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11:45 AM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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Beijing Olympics Offer Business Lessons for Insurance industry

There are likely to be useful lessons about emerging markets, distribution, customer analysis and risk for Insurance company executives following the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The 2008 Summer Olympics will be drawing to a close by the time this column appears, but I can predict even before the games begin that they will offer numerous surprises, a few outrages, moments of inspiration and lots of opportunities for second-guessing. What might not be as obvious are the potential lessons for insurance executives. Sports fans or not, execs who follow the Beijing Olympics will have a great opportunity to gain insights into many of the issues and challenges they are addressing on a daily basis. These include the following:

Globalization and emerging markets -- Just the fact that the games are taking place in China, and that the participating countries range from Afghanistan and Azerbaijan to Vietnam and Zimbabwe, illustrates an arena (athletic and commercial) that is not necessarily dominated by North American or European powers. We will learn much about where emerging economies are and are not investing, whose currencies are strong (or weak), the opportunities for women in different regions, and how different educational systems work. All of this is critical information for insurance companies considering not only growth opportunities, but also where they will find tomorrow's IT employees and agents/distributors.

Customer analytics/segmentation and multichannel distribution -- Not only will NBC Universal broadcast the games on network television (NBC and the Telemundo Spanish-language network), it also will broadcast them online and to mobile devices. It also will closely track the numbers in terms of whom these media channels attract and how many viewers opt for each channel. The analytics potentially could help NBC figure out everything from programming to advertising to staffing models -- not too different from what insurers are trying to learn from their own customers.

Environmental risk -- Much has been reported about the awful air pollution in Beijing, what athletes are doing to prepare for it, the potential impact it could have on the competition and the Chinese government's efforts to improve air quality. This illustrates something insurers know very well: Pollution may be seen as an unavoidable cost of doing business, but it can harm business and commerce, too.

Reputational risk and brand management -- China views the '08 Olympics as a way to show that it is a modern, successful power. Politics, history and nature keep getting in the way. For better or for worse, the insurance industry surely can relate.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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