Exploring the insurance industry: Interview with Jan Van Autreve

27 September 2023

The insurance industry is a complex and ever-evolving sector that plays a crucial role in providing financial security and protection. In June, we had the privilege of hosting Jan Van Autreve, CEO of ParkLane Insight Group and an experienced professional in the insurance field. Jan shared his insights and thoughts on various aspects of the industry, offering our colleagues a deeper understanding of the trends and challenges it faces.

Insurance has been a significant focus throughout your career. What sparked your interest in the insurance industry?

At the beginning of my career, I realized that I had a lot to learn about human nature. This, coupled with my passion for finance, led me to choose a career in insurance. Insurance is an ideal environment for professionals combining a passion for finance and an interest in society and people.

You stress the significance of empathy in the insurance industry. How is the insurance industry doing in that regard?

Insurance professionals tend to forget that insurance is a people’s business! They focus on insurance products and ask their clients: ‘What is your policy number?’ Instead, they should focus on the story behind the client’s question (an accident, damage, a decease) and ask them: ‘How are you and how can we help?’. Insurance is a unique industry, and it has much to offer. One of the crucial lessons that other industries can learn from insurance is the importance of trust and empathy. Insurance is ultimately a people's business. By focusing on building trust, understanding customers, and providing personalized solutions, other industries can enhance their customer relationships and overall success.

We observe that insurance companies potentially lose focus while becoming more data/process-driven and IT-focused. How can we prevent insurance companies from becoming purely IT companies and maintain their core focus?

Digitization is a significant focus in the insurance industry. It's essential to strike a balance between digitization and maintaining the core focus of insurance companies. While data and technology are valuable tools, they should serve as enablers rather than taking center stage. Insurance companies must remember that they are ultimately in the business of providing financial security and protection to individuals and businesses. By leveraging technology to enhance customer experiences, streamline processes, and drive efficiency, insurers can maintain their core purpose while embracing digitization.

What is the impact of legacy systems on insurance companies?

Some insurers still deal with legacy systems which date back to the 70s. Artificial Intelligence will help deal with legacy systems, but this process should include facts, judgments, and human aspects. Helping insurance companies cope with their legacy systems will remain a high priority for consultants.

"One of the crucial lessons that other industries can learn from insurance is the importance of trust and empathy. Insurance is ultimately a people's business."

Jan Van Autreve, CEO of ParkLane Insight Group

How do you see the impact of AI on fraud detection in insurance companies?

AI has tremendous potential to transform fraud detection in insurance. With its ability to analyze vast amounts of data and identify patterns, AI can significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of fraud detection systems. Machine learning algorithms can learn from past fraud cases and detect anomalies, enabling insurers to identify potential fraudulent activities in real-time. AI-powered fraud detection systems can help insurers stay one step ahead of fraudsters, mitigating risks and protecting the industry's integrity.

How important will physical contacts remain in the insurance industry of the future? Will a digital-only approach be future-proof?

Achieving a balance between digitalization, proximity, and trust is essential for insurers. While digitalization offers convenience and accessibility, personal connections and proximity remain crucial in building trust. Insurers should leverage digital channels to enhance customer experiences and provide self-service options, but they must also maintain channels that enable face-to-face interactions.

The human touch, especially through brokers and agencies, plays a significant role in establishing trust and ensuring customers feel supported. As you know, brokers continue to be the main distribution channel in Belgium. A digital-only approach may overlook the value of human connections and the unique insights that brokers and agencies bring to the table. Therefore, a hybrid approach that combines digital convenience with personal relationships will, in my opinion, be the most effective in the coming years.

How can insurers remain relevant and successful in an ever-changing environment?

Insurers can only remain relevant if they manage to embrace change. They need to foster a culture of innovation, agility, and continuous learning. Staying informed about emerging trends is key. I observe three significant trends:

  • Empathy: As stated, there is a growing need for insurers to be more empathic and client-oriented. Overcoming the perception of being solely profit-oriented is crucial for building trust and maintaining relevance in the industry.
  • Embedded Insurance: A clear trend is certainly the emergence of embedded insurance and the need for insurers to adapt to the streaming model, where ownership concepts are different. Insurers must find ways to integrate insurance seamlessly into various products and services.
  • Human-Centric Data Use: Insurers must find ways to encourage clients to share their data willingly by addressing privacy concerns and demonstrating the value that data-driven insights can provide.

Another way to stay relevant is to opt for tailor-made insurance: getting the right mix between standardization and customization. Making customized products in the most 'standardized possible way' is now perfectly possible thanks to digitalization and data. Especially as insurers often have only one product.

Attracting young talent to the insurance industry is challenging. What strategies can the industry adopt to attract young talent?

Insurers should be forward-thinking and leverage technology to attract and retain talent. Working for an insurer has a lot of advantages, but it is unknown. Therefore, the sector should showcase its modernity and relevance. Highlighting this impact on society, such as addressing sustainability challenges, can appeal to young professionals who want to make a difference.

Furthermore, reevaluating recruitment criteria based on personality and competencies rather than traditional criteria can help identify new talents with the potential to thrive in the evolving insurance landscape.

By emphasizing the industry's dynamic nature, career development opportunities, and societal impact, insurers can make the industry more attractive to young graduates.

By emphasizing the industry's dynamic nature, career development opportunities, and societal impact, insurers can make the industry more attractive to young graduates.

Sustainability and societal discussions are gaining significant attention. Why?

Climate change poses both short-term and long-term challenges for insurers. In the short term, insurers must address the increased frequency and severity of weather-related events, such as floods and storms, which lead to higher claims. Insurers need to evaluate their risk models, assess potential exposure, and incorporate climate change considerations into their underwriting processes. In the long term, insurers must also adapt their business models to align with sustainability goals and support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

By incorporating sustainability into their strategies, insurers can mitigate risks, contribute to a more resilient society, and position themselves as responsible industry players towards the general public and investors.

Also, don't forget that with billions to invest each year, the sector can make a real difference.

Lastly, based on your extensive experience working with consultants, what advice would you give our consultants as they pursue their careers?

My advice to consultants is threefold. Firstly, be authentic. There is nothing more beautiful than being true to yourself and your values. Secondly, show ambition. There’s nothing more fun than people who are eager to learn and ambitious to perform. Finally, always be honest. Clients appreciate honesty. If you don’t have the immediate answer to their question, tell them, but also bring assurance that you will come back with a solution. By embodying authenticity, ambition, and honesty, consultants can build trust with clients and pave the way for successful collaborations.

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