Next-Gen Thinking

Getting into the Unicorn Game

Insurers, Venture Capital, and Tech Start-ups

by Deb Smallwood

Ms. Smallwood is the founder of Strategy Meets Action (SMA), a Bosotn firm dedicated to helping the business of insurance modernize, optimize, and innovate for competitive advantage. Exclusively serving the insurance industry, we are a trusted and valued advisor to over 500 companies and an instrumental influencer across the industry. By leveraging best practices from both the management consulting and research advisory disciplines, we take a unique approach – providing an unrivaled set of services including retainers, research, consulting, events, and innovation offerings. Visit . Reprinted with permission.

Unicorns – to some they are just mythical creatures of lore. To today's tech world, a unicorn is a pre-IPO tech start-up with a billion dollar market value.

These are the companies driving innovation, technology, and disruption in every corner of every business and their impact is truly being felt across the insurance industry. The number of unicorns is as elusive as the creatures themselves as the herd is growing rapidly.

"Fortune counts more than 80 unicorns today, but more appear with each passing week. Some even received their horns, so to speak, as the magazine went to press. And they’re getting bigger — there are now at least eight 'decacorns,' unicorns valued at $10 billion or more. So much for being mythical." – Fortune

Recognizing the powerful sway unicorns have over new technologies, business models, and more, insurers are now getting into the unicorn game themselves. They are identifying technology start-ups that can transform and innovate insurance and are becoming venture capitalists to tap into this great potential for creating the Next-Generation of insurance.

Different models and approaches are being used to identify, assess, and influence these companies’ offerings. By understanding the benefits of outside-in thinking, insurers are finding ways to leverage these innovations.

Some insurers are partnering with leading technology firms. Some of the large insurers are setting up their venture capital firms. Still others are creating consortia to fund new start-ups to help accelerate innovation.

Insurers and Unicorns

Today's forward-thinking insurance companies are running their businesses while simultaneously creating their futures as Next-Gen Insurers

The following are a few examples of new partnerships in 2015, the trend is continuing;

  •  AXA
    In February 2015, AXA announced the launch of AXA Strategic Ventures, a €200M fund to boost technology startups focused on customer acquisition, climate change, travel insurance and more. The goal is to advance AXA’s digital and customer strategy by connecting with new technologies, new solutions, and new ways of thinking. They anticipate the fund will complement AXA’s major operating investments, across all entities, into research and digital developments that will help transform how customers experience AXA.
  • XL Insurance
    On April 1, 2015, XL Insurance announced the formation of a venture capital fund, XL Innovate, to support insurance technology start-ups, with a focus on developing new capabilities in the insurance sector. They indicated that this effort would extend their capabilities in existing markets and give them new opportunities to address some of the most pressing and complex risk problems in the global economy. In addition, they see it as a critical element to driving their focus on innovation forward while securing their relevance in the future.
  • Global Insurance Accelerator
    In February 2015, a group of seven Iowa-based insurers announced the formation and launch of the Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) – an insurance accelerator for start-ups. The start-ups receive $40,000 in seed money from the pool to create a minimum viable product to present to the Global Insurance Symposium. The insurers involved believe that the accelerator program will bring potential innovation and technology insights to the insurance industry.

The Future

It's critical to recognize the power and benefits of innovation and the role that unicorns play in planning for tomorrow. Innovation, technology, and the need to be future-ready are fueling today's unicorns and their capital supporters rapidly expanding the herd.

In turn, these new business models and market leaders are spawning challenges and opportunities for all companies. Today's forward-thinking insurance companies are running their businesses while simultaneously creating their futures as Next-Gen Insurers.

This is a decisive time as Next-Gen Insurers emerge along with their unicorns to disrupt and redefine insurance and competitive advantage. What is your company’s approach to leverage and experiment with emerging technologies, start-ups, and unicorns to fuel the potential and enable future market leadership?