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US Life-Annuity Insurers Need to Focus on Six Areas in 2016, says Ernst & Young Report

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US Life-Annuity Insurers Need to Focus on Six Areas in 2016, says Ernst & Young Report

December 11, 2015
By Peter Bernstein
Senior Editor

It has become a cliché at this point to cite the words in an old Bob Dylan song that “the times they are a changin!” However, regardless of the vertical market occupied as a result of the acceleration of a host of factors we all know—globalization, the cloud, mobility, business process automation, commoditization etc.—not only are they changing, but they are doing so rapidly. 

In fact, one area where change is proving to be potentially disruptive is in the business of US-based Life-Annuity insurance.  How so is outlined in the recent report by Ernst & Young (EY) 2016 EY US life-annuity insurance outlook.  It looks at how while US life-annuity insurers  enter 2016 in “relatively good financial condition,” rapid advances in technology, rising customer expectations and increasing competition will require insurers to reinvent their strategies, services and processes.

“Global economic conditions, regulatory and monetary policies, and the political landscape will are still concerns for the industry, which means taking decisive action is important for life-annuity insurers to stay ahead of the curve,” said Doug French, Principal, Financial Services and Insurance and Actuarial Services at Ernst & Young LLP. “After years of bolstering their balance sheets, life-annuity firms are in a strong position to invest in the innovations and technologies needed to fuel growth.”

Whether the firms view the findings as a call to action will be interesting to follow.

In terms of what the EY report is recommend for US life-annuity insurers to focus on in 2016 to remain industry leaders, they provide the following suggestions:

  1. Increase the pace of business transformation and innovation. The convergence of technological, regulatory and customer trends can disrupt the industry. Insurers need to rethink their business approach to cope. Insurers should create a company-wide culture of innovation, drive innovation through cross-functional teams and share information openly across departments.
  2. Reinvent products and services for the new digital customer. Failure to respond to customer demands for greater digital access, better information and quicker service will make it difficult for insurers to acquire and retain customers. Priorities for insurers in 2016 include offering anytime, anywhere, any-device access for customers; providing clearer product information and pricing transparency; delivering more flexible solutions; building ongoing customer engagement; and moving from focusing on products to serving as a trusted advisor.
  3. Adjust distribution strategies for technological and regulatory shifts. Life and annuity insurers may find themselves losing market share if they fail to adapt to an omni-channel world. Insurers should adapt services for new distribution models and explore the use of robo-advisors. Insurers also will need to prepare for new fiduciary standards, as the US Department of Labor’s proposed fiduciary rule could upend existing distribution models in 2016.
  4. Reengineer processes to drive efficiency and market growth. Insurers should determine whether their systems are ready for rapid market change, as the current assembly-line approach to policy quoting, issuance and administration can slow application turnaround and detract from the customer and distributor experience. Companies also should ensure their systems meet new regulatory standards, invest in next-generation processes and analytics, revamp IT systems built for simpler times, and consider partnerships that will facilitate technology transformation.
  5. Hire the right talent to lead innovation. Insurers will want to attract young, diverse workers to match emerging customer demographics and help drive innovation. Priorities for 2016 should include competing for the talent required to build the next-generation insurance company, offer greater flexibility in work locations, find creative ways to motivate and reward employees, and make diversity a strategic imperative.
  6. Place cybersecurity high on the corporate agenda. Leveraging social media, the cloud and other digital technologies will expose life and annuity insurers to greater cyber risks in 2016. To protect their businesses and clients, insurers will need to take strong measures to keep their technical platforms secure. Companies will need to take a broad view of potential risks, such as cyber-attacks and reputational risks through social media. Insurers also will want to establish processes to monitor changing data regulations around the world, as their data could reside in multiple jurisdictions and be subject to a variety of laws.

While these are not in rank order, and it is hard to say which is most important, the overall theme of investing in technology, protecting data and hiring the right people, are ones that are great advice not just to insurers of all types but almost any enterprise of any size around the world.

For those interested, the complete 2016 EY US life-annuity insurance outlook is available for download at

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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