Swiss Multi-Line Insurers Face Strategic Balancing Act
Digitalization requires insurance companies in Switzerland to align their strategies with three possible future paths, depending on their line of business. The decisive factor is tailoring the interface to the customer, according to a new study by ZHAW in collaboration with Synpulse and Zühlke.
In the coming years, Swiss insurers will have to reposition themselves strategically by considering three basic options: As an “orchestrator,” they can act as the first point of contact for clients in a specific area and, together with partner companies, offer a broad range of insurance and other related services. As a “factory,” they can focus on a background role, acting as an efficient supplier of insurance products without direct customer contact. Finally, as a “boutique,” they can continue to serve customers alone by being a specialized provider in specific segments.
These are the conclusions of a new study by the ZHAW School of Management and Law. The study was developed in collaboration with the consulting firm Synpulse and the innovation service provider Zühlke. It is based on in-depth interviews with senior managers from most of the Swiss insurers – but not the health insurance sector.
“The decision on the future strategic direction must focus on the question of who should control the interface with end customers,” explains study leader Lukas Stricker from the ZHAW Institute of Risk & Insurance. From among the three options, insurers should choose their role for each business segment separately, as the situation and customer needs may differ.
In the future, multi-line insurers may consequently be forced to adopt several strategic orientations at the same time. Since the associated key technical and employee skills are very different, there is a risk of fragmentation. Today, most Swiss insurers manage the customer interface in all business areas themselves, acting as an independent brand. “It may well make sense to consciously decide to maintain this status quo for the time being. However, it is important to raise awareness of the dynamics in the market,” says Stricker.
Drivers of the pressure for change faced by insurers are changing customer needs, the entry of new market players into the insurance sector, and increasing integration as part of digitalization.
Against the backdrop of these developments, an insurer may decide, for example, to cooperate in a business field with a company from outside the industry, such as a retailer or a bank, and leave the operation of the customer interface to its partner. As a “factory,” the insurance company would then be the risk carrier and claims processor. At the same time, the partner company would now act as a provider of insurance solutions to its existing customers, enabling them, for example, to manage their insurance policies with an app they already use or on their e-banking platform. An “orchestrator,” on the other hand, might be an insurer operating a comprehensive digital platform for retirement planning or home needs. With this, customers can obtain other suitable services – in addition to life or home insurance – to help them manage their investments, mortgage, or repairs & maintenance.
Whether an insurer should act as an orchestrator, factory, or boutique depends primarily on the importance its customers attach to insurers in a particular area of their lives and what they consider the easiest way to obtain and manage an insurance product. “When it comes to retirement planning, for example, customers attach great importance to good advice and a high level of expertise. Insurers are therefore in a good position to establish themselves as a direct point of contact. In the area of mobility, on the other hand, there are other companies with closer customer relationships. That’s why it’s often more convenient for customers to obtain vehicle insurance directly from the car dealer or manufacturer,” explains Stricker. In addition to the customer perspective, an insurer’s existing expertise, technical resources, or good name also influence its options for future strategic positioning.