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Next in insurance: Top insurance industry issues in 2022

The insurance industry is no longer predictable

The business of insurance, which once was stable and predictable, isn’t that way anymore. Growth without sacrificing profitability is challenging, climate change is irrevocably impacting certain risk profiles, distribution needs have become truly omnichannel and customers expect products tailored just for them. All the while, technology has continued its relentless advance and an emerging player ecosystem is threatening to shake up customer acquisition. As a result, industry executives now have to make an array of deliberate and aggressive strategic choices to succeed. Incremental change or hoping to avoid change altogether are no longer viable options.

Compounding the difficulty of addressing these challenges is how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated them. Customer and employee expectations changed more in 18 months than they did in the previous two decades. This has put immense pressure on the industry and carriers have had to adjust practically—in some cases, literally—overnight. Even though the pandemic has ebbed and flowed, the pace of change has remained relentless.

Commitment is an act, not just a word

Despite disruption and the new entrants trying to take advantage of it, the good news for many carriers is that they still have a competitive advantage that others can’t easily replicate. There’s room in most market segments for multiple players, but because not all competitive levers are fully or equally available to everyone, insurers typically focus on one of the following five areas: 1 - digitization, data and integration; 2 - brand and distribution; 3 - superior, innovative products; 4- strategic partnerships; 5 - effective structuring.

Unfortunately, while most insurers do try to focus on their strengths, they also typically underinvest in these areas and fail to act with urgency, resulting in a race to the middle. We tell clients that they need to fully fund and support their way to play and hold themselves accountable for the results. In other words, commitment without action won’t get you very far. 

While carriers may have been able to get away with a fuzzier approach in the past, that is not the case today. Private equity, asset managers and other new entrants are moving quickly, with great focus and discipline, to capitalize on industry disruption. Companies that continue to work from three- to five-year timelines that are vague and lack strategic focus are likely to lose market share and perhaps even wind up as someone else’s acquisition.

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Companies that continue to work from three- to five-year timelines that are vague and lack strategic focus are likely to lose market share and perhaps even wind up as someone else’s acquisition.

Real-life examples: Ways to play

Leading carriers aren’t relying on past success. They’re defining new ways to remain relevant and grow.

Data & Integration: Digital Simplification Operator

Leverages advanced tech and data capabilities to create a seamless, digital-first experience from quote and sale all the way to claims. Features simplicity and competitive prices.

Distribution: Ecosystem Orchestrator

Creates an integrated ecosystem (typically via partnerships) that offers customers “more than just insurance,” focusing on distribution and product offerings to win at the point of sale.

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Products: Unmet Needs Customizer

Develops innovative differentiated, and customized products to address unserved / underserved segments or new, emerging risks via advanced analytics and pay-as-you go pricing.

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Partnerships: Platform Services Innovator

Extends core capabilities by offering products and services to other carriers, distributors or other adjacent businesses. Creates scale by funding differentiating competencies and experiences.

Structuring: Economic Value Creator

Employs a lean operations focus to compete competitively on price and enable investments in key strategic areas.

What makes a winner?

Based on our experience working with all segments of the industry, we’ve observed that most successful insurers in today’s environment have a few key traits. In particular, they:

Say “no” to what doesn’t fit

Define a strategic direction and say “no” to what doesn’t fit. Simply setting financial goals isn’t enough. Committing to a way to play, then continuing to do everything you did before while funding whatever else comes along, is not a strategic direction. Leaders know how to prioritize.

Fully fund their strategy

They don’t shortchange big bets or dilute key investments with allocations to less vital areas. Of note, they’re typically able to make these investments because they’ve implemented structural, financial and tax approaches that minimize their cost ratios.

Get creative with products

They’re able to identify new product categories (as opposed to just adding new features) and have the brand strength to deliver them. For example, early movers are designing products that take into account two increasingly important issues: Stakeholders’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns and the still overlooked employer as distributor market for a wide variety of financial and service needs, particularly retirement and college savings and paying for childcare or elder care.

Get involved in partnerships and make deals

Get involved in partnerships and make deals to meet strategic goals. Inorganic strategies have a long history in the industry but have picked up steam recently as carriers focus on core competencies and enhancing technology. In fact, partnerships and deals have become a necessity for most carriers to enable their chosen ways to play. They take part in ecosystems and invest in InsurTech. Although most of these kinds of investments aren’t game-changers on their own, when they get the acquiring company closer to a strategic goal, they’re worth it.

That said, the best ecosystems and InsurTech innovations in the world aren’t going to help you if they don’t align with your strategy or if you’re not executing your strategy properly. As carriers find new partners, technologies and business models that align to their core principles or strategic growth plan, they can test their value and determine whether or not to adopt the innovation or maintain the partnership.

60% of consumers don’t feel they’re financially confident or covered across their long-term security and emergency needs.

Source: PwC/LIMRA 2020 research

Technology platforms that drive strategy

Even a clear and consistent strategy is going to founder if your technology can’t enable it. We haven’t spoken with a single business leader who doesn’t recognize that investments in new technologies are the best way to facilitate market access, risk selection and management, quality financial information and customer service capabilities. However, we’ve seen many carriers fail to stick to a coherent strategy beyond “digitization.” There’s often a lack of clarity and correspondingly nebulous goals about how these substantial investments relate to the business. The above discussion of funding a competitive advantage also applies here. Carriers should fully invest in ways that build on their strengths and hold the organization accountable for the results. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we’ve seen time and again that many carriers simply don’t do this. Customers (and employees) increasingly expect insurers to be as easy to work with as an online retailer—and new entrants are giving them exactly what they want. If you can’t, you’re going to lose business and employees.

A truly strategic technology platform features:

A core processing system

A core processing system that efficiently issues policies and contracts, enables payments and keeps track of finances. You don’t need bells and whistles for their own sake, but you do need something that does the essential job of helping you achieve scale faster.

Digital data and integration capabilities

Digital data and integration capabilities that enable access to and understanding of your own data and from third parties to inform management decisions and enable new capabilities.

Customer/user-facing systems

The absolutely vital customer and user-facing systems that support your call centers, customer chat and walk-in locations. They enable carrier representatives to immediately determine client identities and service histories to quickly solve customers’ problems. Moreover, an effective integration layer facilitates quick incorporation of new partners and solutions into your digital capabilities.

Reporting and compliance platforms

Reporting and compliance platforms that provide high-quality data, facilitate accurate financial reporting and accounting and enable effective compliance.

Cloud

Cloud, because no insurer needs to—and, more importantly, probably shouldn’t—support its own infrastructure anymore. Those that do risk it being an impediment to operational flexibility. Practically everything in insurance eventually becomes a margin game, with the advantage going to the carriers that can scale effectively, drive out cost and achieve broad price competitiveness. Carriers with adaptable cores that can be quickly configured for new innovations—a key advantage of cloud technology—can achieve this scale faster.

Changing customer expectations 2018 to 2021

Source: PwC 2018 and 2021 surveys of 6,000 insurance customers.

 

The path forward

None of this is easy, and no single company has mastered all of these ways to win. But, we’ve never seen a truly competitive insurer that didn’t at least: 

  1. Set and stick to clear goals. 

  2. Support business goals with a technology strategy that’s built on and integrates proprietary and third-party data. 

  3. Fully invest in and hold itself accountable for achieving 1 and 2. 

Whatever your business focus—data and integration, brand and distribution, products, strategic partnerships or structuring—these three are absolutely essential.

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The ‘Next in insurance’ content series: what’s ahead

We’ll focus on some overarching issues that directly relate to and influence the capabilities strategies we describe above. We’ll address current ways to win in the market and, recognizing that what works today may not work even a few months from now, what we expect will typify the leaders of the future. We plan to cover the following issues:

Alternative business and operating models

How alternative business and operating models are transforming the insurance industry

The pressure from and influence of outside entrants continues to shape the move to new models that promote stronger capabilities. For example, many insurers are establishing venture capital arms to invest in and test new concepts. Thanks to investments in analytics and AI, others are getting better at slicing risk and offering a range of pay-as-you-go coverage. Some carriers are making concerted efforts to simplify products—for example, by shortening policies and using plain English. Others are trying to reduce friction in the chain of distribution by reducing the number of intermediaries. They’re accomplishing this by using digital channels powered by increasingly more granular insights into customer behavior, as well as embedding insurance in other products, notably through ecosystems. Common to all of these moves are investments in and modernization of the entire technology stack, the automation of routine tasks and a growing emphasis on the complementary relationship between humans and technology.

Investment and cost strategies

Investment and cost transformation strategies, including ones used effectively by private equity and asset managers

As private equity has shown, a clear focus on operational and cost efficiencies reduces cost ratios and offers a competitive advantage. Both enabling and complementing this is a focus on underwriting efficiency on both sides of the balance sheet. In fact, carriers that have a sustainable underwriting advantage consistently outperform their peers. Carriers also are following private equity’s lead by looking for ways to smooth out earnings volatility and use resulting spare capacity to diversify with new products and services. Lastly, spin-offs and other deals have become quite common among established carriers. This is largely a result of carriers doubling down on their core businesses, including via acquisition, and exiting the rest. In addition to helping them refine focus and increase scale, this simplifies and lowers the cost of the investments in technology that are necessary to remain competitive.

The war for talent

The workforce, which brings your strategy to life and holds the key to the future of the business

Insurers feel insecure in the war for talent. They think — often rightly so  — that they lag behind other “sexier” industries in attracting and retaining the best people. However, recent changes in what employees expect of their employers and the nature of work itself offer insurers a great opportunity to level the playing field. Companies that proactively and convincingly demonstrate flexibility and offer meaningful career paths with ample room for development are showing that insurance can be as professionally and personally rewarding an industry as any. In other words, it’s time for insurers to play offense instead of defense.

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ESG considerations

The increasing breadth and importance of ESG considerations, from investment strategy and underwriting to public perception

The insurance industry has long paid close attention to environmental issues because they directly affect how carriers evaluate and price risk and pay out claims. But sustainability and governance are becoming equally important. For the former, insurers are experiencing increased scrutiny of their business models. For example, what’s the right balance between covering climate-related risks and underwriting initiatives that could increase those very same risks? Such sustainability concerns relate directly to governance issues. Insurance leaders now have to meet formal, increasingly detailed ESG reporting requirements covering everything from their investments to how they underwrite business. And investors, customers and the workforce are paying close attention.

Contact us

Ellen Walsh

Insurance Consulting Solutions Leader, PwC US

Marie Carr

Global Growth Strategy, US Financial Services Practice, PwC US

Francois Ramette

Principal, Insurance Consulting, Strategy&, PwC US

Bruce Brodie

Managing Director, Insurance Business, Operations and IT Strategy, PwC US

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