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An Introduction to Insurance Effective Digital Disruption and Impact of Insurtechs in the Insurance Economy



The revolution in consumer behavior transformed industries through the adoption of new technologies, forced incumbents to adapt their organization and opened doors to a tech-savvy generation of new entrants. The digital dynamic facilitated the deployment of innovative solutions and empowered start-ups to become genuine competitors to the existing incumbents, challenge the position of the leaders and disrupt traditional industries. The emergence of innovative entrepreneurs is also real in the insurance industry. For the past ten years, insurtechs have been a powerful driver for change, pressing incumbents to modernize their business models by responding faster and more efficiently to consumer demand. The industry witnesses the emergence of start-ups that ambition to disrupt the insurance business model yet these insurtechs have difficulties appealing to consumers and differentiate themselves against traditional yet powerful incumbents. Historical leaders (e.g., Allianz, AXA, Generali, Prudential) remain ahead on all indicators such as revenue, presence, market share, and reliability. The paper evaluates some assumptions on why Insurtechs are unable to scale and sustain. It is a preliminary paper prior to a dissertation on insuretchs in-depth assesment.
An Introduction to Insurance Effective Digital Disruption and Impact of
Insurtechs in the Insurance Economy
Matthias de Ferrieres
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of
Doctor in International Entrepreneurship
The digital era has opened doors to a generation of young entrepreneurs eager to
leverage on new technologies to transform business through innovation. Multiple industries,
such as retail, transportation, telecommunication, information or hospitality, are disrupted by
tech-savvy new entrants that modernize the way consumers and suppliers interact. The
insurance industry resists to such transformation despite the aggressive emergence of digital
start-ups that attempt to change the traditional operating model. Focusing on the Singapore
insurance market, this paper opposes the nature of the digital entrepreneurs that enter the
insurance market and the essence of the industry to explain the difficulties of an effective
disruption of the insurance paradigm by new entrants. The study shows that insurance players
are dealing with a complex industry that requires insurance expertise and experience beyond
digital know-how. The barriers to entry (e.g., regulation, capital, compliance), the difficulties
to respond to a passive demand (e.g., poor value perception, no willingness to pay), and the
necessity to provide a well-processed supply (e.g., technical nature of insurance,
underwriting, after-sale and claims management) favor the position of incumbents and
challenge the fragile ambition of digital entrants – insurtechs. The study concludes that such
paradigm not only slows-down the digital transformation of the industry but also delays its
potential disruption.
ABSTRACT ............................................................................................................................................... II
GLOSSARY .............................................................................................................................................. IV
Background of the Study ......................................................................................................................................... 1
Problem Statement .................................................................................................................................................. 2
Objective and Significance of the Research Area ................................................................................................... 4
The Research Question ........................................................................................................................................... 5
Delimitations and Limitations ................................................................................................................................ 5
Assumptions ............................................................................................................................................................ 6
Singapore Case ....................................................................................................................................................... 7
REFERENCES .................................................................................................................................................... 11
$: Singapore Dollars.
ACRA: Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority is the national regulator of business
entities, public accountants and corporate service providers in Singapore.
AI: Artificial intelligence refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are
programmed to learn to think like humans and mimic their actions.
APA: American Psychological Association.
API: Application Programming Interface. API is the acronym for Application Programming
Interface, which is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other.
B2C: Business-to-Consumer. The term business-to-consumer refers to the process of selling
products and services directly between a business and consumers who are the end-users of its
products or services.
Blockchain: Blockchain is a digital ledger of transactions that is duplicated and distributed
across an entire network of computer systems.
CEO: Chief Executive Officer.
CDO: Chief Digital Officer.
CFO: Chief Financial Officer.
Chatbot: A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through voice
commands or text chats or both.
CIO: Chief IT Officer.
CMO: Chief Marketing Officer.
COVID-19: A disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus that appears in 2019. 'CO'
stands for corona, 'VI' for virus, and 'D' for disease.
CTO: Chief Technical Officer.
e-KYC: electronic Know Your Customer Document.
Fintech: a fintech is a start-up that use computer programs and other technologies to deploy
innovative solutions in banking and financial services.
GDP: Gross Domestic Product.
GIA: General Insurance Association.
GWP: Gross Written Premium. Revenue scale in General Insurance Industry.
IMDA: Infocomm Media Development Authority. The statutory board of the Singapore
government, under the Ministry of Communications and Information.
Insurance Agent: an insurance agent is an insurance intermediary that hold a license to
advise, promote insurance products and services on behalf of an insurance company only
Insurance Broker: an insurance broker is an insurance intermediary that hold a license to
advise, recommend insurance products and services for its clients.
Insurance Tied Agent: A tied agent is a financial adviser representative of an insurance
company only that can sell one product only. In Singapore they are mainly selling Travel or
Motor insurance.
Insurtech: Insurtech is a combination of the words insurance and technology, inspired by the
term fintech. Insurtech refers to the company that develops or uses technology innovations to
design efficient insurance solutions.
IoT: Internet of Things.
IT: Information Technology.
KPI: Key Performance Indicator.
LIA: Life Insurance Association.
MAS: Ministry Authority of Singapore.
MD: Managing Director.
PDPA: Personal Data Protection Act.
PDPC: Personal Data Protection Commission.
Peer-to-Peer: A peer-to-peer (P2P) network is a network that does not use a centralize
administrative system. It rather share resources through interconnected nodes (peers) and
helps computers and devices work collaboratively.
Sandbox: A sandbox is a testing environment that isolates innovative solutions from the
production environment to experiment, test them without affecting the insurance industry.
SaaS: Software as a service.
SFA: Singapore Fintech Association.
Start-up: A start-up is a young company founded by one or more entrepreneurs to develop a
unique product or service and bring it to market. By its nature, the typical start-up tends to be
a shoestring operation, with initial funding from the founders or their friends and families.
Telematics: Telematics is a technology solution that deals with the long-distance
transmission of computerized information.
UBI: Usage based Insurance.
VC: Venture Capital.
With the advent of digital, customers want to access everything, everywhere, and at any
time. The revolution in consumer behavior transformed industries through the adoption of new
technologies, forced incumbents to adapt their organization and opened doors to a tech-savvy
generation of new entrants. The digital dynamic facilitated the deployment of innovative
solutions and empowered start-ups to become genuine competitors to the existing incumbents,
challenge the position of the leaders and disrupt traditional industries (Pei, 2018).
The emergence of innovative entrepreneurs is also real in the insurance industry. Pain
(2014) states that a quiet digital revolution is underway that re-configures the traditional
insurance distribution model and changes how consumers interact with insurers. Barinskiy
(2020) defines these entrepreneurs in the insurance industry as agile newcomers that develop
innovative ideas through technologies and aim at disrupting the current model used by most
incumbents to bring insurance shoppers savings and efficiency. Such start-ups, called also
insurtechs, enter the market and force the insurance industry to experience a technological shift.
They deploy unconventional value proposition and new operating models built around digital
know-how. Insurtechs attempt also to compete with traditional intermediaries (e.g., agents,
brokers, or financial advisors) and launch direct solutions through e-commerce that facilitate
product comparison, simplify the purchasing process, and foremost reduce significantly the cost
of purchase (Barinskiy, 2020). For the past ten years, insurtechs have been a powerful driver for
change, pressing incumbents to modernize their business models by responding faster and more
efficiently to the consumer demand (Pain, 2014). Some experts, such as Catlin (2017), forecast a
disruption that could be as dramatic as the one seen in other industries:
Insurtechs are technology-led companies that enter the insurance sector, taking advantage
of new technologies to provide coverage to a more digitally savvy customer base.
Incumbents need to keep their eyes out for new entrants that use technology to create a
strategic advantage. The size of their share in the next generation of the insurance
industry is at stake. (Catlin, 2017, para. 5)
The industry witness the emergence of start-ups that ambition to disrupt the insurance
business model yet these insurtechs have difficulties to appeal to consumer and differentiate
themselves against traditional yet powerful incumbents. Historical leaders (e.g., Allianz, AXA,
Generali, Prudential) remain ahead on all indicators such as revenue, presence, market share, and
reliability (Nicoletti, 2016).
The traditional insurance players understood the importance of digitalizing their business
and the necessity to transform their organization to respond to tech-savvy consumers. Unlike
insurtechs, these established insurers have the advantage of being in the market for a long time
which gives them the following advantages:
They developed strong insurance expertise and held relevant field experience,
They deal with legacy systems and robust governance that ensure stability and scalability,
They also carry products and services with proven capabilities that help to preserve a
strong ground on the market, and
They have the appropriate distribution channel in place, traditional intermediaries that
hold and deal with a large in-force book , that can help preserve the client portfolio.
Historical players launch also solutions to respond to the digital demand while leveraging
on their incumbent status. They transform themselves and revisit their processes, services, and
operations. As consequence, despite a revolution expected by new entrants, there is no dramatic
change in the way the insurance market is organized and driven. Mainstream insurance firms are
considered better than new entrants at security and fraud protection, at products and services, and
finally at brand awareness (Browne, 2017). Pain (2014) highlights that the penetration of e-
commerce through new start-ups is generally less in insurance than in other industries. In the
European Union for example, e-commerce represents 14% of total sales across all sectors
compared with an average of less than 5% for insurance purchases (Pain, 2014). Insurance is an
industry that is digitally changing without experiencing the expected and established disruption
driven by innovative new entrants.
There is an abundance of research on the impact of new entrants in insurance (Vander
Linden et al., 2018). There are essays published on insurtechs that focus on the opportunity to
change the value perception and willingness to pay through digital means. Their authors describe
how business models of these new entrants are different from the traditional ones. Finally, there
are multiple papers on how new entrants disrupt the traditional governance of the historical
players. These publications show the appetite for insurance players to modernize themselves to
change the customer perception and transform the industry by embracing new technologies. I
found no research pointing to the difficulties that incumbents in general, new entrants in
particular have to truly disrupt the insurance paradigm. I also found no study explaining why
incumbents stay leaders of their markets and what are or could be the key success factors (if any)
of the new entrants to transform the insurance market.
The insurance industry has notable barriers to entry (e.g., regulations, capital
requirements, and consumer behaviors) that make it complex to enter and even more difficult to
stay. Yet, a new generation of entrepreneurs expects to conquer the insurance market by
leveraging on their digital know-how only. They lack both insurance experience and expertise,
and believe that the knowledge in new technologies is the only competence required to
successfully disrupt and impact the position of the conservative incumbents. The purpose of the
study is to evaluate the competence that may be required from a new entrant willing to remodel
the insurance industry on a long term. The research assesses the importance of both the
experience and expertise in insurance to respond to powerful incumbents, stiff regulations, and
conservative purchasing behavior.
This study examined three main research questions:
RQ 1. Is the insurance industry digital transformation slowed down by a complex and strict
RQ 2. Is the insurance industry digital disruption delayed by poor value perception from the
RQ 3. Is being tech savvy sufficient for an entrepreneur to disrupt the insurance industry?
The research focuses on the Singapore market only. Singapore welcomes disruption
through entrepreneurship (Pei, 2018). In the insurance environment, the governing bodies have
simplified rules and regulations to welcome insurtechs and facilitate innovation (Tan, 2012). The
government provides reliable and frequent statistics on the evolution of both entrepreneurship
and insurance. First, I can engage with local experts to evaluate their sentiments on the effective
transformation and digitalization of the industry, and second I have access easily to both the
main players and the insurtechs performances and statistics. However, restricting the study to
Singapore creates biases and may not represent the situation of the insurance industry overall.
For instance, the size of the Singapore insurance market is small and its regulation is very
specific which may affect the overall significance of the findings.
The insurance environment is complicated at both supply and demand and requires a
minimum of know-how. On the supply side, the industry deals with a complex and volatile set of
laws. Insurance suppliers must allocate significant time and budget to have the right resources
and the appropriate organization to remain compliant. Lorenz (2017) writes:
Regulation, product complexity, and insurers’ large balance sheets have kept digital
attackers from insurers’ gates. (Lorenz, 2017, p. 6)
The demand is conventional and purchasing behavior remains conservative. Customers
need to be constantly educated, advised, and supported in their insurance acquisition journey as
their value perception is poor and the willingness to pay is low.
The insurance industry is slower than other industries to feel the digital effect owing to
regulation that absorb time and energy from players, complex understanding that demand
insurance experience, and young, innovative and tech-savvy entrepreneurs that miss appropriate
expertise that is needed to grow steadily.
Singapore is a small island country based in South-East Asia. With 5.6 million
inhabitants living in 720 km squares, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the
World. Singapore is also known as one of the richest countries in the world with a Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) reaching $103,000 per inhabitants in 2020 (Heritage Foundation,
2020). Singapore Internet penetration rate reached 82% in 2018 which is 30 points higher than
the global average. Singapore's mobile penetration reached 86% in 2018 (Shahari, 2019).
Singapore defines itself as a “start-up nation” that fosters modern entrepreneurship by
simplifying rules and regulations, overall administration, and other corporate processes (Yeoh,
2016). For instance, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), the governing
body that controls the creation of businesses, takes pride in providing 100% of its services
through the Internet and guarantee that a new business can be created in less than 2 hours
through their system (World Bank, 2010). The Singapore government tries to engage investors,
major corporations, and start-ups to work and discuss together to boost the digital
transformation. Specific to finance and entrepreneurship, Singapore has developed a fintech
innovation hub that includes high tech infrastructure and facilities, and offer tax reliefs or grants,
to welcome innovators from all over the world willing to transform the banking or insurance
industry (Pei, 2018). From proofs of concept supporting schemes to a specific sandbox for new
entrants, the country provides clear fast track and impactful subsidies to the fintech industry
(MAS, 2016).
In Singapore, the insurance industry is matured and deals with slow growth since 2012
(MAS, 2020). As of 2020, 104 insurers hold a license for more than 20 years (LIA, 2020) and
only five new entrants that have tried to penetrate the market since 2015 - Singapore Life, China
Life, FWD, Budget Insurance (MAS, 2020). In general insurance, the top three general insurers
(AXA, Income, AIG) owns 60% of the market (Ernst & Young, 2017) while in life insurance,
four players (Prudential, Great Eastern, AIA, Income) own 78% of the market (LIA, 2020); The
insurance industry has difficulties to innovate as Friedman (2018) points out:
Insurers still too often hold on to outdated orthodoxies about the industry’s inherent
ability to ward off fundamental disruption. (Friedman, 2018)
The incumbents are reluctant to change as they hold most of the market, and spend most
of their energy in dealing with a difficult regulatory environment. The Ministry of Authority of
Singapore (MAS), may have simplified the guidelines for new entrants but enforced a series of
new and stricter laws for the bigger players. Incumbents deal with additional terms and
conditions to distribute their products, manage data, or deploy new services. This situation forces
incumbents to revisit regularly their governance, their organization, and strategy (Sharps, 2018).
As such, rather than investing in innovation, incumbents allocate their budget to respond to these
regulatory guidelines (Sharps, 2018). Pei (2018) justifies the government regulatory strategy:
The need for sharper focus on the risk and threat analysis associated with increasingly
complex activities, products and delivery mechanisms of financial institutions where
multiple risks are taken and/or bundled together. (Pei, 2018)
The different regulatory initiatives launched by the Singapore government on welcoming
innovation opened doors to a new generation of entrepreneurs. Pei (2018) states:
MAS is clearly aware that introducing regulations prematurely may stifle innovation and
potentially derail the adoption of useful technology, therefore it always ensures that
regulation must not be a front-runner of innovation. (Pei, 2018)
Since the deployment of this philosophy, multiple start-ups enter the insurance market
and try to deploy innovative solutions. Unlike traditional players which provide the full range of
comprehensive services and products, these new entrants develop specific technology to improve
one particular vertical or product. Smaller, they do not need to follow all the rules imposed by
the MAS. More agile, they also adapt faster to the market. Yet these start-ups have not been able
to disrupt the market. These insurtechs entered the industry that offer direct purchase facility
which attempt to shorten and simplify the process of acquisition (Heong, 2019).
Despite high expectations from the industry, the insurtech business remains marginal and
represented less than 0.2% of the total insurance premium generated in Singapore in 2019
(Heong, 2019). Customers remain traditional, conservative, and still opt for a face-to-face
financial planning session with a trusted financial adviser rather than opting for a digital self-
assessment or buying from innovative provider (Goby & Lewis, 2000). Heong (2019) explains:
Singaporeans want the benefits that online market places provide: ease of buying, having
all the information easily accessible 24/7, and perhaps lower prices. And major insurers
have responded by creating mobile apps, allowing downloading of benefit illustrations
online, and even allow insurance policies to be purchased directly online. These new
insurtechs haven’t done enough to differentiate themselves and their products to make it
through. (Heong, 2019, para. 6)
This thesis has five chapters. CHAPTER 1 presented the background, problem and
questions of the study, and summarized the approach of the research to validate or not the
assumptions. CHAPTER TWO reviews the literature on the digital impact on consumer
behavior, insurance and the nature of entrepreneurship and describes the context of Singapore.
CHAPTER THREE explains the methodology used to conduct the study, how the data are
collected and analysed, and calls attention to limitations. CHAPTER FOUR summarizes the
results from the data collected. CHAPTER FIVE discusses the findings and the conclusions as
well as the potential areas for future studies.
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