Surviving the Asteroid 

By Francesco Lagutaine

Insurers need to evolve quickly to win

My son Viktor came home from school one day and told me an interesting fact: Not all dinosaurs became extinct. Some evolved into birds, and many species that lived alongside dinosaurs continue to flourish to this day.

The tuatara, for instance, first appeared more than 200 million years ago. Often referred to as a ‘living dinosaur,’ they’re still with us. Their secret? An ability to evolve–at a DNA-level–faster than any other animal.

This ability isn’t just fascinating science; it’s also a lesson for companies like Manulife, which have been around for a long time. No one wants to think of themselves as a dinosaur, but in the fast-changing world of fintech and insurtech, that’s what old companies are sometimes called.

Of dinosaurs and insurers

The dinosaurs in our industry–or any, for that matter–tend to be large, lumbering, and resistant to change. Startups, conversely, are typically small, nimble, and responsive to change. Being faster and more agile means more opportunities to change and grow. Being smaller and less structured also allows room for more innovation.

Many startups adopt an agile approach and work across job functions with much less bureaucracy, while taking risks and welcoming failure at the same time. That agility allows them to make decisions more rapidly, work more efficiently, and adapt more readily to disruptive technologies.

In the age of digital disruption, we’re seeing more startups hit on winning ideas. They launch to address specific pain points in a customer’s journey, focusing intently on end-users. Enabled by digital technology, many then succeed in building businesses that look set to become the corporate titans of tomorrow.

Customer-centricity, agility, and failing fast all form part of the startup culture that are being incorporated into big companies.

Symbiotic relationship

Startups also face existential challenges that established players don’t. Most startups have high mortality rates, with around 90% failing within the first three years.

Many reach a plateau and need investment from bigger companies. At the same time, others–particularly in insurtech–are finding it hard to navigate complex regulatory environments and tackle the entirety of a customer experience lifecycle, from buying a sophisticated life policy to processing a hospital claim.

At first blush, it may seem that startups and big corporations are natural rivals, but dig a little deeper, and it becomes clear that the relationship between them is often less adversarial and more complementary. In other words, startups improve the dinosaur, so both can evolve in a symbiotic relationship. For instance, although startups can be very agile, big corporations, armed with years of experience, know-how to build and maintain a long-term business.

We are working closely with startups at Manulife. We’re thrilled about our partnership with China’s leading online medical platform,, which helps patients find doctors more efficiently. On a regional level, we’re also partnering with tech companies that leverage mobile technologies, data analytics, and social networking to improve the health and well-being of our customers.

Those that can evolve quickly win

In a way, what startups are ultimately doing is challenging big corporations to do business better and grow faster.

We’ve already been changing the way we do things, including challenging ourselves to rethink our role as a modern financial institution and looking at the way we do business through customers’ eyes. Part of our evolution is also taking a human-centered approach to digitization. That means maximizing trust and empathy among our agents and customers and enhancing those human relationships with efficient digital solutions.

We have a bold ambition to be the most digital, customer-centric global company in our industry. To do this, we are evolving quickly and learning continuously. Just as I learned from Viktor about tuataras, so too should major insurers continue to learn from startups.

The future of our industry isn’t written. We have a choice: To settle and be a dinosaur, or to transform and be evolution’s greatest survivor. We choose the latter.

    About the Author

For more than 20 years, Francesco has been working at the intersection of where brand, marketing and customer experience meet. He is passionate about ensuring that clients get an extraordinary experience that lives up to brand expectations in a meaningful way. He thinks that creativity can be found in every part of a business – and that business leaders have a duty to build a culture that lets that creativity flourish. Through the course of his career, across F&B, Technology, FMCG and most recently financial services, he has worked with and managed multinational teams of talented people and aspiring innovators – always with a view to driving competitive advantages and building lasting business success.


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