Disruption: what does it mean for you and your business?

Monday, 18 September 2017

When I was invited to speak at the ICMIF Biennial Conference, and heard the theme was “redesigning insurance”, my immediate thought was that this may actually be a never-ending task.

It seems that with digital disruption in full swing, all industries are faced with the problem of changing the way they do business in real time, while keeping the original business running and servicing existing customers.

One of the best examples of this is the decision by the UK to leave the EU or “Brexit” as it has become known globally. Think about your own business. If you were told that you had to completely divest one of your largest divisions, to a deadline of exactly two years, were given no additional resources, and minimal additional funds, you would probably turn down the assignment.

Unfortunately for the UK Government, the people have spoken and they have no other option, with a clock that keeps ticking towards the exit date of March 2019.

As an industry, I can see from where I sit that you are being hit from all sides from the threats from cyber security, artificial intelligence, the “Internet of things”, automated cars and the ledger to beat them all – Blockchain. All of these technologies are set to fundamentally change the insurance industry in just a few short years.

While you need to keep your existing business going, and clients serviced, there are multiple threats brewing from smaller and more nimble competitors, those in the “FinTech” and “InsureTech” spaces. Just as the banking industry faces the threat of a Google, Amazon or Apple turning around and applying for a banking licence, the insurance industry is under threat from many sides, and also some unknown, or otherwise unlikely competitors.

When I ask leaders from across multiple industries around the world the timeframe for their business being disrupted digitally, more often than not I am met with responses of “in the next five years or so”. This scares me, because digital disruption is happening already, something I will cover in my keynote on the first day of the conference, to help set the scene.

Forecasting change

I liken this response to that of a weather forecaster saying that an unusual weather event is coming and people well inland may be affected. Those who don’t heed the advice and stay behind may see their lives completely disrupted, as happened recently with Hurricane Harvey in America.

When we hear of a bad weather forecast, we make our own judgement about what we should do, even though we are not experts in the field. Just as it is very hard to “see” variances in the weather, we normally rely on experts who combine their experience with a range of sophisticated measuring devices to literally forecast the immediate future. In the same way, we might be blind to some of the impending threats from digital disruption.

In my role, I need to be able to help forecast and guide clients through these threats, first helping them to detect the type of disruption that is happening, then define a response and defend their particular space against disruptors. These “3D’s” of disruption – Detect, Define and Defend I will also be covering in my talk.

My strong view is that what is needed in the insurance industry are more management teams and boards that exhibit digital diversity, seeing the world through a digital lens.

One of the most useful pieces of advice that I provide to all my clients, regardless of the industry they operate in is that they need to disrupt themselves, before somebody else does.

The two tribes

This “self-disruption” does not always manifest itself using technology. Disrupting yourself might revolve around a smart people strategy and help you attract the new breed of employee that helps with your diversity of thought. In any organisation there are two tribes – those “going digital” that have the experience and can influence decisions through an organisation, and those “born digital” - while they may lack these influencing skills, they are expert both the use and the impact of new technologies on an organisation.

Acknowledging that these two tribes exist, and hiring and developing each one as part of a smart business strategy can help you detect and defend disruption.

You can’t wait to be disrupted

The smartest companies in the world look way ahead, they don’t wait for an external force to trigger change.

In both the UK and Australia, their Governments have been extremely well advised to make things easier for consumers and open up the banking industries with “Open Banking Standards”. When I ask the incumbent banks if they would have opened up their platforms without being regulated to, they all say no.

In my mind, this is the wrong answer. Other FinTech companies have not waited for the Government to mandate a new operating environment, and in many ways, it is the presence and pressure of these new players that is forcing the Government to mandate these changes.

For those reading this, and those attending the Biennial Conference, my message is clear:

Disrupt yourself before someone else does it for you.

 

Andrew Grill is The Practical Futurist, and consults globally with organisations on how to embrace the change brought about by digital disruption with practical advice. He speaks at conferences around the world, including three TEDx talks. The opinions expressed in the article are his own and do not reflect those of any employer, past or present. Andrew can be found on Twitter @AndrewGrill and blogs at LondonCalling.co

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