McKinsey: Agility and scale key to insurance development

By Joanna England
New principles of agility and scale are enabling insurance products to better serve a post-COVID-19 world, according to a report from McKinsey...

The unprecedented advent of COVID-19 has caused global reverberations. One industry that has felt this keenly, is the insurance world. Suddenly faced with a range of brand-new requirements, speedy product development has never been so essential. We examine the latest McKinsey report on agility, scale and how teams are making it happen. 

What is agility?

The usual process for creating new insurance products is a complicated one that requires a number of processes to take place, each relying on information provided, to complete the next task in the chain. The term ‘agility’, defines a different management style, which though in use in the tech industry, is only recently being applied to insurance. 

An ’agile’ team is one that’s comprised of a number of industry experts who work together – marketing, data, software, production and so on, to develop an-to-end product. If several products are required that are of similar ilk (like insurance) instead of developing one product at a time, several could be in production. After discussion, two might be launched, and the data collected on those products will be used to improve and adapt the other products, so that they can be launched on the basis of that market information and ‘test run.’

The concept of agility in companies results in the faster development of products and a streamlined launch and delivery.

COVID-19 and agile insurers

Insurers are adopting agile practices because traditional models have been beset with challenges since the pandemic struck. Demand for services and new products have increased, and customers expect faster, more efficient results. Not only that, but new financial constraints has meant businesses need to streamline their operations. An agile company is often one that works with less hierarchical layers. For example, the stages from entry-level employee to CEO, might be seven or more in a traditional structure. But a company with an agile structure typically has only three levels. This streamlines operating costs, creates better efficiency and results in greater company resilience. 

How to achieve agility

According to McKinsey’s whitepaper, to change the structure of a business and create agility, executives must address a set of questions to their management teams. These are:

  • Are there problems with responsibility and ownership when it comes to delivering a product – and is the hierarchical structure of managers contributing to this issue?
  • Are critical solutions being delayed because of multiple handovers – which result in long lead times?
  • Is the company over staffed at the middle management level?
  • Are collaborations across the organisation held up by the leadership approach?
  • Does the company attract new talent?
  • Does the technology support growth and flexibility?

Businesses that answer affirmatively to several of these questions, would benefit from a restructure that accommodates agility.

The agile tribes

There are two types of tribes that operate within the agile business model. The first is the self-managing tribe. This is a group of experts who, led by a team leader, manage the day to day operations of the company. 

The second type of team is a cross-functional one. This team is also led by a team leader, and is responsible for creating change and streamlining processes as efficiently as possible. Each cross section team works on a particular element of the company process. For example, after-sales care, or underwriting, production, servicing and so on. Their job is to ensure that all avenues are being explored so that improvements can be constantly implemented. 

Creating tribes

Creating efficient tribes is a science in its own right. Once again, McKinsey pinpoints a series of questions executives can ask to streamline and bring focus to the process of tribe-building.

  • What form will the tribes take? Should they be used on production, customer experience or sales?
  • How could tribes best manage a digital transformation? 
  • What kind of link can be made between self-management tribes and cross section tribes? 
  • How will the self-managing teams be organised? 

Two big factors should influence the decision of tribe creation. Those are that the company structure should minimise handovers to ensure faster delivery times, and all changes must allow for growth.

Ultimately, companies must change structure and adapt products to accommodate the new ‘normal’ and recognise the opportunities it brings. Flexibility, a willingness to embrace new technology, and the breaking down of old model silos, is increasingly becoming the essential strategy to create a brighter future. 


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