In the quest of making fintech a reality in Latin America
The fintech ecosystem has been evolving and maturing in Latin America for the last three years mainly due to the effort of some participants, including Celent, to connect all key players of the fintech ecosystem. Unlike the USA where there are geographical pockets of Innovation, as Silicon Valley, that brings the actors together based on proximity, nothing like this exists in Latin America; furthermore, the individual (country) market size is significantly smaller when compared to the USA.
Fortunately technology allows business to be conceived global or at least regional and therefor provide the scale needed for a fintech start-up to be viable. For these reasons, it is essential to work an ecosystem, a network of participants, regardless of their geographic location in Latin America. I do not foresee a sustained and increasing development of fintech start-ups and initiatives in the region without the existence of this ecosystem.
In this last three years we have seen many cases of “me too” fintech start-ups. While this is not bad, it doesn’t show creativity either. Happily we have also seen completely innovative ventures, especially around blockchain, but without this being the sole focus.
There are all kinds of fintech start-ups; in payments, leveraging the use of data and focusing on customer experience; in loans, traditional and new models such as crowdfunding and Peer-to-Peer (P2P); in insurance distribution and risk management leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) just to mention a few.
How is this playing for the insurance industry? I believe that the insurance industry is at a tipping point in fintech although I see it more developed out of Latin America. I believe there is a great opportunity gathering and using data for underwriting, claims, and fraud detection; taking advantage of the IoT to develop new personalized products and working on claims prevention; in distribution enabling new channels and becoming more digital and technology reliant, and even using P2P models; engaging with customers in new and improved ways; and discovering how disruption in payments can be leveraged in insurance.
In insurance (P&C, life and health) we are seeing that traditional players start moving towards digital environments and interactions, experimenting with technologies such as telematics and with the opportunities arising of the IoT. In Latin America this is incipient, but we see that it improves every year.
According to our most recent research 41% of insurers in the region have a formal innovation program which has been running, as minimum, for 2 years and 35% indicated that it doesn’t have a formal program yet. The fact that only 8% of them are focusing on disruptive innovation allows us to think that change will be slow, mostly based on incremental innovation, unless some external factor can accelerate change. The main insurance companies globally are either funding accelerators, have created their Innovation labs, or have established funds to invest in fintechs. However, innovation is often difficult for established players and initiatives of new players appear seeking mainly to innovate in product, distribution, customer experience and looking to benefit from the IoT for both underwriting and claims.
- Ingenie, one of the pioneers in offering a pay-per-use model based on telematics alongside its strategy of risk prevention, is not really an insurer but a technology company that was forced to go direct as a consequence of the lack of interest from established insurers in adopting a pricing and underwriting model based on the use and individual behavior of the insured. This model is no longer a novelty and has been adopted by many insurers around the world; it is even being replicated in property, life and health insurance.
- Recently John Hancock announced the launch of an incentive program based on the insured to share data related to its health, but it is not the only one; Discovery was one of the pioneers to launch it many years ago in South Africa.
- Oscar offers it for health, along with a digital-only user experience.
- Friendsurance, in Germany, has adopted a model based on social networks and P2P insurance that although it is oriented to auto, it could be applied to other risks (including microinsurance).
- In parametric insurance (aka index based insurance) using sensors and data, we have seen initiatives as Kilimo Salama aiming to market agriculture insurance massively, in segments that otherwise was not viable to serve. This is indeed an interesting case of extreme digital, with innovation applied in all the insurance life cycle.
An area that we still see relegated in Latin America is the widespread use of data, a historic deficit that in many cases can be represented by the difficulty of something as simple as not having a claims database at industry level. Blockhain, for its novelty, is another area where insurers haven’t yet stepped in.
Distribution, in the region, is mostly not under the control of the insurer; the direct channel is insignificant in volume when compared to the intermediated business, therefore innovation depends to a large extent of the capabilities of the distribution channels to adopt new technologies and rethink their own models. In this sense banks distributing insurance, where bancassurance is permitted, as well as the largest brokers seem to be in a privileged position to capitalize this opportunity, but suffer the same challenges that other large established players and the final word has not been said yet.
Could an external player, someone that understands digital, data and customer experience, change the market dynamics? They are certainly doing so in banking, especially around payments. Google has already entered the insurance industry, on the distribution side, in United Kingdom and the USA. The founders of Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd acquired shares of Ping An Insurance Group Co of China Ltd in a deal valued at $4.7 billion of dollars in December 2014, in what I see as another major threat to the industry from the outside, but taking positions to be able to integrate the business, from distribution to assuming and managing risks.
Three Giants in Internet Finance
I foresee that in personal lines insurance we will get used to buy from companies that offer the best digital shopping experience, being these insurers and intermediaries that were able to adapt by learning how to compete in a digital world, or new players coming from the digital retail sector. In commercial lines I don’t foresee a threat from the outside in the short or medium term regarding distribution, but a deeper use of technology by insurance companies to become more efficient in the marketing of insurance. The level of advisory and specialization required makes it difficult to envision it can be transformed into a digital experience of purchase and servicing in a short-medium time frame. Nevertheless, in both cases, insurers will continue to be the one assuming risks, just as how banks fund and service credit lines. In this sense insurers must offer flexibility and agility in creating new products, but mainly with the ability to do it based on the use of data, the IoT, and easily integrating with its ecosystem.
We will be meeting on February 16th 2016 in Bogotá - Colombia at Finnosummit to discuss the opportunities and challenges for the fintech ecosystem in Latin America. Fintech start-ups can participate of the Finnosummit Challenge, a great opportunity and very interesting prizes for winners. If you want to attend Finnosummit be sure to use Celent discount code: C3L3NT20%. See you there!