The Death of Processes and the Birth of High Frequency Underwriting
Let’s consider a car insurance market where all new contracts go through online aggregators. Let’s assume all the car’s information (vehicle brand, type, category, plate number, etc.) and potential insured data (driver’s name, age, address, historical claims, etc.) is standardized, packaged to include all relevant information needed by an insurer to price a motor insurance risk, and instantaneously electronically transferred to an aggregator as soon as the car is purchased (payment triggers the packaged data transfer, quoting, binding, and contract sealing). With today’s technology and connectivity, this quote and bind process can be done in less than a second.
In insurance, a process is a series of tasks to turn raw data into valuable information to make a business decision. In other words, a process requires time between its inception and its end and almost always human intervention. Indeed, today’s quote and bind process captures relevant data about a car and a driver through a questionnaire. Then insurers need to evaluate the risk involved and price it before a quote is given and potentially accepted by the driver. Even though many digital interfaces can be offered to perform the whole process, the potential customer still has to respond to a set of questions and click on a button to accept a proposal. In our extreme digital example, all the tasks are reduced to a minimum of time and fully automated; the driver doesn’t even have to fill in a questionnaire since all relevant data is packaged, transmitted, analysed, and sealed into a new car insurance contract in less than a second as soon as the car purchase is triggered. Can we still call it a process when there is an instantaneous business decision (underwriting and pricing) made and an outcome (contract sealed) produced, and this without human intervention? Well, I think with extreme digital, processes as we know and define them today are dead.
The next question is: How can insurers differentiate in a world where customer engagement is nonexistent? One might think that it would be price. Actually, it is speed. Indeed, I think that the ability to match a specific demand faster than competitors will allow an insurer to win the deal. To do so, they’ll need to support what I call high frequency underwriting in order to have their quote matched with the demand side within milliseconds (faster than competitors’ quotes). Indeed, for the same price, the fastest proposition will win the deal.
Now, let’s get back to my initial assumption: all new contracts go through online aggregators. Let’s consider an aggregator owned by an insurance player. If this insurer can get time advantage versus other insurers feeding its aggregator, it will be able to adapt its quote to optimize its margin using competitors’ information and leverage the speed advantage, even though it is about milliseconds.
This scenario is not unrealistic, because high-frequency trading is about milliseconds. So, who knows, maybe one day we will see insurers not thinking much about processes, but focusing more on speed.