Blog: Think like a start-up or face digital insurance failure


Last week, Post gathered more than 150 people together at the Business Design Centre in Islington for the first ever Digital Insurance World.

You can catch up with the live blog for the event here; but I also thought I'd offer my own personal take on some of the overriding themes of the day.

1) Think like a start-up...

One of the greatest take-homes from the Digital Insurance World was that to succeed in the evolving insurance market you needed to think like a start-up.

Keynote speaker Wired editor-in-chief David Rowan summed this up in his presentation which was subtitled: "Think like a start-up if you're to avoid being Uber'd".

But while there was consensus across the day on the need to change the mind-set, there was disagreement about whether you could actually ‘think like a start-up' within the infrastructure and constraints of an incumbent insurer.

Andrew Rear, chief executive of Digital Partners at Munich Re, said that originally it had tried to incubate start-ups within its existing business, but immediately ran into problems because it was nigh on impossible to schedule meetings involving senior staff and those involved in the new operations.

So when the people at an incubated start-up were looking to timetable follow-ups [usually within days], the diary pressures on senior Munich Re staff meant that this was not feasible. Instead, it would often be months for an opening to appear. Given the differences - and speed - in how both sides worked, this was doomed to failure, Rear asserted.

To get around this, Munich Re set up a separate company, Digital Partners, which already has a number of interesting investments under way including gig economy specialist Slice, and a new business which has devised a way to do "maximum underwriting within minimum questions", by using social media sources and other free data to offer a quote in one minute.

2) ...and/or forge partnerships with the innovators of tomorrow

Tallt Ventures' founder Matt Connolly, whose business tracks start-ups to help corporates to invest and buy in disruptive newbies, was more circumspect about whether incumbents could grow their own start-ups, even within the confines of a separate entity.

Instead, he proffered the hypothesis that the incumbents were better investing their money in existing businesses and learning from them at an arm's length rather than trying the innovation lab approach.

This hypothesis was backed up by Kasko co-founder Matt Wardle, who noted that conversations he'd had with insurer labs often ended up being referred back to people within the incumbent insurer, rendering them part of the problem, not a solution to it.

Meanwhile, Rowan suggested insurers might be better off forging partnerships with successful non-insurer brands, and ultimately piggybacking on their digital successes rather than try to compete.

Ultimately, Connolly predicted this new generation of start-ups would chip away at their market share rather than have an Uber-like overnight impact.

3) Whichever avenue you chose, your staff will determine success or otherwise

When quizzed, a majority of the delegates in the Innovation and Digital Thinking Stream (52%) thought that bringing in the right talent was key to success, well above acquisitions (14%) and exploring and monitoring start-up activity (3%).

This was backed up by Ian Hood, formerly of RSA but now head of digital at Fidelity International who commented that he had brought in 35 new members of staff from a variety of backgrounds in six months since assuming the role.

He then spoke about the need to make sure that staff cannot be left working in "drudgery" and that you have to open them up on the "art of the possible", which in his business had included trips to Silicon Valley.

Connolly was a bit more circumspect about the value of these expeditions, adding that having digital labs and sending staff to San Fransisco did not make you a digital upstart by proxy.

Richard Williams, formerly the chief information officer of Mitsui Sumitomo, though offered advice about hiring employees: don't "beat out the things that make them different!". He warned that a lack of diversity might stop a business from developing a broad and future-proof product suite.

4) Chief digital officers don't want to be CDOs in the long term

During a morning panel session, Ageas' head of research and development Leigh Calton joked that his business has no need for a chief analogue officer, and the others on the stage agreed having a chief digital officer is not a long-term play given it touches all aspects of life.

Later in the day Rowan commented that US peer-to-peer start-up Lemonade had turned its back on the role of chief digital officer, and instead had recruited a chief behavioural officer, highlighting its customer-centric ethos.

5) What shape the customer-centric future?

Consumer Intelligence client services director Neil Hart told delegates that digital has shown how broken insurance is.

This assumption was arguably reinforced by the audible gasps that could be heard in the room when So Sure CEO Dylan Bourguignon said: "[So sure] pay out when you claim; we also pay out when you don't claim" - in reference to his business's peer-to-peer model.

Some insurers still struggle to grasp things that might be considered new and different. Of course it is up to Bourguignon to prove that his model is sustainable, but there were cynics in the room who have already written off his firm - and are still thinking like incumbents, not a start-up. And that needs to change if as a group we are going to #wakeupinsurance and grasp the full potential that digital has to offer.


  • LinkedIn  
  • Save this article
  • Print this page  

You need to sign in to use this feature. If you don’t have an Insurance Post account, please register for a trial.

Sign in
You are currently on corporate access.

To use this feature you will need an individual account. If you have one already please sign in.

Sign in.

Alternatively you can request an indvidual account here: