USAA and Watson: Defining the Standard for Customer Service?

By Patrick Vice, Insurance-Canada.caNo Comments

Some marriages are made in heaven; others are made in Las Vegas. It’s early days yet, but I think the marriage of IBM’s Watson technology with USAA’s insurance and financial services is made in customer service wonderland.  If implemented correctly (and I will tell you what I think about that), this could be the standard for others to beat.

USAA: service driving technology implementation …

USAA is not a well known player in Canada, primarily because its target market is active duty and retired US military personnel.  The company owns this market, making it the 5th largest homeowners insurer and 6th largest automobile insurer in the US.

It owns the market, primarily because it created it, and continues to nurture it through excellent service.  As the website says:

“USAA began in 1922, when 25 Army officers agreed to insure each other’s vehicles when no one else would. Today we follow the same military values our founders prized: service, loyalty, honesty and integrity.”

It has been ahead of the technology curve since at least the late 1960s when its then president declared that it must become paper-free in order to service its customers (referred to as ‘members’).  That wasn’t an easy objective, but over the next two decades, USAA persevered and became a model of how to implement document management.  I had the privileged of organizing a tour of its huge central facility in San Antonio in the early 1990s.  Attendees were impressed.

The innovation tradition continues to this day.  In 2010, MIT Sloan School did a case study on USAA’s organizational support for innovation.  One slightly geeky tidbit from that report: at the turn of this century, USAA was spending 29% of its IT budget on new projects (versus maintenance, ‘run the business’ activities).  Not great, but  not out of line.  By 2010, as a result of standardization and technology automation, the new development number was up to 50%.

Where does Watson fit in?

IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, can play Jeopardy, and win.  But it has yet to become a commercial success. earlier this year, this blog documented how IBM has been taking its investment seriously and learning from its mistakes.  There have been pilots and research initiatives.  The blog posed the question: “How far can we expect Watson and its colleagues to go over the next 3, 5, or 10 years?   What will this mean for the average insurer or broker?”

I believe the answer came in a release from USAA:  “WatsonTM, the IBM® computer … is putting its processing power toward answering questions from USAA members.”

The emphasis is on service first:  “USAA members can ask Watson questions about military separation. Eventually, members will be able to ask Watson about many of the products and services offered by the enterprise.”

I’ve had some experience working with military service personnel and their families.  Separation from service is a major life change.  As Eric Engquist, assistant vice president of Military Transitions says, the use of Watson’s cognitive computing capabilities “will enable USAA to provide relevant guidance during one of the most emotional and financially impactful decisions our military members will make during their career.”

There’s lots behind the curtain …

This will be the first commercialized consumer-facing implementation of Watson’s functionality.  The function builds on USAA’s model of on-line self-service.  According to the USAA release:  “Of the 700 million digital interactions members have with USAA each year, nearly 94 percent allow members to complete their transactions by themselves.”

A team from USAA worked with IBM for six months to train Watson how to address 2,000 questions relating to separation.  This will form the basis for the advice which will supplement personal transactions.  It will also allow USAA and IBM to learn how to train Watson further.

Let’s compare notes ….

I think USAA does right things the right way.  They plan well, and learn from mistakes.  And they are humble in dealing with their members.  I think the relationship with Watson will be a win for all concerned, and could define the standard for cognitive computing implementation in insurance.

So, what do you think?  I’m willing to buy you a drink at the Insurance-Canada Technology Conference 2015 to compare notes.




Analytics, Big Data, Cloud Computing, Consumer Facing Technology, Innovation

The Road to Digital is Paved … Sort of

By BlogEditorNo Comments

We are hearing lots of enthusiasm for digital innovation by senior executives in insurance companies.  And for good reasons.  However, there may be some historical baggage that needs to be handled and some organizational issues that need to be addressed before progressing in the brave, new digital world.

What do you think?

The digital chain saw has insurance in its path…

An Accenture report, From Digital Wallflower to Digital Disrupter,  notes that there are significant disruptive influences within and outside the traditional insurance industry that will force change.  Research by Accenture found that “67 percent of insurance customers would consider purchasing insurance products from organizations other than insurers, including 23 percent who would consider buying from online service providers such as Google and Amazon.”

The authors use the term ‘sobering’ to describe the impact on insurers.  ‘Scary’ is another term that could fit.

Additionally, the report opines that there will be pressures from alternative risk financing options  that could take premium dollars out of the standard market.  The example cited is the advent of the self-driving vehicle, which might come with an ‘extended warranty’ that could replace some or all of the need for standard insurance coverage.

We have blogged on this possibility for some time now (see, e.g., What’s the Lifespan of Insuring Telematically?)  The topic will also be addressed in October at the Insurance-Canada Executive Forum 2014.

But the saw can cut two ways …

The Accenture report notes that this disruption brings opportunities for insurers: “With their deep resources, robust balance sheets, enormous scale, stockpiles of data and process discipline, insurers are primed to take a leading role in new ecosystems that connect customers to a range of products, services and vendors.”

The report makes specific recommendations for insurers, including:

  • Positioning themselves at the heart of the digital customer experience
  • Adopting collaborative technologies to develop a more flexible workforcs
  • Using data as a core product to drive ROI
  • Master Big Data using innovations in hardware
  • Providing smaller, useful apps to consumers
  • Ensuring nonstop business processes, services, and applications

But time is of the essence.  The report concludes:

“The choice for most insurance carriers is this: transform yourself into a risk manager, advisor and value aggregator at the center of a digital ecosystem that delivers high-value services to customers every day, or risk being pushed to the periphery as an interchangeable, commodity-service provider with limited control over your destiny.”

The head is ready, but is the body willing?

A recent McKinsey research note, “The Digital Tipping Point”,  makes similar points in respect to the business world generally. In our view, these findings apply to the insurance community.  Senior executives see the need to go digital in order to grow.  And CEOs and COOs are becoming directly involved in developing strategies and action plans.

Expectations are high in the C-Suite.  And the officers are prepared to spend on engagement.   But not so much on automation.  “Just 34 percent of executives say  it’s a top-three priority for their companies, even though automation may significantly help businesses in sectors that are undergoing digital disruption (by lowering customer transaction costs, for example) and improve their bottom lines.”

This attitude also found in human resource allocation.  McKinsey notes:  “Only one-third of respondents say at least one in ten of their employees spends any time working on digital projects.”

Further, there is no clear alignment plan:  “less than 40 percent of executives say their companies have accountability measures in place for their digital objectives, either through measurable targets, performance incentives for relevant employees, or an executive ‘owner’ of their digital programs.”

What we need to do is …

McKinsey recommends that organizations need to take two steps:

  1. Understand the value that digital can create and ensure that the investments are aligned with highest value initiatives.
  2. Focus organizationally “to ensure that their structures and business processes are set up to take full advantage of the opportunities that digital efforts offer.”

We see a few insurers taking these steps, but not as many as required.

What do you think?

Are insurers (and brokers) ready for the new digital world?  Can we continue to promote innovation without the necessary financial and organizational support?

We’d be interested in your thoughts, and any case studies you might be aware of that would illustrate how  digital objectives can be achieved.






Analytics, Autonomous Vehicles, Big Data, Digital Insurance, Innovation

Project Review – Think of it as an ‘Annual Physical’

By Peter SymonsNo Comments

In this post we look at the value that an external Project Review brings to a project.

A project review is typically undertaken for two reasons:

  • A project is challenged in some way and a review is needed to identify the problems and recommend solutions to resolve the problems.
  • A project is not challenged in any meaningful way but there could be areas that may need a little ‘tightening.’ A Project Review is a sound way of confirming that a project is running as well as it can. Think of it as an annual physical — you don’t feel unwell, but it is comforting to hear that all is well from a fresh set of eyes.

What is a Project Review?

It is an apolitical review of a project conducted by people who have not previously been involved in the project. A review usually will have four distinct steps:

Step 1:  Read-in –where the reviewers will review every document created during the project, e.g.,  The Project Plan, Change Control Documents, Communication Plan documents, Design Documents, Risk Management documents, Quality Control documents , etc..

While the existence of the documents is an important measure of maturity of approach to the project, evidence that the documents are being used, and that they are updated to reflect the inevitable changes that wash over projects as time passes. are of greater importance.

Usage, and the related updating of documents, shows that the project is formally recognizing that change has and is occurring. All to often, critical project documents get created, filed and never looked at again. If the documents do not get updated it is indicative of a project that is being managed by the seat of its pants.

Step 2: Interview– the reviewer(s) interview almost everyone on the project. On very large projects this can be impractical, but the critical point is to interview a representative of every group of people on the project. Just interviewing the senior people will tell you how they hope the project is being run; interviewing the less senior people on the project (as well as the senior ones) will tell you how the project is actually being run.

Step 3: Report and Presentations – the review team will create a comprehensive report, not only on their findings but also comparing the project to industry standards (e.g., PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge – PMBOK). The report explains what is happening within the inner workings of the project and gives the audience an indication of whether it is following best practices. The team will then create presentations based on the intended audience. The presentations will point out areas of the project that are running well and areas of the project that could benefit from change.

Step 4: Implementation – the deliverable from the review are recommendations that can improve the management of the project.

For example, most project managers know that they need a certain level of documentation to correctly run a project. Rarely do project managers stop updating such documents because they can’t be bothered.  The challenge is usually found in two areas: lack of time and a forest / trees problem.

There are many techniques that project managers can use to both recover sufficient time to start to apply better controls to a project and to step back from the trees to look at the forest. Part of the review is the suggestion of and support for implementing such changes.


A Project Review is a simple, low cost method of obtaining a non-biased review of your project(s) that will confirm that the project is running well and / or point out areas that perhaps could stand a little change.


Peter Symons ( is vice-president Insurance Services at Mariner Innovations. an innovative IT services company, as well as Canada’s leading supplier of Application Modernization Services.

Headquartered in Saint John, NB, with regional offices in Regina, Toronto, Fredericton, and Halifax, Mariner Innovations provides professional IT consulting services to Insurance, Telecom, Healthcare and Government organizations. 

IT Management

Is Communications a Lecture or a Conversation?

By Patrick Vice, Insurance-Canada.caNo Comments

Over the years, I’ve learned – sometimes the hard way – a deep respect for communication professionals in all aspects of business. I recently came across a report from the Project Management Institute (PMI) which quantifies the impact of communications on project effectiveness. This is important reinforcement for the role of communications. However, after looking at the results and recommendations, I find myself wondering if some of our own IT-based assumptions, reflected in the PMI report, cause us to miss half the value of the communications world.

I’d appreciate your thoughts.

The high cost of low communications

According to the 2013 PMI report, The High Cost of Low Performance:The Essential Role of Communications, “In the context of organizational project and program management, communications is a core competency that, when properly executed, connects every member of a project team to a common set of strategies, goals and actions.”

And the PMI goes to some length to quantify how critical this core competency is in mitigating project risk and ensuring effective project results. The report is rich with data points, including:

  • 56% of project risk costs are due to communications issues.
  • Executives report that effective communications is “associated with a 17 percent increase in finishing projects within budget.”(Based on a PwC survey)
  • an “average of four out of five projects that are communicated with sufficient clarity and detail—communicated in the language of the audience—meet their original business goals and intent, compared to just over half of projects when communications are not sufficiently clear and detailed.”
  • “highly-effective communicators are five times more likely to be high performers than minimally-effective communicators.”

The way forward

The PMI report authors are clear about recommending four steps “to improve their communications and become high performers,”

  1. Close the communications gap around business benefits.
  2. Tailor communications to different stakeholder groups.
  3. Acknowledge the value of project management, including project management communications.
  4. Use standardized project communications practices, and use them effectively.

The report’s conclusion is straightforward: “Project success is dependent upon communicating the right information to the appropriate stakeholders using clear and relevant language that resonates with the audience.”

 Are we missing something here?

This is all very neat and tidy.  IT professionals do things like that. The report and its recommendations contain phrases like “standardized practices”, “formal communications plan”, “communications tasks”, “communicate benefits to“,etc.

Nothing wrong there, but it all sounds very uni-directional.  It sounds like we (IT/Project Managers) develop the plan, create the required tasks, do the alignment and then let Communication folks tell the others.

When taken to an extreme, this can reinforce the impression some users (including senior executives) have that IT professionals are inherently arrogant.  We know what is right and we will tell you what it is.

Communications – the Rx for Arrogant Symptoms

The vast majority of IT professionals I know are not arrogant.  We do like things in tight packages that can ultimately be reduced to ones and zeros, but we are willing to listen and talk.

And that’s where a good communication professional can help.  The same way that we have tools to distill vague aspirations into real requirements, Communications pros can facilitate discussions where everyone with an interest can provide input, and the enterprise can emerge with a plan that best serves all stakeholders.

Going forward from that, the Communications pros can facilitate dissemination of information and get feedback from impacted users.  Communications folks call these ‘conversations’.

The takeaway .. look for intersections of interest

What I’ve learned is that it never hurts and, more often than not, helps to have an on-going relationship with whomever is responsible for Communications.  I want to know what challenges she/he is facing , what he/she is seeing as opportunities.  And then I want her/him to know what I see on the horizon, and begin dialogue where there are intersections of interest.

When projects become formal, and when crises occur (stuff happens, afterall), Communications and IT can leverage the work – and relationships – that have been put in place to move forward in a natural fashion.

So, … Let’s talk …

What do you think?  Do you see a partnerships between IT and Communications part of the routine in the industry, or is it an exception?  What are the benefits of closer collaboration?  What are the down sides?

Communications folks … What are the good points in your relationship with IT?  What could be improved?

Inquiring minds want to know …..


Engagement, IT Management

Targeting Niche Insurance Products

By Stan IvankovicNo Comments

Most discussions about marketing personal lines of insurance typically revolve around property and auto offerings. But how can insurers target niche products like boat, ATV, ski-doo, RV and pet insurance?

It’s a dog’s life ….

Raise these niche products in some boardrooms and you might get a smirk or an exasperated eye roll. Some executives believe that, with premium fees for pet insurance ranging from only $10 to $100 per month, the revenue from pet insurance may not warrant a lot of attention.

But this assumption may mask an opportunity. The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) estimates the pet insurance market to be over half-a-billion dollars a year ($82 million in Canada) and growing, with less than 1% of pets currently insured. And a new analysis by Environics Analytics reveals several demographic and financial trends now fueling the double-digit growth in pet insurance premiums:

  • Single women: Longevity and the likelihood of women holding professional occupations are key influences behind more pet ownership among this group.
  • More Canadians will soon be over 65 than under 15: What better way to repopulate an empty nest than with a Golden Retriever?
  • Condo-dwelling DINKS (Dual Income No Kids): Especially in urban centres, owning a dog or cat is often more appealing than the challenges—and cost—of raising children.

Take me home, country road ….

When considering other niche insurance products, RV policies may represent another opportunity. A 2012 Harris Decima survey for the Recreational Vehicles Dealers Association showed insurance premiums for RVs at almost $750 million, with annual average premiums of $406. Survey estimates reveal that over 14% of the Canadian population owns or has access to a RV. Other niche vehicle products include ATV/ROVs, with over 1 million owned across Canada (two-thirds used for recreational purposes) and over $370 million in annual premiums. While these numbers are not extraordinary, they still indicate a possibility for growth in under-served markets.

Leveraging Your Own Data

How do we find opportunities for your company within these niche markets?

The reluctance to spend a lot of money developing marketing strategies for these niche products is understandable. But you may have all the resources you need in-house. By leveraging internal data with external demographic, wealth or syndicated survey data, you can identify a targeted group of individuals more likely to be in need of these products.

Using a segmentation system like PRIZM, you can also link existing policyholder data to third-party research to determine the most profitable segments, locate them inside and outside your databases and ultimately find more like-minded prospects in the Canadian marketplace. The data can also be validated with external or third-party data such as the BBM and PMB syndicated surveys which have numerous questions on pets (as well as boats and other recreational vehicles) that are linked to the PRIZM segments.

Once you discover where to find the opportunities for these niche products, you can apply strategic and actionable marketing approaches to connect with these prospects:

  • Leverage internal data to find the best policyholders for cross-sell or up-sell
  • Test unaddressed ad mail campaigns to only targeted neighbourhoods, drastically decreasing your costs while increasing response rates (and improving ROI)
  • Empower broker partners with better leads and market intelligence
  • Refine creative for target segments so that the value proposition, images or messaging resonates with them

Don’t paws there, the possibilities are endless …

Why stop there? With so much valuable data available from such places as telematics, you can always tap other research sources to power a data-based marketing approach. And your pets will thank you, too.

* * *

Editor’s Note: Stan Ivankovic is a Sales Consultant in the finance, insurance, travel and telecommunications practice at Environics Analytics (

Analytics, Insurance Marketing

Is Insurance CRM Dead, or Does It Just Smell Funny?

By Patrick Vice, Insurance-Canada.ca1 Comment

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has had a chequered history in the insurance industry.  There is significant potential value, but precious little that has been realized.  The question is, can this change?

Here’s my experience …

The second IT project I worked on in the insurance industry was developing and deploying a CRM solution for multi-line (Life and P&C)  insurance agents.  I was a managing a small, cross-functional group which include IT and business people.  The overall project had senior executive support, and was well funded.  We were using a package, so no ‘programming’ would be required and we had access to mainframe data and resources which would seed base information for the agents, avoiding re-keying (a major agent requirement).

What could go wrong?

Life and data happen ….

We met the time frames for configuration, field tested it with several agents (to rave reviews) and launched.  And the final uptake was… less than 10% utilization after six months.  A few keeners pressed on, but the project was quietly sunset.  Here’s a short list of objections the agents gave us (stop me if you’ve heard these before):

  • “You gave us billings by policy, we need billings by customer”
  • “I need to know who the last servicing agent was, it’s not in the system”
  • “I need information for all the policies the customer has, not just our company’s policies”
  • “We need special coding when a child turns 16 but doesn’t get a driver’s license”
  • “My client has a cousin that had a problem with a claim, but that’s not in the system”

These represent how business is done in the real world of insurance sales.  My team and I missed that.  Data that we defined and were available from policy and claims systems were an inadequate subset.   In spite of technology improvements since then, the issues surrounding data remain.  We learned that  rigourous application of rules improves data quality, but reduces its utility in practice.

This is why CRM in insurance can seem like a conundrum wrapped in an enigma.

Is this changing?

The short answer is yes, but it requires a disciplined, flexible approach.  Contradiction in terms? Yes, but is the reality that some new thinking is supporting.

In the past, CRM has focused on what is (she is a doctor, he is 48, the house is less than 10 years old).  Now, these are supplemented by what the customer does (he just downloaded a telematics driving app, she has installed  a camera for the nursery, the teenage son is driving slower since the car feedback system has been enabled).

These behavioural and preferential factors don’t replace other data that need to be collected, but they can significantly enhance them.  They can also introduce probabilities into the equation.   This is how Amazon can tell me that ‘People like you have also bought…’

What’s next?

I recently watched a webinar led by Scott Nelson, Managing VP at Gartner, who contends that we are just at the forefront of a new generation of CRM.  Nelson believes that most firms are reactive, still deploying solutions to 1990 problems (the ‘is’ data I mentioned above).  Innovators are planning solutions to future issues. Nelson makes some specific suggestions that I see fitting the insurance industry.

First, Nelson says that most CRM solutions are meant to be win-lose; the company uses data to beat the customer.   He recommends taking a win-win approach; e.g., by making special offers when the customer is considering a product.

Nelson also suggests using social media effectively to determine what is of real interest to the customer.  If a customer is tweeting about new cars, that might be an opportune time to provide the customer  differences in insurance costs based on the models the customer has been referencing.

Nelson’s final point is that changes are continuing to happen, with increased speed.  The message here is to look at the horizon, not at the road immediately in front of your feet.

Is this the future for CRM?

CRM has always seemed important, but it has come with serious limitations.  With the advent of new forms of data, new attitudes, and new consumer expectations (I expect to trade a portion of my privacy for more relevant offers), this could portend the real advent of CRM for insurance.

Editor’s Note:  Patrick Vice is a Partner in and serves as its Director-Products & Services.  He can be reached on Twitter @patrickvice


Business Intelligence, CRM, Social Media, Uncategorized

Gamification: The Key to Transforming Lifeless Insurance Documents

By Michael CharestNo Comments

GMCS-composition-multichannel-vitalinsuranceThe evolution of the Internet and the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have placed information in the palms of our hands in unprecedented ways. These technological advances have brought with them an important shift in expectations. The shift is this: People today expect to be able to immediately interact with information presented to them.

Evolving to meet changing customer expectations

This shift has far-reaching implications for customer engagement, particularly in a document-centric industry like insurance. Gone are the days when insurance customers will be satisfied to receive a static PDF account statement. While reading an insurance statement and related documents (welcome kits, EOBs, etc.) isn’t typically considered an enjoyable activity, it can become one for the customer by adding the dynamic ability to click on colorful charts or graphs of their choosing, or watching videos right on their interactive statements.

This kind of interactivity has received the name “gamification” for its game-like attributes, and a 2011 study by JWT Intelligence found that 63 percent of respondents said making everyday activities more like a game would make them more fun and rewarding.

Gamification is the key

So here is the new opportunity: Introducing elements of gamification in to your insurance documents may be the single most effective way to improve your customers’ relationship with and loyalty to your organization.

Offering communications that are dynamic is an innovative way to take something that may otherwise be viewed as a chore (reviewing coverage, transactions, amounts due, terms and conditions, etc.) and transform it into an engaging experience that has added value and improves the customer experience.

Dynamic communications have the potential to enhance the customer experience in many important ways, including:

  • A higher level of personalization – Today, the customer decides what information they want to see and how they want to see it. Now your policyholder can have the ability to customize their statement so that the information most important to them, such as payment due dates or accumulated balances, is prominently displayed.
  • Deep interactive capabilities – Customers can view their insurance documents with attractive graphs and charts that can be clicked on to provide detail that is more specific, even drilling down to a granular level and varying the views with a few clicks. This interactivity improves customer education and understanding and reduces the need for customer service calls for questions or clarifications.
  • Multichannel delivery options – Maximizing HTML technology, dynamic communications can be viewed on any PC, tablet, smartphone and/or other mobile device.
  • Accessibility online or offline – Meeting expectations in today’s “on the go” world, customers can interact with their dynamic insurance communications anytime, anywhere it is most convenient for them.

The benefits are not just for your customer

In addition to these important customer benefits, dynamic communications can give your organization a number of new capabilities as well, including gaining insight into customer preferences by tracking clicks as well as the ability to present highly relevant and personalized offers and messages—including videos—to target new products and services.

Putting it all together

Forward-thinking organizations realize the time has come to make lifeless PDFs a thing of the past and get on board with modern communications. The marketplace is proving that insurers getting the most customer stickiness are the ones that are incorporating some level of interaction into their customer experiences. Engaging insurance customers through dynamic communications will deepen relationships with them, enhance their experience with every interaction, increase loyalty and, best of all, differentiate your insurance organization from the competition.


Editor’s Note: Michael Charest is vice president of Insurance, Financial Services & Healthcare for GMC Software Technology, North America (, a provider of multichannel and highly personalized document outputs for customer communication management.



Consumer Insight and Action, Distribution, GAmification

Analytics In P&C Insurance: Is a Good Start Good Enough?

By BlogEditorNo Comments

A new report from two senior analysts at SMA suggest that P&C insurers have made a good start down the analytics road.  The question is:  will this be good enough to remain competitive given the pace of adoption by present and potential competitors?  A second report, focusing on the broader Financial Services community, puts perspective on this.

We’d like your thoughts here.

Survey says….

The research report, Data and Analytics in Insurance: P&C Insurer Strategic Priorities and Operational Plans for 2014 and Beyond, produced by Mark Breading and Denise Garth in cooperation with ACORD, compiled data from 72 North American P&C insurers.

This is the third annual report on analytics, and focused on 3 areas:

  1. The types of business problems being addressed,
  2. the spectrum of technologies being used, and
  3. data, “the fuel that powers the analytics engine.”

We find the conclusions in regards to the first area the most intriguing, especially in the current competitive environment.

Internal users win ….

SMA’s analysis concludes that heaviest current use of analytics are found supporting the following:

  1. Pricing models
  2. CAT models
  3. Financial Management
  4. Underwriting Profitability
  5. Product Profitability

The report notes that these head office areas are benefiting from  increasing availability of data sources.  Also given the still uncertain economic climate, financial management remains a top area.

The report’s authors conclude: “Growth and profitability remain key drivers for insurers, thus the focus on underwriting and product profitability. Conspicuously missing from the top 5 areas today are customer-centric analytics, although that is expected to change.”

Marketing is rising, with an interesting twist ….

Within marketing, the two top areas that are high on the planning priority list are Agent Performance (55% of respondents report this in use, or being implemented now) and New Business Analysis (42% in use/implementing).  This would suggest a focus on improving the performance of the distribution channel.

However, agents/brokers might want to note that four of the next 5 areas focus on customers specifically:  Customer segmentation, CRM, Customer Lifetime Value, and Single View of Customer, with the fifth being Channel Performance.

We see this as further evidence that the new omni-channel environment is upon us.

Bringing it all together (or not)…

An overarching message throughout the report is that as much as insurers are doing (and the spend on this is growing by 7%-12% per year for those covered by the report), the emphasis seems to be departmental, rather than corporate.

Breading and Garth comment:  “”Many insurers have been successful thus far with BI and analytics through individual initiatives in key areas of the business. That approach is no longer enough to provide the differentiating capabilities to win in the marketplace.”

The SMA Call to Action is straightforward:  “Winners will be those that establish leaders and teams with authority to drive enterprise data initiatives and enable all parts of the business to get the most out of BI/analytics technologies.”

So, is this enough?

KPMG’s April 2014 issue of  its “Frontiers in Finance” publication focused on data and its use.  There were some parallels with the state of the insurance industry portrayed by the SMA report, with a few important differences, one of which is focus on the customer.  The second is the importance of an enterprise strategy.

Jeremy Anderson, Chairman of Global Financial Services for KPMG, encapsulates both;  writing in the introduction:

Information and data management are fundamental to maintaining stable and responsive relationships with clients who are increasingly expecting continuous access to their financial service providers on a range of online and mobile platforms. Integrating the different interface technologies and grounding them on consistent, high-quality data are essential elements in creating fast, agile communications and decision-making. Consumers do not want complexity, delays or inconsistency. Companies that cannot implement the necessary systems quickly enough will find themselves squeezed out and facing further disintermediation by technical innovators, new entrants and new technologies, like we are seeing in payments or money transfer.

The publication does not provide detail on implementations or plans.  What it does do is reinforce the conclusions of the SMA call to action with a particular sense of urgency.

What do you think?

So, we’d like to toss this to you: Are insurers doing enough with data and analytics to be prepared for competition from “technical innovators, new entrants and new technologies, like we are seeing in payments or money transfer”?

Please don’t disintermediate until you leave your comment below.

Analytics, Big Data, Business Intelligence, Insurance Marketing, Mobile Technlogy, Rating and Underwriting, Risk Management

Mid-Year Update on 2014 Trends

By BlogEditorNo Comments

Before we head off for a good long weekend, we thought we’d celebrate the 2014 mid-point by reflecting on the trends we discerned at the beginning of the year. It looks like we caught a wave or two, and are still waiting when it comes to some others. We’d like your experience: how have your prognostications played out?

Core Systems Replacement – Navigating a Changing Roadmap

It was a no-brainer to suggest that legacy  systems modernization would continue through 2014, since 30%-40% of insurers had started the journey.  We added a caveat:  there would be increased fiscal control placed on large projects.

We think we hit this one.  The journey to modern technology is being guided as much by comptrollers as it is by competitive requirements.  Scope control is the order of the day in many shops.  Unfortunately the original business case, touting ‘business transformation’, may be going through its own transformation, with lowered expectations.

Along the same lines, we found examples of customers doing creative things to maintain existing legacy systems, rather than embarking on long projects which may yield limited results.

Partly Cloudy, with a Chance of Expense Control

We started the year thinking that Cloud was going to be a strategic darling at the dance.  Looks now like the real-life cloud formations are more tactical than strategic.

Although there is a lot of mobile and hybrid software that relies on cloud technology for implementation, the emergence of clouds in insurance has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  And the impact has been tactical, rather than strategic.  For a number of organizations, the appeal of the cloud is lower cost, flexible infrastructure, rather than disruptive, innovative technology.

This could change as organizations look to adopt more flexible, on-demand business processes where technology is looked at as a utility, not a strategy.

Marketing Driving Telematics

We think this one was a hit for us as well.  All things equal, the most important impact of telematics-enabled usage based insurance is the variety of data that becomes available for underwriters to use in risk selection and pricing.  However, this assumes that insurers have the technical ability and human expertise to draw the lines between large data sets and profitable business.  Not so easy with legacy systems and limited analytic capabilities.

It also assumes that regulators (and their political masters) have the capacity to accept new methods of underwriting and pricing.  Not always a reasonable assumption, especially with respect to highly regulated products such as personal automobile.

However, there is a large segment of insureds (estimated at 25%-35% of the total personal automobile insurance market) who look towards UBI to validate that they are better than the average drivers, and are willing to sacrifice a bit of personal information for lower prices.

Queue the marketers.  Turns out that many of the folks who are willing to have their behaviour measured actually have better claims history than the average.  And, turns out, that 18-24 year olds will change their behaviour based on feedback that is tied to rewards.

Things Get Smarter and More Talkative

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a relatively new construct that could be more disruptive than all other technologies combined; if for no other reason, it is a combination of all other technologies.

Simply put, the IoT enables machine to machine communications.  If you can put a sensor in something (like a drain) the IoT enables that thing to “talk” to other things (like water pressure measuring devices) which can talk to analytic mechanisms which can discern changes (like “the basement is flooding from sewer backup”).

Or , it can discern changes over time (like the wiring is fraying).  Or….

In other words, preventative measures can be applied in an expedited fashion and risk exposure can be calculated at a significantly finer level of detail.

Insurers will have the opportunity of selecting and pricing risk differently for all manner of exposure, similar to automobile with telematics.  The difference, among other things, is lower levels of regulation.

This, of course, assumes investment in analytic tools and human capital.

How do You See Things in the Mid-Summer Sun?

How do you find the year panning out?  Is the plan going according to plan?  Or did you hit some unexpected roadblocks?  Regardless, it’s good to reflect in the beauty that is Canada in the summer.  And, after all,  there are 6 more months to go…..




Analytics, Big Data, Business-Technology Alignment, Insurance Marketing, Internet of Things, Modern Technology, Telematics

7 Principles For a New Construct in Broker Connectivity

By BlogEditor1 Comment

We’ve been encouraged  by the responses to our suggestion that it may be time for a new construct for broker-carrier connectivity.  There are two questions that you keep raising:

First, Does this mean that all the work to date has been useless?

Second, How can we be sure that this will meet the needs of the community in a timely fashion?

The short answers are:

There is a lot of good work that could and should be channeled into a new approach (ours or another).

We can’t be sure of anything, especially in this dynamic insurance environment (Telematics … need we say more?).  However, we can look at ways to move forward.

We’d like to propose seven principles that we believe will address these and other legitimate concerns and will outline a framework for moving forward.

We’d really appreciate your comments.

1.  The Consumer needs to be  the primary beneficiary of the work.  

Most of the effort to date has focused on improving broker efficiency, and reducing costs for insurers.  We think it time to ask:  “How does this improve the independent channel provide better service and product at competitive pricing.”  The difference may seem subtle, but we think the consumer will be, in fact,  the final arbiter.  And her interests should the the working benchmarks.

2. There need to be clearly defined, measurable objectives that are wins for all stakeholders.

It is not sufficient to say that data exchange will reduce costs for consumers and practitioners.  We have to identify where, how, and how much.  It is not sufficient to say that broker efficiency will provide lower costs for insurers, there needs to be agreed percentages.  The vendors (to brokers and to carriers) must not be left out.  If they expect an increase in market share, this should be explicit.  Last, but not least, industry associations must articulate value  points in quantifiable terms (increased membership, expanded opportunity scope, etc.).

3. New Technology needs to be acknowledged, and its role needs to be explored and understood.

Batch store-and-forward technology is great for what it’s good for.  But, that particular hammer is not the perfect tool for every task.  Consumers’ expectations for on-line access should not require overnight data exchange.  We need to be open about what works best, and not be restricted by past constraints.

4.  As an industry, we need to start simple, measure accurately, and be prepared to build out quickly.

Nothing succeeds like success.  We need successes that produce measurable improvements that meet stakeholders needs, and can be used as models of effectiveness and efficiency.  This might suggest some less-than-strategic tasks as starting points.  Perhaps bill presentment?  What about certificates of insurance?

5.  Standards are very important, but they are not sufficient nor are they always required.

Looking at emerging technologies, we see a lot of standards in production. But we also see a lot of innovation that may become standard at some point, but are not yet widely adopted.  In our view, standards should be platforms, but not ceilings.

6.  Implementation guidelines,including minimum functional requirements, need to be part and parcel of any delivery.

As we achieve success, we need to document what we did, and what is absolutely required. These may not be standards, but if we all agree to share what works and what doesn’t, we can improve the quality of the product we are delivering.

And the last, but not least, principle ….

7.  A single point of contact needs to be responsible for being the focus for shared functions.

In our mind, these functions would include consumer input, plans, measurements, information sharing, alignment among participants and with 3rd parties.  This may be an existing organization, a new organization, or a permanent task group.  This will be the most challenging principle to put in place, but it need not be time consuming nor expensive.  There are models elsewhere.

What do you think?

We’ve written on the history of broker connectivity and have received excellent input from you.  All that we’ve heard from brokers, carriers, suppliers, and consumers tell us that these principles are stretch objectives, but not out of reach.

But we’re not the keepers of the truth.  Seven is not a magic number.  Maybe there are only 5, maybe we need 2 more.  Let us know what you think.

You are the real experts. And we look forward to hearing your expertise.




Broker-Carrier Connectivity, Consumer Insight and Action
Blue Taste Theme created by Jabox