The ROI Dilemma in Insurance: Navigating the Pitfalls of Hard-to-Quantify Benefits

It's essential to consider all costs and benefits when making strategic decisions.

As a seasoned insurance industry analyst and consultant, I’ve witnessed countless instances where the promise of a compelling business case fails to materialize in practice. At the heart of this issue lies the challenge of accurately identifying and quantifying all the costs and benefits associated with a project. While in theory we understand that it impairs value when projects don’t deliver a return on investment (ROI) that exceeds their capital outlay, the reality is more complex, and it has to do with how those costs and benefits are reckoned in the first place.

The Quantification Challenge

One of the primary hurdles in developing a comprehensive business case is the difficulty of quantifying every cost and benefit. Factors such as intangible assets, long-term strategic value, or indirect impacts on other business units can be challenging to assign a monetary value. As a result, these elements are often omitted from the spreadsheet, leading to an incomplete picture of the project’s true potential.

The Dangers of Omitting Hard-to-Quantify Benefits

When a cost or benefit is hard to quantify, it is often left out of the analysis entirely. While this may seem like a pragmatic approach, it effectively assigns to these factors an implicit value of zero. This can lead to a skewed perception of the project’s viability, as the unquantified elements are essentially ignored in the decision-making process.

A prime example of this dilemma can be found in the classic business case of creating a shared service. Shared services are often touted as a means to reduce costs by centralizing common functions across multiple business units. The cost reduction benefits, such as economies of scale and standardization, are relatively easy to quantify and present a compelling case for implementation.

But the hard-to-quantify benefits, such as speed-to-market and business agility, are often omitted from these business cases. By centralizing functions, shared services can create additional layers of bureaucracy and reduce the ability of individual business units to respond quickly to changing market conditions. The loss of flexibility and the potential for increased response times can have a significant impact on an insurer’s competitiveness, yet these factors are often overlooked in the pursuit of quantifiable cost savings.

In today’s fast-paced insurance landscape, agility is a key differentiator. Nimble competitors who can quickly adapt to changing market conditions and customer needs can outmaneuver more bureaucratic insurers. By failing to account for the value of speed-to-market and business agility, insurance companies risk making decisions that may hinder their ability to compete effectively.

Embracing a Holistic Approach with Scenario Analysis and Sensitivity Testing

To bridge the gap between theory and practice, it is crucial for insurance professionals to adopt a more holistic approach to business case analysis. This involves looking beyond the easily quantifiable factors and considering the broader context in which the project operates. By engaging stakeholders from various departments, particularly those in lines of business, insurers can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the project’s potential costs and benefits.

Given the inherent uncertainty in quantifying certain factors, it is essential to incorporate scenario analysis and sensitivity testing into the business case. By considering a range of potential outcomes and testing the sensitivity of the ROI to changes in key assumptions, decision-makers can gain a more robust understanding of the project’s risk profile and make informed decisions accordingly.

In the case of shared services, this may involve modeling different levels of cost savings and comparing them against various scenarios of impaired business agility and speed-to-market. By presenting a range of potential outcomes, decision-makers can weigh the trade-offs and determine whether the benefits of cost reduction outweigh the risks of reduced flexibility and competitiveness.


Bridging the gap between theory and practice in business case analysis requires a shift in mindset. By acknowledging the challenges of quantifying hard-to-measure benefits, avoiding the pitfalls of omission, and embracing a more holistic approach, insurers can develop more accurate and comprehensive business cases. Through scenario analysis and sensitivity testing, decision-makers can navigate the uncertainties and make informed choices that drive long-term value. As insurance industry professionals, it’s up to us to champion this approach, identify unseen costs and benefits, and help our organizations make sound investment decisions.