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Robo not just for investment

Changes to law and technology pose a substantial threat to traditional risk insurance advisers - an effective response mean embracing substantial, rapid and sometimes difficult change, writes lawyer Simon Papa, who was formerly a senior solicitor at the FMA.

Wednesday, November 9th 2016, 6:00AM

Roboadvice for risk insurance advice is less developed than for wealth management, but it is already here in some guises e.g. automated assessment tools from Quotemonster and Strategi.  Many businesses in New Zealand are actively investigating roboadvice initiatives for the consumer insurance market.  Those initiatives will produce services that support human advisers and that also replace them.  That and proposed changes to law are a substantial threat to advisers and also present significant opportunities.  I briefly consider key factors that will drive change in the risk insurance advice sector and a possible response.

Fintech Future

The fintech sector has grown enormously in the last three years- $19.1 billion was invested in the sector in 2015 worldwide.  There is no doubt that technology will have an increasingly significant impact.  It already has in many other sectors, the impact of Xero on accountants’ businesses being just one of many examples.  

Financial advice is a natural target for digital disrupters because much of the advice process can be easily reduced to algorithms and on-line processes.  An example is PolicyGenius in the US, which provides online, end-to-end, personalised roboadvice on risk insurance.  Also, fees are high, which attracts entrants.

Younger consumers are not only comfortable engaging with service providers on-line, most now expect to.  This was highlighted in Minter Ellison’s report on roboadvice prepared by its millennial staff. While younger consumers currently have relatively little to invest (slowing uptake of roboadvice for wealth management) they are a key market for risk insurance. 

Current Model

The current advice process is outmoded, often comprising multiple face-to-face meetings.  There is no clarity on what an adviser is paid or what impact that has on adviser behaviour.  The lack of confidence this causes is reflected in consumer surveys.

Consumer insurance advice businesses are often small, relying on outsourced service providers like dealer groups and compliance consultants.  One consequence is that there are no consumer brands in the insurance advice sector and limited consumer awareness of the benefits of insurance advice.  Insurance advisers have the option of getting licensed now but, of the 56 QFEs, only two are insurance advice firms, both focusing mainly on businesses.  Overall, existing industry structures and models haven’t responded effectively to previous regulatory change and aren’t well placed to respond to upcoming challenges.  In contrast larger businesses that face disruption (like banks) have, recognising the risks, embraced technology and innovation –they’re better placed to benefit from regulatory and technological change.  


New financial advice law is likely to be in force by late 2017 and will be a trigger for major change.  That’s not just because roboadvice will be permitted (true roboadvice could be provided under the current regime).  The removal of the class/personalised advice distinction will make it easier for product providers to provide personalised advice services enhanced by efficient robo tools.

The key risk for the advice industry is that it doesn’t adapt, becoming a marginalised channel, out-competed by product providers and new entrants.  But adaption that consists of doubling down on the existing model with cost cutting and a Facebook page is unlikely to work.  Wearing polo shirts or offering Starbucks to attract millennials definitely won’t! 

A Possible Response

Risk insurance is complex and consumers should ideally have advice.  Product providers (and tied advisers) won’t necessarily provide the best advice (the “consumers’ interests first” standard won’t change that).  Actual and perceived independence is the unique selling proposition that will allow advisers to distinguish themselves from other advice channels.  But to achieve that advisers may need to move to an upfront fee model (or full fee disclosure)- easier as the efficiencies of innovation bring costs down significantly.

To continue to compete on service advisers will need to embrace substantial, rapid and sometimes difficult change.  That probably means operating as a true corporate and at scale, with front-end services increasingly delivered on-line (or by relationship managers using robo tools), and with a client’s key relationship being with the business not individual advisers.  Such businesses would have sufficient resources and capability to promote themselves effectively to a mass market, to operate more efficiently and to innovate.

The future is bright for risk insurance advisers who embrace change and real innovation.

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