Insurance is at the crux of the greatest period of change it has seen for generations, a vast amount of it literally at our fingertips — and Hugh Terry is one insurtech pioneer who is keen to see the profession grasp it with alacrity to maintain relevance in a changing market.
After graduating, Terry worked for a UK life insurer and once he’d qualified as an actuary, he found himself putting his hand up to take an assignment in Sri Lanka — despite it then being in the middle of a decades-long civil war.
AN ANCHOR IN ASIA
‘My career has developed in fairly unconventional places and circumstances,’ Terry says. ‘But I started overseas from a fairly junior position to running an operations team in a couple of years. I found I liked Asia and that’s where most our business activities still are now.’
Terry also enjoyed the corporate operations side, which he took on when he returned to consult with McKinsey in London. After a redundancy, he went to Hong Kong, which at the time, had just undergone Handover to China and was caught in the middle of the Asian Financial Crisis.
‘As this point things started to get really interesting,’ Terry recalls. ‘In 1998 I took a redundancy cheque and bought into a broking business in Singapore that focused on choice-based employee benefits, then got swept up in the dot-com boom to go into employee benefits, payroll and HR outsourcing.’
By 2005 Terry was settled as a UK entrepreneur expatriate in Singapore, which was then beginning to burgeon as an IT and financial services development hub.
He sold his companies and did some consultancy work in corporate insurance to reflect on where he was going, as well as getting involved in tech startups unrelated to insurance.
A MODERN KNOWLEDGE PLATFORM
After blogging about digital insurance business models, Terry founded The Digital Insurer in 2012, so he describes the progression more as an evolution than a conscious destination.
‘I realised it was a popular topic and because it interested me keenly, I wanted to explore how to make a modern knowledge platform that could help the insurance industry to make better use of technology,’ he says.
In 2014 Terry established relationships with KPMG and Swiss Re to help grow the company and expand its content offerings. It grew to what Terry now considers to be a strong candidate for the largest knowledge base of original and curated material on digital insurance.
‘We now have a clear purpose of working together to accelerate the digital transformation of insurance. This purpose has proved popular with the industry and we continue to design and create content and services with that purpose in mind,’ says Terry.
‘Much of it is generated by a relatively small number of corporate sponsors and partners but it’s delivered for free to thousands of subscribers – there’s about 35,000 members in our email database, the majority of which are senior management, owners and directors.
That subscriber base grows organically by about 8000 a year,’ Terry adds.
GROWING GLOBAL NETWORK
The Digital Insurer is now the archetypal contemporary global network, run on what Terry describes as a 100 per cent virtual basis with an international team of 15–20 staff that basically creates, curates and trades information on digital insurance — be it in the form of email bulletins, webinars, online data or live speaking engagements and presentations at industry events around the world.
To further distribute its content, the company maintains at scale a robust social media presence, with more than 140,000 overall followers on LinkedIn, 18,500 on Twitter and 6000 on WeChat.
‘When all our channels are combined, we can reach out to and draw on the expertise of more than 250,000 insurance professionals around the world,’ Terry says.
About 60 per cent of The Digital Insurer team is located throughout Asia and 40 per cent around the rest of the world. Volunteer news correspondents provide additional reportage on the latest in digital insurance.
DIGITAL BUSINESS MODEL
As an online platform that scores more than 50,000 page views a month, The Digital Insurer has a cumulative library of reports that are published monthly.
It comprises a database of case studies, interviews, articles and commentary; a global insurtech directory to partner insurers with the most suitable insurtech providers; a business school that just this month launched a world-first Associate of Digital Insurer ‘mini-MBA’ and professional designation.
The platform also offers corporate member services to insurers to help them implement and expedite digital transformation.
The corporate membership is around 20 and includes the likes of Gen Re, HSBC, Sun Life, Zurich and MetLife.
These members pay tiered rates for their global, regional or national offices to access an exclusive search engine.
Co-branded publicity, members receive analytics dashboards, discounts to education and trade events; and a choice of additional services such as customised content (interviews and articles), bespoke research, executive meetings, and internal or industry conferencing or webinars.
Concerning the business model and his own modus operandi, Terry emphasises flexibility and collaboration, saying he supports the digital transformation of the industry as a community and wants broad participation with room for different points of view.
‘At the same time, we have to respect members’ needs for competitive differentiation, and different members are at different points of their transformation process or may have varied endpoints, so we tailor our packages and services to meet evolving needs,’ he says.
To understand ‘at a glance’ the purpose, plans, practice and potential of The Digital Insurer, Terry points to the company’s logo, which neatly combines the defining symbols of our surging, exploratory era: linked within a double-helix strand of DNA run lines of the digits 0 and 1.
Terry explains this as representing technology inside the human experience, which sums up a key paradox and challenge of the dynamic times facing the insurance sector.
'We get this technological change that is now exponential, yet in humans it’s limited by our DNA, which hasn’t changed that much over millennia.
'So digital transformation is really more around people than technology, and how they integrate with the knowledge the industry has accumulated through platforms that devices deliver, and how to manage change to meet consumer expectations,' he says.
‘We all have devices in our hands now and technology will only become more embedded in our lives. Technology has led humanity to greater prosperity since the industrial revolution and I see the new digital models continuing this positive trend – the challenge is adapting to the speed of change.’
Not surprisingly for someone so forward thinking, Terry is enthusiastic about the future growth and globalisation of digital insurance and his company’s unique role in accelerating it.
The recent launch of The Digital Insurer Business School’s Associate of Digital Insurer ‘mini MBA’ he sees as an exciting breakthrough.
‘It’s completely online-based and self-paced over three-to-12 months, with six hours of pre-recorded lectures, personal mentors, webinars weekly clinics and business-related assignments,’ he enthuses.
A THRIVING ECOSYSTEM
Terry is equally enthusiastic about giving the keynote presentation to open ANZIIF’s Insurtech Conference in Sydney on 19 February, where he will be joined by Simon Phipps, The Digital Insurer’s cofounder and Head of Asia and Global Development.
‘We’re giving a global update on insurtech with quite Asia-centric commentary, separating hype from reality and identifying key macrotrends driving the digital transformation,’ he reveals.
‘The conference theme is “Building a thriving ecosystem”, so it’s about the models emerging where insurance has become part of a supply chain rather than just a passive product that’s put up to buy.
'It means that the workforce of specialist advisers will be leaner but probably better paid via commission, which will lower the high turnover rates. But again, digital technology will be part of the solution as to how insurance professionals provide advice.’
Dont's miss Hugh Terry's presentation at the 2020 ANZIIF Insurtech Conference.