Tag Archives: economist

What Gig Economy Means for FinTech

Earlier, I discussed the implications of the gig economy on the insurance industry. We concluded that the existence of “crowdworkers” in the gig economy creates four main opportunities for insurers: a faster flow of information, claim process efficiencies, information customization and cost efficiencies.

We at WeGoLook believe all industries must take notice of the disruptive gig economy to remain smart and streamlined, adapting to consumer needs.

What I want to do today is focus on the traditional finance industry, which includes insurance, and the new disruptive trend in fintech. When you combine two major disruptive shifts (fintech and the gig economy) the results are game-changing.

The Fintech Disruption: The picture we can already see

Fintech is an umbrella term for an array of new financial sector services that were once monopolized by large financial institutions. This is a good thing. The change is forcing traditional banks to adapt and may even keep those pesky banking fees to a minimum!

Goldman Sachs predicts these fintech startups will capture as much as $4.7 trillion in annual revenue from traditional financial companies and $470 billion in profit.

These fintech companies include budgeting platforms such as Mint and Acorns, automated investing services such as Betterment or lending services such as Lending Club, OnDeck and Kabbage. What these companies are accomplishing is the decentralization and democratization of financial services like loans, banking and investing.

These fintech companies are making traditional services more accessible to consumers. Remember, the gig economy — or what some people term the “sharing economy” — is all about access.

See also: ‘Gig Economy’ Comes to Claims Handling  

In 2015, the Economist declared fintech to be a “revolution” of the finance industry, and Time Magazine stated banks should be “afraid” of fintech.

The Role of the Gig Economy in Fintech: Flexible workforces

In the gig economy, intermediaries disappear. But don’t ask me — ask your local taxi owner, hotelier or car rental agency if Uber, Airbnb or Turo have affected their way of doing business. This is a rhetorical question; of course there’s been an effect. This is a good thing, but how we react will define our businesses in the years to come.

When discussing what fintech means for the traditional finance industry, Barry Ritholtz, a Bloomberg columnist, aptly said: “What is much more interesting to me is how the traditional money-management industry will respond to and adopt the latest technologies for helping it operate more efficiently and with greater client satisfaction.”

This flexibility is something most industries, including the financial sector, have yet to fully embrace. There are a number of gig economy companies out there that have access to thousands of on-demand workers who can perform a number of tasks that were traditionally in the wheelhouse of full-time employees.

Why would an insurance company or other large financial institution have tens of thousands of employees across the country to verify assets when they can leverage a stable of trained, vetted and professional gig workers? This is the gig economy, where people with spare time are self-identified as willing to complete on-the-ground tasks in their location.

See also: The Gig Economy Is Alive and Growing  

Gig economy companies aren’t just a vendor service — they can be part of the process. Need we get into the amount of money this can save a company?

Let’s dive into a specific sector of fintech — online lending — as a case study of how the gig economy can enable and complement the lending process.

Gig Economy Case Study: A flexible workforce and online lending

Online lending, including peer-to-peer lending, is an old concept reinvented for a digital age. Entrepreneurs, business people and citizens have always borrowed and lent money, but only in recent history has that become much more sophisticated and accessible through online marketplaces and fintech services.

Foundation Capital predicts that more than $1 trillion in loans is expected to have originated through these new lending marketplaces by 2025. Let that number sink in for a second.

Indeed, fintech has enabled a safe lending environment between people and businesses through innovative screening and credit checking. Investors and businesses of all stripes can now lend and borrow through internet platforms without traditional bank applications or even the need to physically exchange documents.

In most of these cases, however, asset or document verification are still requirements.

Take, for instance, common financial loan transactions, such as vehicle financing or refinancing, property financing and business loans. All these transactions require some form of physical verification that an asset exists and is “as described.” Whether that is a car, property, business or some other assets, someone needs to fulfill lending requirements.

Gig economy companies such as mine, WeGoLook, have access to thousands of workers across the U.S. who are ready and trained to travel to a specific destination to complete asset verification tasks.

The Gig Worker Landscape: What that means for fintech

Technology allows us to direct our “lookers” to capture the correct on-site data and perform tasks in a consistent manner across the U.S. (and now in Canada, the U.K. and Australia). The benefits of this gig model are numerous, and a looker, or gig economy worker, can now:

  • Replace multiple vendors;
  • Augment or supplement employees in the field;
  • Augment, supplement or replace employees dispatched from a bank to verify assets or perform a task;
  • Provide faster task completion at a lower cost; and
  • Capture and store all data in the same place and format.

For an example of a real estate report we provide to many of our banking clients, click here.

Because of the flexibility inherent in gig work, there is a significant increase in flow of information to clients. For instance, companies like mine can provide an electronic “live” report, which allows clients to review photos and information prior to receiving a traditional report.

There is also the ability to support video, enabling a walk-through of a property, a demonstration of a piece of equipment in operation — and much more. This walk-through can also be done live with the client, if needed.

In the past, a customer would need to bring documents to a bank and work face-to-face with a branch employee for notarization and paperwork completion. This is no longer the case.

Gig employees can now immediately travel to the customer’s home or place of business. The gig worker can take photos of the asset, deliver documents, notarize originals, deliver them to a shipper and submit all relevant information via an electronic report.

This allows the bank to view all information and verify all documents are properly signed. The bank can then fund a customer before the FedEx or UPS package of original documents arrives.

See also: On-Demand Economy Is Just Starting

All this flexibility allows for faster turnaround times, the elimination of multiple vendors and a reduction in lag time waiting on a customer to try to get to the bank during business hours.

In the end, what we have is a smarter and faster process, which is important, particularly when a loan rate guarantee is in place.

Changing entire industries takes time, but the gig economy and fintech are rapidly altering the landscape of the traditional finance industry. As discussed, all three of these industries aren’t mutually exclusive. Traditional financial services can embrace the better use of technology through fintech and greater efficiency through the gig economy.

An Open Letter to Federal Regulators

I welcome and applaud the federal government’s interest in the regulation of our nation’s insurance industries and markets. In response to the Federal Insurance Office’s request for comments on the “gaps” in state regulation, I appreciate this opportunity to present my views. Indeed, your request, Director McRaith, for comments upon such “gaps” seems to reveal what a keen, yet heretofore unpublicized, good sense of humor you must have.

To very briefly introduce myself, I am an economist, a CFA and a life insurance agent of more than 20 years who has worked with scores of life insurers. My views have been published by the Journal of Insurance Regulation, the American Council on Consumer Interests and various other industry trade publications. My positions are based on my extensive experiences with our nation’s profoundly problematic state-based insurance regulatory system, problems that those who have not been intimately involved with in the marketplace might find inconceivable.

State insurance regulators have never required the proper disclosure of cash value life insurance policies. Markets do not work properly without adequately informed consumers. While life insurance is, conceptually, a simple product, without the proper conceptual understanding of and the necessary relevant information, consumers cannot effectively search for good value. “The Life Insurance Buyer’s Guide,” published by regulators and mandatorily distributed with policies by insurers and their agents, is not just a little deficient—it is misleading, seriously incomplete and defective. And, it, in all of its various state editions, has been that way for almost 40 years.

Professor Joseph Belth has written about this national problem for more than 40 years. In 1979, the Federal Trade Commission issued a scathing report on the life insurance industry’s cash value products. Cash value policies are composed of insurance and savings components, and consumers need appropriate information about both. This specifically requires appropriate disclosure of these policies’ annual compounding rates on consumers’ savings element as well as annual costs regarding their insurance element. Both Professor Belth and I have separately developed very similar disclosure approaches. (More information about my approach and its comparative conceptual and marketplace tested-advantages is available on my website or upon request.)

The exceptional nature of this regulatory failure can be grasped by specifically contrasting the states’ regulatory track record on cash value policy disclosures with those of other financial regulators’ actions. Investment product disclosures have been mandated since the 1930s. Truth in Lending was enacted in 1969. And yet, while a consumer’s potential risks in making a poor life insurance purchase can arguably be shown to be greater than those in purchasing a poor investment or obtaining an unattractive loan, Truth in Insurance or Truth in Life Insurance legislation has never been promulgated by any state.

A second insightful perspective, and one with much more tangible consequences on its harmful impacts on consumers, can be grasped by reviewing a few basic facts about the current life insurance marketplace.

Three Facts

Fact No. 1: The life insurance marketplace is awash with misinformation; this should hardly be surprising. Life insurers actually run misleading advertisements and conduct training in deceptive sales practices. Evidence of such has been repeatedly submitted to state regulators. Moreover, given the industry’s commission-driven sales practices (commissions that can make those of mortgage brokers, now notorious for their own misrepresentations, look tiny), sales misconduct is pervasive. The harmful consequences of such agent misrepresentations are manifested every day, both directly and indirectly, in unwise purchases or other costly life insurance mistakes by American families. These misrepresentations go unrecognized because of consumers’ inadequate financial grasp of a product’s true conceptual framework, and these go unpunished because, as a past president of the national largest agent organization has written in widely quoted published articles, state laws prohibiting deceptive life insurance sales practices have virtually never been enforced.

Fact No. 2: Cash value life insurance policies that are sold to be lifelong products have extraordinary high lapse rates. Data shows that over an eight-year period, approximately 40% of all the cash value policies of many life insurers are discontinued. It is true there are many possible causes for consumers to discontinue coverage, but age-old evidence of consumer dissatisfaction has been a virtual five-alarm that state regulators have ignored for more than 40 years. Such lapses are especially financially painful to consumers, as the typically sold cash value policy has huge front-end sales loads (sales loads regarding which agents are trained to make misrepresentations).

It is very important that all readers fully understand that, contrary to pervasive misconceptions and misrepresentations, cash value policies do not avoid the increasing costs of annual mortality charges as a policyholder ages. The fundamental advantages of cash value life insurance products come from the product’s tax privileges. Tax privileges, however, are essentially a free, non-proprietary input. In a competitive marketplace, firms cannot charge consumers or extract value for a free, non-proprietary input. No one pays thousands of dollars in sales costs to set up an IRA. Cost disclosure will enable consumers to evaluate cash value policies by the policies’ price competitiveness and, as such, will drive the excessive sales loads out of cash value policies.

The heart of the battle over disclosure is that disclosure threatens to—and, in fact, will—undermine the industry’s traditional sales compensation practices. For example, over the past five years, Northwestern Mutual, the nation’s largest insurer, with $1.2 trillion of individual coverage in force, paid $4.5 billion in agent life insurance commissions and other agent compensation, while its mortality costs for its death claims were only $3.5 billion. (Northwestern paid more than $12 billion to policyholders surrendering their coverage during the same five years.)

Agents, naturally, do not like the idea of reduced compensation, but their arguments are not compelling. Insurers believe little life insurance would be sold without such agent compensation; that is, that the large and undisclosed agent compensation cash value policies typically provide is, 1) necessary to compensate agents for their sales efforts and yet, 2) could not be obtained from an informed consumer.

My position is that good disclosure on life insurance will drive the excessive and unjustified sales loads out of cash value policies, making them price competitive with pure-term policies, thereby enabling consumers to truly benefit from the product’s tax privileges. Also, product cost disclosure is an essential component of any fair business transaction (and, as all readers properly educated about life insurance know, a cash value policy’s premium and annual cost are different.)

Fact No. 3: It is undeniable that the sales approaches used today are not effective. Unbiased experts have, for decades, demonstrated that Americans have insufficient life insurance. In August 2010, the Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Scism reported that levels of coverage have plummeted to all-time lows. Contrast that with data showing consumers’ ever-increasing voluntary purchases of additional coverage via their employers’ group life insurance plans. Marketing research shows that fear making a mistake is the primary reason consumers avoid or postpone purchases and financial decisions. Inadequate disclosure on life insurance policies not only prevents consumers from being appropriately informed; it is also a main factor in their avoidance of the very product they so often need.

I predict publicity of appropriate disclosure will lead to: unprecedented sales growth, policyholder persistency, different levels of coverage, positive impacts on all other measurements of satisfaction regarding consumers’ future life insurance purchases and life insurance agents becoming trusted and esteemed professionals. Admittedly, appropriate disclosure could lead to litigation over agents’ and insurers’ prior misrepresentations.

As I think you may now understand, inadequate life insurance policy disclosure is a regulatory “gap” that is virtually the size and age of an intergalactic asteroid.

Other Gaps

As it is currently marketed, long-term care insurance (LTCI) constitutes another serious problem. While, theoretically, LTCI can make sense, the devil is in the details. Essentially, LTCI is a contingent deferred annuity, yet one where insurers retain an option to increase the premiums for entire “classes of insureds” and where consumers must confront post-purchase price risks without the information necessary to assess alternatives. Furthermore, consumers cannot transfer their coverage to a new insurer without forfeiting the value they’ve previously paid. Defective LTCI policies have let consumers be shot like fish in a barrel; in fact, the policies’ inherent unfairness makes loan sharks envious. Appropriate disclosure on LTCI would bring consumers drastically superior value and understanding.

Regulation of life insurance agent licensing is incredibly deficient. Agents should truly be financial doctors. However, states’ agent licensing requirements fail to make sure consumers are served by financially knowledgeable professionals; licensing exams are a joke. While there are many competent agents, it is quite possible that the overwhelming majority of agents—many of whom are new and inexperienced, as more than four out of five recruits fail in the commission-based environment within the first few years—do not possess the basic knowledge necessary to accurately assess a consumer’s needs or to properly evaluate different companies’ policies.

There is virtually no state regulation of fee-only advisers who charge for providing advice about life insurance industry products. Such individuals can cause harm to consumers in multiple ways: improperly assessing needs and evaluating policies and recommending policy terminations or other actions (beneficiary or ownership changes, inappropriate policy loans, etc.) that lead to policies being mismanaged. To my knowledge, the only state that actually requires licensing for fee-only advisers is New Hampshire. A cursory review of public records, however, reveals shocking omissions in New Hampshire’s enforcement of such rules. One of the state’s former insurance commissioners, who for years has operated a prominent website providing and charging for advice on life insurance, has never been licensed.

Agent continuing education (CE) requirements are problematic. Outdated courses are still deemed acceptable, similar courses can be submitted virtually indefinitely to fulfill bi-annual CE requirements, and many courses are so devoid of meaningful information that they are vacuous. While the potential merits of CE are undeniable, only serious testing and recordings provide the means of monitoring the true effectiveness of instruction and learning.

Another area for improved regulation concerns the insurer-agent relationship. This is not to suggest draconian involvement by the government, rather to recognize the legitimate public interests in properly structuring such relationships—just as is done in relationships between pilots and airlines, construction workers and contractors, nurses and hospitals. The contracts between insurers and agents show unequal bargaining power. Insurers have not only exercised their power unfairly but have—possibly illegally—prohibited certain agent conduct, while requiring other, on matters clearly outside the boundaries of the contract. Attorneys specializing in franchise law have stated that the typical agent’s contract is the most one-sided arrangement they have ever seen.

Over the past 20 years, I have written many articles and submitted extensive documentation of sales and managerial fraud in the life insurance marketplace, yet no one with any marketplace authority or power has ever taken any effective action. Nonetheless, my commitment to reform the life insurance industry and marketplace remains. In fact, while federal regulatory action and any other private assistance would be greatly appreciated, all that is needed for the transformation of the age-old, dysfunctional life insurance industry is the dissemination—the genuine and effective mass market dissemination—of the type of life insurance policy disclosure information that is available on my web site, BreadwinnersInsurance.com. [The full version of this letter is available on the site.]