How can US insurers become more innovative? Look to Asia

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted many US insurance companies to speed up their digital transformation initiatives. Forced to adapt to new ways of working, they’ve quickly embraced alternative modes of communication and technology to keep servicing customers, writing policies and paying claims effectively. We’ve also seen how some insurance carriers have been adapting their business strategies as a result of the pandemic to become more ready and resilient. As US carriers look for opportunities to drive digital innovation, they may learn a great deal from the success of their peers in Asia.

Four insights from Asia’s insurers

Rapid innovation beats perfect innovation

Many insurers in Asia have brought digital products to market much more rapidly than their US counterparts. By being open to risk-taking and learning from failure, they’ve created niche products, gained first-mover advantage and expanded brand awareness. All the while, they’ve been tracking data on customer reactions and fine-tuning new products as necessary. They’ve also been mining the data for fresh customer insights that will help them find inroads for cross-selling.

We have seen Asian companies planning to expand and offer on-line investment accounts as well as selling health and life insurance policies directly to customers online.

Other insurers have tried launching a crowd-funded critical-illness offering and the new customer pools gained from this type of app tend to have a higher propensity to purchase the insurer’s health offerings.

Takeaways:

  • Prioritize experimentation and rapid launch of products. It may be far more beneficial to release a product in beta rather than delay until full development.
  • Invest in innovation, encourage a willingness to take risks and learn from failures.
  • Assess new products based on their increased customer lifetime value potential rather than marginal profitability.

Data boosts efficiency, reveals opportunities and customer needs

Some Asian insurers have gained access to rich sources of data through acquisitions and partnerships. Using data analytics, they have streamlined operations, identified product opportunities and simplified customer interactions. They have also strengthened innovation in core processes such as marketing, underwriting, risk management and actuarial assessments.

For example, we have seen some insurers replace their manual process for calculating payouts to policyholders with an artificial intelligence (AI) system. They expect to see a significant increase in productivity from this investment.

Other insurers are gathering and analyzing vast pools of unstructured customer data. They then put the insights to work across their respective businesses, especially in sales, delivery and service. Companies are also developing in-house technology in blockchain, artificial intelligence and facial recognition. They have strengthened underwriting by using facial recognition software to flag signs of dishonesty in prospective customers.

Takeaways:

  • Prioritize data as a source of innovation. By using data analytics, you may find new lines of business and learn more about current and potential customers.
  • Identify potential partnerships, acquisitions or InsurTech opportunities to broaden access to data and sharpen analytics.
  • Upskill your employees in digital technology and recruit tech-savvy talent.
  • Strengthen your capabilities in data management, privacy and cybersecurity.

Digital platforms outside insurance offer new opportunities

Insurers in Asia are marketing products and services on popular digital platforms that provide one-stop shopping for a range of customer needs, including e-commerce, messaging and payments. By extending their reach beyond the insurance market to leverage a broader ecosystem, these firms have attracted new customers and boosted direct sales, sometimes bypassing agents and brokers in the process. They have also increased the ease and frequency of customer contacts and strengthened customer loyalty.

Some multipurpose apps can share customer data that their insurance partners use in marketing, detecting fraud and curbing risk. Other companies demonstrate an ecosystem approach to product offerings by addressing a broad set of consumer needs, including ridesharing, food delivery, mobile wallets, health insurance (for drivers), auto insurance (for drivers) and ride insurance (for passengers).

Takeaways:

  • Explore ways to reach customers — current and new — through alliances with leading digital platforms. Look both within and beyond financial services, keeping in mind that cross-industry networking can help you expand your customer base and identify potential ecosystem partners.
  • Prioritize a direct-to-consumer approach and simplify the customer’s digital experience.
  • Consider opportunities for using existing digital platforms for cross-selling.

Follow Asia’s lessons, but don’t expect to replicate the playbook and achieve the same results in the US

The digital strategies that succeed in Asia will not necessarily pay off to the same extent in the US and elsewhere. Asia’s overall population and demographic trends — along with its lower insurance penetration rates — create more favorable insurance market growth conditions than the US has experienced. Also, some insurers in Asia are part of diverse conglomerates and can easily cross-pollinate innovation and solutions. For example, some companies are using smart contracts and the internet of things (IoT) to generate automatic payments to streamline small claims.

Takeaways:

  • Create partnerships in the InsurTech sector. You may also consider relationships with established companies in Asia for investment, joint innovation or information sharing.
  • Look to Asia for new ideas and opportunities by tracking investment trends, market shifts, M&As, and new products and services across the region.
  • Deepen discussions with insurance regulators about ways to spark innovation and improve the speed to market of new products.


Miles to go, but with digital guideposts

US insurers have made great strides toward digital transformation, but many still have a way to go. We see room for improving productivity by leveraging technology, such as AI and data analytics, in new ways. We also see opportunities to grow your business by extracting more insights from internal and external data to drive product and service innovation. In addition, many websites, mobile apps and call centers should have closer integration. In short, benefits in efficiency, cost-cutting and profitability from transformation are ripe for plucking.

Don’t expect to replicate the playbook and results achieved by some Asian carriers, as US and Asian insurance markets differ in too many ways. However, the innovation, flexibility and experimentation in Asia provide digital guideposts you can use to set your strategy for a post-COVID-19 world.

We would like to acknowledge Juan Fuentes, Elaine Han and Lauren Hahn for their contributions to this article.

Contact us

Abhijit Mukhopadhyay

Global insurance advisory leader, PwC US

Marie Carr

Global Growth Strategy, US Financial Services Practice, PwC US

Francois Ramette

Partner, PwC US

Veronika Torarp

Director, PwC Strategy&, PwC US

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