Tag Archives: ingenesist

Can Blockchains Be Insured?

Are blockchains insurable? This question was posed as a topic for presentation by the Center of Insurance Policy and Research, a research arm of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (CIPR/NAIC).

The trigger appears to be that some insurance companies are being asked to insure the business operations of blockchain enterprises. This same question would apply to legacy businesses that may choose to use or participate in a blockchain, which is basically a shared database managed by software. If one listens to blockchain activists, this issue could apply to everyone in the near future.

The Ingenesist Project volunteered the following opinion to the question: “Are blockchains insurable?”

The article is long and comprehensive, but the implications are staggering. The article begins by describing the landscape of finance and entrepreneurship in terms of insurability. It follows with, in essence, a mathematical proof that blockchains are indeed insurable but that business processes using blockchains may not be.

Luckily, the technology offers sufficient mathematical underpinning to adequately calculate risk and thereby pool risk exposures of its components. However, trouble arises when digital assets can neither be treated as money nor as property. As such, an extralegal condition may exist that would be categorically non-insurable in mainstream finance.

See also: Why Insurers Caught the Blockchain Bug  

“Extralegal” refers to a condition where something is neither legal nor illegal. Economist Hernando De Soto writes about how the extralegal sector in many parts of the world grossly inhibits economic growth because people are unable to secure “title” to property and businesses they create. They are unable to bridge the capitalization gap — that is, the ability to borrow against tangible assets or future returns.

Blockchain technology appears to be languishing in the extralegal domain as courts and governments have few uniform ideas about how and where this tech fits in society — that is, until something goes wrong, such as a major hack where important people lose a lot of money. Only then will some patchwork of blanket legislation likely emerge that favors those of one sector over another. The running joke in crypto-space is that any effort to control blockchain technology would negate any benefits of having it one in the first place.

A Third Option

The CIPR/NAIC article raises the possibility that the pairing of blockchain technology with professional engineers (as the decentralized adjudicators of smart contracts) would achieve a state of insurability and thus bridge the capitalization gap required for mainstream financing of blockchain enterprise. This arrangement applies primarily to basic infrastructure and derivatives of basic infrastructure, which may not actually be a bad thing at all.

See also: What Is and What Isn’t a Blockchain?  

The Critical Path

The Earth is currently an epic case study in deferred maintenance. There are very real and serious global problems that affect every living creature that we need to attend to immediately. Critical path methodology is a technique familiar to all builders as a set of instructions specifying where one action must precede the next for subsequent actions to occur. Millions of business plans that provide basic human needs and protect our natural resources and that are currently unprofitable will suddenly become hugely profitable.

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These outcomes could be accomplished with the recommendations provided within the CIPR/NAIC article. Please read this article and forward it to others who are interested in this technology. There is very real value to be released and money to be made in the next economic paradigm that is currently at our fingertips. All we need to do is align insurance with engineering on a shared database.

The Future of Money: Not What You Think

Never underestimate the ability of the human species to adapt to changes in its environment. All humans are engineers. If there is too much friction in a system, they will fix it, or they will replace it. When banks add overdraft penalties, incur service fees, constrain capital, restrict mobility or compromise the public trust in any way, all those engineers will make a “correction.” Money, after all, is a social agreement.

Today, young people are encountering a financial game that they cannot win playing by the rules that are presented to them. The result should surprise no one – they will either not play the game, or they will change the rules. In fact, innovation in banking is happening at an astonishing rate; unfortunately, bankers are not necessarily doing it.

Because banking touches every part of our lives, so, too, will any innovation that occurs in the domain of banking.

Look at Bitcoin. It is more than just a cute new social app like Facebook or Twitter – it is a new idea called decentralization. If it is possible to decentralize banking, it would also be possible to decentralize everything; insurance, engineering, education, production (i.e., corporations), education, legislation and even governance. Nothing is immune from the next wave of Internet innovation that is bearing down — and right now, not tomorrow.

Because this is an insurance audience, allow me to mention that, the easiest (technically) and likely the first big innovation that will arise from the decentralization movement will be decentralization of insurance. With the advent of smart contract platforms such as Ethereum and Ripple Labs, people can form their own risk-sharing pools to cover a whole suite of perils now in the domain of insurance. (For the lawyers and politicians out there, it is also nearly trivial to set up voting, escrow, contract enforcement, etc., via the sort of block chain protocol that is the basis for Bitcoin.)

Last year, I published an article called “What if everyone was a BitCoin”? The core idea was that there are several problems with Bitcoin:

  • Concentration of wealth is worse than the dollar.
  • The proof of work that creates coin is trivial except for the fact that it is difficult.
  • The valuation was speculative.

Today, there are hundreds of companies forming, and being funded in the millions of dollars, that are investing in innovations that would create thousands, if not millions, of alt-coins with characteristics of Bitcoin, except iterated without the impracticalities of Bitcoin.

For example, MaidSafe was able to introduce a currency called Safecoin that provides a way to take unused computational capacity that members are willing to contribute and build a decentralized server network. This network encrypts data flowing through it, creating a secure and anonymous Internet. What happens to big data when people stop sharing the streams of information available on today’s Internet?

Further, innovations such as Curiosumé (by this author) could have wide-ranging implications on everything from education to corporate HR and factors of production — Curiosumé is an open-source development project designed to replace the resume as a means for describing one’s interests, skills and abilities; the tag line is, “Because the resume must die.”

Swarm.co allows individuals to invest time and money in decentralized innovations without banks, insurance, corporations, etc. A new generation of venture capitalists such as DApps Fund is already funding new startups in crypto-currencies and demonstrating high convertibility and liquidity.

Every month, thousands of people are coming together at Meet-up  (itself an earlier social innovation) to learn, teach and collaborate on open-source platforms such as Ethereum, Bitcoin, Ripple and many others. Every day, with each article warning of the dangers of Bitcoin, there is another article of an ex-CEO banker coming out strongly in favor of the financial innovation in the crypto space. What is certain is that every impression placed on the public regarding these new technologies is bad for the status quo for banking and insurance.

Resistance predictably comes from the public voice of banks and governments, which have the most invested in the way things are. This is not to say that they are bad and wrong, just that they have the greatest infrastructure in place to support the existing system. Changing their minds is like pushing electric cars against the tide of Big Oil; lines have been drawn in concrete.

What we are seeing is not a “revolution” with a central army in a field of battle; there is simply a natural progression happening fueled by rational efficiency and nothing else. But change is inevitable.

As with previous financial innovations, my guess is that some trader may discover that the true risk associated with a particular crypto-asset is less than what the risk-adjusted market valuation indicates it is. Then, a financial instrument will be developed to exploit the risk-arbitrage. Some readers may recall the saga of Michael Milken, who correctly observed that companies with low credit scores were in some cases less likely to fail than their risk valuations indicated. This led to the creation of junk bonds and, ultimately, the idea that risk valuations can be skirted. To Milken’s credit, the assumption held until greed set in (which is not the fault of the asset).

I believe something similar may or must happen in finance to spawn internal innovation. For example: the insurance industry does not necessarily care about risk per se; the industry cares mostly that the risk is priced correctly. Soon, the insurance industry may realize that the risk of assets backed in crypto-currencies is lessened because of increased liquidity, fewer restrictions and regulations and rapid convertibility and because they are underwritten by better fundamental assets than the dollar. The industry will develop financial instruments that exploit this risk arbitrage and profit considerably.

But if the insurance company does not innovate in this future form of value, then people will build their own instruments. These new ideas and the technologies will enables millions of entrepreneurs and billions of engineers to print their own money one social agreement at a time. My advice to the insurance industry is to get in, help out and adapt before your customers leave you behind.

(Editors note: You are invited to join the author at The Future of Money and Technology Summit in San Francisco, Dec. 2, 2014, for his panel: Everything that Can Be Decentralized Will Be Decentralized.

The description is:

Much of our society today is based on centralized organizations that allocate our land, labor and money to create the things that we need. Today, we have an opportunity to specify and design any number of decentralized applications that also can produce all the things that society needs — except with stunning efficiency. This is a conversation about what is not only possible but is becoming increasingly probable. This group of speakers represent innovations that decentralize: data, venture capital, productivity, currency, contracts and knowledge — and that’s just the beginning.

The speakers are:

Paige Peterson – Maidsafe

Sam Onat Yilmaz – DApps Fund

Joel Dietz – Swarm.co

Christian Peel – Ethereum

Moderator: Dan Robles, The Ingenesist Project)

The Value Game™: A New Class Of Business Methods For The Condominium Reconstruction Market

Part 1: Correcting a Distorted Insurance Market

For many condominium associations, the maintenance, repair, and reconstruction industry has devolved into a minefield of distrust and dysfunction. Countless lawsuits have taken their toll on the industry to the point of near dysfunction where many contractors simply walk away from condominium projects. The worst form of “capitalism” ensues where everyone acting in their own best interest is in fact acting in the counter-interest of their community. The Value Game promises to reset this negative incentives condition while enhancing community resilience.

Here's How The Problems Start:
The board of directors of a homeowner's association is entrusted by the residents to hire a contractor to perform a complicated reconstruction project. Unfortunately, condominium board members are not very good at writing contracts or issuing requests for proposal or collecting bids. When a contractor is selected, the scope of work is often poorly established. The expectations between the community and the contractor begin to diverge. Soon, a law firm is engaged my some residents to sue the contractor for damages. After a long battle, a settlement is awarded, but it is not enough to fix the problem after expenses are paid.

A Chain Reaction:
Fortunately, the contractor in the suit was insured, but this does not cover the personal, professional, and opportunity hardship of defending against the suit. The insurance company also increases the premium for coverage for condo projects. Most good contractors say, “it's just not worth the trouble.” As the pool of available contractors dries up and the price for reconstruction increases, many condos are forced into deferring maintenance in a distorted market.

Cascading Failures:
After a while, a condominium springs a few leaks in their piping system. Each leak results in a relatively small water damage claim. When the insurance company notices several claims in the same building, they begin to fear that a mainline is about to rupture next, and threaten the condominium with cancellation of their policy unless the community replaces the entire system immediately. Now the insurance industry is in a double jeopardy: they force the contractor out of the market and they force the condo out of the market to basically avoid suing themselves.

The Dysfunction Deepens:
Banks will not make construction loans to condominiums that are not insured. Likewise, they will not make mortgage loans to buildings that are not insured. The property values plummet and the owners are sent under water. Soon they begin to default on the mortgages that the banks already hold. More maintenance is deferred as owners move out and renters move in. Buildings fall apart and become unsafe. Banks pull out of the market to avoid defaulting on themselves. The wider community suffers.

The Value Game
The Ingenesist Project is currently deploying The Value Game to the condominium reconstruction market with remarkable success. The Value Game is a new class of business methods that alters the incentive structure of a distorted market such that everyone acting in their own best interest is in fact acting in the best interest of the community. Clearly the intention is to demonstrate that asset preservation is the domain of engineering and not the legal system.

Here Is How The Value Game Is Formed:
The first thing is to identify the “shared asset” in whose best interest it is for everyone to preserve. In this case, the shared asset is the physical condominium building where preservation is the context about which a community interacts.

If we look at each of the players individually, we see some consistent patterns.

  • It is obviously in the best interest of the residents to have a safe and well-maintained home.
  • It is in the best interest of the contractors to have a successful and profitable interaction with the building.
  • It is in the best interest for the Insurance industry to reduce the risks that they underwrite.
  • It is in the interest of the financial industry to loan money into a viable, organized, and disciplined community.
  • It is in the best interest of the real estate industry to represent strong values and complete insurability of assets.
  • Finally, the broader neighborhood benefits from the presence of a viable condominium community.

In short, it is actually in everyone's best interest that the others are successful.

About The Value Game Game Board
The first rendition of the Internet was populated by static websites built for a person, or to sell a product, or to deliver entertainment, or to provide information. The next level of the Internet included social media, where users actually create the content that populates a website such as Facebook and Twitter, etc.

The next level of the Internet is taking on a form consistent with the Value Game where a social network is built about an asset that communities share.

Part 2: Case Study — High Rise Condominium Re-piping Project

The current case study is a condominium re-piping project in Portland, Oregon. The actual community consists of 200 units (400 residents) who occupy a single high-rise tower that must undergo a major reconstruction project that will impact everyone. The total value of the project is about 3 million dollars. This is real money in a real Value game.

For this project, we built a website for the physical building with its own social network where all of the different (and willing) players can interact with each other to preserve each other's best interests.

The first thing to accomplish is to reduce the likelihood of diverting incentives that can result in litigation. This may be accomplished by introducing strong community management. In this particular case, a professional engineering firm was hired to represent the best interests of the asset. The engineers represent the needs of the homeowners association to selected construction technologies, defined project scope, wrote the RFP, wrote the contracts, selected the contractors, and managed the project.

The Social Network Dynamics
The website used in this case study is a common open source WordPress platform with a Buddy Press backend to provide “Facebook-like” features (except with privacy). The engineering firm submits all reports, surveys, test results, assessments, photographs, schedules, products, accessories, and plans onto the website for members to see equally (there are some exceptions to protect financial data).

Individual residents are invited to form “groups” and start “threads” in topics for which they have an interest or a concern. People naturally migrate toward other people with similar interests and they build relationships.

Contractors are able to see all of the assessments, conditions, and work scopes directly from the website instead of paper submittals. They can ask questions and post ideas of their own for community review.

Engineering firm(s) can monitor discussions and collect frequently asked questions, which are posted in a FAQ. Everyone gets the same correct answer to their questions without rumors or speculation.

Communities: Community meetings are held. There is no bickering or infighting because everyone is educated and prepared to ask unique and relevant questions of the presenters. When a community is unified, they can easily come together to make important decisions that impact the quality, cost, and schedule of the project.

The insurance company is given limited access to the website which demonstrates that the community is acting to mitigate the risks that the insurance company underwrites — this keeps the policy in force.

With website access, the insurance industry can also see that licensed engineers professionally manage the project in a vibrant community. This reduces the likelihood of litigation against contractors. The insurance industry can now classify this project among “commercial” insurance pool instead of the litigious condominium insurance pool.

Contractors feel comfortable with this professional engineering management and insurability, which brings more contractors to market thereby increasing the talent pool and reducing costs. At the end of the project they may get 400 likes on Facebook, YELP!, and Angie's List.

The bankers will have access to the website to monitor progress. With insurance policies fully enforced, banks will lend favorably to the homeowner's association which needs to fund a major reconstruction project. Banks will also lend favorably to mortgages in this structure because it is well maintained.

It is in the best interest of the community to be civil and thoughtful in their discussions knowing that they are being observed by some of the other stakeholders. This eliminates the incentive to be disruptive and increases the incentive to be engaged and productive in the project.

Over time, the website becomes a forensic record of all matters associated with the project. Everyone knows who said what, when, where, and why with an electronic time stamp. There is little to be disputed.

Interaction With The Wider Community:
Real estate agents always describe property in poetic hyperbole — they rarely tout the improvements that a community works so hard for. The website could be a place where a real estate agent can advertise their services in exchange for a promise to mention the re-piping project. The market will respond to a well-maintained building by an engaged community, which will drive real estate valuations up.

Hotels, restaurants, theaters, art galleries, service groups and civic organizations benefit from prosperity and resilience in their community.

In the end, the shared asset is preserved and everyone is profitable.

Update: Important Observations

In deploying the Value Game, we need to be careful of how much collaborative innovation we are able to introduce to a system that is normally adversarial. A general distrust of new ideas and the technological platforms that they depend on is still fairly high. For this reason, we estimate a 40% adoption level of the principles discussed here.