The P&C industry is undergoing fundamental change, with significant consequences for the risk function. New approaches to data, the workforce, partners and customers are changing the way insurers operate.
The stakes are high, and with interest rates low, revenue streams are under threat while new competitors are entering from all sides.
At the same time, insurers are encountering new obstacles — from regulatory uncertainty to reduced demand among millennials. The Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles and other major shifts present major challenges along with large opportunities.
To survive — let alone thrive — insurers need to evolve. The scale of the evolution could be challenging, but many of the changes that are needed should add significant long-term value. For example, the availability of real-time data allows P&C insurers to think about new products and propositions to unlock predictive and opportunistic strategies.
Insurers are also rethinking their relationships with all stakeholders, becoming a "partner" to customers, brokers and other intermediaries while establishing deeper ties in adjacent industries such as automotive and home security. An openness to new technologies also demands a broader ecosystem of supply partners, including technology companies, insurtech firms, venture capitalists and digital specialists.
As we have done in alternate years since 2009, Accenture conducted extensive research in 2017 among nearly 500 global risk management executives in the financial services industry, including 190 in insurance.
We wanted, in part, to understand how insurers view the challenges facing the risk management function. We found that P&C insurers are facing the world with a bit more confidence than their life insurance counterparts. For example, only 61 percent of P&C respondents saw balancing the responsibilities for control and compliance with the need for effective customer service as a major impediment to effectiveness, versus 84 percent of insurers. And only 65 percent of P&C respondents reported being hampered by shortages of skills in new and emerging technologies, versus 71 percent of life insurers.
However, while there were some differences from sector to sector, we found that both P&C and life insurers are taking a more progressive approach to risk management when compared to our earlier research. They are investing to develop their risk functions in three key areas...
Innovation is everywhere in insurance. (Photo: iStock)
Harnessing digital innovation
Advances in big data and analytics are helping insurers better understand risk, build stronger predictive models and tailor customer relationships to suit personal preferences and risk attitudes. At the same time, robot brokers are on the rise, new platforms are providing micro-pooling “social insurance” models, and sensors allow insured cargo to report every bump, scrape and drop impact it endures in transit. In parallel, some of the most transformative technologies are being implemented deep in the back offices of the world’s leading insurers.
The cloud is a great example. Our 2017 Global Risk Management Study finds that cloud technology is virtually ubiquitous—91 percent of insurers are using it — but just 26 percent are highly proficient in using cloud within their organization, 36 percent are not using it to its full potential, and 29 percent are only just introducing it. Respondents want to improve efficiency in response to cost pressures, and cloud is the top choice in this regard, with 77 percent indicating their risk function uses it to reduce costs.
Balancing old and new skills
New tools and processes change how risk teams interact with the business, alliances, regulators, customers and other external stakeholders, requiring new skills and a better balance of attributes across teams. Beyond quantitative skills, the risk management function needs to be able to deliver value by providing economic insights, generating new ideas and building strong relationships throughout the organization in pursuit of the overall strategic objectives.
To support these goals, some insurers are bringing staff into the risk function from other areas of the business to enhance credibility and facilitate relationships. Others are hiring from diverse disciplines, including economics, the law and engineering. There are few professionals who possess every skill the risk function needs. From general quantitative competencies to technology acumen, industry knowledge, niche risk specialties, communication skills, creativity and management experience, candidates with the whole package are extremely rare.
Integrating across the business
Currently, 54 percent of insurance respondents say there is limited coordination between risk management activities at the local level and the group level. While some aspects of centralization are desirable to enable a more aggregated and consistent picture for analysis and evaluation, the reality is that risk exists everywhere in the business and risk professionals need to be engaged throughout the business — not only at an aggregate level.
Central frameworks and tools help to provide a more standardized and coordinated response to regulation, a consistent set of rules for managing the portfolio of risks and the capability to perform complex and high-value calculations to measure risk exposure, liquidity and solvency. But decentralization is also valuable because local or specialized teams can focus on local regulatory requirements and market-specific topics. Any effective risk management function must be able to exist locally and centrally, being close to the business and connected across the organizational structure to manage the overall portfolio, including strategic and emerging risks.
As the study results indicate, the nature of risk is changing. It is up to P&C firms and their risk management functions to create and continually develop a dedicated emerging-risk working group that can identify and evaluate the nature of emerging risks and their potential impacts. That may be the best way to address the constant and disruptive change confronting the industry.
Steven R. Culp is senior managing director of Accenture Finance & Risk.
Duncan Barnard is managing director of Finance & Risk Services, Insurance Northeast for Accenture.