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Will Blockchain End Up Like 3DTV?

When technology is baked into a device, we rarely give it much thought. We buy a smartphone for its utility – not its operating system. Sometimes a new technology dramatically changes how everyone does things; the internet is a good example. Some plausibly great innovations, such as 3D television, just never gain traction. Which of these outcomes will blockchain have?

Recently, blockchain has emerged as a technology that will potentially transform industries in a way similar to what the Internet did a couple of decades ago. Still a nascent technology, its many uses have not yet been discovered or explored.

Most people know a little about blockchain:

    • It lets multiple parties agree on a common record of data and control who has access to it.
    • Its platform makes cryptocurrencies like bitcoin possible.
    • Movement of cryptocurrency verified by blockchain allows peer-to-peer cash transfers without involving banks.
    • Blockchain is a permanent, auditable record, so any tampering with it is obvious.

Some people think blockchain will transform security in financial services and fundamentally reshape how we deal with and trust complex transactions, though this could be a response to hype or a fear of missing out. Many other people ask why and how they should use blockchain.

On the face of it, using a shared (or distributed) ledger to process multiple transactions doesn’t seem so revolutionary. Blockchain is essentially a recordkeeping system. Perhaps its association with cryptocurrency – such as bitcoin – lends it a darker, more enigmatic edge than the software traditionally used for processing multiple transactions. One way or another, insurers face pressure to update antique systems with new ones that can compete with the demands of a digital world, and that means incorporating blockchain technology.

A distributed ledger of transactions

A blockchain can be seen as an ever-growing list of data records, or blocks, that can be easily verified because each block is linked to the previous one, forming a chain. This chain of transactions is stored on a network of computers. For a record to be added to the chain, it typically needs to be validated by a majority of the computers in the network. Importantly, no single entity runs the network or stores the data. Blockchain technology may be used in any form of asset registry, inventory and exchange. This includes transactions of finance, money, physical property and intangible assets, including health information.

Because blockchain networks consist of thousands of computers, they make any effort to add invalid records extremely difficult. Every transaction is secured using a random cryptographic hash, a digital fingerprint that prevents its being misused. Every participant has a complete history of the transactions, helping reduce the chance of transactions being corrupted. Simply put, a blockchain is a resilient, tamper-proof and decentralized store of transactions.

Complex processing and automation with smart contracts

Blockchain ecosystems enable a large number of organizations to join as peers to offer services, data or transactions that serve specific customers or complex transaction workflows transparently. These ecosystems can automatically process and settle transactions via smart contracts that encapsulate the logic for the terms and triggers that enable a transaction.

Smart contracts are created on the blockchain and are immutably recorded on the network to execute transactions based on the software-encoded logic. Transparency through workflows recorded on the blockchain facilitate auditing. Peers and partners within a blockchain ecosystem independently control their business models and the economics without the need to use intermediaries.

Self-executing smart contracts can be used to automate insurance policies, with the potential to reduce friction and fraud at claim stage. A policy could be coded to pay when the conditions are undeniably reached and decentralized data feeds verify that the event has certainly occurred. The blockchain offers enhanced transparency and measurable risk to this scenario.

Parametric insurance, which operates through smart contracts with triggers that are based on measurable events, can facilitate immediate payments while decreasing the administrative efforts and time. Effectively, the decision to pay a claim is taken out of the insurer’s hands. Other possible models are completely technology-based without the need for an actual insurance company. The decentralized blockchain model lends itself well to crowd-sourced types of insurance where premiums and claims are managed with smart contracts.

See also: Blockchain’s Future in Insurance  

Blockchain-based insurance

New insurers using blockchain are emerging and offering increased transparency and faster claims resolution. Here are some examples:

    • Peer-to-peer property and casualty insurer Lemonade uses an algorithm to pay claims when conditions in blockchain-based smart contracts are met.
    • Start-up Teambrella also leverages blockchain in a peer-to-peer concept that allows insured members to vote on claims and then settles amounts with bitcoin.
    • Dynamis provides unemployment insurance on a blockchain-based smart contract platform.
    • Travel delay insurer insurETH automatically pays claims when delays are detected and verified in a blockchain data ledger.
    • Etherisc is another new company building decentralized insurance applications on blockchain that can pay valid claims autonomously.

Traditional insurance companies, such as AXA and Generali, have also begun to invest in blockchain applications. Allianz has announced the successful pilot of a blockchain-based smart contract solution to simplify annual renewals, premium payments and claims submission and settlement.

Blockchain has the potential to improve premium, claim and policy processing among multiple parties. For example, in the last year the consultancy EY and data security firm Guardtime announced a blockchain platform to transact marine insurance. This platform pulls together the numerous transactional actions required within a highly complex global trade made up of shipping companies, brokers, insurers and other suppliers.

A consortium of insurers and reinsurers, the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative (B3i), has piloted distributed ledger technology to develop standards and procedures for risk transfer that are cross-market compatible. Whether or not the outcome is adopted industry-wide, it seems important for digital solutions to be created with this transparency and inclusiveness in mind.

There is clear potential for blockchain in reinsurance where large amounts of data are moved between reinsurers, brokers and clients, requiring multiple data entry and individual reconciliation. Evaluating alternative ways of conducting business is one reason for the collaboration of Gen Re with iXledger, which can explore ideas while remaining independent.

Handling of medical data and other private or sensitive information

Individuals will generate increasing amounts of personal data, actively and passively, from using phones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and processing digital healthcare solutions. Increasingly, consumers will want control of this scattered mass of digital data and share it with whomever they choose in exchange for services. This move aligns perfectly with the concept of a “personal data economy.” Think of information as currency and think about using blockchain to secure private data and reveal it in a secure and trusted manner to selected parties, in exchange for something.

Electronic health records are now common. Several countries use blockchain to secure patient data held digitally. This helps counter legitimate concerns about how sensitive personal data can be kept secure from theft or cyber-attack. Code representing each digital entry to the patient record is added to the blockchain, validated and time-stamped. A consortium of insurers in India is using blockchain to cut the costs of medical tests and evaluations, and to ensure the data collected is kept secure, along with other benefits including identification of potential claims fraud.

Looking to leverage the data economy, companies may employ innovative insurance propositions to engage people. Because the propositions will rely on shared data, people may be put off, fearing a loss of control over their personal information. While this fear poses a huge challenge for an industry seeking to improve its reputation for trust, blockchain technology may help insurers to reassure customers the digital data they share with them is safe.

Verification of documents

Verification of the existence and purpose documents in banks and insurance companies relies on storage, retrieval and access to data. A blockchain simplifies this process with its open ledger, cryptographic hash keys and date-stamped transactions. Actual hard copies of documents are not stored; instead, the hash represents the exact content in a form of scrambled letters and numbers. A change in a document will be exposed because it will not match the encoded one. The effect is an immutability that proves the status of the data at an exact moment and beyond doubt.

Blockchain technology is a “trustless” system because nobody has to trust anybody else for the system to function; the network of users acts together to vouch for the accuracy of the record. Examples of blockchain protecting patient records demonstrate its potential to implement other trusted and secure transactions with less bureaucracy.

There are other opportunities for insurers to move to a digitized paradigm and catalyze efficiency gains; blockchain need not be reserved for cross-industry platforms, and it’s not only useful in multiparty markets with high transaction volumes and significant levels of reconciliation; smaller-scale solutions can bring benefits, too.

Features that ensure privacy and data security

Beyond driving efficiencies, blockchain employs agreed standards for data care, which reduce the vulnerability of data that arises with the mass of sensitive data that digital connectivity creates. Other features that enhance privacy and data security include the contract process: Transactions are not directly associated with the individual, and personal information is not stored in a centralized database vulnerable to cyber-attack. Insurance companies, as well as technology companies, are accountable to their users for the security of their devices, services and software, and hackers are less likely to target enterprises with strong security.

Multiple participants and the removal of a central authority

Transparency, audit-ability and speed are standard requirements for any organization to successfully compete and transact in an increasingly complex global economy. Data is a valuable catalyst to that process and is complemented by blockchain’s ability to organize, access and transact efficiently and compliantly.

Trusted transactions require access to valuable data, and blockchain facilitates efficient access across multiple organizations. The economics for data usage will drive new business models fueled by micropayments, which will require efficiencies to scale. Business models based on data aggregation by third parties in centralized repositories with total control and limited transparency will be replaced by distributed blockchain-enabled data exchanges where data providers are peers within the ecosystem.

Decentralized peer organizations can use the blockchain for permission access, and for facilitating payments, to ensure total control of their economic models, without having a centralized authority. Data access and transactions are controlled directly by each member of the ecosystem, with complete transparency and immediate compensation.

Token economies

Ecosystems supporting peer organizations that transact or share data will require an effective mechanism for micropayments. These business models require efficiency, with less overhead than traditional account payable and account receivable workflows.

Event triggers, cryptlets that enable secure communication between blockchain, and external verification sources (oracles) will execute based on predetermined criteria, and token payments will be made simultaneously. Counterparty agreements may initially define the relationships between parties on the network, but payments are executed within the smart contract transactions.

See also: How Insurance and Blockchain Fit  

The elimination of a time delay in payments acts as a stimulant for economies; tokens earned can immediately be spent, increasing the speed at which organizations will earn and spend. Traditional delays and fees that occur throughout accounting workflows and through intermediary banks that process payments can be eliminated.

Cross-border processing

Currently, global payments involving foreign exchange introduce complexities in addition to time delays. Economic indicators and political events dramatically affect the exchange rates and profitability of transactions. Cross-border payments require access to the required currencies by intermediary banks, which can cause additional delays beyond the internal accounting workflows.

With blockchain technology, using a token-enabled economic layer simplifies the payments to support micropayment efficiencies. Participants on the blockchain network will be able to efficiently use the preferred fiat currencies to acquire or sell tokens without using intermediaries, banks or currencies.

Merging blockchain and data

Today, there are more connected IoT devices than there are people on the planet, and the data generated is growing at an exponential rate. Various sources have predicted that the number of connected devices will grow to more than 70 billion by 2025; the numbers are almost irrelevant.

IoT devices are used in homes, transportation, communities, urban planning, environment, consumer packaged goods, services and soon in human bodies. A number of insurance companies use these devices to assess driver habits and usage. Autonomous cars and changing ownership and usage models are creating a generation of insurance products that can be facilitated through IoT-collected data. Home devices can detect leaks, theft and fire damage – capabilities that reduce risk. Shipping companies use the IoT for fuel and cargo management, which offers operating efficiencies, transparency and loss prevention.

Merging the mass of IoT data with the blockchain is not without challenges, but this combination can provide a completely new way of creating an insurance model that is far more efficient and faster, and where data flows directly from policyholders to the insurer.

Summary

Interest in the trinity of bitcoin, blockchain and distributed ledger technology has significant momentum. However, the technology is not magic or a panacea for every corporate woe. It has disadvantages and limitations, and there are situations where it would even be the wrong solution. There is enough about it, though, to merit continued closer investigation – the many emerging cases of its application bear testament to that – but in place of hype we still need answers.

5 Favorite Innovators in Blockchain

Blockchain technology is being hyped as ‘internet’s superlative’. Some even think that blockchain promises to be a new infrastructure for financial services by 2020. The essence is that it facilitates peer-to-peer exchange of value, that is without the intervention of a third party, and that indeed renders the possibilities endless. Applications include identity validation, risk reduction, dramatic process improvement (on speed, accuracy, transparency and cost efficiency), fraud prevention, effective and efficient compliance and a lot more we can’t possibly know about at this point. In this blogpost we listed our favorite blockchain showcases.

All five have been selected for DIA editions in Barcelona or Amsterdam. All five match our key criteria; they significantly contribute to operational excellence and customer engagement innovation.

1. Tradle: KYC on blockchain

New York-based Tradle is using the blockchain to build a ‘know your customer’ (KYC) requirements network to secure both intrabank and external transfers. Current technology has moved little beyond pen and paper but the blockchain provides a secure digital infrastructure. Tradle’s system, ensures the transfer of data is verifiable. It’s about transferring trust, not assets. With KYC on blockchain, Tradle is building a global trust provisioning network to give retail, wealth, SME and institutional customers of financial institutions faster access to capital and risk allocation. Tradle helps financial institutions to turn the pain of compliance into commercial opportunity.
Read more …
Check demo …

See also: Blockchain: Basis for Tomorrow  

2. Everledger: blockchain-based diamond fraud detection

Everledger is a digital, permanent, global ledger that tracks and protects items of value by using the Bitcoin blockchain as a platform for provenance and combating insurance fraud. The London start-up is starting with diamonds, with a view to expanding into other luxury goods – high value items – whose provenance relies on paper certificates and receipts that can easily be lost or tampered with. With Everledger, the record is tamper-free; it’s immutable and can therefore be trusted. It also provides a Smart Contracts platform to facilitate the transfer of ownership of diamonds to assist insurers in the recovery of items reported as lost and/or stolen. Smart Contracts will also enable a fundamental change in the diamond marketplace and the way they’re financed. Diamonds are a global problem in terms of document tampering and fraud. In London it’s a 2 billion USD problem, meaning it is realistic to generate revenue with a blockchain-based diamond fraud detection system.
Read more …
Check the keynote of Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp …

3. Eris Industries: The smart contract application platform to solve big problems

The London start-up Eris Industries has built a universal platform for smart contracts and legal applications of blockchain technology. This platform is the first that allows the full potential of blockchain-based technologies to be realized in business. By combining blockchains and systems of smart contracts, businesses can take any data-driven human relationship and reduce it to code – guaranteeing accurate and consistent execution of functions that hitherto required human discretion to manage. The free software allows anyone to build secure, low-cost data infrastructure with run-anywhere applications. By using permissionable, smart contracts’ capable blockchains developers can easily solve commercial data driven problems.
Read more …
Check demo …

4. Guardtime: the world’s largest blockchain company

Guardtime is a cyber-security provider that uses blockchain systems to ensure the integrity of data. The company has its roots in US defense systems and expertise in state-level digital security (Estonia). Guardtime uses Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI), a blockchain technology that provides massive-scale data authentication without reliance on centralized trust authorities. Unlike traditional approaches that depend on asymmetric key cryptography, KSI uses only hash-function cryptography, allowing verification to rely only on the security of hash functions and the availability of a public ledger. In this way, Guardtime guarantees data integrity without the need to keep secrets. In short, instead of putting all of the data up in the blockchain, they only take fingerprints of the data.
Read more …
Check demo … 

See also: 5 Main Areas for Blockchain Impact  

5. Kevinsured: blockchain powered chatbot insurance for sharing economy

Kevin, Traity’s new chatbot, provides micro-insurance for online P2P transactions. Created in collaboration with Australia’s financial services conglomerate, Suncorp, Kevin protects buyers on online marketplaces such as Gumtree, Facebook and Craigslist. From buying football tickets to renting a bicycle, Kevin insures any P2P transactions against theft, fraud, scams, etc. Anything. Millions of transactions happen between strangers every day. Most of them work out really well, but the small percentage of scams make people fear strangers. Kevin brings trust to people buying, selling and renting from one another, Kevin ‘insures the use of internet’. To help stop scammers, startup chatbot Kevinsured is here to support online buyers. For any transaction under $100, Kevin validates the integrity of parties to insure the transaction between the buyer and seller. Once a purchase is made and Kevinsured is notified of it, the chatbot reaches out to both the buyer and seller to verify everything is legitimate. $100 may not sound like much, but it covers most of the transactions online. Furthermore, at Kevinsured they think that this is not just about insurance but about prevention. Users who buy and sell through Kevin will be subject to a reputation check, and scammers will simply try to avoid it, so they are likely to see a low level of scams, because scammers prefer to be anonymous.

How Is Marine the Heart of Insurtech?

Who would have thought marine insurance would be at the center of the insurtech revolution? The relationship between insurtech and marine insurance is not an obvious one for many people.

Marine is one of the oldest and most traditional classes of business, the origins of Lloyds of London, when from 1686 members of the shipping industry congregated in the coffee house of Edward Lloyd to arrange early forms of marine insurance.

However, two recent announcements firmly place marine in the center of the technology revolution affecting insurance.

First, Maersk announced they are building a blockchain-based marine insurance platform with EY, Guardtime, Microsoft and several insurance partners. Second, a U.K.-based technology company, called Concirrus, announced the launch of the first AI-powered marine insurance analytics platform.

At Eos, this was not surprising.

See also: Insurance Needs a New Vocabulary  

In the first half of 2017, as part of our thesis-driven investment approach, we highlighted commercial insurance as a key area of focus and within that our first product vertical to focus on was marine insurance. What led us to this conclusion?

Commercial marine insurance is a $30 billion premium market, it’s complex and fragmented, and through our analysis we identified a significant potential shift in profit pools over the next few years. Importantly, the emergence of IoT and other devices has created a wealth of data within the industry. Marine also sits at the heart of global supply chain logistics.

During our deep dive into the sector and having spoken with more than 40 market participants across various parts of the value chain, it became apparent that marine insurers (and shippers) have never had so much data (internal and external) available to them, and many don’t have the tools or skill set to take advantage of it.

Growing competition, underwriting capacity and downward pressure on pricing has given little room to maneuver, but we were intrigued and kept digging.

The ability to gather and analyze these new information sources is helpful, but more important will be driving actionable insights through well-informed decision making based on high-quality, real-time data and analytics to improve risk selection, pricing and claim management while helping the insured better manage risk. As with many parts of insurtech, the underlying driver is the move from pure risk transfer to risk mitigation, and from prevention to prediction.

The creation of marine analytics solution platforms provide tailored insights to users, which is an important first step. Currently, software and tech providers to the marine industry are fragmented, with no dominant vendors and no joined up, end-to-end solutions.

As the market matures, the ability to harness analytics capability at the front end with improved efficiency at the back end through blockchain or other initiatives creates an even more compelling story and is an area we will be watching with interest.

Why Blockchain Matters to Insurers

First, a definition. Distributed ledger/blockchain technology, increasingly abbreviated as “DLT,” transfers value in a decentralized, consensus-based and immutable manner using cryptographic tools and is different from technology today because it offers transactions occurring between unknown counterparties that are mathematically trusted in real time. DLT is at once a network and a database that can host applications like Smart Contracts, with the potential to be interoperable across trade ecosystems. This technology seems tailor-made to help administer the claims end of insurance.

Let’s talk about claims. It is well known that insurance claims are the storefront of an insurance business. Claims processing and resolution provide touchpoints for extended customer engagement, and a bad experience can poison an insurer in a customer’s mind, which can affect policy renewal. The claims experience should be seamless and easy to manage for all.

Imagine if you could smooth out your claims process so that it is more accurate, frictionless and cost-efficient and can even provide easy access to data for benchmarking and analysis to improve your customer’s digital experience.

See also: What Blockchain Means for Insurance  

I had my “aha” moment when I first learned about DLT technology. I was struck with an immediate vision of how things could be made better within the insurance industry. As a prior general counsel of an insurer, and now a consultant specializing in the strategic use of this technology, I understand how it can be implemented (once fully developed) and can envision how it can change and improve business from end to end.

Practically speaking, on the claims side, at the very least, the industry would never again have to suffer “the dog ate my homework” excuse for lost documents, duplicate or other document mishaps and related lawsuits. Claims provenance could be automatically established and adjudicated by so-called “smart contracts” (in the most general sense, they are protocols that have deterministic outcomes) in real time with an easily auditable and immutable trail. Identity proof would be less onerous. Those developments alone go a long way to reducing fraud and risk and their associated costs.

While modernizing claims processes is not a “sexy” thought, it is one that directly affects all insurers and their bottom lines by reducing risk. A small shift in the actuarial calculation based on a risk reduction goes a long way. There is not a business person on earth who does not want to increase revenue.

While there is a lot of hype, I believe we are only seeing the beginning of its potential. Education is needed. Imagination is needed. And innovation and execution are needed. The financial services industry has looked at this technology over the past year and is engaging with it, and some practical applications are expected to go into production in 2017. Insurers/asset managers should take notice. For instance, Delaware will begin using blockchain technology for UCC filings powered by Symbiont. Financial industry regulators, both domestically and internationally, are evaluating this technology and are listening and learning. In part, we owe the financial services sector a debt of gratitude for creating awareness overall.

Generally speaking, insurers have been slow to the table to learn about this technology, but it is imperative that they engage as early as possible because DLT has the potential to be very valuable for them. Some reinsurers already understand this and are experimenting. The diamond industry understands this and is experimenting with digital representation of hard assets on a blockchain for asset management and insurance purposes through Everledger. Other insurers have made some attempts to test similar concepts.

Indeed, the insurance industry can benefit on more than just the claims side.

We all know customer acquisition is the most uncertain and expensive part of the process in any business. Well-designed digital processes can prove invaluable in customer acquisition and retention. On the front end of the insurance industry, smart contracts can aid in creating easy-to-manage customer policies, which can be fed into databases and tailored and segmented in any way that makes business sense. Data management and security can be enhanced using blockchain technology. In fact, the Estonian company Guardtime has embraced the cyber security end of this technology and evolved a keyless signature infrastructure (KSI) that DARPA is verifying.

See also: Blockchain: What Role in Insurance?  

Blockchain/DLT technology is not a panacea for all. But it is worth exploring as the technology evolves. We are at an inflection point in the development of this technology—a point in time where insurers and others can have a say in how it evolves. Once standards emerge and practical applications are in production, it may be too late.

Time to get on board, insurers, and weigh in! All you need do is participate to make sure your interests are heard and accounted for.

To the insurance industry, I ask you: How do you see this technology affecting insurance?