Health & Science

Apple and Google Could Compete in Health, But That Would Mean More Regulation, Says Prudential CEO

Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • Apple and Google, which reach billions of people around the world with their iOS and Android mobile operating systems, have been pushing deeper into health in recent years.
  • Prudential CEO Mike Wells said he believes the U.S. tech giants have the platforms to be competitors in health.
  • Whether Apple and Google would want to move into insurance is an "interesting question," he said.

Mike Wells, the chief executive of insurance company Prudential, said Apple and Google have the platforms to be competitors in the health arena, but it would mean facing even more regulatory scrutiny than they do already.

The Silicon Valley giants, which reach billions of people with their iOS and Android mobile operating systems, have pushed deeper into health in recent years.

Wells spoke to CNBC's Geoff Cutmore about the launch of Prudential's health app, called Pulse, which lets people in 10 Southeast Asian countries take health assessments, check symptoms, get video consultations with doctors, and view medical profiles.

"As far as Apple and Google being competitors, they certainly have the platforms to do that," said Wells, who was interviewed as part of CNBC's East Tech West conference, which is being held virtually and on the ground in Guangzhou, China. But Wells added: "They don't have the licenses yet to do that."

Whether Apple and Google would want to move into selling insurance is an "interesting question," according to Wells, who said it would depend on whether they wanted to operate on "more or less regulatory fronts."

Neither company has launched a dedicated health insurance product, but they've shown early signs they're not afraid to enter the space.

Verily, Google's health-focused sister company, has been looking at health insurance for years. It has teams working on medical research, diabetes care and a number of pandemic-specific initiatives.

In August, Verily announced it was setting up a new subsidiary called Coefficient Insurance. The firm — which focuses on a type of employer-sponsored insurance known as "stop-loss" — has been backed by the commercial insurance division of Swiss Re Group with an undisclosed sum.

Apple, meanwhile, has announced partnerships with insurers, like Aetna, that let people "earn off" the cost of an Apple Watch by being more healthy. It's also talking to private Medicare plans about subsidizing the cost of the device for elderly people.

Regulatory hurdles

Like other U.S. tech giants, Apple and Google have found themselves under intense scrutiny from governments and regulators around the world in recent years.

There are concerns that the companies have become so big that their market dominance means smaller firms can't compete. Google, for example, was fined 2.42 billion euros ($2.85 billion) by the European Commission in 2017 for allegedly abusing its dominance as a search engine and giving an illegal advantage to its own shopping service. Google tweaked its platform in order to avoid the EU fine, but some tech giants are appealing regulators' decisions.

Wells said Prudential is "used to working in a very heavily-regulated environment, and for us, it's a natural extension of our business models and we work closely with policymakers."

But while some smaller tech firms might struggle to work alongside tough regulations, that's not the case with Apple and Google, he said. "They're very capable of dealing with regulation."

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