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  • August 2020
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COVID-19 Brief: Novel collaborations emerge amid the pandemic

  • Gayathri Ravi Shankar
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In Brief
While long-term effects of the pandemic remain hazy, it seems clear that carriers are turning to collaborations to adapt more rapidly and effectively to unprecedented disruptions, and these insurers seem better likely to translate short-term responses to COVID-19 into sustained post-pandemic growth.

As nations around the world combat COVID-19, insurers have partnered with a range of public and private institutions and businesses to deliver solutions, from accelerating the search for a vaccine through scientific exchange to mass-distributing personal protective equipment. 

The effort has resulted in some unorthodox partnerships between insurers and other businesses to design novel protection products. Nowhere has this been more evident than in complimentary and compassionate COVID-19 benefits carriers have begun to offer essential workers. Examples include collaborations between an insurer and a leading telecom operator in Thailand, a private hire driver carrier in Singapore, and a range of primary and secondary public hospitals, treatment centers, and pharmacies in China. While these partnerships have been limited to low-face value policies, they appear to be motivated, at least in part, by social responsibility and a desire to provide aid amid a crisis.

Processes have evolved alongside product designs as traditional evidence and sales channels are disrupted by lockdowns.  Even before the pandemic, insurers had been shifting to use of accelerated underwriting, risk scoring models, other alternative underwriting inputs. An RGA survey of 20 major multinational insurers in 2019 found that 65% expected the percentage of fully underwritten new business to decrease in the near future, and many of these carriers planned to use alternative sources of underwriting evidence – from lifestyle data to prescription histories. For example, 40% reported turning to medical health monitoring/wearable devices and 30% were exploring digital health records and composite scoring.

Now with limited access to paramedical exams and fluid testing due to social distancing and stay-at-home measures, carriers have sought to speed this transition through partnerships with device-makers, insurtech startups, data science companies, credit data providers, and even social media platforms. One Asia-based insurer is now using WhatsApp to deliver policy and renewal documents, for example. Every stage of the insurance value chain, from application to claims adjudication, could potentially be affected.

Perhaps the most exciting collaborations, however, may be happening between insurers and scientific and public health communities and involve the free exchange of experience data and mortality insight. For example, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and RGA also have collaborated on the Longer Life Foundation, which supports independent research by scientific, medical and public health experts to enhance longevity and promote healthier lives. The foundation, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018, recently funded an important study into COVID-19 biomarkers.

Similar knowledge-sharing relationships that would have likely taken years to form pre-pandemic have been assembled in matter of weeks and months because of the network and like-minded individuals coming together. The Roche Data Science Coalition in Canada offers a compelling example. Individuals in various industries formed the Coalition to pursue a common cause: to accelerate analysis of COVID-19 health data to develop more effective treatment and containment strategies.

RGAX, the transformation subsidiary of RGA, joined other collaborators in the Coalition to develop actionable insights from available, non-proprietary data for those at the frontlines of hospitals, screening clinics, and industry supply chains. Through a co-creation approach, the Coalition’s data scientists have combined diverse perspectives and specializations to produce dozens of market reports, virtual dashboards, and artificial intelligence (AI) applications, as well as contribute to similar initiatives around the globe. One of the more intriguing is the Kaggle or UNCOVER COVID-19 Challenge, an effort to take advantage of the collective brainpower of AI experts around the world to investigate a curated collection of over 200 publicly available COVID-19-related datasets from sources like Johns Hopkins, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and many others. The goal? Speed the pace of research and answer key questions developed by frontline healthcare providers, suppliers, and policymakers.

The hope is that, by breaking down barriers and “crowdsourcing” analytics, participants can arrive at insights faster on topics ranging from transmissibility to the relative success of different social distancing policies. While associations have formed to share medical underwriting insight and clinical research, this represents a step-change in term of its global reach and precise focus on COVID-19.

Similarly, professional organizations and associations such as the Society of Actuaries, LIMRA and LOMA are rapidly and publicly organizing and disseminating analysis of this fast-unfolding global health crisis. For example, TAI, an RGAX company, has joined forces with LIMRA and SOA for a joint mortality experience research study that will compare individual life mortality involving COVID-19 now and into the near future. The organizations are currently working on an inaugural report to release later this summer.


COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated many existing industry challenges, while at the same time revealing the enormous social value of life and health insurance and the power of partnerships across industries and disciplines. While long-term effects of the pandemic remain hazy, it seems clear that carriers are turning to collaborations to adapt more rapidly and effectively to unprecedented disruptions, and these insurers seem better likely to translate short-term responses to COVID-19 into sustained post-pandemic growth.

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Gayathri Ravi Shankar
Gayathri Ravi Shankar
Knowledge Management and Information Specialist