5 minute read 15 Aug 2022
field of wheat

How can insurers be truly customer-centric, rather than simply customer facing?

As new business models challenge old views of customer-centricity in the insurance sector, it’s time to put customer needs first.

In brief
  • The insurance market is performing clearly below GDP growth in developed EMEIA countries, bringing to light an underserved potential
  • Insurers need to reimagine their business models and become truly customer-centric if they are to achieve profitable growth in the future
  • By adopting alternative business models based on the respective core competences, insurers create value for customers and maximize their growth potential
  • Rather than changing all aspects of the business at once, insurers should focus on end-to-end transformation of one specific product, service or product line at a time

The insurance industry is experiencing a dynamic and purpose-driven moment. The dramatic developments of the last few years are giving way to a renewed focus on ongoing digitalization, workforce transformation and sustainability. At the same time, ecosystems have become the new norm due to technological advancements and diminishing – yet converging – industry borders.

Amid this turbulence, shifting customer expectations are also forcing insurers to revise their business models to remain relevant. Publicly listed insurers are very focused on delivering shareholder value, while investors are often averse to volatility and expect stable returns. It means many insurers were incentivized to retain their business models in the past, even though alternative business models better address customers’ expectations. We would like to challenge this thinking and consider that it is probably a perception or even an excuse: capital markets and investors do prefer stable returns, yet they also expect above-market-average returns, which can only be realized by profitable growth.

field of wheat

How can you be truly customer-centric, rather than simply customer facing?

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In fact, the insurance market is performing clearly below GDP growth in developed EMEIA countries, bringing to light an underserved potential. Insurers need to reimagine their business models and become truly customer-centric if they are to achieve profitable growth in the future.

Contrary to traditionally held beliefs, customer-centricity is not about owning the customer relationship but about solving problems for customers with the highest level of convenience, with or without being seen.

Customer-centric business models

In a first step, insurers should challenge what they mean by customer-centricity. Contrary to traditionally held beliefs, it’s not about owning the customer relationship but about solving problems for customers with the highest level of convenience, with or without being seen. We propose four customer-centric business models that enable insurers to play to their own strengths and harness individual core competences to best serve the customer. Each business model comes with specific challenges, as summarized in the descriptions below:

  • Integrator

    The integrator acts as sole provider for a customer need and delivers services with vertical integration. The integrator business model relies on a high degree of vertical integration of services to address all components of a particular customer need. Understanding how to control or facilitate this vertical integration is a key challenge. 

  • Collaborator

    The collaborator specializes in one specific element of the ecosystem and collaborates with multiple providers to serve a customer need individually. Collaborators engage in direct customer contact but also operate in conjunction with other providers that complement their offerings. To defend their market share against complementary providers’ diversification ambitions, collaborators need to offer differentiated products and services that meet customer requirements.

  • Orchestrator

    The orchestrator serves as single point of contact for a customer need by orchestrating third-party services in a seamless platform. The role of an orchestrator has only been made possible by past advances in digital and data-driven technologies. Building these capabilities is at the core of this business model. Companies that get it right deliver an exceptional and seamless customer experience across different service providers in the same ecosystem.

  • Supplier

    The supplier operates as one of multiple suppliers to an orchestrator and is in the background without direct customer relationships. Suppliers rely on scalability of their offerings to create value across multiple business customers. However, a lack of focus on standardization can lead to exponentially increasing costs, which cancels the positive effects of scale.

The right approach will depend on the core competences of the specific insurer. Some players may also pursue multiple business models simultaneously for different lines of business, customer segments or other areas. At the heart of this concept is the idea of customer-centricity: putting customer needs, not visibility, first.

  • Customer-centricity at every stage of the customer lifecycle

    Anna is an average customer who faces various financial needs in her life. These can be addressed by providers applying different business models depending on Anna’s specific and evolving needs.

    When Anna starts her first job, she goes to a bank to open an account and is advised by her relationship manager on investments and pension savings. Anna’s needs are met by the integrator model.

    A few years later, Anna has a great idea for an innovative startup. To get her company up and running, she approaches companies with complementary services. They act as collaborators in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and provide Anna with a loan, insurance for her employees and support with tax, legal and accounting aspects.

    Business is booming and Anna decides to buy a house. She approaches a lender, which acts as orchestrator to sell her insurance and other related products and services she needs.

    Anna also needs new furniture for her home and is able to take out insurance directly via the retailer. The insurance company acts as a supplier to the retailer and has no direct contact with Anna.

Transformation journey

As the transformation process involves considerable realignment, organizations may take sideways steps through the business models before reaching their preferred customer-centric approach, e.g., from collaborator to integrator or orchestrator. Incremental change is also helpful for insurers feeling overwhelmed by the scale of change needed to realign the business model and move toward customer-centricity. Breaking the journey into the individual steps described below can make it more manageable and allow small shifts to grow into sustainable transformation.

1. Plan the planting
To choose the right business model for an individual insurer, the company needs to understand its true core competences and take on a role that is most closely associated with it.

2. Prepare the soil
Before starting the transformation process, business areas that do not support the identified business model need to be divested.

3. Sow the seed
Released resources should be invested in dedicated ventures/areas to increase the probability of success and speed up the transformation process.

4. Grow the crop
As soon as first areas reach the harvest zone, achieved profits can be reinvested in the overall transformation.

5. Reap the harvest, and repeat
Transformation is not a one-off journey, but a continuous process. The more iterations, the better the harvest.

  • Learn more

    The core EY team specialized in customer and growth for insurance has been talking to and supporting insurance clients on their customer-centric growth journey. Our point of view covers property, casualty, life and health insurance with a focus on personal lines in EMEIA and an emphasis on the Swiss insurance market as well as insurers headquartered in Switzerland. Our work is based on extensive research by EY analysts and industry experts who were interviewed to include different views of various market participants. Insights are also informed by EY’s sector experience and expertise gained on numerous international engagements.


We believe the insurance industry is well placed to achieve profitable growth in the future. To realize the potential, insurers need to start now to take a longer-term view of their business and reimagine customer-centricity as the first step in a sustainable transformation.

We thank Tobias Binkert and Doina Emilian for their valuable contribution to this article.