The insurance industry is often perceived as complicated and slow moving. Yet insurance is one of the largest global industries, generating more than $5 trillion in annual revenue. It plays a critical role in today’s economies, offering financial protection and risk mitigation to individuals, small businesses, large corporations, nonprofit organizations, and even governments. As a whole, property and casualty (P&C) insurance represents $1.6 trillion in premiums (about one-third of the insurance industry) and remains one of the few industries that has yet to be disrupted.
The three Rs: Resilience, relevance, and reinvention
As a notable achievement in the financial-services world, the insurance industry has grown economically stronger in the past two decades after sustaining $45 billion (2020 prices) in insured losses from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—then the costliest event in the history of insurance globally. And in the past few years, natural disasters have led insurers and reinsurers to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in claims, an unprecedented amount of losses. Despite these claims payments, the most recent natural disasters have been earning events for insurers, not solvency ones—perhaps a testament to the industry’s resilience. But this resilience will be tested in the years to come through the changing severity and frequency of disasters coupled with limited flexibility to balance market-driven price responses in the changing risk level, continued low interest rates, and changes to the traditional business model.
In fact, as innovation and technology significantly transform entire industries, P&C overall has largely been running in place. Industry growth relative to GDP is flat or even negative in several developed markets, valuations in the sector are often lower compared with adjacent financial-services sectors such as banking and asset management, and new talent acquisition isn’t prioritized, despite more than one-quarter of its most experienced professionals soon retiring in key geographies. Furthermore, despite improvements in labor productivity, overall cost performance has not improved in the past 15 years. The P&C industry is being outpaced on total productivity by sectors from automotive to telecommunications to banking. In the face of current and emerging advances in fintech and digital distribution, the P&C industry’s existing operating model faces challenges and risks losing economic relevance.
Moreover, the fast-changing risk landscape is creating many new and evolving risks—cyber, climate change, pandemic, intangible assets—that remain underinsured, while others have slowly been transferred to governments to handle. This shift creates significant insurance gaps. However, it also presents substantial opportunities for P&C insurers that can innovate, serve clients more comprehensively, and capture value across an increasingly sophisticated traditional value chain that is being reshaped by factors such as B2B2C, alternative capital, and direct sales. Insurers must also be proactive in setting (perhaps even shaping) a clear agenda on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.
As this report goes to press, the entire world is facing the deadly spread of COVID-19. The unfolding human tragedy will have massive short and long-term social, economic, and geopolitical implications. While it is too early to assess the full spectrum of its impact on the insurance industry, we will be monitoring the situation as it evolves. For more, see the P&C memo by the same authors, “Coronavirus response: Short- and long-term actions for P&C insurers.”
Given the fragmented nature of the industry, new models of collaboration—including with governments and regulators—will need to be tested to help carriers transition to this future state, as no single insurer can efficiently and repeatedly absorb first-mover costs as change accelerates. The industry must reinvent itself.
A call to action
This report paints a nuanced picture and provides a call to action. On the one hand, some geographies are winning over others, and leading CEOs are inspiring their organization to be true market shapers (those in the top quintile by measure of economic profit) by making the necessary bold moves and executing them relentlessly. Those carriers are success stories. On the other hand, a number of insurers have created limited economic value, if any at all. In this report, we provide a global view of the P&C industry using proprietary McKinsey data sources, including our Global Insurance Pools database, power curve analysis, and Insurance 360 cost benchmarks. We examine key market structure elements, including growth and profitability, M&A, and distribution. We analyze what market shapers have done differently as a source of inspiration for CEOs. We also explore six key forces that are shaping—and will continue to influence—the evolution of P&C insurance. And finally, our analysis shows how P&C carriers can find a path to higher profitability and sustainable growth once again.
Our research and experience reinforce that succeeding requires bold moves of considerable scale and investment. Now is an exciting moment for the industry, but leaders must act with speed and conviction. We anticipate that the gap between carriers that act swiftly and deftly and those that do not will increase: the former has proportionally more to invest in deploying new capabilities, as they capture most of the industry profits. This dynamic will further increase the gap between winners and laggards in subsequent years.
CEOs, working with the board, have a unique role to play in this context: they must decide what kind of organization they will steward and lead in the next five years, which clients they will serve and focus on, and how they will do so with distinction and relevance.
This report provides a close study of a complex industry. Some developing markets are poised to surpass developed markets by measure of growth, the M&A space is active, and distribution is under attack. And while insurance as an industry may be slow to change, its risk environment is not. The increased occurrence of extreme threats (whether relating to climate or terror), the proliferation of technology and innovation, and the growth of ecosystems, for example, all provide ample opportunity—and risk—for insurers.
Some carriers are flourishing in this landscape. Market shapers have achieved growth, yes—but they have also figured out how to do things differently, achieving sustainability and setting themselves apart from their peers.
So what are insurers to make of the state of the industry? And how can they adapt? This report provides an overview of the P&C industry, what market shapers are doing differently to capture value, and how CEOs can make their organization the next success story.