With so much conversation around technology, automation, and that handy catch-all ‘innovation’, it’s small wonder that a lot of businesses are still getting to grips which what it means to be a digital-first enterprise. For as noted by Jeffery Arnold (pictured), a best-selling author and president of the insurance agency Rightsure, in a recent IB Talk podcast, the word ‘insurtech’ still means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
Having served the market through senior industry positions, his books and his thought leadership initiatives for three decades, Arnold is uniquely placed to offer insights into what insurtech actually means and he posited it as the intersection of technology and the insurance industry. However, he dismissed the notion often bandied about, which implies that technology has traditionally been at odds with insurance. In fact, he said, the industry has always embraced and used technology and has often been an early adopter of new innovations.
To see this, you can look back even to the 1950s and 60s, Arnold said, when insurance companies were among the first to integrate their people into new working environments in a bid for increased productivity. They were early adaptors of typewriters to evolve accessibility around legal contracts and insurance policies. In later years, they were quick to market when it came to buying computers and fax machines, and later still they swiftly adopted web-based platforms.
“And so, I always say whenever I’m in front of a microphone that the insurance industry has always embraced technology,” he said. “Only now, we have this really cool hit word… ‘insurtech’, and everyone wants to banter that about and raise that flag. And I love it, it gives us a brand-new vibe, a coolness to hopefully attract younger talent to our industry because we desperately need it.”
To look at insurtech or technology as a flat platform is a needlessly reductive approach and in his latest book ‘Tech Enabled, Tech Forward or Tech Shackled: Which are You?’, Arnold offers readers a guide through the often confusing process of technology adaption. He didn’t have far to look for the content of the work, he said, as he was able to look back over his own experiences and draw on these to explore the three major categories that firms tend to fall into - tech forward, tech enabled, and tech shackled.
“Tech enabled firms, are firms that use software as a service or third party platforms to really enable them to do a process or deliver something faster to the consumer,” he said. “They enable themselves in their process to help consumers or help vendors that are looking to pay bills or [to help] third party people that they do business with.
“In the tech forward space are the firms that are changing how we do things. They’re blazing new trails, creating new paths and opportunities by either leveraging tech or building tech or combining tech in ways that we haven’t done before. Most recently, that would really be pay by mile or pay as you drive. Some of that technology has always been there but they’re refining it and making it really tech forward.”
Finally, there are tech-shackled companies. Everyone has had a run-in with a tech shackled firm or vendor at some point or the other, he said, where a business that used to be a pleasure to deal with introduces new software and it’s a deeply negative experience. Tech shackled became a buzzword for Rightsure because the agency does business with over 100 insurance companies and it seemed that every time one of those companies introduced a new software as a service or new platform, to make them tech enabled, or tech forward, it actually ended up tech shackling them.
“And so I spend a lot of time in the book talking about what leads up to this,” he said. “And I suspect it’s failure, like in any large project, to get input, validation and feedback from the stakeholders. And that is the people using it. Sometimes, in an effort to rush new technology through, you just want to get it out, right, or roll it out into the public. But you have to test along the way… And that’s what is binding our industry together [and preventing us moving towards] this tech forward and tech enabled thinking.”
Discover more of Jeffery Arnold’s unique insights into how insurance business’s can embrace technology here