It was the perfect real-life example of putting into practice what had just been learned.

At the start of “The Great Broker Smackdown,” a first-ever competition in Nashville, Tennessee, teams were given the assignment of creating a presentation of “disruptors,” or the unexpected elements that could be game changers for the insurance industry. At first, the presentations were weighted at 25% of the event’s overall score—causing a fair amount of angst, uncertainty and concern. After all, time that could be spent on the competition’s business simulation would be wasted if all teams came up with the same list. One participant exercised the attribute of “challenging the process”—which had just been highlighted as part of the competition’s leadership segment—and in response, leader Elizabeth McDaid, The Council’s senior vice president of leadership and management resources, considered the options and changed course.

The result? No actual weight was given for the various groups’ findings in terms of the competition, but an interesting discussion ensued all the same. The crowd made a master list of potential disruptors, and each of the five teams picked one for further study. On the list:

  •  TECHNOLOGY/BIG DATA. Two separate teams tackled this issue. One team explored the potential impact of the Internet of Things, in which devices are connected to each other, sharing data without human input, as well as mind-machine interface (MMI), in which computers and machines can be manipulated by thought.

At the start of the research, the general consensus among team members was that these “possibilities” were further in the future. Not necessarily so. The group spoke of ingestible digital medical “pills”; human cyborg Neil Harbisson, who had an antenna implanted in his skull; Fitbit wearable health sensors; and other advances.

Will future policies be delivered to clients by MMI? How will lifestyle-based insurance develop with sensors continuing to collect additional data? Insurers may move into more of a consulting role, focusing less on selling a product. 

The second team did a SWOT analysis of the intersection of the brokerage and technology. A noted strength is niche expertise; weaknesses, on the other hand, include being technologically antiquated, having no transparency between carrier and client, and lacking data. The opportunities are found in weeding out non-professionals, elevating expertise and better utilizing data. Finally, the threats involve regulation and direct relationships cutting out brokers.  

  •  TELEMATICS, DRONES AND THE LIKE. One team considered technological advances such as self-driving cars and drones. The insurance market for drones already has begun to evolve. [“Soar Subject,” Leader’s Edge, October 2014.] These devices, however, bring increased challenges in cyber security.
  •  THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION. Another team explored the generation of multi-tasking, frugal, tech-savvy, highly educated millennials. This age group seeks constant connection and feedback, and those expectations will be evident in both the workforce and prospective clients. As clients, millennials will seek transparency and information in all things; if a brokerage can’t supply more specialized insight than the Internet can provide, that brokerage may lose the business. As employees, millennials will expect faster promotion and rewards, may need constant communication and approval and will desire more tech-savvy experiences.
  •  MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS. Finally, another team considered the challenges and opportunities of mergers and acquisitions throughout the industry. The benefits of being acquired include increased capital, resources and operational efficiencies. Conversely, there’s a loss of autonomy, the ability to be nimble and some ingenuity. Those who desire to remain independent will need to be innovative and purposeful in making their M&A choice, plotting the course and executing the plan to succeed.   

“We may have removed the weighting from the competition,” says McDaid. “But we’re not taking the conversation off the table. If you’re not thinking about these things, then we’re all in big trouble.”