Digital Technology and Insurance - Joining the Dots Between Us

January 30, 2019| Von Ross Campbell | L/H General Industry | English

When David Bowie was making a name for himself in the early 70s he looked like any other pop singer with long hair. Then he changed dramatically. The person responsible was Suzi Ronson, a hairdresser peripheral to the music business. For Bowie, becoming Ziggy Stardust was not without risk, and it wasn’t easy for Ronson to achieve either. It took many attempts to get the dye colour right, and a lack of suitable product meant improvising to make the hair stand up.

As an artist, Bowie recognised he had to change in order to differentiate himself, appeal to more people and remain relevant over time. Ronson, who collaborated with Bowie as his stylist for several years, had a parallel personal motivation: “I knew if I created something that needed touching up every two or three weeks I was in. I saw the dangers of being someone’s wife or girlfriend. I wanted to be on the bus, not waving at it”.1

Invitation to an Incredible Curious Adventure

At Gen Re, we invite you aboard our bus for an incredible curious adventure. We recognise the need to embrace change and understand the demand for profitability and top line growth. We know that many of the ways insurance does things are under reconstruction and changing rapidly. The opportunity to bring new digital ideas to old solutions is too tempting to pass up. That means joining the dots from the entrepreneurs, through our business and yours, and onward to the end customer.

As a reinsurer, we have a singular approach. With our core strengths lying in actuarial science, underwriting and claims, we won’t be owners of tech companies anytime soon or run an incubator to find the next best thing. We approach anything we do for our clients in a collaborative, open and direct way, and we apply the same principles to digital. Our decentralised business allows us to develop local solutions while our research capability brings global insight and access to companies we have hand-picked. Our collaborations link up complimentary skills and expertise - from blockchain to claims management to new ways of underwriting risk.

A Collaborative Approach to Developing Digital Solutions

Gen Re invests intellectual capital into working relationships with companies preparing digital solutions that fit with the jobs we need to do. Thousands of new companies are appearing in the insurtech space so we choose carefully. Many choose us. We collaborate with companies that have a primary interest in life and health insurance - ones that recognise our industry has a special momentum and requires a patient approach. We look for commercial solutions that have spun out of academic research or those that are scientifically proven to improve clinical outcomes. We prefer startups whose ideas attract external investment, allowing them the independence to grow and to scale. We work with established firms, too.

At Gen Re we know the power of data and understand the landscape of digital. We are ready to engage in action that develops both of these domains into meaningful solutions. While the pace of change in life and health insurance has been slow, we can fix this. With your help. We want to support clients that want to try new things. To do this means we collaborate with some tech companies.

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Unlocking the Potential of Digital

Innovations that offer new ways to cover risk or ones that embed oracles as trusted claim processors may catch the eye. Elegant service solutions for home renters or cancelled flight coverage highlight the potential for similar innovations in life and health insurance. There’s more to digital technology than counting steps. There are new ways to get the job done.

Smartphones collect millions of data points that can be translated into personalised health and lifestyle improvement plans or used for developing predictive risk capability. Camera technology allows for movement tracking to identify musculoskeletal weakness or injury, with apps that deliver powerful and personalised exercise and physiotherapy plans. Apps and platforms that allow users to build physical and mental resilience can ultimately help prevent claims or provide support quickly and cost-effectively when health goes wrong.

Let’s not dismiss blockchain. Most people know blockchain allows cryptocurrencies to operate and lets multiple parties agree on a common record of data. Blockchain has other features that enhance privacy and data security, and reduce fraud and cost. New insurers are using it to increase transparency and pay claims faster with smart contracts. Imagine making life and health pay-outs autonomously, based on diagnostic certainty and without the need for tedious form filling. Eventually, a disintermediated marketplace will emerge where consumers meet insurers differently. It’s likely that this complex disruption, with its multiple counterparties sharing sensitive personal data, will be underpinned by blockchain.

In Tune With Bowie’s Drive for Change

To reprise the musical leitmotif, the guitarist Carlos Alomar was David Bowie’s musical director for nearly three decades. He co-wrote “Fame” the singer’s first American number one, in 1975. The LP featuring the song represented a huge departure for the artist into soul music. Coming from a blues background, Alomar found this challenging: “The new methodologies, the free thinking that I was exposed to, it changed me. He was a very restless person, he didn’t like being comfortable…it was change, change, change”.2

Bowie is a metaphor for change and a genuinely transformative figure. We are living in world of exponential disruption that is changing the commercial playing field in ways we could have never imagined. This presents a real opportunity for a new framework within which to create and compete. In this sense, it’s a timely wakeup call to our industry. The startups and tech businesses peripheral to the life and health (re)insurance business already sense an opportunity. Joining the dots to them is our challenge.

The established ways of doing business continue to serve us well, and are not so simply replaced, but it’s time to embrace the forces of disruption and ride the rising wave of opportunity. As a capability, innovation must become the new normal, and digital solutions must quickly become part of business as usual. This is challenging to achieve but it is the core of Gen Re’s digital strategy and focus. We’re ready to talk to you about digital, so call your local Gen Re office or get in touch with me directly. Don’t be too comfortable. Don’t miss the bus.

  1. Jones, D. (2017) David Bowie a Life, Preface Publishing. London.
  2. Ibid.


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