Tag Archives: covid-19

COVID-19 Risk and Buyers’ Psychology

Despite all the attention devoted to the continuing devastation from COVID-19, compliance with mitigation measures is not turning out to be universal. Even public officials have been bending the rules. Indeed, a recent study from the U.K.-based behavioral science consultancy Dectech found that nearly a third of those surveyed had spent time with someone outside of their household despite restrictions on such socializing.

Similarly, many families are underinsured, suggesting that perhaps they do not see the value of such financial protection, or do not understand their risk in not having it.

Is the problem that people just don’t understand the risks of this pandemic, or is the issue with risk in general?

A handful of studies published since the summer have examined the psychology of how the public perceives the pandemic’s risks. What can these results tell us about the public’s perception of COVID-19 risk, and how can this information help insurers understand consumer mindsets and needs?

Understanding the threat of COVID-19

When people understand that a reasonable threat exists they will generally be more likely to take actions to avoid it. This was shown to be the case during 2014’s avian flu epidemic, and COVID-19 research has consistently been telling a similar story — the larger the threat people feel, the more likely they are to take protective measures such as washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing and even panic shopping.

But the bigger challenge may well be the public’s sense of the threat in the first place. In one U.S. study, half of the respondents substantially underestimated their risk of dying if infected. Perhaps more worryingly, older respondents and individuals with underlying health conditions also underestimated the virus’s potential threat despite understanding that they were at higher risk than the population average.

See also: How to Leverage Behavioral Science

A well-established finding from behavioral economics is that humans are often poor at understanding their own risk objectively. For example, a majority of people implausibly believe they are better than average drivers, and many also believe their chances of avoiding cancer are better than other people’s, despite no objective basis for the belief. This comparative optimism — the belief that negative events are more likely to happen to others — might also explain how people are perceiving the risk of COVID-19. A study early in the current pandemic on perceived risk and self-reported personal behavior conducted by researchers at the California Institute of Technology found that participants perceived a high level of risk to the general population but tended to rate themselves as being at lower risk than the average person. This perception was not influenced by whether the respondents were actually at lower risk than average.

This finding, replicated by a group of researchers from the U.K., U.S., Europe and Australia using the U.K. data, also suggests that, despite the inescapable factual information available about COVID-19, people still believe “it won’t happen to me.”

Perhaps most interesting is the finding that factors beyond objective facts influence COVID-19 risk perception. According to a study from the University of Cambridge of almost 7,000 individuals in 10 different countries, although participants had relatively high threat perception, men, who are statistically far more likely to die from COVID-19, were less likely to report feeling threatened by the pandemic than women. The researchers also found that risk perception can be amplified by how a person’s friends and family are perceiving the risk and by their having existing prosocial values (values that promote behavior benefiting society as a whole). The Cambridge study also showed that the most powerful predictor of COVID-19 risk perception was direct personal experience with the disease.

Clearly, despite all the objective information we have at our disposal, visceral experiences — i.e., concrete evidence obtained and interpreted through our own senses, emotions and social interactions — and existing attitudes are powerful drivers of people’s reactions to external threats.

Is risk knowledge or a feeling?

These studies paint a picture of reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic that are consistent with psychologists’ view of risk perception: Perceiving a threat may push people to take action, but perceiving a threat accurately is not guaranteed. While perception of COVID-19 risk is relatively high on the scales used in the studies, it is still underestimated and subject to biases such as over-optimism and social influence, and context such as pre-existing worldview, direct personal experience and gender identity.

Risk, to humans, is subjective — fundamentally about what one is feeling. Fear, disgust and the prospect of guilt and regret turn people away from danger, and, when not sure how to respond, humans look to other people’s behavior and their own expectations for answers. This is how people experience the world first-hand, and this experience, rather than objective facts, frequently dominates judgments and decisions.

To understand the physical effects of COVID-19, seeing someone in a hospital bed who is either intubated or on mechanical ventilation is likely to have a far more powerful visceral effect on a person than case numbers. People can empathize with the horror of the situation and grasp the risk in a way that knowledge of the numbers just cannot achieve.

Perhaps this was the idea behind one U.K. city’s campaign to promote compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. Its shocking slogan, “Don’t Kill Grandma,” sought to elicit an emotional response to promote a personal understanding of COVID-19’s risks rather than presenting statistics and then expecting a highly rational and analytical response.

Communicating to inspire protective action

Should communicators use shock tactics such as fear appeals to help people gain an appropriate understanding of risk? One of the most widely discussed uses of fear appeals, i.e., tactics designed to elicit emotional discomfort and motivate particular responses, are the campaigns to push smoking cessation. Cigarette packets in the U.S. are required to display warning messages, and in the U.K. must have both warning language and harrowing images of the physical effects of smoking, in the hopes that user exposure to these horrifying images may promote behavior change.

Fear appeals can be effective, but there are serious caveats. Overly shocking communications can make people disengage and ignore or react defensively to the intended message altogether. Finding the right balance of engaging emotions while sustaining people’s attention is vital for risk communicators. In particular, being able to show that a risk is personally relevant and that one’s own actions can minimize the danger of a particular risk are key elements of making fear appeal messages work.

Insurance marketers face a similar challenge in persuading consumers to protect their assets and finances. It can be off-putting to communicate risk by scaring potential customers. Also, the industry is dominated by a highly objective and numbers-based understanding of risk, but, as the COVID-19 research shows, people do not usually think of risk statistically.

See also: COVID and Power of Personal Connections

Insurers can learn from the COVID-19 research that, while it is difficult for people to appreciate intangible risks, communicating risk in terms of lived experiences, whether their own or that of others, might be a powerful tactic. From this perspective, it is unsurprising that insurance sales increase in response to emotively striking but objectively unimportant events, such as widely reported floods leading to increased insurance demand in unaffected areas, and the death of Kobe Bryant generating a spike in life insurance sales. For insurers, this might mean finding ways to approach customers at moments when risk events are salient and emotionally resonant — when such events and people’s interactions with the information are spurring thinking about caring for their families, health and homes. These could be important opportunities for demonstrating the value of insurance products.

COVID-19 communications and insurance marketing share a conundrum. Objective risk for humans is often intangible. Insurers seek to understand and communicate health and financial risk objectively, but also need to acknowledge that customers might not receive that objective message. Exposing the risk by creating or exploring feelings that resonate with lived experience, identity and expectations are going to count for far more than just bare facts.

How Insurers Can Achieve Greatness

Leadership is a necessity in times of comfort and crisis. But now is the time for the insurance industry to lead by subsidizing the cost and distribution of a specific necessity: disposable face masks. Now is the time for insurers to be true to their respective brands by respecting the urgency of the present, so they may respond to the challenges of COVID-19 by presenting the public with ample supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Leadership of this kind is a lifesaving measure, which also offers immeasurable savings. The alternative is wrong as a matter of morals and money, because when an act does not make sense, when an act violates common sense, the cost comes in the form of many dollars and cents; billions of dollars in medical bills for millions of patients nationwide.

Were insurers to subsidize one of the least expensive but most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19, were insurers to advance the issue of public health by promoting this issue on the outside of every face mask, were insurers to show their faces to the public, the reaction by the public would be huge.

An insurer’s logo would be a mobile advertisement. Truth in advertising would no longer be a contradiction in terms. Not when it would be impossible to deny what people could see: PPE in action.

According to Vitali Servutas and Brent Dillie of AmeriShield:

“Compliance governs the insurance industry as much as it inspires the industriousness of our commitment to public health and personal safety. By complying with the rules of the CDC and the Berry Amendment, we give hospitals, businesses and consumers a safe, affordable and convenient means of protection against COVID-19. Disposable face masks are essential to winning this fight, which is why insurers should support or subsidize the use of these masks for everyone.”

I agree with this statement because the words speak to a third “P,” patriotism. 

Helping Americans by increasing jobs for Americans is good for all Americans. This policy is wise, too, because it highlights the value of oversight and quality control. Put another way, what works well for consumers is a policy that works to expand wellness.

Insurers have every reason to support this policy, given the nature of the pandemic and the pandemic’s toll on the nature of how we live now; of how we live to survive, for now.

We need protection, yes, but we also need to know we share the same goal: that we are in this fight together, that we will hang together, that we are and will be stronger together.

See also: Insurance CEOs Spec Out a Post-COVID World

Insurers have the resources to achieve great things. If they summon the will to do this one thing, protect the public by providing the public with disposable face masks, then insurers will achieve greatness. 

History will record these things, just as people now living will tell future generations about the good works that make insurers institutions of greatness.

The public welcomes this moment.

New Paradigm for Reinsurance

The global reinsurance industry has been battered by several years of underperformance. It has been hit by natural catastrophe losses, both modeled and unmodeled, social inflation, declining investment returns and diminished reserve releases and is now facing an unprecedented globally systemic loss in COVID-19. Have we now reached the point where the global reinsurance market can morph into a new paradigm, allowing a more responsible and sustainable market to emerge? Or are we seeing a reworking of old approaches that have failed to deliver the sustainable, efficient solutions that primary insurers, policyholders and increasingly society seek?

Moments like this do not come often. Arguably, the last opportunity for a reset was 20 years ago in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. So, what has gone wrong, and how can we build back better?

The harsh fact is that, with a consistent weighted cost of capital in the 7% to 8% range, the global reinsurance industry has not covered its cost of capital for the last six years. A prolonged soft market has led to under-reserving on many long-tail lines, a problem that is being exacerbated by social inflationary pressures. Overreliance on pricing models that have proved unreliable has led to unsustainably low pricing, which eventually requires disruptive correction.

Despite the unsatisfactory performance, capital has continued to flow into the global reinsurance market, most notably in the very significant expansion in insurance-linked securities (ILS) over the last 10 years but also through retained earnings on existing reinsurers, which have been bolstered by investment returns. Without the constraints of capital limitation to control excessive competition, the inevitable result has been underperformance as reinsurers chased top-line growth at the expense of profit.

Fortunately, the reinsurance industry remains well-capitalized, with capital levels above the end of 2018 and only slightly reduced on the capital levels at the end of 2019. Because capital constraint is clearly not going to limit pricing competition, we must look elsewhere for drivers that will help to put discipline and structure around achieving sustainable, adequate returns.

Investment income offers a potential solution. Unlike previous hard markets, when investment rates were much higher, current investment rates remain pitifully low, and are likely to remain so for years because nearly all governments are pursuing fiscal expansion as a result of COVID-19. Most reinsurers’ investment holding periods are four to six years, and they have to face the reality that low investment returns will continue.

Faced with the loss of the investment crutch, reinsurers have no option but to concentrate on improving underwriting results to generate enough margin to reward their capital. With a 7% to 8% cost of capital and return-on-equity (ROE) targets of 9% to 10%, reinsurers now need to run combined ratios in the low 90s, something the industry has not achieved for many years. This requires a back-to-basics underwriting approach to ensure that each unit of risk accepted is appropriately priced within a reinsurer’s overall portfolio. This approach inevitably means rate increases, along with changes to terms and conditions, neither of which will be easy to achieve in a global environment where many policyholders are under significant financial stress.

Reinsurers have a delicate path to navigate, but the strong capital position should let the industry ensure that risk is appropriately differentiated, and that pricing corrections are applied on a case-by-case basis in a sustainable fashion that clients can manage.

See also: 4 Post-COVID-19 Trends for Insurers

More important than addressing the short-term issues is to avoid the mistakes of the past and build a better future. Reinsurers must enhance their value to society and build long-term demand. Here, the COVID-19 situation helps, as it has moved the discussions about uncorrelated tail risk from theory to practice, and with it the demand for reinsurance. At the same time, the increased reliance on underwriting profitability is emphasizing volatility management, where again reinsurance plays a major role. Risks such as cyber and climate change also fall into the uncorrelated tail risk category, and again reinsurers have a pivotal role to play. Finally, there is the enormous opportunity represented by the uninsured economic gap. Finding innovative solutions to help society narrow the gap will lead to a complete reframing of the reinsurance market.

Achieving this will require dedication, long-term vision and the ability to build partnerships with organizations that the reinsurance market has never interacted with before, many in innovative public-private partnerships.

The opportunity to build back a better reinsurance market is clearly before us. The test will be whether reinsurers can develop transparent solutions that bridge the gap between capital that requires reasonable sustainable returns and new risks that threaten society. If the reinsurance industry fails to grasp this opportunity, it will be doomed to suffer the fate of so many, with the current generation repeating the mistakes of predecessors.

You can find this article originally published here.

COVID-19: A Catalyst for Key Reviews

Law firms and accounting firms alike have complex and often rigorous conflicts and intake processes to vet new business and determine the worthiness of accepting and representing clients. These processes need to consider many different ethical and compliance considerations, depending on the type of work and the jurisdiction(s) the work will reside in. Internally, there are often multiple approvals that must be obtained before representing a new client, and the intake requests often must pass through multiple teams for review and input. While firms have, at times, bolted on additional functions and ad hoc workflows to accommodate new or growing needs, it is not common for these processes to get routinely reviewed for improvements and adjustments. That was until COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced firms to pause and review three key areas: conflicts and intake processes, technology investments and personnel. Considering conflicts and intake are the initial gateways for all business coming into a firm, and a way to provide a first impression for how a potential client’s firm operates, firms should assess every aspect of their processes to ensure the resources involved can seamlessly adapt to the challenges a pandemic creates, such as using a distributed workforce and a greater need for more mobile technology functionality.

Processes

Firms should use this challenging time to take a deep dive into reviewing their conflicts and intake processes and make these reviews an annual exercise. Create a small team responsible for this annual review. Review all procedures starting at each process stage and the correlating micro-level inputs and outputs, and then learn where the efficiency gaps are. Often, these gaps are caused by a bottleneck at a process stage because this particular step takes more time, and there are not enough resources to handle the volume, or the manual steps are not automated. An effective way to identify this bottleneck is to create quick, easy and routine internal surveys of users’ thoughts on the processes. Include all users that touch these processes, including partners, executive assistants, conflicts and intake staff and departments with overlapping interests or information sharing needs, such as billing, HR, marketing, and IT-support personnel. These annual reviews of the current conflicts and intake processes will help to identify and prioritize areas of improvement. Use the information gathered in the reviews as the building blocks to execute the necessary changes. Performing these reviews annually will help transform a firm from reactive to proactive, which will help firms be more agile as they pivot to address challenges and needs now, and in the future before those challenges and needs become a problem for the firm.  

Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced firms to review their technology investments, and it is prudent to do so while reviewing the current conflicts and intake technology contracts. There are resources and tools already paid for to help review technology investments that may not be utilized. Reach out to each vendor to find out if there are any new or additional mobile features associated with the product’s use. Finally, ask each technology vendor what its future road map holds for innovation, as well as additional features and functionality. By reviewing conflicts and intake related technology and associated contracts, a firm may realize additional value, features and functionality from their existing technology. A review can also shine a light on potential inadequacies of existing technology and help firms start researching and moving to a better solution. 

See also: 3 Silver Linings From COVID-19

Personnel 

As important as reviewing the conflicts and intake processes is, as well as evaluating what technology investments are, it is equally important to check in on the people who perform these functions. The COVID-19 pandemic has generally resulted in the conflicts and intake staff working from home. This situation can create an environment where collaboration and teamwork could decrease because the workforce is distributed rather than being centralized. To avoid problems, consider cross-training personnel so they learn new skills and can serve the firm in other capacities. Cross-training also creates collaboration and teamwork among the conflicts and intake teams. These efforts will enrich the personnel’s skill sets, increase social interaction with each team and create contingency options for times when a need for a certain position, role or responsibility arises due to changing circumstances. This will also help a firm adapt to situations, such as a pandemic, without missing a beat.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of preparedness and review. A continuous review of a firm’s conflicts and intake processes, technology and personnel should help firms improve in agility and efficiency while also strengthening risk management. Use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to create a refreshed conflicts and intake process by coupling a firm’s internal resources with an external, independent practitioner skilled in the conflicts and intake arena. Clients, partners and staff will reap the benefits immediately and in the future.

Election’s Impact on Liability Insurance

It now seems clear that practically no issue will be left unaffected by the impending presidential election, including matters pertaining to insurance. And while health insurance has been the most dominant political talking point, the November election may also have consequences for certain aspects of liability insurance. To be sure, neither President Trump nor former Vice President Biden has made liability insurance part of their explicit campaign platforms, but some analysts believe the liability landscape may be altered by the winner in myriad implicit ways.

There is a big question about whether a new stimulus bill will include substantial liability protections for businesses that were harmed during the COVID pandemic, that have concerns about employees returning to work or that want to guard against lawsuits from customers and workers exposed to the virus. Dozens of state and federal officials have proposed reforms that would give employers additional protections from liability related to COVID, but it’s all still up in the air both locally and nationally.

Washington, D.C. Republicans—including President Trump—have been steadfast in their effort to include liability protections in the next stimulus bill, although the details are vague. As recently as Oct. 6, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin proposed a $1.6 trillion stimulus package that would include $250 billion in state and local government relief as well as liability protections for businesses and workers, but a deal has not yet been struck with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Democrats continue to push back on several components, including those related to liability protection.

At the core of this issue is whether businesses, and even schools, will be given additional legal and financial protections against liability lawsuits resulting from COVID. By and large, Republicans evidently want to restrict a potential flood of COVID lawsuits against businesses. Otherwise, they believe that entities like businesses and schools and hospitals will see a wave of frivolous litigation that could further damage their ability to operate and that could harm the economy writ large.

Recognizing that liability protections may end up on the cutting room floor in stimulus negotiations, Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees to Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy Act, also known as the SAFE TO WORK Act, in late September. The bill includes a host of provisions that would make it much more difficult for plaintiffs to sue for injuries related to COVID infection.

In other words, a second term for President Trump will likely result in a more restrictive liability landscape, while a Biden presidency could find entities such as businesses, schools and healthcare facilities more vulnerable to liability suits.

See also: 5 Liability Loss Mega Trends

The problem, especially for small businesses right now, is this state of limbo, where they don’t know how this is all going to pan out. If liability protections aren’t pushed forward, either in the next stimulus or through SAFE TO WORK, businesses will most likely have to increase their liability insurance limits. But, according to analysts, they’re not going to spend that money until it becomes clear it’s absolutely necessary.