Wearable technology and its impact on the insurance industry

According to a report by wareable.com [1], globally 78 million wearable tech devices were sold in 2015. In 2016 the site estimates sales will be a little over 100 million. The market features start-ups coming to market, such as FitBit and Jawbone, as well as established players such as Samsung and Apple. To give a fuller picture of the health and wellness sensor market, we would need to include the smaller but growing number of medical-grade tracking devices coming out of clinics and being used at home. In order to fully appreciate the scope of health and fitness monitoring, one should also include downloads of apps and virtual platforms to measure health and wellness indicators. One US platform has 60 million subscription paying members.

While proportionately small, a significant minority of individuals are tracking their health and wellness on a daily basis. Why should this interest a re/insurer? First, they can lead to behavioural change. Behavioural change is notoriously difficult to implement, but constant tracking and virtual interaction appears to be finding some traction among certain cohorts. This is being recognised by some re/insurers, who are offering health and fitness reward programmes as part of their life and health product suite. Secondly, tracking devices offer a wealth of data for life and health modellers within the re/insurance industry, which we are just beginning to explore, subject to ethical considerations. Thirdly, and into the longer term, tracking devices will be the first steps to mobile and virtual health delivery, with the potential to deliver better outcomes at lower costs. This is important for re/insurers, as the main payers in most health care systems. Lastly, more into the future, better real time understanding of the health and fitness data at an individual level could shift underwriting practice away from risk pools and historical averages to individual predictive modelling.

Some of this list are already being implemented – others are probably some years away. What is clear is that the market for health and fitness wearables, and the processing of their data, is in its infancy, but is growing rapidly. Swiss Re wants to be an active player in this space. We invited actors from across the wearables value chain – device manufacturers, platform developers, clinicians, and of course re/insurers – to discuss the latest developments and common challenges that face the industry.


[1] http://www.wareable.com/wearable-tech/how-many-apple-watches-sold-2016

Summary of Francis Blumbergs's presentation at the Centre's Health monitoring event in November 2016. Francis is Head of Strategy & Client Services, Swiss Re. Summary by Simon Woodward.