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‘Insurtech’: our inboxes are full of news alerts, and hardly a day passes without a notable insurer or reinsurer somewhere commencing a digital initiative, applying artificial intelligence, partnering with a hi-tech high-flyer or investing in a digital/data/analytics start-up. Insurtech is big these days.

And rightly so. Technology has the power to transform many aspects of our lives – hopefully in a good way – and to revolutionise how insurance is conducted, from application to claim payment. While a lot of the insurtech research and uptake has been in the property/casualty sphere, life and disability insurance, and of course the consumers who buy it, can benefit greatly as well. We have written extensively on the potential and opportunities – and occasionally the pitfalls – of wearables, new types and sources of medical information, data analytics and modelling, and how they all can underpin product propositions, drive underwriting and help manage claims in future.

Good, then, that there is an outfit called InsTech London whose aim is “to pull together a group of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and professionals from across the market and enable them to meet like-minded folk and provide them with a hub to explore together ways to maximise the opportunities offered by technology.” Every so often they organise an interactive meeting, either with a succession of speakers or, like one recently which was sponsored by Gen Re, a ‘show and tell’ event whereby innovators with a concept they believe in have the opportunity to persuade others to believe in it too.

The event had 18 firms pitching for interest, some with a proven concept but yet to get their first outside investor or partner, and others already live elsewhere but seeking to gain traction in the UK. They ranged from an automated life insurance advice platform, through outfits looking to use data to improve an individual’s fitness and health, to a challenger of traditional approaches to compliance and managing customer relationships.

Of particular interest were:

  • Aimo which creates personal health profiles and has a smartphone-based app that scans movement, enabling calculation of musculoskeletal disability risk. It is currently working with a German disability insurer.
  • PAI Health whose cardiorespiratory fitness proposition is based on data drawn from the Norwegian HUNT study. The firm says its smartphone app, which provides motivation to increase fitness, particularly benefits ‘average’ individuals rather than the already fit that tend to be attracted to other programmes. It has teamed up with a South African insurer.
  • Monsenso and Thrive, both of which target mental illness. Monsenso’s proposition is better treatment at lower cost, while Thrive aims to enable early detection and self-management of mental illnesses. Propositions such as these ought to be of interest to insurers in markets where the underwriting of mental illness risks is under scrutiny.

Half of the exhibitors had the aim of making people healthier – more than half if you include the two with a focus on mental health – and one can see opportunities for product add-ons, premium adjustment according to the way fitness and activity vary, and tools that improve management of disability and health insurance claims.

All well and good, but many of these new concepts are no longer that new. And many are of a very similar nature: fitness, collection of data and comparison with a benchmark, management of chronic illness. It’s difficult to identify real competitive advantage, any true USPs. Given that it’s a big world out there dominated by insurance giants, how many of these small firms are going to connect and make it to the big-time?

Are there any real game-changers out there? Sure, there must be, but successful insurtech has to be about more than fitness tracking and wellbeing.