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Insurance industry ponders disruption as opportunity


NEW YORK — The term “disruption” has been used extensively to describe conditions in the insurance industry, but it doesn’t necessarily have negative implications, according to speakers at the Insurance Information Institute Inc.’s Joint Industry Forum in New York on Tuesday.

Some questioned whether disruption could be synonymous with opportunity.

“Is this disruption, this new norm, a threat or an opportunity?” said Sean Kevelighan, the institute’s CEO in New York. “How are we going to adapt through all of this?”

Others were more convinced that disruption means opportunity.

“You can look at these as threats or opportunities,” said Neil Spector, president of Insurance Services Office Inc., a unit of Verisk Analytics Inc., in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“I think there’s mass change going on, not just in the insurance industry but in our entire economy,” Mr. Spector said. “It’s being led by technology.”

Opportunities exist despite the insurance industry’s preference for stability.

“Disruption is a problem for our industry because we are an industry that craves certainty,” said Chuck Chamness, president and CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies in Indianapolis.

“The opportunities to solve the problems which are created by disruption is one of our greatest strengths,” Mr. Chamness said.

Others pointed out, however, that a degree of uncertainty remains in an otherwise bullish landscape.

“2018 looks set to deliver some of the highest economic growth in the last 10 years,” said Dan Tawfik, principal, global risk analysis, Control Risks Group Holdings Ltd. in New York. “The surge in business confidence is really tempered by a sense that despite this bullish economic data, the year ahead seems beset, certainly and frankly, by some confusion.”

The uncertainty surrounding the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union was cited a one example for the industry.

“Many companies in our industry — the insurance industry as a whole — are following carefully what’s happening in the U.K. with Brexit, how the relationships will develop over the next two years,” said Daniel Riordan, president of political risk, credit and bond insurance in New York for XL Group Ltd. “There’s certainly a measure of uncertainty there.”

He cautioned that capital prefers sound footing.

“Companies look to go, and capital looks to go, where it feels most protected, most welcome and where there is certainty,” Mr. Riordan said. “When there’s uncertainty and times of uncertainty, that definitely impacts investment capital,” he said.