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A Reflection on the Las Vegas Slaughter

You just never know.

Wednesday, Jan. 16, 1991. I was on a flight to the West Coast when Desert Storm started. The pilot came on and told us about President Bush’s speech. He asked us to pray for our solders in harm’s way and for our country.

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. I was at a conference in Disney World when a trickle of news reports quickly turned into the media tsunami that forever changed the trajectory of our culture. We gathered in the hotel ballroom to address questions as a group. Over the next couple of days, I had customers and friends melt in my arms, overcome with grief. We comforted one another as we struggled to try and make sense of the terrorist attacks, making arrangements to get people home, renting cars, vans and buses.

Friday, July 20, 2012. I was driving to a speaking engagement when I received a panicked call about the shooting in Aurora, CO, where our son and his wife live. They were safe, but he had to report to the scene immediately because some airmen in his charge were in the theater.

See also: Time to Mandate Flood Insurance?  

Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Hurricane Irma cut a wide swath of damage and flooding through central Florida, where we live. Our normally quiet small town is still abuzz with electrical and phone crews feverishly working to restore normal operations, making permanent repairs. Many homes in our area are a patch quilt of blue tarps. FEMA contractors are still removing debris as a convoy of trucks and equipment rumble through neighborhoods.

Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. Today, I’m in Las Vegas only to be awakened to the horrific news that we know all too well. I’ve received numerous messages over the entire spectrum of electronic communications, asking about our safety.

In these and other events, we will want to learn as much as possible. We want to know the who and struggle with the why. Much will be uncovered over the next hours and days. There are so many open questions waiting to be answered. There is so much that we don’t know.

But there is one thing that I know for certain, and I say this in all seriousness and respect. Insurance will play a vital role in the coming days, weeks and months, helping to rebuild lives, families and businesses devastated by this heartbreaking and senseless tragedy.

Working in insurance since 1972, I’ve been humbled over and over again to be part of an industry that helps people. While my career has been on the technology side of the business, there is a quiet assurance, knowing that what we do will help restore lives.

At the tender age of 19, I had my first “data processing” interview. It was for a junior terminal programmer trainee position at a large insurance company that no longer exists, paying an exorbitant $7,500 a year. After the interview, I walked to the bus stop and wondered about working for an insurance company. I replayed all the jabs and jokes that we know all too well in my mind that surround the insurance industry. Was I somehow going to be tainted by being a part of a profession that had a reputation equal to that of gas station attendants (true statistic)?

See also: Harvey: First Big Test for Insurtech 

There have been opportunities to leave the insurance industry over the years. But I kept coming back to the reality that there are precious few professions that can have such a direct, positive effect on the lives of so many as insurance.

Yes, we have our problems and detractors. Yes, we can sometimes be our own worst enemy when it comes to public perception. Yes, we could do a better job at communicating to and servicing our customers and the public as a whole.

But I count it a personal honor and privilege to serve in the insurance industry. I hope you do also.

May the Forms Be With You!

“Star Wars” first appeared in theaters on May 25, 1977, unleashing one of the great, galactic pop culture tsunamis ever seen. And while there has been an explosion of technology and innovation since that time (one that would rival the explosion of the Death Star), virtually nothing has been done regarding the way insurance information is shared via forms, certificates of insurance, driver ID cards and the like.

Workers’ compensation may be leading this backward trend.

It’s no wonder that workers’ comp insurance draws a lot of attention. Covering more than 90% of the workforce, with more than $45.5 billion in total premiums from both private carriers and state funds and a combined ratio of 94%, workers’ comp is one of the few bright spots within the commercial lines market.

With payrolls rising $316.5 billion by year-end 2016, not to mention $1.16 trillion in construction projects, there will be billions of dollars in new premiums for workers’ comp coverage. If economic growth and hiring continue as projected, workers’ comp exposure is likely to remain among the faster-growing major commercial P/C lines of insurance in 2017 and beyond. And this positive outlook takes into account that workers’ comp fraud is 25% of the P&C industry-wide annual fraud problem of $34 billion.

Many are investing heavily in new systems and technology to reach this rich marketplace. Carriers, brokers, agents and third-party service providers are all positioning themselves for a larger slice of the workers’ comp pie through innovative and forward-thinking technology.

However, with all the technology available within the workers’ comp ecosystem, it consistently takes a giant leap backward when it comes to requesting, generating and delivering proof of insurance. Form-based certificates of insurance are universally produced and passed like a hot potato between different stakeholders, yet they provide no real proof of insurance. As one industry pundit put it, “At best, it’s just a piece of paper that shows proof of coverage at the time it was issued. At worst, it’s fraud.”

Some are touting the ability to request proof of workers’ comp coverage from a mobile device. Yes, through an app, you can request a workers’ comp QR code that can be used to request a certificate PDF. But this PDF has all the usual limitations: no updates, no notice of cancellation, no ability to compare data with coverage needs, no exception processing.

See also: How Should Workers’ Compensation Evolve?  

Because the form-based certificate of insurance has been the forum for exchanging dead data, people have been attempting all sorts of subterfuge to require wording on the certificate in a vain attempt to make it say something that is not in the workers’ comp policy. It’s important to realize, from a business and insurance standpoint, that a certificate has many inherent limitations and weaknesses. For example, a certificate CANNOT:

  • Extend or modify policy conditions or rights to the certificate holder. The insurance policy is a contract, and changes to those terms can only be accomplished by following proper procedure as outlined by the insuring company. Extending policy rights, such as additional insured status, can only be accomplished by properly endorsing the insurance policy in question.
  • Guarantee a policy will not be canceled in accordance with the conditions of the insurance policy. Cancellation of a workers’ comp policy is controlled by state statute and cannot be modified by a certificate.
  • Provide insurance coverage to the certificate holder. The insurance certificate only indicates coverage found in place on the policies in force at the time the certificate is issued. A certificate of insurance coveys no insurance coverage to the certificate holder; only proper endorsements to the insurance policy can achieve that.

There are many large industries that are totally dependent on workers’ comp coverage and proof of insurance — construction, transportation and agriculture, to name a few. Roads, bridges and buildings don’t get built or repaired without workers’ comp insurance. Nothing moves across our highways without workers’ comp insurance. Crops, fruit, cattle and food do not get produced, harvested or delivered without workers’ comp insurance.

As we move forward into a 21st century economy, more companies and workers are shifting into the gig economy where workers’ comp is either not there at all or has substantial holes. Under current definitions, gig economy workers, sometimes called on-demand workers, are neither employees nor independent contractors. If a rideshare driver is attacked by a passenger, sustains severe injuries and cannot work for a long period, how is his or her income replaced? For that matter, if any on-demand worker is injured on the job (accident, repetitive motion injury, etc.) how is his or her income replaced? And with the current state of health insurance, or the lack thereof, how are his or her health bills paid?

While there are a number of instances where coverage verification is needed for workers’ comp alone, many times other lines of business need to be verified simultaneously. General liability, commercial auto, commercial property and other types of insurance also require verification at the same time with workers’ comp, by the same stakeholders. These coverages may be within a single business owners policy (BOP), or they can be spread across multiple policies, written by multiple carriers, with different effective/expiration dates.

See also: Five Workers’ Compensation Myths  

Rather than pushing around forms filled with dead data, workers’ comp deserves a digital ecosystem where all stakeholders can securely connect and share coverage information. Online and continuing coverage verification automatically validates that insurance in force. Additionally, the needs of each stakeholder are evaluated, alerting stakeholders on an exception basis.

It’s time to move forward from, “May the forms be with you” to “Let the data be with you.”

This is GAPro’s vision and mission.

Insurance Coverage Porn

Now that I have your undivided attention.

Justice Potter Stewart famously said during a pornography case before the U.S. Supreme Court: ” I know it when I see it” (Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964.) The same can be said about insurance coverage porn.

Since the idea of insurance coverage porn may be new, let me explain. I define it as creating a fanatic view of insurance coverage. An over-the-top, exaggerated, excitedly hyped or false illusion designed to distract, distort and divert attention from reality. The result is to leave sanity and common sense about coverage at the door.

Here are four examples that I’d like to explore:

1. Performing “Unnatural Acts” With Coverage

This is where someone tries to make a policy say, do or cover something that it was never intended to. While there are many different people and organizations who dabble in this type of insurance coverage porn, the real addicts are third parties. They require insureds and agent/brokers to include language on certificates of insurance to give them both additional money and assurance that they will be paid and paid first. Sometimes these unnatural acts require additional language on the certificate that is in direct conflict with the policy, not to mention insurance theory or regulation.

In many of these cases, the insured is at the mercy of the third party. Construction can be held up waiting for specific language or punctuation. A subcontractor cannot start work or get paid till the third party is completely satisfied. Truck drivers cannot go onsite until the certificate is signed off.

The simple fact is that the policy is a contract. It is what it is, and no amount of finagling on the certificate will change it. The certificate itself has a warning in CAPITALIZED BOLD print saying that it is informational only and does not amend the policy. Asking it to perform “unnatural acts” is insurance coverage porn, leading everyone to frustration, wasted time, energy and money.

See also: Jurors and Questions on Insurance Coverage  

2. The Big Tease, a.k.a. The Image Has Been Enhanced for Your Entertainment and Enjoyment

Many of our daily tasks and jobs require insurance. To drive a car, you need proof of insurance. To sell insurance, you need insurance. You need proof of insurance to renew many types of licenses.

Yet all you need is a piece of paper that says there is insurance. When I walk into the DMV to renew my vehicle registration, all I need is a driver ID card that says I have insurance. To use the auditorium or gym at the local high school, all you need is a piece of paper that says you have coverage. If you need to show proof of insurance to perform some kind of work, all you need is a completed form.

And the best, or worst, part is that most organizations requiring proof of insurance now tell you exactly what they need on their website. Now I know that this is done to be helpful, but it actually becomes a by-the-numbers “how to” guide to potentially perpetrate fraud. Some of these websites provide step-by-step instructions on what form they require, what numbers they need in specific fields, what wording is to be included.

It is beyond simple to Google and find all sorts of proof of insurance documents. Certificates, driver ID cards, company specific forms, you name it. Find the form, follow the web site instructions and you’re good to go.

One enterprising insured needed to provide annual proof of insurance for the coming calendar year. Taking the current forms, the insured employed Wite-Out to hide the dates and typed in new dates. The form was accepted, until an expert noticed that one of the forms had been out of use for a long time. This insured had actually been using Wite-Out for a number of years. It worked last year; let’s try it again….

Providing a form to prove insurance is one thing, but some organizations require even less. Some only ask that you check a box indicating that you have the appropriate insurance. The bar can be set even lower. One executive told me that while his insurance agency relationship demands that he purchase E&O insurance, the executive’s organization does not ask for any proof or indication that insurance is in place. The organization simply assumes that it exists. I wondered if this is the insurance equivalence of, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

3. Coverage Cover-Up, a.k.a. I Buy the Magazines for the Articles, Not the Pictures

Insurance applications used to be on paper. This meant that agents and the insured wrote down information for carrier personnel to rate/quote policies. Agents and insureds could not repetitively manipulate information, trying to get a better price without a paper trail. Today, both agents and insured have direct access to websites and carrier systems to speed quoting, eliminate paper and reduce cost.

Now, no one in their right mind is suggesting going back to paper applications, but think about what is now possible. Whoever is entering information has the opportunity to “tweak” amounts and drop down selections, options and other information to reduce the premium. Unless the software prevents repeated updates, it’s like giving the user an unlimited number of pulls on a slot machine until the right number comes up.

One agent was trying to insure a very nice log cabin home for his customer. You know, the ones pictured in magazine ads. But his traditional insurance carriers would not accept the risk, which was outside normal underwriting guidelines. Finally, out of frustration and needing to get the house insured, the agent changed the construction type from “log” to “frame.” The risk was accepted, and a policy was issued. Later, the home caught fire and burned to the ground. You can imagine the claims adjuster’s surprise, expecting to see the remains of a frame house. Regardless of whether the insured properly stated what the construction type was, the agent knew, so the carrier paid the resulting $540,000 loss. This payment was immediately followed by a claim against the agent under his E&O policy.

4. Scantily Clad Coverage Cover-Up, a.k.a. Bait and Switch

Having an agent manipulate information is one thing, but giving direct data entry to the insured opens up greater opportunities for insurance coverage porn. One study confirms that 51% of insureds are willing to misrepresent their insurance information to get a better personal auto price. Think about that for a moment. What other industry has a business model where more than half of their customers admit to not telling the truth?

Here’s another example. Anonymous national surveys find that about 16% of the general population smokes. So how come, on health and life insurance policy applications, only 7% record that they smoke? Health insurance carriers charge 50% more for individuals who use tobacco on a regular basis. Everyone knows that they have a better chance of being accepted, and getting a lower premium, if they deviate from the truth. This is insurance coverage porn.

See also: Broad Array of Roles for Disability Coverage

With their desire to make writing policies easy for consumers, carriers have invested significant time, energy and dollars into their web sites and mobile apps. And while they are to be congratulated for making insurance more accessible, one unintended consequences is that applicants may be able to manipulate data to reduce the price.

Justice Stewart may have known it when it saw it, but that isn’t enough in insurance, where we need to exercise leadership within our organizations and throughout the insurance community. The “we’ve always done it this way” attitude is an open invitation for another person, another organization to take our customers, marketplace position and distribution channels.

Poem on Insurance and Humanity

Dentistry was painless,
And bicycles were chainless,
Carriages were horseless
And many laws enforceless.

Then, cooking was fireless,
Radio was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless,
And coffee caffeineless.

Soon, oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
Men were going hatless,
The proper diet fatless.

New paved roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
And new religions godless.

Marketing is feckless —
Everything is “pay less” —
Payment is money-less;
Is the value worth less?

Internet access is endless,
Display screens are CRT-less.
Online storage is diskless,
And tech support is faceless

Insurance policies are paperless,
Policy exclusions are defenseless,
Underwriting is relentless —
Has insurance become humanless?

No, Brokers Are Not Going Away

In 1997, the CEO of a Silicon Valley company told me I should give up on being an insurance broker and look for a new job because I was about to be disintermediated. Technology would let carriers and clients connect directly, and nothing I did could stop the movement of history.

Well, I ignored his advice, and the brokerage part of the insurance supply chain has grown by a factor of 25 in the past two decades.

But many people are now warning again of disintermediation. Was my friend just too early in his prediction? Will the doomsayers be right this time?

In a word, no.

First of all, disintermediation rarely happens as rapidly or completely as the technologists tend to think, with their binary, one-zero, on-off approach to the world. There are actually many more bank tellers today than there were when ATMs were introduced decades ago and were supposed to put tellers out of business. Remember when realtors were going to disappear, as buyers and sellers connected directly? Realtors are thriving. Even travel agents are still around despite the spread of sites like Expedia. There are only about 40% as many as there were two decades ago, but they deliver more value now, because they handle more complex problems or have developed specialties, such as exotic fly-fishing vacations that few have the expertise or confidence to plan on their own.

See also: Why Aren’t Brokers Vanishing?  

Insurance is even less likely to face disintermediation than bank tellers, realtors and travel agents because, if you think finding a fishing guide in Alaska is hard, try explaining how a workers’ compensation “experience modification” is factored or how the Affordable Care Act will affect the buying public if the new administration has its way. Even though the rise of comparison sites suggests that policies are easily comparable, they are not. It takes sophistication, based on lengthy experience, to help a client evaluate his or her needs and to sort through all the carriers and policy options to find the right fit. Product, price and relationship all have to fall into the right place at the right time.

Besides, as the founder and chairman of Insurance Thought Leadership, I have a ringside seat on the startups that are providing tools that will make the broker’s role even more important than it is now. In addition to the main site, where nearly 800 thought leaders have published more than 2,500 meaty articles on innovative ideas, we recently launched the Innovator’s Edge, which is tracking the more than 725 insurtech startups. I can say with confidence that the role of the broker will broaden for the foreseeable future.

Here are just some of the companies that will help ensure that all of us brokers have a Happy New Year – and many more to come:

RiskGenius – This startup, run by Chris Cheatham, uses artificial intelligence to instantly compare and contrast policy coverage and produce a report in layman’s terms. That helps clients see what’s going on. It also helps brokers keep track of changes in policies, making back offices much more efficient — serving clients better, at lower cost.

The RiskGenius solution plays into a trend that seems to be generally missed but that will be profound, in insurance and elsewhere. While some entire jobs will be automated — look at what robots are doing to many manufacturing jobs — the broader effect is that pieces of jobs will be automated. It used to be that every senior executive had a secretary, but as typing, some answering of phones, some scheduling and so forth have disappeared from assistant jobs, the span has become one assistant for every two, four or even larger numbers of executives. The same sort of winnowing of functions will happen with brokers, because of solutions like RiskGenius’. Brokers and brokerages will take on more strategic work as they let go of the more mundane tasks that can be taken on by technology.

Refer.com, run by Thomas Gay, likewise makes brokers more efficient as we prospect for business. While social marketing and social selling have attracted so much attention, but haven’t panned out, Refer.com scours the internet 24/7 to find topics of interest to prospects and puts them in an email format. The system prompts the broker about the optimal pace at which to send the emails, providing a high-tech, high-touch approach that can build the sort of referral network that brokers crave.

Agency Revolution, whose CEO is Michael Jans, offers complementary capabilities by automating marketing campaigns — for instance, sending out emails on clients’ birthdays, as policy renewals near, etc.

Pypestream, which has the good fortune to have ITL advisory board member Donna Peeples as its chief customer officer, can greatly improve customer service for larger brokers. Pypestream’s chatbots mean that customers can text queries to brokers — a means of communication that so many prefer these days — rather than call and wait on hold, negotiate a phone tree or face some other indignity. The chatbots filter through the texts, query any and all back-office systems that have anything to contribute and answer routine questions so fast that Pypestream sometimes has to slow the response so the client isn’t tipped off that it’s really dealing with a computer. Clients are happier, and brokers offload routine questions so they can handle more substantive issues.

GAPro, where Chet Gladkowski is chief marketing officer and chief information officer, also can make brokers much more efficient by providing what it calls verification as a service. GAPro addresses the huge time sink that is certificates of insurance. These are important, because they let parties to a deal know that other parties are carrying the requisite insurance — but they’re only as good as the paper they’re printed on (or the PDFS that contain them). Just because someone can show he had insurance a month ago doesn’t mean that certificate is still in force today, when the deal is finally coming together. Brokers spend an inordinate amount of time verifying these certificates — but GAPro automates all that, so it’s possible for everyone to know in real time the insurance status of all relevant parties. Again, this means faster and better service for clients.

GroundSpeed automates loss runs and the processing of claims data, simplifying a complex, painful process and letting clients and brokers see on a dashboard all the claims they’ve made under an insurance policy.

Risk Advisor, whose founder is Peter Blackmore, helps brokers extend risk management services to small businesses. These services had previously been practical only for larger businesses, because of the expense of the work involving in identifying and mitigating an individual business’ risks. But Risk Advisor has automated the process so much that far smaller companies can enjoy the sort of attention and expertise that big clients have traditionally received. That change pushes brokers in the direction that both they and clients would like to move: The brokers will increasingly help prevent losses rather than coordinate payment after losses occur.

WeGoLook, whose founder and CEO is Robin Smith, provides arms and legs (and brains) to brokers for any sort of service. Her 30,000 “Lookers” across the U.S. are currently handling tasks such as taking photos and gathering other information after car accidents, but their work is really limited only by our imaginations, because they give us the sort of inexpensive, free-lance workforce that Uber has brought to transportation. How valuable is the sort of service that WeGoLook can provide? Well, Crawford just announced that it was buying 85% of WeGoLook in a deal that puts a $42 million valuation on this young startup.

See also: Calling all insurtech companies – Innovator’s Edge delivers marketing muscle and social connections

This list of seven companies is just the start, as a visit to the Innovator’s Edge will show you. So, my bet is that if my Silicon Valley friend and I reconvene in 20 years, we’ll see that the role of the broker has become even more strategic and has moved by leaps and bounds beyond where it is today.