Insider Views

Rethinking Insurance: Innovation and Digitalization in Executive Education

The “New Work” Push

My last InTech contribution illustrated how COVID-19 has accelerated the digital transformation process in the insurance industry. Apart from several achievements on the distribution side, one of the most notable impacts of the governmental lockdown was a far-reaching shift in the way people do their jobs. Both executives and employees have gone completely digital, working from home and changing their daily habits with immediate effect. At the Institute of Insurance Economics, we are following these developments very closely, as they will most likely have substantial effects on the way we teach and learn in the future.

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Digital University Teaching

How fast can educators adapt to the new situation? Obviously, the Coronavirus crisis exerted a substantial impact on university life in the last few months. The necessity to purely rely on online instruction was a new experience for most professors around the world. Nevertheless, the rapid push towards digital teaching worked much better than expected. At the University of St. Gallen (HSG), the presence of an advanced digital infrastructure played a key role for this success: communications software such as Zoom and MS teams as well as the digital teaching platform CANVAS was already available and functioned immediately. More importantly, though, the vast majority of instructors were able to quickly adapt their teaching style to the new digital-only environment, making elaborate use of the tools they had been provided. Polls, digital workgroup sessions, e-learnings, preparation videos and many other forms of online learning became standard instruments overnight. Overall, the joint effort of the teaching staff and students at HSG was stunning. 

Temporary or Permanent Change?

Now, what does this mean for the mid- to long-term future? Will we simply return to our old habits in the fall term? After all, digital learning itself is by no means brand new. It has been around for many years and was particularly successful in emerging nations with a lack of well-equipped brick and mortar campuses, in English-speaking countries, and at universities with global student communities. Nevertheless, considering the aforementioned developments to be transitory would be a dangerous conjecture. Apart from the evolving nature of work mentioned at the outset of this article, other trends such as climate change, urbanization and ongoing technological advances point towards a permanent rather than a temporary shift in higher education. It is highly likely that the classical on-campus degree will make room for new blended concepts, including physical sessions as well as online experiences.

Disruption in Executive Education?

The pandemic has made it very clear that the business model of the higher education sector is just as vulnerable to disruption as that of any other industry. On-campus learning and teaching have been the dominant format for centuries. With COVID-19, this changed very abruptly. In the executive education space, the crisis has accelerated transforming forces that have been underway for some time. High-quality, affordable, and purely digital experiences have quickly gained ground. Despite this fact, however, there are clear indications that the future of executive education does not exclusively lie in pure online programs. Instead, highly-sophisticated hybrid learning experiences will likely be the coming disruptive innovation. In other words, the best programs will involve both e-learning elements and on-campus sessions. Each instrument has its distinct advantages and must be applied to the greatest possible impact. Digital boot camps, for example, are a highly efficient means to familiarize course participants with theories or methodologies ahead of time, leaving much more room for deep dives in class. Accordingly, for many of our well-known executive education programs at the Institute of Insurance Economics, we have begun a major transformation journey, aiming to combine the advantages of both on- and offline teaching for the maximum benefit of our community. One example is our new modularized Executive MBA Insurance and Financial Services, which allows participants to choose from a wide range of study modules combined with e-learnings and an online-masterclass.

Adapting to the Needs of the Insurance Industry

The insurance industry currently faces a period of major change. A key challenge for many companies will be the attraction of new talent and the transformation of their own workforce. For many of the required job profiles, the labor market is highly competitive. Hence, re-skilling and up-skilling of existing employees will be crucial. As one of the industry’s leading executive education institutions in Europe, we have understood these needs and are transforming our offerings accordingly. Our new blended learning philosophy is ready for the digital age and we are passionate to support the coming generations of insurance executives on their learning journey.

About the author

Alexander Braun

Alexander Braun is Vice Director at the Institute of Insurance Economics (I.VW-HSG) and Senior Fellow at the Wharton Risk Center (Penn). He is also a risk management professor at the University of St. Gallen (HSG) in Switzerland. The focus areas of Mr. Braun comprise Natural Catastrophe Risk, Insurance-Linked Securities (ILS), Digital Insurance and Sustainable Insurance. Mr. Braun has published in leading scientific journals such as the Journal of Risk and Insurance, the Journal of Banking and Finance, the Geneva Papers on Risk and Insurance, and Insurance: Mathematics and Economics. He regularly presents at worldwide academic conferences in his field and has been an invited moderator, panelist, and keynote speaker at various industry events. His research and teaching activities have been awarded, among others, by the American Risk and Insurance Association (ARIA), the Asia-Pacific Risk and Insurance Association (APRIA), the Geneva Association, the International Insurance Society (IIS), and the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS).