Sam Vickerman, Practice Director, Insurance & Retail, Grayce
Often referred to as digital laggards in the finance sector, insurance companies are renowned for being slow to adopt new technologies. Held back by legacy systems and old-fashioned business models, the industry also lacks the technology talent required to speed up innovation. According to Deloitte, just 4% of millennials want to work in insurance, with many more being drawn to exciting roles in technology, consulting or other financial companies instead. Insurtech start-ups are beginning to emerge, who are focused on developing software for the sector. Yet the gap between these fledgling firms and traditional insurance companies is growing. Exacerbating the problem further is the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, with customer demand for more digital products and services growing. If insurance companies are to prosper in the post-pandemic world, they need to find ways to adopt digital technologies at a faster rate. And that must start with changing the next cohort of workers’ perception that the industry is dull and dusty and finding ways to attract and retain this talent.
Attracting digital native talent
Immersed in technology since birth, millennial and Gen Z workers are confident in and capable at using digital tools – it’s argued that the brains of digital natives are actually wired differently to ‘digital immigrants’ (those who have adapted to the new world as adults), due to vastly different kinds of early learning experiences. In the workplace, this translates to differing communication and information-gathering styles, and according to Forrester, these workers prefer greater mobility, tech autonomy and software diversity compared to their older counterparts. Insurance firms must find ways to tap into this talent pool more widely if they’re to digitalise their operations and compete with the emerging start-ups in the sector, and they should start by employing individuals that show a curiosity and willingness to continuously learn. These individuals can act as digital champions for their organisations, helping them to embed the latest technologies into their operations and shape the future of their business.
Here are a handful of those technologies that could drive widespread transformation of the sector.
- Highly personalised services through IoT and social media – traditional risk assessment relies on datasets that consider a range of factors such as the customer’s age, gender, location, marital status and so on. But today, endpoint devices and social media can provide much more personal insights into the individual – in a model that is beneficial to both the insurer and the customer. Wearables, for instance, provide deep insights into a person’s physical health, measuring factors such as blood pressure, temperate and number of steps per day. The business gets a more accurate risk assessment, and the customer gets a more tailored policy that suits their needs. This model is growing in popularity, with a recent study by Accenture finding that more than three-quarters of consumers are willing to share their personal data in exchange for more personalised insurance offers and cheaper coverage.
- Digitising paper records – the insurance sector is a heavy user of paper-based records, with firms typically keeping thousands of files in paper archives, gathering dust. If files are digitised, analysed and stored in the cloud, documents can be automatically reviewed, helping to reduce inconsistent information or errors.
- Internal workflow automation with RPA and Machine Learning – automation enables firms to reduce the time spent on routine paperwork and administrative tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more creative, value-add work with their clients. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can help address repetitive work, including preliminary assessment of each claim, data entry and payments. In turn, this results in more efficient decision making, reduced call times to customer service teams and far greater accuracy of data entry.
- Automated resolutions through AI-powered chatbots – customer service agents spend thousands of hours on the phone, often supporting clients with simple requests. Chatbots can help automate many of these conversations, using AI to filter through the chats and route priority customers that require urgent attention through to human service agents. This can drastically cut costs in customer support and sales.
- Blockchain implementation – according to PWC, blockchain implementation could cut costs by $5-10bn for reinsurers worldwide. Key benefits include reducing verification and validation time, eliminating errors and minimising reputational risks. Blockchain enables all required parties to be connected by smart contracts, meaning reinsurers don’t have to interact with the insurer to get access to the client’s data.
Dusty to digital-first
The insurance sector is in much need of a revamp and companies risk falling behind if they do not start investing in digital innovation today. However, by giving ambitious digital natives licence to research and embed new technologies, they can transform their operations and compete with new market entrants. Technology is driving several disruptive trends in insurance, such as personalisation, automation and real-time based assessments. If insurers can get digital adoption right, they will benefit from cost reduction, better communication with their customers on the channels of their choosing and more accurate risk assessment. The next generation of workers can help drive this change – shifting the perception of insurers from dusty to digital-first. It’s time for insurance companies to start investing in these individuals now.
FOMO, FOLO, AND THE VOLATILITY CONUNDRUM
Katharine Wooller, Managing Director, UK, Dacxi
‘There is a lot of surface noise in the cryptocurrency space and most of it is the psychobabble of investor sentiment. One week it is the sound of everybody rushing towards a feeding frenzy. The next the wailing and gnashing of teeth as those near the surface (the ones most exposed) get spooked and rush the other way, falling over each other in the race to escape.’
I wrote the above paragraph on June 11th as the introduction to an article I was asked to contribute to a national newspaper.
The piece was essentially about what drives the roller-coaster of cryptocurrency prices – a pattern I have often referred to as ‘exquisite volatility’.
IT’S EASY TO OVERTHINK IT
Day to day volatility is something that market analysts and crypto critics alike are obsessed with on a day-by-day basis. In my view they overthink it. The main thrust of my argument in June, with crypto prices tanking, was that ‘buying the dip’ is a tried and tested strategy. At that time Bitcoin was priced around £25,000. Over the next few weeks, it then ticked down even further to £21,762 on July 20th.
At time of writing, about a month later, it’s around £32,680 or US$44,700. If you follow certain online forecasts, pundits are now suggesting Bitcoin could push the $100,000 barrier before the year is out. But, as I said above, it’s easy to overthink things, and sensational predictions make headlines.
IT’S INVESTOR SENTIMENT THAT REALLY DRIVES PRICES
Cryptocurrency in general is currently trying to find its identity. Is it a currency or is it a commodity? Is it something you ‘trade in’ or is it something you use to ‘trade with’ – i.e., use to buy other goods? Currently short-term prices are being driven by traders not users – nothing wrong with that, the function of any market is to allow people to buy and sell and make a profit through matched bargains.
The value of any commodity is only what somebody is prepared to pay for it, or what they can sell it for. On a speculative basis, rising values are driven by fear of missing out (FOMO) when the price is on the way up, which ramps the price up. Downward values are driven by fear of losing out (FOLO) when the price starts dropping and the feeding frenzy turns into a selling frenzy.
Interestingly, traders measure their success not by what they can afford to buy with their crypto wallet, they measure success in terms of converting gains back to their local fiat currency – which rather misses the point of why Satoshi wanted to create a DeFi world in the first place.
THE RISK OF GAMING THE MARKET
The fact is that most traders are gaming the market. The risk is that there are some really big swinging crypto traders out there who can influence the market. Playing ‘coin’ like a computer game has inherent risks – rather like trying to predict when a murmuration of starlings over Brighton pier will change direction. I believe that as the market continues to mature and cryptocurrencies follow their destiny to become the enabler of decentralised finance on a global basis, the margins for traders will inexorably tighten.
At Dacxi we take the long-term view. We are firmly ‘buy-and-hold’ investors who, having looked at crypto’s growth curve and analysed the true sense of purpose of DeFi, don’t over-react to the short-term metrics. Dacxi is a wealth building platform and experience has taught us that very few people get rich quick – and more than a few of those that do, get poor again just as quickly.
For most of us building wealth takes a measured view and a measured time frame. From my point of view there’s nothing at all wrong with that!
HOW CHANGES TO PROVIDENT FUND ANNUITISATION AFFECT APPROVED LUMP-SUM DISABILITY BENEFITS
By Dolana Conco – Regional Executive – Alexander Forbes Retirement Consulting
New tax rules on the annuitisation of provident funds and lump-sum payouts made at retirement took effect on 1 March 2021. Fund members should be aware of additional implications for approved lump-sum disability benefits.
On retirement, members of these funds who were under age 55 on this date (known as T-day) may still take amounts which accrued prior to 1 March 2021, plus the fund return, in cash. Members over age 55 on T-day will have access to all amounts in the fund in cash when retiring from that fund. This is referred to as “vested benefits” as opposed to “non-vested benefits” where annuitisation rules apply to amounts above R247 500.
Approved lump-sum disability benefits paid by a pension fund
The approved (provided by the fund) lump-sum disability benefit in a pension fund was previously included as part of the fund benefit. It was normally treated in its totality as an ill-health early retirement benefit from the fund. The cash amount was limited to a maximum of one-third of the benefit, while the balance was used to buy a pension.
Approved Lump-sum disability benefits from provident funds
Those under the age of 55 will have the same limitations on their lump-sum disability benefit and how this is treated in terms of annuitisation as applies to pension funds.
- Members over age 55 on 1 March 2021
The lump-sum disability benefit will be part of the vested benefits in the provident fund of which the member had membership on T-day. This means that the member can receive this payment in cash, after tax.
But if the member transfers to a new fund after T-day, and is then disabled, any lump-sum disability benefit paid out of the new fund will be a non-vested benefit. This means that annuitisation rules will now apply.
- Lump-sum disability benefits under 55
Only amounts which have accrued before T-day fall into vested benefits. If a member is disabled after T-day, the lump-sum disability benefit payable will not fall into the vested benefits. The payment will be treated as a non-vested benefit. This means that the annuitisation rules, where the total benefit exceeds R247 500, will now apply to the lump-sum disability benefit.
While the above may be an unintended consequence of the annuitisation rules, we should take a step back and reconsider the real intention of reform.
Various stakeholders in the industry introduced and agreed upon reform as it became evident that current regulations were failing the member. Almost 50% of members retire on less than one-third of their final average salary, which renders a large part of people poor and dependent on the state. This is unsustainable and needs to change.
Reform has brought in different forms of laws to increase the savings culture and provide certain incentives – like a tax deduction if a member saves more, up to a certain limit.
With the lump-sum disability benefit now subject to annuitisation, funds need to consider this question: Would an income structured benefit still meet the intention and expectations by members, the fund and the employer in terms of their incapacity procedure?
The trustees and employer will have to revisit why the approved lump-sum disability benefit was selected in the first place. Was this to ensure that there would be a lump sum to:
- meet the cost of additional care or adjustments to the home to assist the disabled employee, or
- provide cash support ultimately to members who are found to be totally and permanently disabled?
If the above intent of providing a lump-sum benefit still stands, the trustees and the employer may need to consider changing the tax status of this benefit from approved to unapproved. This will ensure that the initial intention and expectations are still met.
Caution is made that changing to an unapproved benefit would mean that the employee would need to pay fringe benefit tax on the monthly premium. However, the benefit would be paid as a tax-free lump sum separate from the retirement fund for total and permanent disablement.
These discussions must therefore include decision makers on the employer side to:
- help facilitate the messaging to the employees
- manage any payroll impacts
- align with their incapacity procedures
Any benefit structure implemented must be well considered to best suit the needs of the members. This could enhance the financial well-being of employees and lead to the best retirement outcomes.
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