This article is part of the Forum Network series on Trust
Insurance is invisible yet it is everywhere. It is intimately linked to how people live their lives, grow their businesses, save and invest their incomes, anticipate what is essential to them and how they protect themselves against risk. When lifestyle and economic growth patterns change, insurance also needs to change: autonomous cars raise new questions of liability, freelance workers need new social protection, and new expectations require personalised assistance services, seamless claim processes and the like.
The insurance industry sits at the heart of the social, economic and technological revolutions at play. And like most of its peers, AXA is undertaking an ambitious and profound transformation to adapt and embrace these multiple revolutions, reframing the nature and scope of our business, from financial protection to risk prevention, from paper to digital, from payment of claims to more frequent interactions with customers. We are also reviewing our ecosystem of providers and business partners. This transformation is not only about us; it is about the innovation we will be able to bring to our sector by building on our own convictions and promoting new ideas, investing in new business models, partnering with start-ups and funding fundamental and applied research.
Our ambition cannot happen in a vacuum however, since it raises a number of societal questions and challenges.
How can we best address customer expectations towards private companies? In many industries, innovation is currently driven by digitalisation and personalisation of services. While the content, ease-of-use and nature of service offerings improve, companies and policymakers have to work hand in hand to guarantee the protection of customers’ rights and of their privacy in a digital world, and make sure that a sound competition can take place while ensuring that prices remain fair. Striking such a balance with customer protection and transparency will be key to maintain the essential trust between private companies and customers.
How can we ensure both stable and flexible regulation? The speed of development and adoption of new technologies seem at odds with the stability of traditional regulatory frameworks. We must avoid the trap of regulatory frenzy–i.e. constantly changing our regulations for each new technology coming to market. New, flexible methods of action, based on a set of clear and overarching principles and expected outcomes–such as encouraging experiments of innovative regulatory schemes around FinTech–can allow innovation to blossom while also guaranteeing customer protection, financial stability and co-building between regulators and innovators.
How can we harness the ability of technology to foster more inclusive protection models? Big Data, algorithms and artificial intelligence are all very promising tools to empower citizens, better respond to their needs in real time, and scale services to new customer segments. While mobile technologies are empowering millions of families in developing countries to gain access to health insurance and prevention, if not properly handled and understood, these new tools could turn into a source of undue discrimination, social fragmentation and exclusion. Transparency, fairness and constructive dialogue surrounding these new tools should form a common horizon between policymakers and companies to ensure the promotion of more inclusive societies.
How can we balance our collective relationship to time? Technology gives a new sense of precipitation to the world economy, from high-frequency trading in financial markets to robotisation and 3D printing in manufacturing sectors. In parallel, long-term challenges linked to climate change, ageing and the protection of natural resources call our economic system into question. The time horizons of corporate and financial decisions force us into a conundrum in which short-term pressures curb the long-term thinking necessary to address new and intricate challenges. The role of policymakers is therefore essential, as they can set the pace of the public debate and keep our focus on essential long-term challenges, to help our societies invest for future generations.
As insurers, we are fully aware that change always comes with new opportunities and risks requiring new levers of action. Managing and balancing the risks and opportunities that arise from technologies and new growth patterns is probably the greatest collective endeavour of our time. All actors will need to engage and share their perspectives–policymakers, corporations, citizens. As insurers, we feel compelled to take part in this essential debate.