What’s NXT:, Esther?

Launching ‘NXT: Enterprise”: Esther Prax, ITHM’s new Programme Director, explains why the network now focusses on the topic of Smart Enterprise.

Esther Eva Prax has joined InsurTech Hub Munich (ITHM) in the position of Programme Director as of January 2021. The 31-year old is a familiar face to the network’s members:  She was part of the founding team of ITHM as a Consultant at Deloitte Digital Ventures, and rejoined the team as freelancer last year, significantly shaping the H+ Digital Health Innovation Programme.

Esther Eva Prax has joined InsurTech Hub Munich (ITHM)

Esther, what exactly makes an enterprise smart?

In our definition a smart enterprise is highly data-driven, striking the balance between anticipating and serving the customer exactly to their needs while constantly reinventing the customer journey and itself. Which makes it an entity that’s not only resilient to but embracing change as a constant, because this sets it apart from competitors. For NXT: Enterprise we put our core focus on four fields: People, Process, Product and Tech. All four are interconnected and none is a virtue of its own.

Transforming into a smart enterprise insurers have the opportunity to become more than just the ‘necessary evil’ they are often seen as today, but a real partner to customers when they need it the most. Imagine being offered simple and transparent insurance directly embedded in products, offered just at the right time or even anticipating your needs. Or a full, worry-free service experience with instant payout in a claims situation – as easy as returning an item bought online.

This can only become reality if insurers have speedy, efficient and automated processes to quickly process customer needs and empower their well-skilled employees to really serve their customers with time and empathy. Additionally, data-driven and automated processes will reposit the workforce with the time and creativity to innovate instead of following repetitive tasks. Underlying and a prerequisite for all this is the access and processing of the right data to form a full and real-time view of the customer and an inevitable modernization of legacy systems.

Another overarching dimension is ESG – environmental and social corporate governance – which is fortunately finally gaining momentum. Being a responsible, purpose-driven enterprise not only is essential in pulling the right talent but also has the potential to be the leading differentiator with the succeeding customer base: millennials and Gen Z. If any industry can authentically address purpose, it is insurance – deservedly so, as we’re talking about protection against risks that can hugely impact all areas of life.

Launching ‘NXT: Enterprise”:

Why has ITHM chosen this very topic? Is it basically agenda surfing in pandemic times?

Both our last Innovation Programmes, H+, focusing on Digital Health and now NXT:Enterprise cater to very timely challenges. But instead of simply jumping the bandwagon, we do a lot of analysis before planning any of our programmes and – most importantly – ask our network partners, our board and advisors what’s relevant for them at the moment, where they feel current pain points and where they see the market going in a mid-term perspective.

Digital Health was a set focus for us long before the pandemic hit. And when we first talked about Smart Enterprise – or Enterprise 2.0 as some call it – it wasn’t obvious that we’d be stuck in the pandemic situation for such a long time. You could argue that insurance isn’t exactly a fast-moving industry, but it’s pretty skilled and unerring at predicting long-term developments.

Are the demand for remote work, the automatization of processes or the pressure on traditional distribution and product development models completely new phenomena for the insurance industry? No, but we’ve reached a point where no one can afford to tackle the changes in customer and employee demands and the market in general in baby steps anymore. And yes, the pandemic has put extra pressure on those topics. We witness a lot of motivation to take meaningful steps now, as the huge opportunities for insurers are widely recognized: AI-powered applications can help drastically reduce the cost of service. Data-driven, individualized offerings and services let Smart Enterprises fulfill the promise to be a true life companion to their clients, creating more frequent and meaningful touchpoints, which is a major issue for any insurer ever since the classic agent model became less prevalent.

Launching ‘NXT: Enterprise”:

You mentioned you are interviewing your network to realize their needs and pain points. What has this taught you for your Smart Enterprise programme?

We’ve found out that over 50 percent of the people we talked to feel that they are not yet working for a smart enterprise – which of course doesn’t mean that the other half is completely future-proof. 

We also asked for specific challenges and pain points along the value chain. Insurers witness a lot of pressure to find new approaches for their two major customer touchpoints: Sales and claims, the latter being the point where a provider really proves its value. At the point of sale, priorities lie in offering the customer simplified, tailored products and timely recommendations, individualized to the customers’ needs – enabled by a 360° view of the customer. In claims, it’s all about providing a cutting edge customer experience – that the customer is so used to in other parts of life – as well as swift and easy processing of claims. As claims is the strongest lever for insurances, there still is a large demand for automatization solutions as well.

At this very moment, employees and brokers are largely decentralized and will most probably never return to the modus operandi of pre-pandemic office life. How to manage the workforce of the future is another topic we need to put a focus on.

Launching ‘NXT: Enterprise”:

Okay, and what’s the role of ITHM once you’ve done all that math?

We constantly transfer our learnings to refine our scouting objective, making sure we scout for exactly the right startups meeting the most pressing needs of our partners. This scouting process involves activating our global network, screening and talking to hundreds of startups internationally, a task none of our partners would want to complete by himself. Still we don’t define ourselves as only fulfilling a filter function for the scouting of certain solutions. We make sure to push the innovation journeys of our partners into new directions by reserving  the right to throw in some wild cards. Unexpected answers often are the best, aren’t they?

Throughout the programme we act as facilitators for our most important stakeholders – the corporate partners, which mainly come from the insurance and the tech industry, and our startups. We’ve even coined a term for what we do: ‘Concierge services’. This means that our ten-strong team walks the walk with both parties, moderates the discussions to become concrete rather than being a merely inspirational activity. This way we enable both sides to form meaningful collaborations that last way beyond the programme. 

Involving our broad network, we also offer our startups a dedicated curriculum, including pitch coaching or a sales training from renowned investors, tailored mentoring and of course business development with decision-makers from our partnering companies. In parallel we host collective know-how sessions for our corporate partners, enabling them to learn from each other or players from completely different industries.

As you can see, we do really act as an active platform for both sides. And of course we also like to throw a party once in a while – to celebrate another POC we’ve enabled.

Launching ‘NXT: Enterprise”:

Last question: How open is your community – would someone interested in NXT: Enterprise still be able to join?

Sure! If you are a startup, you are invited to apply for our programme – but be quick, applications close end of February! You will need to have a validated product/market fit and openness to learn and cooperate. We don’t ask for any financial commitment or equity and very much welcome applications from all around the globe. If you want to learn more, our Startup Relations Lead Corine Ackermann is happy to hop on a chat.

If you want to join our network as a corporate partner and benefit from all our offerings, we would love to involve you and maybe have you join some of our collateral events. Please feel free to get in contact with ITHM’s Director Partnerships, Reinhard Saller.

And, last but not least, NXT: Enterprise isn’t our only activity this year. We’re already preparing for two more focus-topic innovation sprints around financial home and health. We’re also hosting different interesting  formats from Clubhouse chats to expert panels throughout the year and are happy to have you! Additionally, with our partner Plug And Play Tech Center, we also have an offering for more mature startups through our Collab Initiative – with the upcoming one focusing on mobility. As you can see – plenty of opportunities to join in and it never gets boring!

Interview: Markus Walter