Many startups in the insurance world have long promised to transform every aspect of the industry they touch. Speaking recently before an audience of insurtech entrepreneurs, Chubb CEO Evan Greenberg was having none of that.
“It’s just hype,” Greenberg said during an InsureTech Connect conference session in Las Vegas on Oct. 6.
Greenberg’s remarks, during an on-stage conversation with Munich Re board member Lisa Pollina, were the first he has given at an ITC conference. He stood out for more than just his words. While many entrepreneurs in the audience and at the conference wore jeans and sneakers, sport coats or T-shirts, Greenberg walked on stage looking like an old-school executive, wearing a long-sleeved, starched white dress shirt (without a tie), navy blue suit pants and black dress shoes. (Many traditional insurance industry folks also attended ITC.)
Read more from the ITC conference: Government Can and Should Help Reduce Cyber-Security Risks: ITC Highlights
His comments about insurance technology were in reference to related remarks he made in a Chubb letter to shareholders published in 2020, arguing, in part, that insurtechs’ claims of transformation pale in comparison with actions already taken by Chubb. At the ITC event, Greenberg elaborated on his perspective about insurtech hype versus the value of insurance technology itself, and where it fits in the world of insurance carriers. (Hint: carriers rank much higher.)
Greenberg acknowledged, of course, that technology is making a substantial mark in the insurance industry and that this trend is important. At the same time, he made equally clear that he sees carriers as being much higher in the industry ecosystem than the startups that have emerged.
“Technology is changing the insurance industry in a serious way, because it is providing tools and capabilities to improve all functions and activities, from the initial notion of connection, to customer experience, to the process of underwriting and risk taking, to the rest that occurs in a value chain all the way to clients…,” Greenberg said. “But insurance is the art and science of taking risk. Fundamentally that’s the business. Everything else is for the pleasure of, and to support that.”
With that in mind, Greenberg said, the hype factor among startups must be placed into context.
“Insurtechs may be using technology and improving [parts of the industry] just as traditional insurers are—i.e. customer experience, improving what we do with…data and analytics to be more insightful about taking risks. But changing the fundamental nature of risk taking? Nah, not at all,” Greenberg observed.
‘From Push to Shove’
Greenberg, addressing how he encouraged Chubb’s employees to move toward digital technology, said the process is a deliberate one.
“I move from push to shove the more confident I feel or the more resistance I encounter,” Greenberg explained. “Within Chubb, and where we are first with so many technologies, it’s the notion [at first] of beginning to experiment, and once we experiment, it is to move to use cases. And as the use cases proved themselves, and [Chubb goes] from there, it’s then to scale in a significant way so it casts a shadow within the organization.”
Greenberg said he sees his role in adapting new technologies as to understand where the opportunities are, what Chubb can “absorb at one time,” and whether technology is at a place where it is proven and scalable.
Going digital, however, is not just about the technology, Greenberg said, adding that Chubb has both the tech and cultural attributes to accomplish this. (Recent Chubb advances in this area include Chubb’s new digital platform Blink.)
“Part of it is about the culture. It’s about the skillsets. It’s about the organizational structure,” Greenberg said. “Chubb is an underwriting company. Chubb in the future is an underwriting and engineering company. It sounds simple. It means a lot more.”
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