McKinsey insurance leadership on 2024 trends and innovations

The insurance industry is going through changes, many of which are fueled by developments in AI. In this episode of the McKinsey on Insurance podcast, Jörg Mußhoff and Fritz Nauck, McKinsey senior partners and coleaders of the Insurance Practice, sat down for a discussion at the 2023 InsureTech Connect conference in Las Vegas. They talked about the trends and innovations they’re seeing in Europe and North America as well as globally, including a push for productivity, a focus on distribution and the end customer, the rearrangement of operating models and approaches to data, and the role of AI and generative AI (gen AI) across these themes. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Fritz Nauck: It’s an interesting time in the industry. In North America as well as in Asia, I’m seeing the industry holding its own against a rapidly evolving risk landscape and volatility. There are climate change catastrophes and convective storms that are unparalleled, it’s a tricky time geopolitically, and cyber risks continue to be on the minds of a lot of executives. Then there are inflationary pressures, the balance sheet impacts of which have been significant for life insurers as they look for capital release. What trends do you see in the industry in Europe as well as globally?

Jörg Mußhoff: We’re seeing a lot of platform tech–related plays, which are amazing. We’re seeing various players in the AI space bringing true innovation and making a difference. We see AI in software and in support activity, thinking about call centers and others. The current mood is about reinventing, and new players and incumbents are working jointly on it. I think this collaborative approach will be game changing.

Quite a few players along the value chain—both those focused on AI and those working in pricing, claims, and so on—are actually already very successful. Some are making margins of 30 or 40 percent.

Fritz Nauck: Yesterday, you and I were talking about the themes we see for 2024. You mentioned a focus on expense and efficiency as well as technology, including AI. What do you see carriers thinking about in these two areas?

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Jörg Mußhoff: First, I think we are going to see players embarking on a step change in terms of productivity. And this relates to what we just described about supporting players along the value chain. Our frameworks and analyses show that over the next years, up to 50 percent of the workforce might be radically changed, and there is room for a lot of productivity improvements. A lot of players are leveraging technology, including AI and gen AI, to make a step change along the value chain. And this is not unique to insurance.

The other theme in Europe and beyond is a strong focus on distribution and the end customer. Drastic changes in customer segments are a starting point of that. So we see a lot of movement in some areas with customers who are more affluent, and at the same time, players are entirely rethinking their distribution strategy.

Take the agent and broker channels, which are still fairly dominant in our industry: gen AI will change that game. I’m quite optimistic that over the next two or three years, we will see these things happening.

Fritz Nauck: There are a few other themes I’m hearing more about as executives turn the page to 2024. One is the focus on the balance sheet, particularly among life, retirement, and wealth managers. They’re looking at asset management and the balance sheet, including what blocks to have on the balance sheet, what to reinsure, and how to think about third-party capital. In a rapidly changing interest rate environment, this has been a big focus in North America and globally.

I’ll also mention operating models. I think all the changes we’ve talked about come down to a question of how you organize what’s important. How do you drive change through large organizations? What happens globally or regionally? What should be done in-house versus what should be outsourced, and how do you do that so you keep a source of differentiation?

Turning to innovation, what are the innovations you’ve heard about that are most exciting?

Jörg Mußhoff: Gen AI is obviously top of mind for everyone here, right? I think every presentation has mentioned gen AI and related work. We will see a drastic change in thinking about call center activities, which will both dramatically change the way we interact with customers and fundamentally impact our cost structures in these support areas. I think this innovation is real, and the use cases from some of the more innovative players are supporting that change.

But there are quite a few more innovations. We see newly focused models. Embedded insurance is a significant growth area globally in all types of industries—think about telcos and OEMs. We have 30 or 40 very innovative claims players here today.

Fritz Nauck: The other area where I expect innovation is broadly in data. Every executive has realized that to take advantage of the benefits of the cloud and technology and the benefits of AI and gen AI, their data architecture and data usage has to be clean and updated frequently with the right data. So I think there’s much more focus on the underlying data: where you get it, how it’s updated, what the lineage is, and how the model is validated to capture the benefits of new technology.

Another one is risk. The insurance industry by itself—and even with reinsurers—is not sufficiently capitalized to help every person and company protect against the range of risk they have. And so there’s the notion of how to enable third-party capital to enter by correctly identifying risks, measuring the risks, and then transferring those risks into the trenches that third-party capital is willing to invest in—as either a hedge or a pure investment. That has obviously happened for a long time, but it is on the cusp of increasing significantly given the evolving nature of risks.

Jörg Mußhoff: Yes, absolutely.

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