This morning I was reading a new article essentially about how insurtech disrupters were going to destroy the insurance industry. As is often the case, these new startups were compared to Amazon, something I’ve blogged about on several occasions, including the article “Insurance and Paper Towels.”

Among the predictions of this article were:

“And you’re going to get disrupted in a way that’s staggering in its infinite nature, with infinitely more data points, infinitely greater opportunities and, as a result, infinitely more options amid a sea of competition, which makes you feel infinitesimally small. Suddenly. This competitive force has built such a commanding, unexpected lead. Yes, a good, old KO before you even heard the bell go off. You will likely default, and it will be too late to pivot.

“For the lucky, the ability to slip into obsolescence and appreciate the nostalgia of the past will do. (Of course, not the positive vibe-nostalgia, the punch-drunk love of sentimental warmth. Nope, as you become a relic of history, the nostalgia will be more like the Greek word root for nostalgia, which translates to pain, or more specifically the debilitating and often fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness).”

Yikes! Gadzooks! Godfrey Daniel! (and other “old-timey” expressions of fear and terror used by old industry fossils like me). Or, better yet, he “blathers like a bubbly-jock,” an 18th century expression which means to prattle like a gobbling turkey or “to talk rubbish.”

The article summary concluded with:

“…you’re about to be disrupted. Amazon ring any bells?”

Yep, so does Google Compare. And AirBNB Insurance and Guevara and Guild and Health Republic and Risk Genie and Tribe Cover and Zensure and RiskGone and….

Amazon sells products with a known cost. Insurance involves parties entering into complex, legal, highly regulated indemnification contracts where the costs are not fully known and one event can be financially catastrophic for either or both insurer and insured. Insurance is more process than product. It begins with an individual risk exposure analysis, continues with matching the results of that detailed survey with the proper risk management technique (one of which is “insurance”), then interpreting a complex legal contract IF a loss event occurs.

Insurance in its present form does not lend itself to an Amazon-like “1-Click” purchase. Insurance contracts are not commodities distinguished only by price. If I buy 3 pair of crew socks on Amazon and they don’t fit or I don’t like them, at worst, I’m out a few bucks and/or the inconvenience of a return. If I choose the wrong insurance product, I may almost literally lose everything I own and, in the particular case of liability claims, I may have my income garnished for the next 20 years.

“Insurance” is a complex process, not a single event where all that matters is a fast/easy/cheap convenient and pleasant customer buying experience. The true test of the insurance product is whether it covers a claim. Again, in the particular case of liability exposures, the value of the purchase may not be known for years.

Those that think they can disrupt a centuries-old industry with a phone app and an AI bot that extracts bad data from a county tax database without human intervention aren’t being innovative. They simply lack a valid historical perspective of the industry and a fundamental misunderstanding of what the industry is all about.

What the insurance industry is all about is assisting individuals, families, and organizations in identifying their exposures to loss and implementing the most appropriate risk management techniques to minimize the potential for serious or catastrophic financial loss. How many insurtech startups will figure this out before they run out of venture capital and/or ruin the lives of an unsuspecting public?

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Bill Wilson

Founder at InsuranceCommentary.com
One of the premier insurance educators in America on form, coverage, and technical issues; Founder and director of the Big “I” Virtual University; Retired Assoc. VP of Education and Research from Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Reprint Request Information

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