This post is part of a series sponsored by AgentSync.
The evolution of technology in any industry follows a similar pattern. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, we see a progression from infancy to maturity in the way an industry uses the tech at its disposal. At the same time, the actual capabilities of technology keep progressing so that what was “cutting edge” one day soon becomes standard, and there’s room for the next innovation to take its spot as the latest and greatest.
According to AgentSync’s Co-Founder and CEO Niji Sabharwal, the insurance industry is at an inflection point. As the major players in the industry have reached a moderate, baseline level of digitization (expedited by the necessity of a more distributed, remote workforce thanks to COVID-19), the next wave of insurance technology (insurtech) can begin to take hold. We’ve seen this progression happen more quickly in other industries – hospitality is one example – as insurance technology has thus far just scratched the surface of what’s possible.
There are a few reasons insurance lags industries like hospitality in terms of tech adoption.
- The well-established nature of the insurance industry (it has a history dating back thousands of years, after all!).
- The fragmented nature of the industry and how it’s regulated, mostly on a state-by-state basis.
- A lack of standardization in best-practices across the industry: There are a nearly-infinite number of ways of “doing things” as long as the end result is that they’re done in compliance with regulations.
- The aging (and shrinking) population of the insurance industry workforce, along with skills and knowledge gaps that appear as an entire generation of industry experts retire.
But, the times they are a’changin’! At least from what we can see from the vantage point of a fast-growing insurtech with an equal focus on ensuring effortless compliance for insurance carriers, agencies, and MGAs and creating a modern, digital experience to meet the needs of the emerging insurance workforce.
We sat down with our Co-Founder and CEO, Niji Sabharwal to discuss the waves of insurance technology, where the industry is right now, and where it could be headed.
Wave No. 1: Digitizing existing processes
“The first wave of insurtech is mostly about digitizing the processes that already exist. There are a few reasons here.
Firstly, digital processes can build in redundancies and oversight to make it easier for new and inexperienced users to integrate into the process.
Second, basic gains in efficiency mean being able to do the same processes with a leaner staff if necessary.
Third, a digitized insurance process, from underwriting to claims paying, can be repeated even across carriers, agencies, or MGAs with less need to tap into internal legacy knowledge bases.”
– NIJI SABHARWAL
There are thousands of carriers, agencies, and MGAs, and there’s not a single comprehensive process or system for how everyone does business. The insurance industry is incredibly regulated – yet notoriously inconsistent in these regulations from state to state, meaning each one of these thousands of insurance organizations are following different rules and creating unique processes to accomplish the same goals.
As Niji points out, simply digitizing existing insurance industry processes has been transformative. For one thing, adopting digital processes inherently standardizes the way an organization runs. Daily tasks can go from “the way Martha has done it for 25 years but no one knows why” to a standardized and repeatable process that anyone, even a new employee, can follow and do. This becomes even more significant with the knowledge that the median age of insurance agents is nearly 60, and the industry faces a shortage of millenial and Gen Z talent.
“We have already started to see significant changes to the industry just by digitizing current processes, by exchanging faxed papers for signature to emailed pdfs and click-button agreements.
If taking the existing process and putting it into a computer can have such an effect, just imagine what the second wave of insurance technology will look like.”
– NIJI SABHARWAL
Wave No. 2: New use cases, transformative innovations for digital insurance applications
As the 2022 InsureTech Connect (ITC) conference emphasized, insurance technology companies are largely ready to start moving past the first wave. Yet, since this is an emerging era, understanding its implications is to enter a realm of speculation, where we’re casting out into the future.
“For a second wave of insurtech, things start to really get interesting. To hazard a guess, this is where the industry may see and feel the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Some insurtech companies are already doing this, using huge data sets that are publicly available or purchasable to train AI models and automate things like underwriting and contract recommendation.”
– NIJI SABHARWAL
Insurance companies using business intelligence as part of an algorithm can act like a large carrier but with a small, efficient workforce. Again, this forecasting may seem super future-forward to insurance companies that still rely on manual processes, but early adopters aren’t far from realizing the benefits of AI, automation, and application programming interfaces (APIs, which are like a coded doorway into an app).
“The second wave of insurtech will likely involve discovering new use cases for existing technologies, experimenting, and realizing that what can work with 10,000 policyholders can also work with 1 million policyholders.
Developing scalable tech and joining tools together by ‘chaining’ APIs will make all of these solutions more effective and efficient.”
– NIJI SABHARWAL
Often, the business models within a line of authority aren’t too far from each other, at least within the same state or territory. Every life insurance carrier or property and casualty carrier operating in Ohio has the same requirements for solvency and reserves. They’re often operating off the same data for underwriting and building new products. And, depending on the state, those businesses may also be set to similar rates, or, as in the case of Connecticut health insurers, carriers may be held to the same ceiling for profit margins. Under these traditional regulations and data sets, business models necessarily look very similar.
As a result, much of the business marketing – at least currently – in the insurance sphere is about differentiating a business because of its branding, or its internal culture, or in the non-insurance services they offer in addition to their core product. But essentially, many of the underlying possibilities of insurance remain the same. As Niji says, though, insurtech’s second wave will likely start to change this, giving companies a different edge based on how they build their contracts and use the data available to them.
“The second wave of insurtech will likely be a long process because of the fragmented nature of insurance.It’s difficult to build consensus across so many companies that are regulated by so many different authorities, and building something lean and comprehensive may not be a straightforward proposition.”
– NIJI SABHARWAL
Yet, imagining the number of areas that could be impacted by emerging tech is an interesting proposition. Onboarding, commissions, compliance … there are so many possibilities.
Wave No. 3: Mega insurance?
Since insurtechs are barely entering what we might consider the second phase of innovation, casting projections so far into the future of a third wave is really just a shot in the dark. Who knows where insurance technology will take us?
One speculation might be that, once chained APIs – multiple applications, linked together and feeding information to each other in real time – become common across different companies or in different lines of business, there may be some larger mergers and acquisitions, with traditional long-term carriers vacuuming up smaller insurtechs. It seems likely that smaller pieces of technology will join together to make a few monolithic industry titans.
Alternatively, it could be the opposite, where smaller, more aggressive companies have the tools to compete at a high level while remaining tight and nimble.
Regardless, to some extent we have the view that a rising tide lifts all boats: The insurance industry as a whole will continue to benefit from the technological innovations and digital transformations of its processes. Even as we keep an eye on “Big Data” and stay wary of protecting vulnerable populations from digital disruption that poses harm, we can stay excited about the ways insurtechs can improve the industry both for those who work in insurance and its consumers.
If you’re excited to ride these waves with us, check out how AgentSync Manage can help you turn a roadblock into an asset with our insurance license compliance system. We’re here for you if you’re just starting to automate once-manual processes, or if you’re ready to imagine the future of Wave 3 together.