Opinion: Do Insurers Need C-Suite Innovation Officers? Yes & No

AXA recently announced that Delphine Maisonneuve, is appointed CEO of AXA Next and Group Chief Innovation Officer, effective January 1, 2020.

In her new position, says AXA, Delphine Maisonneuve will design, pilot and implement innovative insurance and service proposals across the Group, to serve the Payer to Partner strategy. She will also build on and leverage the innovation ecosystem across the Group in close cooperation with the business.

 Laura Drabik, Global VP of Innovation, Guidewire Software commented:

“Managing an organisation’s innovation process is becoming a key job role in insurance. As customer expectations skyrocket, insurers need to find new ways to satisfy demand, and they need to do so fast. The job of the Chief Innovation Officer is to identify the technologies and insurtech partners that their organisation needs to solve business challenges and ensure that they are integrated correctly with core systems. Having a successful Chief Innovation Officer is now fundamental if you want to have a successful insurance business; without one, you will be playing catch up.

As the insurance industry continues to evolve, the skills and expertise possessed by the insurance C-Suite also need to change. Insurers need to make sure that there are voices at the top table that understand how to leverage the adoption of AI, automation, IoT and telematics to create new services and business opportunities, such as services that go beyond risk protection to prevention. It is on the Chief Innovation Officer to steer their employers through these choppy technological seas.”

There is a great deal of sense in that viewpoint, because boardrooms of big insurance companies have undoubtedly been slow to react to the market changes that are happening from Manchester to Mumbai. But shouldn’t everyone at a senior level be aware of how tech is disrupting their corner of the business, whether it is marketing or claims, compliance or product development?

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Insurance Is Too Risk Averse

Do big insurers need to appoint a senior person to oversee Innovation per se? AON established a New Ventures Group back in 2018, whilst Zurich has an Innovation Foundry in the UK, working to develop new products with smaller partner companies. Meanwhile Allianz appointed a global head of strategy and innovation back in 2016. There are different approaches to product development, but building traditional corporate empires and sub-departments isn’t the answer.

How can one person pull together all the different insurtech ideas in various markets around the world and make corporate decisions based on their viability and cost-benefits long term? The task is obviously impossible and a more flexible, localised R&D structure, involving people within insurers who actually know their niche inside out, and have the nous to spot smaller fish in the pond who are onto something, would be the best way forward.

This antiquated kind of corporate thinking doesn’t resolve the deep problems that the insurance sector faces as technology renders so many traditional products redundant. Endless meetings will not bring new app-based, PAYG products to market as rapidly as hackathons, social media testing channels and bold, contrarian and visionary thinking. Insurance is by nature risk-averse, but truly disruptive innovation – from Soichiro Honda to Grace Hopper – usually involves trailblazing determination, risk-taking and an almost religious commitment to the cause. In short, none of things that get people top jobs in big companies where NOT rocking the boat is generally seen as a good thing.

There is still a long way to go before insurance truly enters the 21st century.

 

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