How to Train Remote Workers as Teams

With COVID-19 disrupting business, most employees in the insurance and insurtech industries have been forced to work from home. We are on week 12 of having most of our employees working remotely.

Working from home has its challenges on the best of days. Now throw in your partner working beside you and perhaps add some children into the mix. Or maybe you’re living alone and talking to your house plants.

Longtime physical distance can lead to emotional isolation and stress, especially during a pandemic, with all the health worries about children, parents and grandparents. It behooves employers to make a human connection to their people when they most need it.

We emphasize team-building and connection as a key component of our corporate culture. Implementing tools and activities that keep employees connected, interested and feeling heard is critical to long-term success, now more than ever. Teams large and small worldwide have had to dramatically shift operations and quickly adapt to how they work.

Remote work culture is here to stay, with many technology organizations expressing long-term interest in work-from-home options for their staff. Some of the team-building activities recommended in our first blog may not be feasible with social distancing. But there are several ways companies can leverage digital tools to check in on employees and promote active participation and keep them engaged and still feeling part of the team.

Fortunately, we’ve always had staff working remotely using web-based tools. We had tested all of our teams remotely before the outbreak. So we were ready, and the process was almost seamless.

Here are a few activities and tools that you too can use to maintain a sense of team connection while we work apart.

Check in with your employees 

With everyone at home, you aren’t organically interacting with your team throughout the day. Infrequent email correspondence removes a layer of connection and can also increase miscommunication.

Instead, make sure employees are kept up to date with consistent communication that works for your business, such as daily video touchpoints and weekly emails. This is a turbulent time for many, affecting everyone in different ways. Make a point to check in with individual team members to see how they are doing and ensure they are properly supported.

Make virtual meetings fun

Virtual teams don’t get to enjoy coffee-break talk, foosball or quick chatter between meetings. Maintaining fun social interactions between team members is crucial.

Use video calls, meetings and touchpoints with teams to have a little fun and foster connection among your team.

As well as continuing video meetings with our clients, we hold internal companywide video calls on Tuesdays and Fridays to touch base with everyone and provide internal updates. On Fridays, we set aside about 15 to 20 minutes to have a little fun. Some of the activities we’ve built into our meetings that any team could easily incorporate include:

  • Costume contests, dress-up formal Fridays, holiday themes, ‘80s, etc.
  • Games such as trivia, truth or lie, sharing bucket lists, etc.
  • Group stretching
  • Contests to see who can come up with the best Zoom background
  • Fundraising for the local hospital and food bank

Encourage your team to take breaks

Not having a designated office to separate work from one’s personal life and responsibilities is a significant adjustment. Encourage your team to take breaks and give them the flexibility they need to manage their schedule and make their days productive. Clearly communicate expectations to demonstrate trust in your team’s ability to be accountable for their work and deadlines without having to prove they’re online all the time.

Take bonding activities online

Creative team-building games and events are key elements of fostering a startup culture. Fun activities help employees feel challenged and valued. While we may not be playing golf or having an office party for a while, let your team bond over a virtual activity on Zoom or Skype.

There are a slew of options popping up, from virtual escape rooms to livestream classes. So far, we’ve held a few optional virtual events to bring our team closer together, including a fundraiser, an Easter contest, a recipe exchange (recipe book coming soon) and a jam session put on by our resident musicians.

These activities can be short and simple–just something genuine that makes your team feel valued and gives them a little break.

We may be physically isolated, but, thanks to technology, we need not be alone.

Getting Personal: How artificial intelligence and personalization are reshaping insurance

As the insurance industry continues to embrace insurtech, use of artificial intelligence will no longer be a novelty, but the norm. Insurers will have higher expectations for customized experiences and a higher degree of personalization.

Looking toward the next decade, insurers and brokers will have to consider how to use blockchain and artificial intelligence as a tool to transform the most important piece of all—user experience. They can do that in several ways:

Moving toward personalized insurance. Artificial intelligence makes it feasible for insurers to personalize coverages and rates. To do this they need AI and access to trustworthy, accurate data sources. Those sources, including sales databases, data from wearables and user preference data, offer companies much deeper insight and allow them to contextualize behaviors to make more rational decisions.

Studies show that nearly 80% of customers are happy to provide their insurers with additional data if it means they could benefit from a lower premium. Trials are being done on wearables data to help insurers accurately price individual travel, life and health insurance.

Enhancing customer experiences. The sheer volume of calls and transactions that insurers process daily is sparking movement toward AI. Chatbots and other AI-based insurtech applications are fielding more of these calls and communications. The industry is quickly moving toward customers self-managing claims. AI is providing more guidance to customers, and it has become increasingly difficult for them to differentiate between machine and human interaction.

As the industry evolves, big data and AI are combining to create new efficiencies that are transforming the customer experience. For insurance industry executives, a passing knowledge of AI isn’t enough.

It needs to be viewed as a cornerstone of company culture.

Investments to take insurers’ insurtech strategies to the next level are needed as part of their ongoing business strategy, or they’ll run the risk of lagging behind their more progressive competitors.

Data scrubbing and personalized sales. Insurers can’t serve customers well without correct individual information. It’s labor-intensive for humans to find and correct errors. With group plans, for instance, census data obtained during quoting is often incomplete. AI can analyze a census to make smart decisions regarding each insured’s missing and incorrect data. It also can boost sales by analyzing group attributes and providing customized options to maximize the attractiveness of the offer.

But AI can do more than just correct and input census data. A group insurance carrier may receive requests for proposals in many different formats, such as email text, Microsoft Word documents, and PDFs with text or embedded images. Recent advances in data extraction from unstructured digital sources include novel techniques, such as “deep biaffine attention for neural dependency parsing.” Dependency parsing is a technique for annotating sentences to make it easy for both humans and computers to understand, frequently used in algorithms for image captioning and language translation. Biaffine attention increases performance, resulting in a more reliable method for extracting quoting information from a PDF or an email. This new method improves straight-through processing and personalization in group and individual insurance. With the help of AI, the industry is finally moving from one-size-fits-all to a more personalized approach.

Check out the full article in AM Best’s Monthly Insurance Magazine

AI, Regtech, Personalization and Other Insurtech Trends that will Shape the Industry in 2020

Over the last year, we saw a greater shift towards automation and AI applications to streamline insurance, including increased usage of augmented reality to support activities ranging from warning of risks, explaining insurance plans, estimating damages and increasing brand awareness. We also saw insurers starting to explore greater use of blockchain, the tech behind cryptocurrencies, to better support operations.

With this came a greater emphasis on cybersecurity, with the expectation for more proactive and preventative measures.

As we enter the next decade, we’ll continue to see unprecedented growth in innovation in the Insurtech space, which has set up the industry for more market advancements in an increasingly complex environment.

The Canadian insurance industry has been largely inert and less agile in the past, and it’s this environment where Insurtech has made its mark. A recent LIMRA report highlights that about a third of Canadians remain uninsured – but Insurtech is quickly changing this, while institutional providers are catching on and innovating.

In Global IQX’s Eight Top Insurtech Trends for 2019, we outlined some of the developments where the industry is heading. In this increasingly innovate-or-go-belly-up environment, it’s important to get ahead of the curve and keep tabs on what’s changing. Here are six of the top Insurtech trends of 2020:

Data analytics and AI will lead innovation
Data analytics and artificial intelligence are disrupting every industry today, including insurance. In fact, most of the top Insurtech startups like PolicyAdvisor and ProNavigator rely on leveraging data to provide their customers with data-driven solutions. This comes as no surprise as Maryville University data scientists predict a burgeoning 2020 for the business analytics market: an 11.7 per cent compound annual growth rate through the year, a revenue of more than $95 billion (CAD$125 billion) in the U.S., and possibly $203 billion (CAD$267 billion) worldwide. In 2019, Global IQX implemented new AI technology to help clients streamline and automate business processes and retain and go after profitable business. These kinds of implementations are at the forefront of digital transformation that will particularly empower employee benefits sales and underwriting for insurers. This is the tip of the iceberg for industry innovation.

Increased customization and personalization
Providing convenience and security have long been pillars of customer values. As expectations and interactions evolve, customization is quickly becoming another critical value. Leveraging analytics, Insurtech will provide insurance leaders with the capability to create targeted ecosystems for their clients. Insurance companies are also partnering with wearables and tech companies for wellness programs and to increase the personalization of rendered services. Indeed, Insurtech and Fintech stars including  Koho and Borrowell leverage personalization in specific segments of the industry like savings, investing and borrowing.

Greater stress on cybersecurity
With the amount of data being handled and as the industry continues to digitize the economy, especially as organizations and governments increasingly move to the cloud, cybersecurity will remain top of mind. Especially in the wake of major data breaches to companies like Life Labs, which resulted in 15 million counts of personal data, risk mitigation will be a priority for Insurtech companies. Data verification technologies and predictive analytics are set to be adopted by vendors and insurers to increase cyber resilience in the Fintech sector.

Regtech and compliance
The changing regulatory environment and internal cost challenges will foster the growth of regulation technology (Regtech) in the Insurtech industry. Regulatory compliance will be pivotal next year as slews of legislation on consumer and enterprise data policies are in the queue. Indeed, Global News Canada reports that Canada’s privacy commissioner recently urged lawmakers to adopt more stringent data privacy regulations, especially in finance. This is expected to prompt a new wave of compliance duties for Insurtech companies next year – giving more space for Regtech integration.

Reorganization and federal involvement
While Insurtech is driving the growth in the insurance industry, it’s also creating a more competitive environment. University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business professor Anne Kleffner notes in a study that Canada should have federal involvement to help the insurance industry mitigate systemic risks. Disruptive technologies have always made ripples of uncertainty in markets, and insurance isn’t an exception. Calls for greater protection are expected to increase next year as the industry continues to grow.

Strategic consolidation
The rise of Insurtech continues to spur consolidation in the industry. A Clyde and Co report on the industry consolidation notes that mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in Canada has reached record levels and will continue to increase next year. Behind this is the voracious adoption of larger insurance providers of emerging technologies by acquiring promising Insurtech firms. However, M&A activities next year are expected to be more strategic and customer-focused.

By guest writer Jaja Brazil

The Golden Rules of Digital Transformation

API, Microservices and the Data (R)evolution: exchanger technology lets insurance companies manage data flow

By Cristian Marcov

Insurance systems need to talk to each other. They must be able to store, share, retrieve and use the same data. Data should flow unimpeded from the first collection of information, from a prospect or census, through underwriting to policy administration to claims.

Failure to integrate data adds cost and complexity and introduces errors. These errors can slow everything down, potentially leading to loss of business in an increasingly competitive environment for employee and voluntary benefits.

Integration with many other systems is a must. Our clients often have chosen other best-of-breed systems: CRM, policy administration, claims, enrollment systems, risk and lead scores and self-built software. No one wants to re-enter data. Everyone requires an automated streamlined solution.

Systems today often still can’t use the same data for a variety of reasons.

Legacy systems for employee benefits may still be great workhorses, but they are less flexible. It takes extra work to get them to communicate with other systems. Insurers that have gone through a merger may have two sets of systems and often find their systems are incompatible. This means data must be reentered multiple times.

Even if carriers decide to implement their own integration, the dynamic nature of the group insurance market can quickly make a recent system integration obsolete. For example, carriers may be forced to consider a new insurance product or to retrofit old ones to meet the market demands. Usually, such changes will trigger a cascade of updates for many, or sometimes all, integrated endpoints. Micro-services can alleviate this kind of problem. Breaking down software into smaller components can lead to better modularity, which in turn may reduce the implementation effort because smaller portions of the system have to be changed.

Sometimes even micro-services are not enough – many carriers have implemented complicated data pipelines with complex business logic. Changing or updating a single stage in this pipeline can thus have dramatic consequences on any downstream endpoint. And this is where the new IQX Exchanger platform can be really helpful: instead of software updates and changes in micro-service application programming interface (API) (), the Global IQX Exchanger lets carriers to easily change or update the data structure that flows through the pipeline.

The Global IQX Exchanger was designed with compatibility in mind: both backward compatibility (it is compatible with data structures produced by any Exchanger version) as well as external compatibility.

Managing data flow is a growing priority for both IT and business users. And each of those groups of users has specific requirements and/or constraints. IT users are focused on data formats, data security and system performance while business users are more focused on business rules and data validation.

Each of these aspects is configurable in the IQX Exchanger platform. One particular characteristic of integration systems for group insurance systems is the size of data that often flows between endpoints. For very large groups with a complex insurance product structure, the amount of exchanged data is very large. For this reason, the Global IQX Exchanger can operate in both synchronous and asynchronous mode with built-in protection against system overload.  Data flowing through the transformation pipe can be formatted in either XML or JSON and can be restricted to certain users, based on their authorization level.

The Exchanger platform offers a powerful tool to build more specialized applications that fit more specific needs. Many carriers are now embracing cloud solutions like Salesforce or Amazon Web Services (AWS). Although in the long run, this reduces IT operating costs, it still requires integrations with existing systems that are not yet deployed in cloud-like policy administration, claims, payroll and archive.

For all these endpoints, insurance carriers can now use one of the many Global IQX Connectors built on top of the IQX Exchanger platform. Connectors are specialized applications ready to be deployed and integrated with a specific endpoint. For example, the Salesforce connector allows bi-directional communications with Salesforce cloud applications. Salesforce users can leverage Global IQX Salesforce Connector to initiate “ratable quotes” and receive final rates whenever these are made available by the carrier rating system.

Other IQX connectors do not have a “live” endpoint for integration. They include the archive module (which extracts complex data from a production system and saves it in an archive repository) and the migration module (which extracts complex data from one environment and makes it available in another environment.

Having a stable, backward-compatible web-service API becomes even more important given the lack of an established and effective data-exchange standard with third-party information providers. Data-exchange standards should encompass data aggregation, format and translation, and frequency of delivery.

Without standards, chaos can develop, and costs can ratchet up. Unfortunately, data-exchange standards have not become universal. Industry groups such as LIMRA, CLIEDIS, and ACORD are trying.

One encouraging sign of progress: in 2019, LIMRA launched the prototype of the LIMRA Workplace Benefits Electronic Data Exchange Standards. This is something we look forward to seeing develop as we enter the next decade.

About Cristian

Cristian Marcov is a technical architect at Global IQX (www.globaliqx.com), a leading software provider of web-based sales and service solutions to employee benefits insurers.  He is an expert in Java technologies, oracle database programming and complex web applications. Cristian received undergraduate and graduate degrees from Politechnica University, Bucharest, and completed postgraduate training at the University of Manchester and the Oracle Education Centre.

Five ways cloud adoption will make your business more competitive

Security, scalability, support, cost savings and innovation 

In the past decade, a number of organizations have adopted cloud technology. As reported by Forbes in 2018, 83 per cent of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by 2020.

The benefits of the cloud become especially valuable for SMEs (small-to-medium enterprises) without the infrastructure to support their own systems, let alone the staff to dedicate 24/7 to uptimes. Cloud computing allows insurance SMEs, including brokers and smaller carriers, to offer enterprise services without the overhead.

Cloud opens the door to digital systems without constraints. Cutting-edge tech used to be reserved for large organizations with the funds and capacity to deploy, manage and maintain their systems. It’s is now open to organizations of all sizes through the cloud.

Here are five key ways cloud-based systems allow insurance SMEs to become more competitive:

1. You avoid costly upfront investments

One of the most limiting factors for the growth of a small business is the upfront capital to invest in competitive technology. Traditionally, engaging on the same level as enterprise competitors meant investing many thousands of dollars in infrastructure to support the technology of the day. Cloud computing companies generally bill month-to-month for the use of their infrastructure, which is more manageable for growing organizations.  You rent rather than own. If you ever become dissatisfied with your cloud provider, you can switch.

2. You get the benefits of a built-in support team

Once you’re working on a cloud system, you get the benefits of an extended team. Not only does this reduce strain on yours, but it will also reduce your long-term IT costs. Depending on your contract, you won’t have to worry about the time, costs or staff required to make system upgrades or fix any hiccups in the system. Almost all cloud providers guarantee upwards of 99.95 per cent service level uptimes, which means their systems are always available and your clients will always get the services they expect. This will reduce strain, allowing you to better serve your clients and do what you do best.

3. You can lean on reliable security

Those same teams taking care of your system updates also work around-the-clock to ensure their cloud platform is secure. In addition to resources, cloud solutions bring to the table operational best practices and security standards, along with regular monitoring, patches and system fixes to ensure robust security you can depend on without added investments.

4. The system can scale to your business needs

As your organization grows and your software needs evolve, you’ll have an external partner whose system can grow with you. You won’t have to reinvest in new infrastructure to accommodate the needs for more storage or capacity. Cloud applications offer virtually infinite growth to meet the demands of your business and clients – at any size.

5. It will drive innovation and offer a better experience for your customers

Many of these benefits save money and time: two of the most critical factors in business. The cloud makes it easy to streamline processes and can replace common tasks through automation and workflows. This frees up employee time, allowing a better focus on innovation and customer service while you grow your business.

Adopting cloud computing is a key way for smaller businesses to level the playing field with large enterprises and remain competitive in the insurance industry. Cloud can provide access to cutting-edge technologies and innovation without the burden of traditional IT costs.

3 Big Challenges on the Way to Nirvana

We hear almost daily how insurtech is disrupting the once-staid insurance industry. The main ingredients are big data, artificial intelligence, social media, chatbots, the Internet of Things and wearables. The industry is responding to changing markets, technology, legislation and new insurance regulation.

I believe insurtech is more collaborative than disruptive. There are many ways insurance technology can streamline and improve current processes with digital transformation. Cognitive computing, a technology that is designed to mimic human intelligence, will have an immense impact. The 2016 IBM Institute for Business Value survey revealed that 90% of outperforming insurers say they believe cognitive technologies will have a big effect on their revenue models.

The ability of cognitive technologies, including artificial intelligence, to handle structured and unstructured data in meaningful ways will create entirely new business processes and operations. Already, chatbots like Alegeus’s “Emma,” a virtual assistant that can answer questions about FSAs, HSAs and HRAs, and USAA’s “Nina” are at work helping policyholders. These technologies aim to promote not hamper progress, but strategies for assimilating these new “employees” into operations will be essential to their success.
Managing the flood of data is another major challenge. Using all sorts of data in new, creative ways underlies insurtech. Big data is enormous and growing in bulk every day. Wearables, for instance, are providing health insurers with valuable data. Insurers will need to adopt best practices to use data for quoting individual and group policies, setting premiums, reducing fraud and targeting key markets.

Innovative ways to use data are already transforming the way carriers are doing business. One example is how blocks of group insurance businesses are rated. Normally, census data for each employee group must be imported by the insurer to rate and quote, but that’s changing. Now, groups of clients can be blocked together based on shared business factors and then rated and quoted by the experience of the group for a more accurate and flexible rating.

Cognitive computing can also make big data manageable. Ensuring IT goals link back to business strategy will help keep projects focused. But simply getting started is probably the most important thing.

With cognitive computing, systems require time to build their capacity to handle scenarios and situations. In essence, systems will have to evolve through learning to a level of intelligence that will support more complex business functions.

Establishing effective data exchange standards also remains a big challenge. Data exchange standards should encompass data aggregation, format and translation and frequency of delivery.
Without standards, chaos can develop, and costs can ratchet up. Although there has been traction in the property and casualty industry with ACORD standards, data-exchange standards for group insurance have not become universal.

The future is bright for insurers that place value on innovating with digital technologies and define best practices around their use. It’s no longer a matter of when insurance carriers will begin to use cognitive computing, big data and data standards, but how.

Fostering an Insurtech Startup Culture

Incorporating team building as part of your corporate culture may seem like an obvious step in strengthening your business overall, but it is often neglected. In fast-paced, high-energy environments such as the insurance and insurtech industries, investing in your employees through professional development and team-building activities can go a long way in promoting success.

In a competitive market, attracting the right people for your team can be a challenge, as can maintaining a motivated team. Startup tech businesses have become known for their successful ability to attract and maintain talented employees through a culture that prioritizes open communication, collaboration team building and individual growth. This “startup culture” focuses on nurturing a strong team through tools and activities that allow employees to bond, feel heard and continue learning within their role.

When it comes to attracting talent, “startup culture” is the expectation these days. Prospective employees, especially recent graduates and millennials, place a great deal of importance on a fun, inclusive, and social work environment. They seek companies with a “startup culture” – modern vibrant offices, open-plan workspaces, flexible schedules, and most importantly, a collaborative environment.

Organizations of any size can borrow elements of “startup culture” to strengthen their own team. Here are some benefits of creative team building and a startup atmosphere:

Boosting Employee Morale

Creative team building breaks the monotony of spending the day at the office working on insurance claims or underwriting files. Regular team-building activities provide an opportunity to get out, have fun and relax, while also encouraging collaboration and team bonding. They help eliminate employee burnout, improve productivity and increase retention.

Team-building activities usually revolve around the completion of tasks and problem-solving. (Read on for some creative examples.) Completing these tasks boosts employees’ confidence and trust in their unique abilities. Confidence is a major source of motivation that is transferred to the workplace. Creative team building, therefore, contributes to a positive corporate culture that boosts employee morale.

Improving Productivity

Poor performance is often seen as being linked to employees’ incompetence or lack of care, but it could instead be a result of poor communication and lack of confidence. Creative team-building activities present the opportunity to overcome communication barriers and foster interaction and collaboration among staff. Improved communication enhances productivity as it encourages employees to seek second opinions and ask for help.

Employee Retention and Happiness

All employees want to feel valued and contribute to meaningful work. They also want enjoyable workspaces where they are heard, not spaces they can’t wait to get away from.

One-third of our lives are spent at work. Many people are surrounded by their colleagues more often than their friends and family. A strong corporate culture and positive team dynamic is key to creating a favorable working environment employees want to stay in.

Creative team building can help in retaining top talent, reducing employee turnover, and promoting employee happiness.

Creative Team-Building Ideas

There are a number of different team-building activities to choose from, depending on budget, team size and team dynamics. Here are a few activity ideas that my team loved at Global IQX:

  • Escape rooms: employees in teams collaborate on cracking codes and solving mysteries. This is an excellent way to boost communication, encourage problem-solving, and create comradery.
  • Seasonal office parties and personal celebrations: what better way to create a sense of family and bring employees and management together? Fun activities provide a lot of needed laughs. For example, we had a foosball tournament in the office. Bosses and workers alike can don goofy hats and have a good time.
  • Recreational sports and tournaments: friendly competition and teamwork are a great way to create friendships and lasting bonds among teams. For instance, we had a zip line adventure at a nearby camp.

At the end of the day, employees want to feel valued, challenged and respected. While catered meals and an open office are appealing, it’s open communication, growth potential and strong team dynamics that keep good employees. Fostering a team-oriented environment through regular team-building exercises and activities is one step any organization can take to improving company morale.

API, Web Services and Microservices and Their Usage in Digital Transformation

Often, insurance services opt to have in-house solutions or go for third-party products to automate some if not all of their processes. These solutions or products take the form of software applications.

When choosing or developing software for an insurance company, there are three aspects to keep in mind: API, web services, and microservices. These three terms are incredibly important in web applications, and considering how they are used, can be confusing to understand the three concepts.

Application Programming Interface

Application Programming Interface (API) is the core of any online automated connectivity. It is the medium through which multiple applications, devices, and data interact with each other.

In practice, an API defines a set of rules and protocols that allows two or more systems to communicate with each other. Every API needs to have documentation specifying the information that gets transferred between two systems.

For instance, let’s assume you are working with an insurtech company to build software that integrates with Facebook to help you know if users are breaching a policy term. To build such software, you will need to use Facebook Graph API for you to have access to data inside Facebook, including users, comments, posts, and more. With this API, you will have an easier way of accessing the data you need.

Web Services

This refers to the actual software that implements an API like the one described before. This software can respond to requests coming from .www (World Wide Web), hence the name “web” providing responses (“services”) without requiring human intervention.

There are several ways in which two systems can engage in exchanging data via webservices. The most popular ones are using text formats like XML (eXtensible Markup Language) or JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). Web service implementations can also use different transport channels, for sending data over the network, HTTP being widely used.

The HTTP protocol is implemented by most web servers available today and many of these servers can be configured to wrap the HTTP protocol in SSL (Secure Socket Layer) to encrypt the web service communication.

Microservices

This is one of the popular ways to build a complex software system. It involves breaking down software into smaller components, rather than having one huge software application. The main reason for using microservices is modularity, which can make even sophisticated software easy to understand and/or develop. The success of a microservice implementation is heavily dependent on how truly loosely coupled are the components. In an ideal world, each component could be deployed and scaled independently

Let’s assume that, for instance, your insurance company deals with employee benefits products. Instead of manually looking at your catalog to see who has paid their premiums, one can automate the process to see who needs to be reminded, etc. Suppose the line of business extends because you decided to also include voluntary benefits insurance.

If the previous implementation was designed as a monolithic application, you now have to re-think how the application works and deploy a new one that includes the new functionality. Instead, you could have the software broken down into two or more loosely coupled components (e.g. one for Group insurance and Employee Benefits and one for worksite and individual voluntary products), so that adding the new functionality would not affect the existing one. This would also have the benefit of allowing more granular scaling: you would only need to scale up the component that is in high demand. Let alone the ease of implementing cross-selling opportunities.

The inputs and outputs flowing from each component to another are defined by an API, so now you could swap any component with another implementation, hopefully with better performance, as long as is using the same API.

Which of the Three Is Best For Your Project?

The right structural design for your project depends on your requirements.

If you simply want to delegate some functionality of your own software to another party, you could have your application act as a webservice consumer. For example, an online payment system is a complex system, subject to many regulations and security constraints. An insurance company may not be willing to spend the required effort to implement such systems, but that doesn’t mean such functionality cannot be embedded in your software (like web pages or smartphone apps). The way your software could connect and communicate with a 3rdparty online payment system is through webservices. The online payment system has to have a public API that your system can use.

If you think that your software could become complex in time, maybe you should consider breaking down in smaller, simpler components that you can develop or deploy gradually over time. Microservices will be ideal for that. So, yes, software can use both web services and microservices simultaneously.

In a nutshell, APIs are software-to-software interfaces with a set of verbs instructions on how to access and relay data.

Web services are service between two end-points; they communicate over the internet and are optimized and encoded by formats such as XML or JSON.

Microservices is where software is broken down into loosely coupled distinct components that communicate with each through an API.

All three can be used as part of the framework for future digital transformation.

Four Ways to Boost Cybersecurity

Reboot your approach

Cybersecurity threats faced by insurance companies are growing and evolving at an alarming rate. This has been spurred by many factors, including the internet of things (IoT). While the IoT presents opportunities for insurers, it also exposes security gaps. The severity and frequency of cyber-attacks are likely to increase.

Insurers must commit to protecting sensitive customer information in a compliant and reliable way. The cybersecurity threat is huge. It is time for insurance companies to reboot their approaches to cybersecurity.

Common cybersecurity threats facing the insurance industry

Cyber-extortion

Cyber extortion is increasingly becoming a common problem. Some types of ransomware attacks are so effective that victims may be forced to meet the attacker’s demands and pay a hefty bribe to get their system running again.   

Automated threats

Credential cracking, vulnerability scanning, bad bots, credential stuffing, and denial of service can potentially shut down a company’s systems quickly.   

Identity theft and loss of confidential data

Identity theft may result from system vulnerabilities to data breaches. For instance, files stored on a firm’s local servers may not be protected adequately. Insurers collect and store sensitive personal client information. This information can be particularly valuable for attackers to sell in black markets. They can use it as a tool for fraud, extortion, unauthorized borrowing, and many other financial crimes.  

Business disruption and reputational damage

Cyber-attacks can seriously disrupt business. For instance, a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures erased its computer infrastructure, including telephone directories, emails, voicemails, and business records like contract templates. A malicious attack like this on an insurer could disrupt operations for months.

The foundation of any insurance business is policyholder trust. If an insurance company were to suffer a data breach exposing policyholder information or a cyber-attack that renders it unable to conduct normal operations, that trust would be shaken. This, in turn, can lead to reputational damage that may negatively affect the confidence of investors, consumers, policyholders, and rating agencies.

Four tips for boosting security:

Assess your defense capabilities realistically

Pressure-testing the company’s defenses can determine whether they can repel targeted, high-impact attacks, whether external or internal. It includes vulnerability assessment, testing programs, penetration tests, and scenario-based testing. Consider hiring a cyber-security firm to test your defenses.

Invest in early detection

Insurers need to continually invest and innovate to thwart potential attackers. Early detection is crucial. Otherwise, a cyber-attack can sit undetected for weeks.

Efficient and quick detection and response will help determine the source of the attack, the systems targeted, extent, and cause. Then, the threat can be neutralized before damage is done. Insurers need to invest in technology. There is a wide range of software solutions that provide near real-time threat detection.

Making cybersecurity everyone’s job

While implementing sophisticated systems will reduce external threats, insurers tend to neglect internal threats such as human error, which could include revealing customer data in response to a convincing phishing email. Cybersecurity awareness among employees can significantly decrease the risk of cyber-attacks resulting from human error.

Alert employees can provide early detection. An Accenture survey found that up to 98% of security breaches that are not detected by a firm’s security team are discovered by employees.

Learn from the past and evolve

Effective cybersecurity requires insurers to learn from previous cyber incidents and use this to improve planning and technology investments. Solutions include:

  • Upgrading systems: using last-generation or unpatched security software provides easy fodder for cyber attackers. Speak to your IT consultant about upgrading your systems.
  • Migrating systems to the cloud: the cloud provides users a wide range of compliant and secure storage solutions.  Choose a cloud provider that offers the highest possible security.
  • Implementing appropriate security software, protocols, and appliances: this will effectively shield data and systems from automated threats.
  • Establishing a disaster recovery plan: despite all efforts, systems can be breached. Have a detailed up-to-date plan so that you can respond effectively to any problem, major or minor.

Cyber-crooks are relentless and determined. Security is an ongoing battle. You can’t afford to let down your guard a second.  Staying one step ahead of hackers takes constant effort.

Wearables and Fitness Devices Offer New Opportunities and Challenges for the Insurance Industry

Wearables and fitness-tracking technology have witnessed rapid growth in recent times. International Data Corporation reports that one in every five people in the U.S owns a wearable fitness device. It also estimates that annual shipments will exceed 250 million devices by 2021.

Given the ability of technology to provide critical data, the wearables revolution continues to spark interest in the insurance industry. Data collected from wearable devices can provide critical health and fitness information. This information is vital to the development of interactive life insurance policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones. The technology hence holds the key between insurance firms and technology-savvy clients who value a modern, updated experience and digital engagement.

Industry giant John Hancock recently announced that it would begin selling interactive policies. They’ll require new life insurance policyholders to use activity trackers and share their fitness data. Insureds will, in turn, enjoy discounted premiums and other benefits.

Benefits and Opportunities

Wearable and fitness technology can be advantageous to both insurers and their customers. Wearables encourage insureds to become accountable for their health and fitness, and insurance companies stand to gain healthy clients with longer lifespans.

Most life insurance policyholders pay their premiums for an average period of 20 years. With the adoption and use of the trackers, they will be able to lead healthier and longer lives. Lower mortality means higher insurer profits.

Wearables also provide companies with a simplified way of collecting underwriting information. The data simplifies the risk-assessment process by offering metrics that would have taken longer to obtain through a full medical test. The data collected also acts as an additional source of information for new product development.

In addition to discounts on premiums, clients are also given the tools to boost their quality of life and well-being. Wearable devices can help detect conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure and help insureds get treatment before things get worse. The technology can also be used to detect a client’s unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking and excessive drinking. With lifestyle conditions becoming prevalent, wearable devices will go a long way in promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Risks and Challenges

The rapid growth of wearables and fitness devices comes with the risk of infringing on privacy. The insurer has access to very private information whenever the customer is wearing a device. The ever-present risk of the information leaking to other parties is also high.

Another challenge is the reliability of the data collected, as the devices may not always report accurate information to the insurer. For example, devices may be tailored to indicate the motion patterns like walking or running and may not be able to record other activities such as cycling. The elderly may also be victimized by errors, as their exercise regimes may be less demanding.

Finally, Wearables and Fitness Devices Are A Force to be Reckoned With

While there are various data safety and accuracy concerns with wearables, they can be overcome with proper protocol. Insurers have always dealt with sensitive information and will need to continue to handle such data with care. As for inaccurate heart-rate and other readings, studies show that fitness data is evened out over time. For example, a wearable device may not provide an accurate reading of the user’s heart rate during fast-paced or high-intensity exercises, but it can provide a comparable average over the period of the workout.

The use of wearables and fitness devices as data collection tools in the insurance technology sector is increasingly gaining popularity. Their role in shaping industry trends can no longer be understated. As software and reliability keep improving, insurance companies will further embrace wearables as the future.