An Agent, Underwriter and Adjuster Walk Into a Bar...


After witnessing the Cal football team's disheartening loss to Oregon State on Saturday, I spent an hour having a beer (okay, two) at Pappy's in the heart of Berkeley, decompressing... and thinking about what the busy sports bar had to say about insurance.

I didn't intend to ponder insurance, but I guess watching SMU complete its smackdown of Temple on the TV screens didn't exactly absorb all my attention, and my somber mood probably made me more likely to notice two glitches that reminded me of inefficiencies that still plague insurance, despite all the investments in technology and attempts to reinvent processes from the viewpoint of the customer.

The big glitch occurred when, at the height of the post-game frenzy, there was a shift change behind the bar. One bartender kept serving drinks, but all the others just focused on closing out tabs and ignored all the customers stacked up several deep, trying to catch the attention of someone—anyone—behind the bar to place an order. 

During the shift change, the bar-backs came out to clean up and replenish supplies, which was surely necessary but which amplified the frustration among customers. These assistants can't serve drinks, but how is a customer supposed to tell the difference between a bartender and a bar-back? From the standpoint of the customers jostling for attention, the bar looked like it had twice as many bartenders as it had had minutes before, yet almost nobody could get a drink. 

If the shift change had come just half an hour later, it could have gone smoothly, because the crowd had thinned out so much by then. But the change came hard on 4, not 4:30. Pappy's management likely didn't notice how many people walked out the door in frustration after giving up on getting a drink, or realize how many will decide next time that they should try one of the many bars just down the street. After all, the place did a booming business among Cal fans drowning their sorrows. But a tiny change in process would have led to more business Saturday and more repeat business from happy customers on future weekends.  

Yes, delivering an insurance policy is far more complicated than sliding a Sierra Nevada across the bar, but I'd bet that, off the top of your head, you can think of several tweaks in insurance processes that would remove frustrations for customers. We're making progress as an industry, but, given all the paper we still shuffle around, insurance remains a target-rich environment for those trying to kill inefficiency, and many tweaks are as simple as moving a shift change back a half-hour.

My second observation reinforces the first. The Pappy's bar was a machine when it came to churning out pints and pitchers of beer and at least three drinks—Moscow Mules, Jack and Cokes and Margaritas. (Man, people drank a lot of Moscow Mules, so many that Pappy's ran out of copper mugs.) But woe unto you if you ordered something out of the ordinary, like a Manhattan cocktail. The bartenders were pros and were running around so fast they were sweating, but an unusual order threw them completely out of rhythm. 

The vast majority of insurance policies have to have a fair amount of complexity to them, but not every piece of a policy or every process needs to be such a one-off, and, the more we can turn into the equivalent of a Jack and Coke, the more efficient we can be.

Have a great week. And Go, Bears.

Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.