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  • Matt Carter

Vanilla ice cream or Ben & Jerry's what kind of specialist insurer are you?

What has ice cream got to do with insurance? In a world where vanilla gets served up everyday, we rarely notice the brand, the process or the price, just that vanilla ticks the box. But with Ben & Jerry's this same ice cream has always had a much deeper meaning; a value and a purpose that has been deliberately created, fully considered, embraced to create a unique proposition and enjoyed across the globe for over four decades.

What is insurance if it isn't all vanilla capital

The question then is, what can turn a vanilla insurer, doing the same things in very much the same ways as its peers, into something with a higher purpose? With more essence, flavours and a well thought out mission to do the right thing and to be of value to its customers and those within its own supply chain, much like the origins of insurance and Lloyd's of London.

A Social enterprise with a moral compass

How does an organisation selling vanilla ice cream or insurance capacity stand out and stand up and be different from the rest? There are three core mission elements found within Ben & Jerry’s; product, economic and social. It starts by defining your "why", understanding your purpose . This can be defined and extracted in a variety of ways but it needs to be authentic to you and create a point of difference from your competitors. From such exercises great clarity can be achieved, from great clarity of purpose and values, as with Ben & Jerry’s, great performance follows.

The steps to a real value proposition

There are key elements to a business’ value proposition.

  • Relevance - how you solve problems

  • Value - the benefits in the problem solving

  • Differentiation - why you and not your competitor

There is another crucial element however, the value proposition needs to be authentic, real, believed and reinforced by behaviours and messaging that purvey across the whole of your business. Lack this and the business may well look, well vanilla, enjoying no spoils and with no guarantee of success or loyalty. Which means some businesses may prosper and some may not for reasons that are not able to be validated, tested or learnt from.

Vanilla is not going to go anywhere in the ice cream world, likely it remains the most popular, but beyond the name of vanilla or for insurance read capacity, there is no loyalty to those vanilla producers from the buyers. If you want to be specialist you need to be both different and seen to be different by your customers, hence "economic crunch" was a flavour not for all but for those discerning a specialist ice cream marketed at a time where it was relevant post 2008 financial crash.

Ben & Jerry's understood their purpose and what made them different, specialist insurers need to do the same, or risk becoming even more bland than vanilla. Especially as we enter a different market cycle where capital alone is not different enough and where people, product or technological initiatives create differentiation.

Transforming vanilla to digital

Where does a digital agenda fit into this? Digital transformation is being discussed in many meetings and the solutions to deliver exist aplenty, but where do they fit best and where will they add most value to business values, objectives and purpose. That requires clarity, articulation of a business’ mission and some clear leadership and direction.

Once the specialist insurer is seen as less vanilla the digital solutions to drive on its competitive advantage become much clearer to suggest and implement. There are solutions that whilst digital, complement a company’s purpose.

Struggling to find time to differentiate

With market forces as they are, most businesses are operating at or near full intellectual capacity. Finding time and opportunity to explore this effectively is proving to be one time pressure too many. That is where Cognitive Risk can help. With our deep specialist Insurance experience and fresh thinking, we act as a catalyst and a soundboard, to help draw out the art of the possible and if necessary supplement our clients’ resources ourselves or operating with our trusted expert partners.


Matt Carter and Mark Huxley are founders of Cognitive Risk, on a mission to drive on digital adoption and transformation within the Lloyd's, London and Global (Re)Insurance Markets. They want to help organisations reimagine problems by combining their perspectives of INSUR and TECH to define what success looks like for your business and how to get there.

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