Houston expert: The insurance biz is ripe for innovation — here's how to tap into it
The insurance industry is hungry for tech talent. This 400-year-old industry lays claim to many innovations from financial engineering to weather modeling and was among the first to widely adopt mainframe computing. However, while many sectors took up digital processes in the Internet Age, the $1.4 trillion insurance industry lost out on a generation of innovators to retail, social media, entertainment, and other financial services. Only recently have investors become wise to the massive opportunity of modernizing insurance.
More than 100,000 Houstonians work in insurance, mostly in sales and servicing of policies or claims. Many insurance agencies now employ IT professionals and graphic designers to support online experiences for customers and employees. Larger insurance companies are hiring data analysts, software developers, and cloud engineers to improve risk selection, mitigate losses, and drive efficiency. Such efforts to leverage technology in each function in the insurance value chain are broadly described by the term insurtech (or insuretech; it’s so novel that consensus has not been reached on its spelling).The largest gathering of insurtech investors, entrepreneurs, and industry incumbents occurs at the InsureTech Connect conference. Last month saw nearly 10,000 insurtech leaders and hopefuls descend on Las Vegas for the 6th annual convention. Sound business models and partnerships with incumbents replaced the easy money and talk of disruption from prior years. Many speakers and panels highlighted the following opportunities for aspiring insurtech professionals:
Insurance has long been sold alongside other products, and omnipresent API ecosystems make the transaction that much more seamless. For a small premium, some insurtechs use embedded products that take the risk out of large purchases like event tickets, rentals, gadgets, and vacations. These companies need savvy designers and creative marketing pros to integrate their products with the right partners.
The fundamental principle of insurance is to make the policyholder whole after a loss, but agreeing on the amount of loss can take years and legal battles. Parametric insurance policies pay losses automatically based on pre-specified trigger events, such as a threshold based on wind speed or hail size. Cutting-edge products provide stability by tying coverage to indexes like oil price or crop yields and require experts in the underlying index to set the correct parameters.
Internet of Things
Theoretically, more information will lead to more accurate prediction of insured loss. Cell phone geolocation, smart homes, and sensors on everything gives insurance companies a mountain of data. Translating all of this into actionable insights will require armies of data scientists. Machine learning algorithms, paired with good data, promise to uncover new ways to anticipate and avoid losses.
Many jobs in the burgeoning gig economy are related to insurance. For all the big data available, insurance companies still need ‘boots on the ground’ when inspecting a new policyholder’s property, assessing damage to a house or car, installing sensors, or responding to catastrophe. They especially need contract workers with drone licenses for inspecting roofs.
Insurtech is not disrupting insurance companies but transforming them to meet modern customer needs They can no longer succeed with just snappy TV ads and countless storefronts. Insurance quotes and claim payments need to be fast and fair. In an industry this large, a great idea that captures 1 percent of market share or improves efficiency by 1 percent can be lucrative. Today’s rate environment has cooled off insurtech valuations but not before 25 US and UK insurtech start-ups rose to billion-dollar unicorn status in the past decade.
The adage goes that everyone in the insurance industry was either born into it or tricked into it. This may have applied to the last generation, but today’s insurance industry offers vast opportunities (including remote) for every discipline, especially for tech job seekers.
Daniel Murray is co-founder and chief underwriter of Covenant Underwriters, a Houston-based insurtech start-up, building e-commerce insurance products for underserved niches.