What I Learned at Google

From what I witnessed at a recent symposium, Google doesn't get bogged down in actuarial precision and could be a major force in insurance.

As a regulator, I am often told I thwart innovation. To the contrary, I am very open-minded and excited by many of the innovative ideas I see and read about. Recently, I participated in an event at the Google campus with insurance experts from around the globe for a day of collaboration and learning. It was an experience I will not soon forget. We spent the day discussing Google Compare, Waze and autonomous vehicles. Ideas were freely shared, discussed and challenged. What most impressed me was the great excitement the group showed about insurance evolving with new technologies. Oftentimes, the regulators in the room were asked our opinions on these technologies and the inherent regulatory issues. The regulators did a nice job articulating our need to protect insurance consumers and to adequately supervise carriers to ensure financial soundness and legal compliance, while allowing for innovations that work within our regulatory system. It was a robust discussion, and I learned a number of key things about Google and its view of innovation and, in particular, insurance innovation.
  • Google works to fix problems. The Google employees were clearly driven to fix problems, and that desire took precedence over job titles. This was refreshing to witness first-hand.
  • Google thinks big picture. With a number of insurance regulators and insurance company executives in the room, it was eye-opening to hear a Google employee discuss statistics or numbers when solving problems only to admit the statistics or numbers were not precise. The Google employee considered best estimates that were “probably close enough” to a true statistic or number to be good enough to keep the ball rolling. Insurance company executives generally would only rely on exact figures to prove a business point, which requires actuaries to pound through data for weeks to get the correct number. Unfortunately, during the lengthy look at the data, innovation likely sits idle.  Google’s ability to not think in a vacuum or silo appears to be critical to moving innovation and ideas forward without being totally entrenched in analysis paralysis.
  • Google focuses on the customer. Repeatedly, Google employees drilled home how they view their relationships with their customers and their desires to constantly improve the lives of those customers.
  • Google wants to work with insurance regulators and policy makers. Google understands, respects and embraces the important role regulators play in protecting consumers. The fact that invited me to participate demonstrates this commitment.
  • Google is incredibly mission-focused. All the people I met from Google discussed the mission they had for their particular projects over everything else. Whether the missions were saving lives, improving buying experiences or lessening traffic and use of fossil fuels, these employees know the mission of the projects they are working on and how they relate back to the overall mission of Google.
  • Google could be a powerful force in the insurance space. Google has smart people who understand customers and the demands of the customers. Combining this with a desire to improve customers’ experiences and the immense technological and mobile resources Google possesses likely makes it a strong source of innovation in insurance.
  • Google employees are powerful brand ambassadors. How employees act says more about an organization than any activities the employer does. Every Google employee I met was a true Google ambassador. From the individual who welcomed us, to the person who showed us around, to the staff in the cafeteria, to the executives. Google’s employees understand Google’s mission and, more importantly, have bought into the vision.
I have spent a lot of time working with innovative ideas and new companies. These experiences assist me in my role as commissioner in fulfilling the mission of the Iowa Insurance Division. As a leading insurance state, we focus on insurance innovation, and I’m excited to invite you to register for the third annual Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines on April 26-28, 2016. During this symposium, renowned industry keynote and panel speakers will engage in dialogue on regulatory trends and issues that are affecting the industry, as well as focus on innovations in insurance across the globe. Don’t miss your chance to participate, ask questions and learn from some of the brightest minds from around the world. Visit www.globalinsurancesymposium.com for more information.    

Nick Gerhart

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Nick Gerhart

Nick Gerhart served as insurance commissioner of the state of Iowa from Feb. 1, 2013 to January, 2017. Gerhart served on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) executive committee, life and annuity committee, financial condition committee and international committee. In addition, Gerhart was a board member of the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR).


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