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April 28 2014 | Denise Garth

The reactions and responses to the SMA blog “The Shot Heard Around the Industry: AXA and Facebook” have been very interesting and enlightening. It has had very polarized reactions ... from some that envision and imagine the potential, and from others that only see today’s view of Facebook and insurance. The responses of this latter group explain a lot. In that point of view, the industry is characterized as risk-adverse, steeped in tradition, lacking in creativity, and slow to change. More importantly, it reveals a mindset that, perhaps reluctantly, accepts these labels, inhibiting an insurer’s ability to be imaginative, to break out of the box, and to reimagine the business of insurance. This time-worn outlook will need to be changed if insurers are to survive and thrive in this fast-changing environment.   

Like it or not, the increasingly rapid pace of change and disruption are due to modern and major influencers: the customer being in control; the new business models used by other industries and companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others; and next-gen and emerging technologies that are converging and challenging decades of business traditions and assumptions. All of this begs a new perspective and demands a different response that can inspire change, a new vision, and new directions for insurance.   

Industries, from retail to books, travel, entertainment, and pharmaceuticals, have found the very foundations of their long-held business and operational models challenged, necessitating new thinking, adoption of new technologies, experimentation, and in essence, innovation. Those that have not … well, they are no longer relevant, or no longer the market leaders in their space, or maybe even no longer in existence. Just consider the iconic brands of Kodak, Blockbuster, Circuit City, Time Magazine, Borders, The Boston Globe, CNN, or JC Penny. Their inability or unwillingness to see and act upon the influencers of change has cost them greatly. Even relatively new companies that were only recently considered innovative are challenged in this climate of change. Look at Yahoo, Blackberry, and Nook. 

Yet other companies are acknowledging these influencers and embracing innovation, new technologies, and outside-in approaches. As noted by one blog response, automotive companies like Ford, BMW, GM, and others focused on the “connected car.” Companies offering “shared car services” like Uber, Zipcar, and Lyft are recognizing the importance and value of customer driven companies, like Facebook and Google, as an integral part of their offering and customer experience. And Facebook and Google keep expanding the realm of possibilities to grow, enhance, and strengthen the customer relationships and customer experiences with their string of acquisitions such as Facebook’s Instagram, Face, and Oculus, or Google’s Nest, Titan Aerospace, and Zagat, to name a few.

What stands out in these divergent responses to the blog and the examples above? It’s the vision of the leadership. Leaders that can see and define a future vision, create a culture of innovation, identify and understand the influencers of change, and embrace an outside-in approach will separate the winners from the losers in this environment of fast-paced change and disruption.

And now the insurance industry must learn and respond fast, because it is facing the same types of challenges and changes that have reshaped the other industries. That’s why the strategic partnership of AXA with Facebook is a game-changer, distinguishing their leadership and their willingness to take an outside-in approach. We are not likely to know the details or see the inner-workings in action for competitive reasons, but AXA has taken a bold step toward becoming a Next-Gen Insurer. By leveraging a company like Facebook with massive expertise and experience in understanding the digital experience and the changing expectations of customers, AXA is being transformed, in brand presence, customer experience, and customer loyalty, to a digital insurer.  

Being a digital insurer is so much more than just having a website or portal for customers and agents, more than using channels like social media as a point of sale vehicle or advertising arm, and more than having a mobile app to report claims. It is a powerful combination, integration, and intersection of the website, mobile platforms, social media, mobile messaging, location services, crowdsourcing, business and customer applications, online video, content management, customer communications, sales enablement, branding, and marketing – that creates a seamless, engaging customer experience. And it is underpinned with sophisticated data and analytics that know, influence, anticipate, and engage the customer in a way that creates a next-gen customer experience.

After all, in today’s world it really is all about the customer. It is about customer experience and customer loyalty. AXA’s bold move in taking an outside-in approach by partnering with a company that has been a leader in redefining the customer experience, redefining the digital experience, embracing new technologies, and using data and analytics, has created an opportunity for AXA to do different things that will position them as a leader in this new digital world. 

The coming years hold the promise of unparalleled opportunity for insurers to increase their value to their customers. Those that remain tied to tradition and the past, choose to ignore the key influencers, or wait too long to react will risk losing relevance and competitive position. In contrast, those that are willing to take the bold steps forward will have the advantage and stand to gain the greatest rewards.

Yes, there are lots of details to be defined, piloted, and implemented over the next few years in this partnership. And there will always be naysayers and critics. But this bold move and others like it are ushering in the dawn of a new future that is full of possibilities – a future that unleashes creativity, embraces innovation, and champions leading from the outside in – and reimagines a new future for insurance. This is transformation and innovation. This is what will define winners and losers. And that is what is so exciting! 

Contact me at dgarth@strategymeetsaction.com if you’d like to learn how SMA can help you on the innovation journey and discover new opportunities for the insurance industry. Click here to learn more about SMA’s research.  

For more information, please contact Deb Smallwood at dsmallwood@stratetgymeetsaction.com