Innovation is a hot topic right now, with websites, researchers, authors, and consultants sharing regular insights and revelations about how businesses can be more innovative in an economy that continues to be challenging.
While innovative businesses typically point to famous industry disrupters like Apple, Google, Amazon and Uber for creating new products and services while ramping up the quality of consumer experiences, pioneers do not have to have a household name. Smart, nimble insurance brokerage firms, for example, regularly deliver innovative programs using some of the same principles that made the major disrupters so famous.
According to a study of insurance sector innovation by KPMG International, disrupters and innovators do not necessarily create something brand new, such as a new coverage or new program. Instead, they learn from traditional competitors and other disrupters and they leverage successes and experiences and create new propositions and approaches to “delight customers and create value.” Disrupters, by nature, are always customer-centric.
Here are some examples of what questions to ask to determine innovation.
Innovators do not take the first solution they come up with. Instead, they ask questions: How can I make this better? What can I learn from the past? What approaches can I borrow from other industries/companies to make something old new again? They take an approach that questions all assumptions.
To discover if your broker is being “contrary” enough to benefit your company, ask yourself these questions: Is your broker doing things the way he or she has always done them? Are you being introduced to new ideas such as cross-analyzing benefits and workers’ comp data, trying out data-driven population health management and employee engagement approaches within your company versus the industry static wellness approach? Is your company protected from risks that could have an infrequent but devastating effect on your bottom line, such as social engineering, infectious disease epidemics, and cyberhacking/ransomeware? Is your benefits program “delighting” your company’s employees and improving their health outcomes?
Cross-pollination of ideas
Innovation is built on generating a lot of ideas, learning from successes and failures, and putting together something new through this process. This is the key, according to Wharton professor and author Adam Grant’s book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.
He notes in his blog that “originals learn to see failure not as a sign that their ideas are doomed, but as a necessary step toward success. “A failure signals a gap in knowledge or a poor strategy, and motivates us to go back to the drawing board and get it right. Without failure, complacency can creep in.”
Innovators regularly identify the gaps in their knowledge that may lead to failure. Such experience creates a strong, cross-pollinated breeding ground for new approaches. Is your broker working hard to invent something new in this way?
A recent Wall Street Journal article on innovation reports that “most companies continue to assume that innovation comes from that individual genius, or, at best, small, sequestered teams that vanish from sight and then return with big ideas. But the truth is most innovations are created through networks — groups of people working in concert.”
Innovators identify and try out a variety of ideas to find approaches that work best — and customers benefit from having a range of choices. Is your broker giving you options or just offering the “one-and-only proprietary solution that you’ll ever need?”
For example, a proprietary HRIS/employee benefits module means that companies can be trapped by their broker’s limited offerings. Is your broker offering you several options, instead of just delivering a cookie-cutter product, service or technology? Are the systems truly user-friendly? Can features be added? In short, solution neutrality is key to getting the most innovative product and service.
Keeping up with technology
Basing decisions on strong empirical data and experience instead of top-level claims data is a key hallmark of innovation these days. Is your broker delivering on this best practice of mining data for the insights and innovations it hides? Are these approaches used on the employee benefits side as well as the property & casualty insurance side? How long has your broker used data independent of the carrier and what is their expertise? Any broker can lease or rent a “system” to interpret data, but their experience in developing an analytics system as well as the institutional knowledge developed by using these systems can be a significant advantage for their clients. Today, companies have access to the sorts of modeling tools long used by insurers, giving them the ability to better assess and manage a claim before it has the opportunity to spiral out of control. Is your broker providing you with such tools and do they have the experience and institutional knowledge to offer you the best choices?
When it comes to innovation, bigger is not always better. One of the most valuable attributes of innovators is their independence, giving them the ability to find and develop the very best ideas, regardless of their source.
How does independence play out in the insurance sector? It means your broker can provide the widest range of program choices that meet your company’s needs. Privately-held, debt-free, independent brokers can also review the entire marketplace to find solution-neutral options that are not tied to any one carrier or to their own ownership interests. In turn, that means you can choose among a variety of solutions and ensure you get the appropriate attention to implement and work with those solutions instead of being forced to accept a broker-centric program that benefits your broker’s bottom line, but may not work for your company.
Solution-neutral options also mean customers can retain them even if their insurer or broker changes. For example, proprietary internal systems for employee benefits and property and casualty programs promise efficiency and cost savings — but they are tied to a specific insurance program and broker. That limits a client’s ability to retain programs and systems if they want to make a change.
Choices also can be limited by brokers who merge and/or acquire other companies. Financing this growth means either incurring debt or paying higher shareholder returns and that can lead to constricting R&D investment and limiting customer choices and services. Knowing how financially independent your broker is will help you know if your interests are being well served.
What do you believe?
Finally, you will be most satisfied if you choose an innovative company whose values resonate with your own. Leadership consultant and author Simon Sinek is often quoted for his insight into why customers choose innovative companies: “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.”
In the end, customers want their broker to provide innovative solutions that still satisfy the basics of providing the right coverage, controlling expenses, and delivering exceptional, experienced service — all in the name of helping your company thrive in a more competitive economic environment that rewards the innovators of our world.
About the Authors:
Eric Kasen is President of Hays Companies Northeast, Craig Dandrow is the Employee Benefits Practice Leader, and Owen Callaghan is the Property & Casualty Practice Leader. All three are based in the Hays Companies’ Boston office that provides Health and Welfare Brokerage and Consulting, Pension Consulting and Commercial Risk Brokerage and Consulting.
Most Disrupters aren’t all that disruptive anymore. Everyone, including our children, have become quite comfortable with Disrupters and the positive impact they have on business and our everyday lives. A true Disrupter turns a product or service upside-down and inside-out.
Consider one of the biggest Disrupters in recent history — the personal computer. Think of life without Google… More recently, consider smartphones, drones, smart watches, FitBit, Netflix, Nest, Uber, and Airbnb. Since their introduction, life has not been the same. Many of these companies have been incredibly successful. Today, we’re comfortably accepting these Disrupters with open arms and we’re hungry for more.
The Disrupter mentality and Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley is home to some of the world’s most successful Disrupters. This continues to be true as many of the most visible Disrupters are technology-oriented.
In the first three months of 2015, venture capital (VC) funds invested $13.4 billion, much of it in the tech sector. Not since the dot-com era has there been such a run in VC funding and technology. Many young start-ups seeking funds are turning to crowdfunding and smaller investors, which is disrupting the very ground VC’s used to look to fund — Disrupters.
Two of the most successful Disrupters and their business strategy.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records, Virgin Airlines and Virgin Mobile, and Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO, have a similar business philosophy: Constantly strive to improve the customer experience. In fact, they have structured their companies to encourage disruptive thinking and innovation. Bezos has upended the book and publishing industry and nearly displaced electronics retailers. He continues to disrupt and reinvent online shopping and delivery by responding to changing technology.
“We innovate by starting with the customers and working backwards,” says Bezos. “That becomes the touchstone for how we invent. For Amazon, customer focus is a cultural issue.”
The “improve the experience credo” has sparked a revolution in business thinking that fuels most new Disrupter companies.
One of the biggest Disrupters of today is the smartphone. By its very nature, its features are designed to disrupt whatever we’re doing. As a mobile device they are indispensable and frustrating because we can’t seem to put them down. They have changed the way we communicate, live and do business.
Smartphones are also having a dramatic impact on many other businesses, both positively and negatively. Yet smartphones have also created a dynamic new business category — app design. They help promote shopping, banking, health and fitness, news, entertainment, restaurants and better communication between businesses and consumers, just to name a few.
Understanding how Disrupters are affecting insurance and employee benefits begins with big data.
The biggest Disrupter to date is big data and most agree that big data benefits customers by offering them tailored insurance and employee benefits programs for their specific experience, location and risk profile. Collecting this information is no easy feat: it means gathering financial, claims, risk, customer preference and sales data from multiple sources, then scrubbing and analyzing it, all while complying with protective regulations designed to safeguard the data and data-driven decisions.
IBM’s Big Data @ Work survey reported that big data’s influence in the insurance realm is strong: some 47 percent of insurers want to use it to develop customer-centric programs and another 66 percent are conducting or planning big data activities.*
Today, the use of these devices is ubiquitous. We’ve become so accustomed to formerly “disruptive” technology that it doesn’t faze us anymore.
At the heart of the trend is effectively aggregating the data … and we are doing that at Hays.
We are on the edge of the big data trend, developing innovative programs and opportunities that will benefit our customers. At Hays, we have a proprietary technology platform that pulls together data. This allows us to audit the data, provide consistency of data extracts, show continuity of data across multiple vendors, simplify access to data through one portal, and reduce fees by eliminating ad hoc reports.
We help eliminate the “silos” that come from bucketing cost centers to give our customers a data-focused assessment of the true cost of employment.
The dark side of data.
When it comes to customer and employee privacy, however, we should never be complacent about the dark side of Disrupters.
Cyber terrorism and data breaches have shadowy technical roots in the so-called Deep Web and Dark Web, which most people don’t even know exist. Your company’s data is vulnerable through email links, apps, a compromised network, or a web download. But, the threats are not always through a coding attack. Hackers are increasingly using social engineering techniques to trick people into breaking normal security procedures because they think the phone or email contact is a trusted source.
That’s just the start. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) means personal data could be hacked or collected by cybercriminals in a way never before possible.
Does your wellness program encourage employees to use wearable fitness trackers or apps? Sure, they can improve employee health but there’s also a risk to private information: the FitBit cloud holding this personal health data has already been hacked, raising fears about their vulnerability. And that’s not even addressing their lack of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance.
With so many ways to hack into your company and your employees’ lives, it’s a top priority to have the best cyber security as well as the best insurance and employee benefits programs that protect your company’s people, property, data, reputation, and — ultimately — your bottom line, no matter what new Disrupter comes down the pike.
Technology is expanding at an unprecedented rate; there are new Disrupters in development that offer improvements and increased risks. Hays is at the forefront, watching the development and the impact on your business. We’ve always believed in providing the best resources available for our clients, so our representatives are prepared to provide guidance in managing the evolving risks. We hope you call on us if you have any questions.
This issue is an excerpt from our quarterly FOCUS publication. If you would like to read more, you can request the full issue below.
The art of risk assessment requires more than just knowledge — it also requires creativity and imagination to successfully anticipate, recognize, assess and treat potential risks.
Organizations that harness these skills can develop more effective risk management strategies to bolster their strategic goals, says Bruce Lyon, Hays Companies Director of Risk Control, in the cover story for the March 2016 edition of Professional Safety magazine.
The article dives deeper by presenting the sequence of assessing risk and the tools and methodologies used in the Risk Identification, Risk Analytics and Risk Evaluation process. To read more about the financial and non-financial benefits of risk reduction measures, click here.
Professional Safety magazine is published by the American Society of Safety Engineers, a global association of safety professionals founded in 1911. The professional safety society sets the occupational safety, health and environmental community’s standards for excellence and ethics.