InsTech London Partner Robin Merttens talks to Debbie O’Hare, Managing Director, Hannover Re UK Life Branch and L&H Digital Business Accelerator.
Robin: For anyone who isn’t familiar with what you do, can you kick off with an introduction to Hannover Re?
Debbie: Hannover Re is the world’s third largest reinsurance company with gross written premium of more than €22 billion. We transact all lines of Life & Health and Property & Casualty reinsurance, with more than 3,000 staff and a network of 150 global subsidiaries, branches, and representative offices.
We were founded as an in-house reinsurer 55 years ago, growing into a company with the resources of a major player and the flexibility of a boutique one. Collaboration is key to how we work internally and with our clients to create shared value, reflecting our purpose statement: ‘Beyond risk sharing, we team up to create opportunities’.
Robin: Where does the UK operation fit into all that?
Debbie: The UK L&H insurance market is one of the largest in the world and is a key market for the Hannover Re Group. The UK Life Branch writes protection and longevity business and provides customised financial solutions.
Robin: Hannover Re has always been strong on innovation. Why do you place such importance on it?
Debbie: We want to be the go-to reinsurance partner for innovative solutions. One of our core strengths is our flat, decentralised structure, which means that our local market offices are close to our clients and empowered to make their own decisions. Our innovation track record spans traditional reinsurance business, structured reinsurance and alternative risk transfer, through to digital solutions that support our clients’ innovation and digital ambitions.
Robin: What does your desire to innovate mean in practice?
From an L&H perspective, our digital solutions include our hr | ReFlex and hr | QUIRC automated underwriting systems. These are live with over 40 clients – both start-ups and established insurers – and enable them to write more digital business. hr | Ascent, our online underwriting knowledge base and manual powers these systems. Where Hannover Re doesn’t have an in-house digital solution, our clients can source third party digital innovations via our hr | equarium platform. This platform is an insurtech marketplace and a free client service. More information is available on our website: hr | equarium – the insurtech innovation pool by Hannover Re (hannover-re.com)
Robin: Most of the innovative insurers and reinsurers have come to rely on partnerships – is Hannover Re the same?
Partnerships are a key component of our innovation and digital strategy, as they allow us to create new types of insurance propositions. Two examples will bring this to life. Firstly, we have been working with Discovery and its Vitality behavioural change and rewards programme for many years. We have also set up a joint venture named Vitality Active to bring the Vitality concept to more markets. Secondly, we recently launched VeoSens, a joint venture with Samsung and LifeQ. VeoSens is a health management service that provides customers with accessible and actionable information based on their detailed physiological health metrics.
Robin: Are any new activities being planned to support your focus on innovation?
Debbie: Yes, our Executive Board decided that our innovation and digital ambitions required some ‘concentration of fire’ and recently created a network of five accelerator units with the ambition to deliver local innovation on a global scale.
These include three external-facing accelerators: Life & Health, Property & Casualty, and Parametrics. The L&H Digital Business Accelerator is located in our UK office, reflecting London’s position as a global capital for insurance innovation.
This new network will build on our existing work with digitally powered insurers. For example, we are Lemonade’s largest reinsurance partner; we work with BIMA and its mobile-delivered insurance solutions in several emerging markets; Ladder, a pioneering D2C player in the US; Discovery in South Africa; and many leading digital insurers in Asia. More information on these relationships is available on our company website: Hannover Re – Innovations from around the globe (hannover-re.com)
Robin: Can you give us some insight into what other approaches you use to develop ideas?
Debbie: Our network of accelerators builds on the learnings from two recent global innovation programmes, ‘Journey Re’ and ‘HIPE’.
In 2016, we recruited 24 people from outside the industry for ‘Journey Re’, a six-month blue sky thinking entrepreneurial competition, to create new types of (re)insurance solutions. Divided into eight teams, they worked in start-up hubs in Berlin, Boston, Dublin, and Johannesburg. A frequently quoted statistic is that 90% of start-ups fail, but today – five years after ‘Journey Re’ – three of the eight ideas are successful stand-alone insurtechs: InvestSure, Perseus, and Pineapple. We also developed a further three of the ideas internally.
As I mentioned earlier, Hannover Re has been innovating for decades, but it can be challenging to ring fence time for ideation activities. To address this, we created the Hannover Re Intrapreneurship Programme or ‘HIPE’ for short. This provided five cross-functional teams with a framework and protected time to breathe life into ideas outside their day-to-day responsibilities. The Dublin-based Dogpatch Labs accelerator hosted the teams over a three-month period before they presented their concepts to our Executive Board. We piloted three concepts during 2020, and two of these are currently transitioning into production.
Robin: How do the ‘Journey Re’ and ‘HIPE’ programmes complement each other?
Debbie: Both programmes demonstrated the need to apply the ‘concentration of fire’ I referenced earlier and to quickly ‘test and learn’. These types of programmes are one tool to inject and support innovation, but our accelerator network will also support our local market strategies and client-facing colleagues. Our decentralised philosophy and swift decision-making has delivered many local market innovations and the accelerator network will support and complement this model.
Robin: Are there examples of UK life solutions that you have supported from an innovation perspective?
Debbie: Our UK Life Branch has supported many of the most innovative life solutions in the UK over the past 10 years, from both incumbents and new entrants. These innovations have ranged from severity based illness cover to distributor led insurance with online customer journeys. Again, it might be beneficial to illustrate this with an example, remembering that innovation is wider than technology.
Guardian is a new entrant in the protection space, infusing its value proposition with its ‘Life. Made Better.’ philosophy. Originally founded in 1821, the Guardian brand was brought back to life by Gryphon Group Holdings in 2018.
Our UK Life Branch and the Guardian team worked side by side on product development, pricing, and underwriting to push the boundaries of critical illness protection. Through detailed medical research, data analytics, and market knowledge, we helped define and support innovative claims definitions that closely align with diagnoses from medical consultants, giving customers clarity. Our underwriting rules were also tailored to support a simple and efficient customer journey, with ongoing collaboration to refine and enhance underwriting outcomes.
Importantly, we also provided new business financing to support Guardian’s successful market launch. This type of support is another demonstration of how we regularly support innovative concepts and new entrants.
Since launch, Guardian has enjoyed positive market feedback and won many awards for innovation, including Innovator of the Year from LifeSearch.
Robin: The last 12 months have been dominated by Covid-19. Do you think it will help accelerate digital adoption?
Debbie: Yes, I do. We knew that 2020 would launch the digital decade for our industry, but COVID 19 has accelerated digitalisation more dramatically than anyone could have anticipated. From a life insurance perspective, the move to contactless underwriting is particularly welcome. It is widely observed that the underwriting process is overly complex, discouraging prospective customers. COVID 19 has accelerated the use of alternative data sources for underwriting purposes, propelling the industry towards contactless underwriting.
We are well positioned to support our clients’ ambitions in this area. Our hr | ReFlex and hr | QUIRC automated underwriting systems have been consuming external data sets as an alternative to traditional underwriting requirements for several years, for example, in South Africa and the US. The increasing adoption of Electronic Health Records and the ability to integrate with these and other health data sources such as wearables will fuel this trend further.
Robin: Are there any other digital health trends with the potential to materially impact the (re)insurance value chain in the next 3-5 years?
Debbie: Two that stand out are the use of AI in data analytics and genomics. As a reinsurer, one of our distinctive strengths is data analytics at scale. These capabilities enable us to benefit from the explosion in the number of digital health and wellness solutions, as they present us with opportunities to incorporate new datasets and apply artificial intelligence technologies – we have already started using AI with hr | ReFlex.
These solutions will continue maturing in the coming years, presenting us with longitudinal data that will allow us to strengthen our underwriting capabilities, support product evolution and creation, and ultimately develop shared-value models for policyholders. This enables our industry to support customers to live healthier lives and manage chronic illnesses with digital solutions.
Genomics is also an incredibly interesting space. Many (re)insurers have been circling this topic, but have been reluctant to move due to the regulatory constraints of using genetic data for underwriting processes. The most promising insurance use case, however, might be funding customers’ genetic analyses when they develop illnesses. We are currently piloting ideas to develop products to support clinicians to design personalised medical treatments. This is undoubtedly an area to watch in the next 3-5 years.
Robin: Why has Hannover Re decided to join InsTech London and what types of companies would you like to meet?
Debbie: London is arguably the global capital for insurance innovation, providing us with opportunities to recruit world-class talent and locate digitally powered partners. Within this ecosystem, InsTech London is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading insurtech communities. Many colleagues regularly read your newsletters and listen to your podcasts to keep abreast of digital trends.
We welcome the opportunity to speak with companies that can clearly articulate how they are adding value to the (re)insurance value chain and companies from other sectors, including Big Tech and healthcare companies, that want to co-create new types of insurance value propositions and power the insurers of the future.
Finally, thank you for the very enjoyable discussion Robin. We look forward to collaborating with the InsTech London community virtually and in person over the coming years.
Please contact the Hannover Re team via LH_DBA@hannover-re.com should you wish to discuss any of the innovation and digital topics discussed during this interview.