Google—that mercurial, data-gobbling behemoth—will soon begin selling property casualty insurance. “I thought Google was a search engine,” you might be saying. Or you might be saying, “I know they are developing driverless cars, but who would have thought they would sell insurance?”
Many in the property casualty insurance business probably wish they had. The whole industry is about to be upended in a big way. Underwriters are going to have competition the likes of which they have never seen. Thanks to the bottomless bevy of data Google has acquired about the world’s internet users via its myriad services, and it’s ability to do high speed data analytics to derive actionable insights, the company is extraordinarily well positioned to make an instant and well informed analyses on risk. All those searches add up.
So to go back to my earlier question: Who saw this coming? Well, everyone should have. This is an example of a predictable digital disruption. A tectonic shift is just starting to occur in the insurance sector and in retrospect, they should have been expecting it.
In this time of technology-driven transformational change, all businesses large and small should assume they will be disrupted. With that mindset, you will have an urgency you don’t have today to get your head up out of the sand, look around at the game-changing transformations that are happening on a daily basis, and take action to disrupt yourself before it’s too late.
It’s a good idea to avoid the temptation to look backwards and hit yourself for missing what now seems more obvious. Instead, understand that when transformative change occurs, it never simply comes out of nowhere. A key to thriving in the future is to learn how to see these seemingly impossible digital disruptions coming.
Let’s go back to Google for a moment.
The goal of Google is, and according to them always has been, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” In the neolithic age of Web 1.0, this meant taming the wild west internet of unindexed pages and turning it into an easy-to-use, searchable, relatively organized website where you could look for and find what you wanted. Yahoo! was the first to do this back in the early 1990s, but they never figured out how to make it profitable. It took a couple of young guys with a fresh perspective to reinvent search by elevating this to a finely tuned search engine coupled with a way to generate cash, and a lot of it.
What does Google’s mission statement mean now?
Since Google’s search bar first went live, processing speeds have accelerated exponentially, storage capacity has grown at a similar rate, and our ability to procure, process, and analyze data has opened new frontiers in everything from bioscience to political campaigning.
The implications, promises, and pitfalls of big data have been written about endlessly, and I don’t need to spill more digital ink discussing them here. This isn’t about the specter of “big data analytics” per se, but the powerful sea of changes in technology that will disrupt industries—yes, even yours—and can send your business into obsolescence if you don’t keep actively aware of the disruptions that are coming.
So I ask again: if you’re Google, once you have revolutionized the ways in which data is gathered and utilized, once you’ve conquered search and email and cloud storage, where do you go from there?
The answer is everywhere.
Google has already employed its search technology to perform some of the most powerful cost comparisons for airfare; it has also launched Google Compare, an umbrella of services that lets consumers do competitive pricing for auto and travel insurance; and, in a move that should have surprised nobody, they recently launched a feature that lets users shop car insurance premiums.
For now, Google just offers the platform for users to compare prices from different providers, but if you look a little farther out, you can see that they are studying how the different insurance companies price the same risk, allowing Google to use their vast treasure chest of real-time data analytics to improve on current underwriting practices and change the game once again.
Google’s bread and butter is information—and that means you have to ask yourself, “What industries can this notion not be applied to?” The answer by the way is none. Which means every market is fair game.
Google is not alone in its rapid metastatic expansion into new territories. It’s very weird to think about now, but consider: Amazon was once an online book store. Facebook was once a digital yearbook. Netflix innovated by sending movies through the mail.
Where are they now?
Amazon is determined to revolutionize delivery with a fleet of drones; they’ve continued to push the envelope in developing multi-functional e-readers, and control a wide swath of the web hosting market. Facebook is Google’s only serious rivals when it comes to gathering information about the world’s internet users, and they have parlayed that into a suite of services that let companies target clients with precision advertising and engagement. And when Netflix sent its first DVD through the mail, could anyone have imagined they’d be an Emmy contender one day?
Where will they go next?
If you perceive any of these companies, or any of their brethren, as a non-issue for you and your business, think again. None of them is sitting on their hands, and neither should you.
Remember: disruption is inevitable. It’s an opportunity if you do it first; it can be a catastrophe if you don’t. But one way or the other, you will have to deal with it.