March 29, 2018
How Insurance Can Exploit Blockchain
by Andy Dey
With use cases in fraud protection, risk management, claim processing and smart contracts, blockchain has a promising future.
As the insurance industry races to adopt new technologies and stay one step ahead of the insurtech disruptors, blockchain has become a widely discussed topic. With use cases in fraud protection, risk management, claim processing and smart contracts, blockchain has a promising future with benefits for both independent agents and carriers. Although adoption is still in its initial inception, interesting pilot use cases are popping up across the industry.
Blockchain’s greatest value lies in its distributed ledger technology, which acts as a uniform source of truth. This technology is very hard to hack and provides a wealth of benefits to every member of the insurance distribution channel. Let’s take a look at some of the ways blockchain is being used in insurance today.
In my experience and research, the most commonly discussed use case of blockchain lies in the execution of smart contracts. For those unfamiliar with the concept, blockchain’s distributed ledger allows one computer to register an outgoing transaction and then enables a peer group of computers to validate and accept the transaction through a consensus-driven approach. This means that copies of the transactions are now stored in a distributed fashion across the network, and hacking or altering this information will require more than 50% of the computers in the network to be compromised simultaneously. This ensures that the source of truth is preserved and protected in a robust fashion and can be accessed by any legitimate party with the right permission levels.
While the execution of smart contracts in travel insurance has already made a splash – see AXA or FlightDelay or Lemonade – there remain other use cases that are sure to make a large impact. One example is flood insurance. In areas prone to heavy rainfall and flash floods, insurers can use regional geological data to automatically trigger insurance claims. Meaning, once flood waters reach a predetermined level, a smart contract trigger will spontaneously file a claim for the insured. Another application with a similar process is earthquake insurance. If an earthquake were to occur above a certain magnitude, the smart contract would initiate the insured’s claim based on regional geological data and preset factors in the contract.
See also: Collaborating for a Better Blockchain
I also see blockchain expanding into the auto insurance space through the use of telematics devices. These devices are already able to track data in terms of wear and tear, collisions and driving patterns. Such data can be used to calculate insurance premiums that are more targeted and personalized. In a broader sense, IoT-based sensor data can power the metered insurance space in the shared economy (Uberization).
For both the insurer and the insured, the smart contracts built on the blockchain will drive more efficiency across the insurance value chain. A key factor in the expansion and adoption of smart contracts in the insurance industry is data. Smart contracts are only viable if there are external sources of data that are validated and reliable. The more data that is universally shared and available, the more innovative insurance products will be adopted.
Fraud Protection and Proof of Insurance
The FBI estimates the U.S. government spends more than $40 billion per year on insurance fraud, leading to my next, and possibly most compelling, application of blockchain. With an aggregated repository of data that is validated and maintained by carriers, agents and government entities, it becomes easy to track down insurance fraud spanning multiple carriers. IBM has already announced a new framework for securely operating blockchain networks to directly fight insurance fraud, and I expect more companies to follow suit.
In addition to fraud protection, blockchain technology is powering another compliance innovation: proof of insurance. In December 2017, a consortium of insurance leaders dubbed the RiskBlock Alliance launched RiskBlock, a proof-of-insurance tool built on the blockchain framework. It was designed to help insurers, insureds and law enforcement simplify how they verify insurance coverage in real time, eliminating the need for paper-based insurance cards. Nationwide is already in the pilot stage with RiskBlock and hopes to expand the program this year.
Insurance Distribution Model
Despite new insurtech entrants disrupting the industry every day, innovations such as blockchain ensure that the insurance agent will always remain the cornerstone of the insurance distribution model. As reported in the examples above, the common theme among the benefits of blockchain’s distributed ledger technology — the ability to automatically file claims, process data and inform policies — drives efficiency and visibility into the entire insurance ecosystem. For carriers, a uniform and validated data source allows transparency into risk assessment, underwriting and a channel to reach the end-insured directly. With automated processes executed through blockchain, brokers are able to focus on building relationships, expanding their offerings and solidifying their role in the distribution model. Similarly, customers benefit from personalized and increased touch points, leading to better tailored insurance policies and cost efficiencies. As these relationships grow, so does the velocity of business…it’s a win-win for all the constituents in the value chain.
See also: Blockchain: What’s the Real Story?
We are only just beginning to see the potential of blockchain technology in insurance. With blockchain and insurtech startups, coalitions such as RiskBlock Alliance and major carriers leading the charge, the insurance industry is poised for an imminent digital revolution.