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If I had my time again…

Mark Geoghegan 6 December 2016

No matter how tumultuous the times in which we live, there is always one rock-solid constant upon which a fearful world can anchor itself - that the insurance industry is 15 years behind the times.

Cast your mind back to 2001 and you will remember that we were still in the late stages of the infamous dotcom bubble.

The stock market had already peaked at the turn of the millennium, but back then no-one was betting on that correction being anything more than a pause before new heights were scaled. IPOs were still being pumped out onto the Nasdaq on a daily basis.

Technologists, investors, journalists and other service providers and camp followers used to network like crazy at regular informal evening happenings in the bars of major international cities. The possibilities seemed endless.

But needless to say, the first tech revolution largely passed the insurance industry by.

Fifteen years later and things couldn't be more different. Today our world is awash with InsurTech. Incumbents are pouring cash into innovation and disruption funds, digital labs, incubators and accelerators.

At the end of last month Allianz announced a punchy EUR430mn tech fund, while earlier this week Lloyd's unveiled plans for an innovation team. Within a few quarters all our universe of (re)insurers will be sporting a chief innovation officer and moving to invest in disruptive insurance-focused technology start-ups.

And the informal evening gatherings are back. Last week I went to one such gathering in London.

Ten companies presented their technology and big ideas to a throng of over 200 people, issuing open invitations from the audience for feedback, collaboration and/or offers of investment.

For a moment I was transported a rejuvenating 15 years into the past - I could almost feel my hair growing back.

The presentations included at least three separate companies running platforms upon which the data from the world's billions of internet-enabled devices might be analysed for the benefit of the insurance industry.

Then I remembered 2002 when the dotcom crash really took hold and I soberly rediscovered my age.

But with a grey-bearded smile I realised my good fortune. I had been given the opportunity to witness something for a second time - but with the benefit of 15 years' extra experience.

The advantage of being a slow adopter of technology means we don't have to repeat the mistakes of others.

So what advice would my middle-aged self have passed on to my 30-something incarnation given the chance?

Here goes.

Multiple platforms cannot co-exist if they do the same thing. One or two always end up dominating.

There will be a lot of creative destruction and there will be a small number of winners and a large number of losers.

Invest most heavily after the crash, not during the boom.

Remember how in 2002 telecoms and broadband companies got foolishly marked down along with frothy dotcom stocks? Demand for broadband has grown every year since the crash - with hindsight we could see these investments were a low-risk utility not a high-risk tech play.

InsurTech may create some new utilities - make sure you buy these first.

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This article was published as part of issue December 2016/1

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