At the twilight of another year, it’s always helpful to reflect back and examine the last 12 months. What happened that surprised us? What were we proud of? And what lessons did we learn?

In 2016 our industry went from one that was slow to adopt emerging technologies to one that is well on its way toward digital transformation. With increasing disruption in the form of innovation and new market entrants, we’ve moved more quickly toward progress than any time in history.

Related: Report flags divide between digital insurance leaders, laggards

And while this is a notable achievement (especially in the property and casualty insurance space), reports show that there is a real movement for straight-through-processing among all business processes.

In the employee benefits/group insurance space that I work in, insurance companies want to streamline all data. One of the prerequisites is eliminating the re-entry of data. Example: pushing customer relationship management (CRM) data to a rules-based underwriting and rating engine.

Sending the information into illustrations and proposals and then populating an electronic application (e-app) into an enrollment component, wherein the insurer can cross-sell optional voluntary products, is gaining traction. Also on the rise are broker exchange and automated renewal web services that seamlessly move data between claims and policy administration vendors into a sales and underwriting system.

However, many manual processes are still dominant across certain areas of insurance, such as new case on-boarding, platform integration and voluntary product offerings, including critical illness and accident insurance. So there is still much room for automation.

In just one year, carriers have had to mobilize intelligently. They’re making strategic decisions that salvage previous investments in IT and equip present ones for growth. Taking large strides toward innovation and the Internet of Things gives insurers the inevitable benefits of this shift more quickly, too.

Related: Here’s why digital life insurance sales are growing

Big data, analytics and cloud technology are disruptive forces that are spurring industry growth and new insurance products. (Photo: Thinkstock.)

5 key priorities

Goals drive action. Celent’s “Life/Health Insurance CIO Pressures and Priorities 2016: North American Edition report outlined the following as some of the top business goals influencing CIO’s of mid and large sized carriers in 2016:

  • Growth and retention

  • Process optimization

  • Regulatory requirements

  • Innovation

  • Cost reduction

Related: 5 things you need to know about the future of life insurance

Charged with finding the right solutions to realize these goals, IT departments have had important investment decisions to make. Not just for solutions that help achieve objectives today, but also ones that ensure mid-term and long-term success as well.

Adapting to disruptive technology

Insurtech is now a fully fledged stream of fintech with $1 billion of venture capital invested in 47 deals in the first half of 2016, Life Insurance International revealed. That’s great news for insurers. Contrary to what some others experts think, I believe insurtech to be more complementary to insurers, as opposed to competition.

Modernization of core legacy systems, new insurance exchanges and changing business models (platform and peer-to-peer) defined the year. They will continue to do so as carriers adopt digital strategies.

Blockchain cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin), artificial intelligence (AI and chat bots), and sensor technology (wearables and autonomous cars) are taking hold in insurance and providing ample opportunity for disruption. The internet of things (IoT), the foundation for many emerging technologies, has irrevocably changed the way companies and consumers communicate. These trends are accelerating.

Big data, analytics and cloud technology are all part of the mix as well. Juggling the onslaught of new innovation and understanding how it can be used to create a competitive edge (quickly) can be disconcerting. However, these disruptive forces should be seen as the catalyst necessary for the kind of dramatic change required to spur growth and new insurance products.

Related: Insurers’ digital initiatives: EY analyst offers mixed view

Scheduled to be in place by April 2017, the DOL fiduciary rule will also affect strategic decisions for technology, compliance, products and employee training. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Regulations impact technology

Last April, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) set new regulations prescribing how agents and brokers will be compensated when advising on employee retirement plans or individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Scheduled to be in place by April 2017, the fiduciary rule will also affect strategic decisions for technology, compliance, products and employee training. Advisors and insurers must determine which the products the rule affects and how clients and operations will be impact.

Related: Could complying with the DOL rule give insurers a competitive advantage?

The proposed International Capital Standard (ICS) stands to address the capital requirements of global systemically important insurers and internationally active insurance groups. This unprecedented global measure is intended to regulate the capital allocations of international insurers.

And while ICS is not yet enacted, international insurance carriers are encouraged to participate in forums and groups. This will help shape this global initiative to ensure key business concerns are addressed by the regulation.

Moving forward

Looking back on 2016, the industry made a lot of progress, but there is still a long way to go. The paradigm shift underway, to take place over a period of years, will yield benefits as companies take steps to modernize their business processes.

Automation, integration and digitization are creating solutions for straight-through processing. They’re yielding faster turnaround times, reducing errors and optimizing workflow, creating the kind of connected insurance that customers and advisors are hungry for.

“The secret to change is not to focus your energy on fighting the old but on building the new.” Those words of wisdom could have been uttered by a top management guru. But they were said by Socrates 2,400 years ago. Building the new and building on the old, too. As we approach 2017, it’s clear that’s what the insurance industry leaders intend to do.

Mike de Waal is president and founder of Global IQX (www.globaliqx.com), a software provider of web-based sales and service solutions to employee benefits insurers. He can be reached at mike@globaliqx.com.

 

Related:

IT makeover: NU panelists explore innovations in underwriting

Innovative thinking vs. innovation: key differences uncovered 

LexisNexis shifts life insurance underwriting into high gear

 Innovative thinking vs. innovation: key differences uncovered