Who is eyeing your lunch

Thriving in today’s me-economy means participating in the we-economy – an ecosystem of mutually- beneficial partnerships creating value for consumers throughout the value chain.

The oxpecker and the rhino, the wrasse and the pufferfish – strange bedfellows who co-exist for mutual benefit, the small creature providing a valuable service (in return for a free meal) to the bigger beast for whom they would otherwise be prey.

With many large corporations still wondering whether startups are friend or foe, nature’s unlikely alliances offer a fine example of the symbiotic relationships which insurers must build with all parties – great and small – to gain purchase in the consumer’s complex ecosystem.

To truly fulfill customers’ expectations … demands joined-up thinking: an alliance of committed collaborators connecting the dots of the customer journey.

In this new normal, no-one has a monopoly on the consumer any more, and no-one can go it alone. We are all now niche experts, relying upon other links in the chain.

The door is now open to full-scale disruption by smaller, nimbler players. Five years ago, startups were upstarts – today, startup culture defines the business environment. We all now strive to be flexible, nimble, and innovative. No longer the unwelcome guests at the feast, startups – with a growing sense of their worth and a clear understanding of the value they add – are demanding a seat at the table.

Infiltrate to innovate
Traditional players have made great strides to go digital, but the result has largely been a skin-deep duplication of offline activity. Now, in the thick of the digital age, organisations need to infiltrate the digital ecosystem to reach customers whose focus is elsewhere. Or someone else will.

Over $4bn has already been pumped into innovative tech companies or start-ups with interesting propositions – young companies passionately motivated to disrupt or improve certain aspects of the sector, whether that is distribution, analytics, pricing, fraud, product design, claims processing, asset tracking or building a much better client relationship model.

Zhong An in China is one notable alliance, leveraging the insurance experience and expertise of Ping An, the online payment platform of Alibaba, and Tencent’s huge customer base of social media users. Elsewhere, Zenefits’ free software opens the door to health insurance, while pay-per-mile pioneer Metromile has partnered with Uber to offer coverage to drivers.

Customer satisfaction depends on every link in the chain
In this increasingly complex landscape, businesses must develop a strong ecosystem of partners serving the entire customer value chain. It is no longer enough to have your own house in order. To truly fulfill customers’ expectations, effective collaboration must transcend cultural, geographical, market, organisational and industry boundaries.

That demands joined-up thinking. Customers, insurers, their partners and suppliers all working together in a seamlessly-integrated system – an alliance of committed collaborators built on trust, integrity, shared objectives and aligned goals connecting the dots of the customer journey.

Regulators are an essential part of that hyper-connected ecosystem too, and should be engaged to encourage the formulation regulatory policy which will create a more conducive environment for all concerned – to help the industry embrace innovative business models without compromising consumer protection.

It’s about interaction, not transaction
While the giants of the insurance industry may still consider the startup community to be unwelcome guests at the feast, customers – rightly – see startups creating opportunity for them by expanding choice in the market. If established firms refuse to recognise that these budding ventures are here to stay – and have the potential for exponential growth – then it is the former that will eventually suffer.

For insurers to get closer to their customers, a change of mindset is required: from seeing startups as a threat (a scenario made real in the battles between Uber and the licensed cab trade) to eyeing their entrepreneurial flair and culture of innovation and welcoming them as valuable allies. Companies that succeed in harnessing the skills and talents of interested outsiders will gain the agility and adaptability required to power future growth.

To the oxpecker and the rhino, the wrasse and the pufferfish, add the startup and the corporate giant. In the insurance ecosystem of the future, in which each participant leverages their niche expertise to add value, anything is possible. Naturally.