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In even just the last few weeks, it seems the excitement and momentum around the insurance tech sector has continued to accelerate. Coming off huge growth in , early-stage insurance tech deal activity is expected to set new records in , with 24 seed or Series A deals just two months into the year.
We are seeing the most innovation and activity in online aggregators and brokers, and thought it timely to share some thoughts on the space. Given that insurance is fundamentally about the trading of information consumer data for a policy product , if you think about it, the most logical and near-term place for technology disruption should be found in distribution.
Looking at any industry where we make big purchase decisions that involve the trade of information — buying a home, car, plane ticket — the Internet has become the key facilitator.
Yet, across product verticals, in-person agents have remained the primary distribution channel with dominant penetration: On many levels, it makes sense that agents have remained so entrenched in the market — they can be an incredible source of value creation. Insurance policies are complex financial instruments. Consumers want to purchase products through a trusted channel and be coached through complicated decisions. Insurance carriers want to validate the customers to whom they are selling, and so have limited the degree to which customers can complete transactions online.
One thing that is often overlooked is just how much money these agents make. But as with every other industry, we are beginning to see the Internet enable a new world of comparison shopping, online transactions and streamlined customer service for the insurance consumer.
A handful of factors are driving this evolution:. Growth of e-commerce and changing consumer demographics.
Online comparison shopping is the new norm for everything from diapers to plane tickets to real estate. And with the rise of the millennial buyer, the insurance industry needs to find new ways to sell to audiences that are used to being reached and interacted with very differently.
Improvements to front and back-end tech. Improvements in UI create a better shopping experience, more sophisticated analytics enable carriers to price and fulfill policies online and smartphones set expectations for mobile native solutions that remain with the customer everywhere they go.
Ageing agent workforce average age: The agent workforce is on the brink of retirement, and less in touch with consumer demands in a digital world. With greater employee churn and pressure to cut costs, companies are increasingly shifting the purchase burden to employees. As consumers become more responsible, and individual plans win share over group plans, online aggregators should become more compelling. Proof points in other markets. As we think about what it will take to succeed as an online insurance broker, we see a few table stakes requirements for success:.
Direct marketing and consumer education: Ability to facilitate the full transaction online; sophisticated CRM for personalization, retention and cross-sell; and expansion to mobile native. For lines that are more complex with large insured sets — deep product expertise, dedicated support and claims management mimicking the best of what offline agents offered.
As a search product, Google never really veered away from its standard GoogleCompare UX or invested as a curator of content. Their experience seems to highlight the importance of consumer engagement and interactions discussed above, as well as the operational complexity of integrating with carriers.
Thinking more deeply about the specific categories of players, we see three types of online brokers beginning to emerge, each with its own set of success factors. However, new technology adoption and data sets are changing this dynamic.
We now have sophisticated telematics and driving data for auto insurance. It makes sense that the simplest products where tech has already enabled automation of underwriting have been the first to shift distribution online. While these players are gaining an early foothold, in the long term, we believe the winning hand in online aggregation will be a multi-product player. As consumers, we spend time researching and comparing purchase decisions when they are emotional and say something about our identity.
However, given the painful buying process and commoditized nature of the insurance product, consumers derive little intrinsic joy from shopping for insurance. Instead, the real value proposition will come from creating a single, aggregate destination — to complete the entire buying process and deliver a service experience as quickly and painlessly as possible.
An online aggregator in insurance that can holistically make the experience better across multiple categories has huge potential. Because some verticals like auto are more prepared for the online transition, it makes sense that many players have come out of the gates to nail a single product, with plans to cross-sell over time. There has been a lot of excitement and buzz around commercial insurance brokerage, largely catalyzed by the stratospheric rise of Zenefits.
As a company, Zenefits focuses on facilitating benefits and personal lines health, disability products and sells into HR. Any business generally needs to purchase upwards of different types of insurance to get started. These policies are typically sold over the phone, through PDFed documents with a similarly clunky claims management process. Compounding the problem, carriers of commercial lines are more regional and fragmented, so corporations often have to herd cats to purchase adequate coverage.
A significant part of the opportunity here is to digitize and curate that experience into a streamlined workflow. As with personal lines in the consumer space, a player that can serve as a single throat to choke and trusted source can be incredibly helpful. One particularly attractive feature of commercial insurance is the maintenance revenue. Today, one agent makes the initial sale, capturing the upfront commission. However, after the transaction, the actual policy management is still highly competitive.
If companies can use technology to build a better way to capture those customers, and the associated maintenance revenue, there is an opportunity to access an annuity revenue stream with a relatively small amount of work.
Others are giving away software and solutions like claims management as a way to acquire customers and make the relationship sticky. Players with deep hooks in SMB e. Zenefits, Intuit, Gusto through payroll or benefits management as a base for expansion may also be well positioned. While strong secular trends suggest the disintermediation of the in-person agent over time, new software solutions may help some maintain staying power. In the more commoditized insurance products, technology may enable brokers to achieve the scale and efficiency necessary to operate profitably.
In complex lines that require more sophisticated underwriting and consumer education, we see tech delivering creative ways to differentiate on service. Historically, independent brokers have struggled with customer acquisition in a fragmented market. With flat commissions and pressure on margins, the need to grow scale and increase to a more regional or even national focus is growing. Building a marketplace model that enables agents to get licensed and reach customers across state lines, with ratings and reviews to differentiate, might prove valuable.
Because insurance products are relatively commoditized, the challenge would be in developing a model that has more durable network effects where brokers differentiate outside of price. While geography might be the premise for lead sharing in a marketplace model, another potential lead-sharing opportunity in this space could evolve through virtual teams that own the full stack of insurance products.
We can imagine a model where teams of specialized agents across different product lines participate in referral sharing, and also leverage shared back office services for operational efficiency. In this way, agents can achieve scale and amortize the customer acquisition cost while still maintaining specialization in more complex lines. Finally, the emergence of more bespoke, niche insurance products is creating opportunities to enable agents with analytics to more effectively consult clients and support the underwriting process.
Given the complexity of cyber insurance, today, large carriers like AIG ultimately do the underwriting while companies like Accenture perform assessment and prep. We can see agents armed with software solutions from cybersecurity companies that deliver highly customized assessment and underwriting. While many factors are driving the tipping point in the online distribution of insurance, the thread that ties it all together is actually a simple one: Insurance companies cannot expect to sell the same way to a cohort with fundamentally different purchasing habits and expectations.
Players that can find new ways to sell insurance products — to new audiences that are used to buying products differently — are poised to capitalize on a huge opportunity. IIABA market share reports. Consumers derive little intrinsic joy from shopping for insurance.