“The thing I’m passionate about is the impact of technology on people,” says Glynn Austen-Brown, UK InsurTech Lead at global consultancy PwC. He’s spent years working in large scale insurance and on banking programmes in Australia. A key element of Austen-Brown’s career has been insurance transformation journeys, and he’s fascinated by helping leaders in a centuries-old industry “to use technology to at least bring them closer to the modern age we live in”.
Combining the skills of people with the capabilities of technologies, says Austen-Brown, is critical to making the industry work – an industry he says is in real need of change. The retail sector, for example, is rife with both challenge and opportunity, and new market entrants will increase competition but also lead to hesitation. “I don’t think those new market entrants are necessarily going to be tech,” he adds. “They’re actually going to be insurers from the Far East. Those companies are a long way from where insurers in the UK are, so we need to move quickly.”
Many factors, says Austen-Brown, have come together to create the “perfect storm” for disruption in insurance. From pressure from the customer base for a seamless ‘Amazon’ experience, to regulatory pressure with FCA reports on renewal transparency. Then there’s the technology: as insurers have grown through acquisition they have not integrated or simplified their legacy systems. “That makes seamless interaction with the customer really hard.”
PwC is there to guide the UK’s insurers on their journey as they innovate, develop and continue to adapt. This might involve big changes from within or partnerships with a new player. “PwC identified long ago that clients aren’t going to use a single supplier for a three to five-year period – they’re looking for organisations like us to work effectively within the ecosystem of different suppliers,” Austen-Brown comments. “At PwC, we’ve worked hard to create a network of InsurTechs and FinTechs. We then bring those into conversations we’re having with insurers, work closely with them and enable them to scale quickly using our vast, global network of clients.” The beauty is that often these startups have solutions tailored to a specific problem that a large-scale insurer then doesn’t have to invent itself.
In order to make this happen, it’s important to act as a true partner to an insurer as opposed to just providing a service. PwC has a deep knowledge and understanding of the sector, as well as relationships built over the past two centuries. This means being able to explore a range of options from InsurTech partnerships to traditional partners like Guidewire, Microsoft, Google and AWS, and being there for a client throughout the entire change process.
“Change is constant now,” says Austen-Brown. “It’s not a case of coming in, doing a project then clap your hands and walk away. It’s partnerships, it’s long term, and it’s helping create the ability within insurers to adapt, evolve, and be really agile and fast in the market. It’s about continuous integration and continuous development in order to create the capabilities the Amazons and the Googles of this world have, but within insurance.”
On the other side of the coin, PwC makes efforts to support InsurTechs so they can truly scale. The accelerator programme takes around 10 InsurTech companies through a 12-week process of preparing for pitches, with PwC offering training in areas such as technology consulting, marketing, finance and branding. Startups can pitch within PwC and to its client base.
When it comes to scaling an InsurTech, Austen-Brown is certain the UK is the best place to be. “It’s hot. There’s an awful lot of innovation,” he says. “I would say, despite the huge valuations in the US, the London InsurTech sector is really talented. You’ve got cool technologists and good entrepreneurs, and now some really good insurance people that are supporting these InsurTechs. When you get a combination of those three… that’s a really powerful proposition.”
The next challenge? “I think regulation will be one issue,” says Austen-Brown. “There will be more pressure on insurers, which will constrain their ability to invest in other areas like technology, but ultimately it’s for good.”
A key area for Austen-Brown and PwC moving forward is attracting the right talent. “At the moment, insurance is struggling to attract the diverse digital skillset it needs,” he says. “We need to redefine the narrative around the social utility and purpose of insurance in order to attract millennial talent.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom, despite the challenges PwC remains keenly aware of. “it’s a really exciting opportunity for the insurance sector, and it’s those organisations that step up and exploit the opportunity that are going to succeed. We need insurance to be brave, bold and confident and to drive innovation, growth, leadership, collaboration and trust.”