Innovate, Evolve, SURVIVE - The 4th industrial revolution


Blimey, what a long winter and washout of an early spring we’ve had!   However, with the weather finally lifting a little a couple of weekends ago, I was able to give my postage stamp of a lawn a first mow of 2018.  As the aroma of freshly cut damp grass my wafted through my nostrils and the sun warmed my back, my mind turned to BIBA.  As an almost teetotal introvert, I have usually looked forward to the event with a certain amount of trepidation, always envious of my more gregarious colleagues, such as Simon Cooter and Keith Hector, who bound up to Manchester with the unbridled enthusiasm of Labrador puppies.  However, despite my “pre-match nerves”, I’ve always had an enjoyable and, more importantly, productive time.

Rather happily, this year’s event theme of innovation coincides with my new role leading commercial and high net worth business transformation and innovation and I am now, to the amusement of some of my colleagues, displaying some of those young canine attributes.

I also realised that it’s 13 years since my first BIBA conference and, with that event taking place not long after I’d pivoted my financial services career into commercial insurance, it was quite a baptism!  Looking back at the event, whilst we still, as a sector, have a long way to go far as diversity and inclusion is concerned, we are starting to see signs of progress firstly in recognising the necessity to improve gender balance and secondly addressing it.

As I knocked the grass cuttings off my shoes, I wondered what BIBA would be like in another 13 years, given all the changes that the fourth industrial revolution is starting to unleash. A recent study by Oxford University identified insurance as one of the industries’ most likely to be disrupted by automation, against this backdrop I wonder, will there even be a BIBA conference in 2031?

I’m going to be a little provocative here and answer that question with a “maybe”.   Whilst history has shown that previous industrial revolutions delivered exponential leaps in financial and social well-being at a macro level, there have also, inevitably, been winners and losers at a micro level.  

The farming industry in the United States is a good case in point.  Technological advancements during the 20th Century delivered incredible enhancements in productivity and efficiency.  Great for the nation’s overall prosperity, but devastating for the millions of people who lost their livelihoods, along with the rural communities they lived in.  As Mitt Romney said in 2010, “economists and business people can acknowledge that creative destruction does enhance productivity and raise the standards of living and the people of a society. That sounds great, except creative destruction does not sound real good if it happens to you. And for an economy to thrive, as our does, there are a lot of people who will suffer as a result.”

With technology now advancing at such breakneck speeds, the winners win faster and win bigger, but for the losers, increasingly failure is both extremely sudden and extremely painful.  Ultimately, both progress and customers are without sentiment and that’s exactly how it should be; products, services, companies and organisations should only exist if they are delivering the expected value to customers.  History and size count for nothing.  Well, actually they do, but not in a good way.  The older and the bigger the company, the harder it is to adapt and the greater the risk from disruptors.

As a sector, we can be rightly proud of the part we’ve played in overall economic and societal progress over the last few hundred years and at the heart of this has been our ability to adapt, innovate and deliver value to customers as their needs have changed.  As the fourth industrial revolution really takes hold, it’s essential we continue to do that for our customers, but in ever more efficient ways.  We need to prosper because of technology, not despite it.

The theme for this year’s conference is “innovate…evolve….thrive”.  It could well be “innovate….evolve….survive”.   I look forward to BIBA in Manchester in May 2018.  And hopefully May 2031 too!”

Tim Grant's picture
Tim Grant, Head of Business Transformation and Innovation, Covea Insurance
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