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The Qorus-Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards prides itself on celebrating the world’s leading innovators in the sector. The awards’ ultimate accolade – the Global Innovator 2022 – recognizes an insurance business that not only manifests innovation in fresh, exciting ways, but lives innovation through its strategy and day to day practices. This year, there was no doubt that Discovery embodied what it truly means to be a Global Innovator in insurance. Its innovation practices hold inspiring lessons for all insurers and related businesses as they navigate a changing economic landscape.
Setting a foundation for innovation
Discovery is well-known for its shared value model, most notably its Vitality product that is built on the idea that if a health or life insurer focuses on making people healthier, and changing their behaviour, their risk profile will be changed for the better.
Gareth Friedlander, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Life says, “As the Vitality product has grown and matured in our business, it has become apparent how powerful this shared-value model is across different financial industries. It truly challenges the idea of risk as a static indicator. Rather, risk is highly influenced by behaviour and eighty percent of morbidity in healthcare risk is driven by factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, physical activity and diet. In the case of driving, 60 percent of fatal accidents are a result of behaviour alone. If insurers can change customer behaviours and help them make better choices, then the risk curve shifts.”
This core idea of the Vitality shared-value model has proven to be powerful and replicable across geographies and industries. By building a business that is centered on a clear sense of purpose, continuous innovation and customer need, the opportunities for future innovation are infinite.
While it certainly helps for insurers to innovate according to shifts in the market, that shouldn’t be the raison d’être for innovation. Friedlander says, “Our view is that innovation is proactive and not reactive. Innovation within Discovery is institutional rather than event-based or spontaneous.” This is reflected in its disciplined innovation cadence across the business, where employees from all areas of the business are incentivized to regularly contribute innovation ideas.
Being prepared for change as it happens
In Accenture’s recently-released Digital Health Technology Vision for 2022, ninety-seven percent of healthcare executives believed that continuous advances in technology are becoming more reliable than economic, political or social trends in informing their organization’s long-term strategy. In the case of Discovery’s innovation within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s existing technology and innovation infrastructure meant that it was well placed to respond to some of the unique challenges brought about by the global pandemic and shifts in technology use in the industry.
Discovery’s Vaccination Max PayBack product, a silver winner in the Social, Sustainable and Responsible category, is a case in point. While it was conceived in response to a global event, the innovation was made possible by Discovery’s existing shared-value model and infrastructure of innovation. “The initiative was conceived in a context of a slow vaccine rollout and heightened vaccine hesitancy, owing to lack of awareness and education on the vaccine. As a business, we felt a social responsibility to drive behaviour and increase vaccination rates quickly. This social responsibility aligned perfectly to our business objectives, reducing risk dramatically and rewarding people for vaccinating,” Friedlander says.
Vaccination Max PayBack guarantees clients up to 100% of their first year’s premiums back in cash when they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to aid South Africa’s vaccination program, leveraging the shared-value model to return up to R182 million in premiums at the end of the first policy year, and enhance the underwriting capabilities in the process.
He adds, “When we began the initiative, we had to move quickly and find solutions without the normal checking against the market. It felt good for us, for society and for our customers, even if we did not quite know the quantums yet.” It turned out that they were right. There was an extremely positive uptake from clients, with eighty percent completing their vaccinations, a number that is in excess of most developed countries.
Shared value – what the data says
As a life insurer operating in the eye of the pandemic storm, it was natural that Discovery turned its focus wholeheartedly to innovations that would help its customers shield against its risks and weather its impact. Products such as Discovery Hospital at Home gave customers access to world-class telehealth capabilities, digital tools for members and doctors and remote monitoring devices to enable real-time tracking of clinical progress and fast delivery of care. The Discovery Strength in Unity supported South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination program, setting up nine vaccination sites to supplement capacity.
Prior to the pandemic, Discovery knew that incentivizing clients helped to reduce health risks linked to behaviours within their control. However, this has not been widely applied in the case of a widespread infectious disease. What they found it is it had even more powerful potential in the context of COVID-19.
Friedlander says, “When COVID-19 emerged, it was a new risk that nobody had data on and people were scrambling to understand. As Discovery has possibly one of the biggest integrated datasets in the world, our actuaries were able to lean into the challenge, analyzing the triggers and levers required to change death rates. Throughout the pandemic, it was a priority for us to get our hands dirty in the data to try drive better outcomes.”
Wellbeing as part of a broader ESG agenda
At the heart of Discovery’s innovation is the idea of what it means to be well – as an individual and as a society. This wellbeing extends beyond healthcare to finance, infrastructure and the environment. Discovery’s other winning innovations in the Qorus Innovation in Insurance Awards included the Healthy Futures Calculator, Motion Alert and Pothole Patrol. The Healthy Futures calculator analyzes an individual customers’ unique biometrics to give them a basic overview of their health (including predicted lifespan and healthspan), and provides personal, science-based recommendations and insights to improve both measures. Motion Alert uses telematics technology to detect when a vehicle may have been stolen, alerting the owner and initiating vehicle recovery services automatically. Pothole Patrol, in partnership with Dialdirect Insurance and the City of Johannesburg, manages and repairs potholes to make roads safer, using an app for pothole reporting. Each of these innovations helps Discovery customers to live improved lives and make better, more educated decisions on different aspects of their welfare, as well as create further value for the society at large.
Looking to the future, Discovery’s commitment to innovation shows no signs of slowing down. “We have successfully created a disruptive mindset throughout the business. Innovation is the heartbeat of our business and has been institutionalized across all touchpoints with ongoing and enthusiastic support from management,” says Friedlander.
In the near future, Discovery will continue its focus on technology and personalization. Friedlander adds, “Technology continues to be a wonderful enabler to gathering data on behavioural change. As humans, we need feedback to change behaviour, and wearable devices give us this rich and relevant data in real time. Compounded with our wider insight into health data and trends, the impact is powerful.
People are motivated by different things, so we continue to endeavour to design products that are personalised to each of our clients.”
Discovery is an example of what can be achieved when innovation is imagined, lived and applied across an insurance business consistently and with purpose. We congratulate them on being our Innovator of the Year for 2022.