(Caribou Honig, co-founder InsureTech Connect. Source: ITC.)
With InsureTech Connect (ITC) 2021 just around the corner, Insurance Innovation Reporter—a media partner of the event—reached out to Caribou Honig, the event’s co-founder. After suspending ITC during 2020, ITC prepared to go forward with the 2021 event. The event features over 250 speakers during its three-day agenda from Oct. 4 through 6 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. We asked Honig his thoughts about the return of the event while the pandemic continues, how the industry has evolved during the intervening year, and what some of the hottest technology areas are for insurance in 2021.
Insurance Innovation Reporter: What’s on your mind as ITC approaches, the first in-person version since 2019?
Caribou Honig: There are things to be both happy and sad about. We’re going to miss international attendees, many of whom will do the at-home thing. We all know that’s not as good as being there. Obviously, we’re going to miss some of the corporates that now have stricter travel plans. Those things make me sad. What makes me happy is that I absolutely believe the 5,000 people who are coming will be bonkers engaged and enthusiastic. That’s partly because so many of us have lacked outlets to see colleagues, and this is the first major in-person event since the pandemic started, so there’s pent-up energy. I heard from a guy in Latin America who was going to delay a trip to France until ITC so that he’d be able to come.
IIR: How will you gauge the success of the event?
CH: My Litmus test is whether the people there, after spending 18 hours a day, three days in a row feel that they have a lot of conversations they want to follow up or meetings they couldn’t fit into that time. I’m confident we’re on track for that. Probably there will be some people you want to meet that aren’t there this year, but there will be thousands you want to meet who are there.
IIR: What’s the thinking behind ITC’s requirement that attendees attest that they’ve been vaccinated as a condition of attendance?
CH: I know when I go to the grocery store there’s some risk involved—not everybody you come across will have been vaccinated. Our goal for ITC 2021 has always been to get the event set up, whether with a vaccine requirement or having more things outdoors such that it would end up being safer than going to the grocery store.
IIR: Since the live conversation about insurance innovation, InsurTech, etc., was suspended last year, how are you thinking about the state of the industry this year?
CH: I would say that insurance and InsurTech are in kind of a golden age right now. I was recently preparing a presentation and went over some old ITC keynotes to review what I thought was going to happen, and whether I was right or wrong. There were all these pent-up technologies waiting to be deployed—things like cloud, APIs and satellite data. Other industries were adopting them, but they weren’t being adopted in insurance until the value was so obvious that it couldn’t be ignored anymore. This was especially the case from the perspective of incumbents as very loud challengers such as Lemonade and Metromile began to appear saying things like, “We don’t need a core system—we’ll build our own.” Incumbents were wondering whether these startups were doing something real. And then with InsurTech on the B2B side, all these startups were translating the raw technology into usable applications for the insurance industry.
IIR: Do you see the pandemic as accelerating the digital progress of the industry?
CH: I think COVID has been both an accelerant and a source of friction to slow things down. In 2019, I would have said that InsurTech had risen to being a board-level concern. Not the number one concern but typically in the top three—there was fear and greed, risk and opportunity that needed to be sorted out. Boards would ask CEOs what their plan was. They couldn’t say, “I have no plan.” They had to choose build or buy, fast follower, or whatever. They had to have a strategy. I think that will once again be true post COVID, but right now the number 1, 2 and 3 questions are COVID, COVID and COVID. That’s not to say that the pandemic hasn’t forced certain issues. I think of COVID as causing a platform shift. Legacy ways of doing various things have become obsolete in light of the pandemic.
IIR: What would you identify as some of the hottest technology areas currently?
CH: One of the areas I looked at in my notes was cyber insurance. There are companies doing good work there. Part of the long-term solution is providing risk and event mitigation wrapped up in some kind of cyber policy. It’s a challenging area. From a risk assessment perspective, if I gave you five years of hurricane data, and said, “Now start underwriting,” the response would have been, “OMG, I have no idea how to do that!” Now it’s even more challenging, with climate change. It’s a non-linear problem. Novel risks are emerging in cyber—it’s the old Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns.” And the same is true for climate change. If we can bind those things—wildfire, flood—we can figure out how to deal with them. F
Another area is embedded insurance, which has been getting “buzzy” during the last couple of years. Interesting things are happening where insurance is being included in a company’s customer experience or sales workflow, with an insurance product tied in more tightly to the embedders product, and benefits arising not just from commission or lead gen, but also reductions in operational costs because of not having to bother with some loss event because it’s insured. I think that’s where embedded is going to get most interesting.
In that connection, and with regard to product innovation more broadly, I think no-code is intriguing. I’m not enough of a technologist to fill in the details, but I think it goes well with embedded strategies, where you don’t need a software engineer but can just reconfigure in a no-code environment as an embedder.
I’m also excited about little bits and pieces I’m hearing about developing economies—frontier markets in places like Latin America and Africa without as much legacy technology to worry about, with the possibility of leapfrogging.