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The start of a new era: digital retailers and insurance

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22 January 2015
Juan Mazzini
Insurers from all around the world are making great efforts to become digital. This shows in our research in terms of priorities and increased spending in digital initiatives. Nevertheless, it is a great effort to take a brick & mortar company and move it into the digital world. Ask retailers if not? It is true that there are some pure digital initiatives out there in insurance such as esurance (an Allstate company), Kroodle (an Aegon company) or Friendsurance (not an insurance company) but none today have the critical mass to compete head to head with brick & mortar insurers. In this scenario, digital in insurance is still today an aim but not an established reality. This is why I believe recent news become extremely relevant to the industry. Digital native companies - retailers that have disrupted the brick & mortar retail business - are jumping the fence. It is no news that Google has interests in the financial industry offering car insurance, credit cards and bank accounts in the UK and with all the potential to scale this business model globally. Though, still only playing on the distribution side, so not an insurer; but what happens when giant digital retailer Alibaba decides to cross that fence? The founders of Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd purchased stakes in Ping An Insurance Group Co of China Ltd in a $4.7 billion deal in December 2014. Now Alibaba is seeking stake in insurer New China Life according to different public sources, such as Reuters. The potential of an integrated end to end business going from digital distribution and all the way back to managing and taking risks. With the possibility of having an important say in which are the products that digital native consumers want to buy and how they want to buy them from these insurers and having the capability to create and deploy them, managing the entire value chain. Nothing will be the same if Alibaba manages the complexity of integration, achieves the potential sinergies of these businesses tied together, and decides to replicate this business model globally taking advantage of its existing positioning as an established and successfull digital retailer. Scary for established insurers (and existing distribution channels), but true. It is all a catch-up game for insurers now. In my opinion a new era for insurance.

Comments

  • I'm surprised we haven't seen an earlier and more prominent transition. Digital business is very efficient and easily accessible. However, insurance across borders could make some interesting and, in some cases, difficult changes.

    Jim | http://www.adanacinsurance.ca/

  • Cross border insurance is difficult indeed. Regulation mainly. At least two models are possible to expand into new countries: 1) digital native companies act as insurance distributors (for which they still have to be licensed locally but with lighter regulation than an insurer); 2) digital native companies become insurers locally (buy or start-up) and they combine it with option 1 or they launch a direct operation.

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