In all conceivable future scenarios, insurers will have to choose between two business models: the invisibility model or the engagement model. Incumbents have acknowledged that, but judging by their current innovation efforts, which focus almost exclusively on new products and services, they still have a long way to go. Genuine innovation will transform the core business, which makes cannibalization unavoidable.

This fourth edition of our Dying, Surviving or Thriving study series takes a closer look at two key questions: Firstly, what are the unchanged elements in the insurance industry that build resilience in an ever changing world? Secondly, what does it take to shift the innovation focus from ”what we offer” to ”who we are”? We examine leading practices in other industries and synthesize actionable guidance for the insurance sector’s effective transformation.

Demystifying innovation
Business fundamentals in the Swiss insurance sector seem robust with stable cash flows and returns. Thus far the sector has had little incentive to question the way it does business or its established structures. Yet, other industries that are ahead of the digital wave, among them retail, media and telecommunications, have demonstrated to customers new levels of simplicity, transparency and speed. So it is hardly surprising that those same customers expect a comparable experience from the insurance industry and become frustrated when they don’t get it.

Against this backdrop, most incumbents are beginning to introduce innovation initiatives in an attempt to catch up with the norm in other industries. In the course of our work across the global insurance market, we are observing two different types of players with distinctly different attitudes toward innovation:

  1. Those who are adopting a defensive stance as they feel compelled to invest in innovation as protection against disruption (surviving).
  2. Those who are going on the offensive, proactively driving innovation to shape their future (thriving).

In Switzerland specifically, we tend to see more defensive players than in other markets. Irrespective of whether players adopt a defensive or offensive strategy, innovation must be aimed at scalable and transformative outcomes. But how?

Insurers need to systematically learn, adapt and apply innovation leading practice already demonstrated by forerunners in other industries. They need to reflect deeply and look beyond the myths commonly accepted as truths by many in the industry.


“Innovation is not a capability you can build. It is an outcome of the right organizational environment.”
Yamin Gröninger, Partner, EY Switzerland

Study design
This study presents the results of hypothesis-driven market research and interviews conducted by EY consultants and industry specialists with 15 executives from leading insurance companies active in the Swiss market. A qualitative market research method was chosen to obtain deeper and more personal insights into current assumptions and struggles within the industry as well as future beliefs and expectations. We used a differentiated approach designed to deconstruct and analyze organizational layers that undergo transformation at different paces. The study also synthesizes field experience and observations made in the course of providing professional services to the world’s leading (re)insurance firms.