Digital solutions are evolving to manage complex global programmes

The commercial insurance market is playing catchup in the shift to digitalisation and there are calls for greater collaboration among insurers, their customers, brokers and other stakeholders to develop solutions that will make the service delivery to customers more efficient

“We really do live in an unconnected reality if we’re honest with ourselves,” said Jonathan Newbery, head of digital experience – Zurich Commercial Insurance. A lot of people are handling data and performing repetitive manual tasks that create “huge inefficiencies” and reconciliations, taking enormous amounts of time and costing a lot of money, he said.

Newbery was speaking at the Global Programmes Conference 2022 held by Commercial Risk in London. He was joined by Tom Richardson, group insurance director at Associated British Foods.

Some progress, but more opportunity
A lack of digital solutions makes administering global programmes – already a complicated and complex business – even harder and more inefficient, according to Newbery.

Zurich has addressed the issue with real-time data-sharing through application programming interface (API) solutions. The technology, believed to be the first offered by an insurer to international customers, allows risk managers to receive and send data to the insurer through their risk management information system (RMIS).

But Newbery knows there is still room to improve digital relationships among the stakeholders in global programmes.

“What we’re focusing on is system-to-system connectivity with APIs,” he said of Zurich’s work to provide seamless information exchange. And while that is the current leading solution, the future will likely bring even more advanced systems.

“What’s the next thing that’s coming?” he asked. “Is it digital ecosystems or could it be something that none of us have even heard of yet? This is not a one-and-done fix and forget. This is something that evolves and all of us need to prioritise as we move forward.”

A joint effort is needed
Newbery continued: “The industry is going to need to move together on this one… We need to be able to design solutions that fit our customers,” as well as brokers, other insurance carriers and various partners, “wherever they are on their digital journey.”

Adding: “Some are already there, they are ready, and we need to have the sophisticated solutions to be able to exchange with them. Some people aren’t quite there yet but have the ambition. How do we support them as an industry to get to the point where we can exchange data that way?”

There are others who may not have given much consideration at all to adopting digital solutions, Newbery said, and will need a lot of support to be ushered into the age of connectivity.

Richardson agreed that the commercial insurance space is lagging other sectors when it comes to digital advancements. He recalled a meeting with peers from similar-sized multinationals who were asked in a straw poll how many were exchanging data with their insurers.

“I was, frankly, amazed at how many people are still emailing spreadsheets to their carriers to provide renewal information,” Richardson said. “We’re talking multibillion-dollar organisations that are essentially keying stuff into spreadsheets and then emailing it across. That has implications for data security and accuracy.”

That’s a process that Richardson said has been around since he entered the field about 20 years ago and is “pretty surprising, actually, given how much innovation there has been in the wider world”. Relying on such archaic processes for so long is a “massive missed opportunity” for RMIS providers, insurers and risk managers, he added. “We have a greater need than ever to explain the complexities of our organisations to our carriers.”

There are efforts to address these issues, Richardson said, but a lack of consistent data formats makes facilitating the exchange of information among various systems difficult. “For me, the prize on getting this right is big enough that it is worth the industry working harder together to overcome some of these problems of consistency,” he added.

That’s an opinion shared by many in the risk management community, Richardson said. All stakeholders in the value chain will benefit from digital solutions, he added. “We all have to be part of this process because we can’t ignore it, it’s not going away.”

The role of insurtechs
As insurers increasingly partner with insurtechs, there are opportunities for those firms to add value in the growing shift to digital solutions, Newbery said. When considering whether to collaborate with an insurtech, we need to consider how the firm’s operations and data can be integrated into Zurich’s business, he said.

“We need to understand what value we’re trying to drive,” Newbery said, and “what the ultimate value to the customer is.”

“I agree with that, absolutely,” Richardson said. More data isn’t necessarily better, he pointed out, and an insurtech that proposes to work with a risk manager needs to offer more than just a promise of providing additional information that can be passed along to an insurer. “It’s great to know more about the risk, for sure, but unless that means I can get access to more capacity or get a better price or better terms and conditions, am I as a customer going to pay just to know more? No, I’m not.”

There is some urgency to getting digital solutions in place in the global programmes and large commercial domestic spaces, Newbery said. “If we come to the Global Programmes Conference 2026 and we’re still talking about this, I think there’s a bigger problem,” he said.

The more repetitive tasks, reconciliations and other unnecessary work that can be stripped out of the process of sharing risk management and insurance information, the faster and more seamless processes become, Newbery said. “We can make it a way less painful world for everybody and that is, ultimately, customer value.” 

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