The South African life insurance industry is seen as one of the most innovative life cover sectors in the world. There are major technological developments on the international front that offer our industry the opportunity to cement its global status and to match individual needs. Some of these innovations are already driving change in the local industry, while the arrival of others is imminent. Schalk Malan, CEO of BrightRock, looks at five of the major developments that are set to change the industry as we know it.
1. The rise of Blockchain
Financial service providers are starting to wrap their heads around the major opportunities Blockchain-technology has to offer the industry. Insurers are particularly optimistic about the prospect of Blockchain enabling a significant reduction in administrative costs, and a vast improvement in security. Huffington Post reports the removal of fraudulent claims and activities with its end to end auditability is critical to Blockchain’s advantages. Claims can be processed faster and smarter, especially when a customer is in distress. Blockchain will change the life insurance business into a smarter and flexible one.
In July last year, the South African Financial Blockchain Consortium (SAFBC) was formed, which aims to set up a national blockchain. Prior to this in 2016, a group of South African banks successfully swapped an asset among themselves using a private ledger on the Ethereum network. We will see increasing engagement, collaboration, research and development in the industry to implement this technology into our systems and product offerings. According to Deloitte, insurers are likely to see the implementation of this technology in tandem with further advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT).
2. Personalised/Precision medicine
According to the Reinsurance Group of America (RGA), personalised medicine enables medical professionals to better understand the complex mechanisms underlying an individual patient’s health risks, disease or condition, and to better predict which treatments will be most effective. This is done through genomics – the study of patients’ genes. It is hoped to lead to improved therapies and interventions to prevent and treat disease in a more efficient and effective way, thereby leading to decreased deaths and illnesses.
The availability of personalised medicine in South Africa is set to become more common following the recent launch of the African Genomics Centre. It is hoped that the launch of the centre will enable quicker diagnoses and more targeted treatment of conditions that contribute to our health system’s disease burden, bringing personalised medicine to the wider public.
Expected to herald a “New Golden Age in Medicine”, personalised medicine is expected to have a significant impact on the life insurance industry, as its offerings may drastically change the way applications are underwritten and how claims are decided. From clients’ perspectives, life insurers are faced with the possibility of individuals mitigating their risk through genomics, by making preventative changes to their lifestyles and monitoring and/or concealing any existing conditions.
3.The continuing rise of Big Data
Big Data continues to enable the industry to become more responsive in an increasingly volatile risk environment. We have already seen how massive international clinical databases make it possible to access evidence-based clinical data on the average recovery durations for serious illnesses or injuries. In the long term insurance space, it has made it possible for us to develop products that are intuitive, flexible and customisable to match clients’ needs very precisely. But the data innovation company Hortonworks warns that insurance companies will have to continue to nurture new skills in the data science-field. To stay a step ahead, companies will have to compile careful blends of people, process and technology to make the most of the vast amount of information at their disposal. This approach will enable product providers to harness this data and integrate it into their product design, enabling a variety of pay-out options according to individual needs.
While it’s common knowledge that our customers are becoming increasingly digitally inclined, access to financial advice, products and policy documentation through multiple platforms continues to create new opportunities to improve our servicing in the market. There is a rise in the number of market players who are selling long-term products direct to consumers through already existing online platforms, but there is a demand and regulatory requirement for insurers to match this simplicity through mobile applications and online portals where existing clients are properly informed about their benefits due to a lack of face-to-face financial advice. There already are platforms where clients do not only have access to documentation, but also to financial advice through live-chat functionality.
In the intermediary space, where there still is a continued demand for high advice with the sale of more complex critical illness and disability products, there is similar trend. Forward-thinking players in the market are doing more to empower advisers through user applications and online portals with user-friendly interfaces that provide customised information and documentation for advisers and each individual client.
5. The internet of things (IoT)
IoT refers to a network of digitally connected physical devices that interface with the real world and communicate with each other and with server systems. Innovation Enterprise writes wearable technology like Fitbit and other health apps and wearables can transmit data to life insurers, enabling them to more accurately assess the risk of a policyholder and adjust their risk distribution and management strategies accordingly . IoT is already making inroads in the short-term product offerings of some South African insurers, and is set to become more common throughout the industry as it becomes more affordable, accessible – and advanced.
Forward-thinking long-term cover providers are already harnessing some of these technologies to create products that are intuitive, flexible and customisable to match clients’ needs very precisely and offer good value for money. The only way the rest of the industry will be able to follow suit, will be by embracing these technological advances to reduce costs, and provide tailor-made solutions.
By Schalk Malan, CEO of BrightRock