Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, the French journalist and novelist of the early 19th century, first coined the phrase, "the more things change, the more they stay the same," a satirical response to French politics in his era.
He was referring to the notion that while some things change during turbulent times, the underlying status quo usually stays the same. The same might be said of the insurance industry over the past several years, as the introduction of new technological capabilities competed with the industry's ability to effectively absorb and leverage them.
However, in 2015 the industry began to turn that corner as more insurers made progress toward, or completed, their core system modernization efforts.
That fact, combined with some favorable financial results for the property and casualty industry, has the potential to enable the industry to continue to make good technological progress in 2016. More specifically, there are a few areas of technology that hold promise for the industry as 2016 begins.
On the following pages, here are five tech trends the insurance industry will see in 2016:
1. Advanced analytics and customer centricity
As part of the larger trend around big data turned into actionable analytics, insurers will begin to reap the benefits of those efforts in 2016.
The big idea behind big data and the analytics and modeling it spawns is the notion of customer centricity as the new North Star for insurance carriers.
That's a significant change with many implications, but at its core it is a recognition by carriers that their orientation needs to change 180 degrees, from inwardly focused to externally focused.
That is difficult to do without the benefit of the kinds of information that allows insurers to know their customers much more intimately than they ever have. The payoff for doing so is big. Increasing customer knowledge is a fundamental part of providing an effective omni-channel experience and allows insurers to identify opportunities for cross-selling products and services that they have not had the ability to identify in the past.
This will be important in 2016, as consumers will increasingly dictate the terms of engagement with their insurance companies, a fundamental change in the industry.
2. Digitization and portal development
Another important area for insurers in 2016 — and one that is part of the macro trend of external technological developments imposing themselves on the industry — is continued digitization and the pressure that puts on carriers to improve their digital capabilities, particularly with portals and mobile applications and services.
This marks a shift from the industry's emphasis on websites over the past several years, which to millennials and other influencing demographics of customers are just too inconvenient to use.
Insurers have begun to catch on to the idea that their customers of the future will be channel agnostic, or better yet ,will tell their insurer what kind of channel they’ll use and when they’ll use it.
That’s a big change for the industry. It’s a change that is coming, though, and those insurers who dedicate the time and resources to it in 2016 may find themselves at the head of the line for their customers of tomorrow.
3. Cloud and software as as service
As part of the same pivot toward customer centricity and digitization, insurers will accelerate their use of cloud-based solutions, including software as service and infrastructure as a service offerings.
The motivation for insurers is the potential to streamline their architecture, infrastructure and application portfolios, all as a way to be able to focus more IT resources on the kinds of initiatives that positively affect customers and agents in a direct way.
With IT talent at a premium for the foreseeable future, it's imperative that insurers orient their best talent toward those areas of the business where they can have the most positive and direct impact, and that list no longer includes things such as keeping the network up.
Rather, the new list will include things such as more intuitive user interfaces for agents and customers, and real-time access to policy and claims information and updates. Leveraging the cloud for the types of IT activities that don't directly add value to the ultimate customer experience will continue to be a focus area for insurers in 2016.
4. Telematics and usage-based insurance
Telematics and usage-based insurance are among the hottest topics in Auto insurance. And for good reason as the promise of more granular pricing segmentation and improved pricing accuracy by using actual driving behaviors as the basis for rates has auto insurers stepping over each other to get there first.
In Canada for example, the Personal Insurance Co. and Desjardins Insurance are touting its Ajusto programs as "industry leading," and they may just be right.
It's a safe bet that there will be broader adoption in 2016 as carriers see the value proposition inherent in usage-based insurance, and customers overcome trust issues. That said, for those insurers moving forward with telematics, there are certainly decisions to be made.
Not the least of which is the kind of consumer model to employ: Pay as You Drive (PAYD), where customers are charged based on actual miles driven, or Pay How You Drive (PHYD), where pricing is based on a driver's behavior (rapid acceleration and deceleration, time of day or route driven).
There are additional considerations for insurers around provisioning devices for customers, collecting the data from the devices and on the best uses for the data once collected. Those are all questions of how to implement, however. The key questions for insurers in 2016 around telematics will be when and how much?
5. Core modernization and innovation
The industry is not out of the woods yet when it comes to the replacement of decades of legacy systems with the kinds of platforms that set the foundation for future innovative practices and processes.
A lot of good work has been done in the industry, but those insurers who have not started their journey to more-modern systems will find themselves at an increasingly competitive and functional disadvantage in 2016 and beyond.
Plus, insurers' potential for offering innovative services will be severely limited. For those who have made significant progress on their modernization journeys, the future is wide open. The important thing about core systems modernization is not the updated functionality and stability a new platform brings, and it certainly brings some, but rather the foundation it creates to allow insurers to do many other things.
New and modern core systems simplify the traditional IT resource time burns around activities such as maintenance, updates and configurability. Insurers need to be smart about how they'll use that "found time" in their IT and business functions, and the smart ones will pour that time and those resources into their innovation efforts.
In all, 2016 has the potential to be a more transformative year for the industry than the past few have been, but that will only occur if insurers stay focused on their most important constituents — agents and policyholders — and on the external technological and social forces impacting the insurance industry, for better or worse.
Sreedhar Alavalapati and Krishna Prasad are senior architects at Farmington Hills, Mich.-based X by 2, a technology consultancy focused on the practice of architecture in the insurance and healthcare industries.
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