Risk Insider: Tony Boobier

Looking for Innovation

By: | April 18, 2016

Tony Boobier is an experienced independent consultant focusing on insurance analytics. An international speaker, commentator and published author, he lies awake at night thinking about the convergence of insurance and technology. He can be reached at [email protected]

I am beginning to feel old. It’s not a question of my bones beginning to creak and my hair turning a shade of gray. No, it has to do with what I am wearing when I go to work, on the increasingly rare occasions that I actually go to the office.

My neckties have become redundant, putting a suit on is no longer obligatory and I have even seen people doing formal presentations on stage wearing sneakers. What’s it all about, Alfie?

My day has increasingly become preoccupied by the impact of start-up companies commonly known as “Fintech” or in the case of insurance, “Insuretech.”

They are an interesting crowd, apparently unconstrained by the governance and disciplines of larger organizations. I always feel overdressed when I meet them, no matter how hard I don’t try.

I’ve come to recognize that innovation isn’t about whether you wear a necktie or sneakers, or even about how old you are.

Fintech companies comprise one of the great hopes of insurance, bringing disruptive ideas to a traditionally conservative industry. In the UK alone, there are 1,500 start-ups targeting insurance. Most if not all of these are motivated by the possibility that they will invent the “next big thing.”

According to a report by KPMG and CB-Insights, 2015 was the year that Fintech “became mainstream.” Over the past year, nearly $14m has been raised by multiple types of start-ups in venture-capital funding, twice the amount of 2014.

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Is Fintech any better than the dot-com boom? Perhaps only one in 100 start-ups will succeed but I would still call those pretty fair odds. Certainly the VC community seem to think so.

Disruption is risky by definition. Operational risks are increased through failures in relatively untried systems, inexperienced people and through the introduction of ad-hoc processes. Start-ups sometimes behaving like they are in the Wild West seem to be strange bedfellows for a conservatively minded financial services industry.

Twenty-somethings who have bright ideas often fail to recognize the complexity of financial services organizations, and wonder why their ideas are difficult to implement and to scale. The presence of an industry mentor becomes a critical success factor.

Sometimes it is suggested that insurers are unable to innovate of their own accord and these bright young things and their start-ups are an essential catalyst. Personally I don’t buy that argument. There are plenty of bright young things working for insurance companies who, given the right environment and funding, can achieve all that start-ups can do and more.

Fintech and start-ups are entirely about innovation. I’ve come to recognize that innovation isn’t about whether you wear a necktie or sneakers, or even about how old you are. Isn’t it more about state of mind? And occurs through a combination of awareness, experience and attitude?

Leonardo da Vinci, who famously invented the parachute and helicopter, was still inventing well into his late 60s, which wasn’t a bad age five centuries ago. Who amongst us will be the ‘da Vinci’ of the insurance industry?

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