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‘Interactive Finance’: Meshing with Google

The insurance industry is poised to enhance its power, burnish its prestige and increase its income in the 21st century by developing interactive finance to mesh with Internet enterprises. By interactive finance, I mean rewarding institutions and individuals with financial or strategic advantage for revealing information that details risk.

Insurance industry success requires recognizing information as this century’s distinct commodity, analogous to steam in the 19th and oil in the 20th. Information also needs to be seen as an indispensable element in fresh, emerging digital currencies.

Information technologies are adequately mature, and mobile and broadband communications networks sufficiently widespread, that digital currencies like Bitcoin are beginning to emerge. Cognitive computing, big data, parallelization, search, capture, curation, storage, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization are commonplace; three-quarters of American households enjoy broadband access; and nine in 10 Americans carry mobile telephones. User-generated information now is everywhere.

Insurance industry leaders would be wise to cultivate interactive finance. It could be used to manage institutional investments with less risk and more liquidity. Interactive finance could also be used with retail consumers to create experiences, incentives and products to help manage what promises to be massive, new wealth.

A key part of interactive finance — navigating crowds and matching parties — is up and running. For instance, with Airbnb and accommodation or Uber and ride sharing, individuals reveal information voluntarily to enable counter party matching. Both are emerging as phenomenally successful simply by using information in new ways to create efficient markets.

The glimmerings of these potential gold mines are now eliciting insightful commentaries about how insurers might aggregate and parse information gathered through “crowd-sourcing.” Sharing portions of the reward with institutions and individuals through protected communications channels — also known as interactive finance — will provide the broad avenues and fastest expressways to 21st century wealth among insurers.

In two, insightful articles published here on ITL, Denise Garth discerns the key value of information. “Consider the explosion of new data that will be available and valuable in understanding the customers better so as to personalize their experience, provide insights, uncover new needs and identify new products and services that they may be unaware of,” she observes of the strategic alliance betweenFacebook and AXA. “For insurers, the coming years promise unparalleled opportunity to increase their value to their customers. Those that are best able to capitalize on the key technology influencers will reap the most in rewards,” Garth notes in an earlier article on Google.

Indeed, Facebook is poised to offer a money-transfer service in Europe. Pending regulatory approval in Ireland, Facebook would be permitted to employ user deposits in fiat currencies to become a payment services powerhouse with what seems tantalizingly close to a virtual currency. “Authorization from the central bank to become an ‘e-money’ institution would allow Facebook to issue units of stored monetary value that represent a claim against the company,” the Irish Times reported.

The company will use its acquisition of WhatsApp for access and traffic and will build on its 30% participation in revenue with Candy Crush Saga and Farmville games. Facebook will also take advantage of “‘passporting,’ which allows digital payments to be used across EU member states without having to gain regulatory approval from each one,” according to a news report.

Should Facebook succeed, AXA’s partnership with Facebook would put it well ahead of its competition in employing mobile markets to acquire and retain clients.

In an article on ITL on how Amazon could get into insurance, Sathyanarayanan Sethuraman enumerates “the convenience of on-demand buying. . . personalization of product and service delivery.” Crucially, he notes the importance of “building trust through transparency in pricing,” which provides impelling “reasons for insurers and Amazon to create a distribution model to match ever-evolving customer demands.”

Brian Cohen indicates in a thoughtful commentary on ITL that companies can collect customer feedback that is volunteered on social media and can also use new channels to provide new types of information. For instance, he says that, when inclement weather approaches, agents can caution readers to secure objects that may cause damage to their property, as a means toward generating webpage traffic and strengthening client relationships.

Joseph Sebbag cautions that technological mismatches can threaten insurance industry value. “Insurers’ numerous intricate reinsurance contracts and special pool arrangements, countless policies and arrays of transactions create a massive risk of having unintended exposure,” he notes in an intriguing essay evaluating information technology and reinsurance.

Focusing on a company with which I am very familiar, former Comptroller General David Walker says Marketcore has transformative IP in interactive finance that could provide pathways to phenomenal growth for the insurance industry and, in general, finance. The mechanism is incentives for “truth, transparency and transformation” that will make risk vehicles and markets perform more efficiently and reliably. (Walker is honorary chairman of Marketcore; I am an adviser.)

Marketcore generates liquidity by rewarding individuals and institutions for sharing information, such as the history of individual loans being bundled into residential mortgage-backed securities. The reward could be a financial advantage, say a discount on the next interval of a policy for individuals purchasing retail products. The reward could also be a strategic advantage, say foreknowledge of risk exposure for institutions dealing in structured risks like residential mortgage-backed securities or bonds, contracts, insurance policies, lines of credit, loans or securities.

Through interactive finance, Marketcore creates efficient markets for insurers and reinsurers. All do well as each does good. Risk determination permits insureds, brokers and carriers to update risks through “a transparency index. . . based. . . on the quality and quantity of the risk data records.” Component analysis of pooled securities facilitates drilling down in structured risk vehicles so insurers and reinsurers can address complex reinsurance contracts and special pool arrangements with foreknowledge of risk. Real time revaluation of contracts clarifies “the risk factors and valuation of [an] instrument” and, in so doing, “increases liquidity and tracks risks’ associated values even as derivative instruments are created.”

These interactive finance capabilities are at tipping points for insurers and reinsurers, as outlined so thoughtfully by Garth, Sethuraman and Cohen.

As those thought leaders say, large Internet enterprises like Google, Amazon and Facebook are striving for market reach and domination. Because of distributed wire line and wireless networks and the Internet, experts project that global trade will grow to $45 trillion from $6.5 trillion in less than 10 years. Global mobile transactions are projected to show more than 33% average annual growth, with 450 million users in a $720 billion market by 2017.

Only if Amazon, Facebook and Google offer new services can they exert market power in global electronic commerce analogous to late 19th century railroads, energy and steel industries. Each of them needs services like insurance no less than railroads required passengers and freight; than coal and oil required factories, homes, offices and motor vehicles; than steel required cities, railroads, trollies and cars. These Internet enterprises must have insurance, among other services associated with their brands, to remain dominant. All seek to create voluntary, de facto, walled gardens for their brands, and what better way to do so than to get users to rely on their brands to manage risks and pay bills?

None of these Internet search-and-connect giants can recoup its investments in mobile applications, drones and data centers unless it has voluminous, recurrent transactions and traffic engaging its mobile capabilities. For instance, Derek Thompson reports that the iPhone drives 60% of Apple revenue and that mobile advertising accounts for 60% of Facebook advertising revenue. John Greathousespells out the implications for advertising in a thoughtful essay on conversion rates and mobile formats. A service like insurance brings in users and encourages stickiness. In this way, insurance is the correlative to apps, drones and data centers. All these Internet giants are less without it.

Similarly, consumers and institutions are keen to participate in the value that they create with their participation in information technology and communications networks. Citizens and consumers, while resenting unremitting spying, shrug off the constant sale of metrics about their data to advertisers as inescapable and would love to turn tables on all these massive, intrusive public- and private-sector forces. People would willingly patronize a firm rewarding them for revealing risk information that they are comfortable sharing.

By rewarding institutions and individuals with financial or strategic advantage for voluntarily revealing risk-detailing information, interactive finance expressly rewards users for what they forego voluntarily with daily Internet use.

At this stage, the Internet firms have first-mover advantage when it comes to gathering and using people’s information. When I recently watched streaming video of Masterpiece Theatre’s “Mr. Selfridge,” there was the anomalous propinquity of an advertisement for an Internet tire seller in the bottom right portion of my display – within a day or so of my searching Google for motor vehicle tires. Clearly, Google, Internet ad placers and, in my case, the tire vendor are selling and purchasing access to user experiences. The sole party excluded from the value chain is the person who creates value in the information.

Earlier loyalty programs prefigure some of the notions of interactive finance. In mid-20th century America, supermarkets, gasoline stations and retailers often rewarded customer loyalty with S&H Green Stamps. Airlines, grocery chains and hotels employ loyalty programs and provide reward cards to provide incentives for recurrent patronage. In keeping with the times, Bellycard supports customer retention with a scannable card and mobile application. Each time I buy Italian bread and scan the card at the local bakery, I earn points toward a pastry.

What of insurance brokers, who reward consumers with incentives on forthcoming purchases for revealing risk information that they are comfortable sharing? Or insurer carriers, which protect asset values and boost shareholder confidence through enhanced capacities for risk detection and real-time valuation of risk exposures?

From here on out, the emphasis needs to be on rewarding customers and institutions by enabling them to create wealth with the information they are willing to reveal and by commanding information as a commodity and as the cornerstone component of emerging digital currencies. Insurers that can tap Internet industry demands for users, provide rewards for information and equip themselves to manage their risks more effectively can position themselves to dominate their sector well into the second quarter of the 21st century.

“Insurance is above all a relationship,” remarks Elise Manzi, account manager with Biddle & Company Insurance Brokers, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. “We’re devoted to continuing to provide our clients with the exceptional services they have come to expect of us through these new communications capabilities. Interactive finance sounds like a great relationship builder.”

Ernest Tedesco, head of Philadelphia-based Webesco, says, “For brokers, web services support client retention and communication. For large retail carriers like Progressive and Geico, web services enable them to reach consumers directly with service and product offerings. Anything kludgy on one of these sites will send customers scurrying to competitors.” He adds that if Google and other Internet giants get into the retail insurance space, current industry leaders need to be ready to respond aggressively with technology or will be disintermediated. “Back-office executives managing trillions in risk will find themselves at competitive disadvantage without real-time and near-real-time risk detection, which web services visualize.”

By meshing with Internet industry firms on interactive finance terms, the insurance industry will have all the strength of the Internet yet sustain more discretion to manage institutional and customer experiences on terms much more favorable than those that musicians and publishers experience with Apple.

As Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McAfee point out in The Second Machine Age, digitization both spawns vast new bounty and stimulates an increasingly drastic spread between the small fraction of winners and everyone else.

How better to build crowds and grow volumes than to provide incentives to customers by rewarding them for sharing information they are willing to reveal and to serve institutional clients with foreknowledge of oncoming risks to sustain competitive advantage and protect liquidity.

It is as straightforward as that.

For my part, I am optimistic about Marketcore because its IP enables insurance industry adopters to organize, channel and reward rich, diverse crowds of capital accumulation through interactive finance. Large, incumbent Internet firms like Amazon, Facebook and Google may still prosper from first-mover advantages based, in part, on recognition that information is the distinct commodity of the 21stcentury. But each and all now must offer more to maximize return on investments in capital-intensive operations. And that’s where any insurers, deploying Marketcore IP as sword and shield, stand most to gain for themselves and the people and institutions whose trust they hold.