Digital leaders across all industries are recognizing that fast-emerging platform ecosystems provide opportunities for new kinds of growth and capital rewards. According to the 2016 Accenture Technology Vision report, 82 percent believe platforms will be the ‘glue’ that holds organizations together in the digital economy.


For a glimpse of how platform-driven business models might transform the global insurance industry in the years to come, look to China where internet powerhouses like Alibaba and Tencent are leveraging their skills, customer bases and technology to move aggressively into financial services.

Alibaba, specifically, provides and interesting example of the platform economy ‘glue,’ by bringing together innovation in internet insurance, software, cloud and insurtech.

Last year, the company announced a partnership with software provider eBaoTech to launch what it calls the world’s first internet insurance cloud platform. The solution lets insurers “check in like at a hotel” and access suites of standardized internet insurance capabilities without needing to deploy their own systems.

Coincidentally, eBaoCloud’s first customer was Zhong An Online Property & Casualty Insurance Co., a Chinese online insurer, also part owned by Alibaba. Founded in 2013, Zhong An was China’s first online insurer and recorded a net profit of 27 million yuan ($4.1 million) in 2014, with total assets of 1.2 billion yuan, according to the company.

At its launch, Zhong An, which operates entirely online and doesn’t have outlets like traditional insurers, offered mainly property insurance, and added motor insurance products a year later. The company claims it offers more than 200 insurance products and has written more than 3.6 billion policies to 369 million customers in three years.

Last year, it also became a poster child for insurance technology investments, when it raised 5.8 billion yuan ($934 million) from investors including Morgan Stanley.

Europe and the U.S.

Alibaba’s success with Zhong An has paralleled several other budding concepts on the insurtech landscape. Lemonade, the peer-to-peer insurance startup, has the backing of Berkshire Hathaway and leading Lloyd’s of London syndicates, and raised $13 million last year.

Most recently, The Zebra, an online auto insurance comparison company, said it has closed $17 million in Series A funding with investment from Mark Cuban and others, bringing the Austin-based startup’s total funding to date to $21 million in 2016. The Zebra allows drivers to compare side-by-side customized quotes from insurance companies across all 50 states. It also provides resources for drivers to evaluate companies based on coverage, customer reviews and claims satisfaction.

We’re just at the beginning of a major technology-driven macroeconomic shift. It will disrupt the competitive strategies and business models of all companies—from large incumbents like Google and Alibaba to nimble startups such as Lemonade and The Zebra.

Every company will need a platform strategy, even if it’s just finding the right role in ecosystems driven by other companies. They will need such a strategy not just to grow, but also to protect the profitability of their core business from new forms of platform-driven competition. Winners in the insurance industry will master the strategic use of digital technologies to build successful platform business models.

What we can learn from these Digital Transformers’ is that time has come to make innovation and customer-centricity the cornerstones of distribution strategies.

To learn more, register to download the Technology Vision for Insurance 2016.

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