Digital insurance: Opportunities and challenges for insurance companies in the digital world

Digital Insurance

For a long time, insurance companies were not taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization. This, however, has massively changed in recent years. Just as in retail or banking, digital transformation is rapidly altering the rules of the game in the insurance industry. We will show you step by step how to utilize the potential of digitization for insurance companies.

Digital insurance reduces costs

Most insurers have long since recognized the necessary change towards a digital future: Taking out new policies and managing existing ones, comparing dental offers, submitting bills and reporting a car accident – all these can now be done online. There are two reasons for this: Costs and customers.

“We have to reduce further costs. In this respect, there is inevitably pressure in the industry to continually improve efficiency,” explained the former President of the German Insurance Association (GDV), Alexander Erdland, to the Handelsblatt as early as 2017. He also knows how cost-cutting should work: “For this, we need more employees in new technologies.”

However, the ability to digitally optimize processes and thus reduce costs is by no means the only driver of digitization in insurance companies.

Customers are driving the digitization of the insurance industry

To digitize the insurance industry, the changing (and growing) demands of policyholders are, besides pure efficiency, the important second driver of innovation.

As early as 2013, the study “Insurances: The Digital Challenge” (PDF, in German) by Bain & Company caused some astonishment among the experts: Not only because 40 percent of the insurance customers surveyed said they were willing to switch. But above all, because even then around 60 percent considered that, for the future, web-based communication channels would be the most important means of interacting with insurance companies.

In terms of “customer focus”, this was a wake-up call for the industry. While, prior to this, the majority of the insurance industry had, for decades, been sure of their customer base, this foundation of successful sales began increasingly to waver. Digitizing the insurance industry makes it easier for customers to access information, enables simple comparisons between providers, and accelerates closing processes – even with the competition.

Interview with Stefan Butzlaff (tecis / Swiss Life)

Stefan Butzlaff is a member of the Management Board of tecis Finanzdienstleistungen AG and Managing Director of Swiss Life Deutschland Vertriebsservice GmbH. He connects the two innovation drivers “efficiency” and “customers” in the overarching digital strategy of Swiss Life’s companies in Germany.

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Our central focus is on knowing the needs of our user groups. Every technology, every project, starts from the user. A detailed analysis of the current pain points is the basis of every newly developed digital solution. A cultural change of perspective, i.e. the anchoring of a positive assessment of change, is also indispensable for constant progress. Another key success factor for sales in future is to consolidate and radically simplify complex work steps through digitization. This requires an agile and pragmatic approach. In a rapidly growing FinTech market, speed is required to remain competitive in the long term.

Stefan Butzlaff

Read our interview with Stefan Butzlaff on Swiss Life’s digital strategy in Germany

The trend whereby customer wishes set the direction has intensified in recent years. Policyholders are transferring their experiences from other areas of life, such as convenient online shopping, and are adapting their expectations of insurance providers accordingly.

Increasing investment in this area also demonstrates the great importance of digitization for the insurance industry, both in terms of internal processes and end-customer business and service: in 2019, insurers spent around EUR 4.7 billion on this, 4.5 percent more than in the previous year. A record high. (Source: GDV)

Insurers in digital transformation by GDV

Challenges for the insurance industry: Legacy IT drives costs and hampers innovation

One of the insurance industry’s greatest challenges in the area of digitization is the historical growth of the IT landscape in many companies. Practically all insurers are affected by this (except for young Insurtech companies). Insurance companies have always, though, been quick to discover new technologies. And it is no paradox that this is exactly where the problem lies today. For example: A lot of modernization work is needed for a broker to be able to visit his customers with an iPad instead of a file folder.

For a survey carried out in 2013, Bain & Company identified that “More than two-thirds of the world’s non-life and life insurers were still using systems from the 1970s and 1980s.” Though a lot of complex modernization work has been done since then, the structure and organization of many of these so-called “back-end” systems still reflect complex corporate organizations. And data silos are still commonplace.

The IT systems from the first phase of digitization are still posing problems for providers today:

  1. Firstly, at the digital interface (the front-end) to their insurance providers, policyholders often have to deal with complex solutions – dominated by back-end processes – instead of being able to focus exclusively on their own needs. This is exactly the opposite of the user experience which customers otherwise experience online.
  2. And secondly, technology projects in large companies generally go on for a very long time, often years, because existing systems need to be maintained and serviced, and changes are a major challenge. Often newly developed solutions are already outdated again before they even go live.

As a result, many customers perceive their insurance policies as inflexible and not very customer-oriented. This, despite all the investments.

See how digital transformation succeeds with insurance companies

The short innovation cycles in the further development of web technology which continually gives users new opportunities and raises expectations, contrast with the very long development cycles in the integration into existing infrastructures.

Long runtimes are the rule for technology projects in those companies with historically grown, complex IT landscapes and typically overloaded IT and specialist departments
It is often overlooked that it is not only the technology used by customers (smartphones, browsers, etc.) which develops rapidly. New enterprise solutions are also constantly being created in order to offer current trends quickly to the widest possible range of users.

With the use of software such as front-end layers or API gateways, for example, fast iterations can be implemented at all direct interfaces to customers without having to intervene in the existing IT: A bimodal approach combining stability and innovation.

Learn more about how a bimodal IT approach can accelerate digitization

Four key factors for success

What should a roadmap to a digital company with a consistent customer focus look like? Four key factors determine success and are the basis for planning:

  1. Radical customer orientation
  2. Short time to market
  3. High transparency
  4. Unrestricted support by the management

The compulsion to be customer-oriented (1.) requires rapid implementation (2.) and transparent communication with customers as well as employees (3.). This cannot succeed without support – not only financial – at the board level (4.)

The importance of digital insurance distribution

A study by the German digital association “Bitkom” in 2019, suggests that the digitization of insurance sales is well received by German customers: more than one in two (55%) has already purchased an insurance product online at least once. In the target group of under 30-year-olds, the figure is even significantly higher (65%).

Bitkom study detail

However, the study of 1,003 people aged 16 and over, which is representative of the German market, also shows how important personal contact still is: 92 percent of all insurance policies are not taken out online, but preferably through an intermediary.

Nevertheless: In Germany, “online contracts are on the fast track”, as was reported in the trade magazine “AssCompact” in 2019: Although the number of contracts concluded in the branch office is still ahead with 38%, pure digital business already accounts for 35% of the total volume. However, 23% of all transactions are concluded in the customer’s private environment through brokers, agents or consultants. Thus, personal coverage to the amount of 61% is still far ahead of online sales. How then can online sales be “on the fast track”?

Online vs offline sales in insurance

To find the answer, one should look at the individual products separately. After all, the top 5 insurance products taken out online in Germany in 2019 were all simple, standardized products: Travel cancellation, motor vehicle, legal protection, foreign health and accident insurance. Only two more complex products are found among the top 10: BU Insurance (8th place) and private pension provision (10th place).

Complex products simply require more explanation and often individual advice so that customers can understand and buy them. Human insurance professionals are still ahead of automated digital distribution channels in this respect. But this will change as digital assistants or AI systems become better, and the more “digital natives” join the customer base for insurance products. If the established providers do not want to lose market shares to new, purely digital competitors, they will have to rethink and expand their existing online insurance offerings.

Three tips for more customer focus in digital sales

  1. The customer is the starting point for all developments: The needs of the customer should be the focus of all new customer interface solutions – not the internal processes of your company. An optimal customer journey for your customers is the goal for every digital sales channel. Check your approach and your projects to see if this is reflected there.
  2. Transformation works better outside-in: Many large insurance companies want to begin the transformation of their business processes and products from the inside-out by modernizing their corporate culture, internal processes and basic IT infrastructure. It is, however, better to reverse the process and begin the transformation to a digital enterprise at the interface with the customer. After all, a change from the outside to the inside leads to success much more quickly in complex organizational structures.
  3. Early feedback prevents undesirable developments: Digital solutions should not be developed “to the end” in silence, but should be provided with intermediate goals which are presented and tested, internally or publicly. At the beginning, there can be a “Minimum Viable Product” which only fulfils the minimum requirements, but on the basis of which the project management can check the user acceptance for the upcoming product.

Read more about digital insurance marketing & sales

The role of brokers in digital distribution

What role in the future will brokers continue to play in the digital interaction with providers and customers? Will sales soon be exclusively digital? Surely, not so soon. In an interview, the founder of the German InsurTech start-up “flypper”, Dominik Groenen, said: “In our opinion, the orientation ‘exclusively digital’ bypasses the actual interest of the vast majority of customers.”

From a sales point of view, we are not yet living in the digital age, but in the customer-centric age: the customer’s wishes are the focus, not the technology (this is only a means to an end). Digitalisation offers brokers a real opportunity to spend more time on their core business: Building trust. As nowadays, correspondence still often takes up a lot of time – e.g. policies, applications, changes have to be checked and mailed –, the focus is now shifting towards person-to-person contact. Digitization does not mean people will no longer have a task. Rather, tasks will change with increasing digital transformation.

Brokers continue to be an important asset for insurance providers. It is now a matter of moving into the digital future together – and not letting any competition with online sales develop. As with the end customers, providers must, therefore, explain the advantages of digitization to their brokers:

  • Sales support: Not simply “tablet instead of file”, but also by digitizing internal processing procedures.
  • Digital products instead of digitized products: Insurance products are also subject to trends. Anyone who cannot offer “cyber insurance” today is missing out on business.

Learn more about the role of brokers in digital insurance

Customer request and technical challenge: Bundled products

Brokers can do what the software of many insurers cannot yet do: Offer customers individual bundled products. They can do this because they listen carefully and quickly recognize information relevant to the up-sell. For digital systems, this is still a challenge, and ultimately, insurance products are often so monolithic that combining individual modules to make up an offer does not lead to success.

Both sides, customer and provider, would surely like to have a customer journey which could look like this:

John Doe has bought a new bicycle which he wants to insure against theft. He selects an insurer via an online comparison platform, and ends up on their sales website. Now the insurer already knows that the potential customer is a cyclist. With only a few additional data, they can calculate whether it makes sense to offer accident insurance, or even offer a household insurance that includes the bicycle.

Implementing this customer journey is a technical challenge and therefore still very much up in the air for most providers. Older IT back-end systems, especially, e.g. for risk calculation, are not designed to receive data from the front-end, process it quickly, and return a result directly. However, there are solutions for this which enable linking a wide variety of (even historical) systems.

Learn more about the opportunities and challenges of bundled products

Digital insurance case studies: And it does work!

Efforts made by the insurance industry to digitize have often been smiled upon. Old companies were considered too cumbersome to keep up with the young fintechs. A doomsday scenario was devised: Classical insurers would in future become pure “infrastructure providers” who would provide services, but hand over sales and, thus, contact with their customers to the new online platforms.

However, this did not prove to be true. There are many examples, today, of how insurers have taken important steps in digital transformation quickly and successfully.

HDI Firmen Digital

digital insurance case study HDI Firmen Digital

It is mandatory today to offer a fully digital online policy for simple products such as liability insurance. Supplemental insurances, on the other hand, are complex insurance policies which require more individual configuration effort – such as commercial insurance. This is precisely what the German HDI Group has successfully mastered: “Firmen Digital” is an online portal which maps an entire process, from application to the completed policy.

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The portal is an important building block in our digitization strategy. It was important for us to integrate the new technology seamlessly into our IT infrastructure. Thanks to Firmen Digital‘s online calculator, we can significantly reduce the complexity of the consulting process for commercial insurance policies. This creates transparency for our customers, and supports our sales partners.

Markus Rehle Member of the Management Board of HDI Versicherung AG

“Firmen Digital” works with protection services visualizations, automates many processes and also creates a consulting protocol according to IDD standard. The implementation was successful with the help of a special API gateway which connects various data sources (e.g. a company directory) to the frontend. Thus, blackbox processing is possible without affecting the inventory IT.

Read more about the success story of HDI Firmen Digital

Swiss Life

Digital insurance distribution is only the first step. You can acquire customers here – but those who take out policies online do not want to manage them offline. The next logical step, therefore, is to set up customer portals which enable self-administration of all master and contract data, 24/7. Swiss Life Germany has taken on this undertaking and successfully relaunched the following customer portals, Swiss Life Select, tecis, Horbach, and Proventus.

Since 2015, Avenga’s predecessor company “Sevenval Technologies” has been supporting Swiss Life Germany to sharpen its digital strategy and implement it for the individual companies in their Group. Currently, Swiss Life Germany is cooperating with Avenga:

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Avenga has already supported us in the process of digitally transforming our company in a large number of successfully completed projects. Avenga convinced us with their fast and efficient implementation of ideas. We are therefore looking forward to further intensifying our partnership-based cooperation

Fabian Van Lancker Head of Customer Processes & BI Swiss Life

Large parts of the implementation were the responsibility of the Sevenval team during that time. Watch a video interview from 2019 with Sascha Langfus, member of Avenga’s management board, Germany:

Future trends for insurance companies

Digital technology is developing at a rapid pace. Many things are only progressing in small steps, but some technical ideas have become industry trends. Blockchain, AI and Big Data applications, for example – every major insurer is dealing now with these topics.

A brief look at these three important trends in the insurance industry:

Blockchain for insurances

Blockchain technology with its advanced cryptographic techniques for transaction verification is considered a “game changer” for the insurance industry. Blockchain forms the foundation for convenient and continual secure access by all parties to the distributed data of a contract.

This means that insurers, brokers and customers can always rely on having exactly the same information – and no one can alter it unnoticed for their own benefit. For the first time, blockchain enables a truly secure “single point of truth” for all parties involved, creating lasting trust and reducing both operating and transaction costs.

Blockchain-based insurance systems can massively simplify claims processing, especially in the event of serious or catastrophic events. They can reduce the workload of insurers and brokers who process large volumes of documents from claimants, assessors, lawyers and experts.

Big data for insurance companies

With increasing digitization, the amount of data and the number of data points is growing faster and faster – and their intelligent use has long since become an existential question for insurers. Today, the technology for collecting, storing and processing data is so advanced that providers can concentrate fully on evaluating the results: New customer segments can be discovered here as well as insights into customer needs, ideas for new products and services or ways for targeted marketing.

These are all prerequisites for remaining competitive, managing fact-based risks and developing services and products which are specifically tailored to the needs of their customers.

Artificial intelligence for insurance companies

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a key to efficient and consistent customer service. According to an Accenture study, 74% of consumers are willing to get AI-based insurance advice. The suitable solution for this could be an around-the-clock chatbot which accepts, understands and correctly processes customer requests.

Insurance Advice by AI

Operational efficiency can also be improved through targeted AI deployment: Process automation, managing huge amounts of data, or damage report analysis are classic tasks for AI.

Insurance fraud can also be curbed with AI, as suspicious customers can be identified faster and countermeasures can be initiated earlier. Biometric AI can, for example, recognize images and faces with a high degree of accuracy and uncover suspicious activity in a very short time.

Learn about insurtech trends from the insurance industry

Insurtech startups: role model instead of competition?

Anyone who starts into the “digital age of the customer” without any technical legacy will find it easier in many respects to be at the cutting edge of technology. Only a few years ago, this was considered a threat to the market position of established insurers. However, they also have a decisive advantage over newcomers: They have a large customer base and have the means to present new services and products to their customers. What exactly this might be, can be increasingly found at Insurtech’s startups.

The Startup, Lemonade, for example, illustrates what speed means today: The digital insurer enables immediate conclusion of an insurance policy via an app or website, with easy-to-understand questions, within 90 seconds. The tariff option “Zero Everything” excludes all deductibles and future price increases. Claims are usually settled within three minutes. This is the speed which customers expect in the digital age.

Or Trōv, an “on-demand insurance platform” which offers its customers insurance cover for around 10,000 specific products with a simple and user-friendly “Mobile-First” approach. All concluded micro duration insurance covers are stored in the app and can be switched on and off with a swipe.

The Haftpflicht Helden (Eng. Liability Heroes) have accomplished another feat: They offer extremely focused products and strive to position themselves in a way which can be explained in one sentence, and addresses a clearly defined target group. If the customer can already see from the brand name what services are to be expected, this is an ideal introduction to a focused insurance solution.

Learn more about these three examples from the world of Insurtech companies

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