Editors' Cuts

The Insurance Industry’s Far Out Future

Bill Kenealy
Insurance Experts' Forum, May 31, 2011

At first blush, a futurist seems like an odd choice to address an insurance conference. Yet, after spending a few days at the 2011 ACORD Loma Systems Forum in San Diego, the choice of New York Times Lead Technology Writer Nick Bilton as keynote speaker made perfect sense.   

In his presentation, Bilton traced an interesting history of how myriad technologies from the printing press to the railroad to the television were originally dismissed and resisted by some. Indeed, Bilton has coined a term, technochondria, to describe this impulse to fear technological advances.

Presently, advances in areas such as mobile computing, social networking, 3-D printing, biotechnology and nanotechnology present a veritable feast for the modern technochondriac. Bilton foresees an era where data becomes even more ubiquitous abetted by greater use of embedded sensors and RFID technology, near field communication devices and QR codes.

Thus, the challenge for the forward-looking insurance enterprise is to inoculate against technochondria and assess this broad front of technological change for both risk and opportunity. In a presentation, Ellen Carney, senior analyst, Forrester Research, said in many ways, the future has already arrived for the insurance industry in the form of Big Data. “Insurers will need to finally act on the cloud to stop the deluge of data,” she said.

While the insurance industry struggles to get it hands around Big Data, insurers may face a new competitive threat from a couple of behemoths that already have: Google and Amazon. Carney noted that Google had recently purchased U.K.-based aggregator site beatthatquote.com and pondered that the search giant could easily parlay its trove of internet search data for underwriting purposes if it chose to. In a similar vein, Amazon could leverage its expertise in cloud computing and algorithms. “Amazon could easily turn its (recommendation) algorithm to insurance,” she said.

Yet, insurers may still have a few trump cards to play. Craig Beattie, analyst at research and consulting firm Celent, cited mobile technology as a remarkably versatile tool for insurance industry to solidify its value proposition to the insured. While the industry has long helped people in their greatest time of need, by leveraging mobile devices insurers could redefine that time from after an accident occurs to before it does. For example, an insurer could warn an insured driver via text message to avoid a dangerous highway exit if an analysis of claims data led it to the conclusion an organized crash ring was working in the area. He noted some crop insurers in Africa already utilize text messaging to keep farmers apprised of approaching storms. “We can now engage the customer early to discourage loss,” Beattie said. “Mobile is about putting the customer back at the heart of the insurance industry.”

 

 

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