Tag Archives: corporation

How On-Demand Economy Can Prosper

Even some of the most successful innovators in history would tell you, “Don’t quit your day job.” George Eastman worked full-time while tinkering in his mother’s kitchen on the inventions that let him found Eastman Kodak in the late 1880s. A century later, Steve Wozniak worked at Atari while developing the computer that he and Steve Jobs would turn into Apple. The fact is: No matter how great the idea, or how great a worker’s skill, it’s hard to mesh with an existing enterprise or any other group.

The reason is explained by Nobel laureate economist Ronald Coase in his influential 1937 essay, “The Nature of the Firm.” He theorized that people choose to organize themselves in companies and corporations rather than contracting their services out directly because of transaction costs. He cited: search and information costs; bargaining and decision costs; and policing and enforcement costs. “Within a firm, these market transactions are eliminated, and in place of the complicated market structure with exchange transactions is substituted the entrepreneur coordinator, who directs production,” he wrote.

Essentially, marketing, selling, pricing, negotiating and getting paid as a self-employed person isn’t all rainbows and unicorns – the work critical to running a business can be enormously complicated, time-consuming and costly.

Thanks to technology, much has changed since 1937. Mobile connections, broadband and ubiquitous data have reduced transactional search and information costs considerably. It is much easier, faster and economical for a small business to effectively compete with larger firms.

There has been a major shift in our buying behavior, too – consider how profoundly Amazon or iTunes has altered the way we discover, compare and purchase goods. Companies like Uber have used technology to reduce our search and information costs, as well as our bargaining and decision costs and policing and enforcement costs. If reducing one transactional cost shifts the economy, then reducing all three transforms it….

We are now officially unlocking the potential of the on-demand economy – one that will revolutionize the 21st century workplace and workforce. It’s so new, we haven’t decided on a name for it yet; it goes by various monikers like Uberization, the gig economy, the on-demand economy, the access economy and the peer-to-peer economy.

This on-demand economy offers the exchange of goods and services between individuals instead of from business to consumer. The people providing goods and services aren’t necessarily employed by the company connecting them with the customer, either. Many are independent contractors or freelancers.

Technology acts as the intermediary automating the handling of pricing and payments, vetting providers through a user-rating system and matching providers with consumers’ needs. This intermediary speedily brings together supply and demand via a platform that can be controlled by an app on any mobile device. The platform makes information available and accessible in the manner most efficient for the business, ensuring that transactions that are started are more likely to be concluded. The platform often obviates bargaining, directly polices its members, enables community-driven self-policing and enforces the terms of interaction. The costs of this coordination is added to each peer-to-peer transaction.

The new economic model is a highly efficient, productive and cost-effective marketplace. Platforms like Luxe, Lyft and Uber offer transportation services; Caviar, Doordash and Munchery deliver food from local restaurants; Instacart will shop for and deliver grocery orders; AirBnB, HomeAway and Onefinestay connect renters and homeowners offering available space with people seeking accommodations; Handy, Taskrabbit and Thumbtack will help a household find an available plumber, drywaller, cleaner or furniture assembler; and delivery services like Postmates and Shyp will pick up, pack up and send packages.

There appears to be no lack of supply or demand in this rapidly evolving phenomenon. Almost 53 million Americans currently serve as providers to on-demand platforms, at least part-time. Having goods and services on demand satisfies our need for “instant gratification” and allows consumers to find a broad array of competitively priced services 24/7 – they can get what they want, when they want with the touch of a few buttons.

The advantages for providers are many, too. No longer saddled with the time-consuming chores of the self-employed, like marketing and promoting services, negotiating transactions or chasing down payments, the on-demand economy provides freelancers with a turnkey, hassle-free method of accessing a large market of ready-and-willing customers whenever they want to work. It’s freelance freedom and flexibility with almost no barriers to entry.

You don’t need to be an economist to envision how the on-demand economy business model can benefit the marketplace as a whole: The Ma & Pa local restaurant that can easily deliver through a fleet without incurring staffing costs can substantially expand its market and service underserved markets. People can now use their cars to transport passengers and generate income rather than leave vehicles parked in driveways, resulting in a very good use of underutilized resources;. And, when a student can help an eBay seller package and deliver parcels on the fly, a job and professional support network are created that had not previously existed.

The new economy is here. It’s poised to democratize the marketplace and its workforce by maximizing underused assets, creating jobs, expanding markets and meeting the needs of underserved markets, all while creating a faster, easier way for us to get what we want, when we want it.

But this new business model comes with new world challenges as the distinction between personal and commercial activities becomes blurry. To thrive, policymakers, regulators, insurers and the companies enabling the new economy will have to work together to design a platform that protects consumers when they are operating as businesses.

How to Remove Fear in Risk Management

Someone is looking over your shoulder, and you know who it is. If you’re the CEO, it’s your board and shareholders. On the factory floor or in the cubicles, it’s the foreman or the supervisor. But just as often these days, the sources of anxiety and caution confronting risk managers may not be corporate employees at all. Rapidly shifting technology that is often difficult to understand and measure, unfamiliar demographics, expanding globalization, and ever more stringent regulatory compliance requirements are now part of an anxiety- producing stew that organizations’ risk managers must understand and deal with. All these forces threaten a corporation’s revenue, margins, profitability, and overall competitiveness more quickly and unpredictably than ever.

Consequently, if you are an internal auditor – the person responsible for assessing and helping improve the risk management process – your chair these days may feel more like a hot seat. Which of the decisions daily barraging a modern corporation should be the higher priorities? And how, in a business world of frequent disruption, will you, your superiors, and those who report to you weigh and mitigate the waves of serious risks facing the company nonstop? What are the most important metrics to use for any given risk issue? Can the company rely solely on its in-house staff to analyze and resolve unforeseen and often unforeseeable problems?

Just as important, how will the enterprise as a whole handle these issues and make necessary decisions? How does company culture get in the way of using risk management effectively, to reach the decisions that will help the company grow and become more competitive, and how can sustainable risk management (SRM) assist?

Company managers often are not encouraged to exercise independent judgment, even when they are the acknowledged experts. Without transparency and effective multilevel communications in their company, managers are likely to be wary of crossing unseen boundaries, suspect that hidden agendas are controlling important decisions, or feel isolated and unsure of the enterprise objectives that should help guide their decisions. Moreover, anxiety about making important decisions is common in organizations that don’t give their decision-makers the tools and data required to make intelligent risk analyses. Without confidence that they understand the risks associated with a decision, and in a culture where the consequences of a bad outcome are punitive, managers understandably are likely to be cautious.

Behind employees’ hesitation to make and express independent judgments or to make decisions can be a corporate culture of mistrust, caution, and covering one’s backside. In other words, a culture of fear – fear of losing face, losing a contract, losing revenue, losing political advantage, losing a job.

A culture of isolation and timidity defeats collaboration, creativity, transparency, and the ability of a corporation to objectively analyze the broad range of risks it faces each day. It can render the internal audit function far less effective and useful than it should be and can be. In this environment, the internal audit function may mistakenly be seen solely as a means of uncovering errors, assigning blame, and enforcing penalties. Managers may be understandably reluctant to provide anything other than the most general and diluted information about their operations and decisions.

One need not wade through the scientific research about the impact fear has on decision- making to understand how destructive it can be. The brain has separate centers for processing fearful and rewarding experiences. As Dr. Gregory Berns, director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University, has explained, “The most concrete thing neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off.” Good decisions in this state are unlikely. “Fear prompts retreat. It is the antipode to progress,” said Berns. “Just when we need new ideas most, everyone is seized up in fear, trying to prevent losing what we have left.”

In this way, fear can nullify or dilute a company’s risk management processes. An effective SRM program, however, encourages and supports an environment that minimizes fear, reduces uncertainty, and increases transparency and confidence in decision-making throughout the enterprise.

Barriers to Solutions

It may seem that established tenets of good corporate governance already include rooting out the fear, indifference, lack of collaboration, and siloed decision-making that stand in the way of optimizing risk management. After all, most companies talk an excellent game when it comes to collaboration and open and honest risk analysis. Too few, however, have developed the internal mettle to tolerate it.

Starting with assessing corporate culture and change management practices, internal auditors can play an important role in transforming the boilerplate talk into sustainable programs. They can provide unbiased, to-the-point assessments, independent of internal politics. The problems they find and the solutions they recommend can be critical for a company seeking to develop the capacity for SRM. But whether from too much caution and resignation or just fear of change, many internal auditors say the structure of their jobs discourages them from alerting their companies to critical gaps in risk assessment and mitigation.

A recent global study by The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) Research Foundation spotlights some of the problem areas. Not even two-thirds of the surveyed chief audit executives (CAEs) said they consult with division or business heads when they develop audit plans. Only slightly more than half said they consult with audit committees. There may be many reasons for this audit-in-isolation phenomenon, but it commonly occurs in companies that do not value the risk management process and therefore do not prioritize it. The phenomenon occurs in companies where key players are not encouraged to speak up.

Just one-third of audit plans are updated three or more times a year, the study found. This means that CAEs may be overlooking important changes in the business environment. No wonder only 57 percent said that their internal audit departments were “fully aligned or almost fully aligned” with the enterprise strategic plan. This kind of exclusion signals that leadership does not embrace the people responsible for monitoring management of the company’s risk and that the audit function is not seen as a critical part of the management process.

Our experience with clients reflects these findings and shows that risk management professionals themselves may be at least partially responsible for the isolation and erosion of their programs. They could assume, for instance, that the value and relevance of SRM are obvious and not consistently sell a program that’s underway, neglecting to point out its continuing value, highlight its successes, and develop metrics that are easily understandable.

The program itself may not be as inclusive as it should be. Sometimes risk management processes are not designed to seek out and incorporate the views of front-line employees. Any effective SRM process, however, must reach into the depths of company operations. At the same time, employees at all levels often are not trained well in how to assess and evaluate risk. Employees may be able to calculate some risk in dollar terms without appreciating that they also should be looking at, for example, threats to customer satisfaction, employee safety, and regulatory and contract compliance.

Too often, as well, an unappreciated or ineffective risk management program does not account for the unique characteristics and business objectives of the corporation. Organizations sometimes employ a cookie-cutter approach to developing a risk management framework that’s not calibrated to address essential and distinctive company attributes.

Sometimes risk reporting to the board and top executive levels may be so extensive and detailed that no one reads the reports. Or risk reporting may be so superficial that its assessments and proposed solutions carry little weight. When risk management is not seen as a source of continuous improvement for the organization, risk management funding may be erratic or inadequate, its staffing just an afterthought, and its placement in the corporate hierarchy too isolated to be effective.

Working Toward a More Viable Program

An SRM program protects and advances the organization’s primary business objectives. To do their job effectively, risk management leaders must be included as members of the executive management team. Their inclusion helps to ensure that consideration of risks is incorporated into every significant strategic decision.

It is also possible that a company and its leadership simply are not prepared for the important cultural shift required to champion SRM. All too typically, executives are experts at shifting blame, pointing fingers, and covering their reputations when something goes wrong or hard decisions must be made.

SRM requires a no-blame environment, a collaborative process in which personnel work together to assess and solve problems without fear that their careers will suffer or they will lose the confidence of their peers. A frank and constructive assessment of an operational failure, for instance, is possible only when, instead of trying to find fault, the evaluation concentrates on solutions to keep the failure from happening again. This collaborative approach is not common enough in modern corporations.

Why SRM Is Worth It

The benefits of developing an open, fearless, and transparent SRM program ripple through every level of the enterprise. The program helps ensure that the company can perform with confidence and agility in the face of unpredictable events and shifting economic conditions. It supports the development of accurate, timely, and relevant metrics that reduce uncertainty in decision-making. It provides an effective process for dealing with emerging technologies, surprising moves by competitors, market uncertainties, natural disasters, and even internal scandals. When the program is working, the board, C-suite executives, and managers at all levels understand the kinds of risks the company must deal with and then use that awareness when making their decisions.

An active and embedded SRM program, visibly supported by leaders, regularly refreshes the managers’ awareness and stimulates their insights concerning the shifting market and business conditions that pose the greatest risks to the company’s operations. Employees work collaboratively with their supervisors and are asked to help solve missteps rather than being blamed or punished for them.

SRM offers continuing opportunities to save costs and improve productivity. It can reduce operational and material losses and waste and spotlight process improvements. SRM more closely aligns people, assets, processes, and technology with the organization’s business strategies. It also reassures the board and other stakeholders that compliance issues are being addressed and that company assets and reputation are being protected. The results – which we see time and again – include increased growth, improved profitability, and higher staff morale.

Are We Entering a Bear Market?

We promise, when we wrote our monthly discussion a few weeks back titled, “At the Margin,” we had absolutely no magical insight into the price correction U.S. stocks experienced last week and this, one of the more noticeable in quite some time. You may remember our early August discussion heavily detailed the frailties of human decision-making regarding investments, with particular light being cast on emotional crowd behavior. Greed and fear are two of the most emotionally dominant drivers of decision-making, and two of the greatest enemies of investors. We’ve learned after decades of experience in the financial markets that controlling our emotions is the most important personal exercise for investment decision-making. Having said this, we thought it was important to look at the bigger picture in light of the downward movement in the U.S. and global stock markets over the last several trading days.

Although it’s never fun to experience a price correction, we need to remember that price corrections are normal in financial markets. What is abnormal are markets that go straight up without corrections — or markets that go straight down, for that matter. With all major U.S. equity markets off 10% or more as of this writing, one of the longest periods in market history without a 10% correction has ended. The last time we experienced one was in 2011. The steep correction that has taken place in the last week in U.S. equity markets appears to be a combination of emotional selling and forced selling because of margin calls, as the fundamentals of the markets have not drastically changed in the past week.

Let’s step back for a second.

Is this the beginning of a bear market in US stocks? No one knows. For now, there is not enough “weight of the evidence” to suggest this, but we’re keeping score. Although few probably realize this, about a month ago 20% of the S&P 500 stocks had already fallen 20% from their highs, well before the recent correction in the major indexes. The fact is that a “stealth correction” has already been occurring for some time now. If you own the stocks that have corrected in this manner, you are fully aware. What happened in recent days is that a lot of the “winners” of this year sold off. Historically, market corrections have been nearer an end than a beginning once the leaders finally correct. We will be watching market character closely in the weeks ahead.

It has been so long since we have experienced any type of even semi-meaningful correction in the U.S. equity markets that we have been convinced, when it finally arrived, it would feel like a bear market and emotions would be highly charged. Sound familiar?

Is there plenty to worry about in financial markets and global economies today? You had better believe it, but there has been plenty to worry about for years now in the aftermath of the Great Recession. U.S. corporations and households are a lot healthier today than was the case a number of years ago. Perhaps ironically, it’s the government sector where we find balance sheets impaired. It’s a good thing we can’t buy share ownership in global governments.

The worries will never stop; there is always something to worry about with the flood of data tied to financial markets and global economies. The key is assessing the magnitude of the reality of these worry points and how they may affect real world economic outcomes.

For now, no one knows where the markets will travel with any day-to-day precision. We have been expecting a correction for some time now, although having it happen in just a few days feels like quite the dramatic event. That sense of “free falling” over a short time is never comfortable. We instinctively act to stop the feeling by any means possible; it’s just who we are.

We believe it is imperative to do two things as we move ahead – 1) keep our emotions in check while thinking objectively and 2) assess forward market character on a continuing and intensive basis. As we have stated many a time in our communications to you, risk management is the key to successful investment outcomes over time. We know emotions have recently run higher than has been the case for some time now, and because of this it feels the risks of being invested in the equity markets are greater. If the weight of the evidence tells us this for-now-short-term correction is to become something much deeper, we will not hesitate to take protective action. The key in investing is not pinpointing the market peak prior to a correction nor nailing an exact interim market bottom before a rally. The key is avoiding large bear market drawdowns and participating in favorable market environments to the greatest extent possible.

Next-Gen Analytics Drive Efficiency

Across the insurance industry, analytics has become the most heralded technology investment for insurance companies, wholesalers, brokers, agents and other intermediaries. Yet, with soft market conditions, thinning margins, intensifying competition, escalating M&A activity and rapidly evolving technology, making the right choices and investments is imperative.

Not surprisingly, many insurers and intermediaries have opted to maintain systems that have long become obsolete before jumping into what they’re led to believe may be the next generation of features.

The issue is where to focus. Selecting the right platform essentially comes down to assessing an organization’s current and future information needs and matching them to today’s technology offerings.

To put this in a wider context, let’s take a closer look at some of the dynamics currently facing the commercial insurance marketplace.

Broker and Agent Challenges

Competition

Brokers are moving aggressively to build their business across all market segments, industries and geographies.

Consolidation

The pace of M&A is accelerating among mid-sized and smaller broker/agents. This affects all players – whether you are an acquirer, likely to be acquired or face direct competitors with added capabilities or resources through M&A transactions.

Focus on Maintaining or Improving Margins

All players are driving not only for market share but for growth that will deliver higher margins. Accordingly, competition among brokers and agents is intensifying for the most profitable business segments.

Drive for Efficiency

With the sustained soft commercial insurance market, brokers and agents face an imperative for greater efficiency and improvement in workflow structure.

Rising Client Expectations

Despite generally lower rates for insurance coverage, clients continue to have higher service expectations of all their providers.

Reconciling Old and New Technology

Brokers and agents must balance the need to incorporate technology against the cost of development, implementation and integration of any new system with legacy systems.

Insurer Challenges

Strengthening Distribution Network

Many insurers are working to develop and expand business with national, regional and local brokers and agents.

Navigating Competition

Insurers face intensifying competition for all types of business, especially in profitable coverage lines and with high-margin client segments.

Emerging Risks and Opportunities

Evolving risks provide opportunities for innovation both in terms of creating products and improving existing coverage lines.

Maintaining Individual Producer Relationships

Insurers want ways to address a lack of visibility of accounts and account owners at national, regional and local brokers; to remain effective, they must keep up with contact changes at brokers, shifting responsibilities of client managers.

Growth vs. Retention

With each renewal, insurers must balance need for client retention with a drive for new business.

Better Data and Feedback

To meet aggressive growth goals, insurers need improved market intelligence and feedback on product offerings and potential solutions for improving both retention and capturing new business. They also can gain from formal feedback mechanisms to track reasons for lost business. 

Building solutions: Meeting the industrywide need for tech-based analytics

In recent years, global brokers have developed and implemented proprietary systems that enable them to capture details of individual placement transactions on a global basis and gain insights on pricing trends, terms and conditions, market penetration, client and carrier characteristics and success rates.

This information also yields substantial benchmarking data for senior management, individual brokers and marketing executives. For insurers, these analytical capabilities have proved invaluable in developing and refining insurance products and services, targeting industry segments more effectively and operating more profitably.

Within the U.S., however, the largest global brokers still account for only about 20% of the overall commercial insurance marketplace. As insurers strive to expand their business with national, regional and local brokers and agents, they need similar robust analytical capabilities to achieve efficiencies.

Today, most insurers have access to a variety of technology-based solutions for tracking and analyzing various types of claims. However, beyond what’s currently available from the largest brokerages for their own business, insurers generally lack similar solutions for identifying and managing their incoming business and continuing clients across the spectrum of their broker and agency relationships.

The next generation of analytical platforms will enable insurers to track, manage, understand and evaluate business obtained from each of their brokerage and agency relationships. Insurers will be able to pinpoint producers at each broker directly responsible for placing business by geography, client size, industry sector and other delineators.

With a clear line of sight across their entire portfolio, insurers will have enhanced abilities to develop and roll out new products and policy features, especially those targeted to specific industry sectors or client types. They will be able to get rapid feedback on why they lost business or failed to win new clients.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, brokers and agents face similar challenges with respect to their accounts and underwriter relationships. Given the number and spread of clients in their books, brokers want solutions that enhance their efficiency and ability to service and grow their business.

New platforms also will offer brokers and agents the ability to track and monitor their business, as well as to strengthen and expand their relationships with insurers. Individual producers will be able to view their own accounts and benchmark them against those of the same size, geography, industry and other factors.

This, in turn, will help brokers and agents identify and address gaps in client programs, expand the insurers providing quotes for individual clients and specific coverage lines, negotiate pricing terms and conditions more effectively and elevate overall service delivery and performance.

The same platforms will offer views for broker/agency senior leadership that will detail account profitability; help assess performance by producer, office or region; and make informed decisions about resource allocation, sales, marketing and planning. After a merger or acquisition, the systems will help accelerate business integration, including the development of consistent service delivery across the combined book.

Major advancements in technology, including dramatic decreases in data storage costs afforded by the cloud, will make new analytics platforms more affordable and accessible to insurance companies, brokers and agencies of all sizes. Ultimately, the widespread availability, real-time information, feedback and robust capabilities of the next generation of analytics platforms will propel the insurance distribution system into the 21st century.

Stay tuned.

Healthy Disrespect for the Impossible

When people are extraordinarily successful, examining their characteristics, values and attitudes can be instructive. The rest of us can learn from them and possibly adopt some of them to advance our own goals. Larry Page, co-founder of Google is an example of one who has achieved exceptional heights. Peering into his thought process can be enlightening.

Page says, “Have a healthy disrespect for the impossible.”

To conceive and develop the Google concept and then the massive company, its young founders had to have a very healthy disrespect for the impossible. Others besmirched the idea of collecting all the information in the world and then making it available to everyone in the world. Not only was it a bold idea, it was thought by most to be ridiculous and impossible. But Larry Page and Sergey Brin had a very healthy disrespect for the impossible. They made it happen.

The concept of disrespecting the impossible could be entertained by those of us in the workers’ compensation industry. True, few of us are likely to reach the pinnacle level of Larry and Sergey, but we can borrow some of their bold thinking to get past the assumptions and barriers that keep us from achieving more.

Everyone agrees workers’ compensation as an industry needs a healthy nudge to try new things. The industry is known for its resistance to change. Maybe the way to change the industry, to be an industry disruptor, is to begin with an attitude of disrespecting the impossible.

Many people, including those in the workers’ compensation industry, focus on why something cannot be done. Reasons for this notion are many, but probably cultural tradition plays a role. Inventiveness is not expected or appreciated. Too often, the best way to keep a job in corporations is to keep your head down and avoid being noticed. Spearheading a new ideas is risky.

Stonewalling new ideas or doing things differently or adopting new technology in an organization thwarts creative thought and certainly diverts progress. I was once told that to incorporate a very good product would mean doing things differently in the organization. So the answer was automatically no!

We all know the old saying about the word “ass-u-me.” It actually packs some truth. To avoid the trap, check assumptions for veracity. Incorrect assumptions can be highly self-limiting.

Begin the process of problem-solving with new thinking — disrespect the impossible. What could be done if the perceived barriers did not exist? What could be accomplished if new methods were implemented.

Probably the most important ingredient for achievement in any context is tenacity. It’s easy to quit when the barriers seem daunting. Tenacity combined with a disrespect for the impossible might be unbeatable.