic] and trusted source of information for would-be, young and established entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, technologists, analysts, journalists and bloggers”), insurtech is going gangbusters. As of July, 2018, spending is up. Skepticism is down. And technology is about to … well … you might have to read this yourself:

Tech innovation never ceases to impress society and changes are happening at a very fast pace … Insurtech is still new to people, even though the insurance industry is one of the most common and popular financial businesses out there. Technology and insurance merged into one, creating this new concept … the disruptive innovation of Insurtech has numerous benefits that will positively influence the way people are dealing with their insurances … Technology will take over the insurance world by using complex systems for tracking cars, monitoring devices, helping customers to manage their insurance preferences and so on … Insurtech helps with leading businesses.

If you feel a little a little breathless after reading that, don’t worry. It’s not diminished lung capacity. After plowing through that, even a free diver would be looking for a little extra oxygen.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe …

If those conflicting points of view haven’t made the insurtech issue as clear as mud, there’s this, which says, in part:

Is there a bubble forming with all the billions being poured into InsurTech investments, and if so, is it likely to burst anytime soon? That was the question I found myself addressing repeatedly during the recent InsureTech Connect conference in Las Vegas. My response is a qualified “no.”

And this — “Can an InsurTech Startup Compete With Progressive and GEICO?” — which says, in part:

Unwary and inexperienced competitors may grow by unknowingly writing the risks that their competitors didn’t want … It defies all logic to suggest that there is a large segment of customers in a fragmented and highly competitive market that are being greatly overcharged simply because these companies refuse to offer them good rates to avoid cannibalization … In an industry where 96 is considered a best-in-class combined ratio, even a little bit of claims leakage can be quite hurtful.

Following the bouncing ball of insurtech opinions can be tiring, to say nothing of a source of eyestrain. Call us old fashioned, but we think if we keep one eye on keeping our customers happy and the other on the technology that keeps them happy, we’re good. So are our customers.

The Present is a Gift to the Future

Especially since technology is no stranger to the insurance industry, we’re not precisely sure what all the fuss is about. If an insurer calls and asks us if we’ll have insurtech next year, we’ll say we’ve had it since our founding in 2001. We may or may not say we’re more interested in the insurance lifecycle than we are in the insurtech hype-cycle. But if the insurer says it’s ready to write insurance, we’ll definitely say we’re ready to get that done right now.

In the meantime, if you need us, we’ll be over here, singing along with a very catchy tune from Dinah Washington.

What’s Required?

We once heard it said that most companies replace systems before they’ve used 80 percent of those systems’ capabilities or capacities. We were skeptical at first. But the more we thought about it, and the more we looked at systems, the more true it became. Here’s why:

Most companies decide to replace systems because of recurring functional frustrations: “Our system doesn’t do this.” “If only our system could do that.” And our favorite: “We need a new system to [fill in whatever you want that new system to do here].” In response to any of those statements, the logical questions are: Did you want your system to do this, that, or the other thing (whatever that thing is) when you bought it? Did you tell anybody?

Look Ahead

When Sylvester Stallone was shooting Rambo III in Thailand, cast and crew members were dropping like flies from the heat and dehydration. Stallone said, “By the time you realized you were thirsty, it was too late.” So it is with systems: By the time you realize you need something, it’s likely too late. That’s why foresight is so important in defining and articulating system requirements. Adding a little more nitromethane to the fuel mixture propelling a top-fuel dragster is much easier to do in the staging area than it is on the straightaway at 300-plus miles an hour.

To define and articulate requirements effectively, you have to:

  • Ensure transparency. If you try to define requirements in secret, away from the prying eyes of users, you’re building the system for yourself. Don’t be that limited or limiting.
  • Specify functional needs. The less you describe specifically what you need the system to do, the more you’re likely to fall for technical smoke and mirrors.
  • Avoid popularity contests. If you ask peripheral stakeholders — rather than users — what they want, they’ll tell you. If you don’t deliver those things, they’ll talk badly of you. If you do deliver those things, you’ll blow the timeline and the budget, the system won’t perform the way users needed it to, and they’ll talk badly of you.
  • Avoid pilots or prototypes. Either the vendor’s done it before or not. As the saying goes, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. If the vendor hasn’t done it before, you probably can’t afford to be a guinea pig.
  • Agree to a list of prioritized deliverables. Those deliverables should be a clear reflection of your requirements.

Act Like the Future is Now

We know it’s not possible to anticipate everything. But the more you anticipate, the more accurately you can define and articulate your requirements. And the more accurately you define and articulate your requirements, the more you’ll get out of your system and the longer it’ll continue to meet your functional expectations.

Rambo wouldn’t be able to beat the bad guys and dragsters wouldn’t win any races if they ran at 20 percent.

Get It Right the First Time

Given the business we’re in, we like to keep an eye on the trends, attitudes, and inclinations of the companies we might consider prospects in the industry we’re in, that being insurance. Consequently, we took note of a survey of 396 CIOs and technology leaders by the consulting firm, Protiviti. Two things in particular caught our attention:

First, in response to a question about their motivations for replacing core systems:

  • 76 percent cited risk mitigation
  • 12 percent cited revenue generation
  • Just six percent cited cost savings.

Second, when asked their biggest impediments to acting on those replacement needs:

  • 41 percent cited implementation risks
  • 24 percent cited time and disruptions
  • 24 percent cited vendor product deficiencies.

We find that curious. Here’s why:

Maybe Common Sense Isn’t All That Common

In our experience, the two primary motivators for system replacements are (1) improvement and (2) improvement — the first in operations, the second in customer service. When our customers achieve those objectives, their risks go down, their revenues go up, and their savings increase. That made us wonder how the survey instrument might have been worded.

Likewise, our experience indicates that implementation risks, disruptions, and product deficiencies can be increasingly minimized with diligent, empirical scrutiny of the issues that arise; point-in-time conversions from the old system to its replacement; and ongoing customer feedback with the requisite, corresponding development efforts. That made us wonder about the companies with which the 396 CIOs and technology leaders worked to report the impediments they did.

Try This

We think the most common-sensible things to do for any project, let alone a system replacement are:

  1. Determine your objectives
  2. Identify and define your requirements
  3. Perform your due diligence in vendor selection
  4. Talk to customers of your short-listed vendors.

If you don’t do those four things, you’ll be compromising your chances of getting it right the first time.

Mind Your Ps and Queues

Whenever someone refers to the proverbial Three Ps, they’re typically referring to the prevailing wisdom about the way in which businesses should value their assets. In that context, they’re referring to:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Product.

In that context, we agree with those Three Ps. But some others are worthy of consideration. We offer them here for your deliberation.

Are You Ready?

As the saying goes, life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans. True. But that doesn’t negate the necessity of planning. Another notion suggests that plans are made to be changed. That’s true, too. But that doesn’t nullify the importance of planning, either.

It’s been several years now since we got out of the prediction business. Nevertheless, we’re pretty comfortable suggesting that, in the absence of sure things, these Three Ps will help keep you out of all but the most unavoidable jams:

  1. Planning. No plan will get you from A to Z without fail. But a plan that leaves room for life (reality) and contingencies (the unexpected) will be malleable enough to succeed more times than not.
  2. Preparation. As a subset of planning, mapping out your steps and forecasting potential contingencies will position you optimally to respond to whatever transpires.
  3. Progress. If you go about planning and preparation conscientiously and thoroughly, you’ll give yourself the best shot at making progress.

Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” While he may have been a bit condescending, he may have been right. And if he was right about thinking, planning, preparation, and progress come in right behind it.

The Other IQ

Similar to the Three Ps, when most people talk about IQ, they’re referring to the Intelligence Quotient. And just like our own Three Ps, we think there’s another IQ: the Ingenuity Queue.

Samuel Goldwyn is reputed to have said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” He knew the fallacy of overnight successes and get-rich-quick schemes. He also knew the value of planning and the need to be imaginative and responsive to change and changing conditions.

And so it is with system replacements and IT projects. No one ever wants to do them. Everyone has to plan for them.

If you mind your Ps and Queues, you’ll be ready when the time comes.

We OWN This

We’re quite aware of the fact that the insurance industry has considerably more than its share of acronyms. With examples like ASOP, BOP, CRIS, DEC, and others for every letter of the alphabet, we hardly need any more. But we’ve decided to create one, nevertheless: OWN.

We’ll forgive you if the first thing you think of is the Oprah Winfrey Network. We assume Oprah must have some insurance. But our interests are a little closer to home. It also would be completely understandable if you were thinking of the hare-hunting association chaired by Elmer Fudd, the Outlandish Wabbit Network. You’d be wrong there, too. Ours is more mundane and considerably more functional than that. And the only thing we hunt is satisfied customers. That’s why, to us, OWN means Ours Works Now.

Oh, Look! A Shiny Object!

We’re as forward-looking as the next guys. We love artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, wearable telematic devices, and peer-to-peer networks that return insurance to what it used to be, albeit on a smaller scale; that is, the small contributions of the many protecting against the large losses of the few. We love all that stuff that largely exists in imagination, that lives on drawing boards, and that attracts investors like mosquitos to swamps. But we’re not preoccupied by it.

Our customers have real business to conduct right now. They have prospects who need policies. They have underwriters who need to rate, quote, price, and bind those policies. Our customers have policyholders who need service on their claims. Those policyholders are more interested in the technology at auto-body shops and reconstruction firms than they are in the technology in our Suite. And our customers are more interested in the reality of getting business done today than they are in the promise of getting it done tomorrow.

We’ll Be Right Here

We don’t want to be misunderstood: We’ll be here tomorrow. When any specific technology is required, we’ll have it. But we’ll offer it because our customers want it, have a practical need for it, will use it, and will benefit from having it. In the meantime, our customers won’t be preoccupied with operational headaches. And we won’t be preoccupied by the next bright, shiny object or be chasing the next wild, faddish goose at the expense of realism and pragmatism.

OWN. When it comes to technology, a promise in the future might be pretty. But utility in the present is the key.

Why Is That?

For all the talk about insurtech, we still live in a world of aging systems, outdated architectures, all required to keep pace with the countless processes required to run an insurance business. Why is that?

Much of what’s being touted as insurtech comes from people new to the insurance industry. People who do work in insurance don’t have time to contemplate the future. They have their hands full with the present, having to manage time and cost, profit and loss, expenses and adjustments, investments and returns, retentions and ratios. Those who work in insurance have to worry about keeping their jobs by selling policies and service. Those who don’t have to sell policies and service have to worry about keeping their jobs by trying to sell insurtech to those who do. Why is that?

Déjà vu All Over Again1

Much of what we hear about insurtech has been said before—many times. Some examples:

  • Insurers are too conservative to notice the changing world around them.
  • They can’t comprehend how technology will change the way insurance will be offered, bought, and sold.
  • IT spending is up (or down).
  • The bulk of the money will be spent on policy systems (or claims systems).
  • The number of vendors in the market will expand (or contract).
  • Insurers will replace systems with best-of-breed solutions, point solutions, or end-to-end solutions.2
  • The sky is falling.

And those prognostications are ways delivered with dread and foreboding: Do something — anything — or you’re doomed. Why is that?

I See, said the Blind Man …3

The insurance industry doesn’t have to save itself from anything. It’s doing quite nicely, thank you. It’s just trying to understand its technology options and make a living. And all it gets is stale Chicken Little rhetoric. Why is that?

In part, it’s because insurers, vendors, advisors, analysts, and the trade media have different agendas. They seem to exist in different worlds. The effect is the rough equivalent of an astronomer with cataracts gazing through his telescope on a cloudy night: There may be some discernible light, but the picture is dim and confusing. So, the industry chugs along, keeping company with the notion that its competitive salvation is IT innovationor, as it were, insurtech. Why is that?

Let’s Try Reality

IT spending in the insurance industry may stagnate, but it isn’t going down. And the insurtech proponents may make the most noise but, thanks to large insurers, the industry still spends the bulk of its IT budget on internal development, a luxury mid-sized and small insurers can’t afford.

Faced with such facts, the best thing to do is face them. Insurtech can’t be ignored, it has to be assessed pragmatically. Policyholders can’t be ignored. They still require products and service. And change can’t be ignored. Since it’s inevitable, we just have to find our own ways to live with it.

In the light of day, the most obvious truths may be the hardest to see. Why is that?

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1https://www.today.com/news/its-deja-vu-all-over-again-27-yogi-berras-most-t45781

2. Solutions will always be in search of problems.

3. … as he picked up his axe and saw.

Cause and Effect

Since we’re in the insurance-technology business, we tend to bristle a bit when we hear and read things about the insurance industry’s ostensible lagging behind some other industries in the adoption of technology. Granting the existence of such lagging, why do people assume it’s a symptom of technology aversion, as opposed to, say, good business sense?

“Well, if you look at retail, that industry uses technology for data acquisition, marketing, consumer targeting, customer acquisition, and increased sales. Retail even uses video surveillance and facial recognition to monitor customer behavior!” Point made. But …

How Do You Spell Risk?

Some people might put life, auto, and homeowner’s insurance on their shopping lists. But it’s not likely any large commercial risks or core administration systems will appear on those lists. By the same token, retailers surely have product-liability standards to uphold and commensurate liabilities to disclaim. But they don’t have to comply with stringent national and state-specific regulatory requirements to which insurers are beholden. And while retailers certainly have to manage risks to inventory and customer safety, those risks are of a completely different nature from the ones that define insurance.

In addition to having to take into consideration such things as behavioral trends, actuarial tables, risk profiles, geographic locations, and more, insurers have to protect policyholders’ privacy. Neither do they have the luxury of imposing retail mark-ups or selling policies at bargain basement rates, given the fact that, among the regulatory requirements they have to fulfill is mandatory reserves against claims not yet incurred.

Reality Check

“Well, insurance hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years.”Right again. In fact, it hasn’t changed much since Hammurabi invented it. But a peek below the rhetoric reveals there are reasons for that:

Stability and caution breed the trustworthiness that equates to longevity in the insurance industry. The expression, “Insurance is sold, not bought,” remains stubbornly true, regardless of the fact that most of us need it. And policyholders (understandably) demand more, requiring insurers to provide more, with attendant costs, from already thin margins.

So, yeah. Insurance lags behind some other industries in piling on the technology bandwagon. It’s true. But before we say that disparagingly, let’s understand why it’s true.

After all the benefits of good business sense get passed on to us in the premiums we pay and loss protection we get.

Keep the Change

We’re nearing the end of 2018. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might be tempted to think legacy replacements are behind us by now. But you’d be wrong, in part because technology is the least of the challenges we face. A bigger one is change management. And change management is all about people.

Here’s the short list of things that need to be managed with people in change:

  • It’s one of the more frustrating parts of human psychology that we prefer devils we know to those we don’t. That’s why our Suite is developed with input from our users.
  • If people prefer to do things thisway, they’ll resist doing them thatway. That’s why our Suite is easily configurable.
  • Legacy systems are likely to be connected to myriad systems, data sources, and people. That’s why we do our homework before the contracts are signed.
  • Expiration Dates. Nothing lasts forever. But if you didn’t plan to replace your legacy system, the change is that much harder. That’s why we earned our development and delivery stripes before we founded Finys.
  • The Secret Code. Okay. It’s not really secret. But building, adding, and automating business rules can seem daunting. That’s why we created an English-like common language to preclude the need for translating terminology and data and to eliminate inefficient layers of communication.
  • Investing in a new system doesn’t negate the value of legacy IP. That’s why we enable our customers to fully leverage our IP, even as we migrate their legacy IP and data.
  • Idle Hands. Downtime, non-productive people, and lost revenue are significant challenges. That’s why we work with our customers in our virtual Design Lab to create workflows, establish functional objectives, and teach them how to configure the Suite, products, and LOBs.
  • Fear of change can be paralyzing. That’s why we dedicate teams to our customers before, during, and after implementation to support the roles of their people and to make sure they know everything they want to know when they want to know it.

Go With the Flow

In a 1789 letter, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In the 21st-century world, we can safely add change to Dr. Franklin’s list. It’s as unavoidable as it is inevitable. Its pace will only quicken and its magnitude increase.

Since we have to keep the change, we may as well manage it effectively.

Digital Transformation? Really?

We recently came across the 2018 edition of Top Issues: An Annual Report from PwC. Given how late it is in the year, as well as the accelerating rate of change, we were quite interested to see what might have transpired since the Report was issued in December of 2017. On page 5, we found this:

The companies that … design and implement digital platforms … will be the most likely to quickly adjust and grow as the industry continues to become more digital.

While a little vague, that seemed to make sense. After all, the Internet, on which business is increasingly conducted, is a digital medium. And the companies that don’t adapt to all channels of digital accessibility, including mobile, inevitably will be left behind.

But just five pages later, the Report said this:

Most of the industry has adopted digital agendas.

Okay. So, what’s left to do? Much.

Let’s Narrow it Down

One of the most constructive things we might do is ignore all the commotion about digital transformation. While organizations might need to transform (more likely they need to adapt and evolve), digital transformation has become all but indecipherable because it can’t be defined consistently. And it can’t be defined consistently because it’s too broad and, so, too vague.

More important, digital transformation is almost always interpreted to be about technology. It’s not. Here’s why: Unless we manage to experience some kind of once-in-a-millennium event sometime soon, there won’t be any technological transformations. But what we do have is a data transformation.

More specifically, with the digitalization of data — and with the technological progress we’re making in storing, extracting, analyzing, and applying data — that’s a transformation worth heeding and on which we should be capitalizing. And it feels like progress.

What Can We Accomplish?

From risk analysis to claims experience, from risk selection to loss mitigation, from consumer trends to policyholder profiles and more, everything we need to affect real transformation is in the data we collect and process every day.

Yes. We’ll require technology to aggregate that data, to extract and report what we need from it. But that won’t constitute a technological transformation any more than it’ll constitutes a digital one. It might, however, constitute an operational transformation.

Maybe that’s the perspective by which we’ll accomplish the most anyway.

SOC it To Me

Fact of life: Data and the processing and transactional functionality that makes use of that data has to reside in a secure environment. Given the number of data breaches that have occurred this year alone, that’s self-evident. So, when the organizations with which you work are reported to be compliant with SOC and other data-security requirements, that compliance is not to be taken lightly. Here’s why:

Who’s Watching?

Compliance indicates the processes and practices within the organization have required levels of oversight. Monitoring is in place for unusual activity, configuration changes are authorized, and access is granted only to approved users. Normal activity is baselined to make deviations readily apparent and to determine the presence of potential threats.

Compliance also indicates adequate alerts and audit procedures are in place to:

  1. Ensure awareness aberrant activity and to initiate a corrective response.
  2. Identify the root causes of aberrant activity to ensure appropriate remediation.
  3. Trace aberrant activity forensically to determine its source, its path in the system, the parts of the system affected, the nature of the affect, where it might go or what it might affect next.

But Who’s Accounting?

Compliance with SOC and other data-security requirements also means personnel within compliant organizations are accountable to their customers and to each other for upholding the terms of compliance. From preventing breaches to identifying potential weaknesses, from shoring up potential weaknesses to remediation if it’s required, the appropriate people in audited organizations are on notice and on the hook. They should also be responsible for conducting regular assessments on patch management, vulnerability management, and overall system-security management — and reporting the results of those assessments to all of their data- and system-security peers in the organization.

If you’re not sure if the organizations with which you work are compliant with data-security requirements, here are a few things you should do:

  • Ask if the organization has any data-security policies or procedures in place.
  • If so, ask what they are.
  • If not, worry … a lot … and find a new home for your data.

Some things are worth worrying about more than others. The security of your data is one of them.