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New Product Development in Insurance: The Actuary

4 minutes, 30 seconds read

Ratemaking, or insurance pricing, is the process of fixing the rates or premiums that insurers charge for their policies. In insurance parlance, a unit of insurance represents a certain monetary value of coverage. Insurance companies usually base these on risk factors such as gender, age, etc. The Rate is simply the price per ‘unit of insurance’ for each unit exposed to liability. 

Typically, a unit of insurance (both in life and non-life) is equal to $1,000 worth of liability coverage. By that token, for 200 units of insurance purchased the liability coverage is $200,000. This value is the insurance ‘premium’. (This example is only to demonstrate the logic behind units of exposure, and is not an exact method for calculating premium value)

The cost of providing insurance coverage is actually unknown, which is why insurance rates are based on the predictions of future risk.  

Actuaries work wherever risk is present

Actuarial skills help measure the probability and risk of future events by understanding the past. They accomplish this by using probability theory, statistical analysis, and financial mathematics to predict future financial scenarios. 

Insurers rely on them, among other reasons, to determine the ‘gross premium’ value to collect from the customer that includes the premium amount (described earlier), a charge for covering losses and expenses (a fixture of any business) and a small margin of profit (to stay competitive). But insurers are also subject to regulations that limit how much they can actually charge customers. Being highly skilled in maths and statistics the actuary’s role is to determine the lowest possible premium that satisfies both the business and regulatory objectives.

Risk-Uncertainty Continuum

Source: Sam Gutterman, IAA Risk Book

Actuaries are essentially experts at managing risk, and owing to the fact that there are fewer actuaries in the World than most other professions — they are highly in demand. They lend their expertise to insurance, reinsurance, actuarial consultancies, investment, banking, regulatory bodies, rating agencies and government agencies. They are often attributed to the middle office, although it is not uncommon to find active roles in both the ‘front and middle’ office. 

Recently, they have also found greater roles in fast growing Internet startups and Big-Tech companies that are entering the insurance space. Take Gus Fuldner for instance, head of insurance at Uber and a highly sought after risk expert, who has a four-member actuarial team that is helping the company address new risks that are shaping their digital agenda. In fact, Uber believes in using actuaries with data science and predictive modelling skills to identify solutions for location tracking, driver monitoring, safety features, price determination, selfie-test for drivers to discourage account sharing, etc., among others.

Also read – Are Predictive Journeys moving beyond the hype?

Within the General Actuarial practice of Insurance there are 3 main disciplines — Pricing, Reserving and Capital. Pricing is prospective in nature, and it requires using statistical modelling to predict certain outcomes such as how much claims the insurer will have to pay. Reserving is perhaps more retrospective in nature, and involves applying statistical techniques for identifying how much money should be set aside for certain liabilities like claims. Capital actuaries, on the other hand, assess the valuation, solvency and future capital requirements of the insurance business.

New Product Development in Insurance

Insurance companies often respond to a growing market need or a potential technological disruptor when deciding new products/ tweaking old ones. They may be trying to address a certain business problem or planning new revenue streams for the organization. Typically, new products are built with the customer in mind. The more ‘benefit-rich’ it is, the easier it is to push on to the customer.

Normally, a group of business owners will first identify a broader business objective, let’s say — providing fire insurance protection for sub-urban, residential homeowners in North California. This may be a class of products that the insurer wants to open. In order to create this new product, they may want to study the market more carefully to understand what the risks involved are; if the product is beneficial to the target demographic, is profitable to the insurer, what is the expected value of claims, what insurance premium to collect, etc.

There are many forces external to the insurance company — economic trends, the agendas of independent agents, the activities of competitors, and the expectations and price sensitivity of the insurance market — which directly affect the premium volume and profitability of the product.

Dynamic Factors Influencing New Product Development in Insurance

Source: Deloitte Insights

To determine insurance rate levels and equitable rating plans, ratemaking becomes essential. Statistical & forecasting models are created to analyze historical premiums, claims, demographic changes, property valuations, zonal structuring, and regulatory forces. Generalized linear models, clustering, classification, and regression trees are some examples of modeling techniques used to study high volumes of past data. 

Based on these models, an actuary can predict loss ratios on a sample population that represents the insurer’s target audience. With this information, cash flows can be projected on the product. The insurance rate can also be calculated that will cover all future loss costs, contingency loads, and profits required to sustain an insurance product. Ultimately, the actuary will try to build a high level of confidence in the likelihood of a loss occurring. 

This blog is a two-part series on new product development in insurance. In the next part, we will take a more focused view of the product development actuary’s role in creating new insurance products.

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Retention playbook for Insurance firms in the backdrop of financial crises

4 minutes read

Belonging to one of the oldest industries in the world, Insurance companies have weathered multiple calamities over the years and have proven themselves to be resilient entities that can truly stand the test of time. Today, however, the industry faces some of its toughest trials yet. Technology has fundamentally changed what it means to be an insurer and the cumulative effects of the pandemic coupled with a weak global economic output have impacted the industry in ways both good and bad.

Chart, line chart

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Source: Deloitte Services LP Economic Analysis

For instance, the U.S market recorded a sharp dip in GDP in the wake of the pandemic and it was expected that the economy would bounce back bringing with it a resurgent demand for all products (including insurance) across the board. It must be noted that the outlook toward insurance products changed as a result of the pandemic. Life insurance products were no longer an afterthought, although profitability in this segment declined over the years. Property-and-Casualty (P&C) insurance, especially motor insurance, continued to be a strong driver, while health insurance proved to be the fastest-growing segment with robust demand from different geographies

Simultaneously, the insurance industry finds itself on the cusp of an industry-wide shift as technology is starting to play a greater role in core operations. In particular, technologies such as AI, AR, and VR are being deployed extensively to retain customers amidst this technological and economic upheaval.

Double down on digital

For insurance firms, IT budgets were almost exclusively dedicated to maintaining legacy systems, but with the rise of InsurTech, it is imperative that firms start dedicating more of their budgets towards developing advanced capabilities such as predictive analytics, AI-driven offerings, etc. Insurance has long been an industry that makes extensive use of complex statistical and mathematical models to guide pricing and product development strategies. By incorporating the latest technological advances with the rich data they have accumulated over the years, insurance firms are poised to emerge stronger and more competitive than ever.

Using AI to curate a bespoke customer experience

Insurance has always been a low-margin affair and success in the business is primarily a function of selling the right products to the right people and reducing churn as much as possible. This is particularly important as customer retention is normally conceived as an afterthought in most industries, as evidenced in the following chart.

Chart, sunburst chart

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        Source: econconusltancy.com

AI-powered tools (even with narrow capabilities) can do wonders for the insurance industry at large. When architected in the right manner, they can be used to automate a bulk of the standardized and automated processes that insurance companies have. AI can be used to automate and accelerate claims, assess homeowner policies via drones, and facilitate richer customer experiences through sophisticated chatbots. Such advances have a domino effect of increasing CSAT scores, boosting retention rates, reducing CACs, and ultimately improving profitability by as much as 95%.

Crafting immersive products through AR/VR

Customer retention is largely a function of how good a product is, and how effective it is in solving the customers’ pain points. In the face of increasing commodification, insurance companies that go the extra mile to make the buying process more immersive and engaging can gain a definite edge over competitors.

Globally, companies are flocking to implement AR/VR into their customer engagement strategies as it allows them to better several aspects of the customer journey in one fell swoop. Relationship building, product visualization, and highly personalized products are some of the benefits that AR/VR confers to its wielders.  

By honoring the customer sentiments of today and applying a slick AR/VR-powered veneer over its existing product layer, insurance companies can cater to a younger audience (Gen Z) by educating them about insurance products and tailoring digital delivery experiences. This could pay off in the long run by building a large customer base that could be retained and served for a much longer period.

The way forward

The Insurance industry is undergoing a shift of tectonic proportions as an older generation makes way for a new and younger one that has little to no perceptions about the industry. By investing in next-generation technologies such as AR/VR, firms can build new products to capture this new market and catapult themselves to leadership positions simply by way of keeping up with the times.

We have already seen how AR is a potential game-changer for the insurance industry. It is only a matter of time before it becomes commonplace.

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