Tag Archives: gabon

Rebuttal: Protection Gap Is Not a Myth

As with most articles I read at Insurance Thought Leadership, I enjoyed The Myth of the Protection Gap. I do agree with the author (Paul Carroll) that not everything that can produce a negative outcome or loss needs to be insured. In fact, we are now in an era where we can buy insurance for nearly any property we own with a swipe of an app on a smartphone. Assuming that these companies are not charities, this approach is counterproductive, simply because it forces users to waste time having to remember to insure the thousands of small dollar items we own, when we can just afford to replace them. So place me in the camp that says insurance is for instances where we could not otherwise reasonably expect to be made whole again.

But the protection gap itself is very real. I will use Paul’s hypothetical example to illustrate a counterpoint to his conclusion:

“To make the math simple, let’s pick a country at random and make up some numbers out of whole cloth. Let’s imagine we’re Gabon, and we, as a nation, incur $1.5 billion of losses a year, while only $500 million is covered by insurance. We’re told we have a protection gap of $1 billion. We should buy $1 billion of additional coverage.

It’ll only cost us $1.3 billion.

That’s because — again, in very rough numbers — the insurer has to tack on 20% on top of the losses to cover expenses and needs its 10% profit margin to keep shareholders happy.”

Let’s break this down: If the losses for Gabon are $1.5 billion per year, with $500 million covered, then how much insurance do they need to buy? The article is suggesting the answer would be an additional $1 billion.

But that is not the right answer. The right answer is that Gabon should not buy any insurance!

How is that possible? Well, if I know with certainty that my losses over time will be $1.5 billion, then instead of buying insurance I can set aside funds to pay those anticipated losses. To put it another way, if I were insuring an entity that will have $1.5 billion losses each year, then the premium I would charge MUST start at $1.5 billion (because I know for sure that those will be the losses ) and then tack on expenses for managing those claims, issuing paper and, of course, my profit margin.

Am I nitpicking? Yes, I am.

The hypothetical example likely meant that losses would average $1.5 billion per year and not BE $1.5 billion. But words matter, and, in this hypothetical example, the word “average” changes enough of the example to magically make the protection gap appear in full vengeance.

How?

Well, averaging $1.5 billion per year in losses can mean lots of things. It could mean $1.5 billion each year, every year, OR it could mean a $30 billion loss happening exactly once in the next 20 years (or an infinite set of other combinations).

Uh-oh.

It is this uncertainty in the losses that makes insurance such a valuable tool for risk management. Insurance is that tool that allows Gabon to manage its cash flows in such a way that it can function day after day and not have to worry about finding $30 billion at a moment’s notice. Insurance is not about paying for the average annual losses, it is about paying for the extreme losses and avoiding the cash flow crunch associated with that. The smoothing out of volatile cash flows IS the peace of mind that is often marketed to consumers of insurance.

90% of California homeowners lack earthquake insurance. The take-up for flood coverage is similar. These perils have caused hundreds of billions of dollars in property loss, the bulk of which were uninsured. Tens of thousands of families became homeless. We’ve seen it In Louisiana after Katrina and in the tri-state area after Sandy, and we will see it again. The protection gap is not a myth, it is very real, and these perils will continue to cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. These are losses that homeowners and businesses cannot fund themselves. They require insurance to protect them from these catastrophes.

This fact alone provides a wonderful opportunity for our entire industry to grow by solving huge and emerging problems faced by societies. This is why we exist; this is our irreplaceable contribution to society.

The Myth of the Protection Gap

A friend and colleague, Chunka Mui, once said, “Marketing is when a company lies to its customers. Market research is when a company lies to itself.”

In the insurance industry, talk of the protection gap manages to combine both problems: It’s something of a lie to customers and is an even bigger lie to ourselves.

People routinely talk about the protection gap — the difference between losses incurred and the amount that are covered by insurance — as though the number shows how much more insurance people and organizations should be buying. We comfort ourselves with the size of that number, because we think it represents opportunity for us. We also, frankly, get a little condescending about the people and organizations that aren’t bright enough to buy our product to cover their losses.

But if you look at it from the customer standpoint, there isn’t a gap. We’re just kidding ourselves.

To make the math simple, let’s pick a country at random and make up some numbers out of whole cloth. Let’s imagine we’re Gabon, and we, as a nation, incur $1.5 billion of losses a year, while only $500 million is covered by insurance. We’re told we have a protection gap of $1 billion. We should buy $1 billion of additional coverage.

It’ll only cost us $1.3 billion.

That’s because — again, in very rough numbers — the insurer has to tack on 20% on top of the losses to cover expenses and needs its 10% profit margin to keep shareholders happy.

But why would Gabon decide to overpay by $300 million a year? The insurer’s employees and shareholders are surely nice people who could use the money, but shouldn’t Gabon take care of its citizens?

I understand about peace of mind and surely believe that insurance plays a crucial role in the world economy, but, from a certain perspective (one that many customers take), I’d be better off going to a casino and playing the slot machines rather than buy insurance. The casino might even throw in free drinks and a show.

Insurance needs some new math to replace the protection gap, and we need to stop acting as though it’s a real thing that a customer might care about.

The first step is to cut expenses radically — perhaps 50%. I use that number because a famous consultant/author with whom I have worked is going to argue in a book soon that every business needs to cut operating expenses by 50% within five years. I also see enough innovation happening around the edges in insurance that I think radical cost cuts are possible. For instance, at the Global Insurance Symposium in Des Moines last week, I met the founder of RiskGenius, whose artificial intelligence could automate the work of whole swaths of people at brokerages who review the constant stream of changes in policies.

But even that new math only shrinks the problem. Add half the previous expenses onto that $1 billion of insurance for Gabon, stir in the required profit, and you’re still asking the country to pay $1.2 billion to cover $1 billion of losses.

The real change can only happen when insurance gets out of its product mindset and shifts to a service mentality. Then someone could go to Gabon and say, “Our insurance company knows an awful lot about how losses occur. How about if we advise your government, your companies and your citizens and help you prevent as many as we can?”

Then, perhaps, you shrink those losses by a third — and keep some of that difference as profit. If you still take that whack at expenses, you could tell Gabon: “We’ll take responsibility for your $1.5 billion of losses (both the insured and the uninsured), and it’ll only cost you $1.25 billion. You’ll come out $250 million ahead, while we cover all our expenses and earn $100 million profit.”

That $250 million gain is the kind of gap a customer will believe in.