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Can We Disrupt Ourselves?

Brian Duperreault, CEO of Hamilton Insurance Group, delivered these remarks to the recent Global Insurance Forum, held by the International Insurance Society (IIS) in New York City.

It’s a real pleasure to be with you at what is arguably one of the most important annual events in our industry.

I was just 18 years old when the International Insurance Society had its first global meeting in Austin, Texas. I entered the industry in my 20s and joined the IIS in my 30s.

Since then, I’ve benefitted professionally and personally from the knowledge I’ve gained and the friends I’ve made at these annual meetings.

Today, I’m going to talk about an issue that represents a distinct threat to our industry. I might even go so far as to call it an existential threat.

But, like all threats, it also represents a great opportunity.

In it could lie the seeds of a legacy of meaningful change for each of us charged with leading our industry.

So I’m going to address the question: Can we disrupt ourselves?

I’m going to start by saying a few words about Twitter.

Bear with me. I do have a point to make that’s relevant to insurance. Twitter has one billion registered users so far… about one human out of every seven on Earth.

Only 6% of Twitter users are over the age of 45. More than 300 million active users—most of them under 45—join Twitter each month.

Twitter started as a platform for sharing personal moments. It’s morphed into an information delivery system that plays a major role in distributing news, marketing products and affecting the outcome of political and social developments.

And this instant, real-time communication comes with the restriction that you can only use 140 characters to get your message across.

Twitter’s simple idea completely disrupted the way we communicate. I used Twitter as an example of disruption last week when I spoke at the Young Professionals Global Forum in London. I called that speech “Risk in 140 Characters.”

Since then, the CEO of Twitter has stepped down amid charges that the platform isn’t evolving as quickly as it should, and there’s been a lot of soul searching about how this disruptive form of social media can keep current in this ever-changing, ever-evolving age of disruption.

In spite of Twitter’s challenges, I believe the metaphor is a good one. It’s time to select, analyze and price risk, faster and more efficiently – the equivalent of risk in 140 characters.

The young professionals I spoke to last week are all digital natives. As Don Tapscott, who studies the digital economy, says: They’ve been bathed in bits since they were born.

They embrace technology and use it to navigate their world, their relationships and their work swiftly and creatively.

These digital natives are mobile, wireless and connected with their peers all over the globe.

Meanwhile, in the other corner, I—and most of my friends here in this room—are digital immigrants. We’ve had to make a deliberate and conscious choice to adapt to digital ways of doing what we used to do on paper, over the telephone, or through other physical or, at best, analog, means.

Even though it was our generation who invented the Internet, many of us have the feeling of being strangers in a strange land. Using search engines and apps to navigate life and work doesn’t come naturally to us.

We digital immigrants tend to shun social media or dabble around the edges, still thinking Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat and Instagram are trendy chat rooms where younger people tell everybody what they’re up to a thousand times a day.

But the truth is that social media, which erupted onto the scene as a means of personal contact, has quickly morphed into a powerful engine of collaboration with profound ramifications for business development.

Digital natives know that. And because they know it, and use that knowledge to great effect, they are leaping ahead of the digital immigrants in our generation.

There’s a term for this: digital lapping. And this lapping of one generation by another is the basis for the disruption that’s blowing apart traditional business models. For digital natives, disruption is the new normal.

You know what I’m talking about. How many music stores saw iTunes coming? How many taxi dispatchers saw Uber coming? How many hotel chains saw Airbnb coming?

How many Blackberry execs even saw the iPhone coming? Well, maybe they saw the iPhone coming, but it’s an understatement to say their reaction was too little, too late.

Pick any industry, and you can see the pattern emerging.

The automotive industry is a telling example. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, recently said he’s “more determined than ever to pursue industry consolidation lest technology disrupters beat the auto industry at its own game.” Marchionne’s warning came after a meeting at Google and Tesla, and after spending almost an hour in a driverless car.

“The agenda needs to be moved,” he said, “or all these technology disrupters will come in and make our life incredibly uncomfortable.”

Clearly, all industries are facing massive disruptions because of technology. With new models of service delivery, new categories of products and restructured value chains, society and the customer expect far more than traditional businesses can offer.

These expectations represent a potentially bleak scenario for the insurance industry, because in many respects we are way behind the curve as far as technology is concerned.

And we are groping in the dark for an effective solution to attract digital natives to the industry.

Digital natives are the much-discussed, much-researched Millennials.

Born in the eighties and nineties, they’re the offspring of the Baby Boomers. They’re sometimes known as Echo Boomers or the App Generation.

Millennials are the most diverse generation we’ve ever had. In the US, 35% are non-white, and researchers who study generational differences say they are the most tolerant generation yet, believing everyone should be part of the community.

We’ve been studying Millennials for quite a while, so we know a lot about them:

  • They want to be team players.
  • They want their careers to have purpose.
  • They want to build new things that matter.
  • They use social media to collaborate. They crowd-source everything from fundraising to business capital.
  • They fight for worthy causes by alerting each other to things that distress them.
  • They don’t see much difference between work and leisure, and don’t see the point of rigid work schedules and being tied to an office.
  • They see hierarchy as an obsolete impediment to team progress. They need to get things done, and waiting for permission doesn’t strike them as sensible.

Now, does that list describe how the typical insurance company operates? I don’t think so.That’s a red flag that we need to pay attention to. Consider this:

  • Almost half of insurance professionals in the U.S. are over the age of 45.
  • 25% of all the people working in our industry will be eligible to retire in just three years.
  • That means that, in just five years, there will be 400,000 open positions in the U.S. alone.

Five years ago, Accenture warned that it’s hard to attract Millennials to a career in insurance. Accenture noted that “the industry’s apprentice structure—with its long learning curve and slow promotions—in no way suits a Millennial’s expectation of getting rapid feedback, or working in a flat organization that offers dynamic career development.” Since then, more alarm bells have been rung.

Recently, a report found that only 5% of high school and college graduates thought a career in insurance was worth looking at. When asked why, they said they thought the industry was dull and conservative and doesn’t offer much of a chance to make a difference.

For someone whose whole career has been dedicated to an industry that promises to protect, that really hurts. At the very least, we’ve done a terrible job in helping people to understand the value in what we do.

With hundreds of thousands approaching retirement in an industry that’s dismissed as boring and static, and with disruption looming on the horizon, I believe we’re staring into the jaws of a crisis.

Millennials are not only our future workforce, they’re our future customer base. And our industry, quite simply, is not prepared to attract the numbers we need, with the skills we need, to take charge of the disruption we know is coming.

The men and women in this room have presided over some of the great developments in our industry: Catastrophe modeling, deregulation and globalization all happened on our watch.

We’re not strangers to bold moves. Innovation isn’t a foreign concept.

But collectively we don’t seem to know how to crack this nut: How do we attract hyper-connected, entrepreneurial digital natives into the generally old-school world that so desperately needs them?

I know there are pockets of energy devoted to finding a solution to this problem.

MyPath has been established by the Institutes and affiliates as an industry-led effort to raise awareness of insurance as a career, and to provide information about the industry as well as job opportunities. Hamilton USA, the US operations of Hamilton Insurance Group, is one of the industry partners participating in MyPath.

And there’s Tomorrow’s Talent Challenge, an awareness campaign established by Valen, which provides predictive analytic and modeling capabilities to the industry.

Valen is so concerned about the lack of interest the digital generation is showing in insurance that it created Tomorrow’s Talent Challenge “as a rallying cry for the insurance industry to band together to sell exciting, innovative careers in insurance to Millennials.”

These are laudable efforts – driven by the same sense of urgency that I’m outlining here.

But they’re not enough.

We need a focused, coordinated strategy embraced by some of the major players in our industry.

We need a collaborative commitment like the one announced a few months ago.

In January, as many of you know, a consortium of eight companies from our sector announced a far-reaching initiative to provide insurance to the underserved. My company is proud to be one of the partner companies.

We referred to the new entity as the Microinsurance Venture Incubator – or MVI. Quite a mouthful.

This morning, we announced that the venture has a much better name.

After inviting more than 100,000 employees in our partner companies to help us name the MVI, we chose Blue Marble Microinsurance. This is a great name. It really captures the spirit of our venture. It reminds us of how connected we all are – ever more so in this digital age.

Blue Marble Microinsurance takes a holistic view of our world, planning to extend protection to a broader portion of the population by providing insurance in a socially responsible and sustainable way.

It offers people on the wrong side of the digital divide the stability and potential for growth that insurance makes possible.

Blue Marble Microinsurance’s company partners know that the ability to manage and finance risk is critical to the development of society – any society, but most urgently to those struggling to gain a stable toehold in their pursuit of education, jobs and a prosperous future.

Research and development enabled by Blue Marble Microinsurance will bring affordable insurance products to the developing world.

Technology is at the base of this global project, using innovative apps to connect consumers and products on a micro level – but what drives it is our industry’s collaboration, our sense of purpose and our focus on the future.

What we learn from Blue Marble Microinsurance could truly shift the insurance paradigm.

Yes, it has the potential to reduce the cost of risk analysis and product distribution and delivery. And, through reverse innovation, the application of that knowledge in the developed world could be one of the most enduring legacies of this project.

I have to admit to a huge sense of satisfaction at watching this concept unfold. It was three years ago – almost to the day – that I addressed the annual IIS meeting in Rio and outlined a plan for a coordinated industry effort focused on microinsurance.

At the time, I said that this wasn’t the sort of project that could be tackled by one company. Many had tried, but none had succeeded.

I’m delighted that Joan Lamm-Tennant is now leading the development of Blue Marble Microinsurance.

Joan poured her heart and soul into taking an idea outlined in Rio in 2012 and making it a reality three years later.

This initiative is a shining, innovative example of what happens when we work together to find creative risk solutions.

So if we can find a way to offer coverage to literally billions in developing markets around the world, I know we can figure out how to redefine our work environments, our human resources policies and our recruiting programs in such a way that digital natives will be beating down the doors to join us.

Last week, I challenged the leaders of tomorrow to take charge of their destiny and find ways to attract Millennials into the insurance industry.

Today, I’m inviting you, as today’s leaders, to work together to develop a strategy for our disruption, leveraging the talent and skills of the digital generation.

As I said last week, insurance should be catnip to a Millennial looking for a purpose-driven career.

Let’s invite these digital natives in, make them feel welcome and give them the benefit of our considerable experience and expertise.

Then, let’s step aside and let them lead the way.

We have one of those rare opportunities to leave a lasting, collective legacy – one that ensures the insurance industry stays relevant and innovative and becomes the No. 1 career choice for any young person who wants to make a difference, be part of a team, keep the world working – for generations and generations to come.

Blue Marble Microinsurance is proof that, when we collaborate, exciting things happen. Let’s take a disruptive step to the future – together.

Data Breach Law Could Hurt Consumers

With each passing brand name mega-breach—Home Depot, Target, JPMorgan Chase, Anthem—it becomes ever more urgent for government and industry to get on the same page about how to protect consumers.

Sadly, not all laws are created equal, and there are few better examples of this homespun truth than a would-be federal law currently wending its way through Congress. The Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015, in its current form, has a long way to go before it should become the law of the land.

The Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015 says it “aims to tackle the nation’s growing data security threats and challenges.” So far, that sounds pretty good to me. The bill was written by Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), making it a bipartisan effort. The goal: to implement “a comprehensive plan to help safeguard sensitive consumer information and shield Americans from the harmful consequences of cyber attacks.”

I’ve written elsewhere about the need for a federal breach notification law, so in theory I’m on board. A strong federal law that requires businesses and government entities to inform people that their personal information has been compromised in a data breach can absolutely be a good thing…if it’s done right.

The problem with this proposal is that there are far more effective laws already on the books in several states, and they could be preempted were the bill to pass. If that weren’t bad enough, the proposed bill could also supersede stronger rules already put in play by the FCC with regard to telephone, broadband Internet, cable and satellite user information.

The undermining of better laws is bad, but worse is the way the Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015 underscores a continuing failure of our leaders to fully understand the nature of the problems we face in the mare’s nest that is consumer privacy and data security. In a widely publicized survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, “91% of adults in the survey ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.” Data breaches, and the identity theft that flows from them, have become the third certainty in life. We need a strong federal law, but as I argued in my op-ed about the Data Breach Disclosure Box, any proposed bill that threatens to weaken existing laws has to be challenged, quickly and without equivocation.

Why It’s an Issue

Senior Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute Laura Moy eloquently outlined the problems this bill could create in her testimony before the House of Representatives.

In a wide-ranging discussion of the major concerns raised by the bill, Moy pointed out some of the laws that could be preempted. One was California’s Song-Beverly Credit Card Act, which made it illegal to record a credit card holder’s personal identification information during a transaction. Another law in Connecticut outlawing the public posting of any individual’s Social Security number was also named. Both state laws represent solid advances in the realm of data security, and both might be preempted were the bill moving through Congress to succeed.

And here’s the really bad news: they would be two of the less alarming casualties.

The problem with the bill hinges on the way that it tries to separate privacy from data security, but they are inextricably intertwined. This could weaken or even eliminate protections for the many kinds of information – like your email address, for one — that fall outside the bill’s narrow definition of the personal data that is covered. That’s why this matters so much.

As Moy argued during her testimony, “Many laws that protect consumers’ personal information [can] be thought of simultaneously in terms of both privacy and security.” I will go one step further and say that I do not believe it is possible to discuss data security until we have a worst-case scenario definition of what constitutes personally identifiable information in the eyes of an identity thief.

To give an example of the kinds of preemption that are possible here, Florida’s privacy law includes email and a consumer’s username-password combination in its definition of personal information, the logic being that consumers use the same combination for many different login pages, including financial accounts. Eight other states currently mandate the same standard—California, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas, Virginia and, as of July 1, Hawaii and Wyoming. Under the currently proposed bill, a business would not have to notify you if your email and username-password combination were involved in a breach. Meanwhile, the above kinds of information continue to be highly exploitable data points in an identity thief’s toolkit.

In addition to the exemption of breaches that “only” include email addresses or user login details, the bill is unclear about personal information related to telecommunications, cable and satellite customers, which hinge on a trigger of “authorized access,” and Moy believes it may supersede important protections created by the Communications Act. Most alarming is the prospect of less robust notifications regarding compromised customer proprietary network information (CPNI) – that includes texts, phone calls, every location where you were when you made this or that phone call, your location when you didn’t make a phone call and the location of all your network-connected devices. All this information could be breached, and this proposed law in Congress says you don’t need to know about it. The same goes for what you watch on television, including any items you may have purchased on pay-per-view. All of it could, hypothetically, be out there open to public perusal. Every site you ever visited on line. Every call. Every text.

And what about your protected health information (PHI)? Critics note the bill doesn’t mention it, which at first blush seems like a four-alarm-fire level of non-comprehension. However, whether the product of partisan warfare or common sense, it’s actually a bit of good news. Because it has been entirely carved out here, most forms of PHI actually would still be covered by the notification requirements of the HIPPA/HITECH Act — with a few notable preemptions of existing state law affecting over-the-counter purchases and other health-related items.

Defining Harm

According to the narrow logic of the proposed legislation, a breach of any of the above information will not result in financial damage, which is the reason it isn’t covered. It’s a position easily brushed aside with one mind-blowing word of refutation: extortion. Scam artists have countless tricks up their sleeves, and the onus to anticipate the adaptive nature of crime falls on legislators. A single text or rented video could potentially ruin a person’s life, and fraudsters know that. If the wrong person has access to the above data points—and any of those bytes contain information that might harm you professionally or personally—they most certainly could be used against you for financial gain.

A recent Science study showed that with just a few data points (Instagram posts and tweets) it was possible to re-identify anonymized data about credit card purchases with the unique consumer who made them. While it may seem off the beaten path, the proposed bill, with its narrow definition of what should be covered, would not cover a glitch in Instagram’s code that revealed protected accounts to the public. For the end user unaware that their private posts were viewable, and that those posts could be used to re-identify data that is publicly available, the above hypothetical scenario featuring a “financially harmless” compromise (that revealed every purchase made on an individual’s credit card) could be a life changer—and not for the better.

What we really need in the federal government is someone in a position of authority with the expertise and knowledge to make sure anyone exposed in a breach knows about it, and is informed about the potential fallout as far as current intel permits as quickly as possible. Call this person a Breach Tzar, if you will. Since data-related crimes are often quite ingenious, isn’t it best to err on the side of caution? The fact is that any federal law aimed at protecting consumers from the danger of identity-related crime needs to be best-in-class, and far better than all the existing state laws combined, and, while it should go without saying, it must not supersede stronger existing protections afforded by non-state agencies.

There is still a yawning gulf between what’s been done so far and what needs to happen in the realm of cyber legislation. The protections we deserve are a work in progress, one that the entire constellation of consumer advocates and data-security experts must solve in concert. In the same way that data-related crimes are constantly evolving, we need to get into the habit of responding to the very biggest picture we can imagine.

2015: The Year ‘Social’ Breaks Out of the Silo

Last December, I predicted social business would grow up this year, with real use cases and measurable return on investment (ROI) emerging across the enterprise. Looking back at the last 12 months, I’d say we’re right on track.

From Southwest Airlines to Asos, customer engagement has already been transformed by Twitter. Representatives not only respond to customer complaints and inquiries at breakneck speeds but share content that shows off the company’s unique style and culture. Retailers from Burberry to Starbucks (where I’m proud to serve on the board) not only shine through creative campaigns and audience engagement but have also made cutting-edge social- and mobile-enabled technology their core business.

Above: Starbucks’ Tweet A Coffee campaign on Twitter.

Below: Burberry connecting with its audience on Instagram.

Even in financial services, an industry sometimes perceived as slow and sluggish because of the regulatory environment, the world’s largest banks, insurers and financial firms are “getting social.” At Hearsay Social, we now support more than 100,000 financial professionals, allowing them to meaningfully connect with clients and prospects across multiple social networks and devices.

Whether it’s improved responsiveness to customer complaints, greater audience reach, more instantaneous market insight or the opportunity to connect with a new lead, compelling business cases now abound on social media.

In most organizations, however, social media still sits in a silo by itself. And some companies are still investing in social just to say they are social. Therefore, my big idea for 2015 is that social media will cease to exist as an individual silo, but instead will become integrated into standard business practice.

With the initial business case proven, it is time for the C-suite as well as functional leaders to institutionalize social as a core part of how business is done every day. Here’s how:

Define a customer-centered vision for transformation

We like to think we’ve come so far, but change comes from the top. And how much can be said when, in 2014, two in three CEOs still have no social presence on any major social network whatsoever? (Source: 2014 Social CEO Report, CEO.com.) Of those CEOs who do use social media, two in three are only on one platform. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only Fortune 500 CEO on every major social network is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is arguably the best-equipped to understand the power of social.

We need to change this next year. If you truly want to create a customer-centered organization — that is, a company dedicated to long-term success amid seismic shifts in consumer expectations and behavior — then executives at the top must articulate why the transformation needs to take place. The first step toward articulating this is leading by example: CEOs, functional and line-of-business heads and first-line managers all need to be practicing what they preach so that they are not only more credible but are also better-equipped to lead and influence from within their organizations.

Create a new methodology, process, and metrics

It’s no longer acceptable to be doing social media for the sake of doing it. Have a plan in place, no matter how simple. Document your plan and intended goals, train employees and managers on it, drive success by checking in regularly and, of course, measure people on it.

Our customer success team at Hearsay Social, for example, has developed a four-step methodology for financial firms and their advisers who may initially feel overwhelmed when approaching social: First, establish a presence, which can be measured simply by seeing who has online social profiles. Second, grow your network by connecting with colleagues and clients where appropriate — yet another step that can be easily measured. Next, listen to your network for opportunities that could help you grow your business. Finally, share content and thought leadership to continually stay top-of-mind with your audience.


Four steps to successful social business: Establish a presence, grow your network, listen to your network (“Hear”) and share content (“Say”).

Having a methodology, process and metrics in place for the social program helps institutionalize social as part of a company’s DNA and standard operating procedure while ensuring repeatability and scale as the company brings on new employees.

Cut and consolidate

Regardless of the organization, resources are never unlimited. Employees can only get so much done in a day, and there’s only so much cash flowing to fuel projects.

With that in mind, even the largest companies in the world must start thinking like start-ups by adopting a mentality of ruthless focus. In other words, you need to decide what you’re not going to do to make room for social.

For example, many of the insurance agencies we power on social media have decided to stop advertising on park benches and in the Yellow Pages. Instead, they are using their funds to buy promoted posts on Facebook. Another company, a financial services firm, which previously provided two separate training programs for “inter-generational wealth transfer” and “social media,” realized that there was actually an opportunity to combine the two because social media should be core to any effort to appeal to future generations of heirs.

Let your people teach and inspire one another

The first three steps are all top-down, but equally important, if not more so, is the groundswell of employee engagement and feeling of ownership. Companies more than ever need to have bottoms-up evangelism and peer-to-peer sharing to succeed in the digital era.

As partners of our client companies, we regularly attend national conferences hosted by our client organizations that bring together advisers across the country to share ideas about how they do business today. Time and time again, we hear anecdotes of social-savvy advisers sharing their success stories and ROI proof points, which serve to sway even the most skeptical advisers to become social media believers and practitioners. In the end, though executive buy-in is crucial, peer-to-peer evangelism will be much more credible than corporate departments pushing their initiatives down. You need both.

Expect continual iteration

To succeed as a company in 2015 and beyond, it is imperative to accept that change is ubiquitous and accelerating. There’s new tech coming out every day — from mobile payments to virtual reality, connected cars and homes to the Internet of Everything — destined to challenge and upend every established sector. In turn, each of these disruptions will cause even newer technologies like social media to evolve, and there will always be new use cases. Perhaps your company may pave the way to the next innovation in social media case studies.

In 2015, social will be disrupted by going mainstream across the enterprise. Soon, we will no longer call it out separately. Social as a silo is going away. A decade ago, we spent a lot of breath talking about “online” experiences, but today we assume every customer is always online. Social will be the same.

The Last Analog Generation (and Other Stories of the Dead and Dying)

The Last Analog Generation—let’s call them LAGgards—are departing, and in their wake a fascinating new world is emerging.

I’ve been surprised lately, when meeting with the nation’s leading financial service providers and discussing the tsunami of intergenerational wealth transfer that is upon us. The generation that is now entering (or will soon enter) the work force stands to receive something like $30 trillion of personal wealth over the next 20-30 years. That’s a staggering figure by any measure, but what’s really surprising is the apparent lack of preparedness and stunning dearth of appreciation for the opportunity – and potential threat – this massive wealth transfer represents to stalwart companies and even entire industry sectors.

For context, according to research, there exists roughly $230 trillion of personal wealth around the globe. That’s both financial wealth, like cash and its numerous equivalents, and real and personal property; the figure does not include corporate or public holdings. To give some sense of perspective to the enormity of that figure, just consider that the gross world product (the combined market value of all the products and services produced in one year by all the countries in the world) totaled approximately $85 trillion in 2012. Thinking about the number another way: To accomplish the transfer of $30 trillion over the next 30 years would mean that more than $1.9 million would have to change hands every minute.

By the time the last baby-boomer has shuffled off this mortal coil, about 13% of all global personal wealth will have changed hands in one form or another. Understanding some of the techno-societal distinctions between the bequeathers and the bequeathees should be a discipline required for anyone who aspires to make sense of the opportunities or threats attendant to the wealth transfer.

Because we develop a sort of digital life for the things in our users’ lives (by collecting and digitally managing all the information about those things), Trōv is becoming a technological bridge between the LAGgards, who were born before the digitization of everything, and the emerging generations who are indisputably “born digital.” In our interactions with users and the service providers that are precariously dangling between these two distinct constituencies, we are developing a sense for both parties. A couple of the big thoughts that seem to aptly describe what influences the perspectives of two groups are at once technological and sociological: the death of privacy and the power of information symmetry.  

Privacy is dead

LAGgards are concerned that their personal information remains private. Okay, this should neither surprise nor irritate any of us. However, the norms for what is considered private are being entirely redefined by the constant revelations of breaches (both nefarious and national) – and the new (ab)normal boundaries of self-disclosure regularly displayed on the massively adopted social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and their do-alikes.

Just take a peek (if you have the stomach for it) at Instagram’s ersatz cult of spoiled children referenced as #richkidsofinstagram. Photos are regularly posted depicting the profligate lives of a generation of an über-wealthy and unbelievably overexposed generation reveling in their latest acquisitive binge or imbibing impossibly costly libations.

As Robert Scoble, one of the oracles for the emerging generation of Digital Natives, intimated to me, privacy is all but dead, and it is no longer a core issue of the emerging generations. So what? Self-disclosure and widely available information about all connected people and institutions will make a profound impact on reputations: personal, corporate and governmental, and if you’re attempting to engage the new generation of wealthy, transparency is mere table stakes, at best.

Information symmetry — your advisor is dead (he just doesn’t know it, yet) 

Information symmetry will be the death of intermediated businesses. When Netflix started shipping CDs and DVDs to homes throughout the U.S. in the late 1990s, the writing was on the wall for the leading distributors of home video. And, as cloud storage and high-bandwidth digital pipelines became ubiquitous and increasingly affordable, Blockbuster (as a proxy for all things analog) scuttled its storefront retail business – bowing out because its distribution channel was obliterated by technology’s relentless march.

Retail auto sales have undergone a somewhat similar coming-of-(digital) age, as well. For years, LAGgards have been subject to the demeaning process of haggling over price, because details about costs were kept intentionally opaque, giving the salesperson the information advantage. (This imbalance in access to data is sometimes referred to as information asymmetry). The sales process was successfully upended when data from the likes of Carfax and Kelly Bluebook were made instantly accessible to anyone with an interest and a browser. 

For roughly similar reasons, LAGgards have grown dependent on trusted advisers, various specialists and brokers to make decisions about many of their important investments, risk, spending and even medical choices. Data asymmetry is at the very center of the LAGgards’ dependence on these data-equipped intermediaries, and models for business — even entire business sectors — have been built on its expected continuation. 

But make no mistake, these intermediated, information-unbalanced businesses are (or soon will be) in trouble; their added value questionable. With massive data availability, the information-scales are being leveled, and with instant, mobile connectivity, the generation-digitalis is no longer apt to transact or make decisions through a human intermediary. The generations of Born Digitals demand immediate, hands-on, intermediary-free access to nearly all aspects of their lives. 

So what? If your livelihood assumes that your clients will be dependent on you because you alone hold the magic elixir of unique information, beware. You might need to consider embracing the new models of info-egalitarianism rather than resisting them. 

To wit, we recently began testing an in-app capability to insure a newly acquired item at point-of-sale with literally the push of a button. This action alerts the broker-of-record to information that had been previously unavailable and carries tremendous customer-retention and quality-of-service implications (not to mention risk management and potential revenue upticks).

I have been perplexed by some brokers, who appear more concerned about the incremental work that this might create than the expansion and quality of their service. Powered by data accessibility, irrespective of our entrenched operations, the march toward disintermediation is inexorable.

Although these two ideas — personal privacy and disintermediation –- may appear to be distinct families of thought, they are much more than distant cousins. Indeed, they are utterly related and perhaps alone frame the most important distinctions between the LAGgards and the Born Digitals.  

If you depend on your intermediated services and expect them to remain relatively unchanged, you may be setting yourself up for incalculable risk (and you’re most likely a LAGgard). However, if you are comfortable with gobs of information floating around in the cloud and are adopting the tools that help you benefit, then you are likely going to survive the turbulence.

The opportunities arising from the merging of data and disintermediation are just becoming evident – and these trends will entirely reshape seemingly unassailable businesses and entire industries. 

As the fabric of personal information privacy becomes increasingly threadbare, the expectation for transparency in all segments of commercial life will be elevated to a prerequisite for any type of engagement. And as new generations of shoppers, investors and the “serviced” become less concerned about privacy and more connected to — and facile with — data, business as usual will be anything but.

(This article first appeared in JetSet magazine.)

Can Employers Ever Monitor Employees' Personal Social Media?

Yes, but be careful! There is no denying that the use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn has exploded. The explosion includes both personal and business use of social media. It also includes use that is beneficial to employers and use that can be very damaging. Unfortunately, the influx of employment lawsuits that have followed the explosion have had limited practical value in guiding employees and employers on the permissible use and oversight of social media in the workplace. While many questions remain, the California State Legislature's recent enactment regulating employer use of social media does provide some guidance.

California Labor Code section 980 was enacted to prevent employers from (1) requesting an employee disclose usernames or passwords for personal social media accounts; (2) requiring an employee to access his or her personal social media in the presence of the employer; or (3) requiring an employee to divulge any personal social media to the employer. Applicants are protected in the same way as employees. The new statute, coupled with existing privacy laws, limits what employers may monitor when it comes to the personal social media of employees and applicants.

Definition Of Social Media
In what appears to be an effort to account for the ever increasing development of new social media, the new statute broadly defines social media as an “electronic service or account, or electronic content, including, but not limited to, videos, still photographs, blogs, video blogs, podcasts, instant and text messages, e-mail, online services or accounts, or internet web site profiles or locations.”

Prohibitions On Employers Monitoring Social Media
Employers may not require, or even request, that an employee or applicant:

  • Disclose a username or password for the purpose of gaining access to the employee or applicant's personal social media;
  • Access their personal social media in the employer's presence; or
  • Divulge any personal social media.

Employers are also prohibited from retaliating or threatening to retaliate against an employee or applicant who refuses to comply with a request or demand that violates the statute.

Despite the statute's broad definition of social media and its restrictive prohibitions on employers, it does provide some exceptions under which employers may request and gain access to employees' personal social media. For each exception, however, pitfalls exist. Employers need to know them in order to avoid costly mistakes.

Accessing Social Media As Part Of An Investigation
The statute does not affect an employer's existing rights to obtain personal social media “reasonably believed to be relevant” to an investigation of employee misconduct. Under this exception, the employer may only access the employee's personal social media under the condition that it is used strictly for purposes of the investigation or a related proceeding. While the statute does not define what “reasonably believed to be relevant” means, California Courts evaluate employee privacy concerns utilizing a balancing test, weighing the employee's reasonable expectation of privacy against the employer's legitimate business needs for accessing the information. It is wise for employers to evaluate each instance carefully before requesting an employee to divulge his or her personal social media under this exception.

Employer-Issued Electronic Devices
The statute does not preclude an employer from requiring an employee to disclose a username and password for the purpose of accessing an employer-issued electronic device such as a computer, smartphone or e-mail account. Employers should exercise caution, however, before digging through an employee's use of personal social media on the employer-issued device.

It is a violation of the federal Stored Communications Act to access a restricted or password protected site without the owner's consent. So, while it is permissible for an employer to require an employee to provide his or her password for access to the employer-issued device, an employer may be violating the law by accessing social media information on the device. For instance, having the IT department look up the employee's Facebook password stored on the employer-issued device in order to gain access the employee's personal Facebook page.

Adverse Action Against Employees
The statute does not prohibit an employer from terminating or taking adverse action against an employee or applicant if otherwise permitted by law. For instance, an employer may discipline an employee for violating company policy and using personal social media during work time. Nor does the statute specifically prohibit employers from accessing publicly available social media. This means that employers may view the personal social media of its employees that is available to the general public on the internet, such as blogs and other websites that do not restrict user access.

But, before taking any adverse action against an employee based upon the content of his or her personal social media, employers must keep in mind that California law prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee based upon the employee's lawful conduct occurring away from the employer's premises during non-work hours. Moreover, the National Labor Relations Board has held that employees may use social media to voice concerns over working conditions. While an employee complaining about working conditions or an issue with a manager on his or her Facebook page may reflect negatively upon the organization, the employee's use of social media to criticize working conditions may qualify as protected speech for which an employee cannot be lawfully disciplined.

What Is An Employer To Do?
First, be patient. The law develops at a snail's pace compared to the development of new technology and cultural trends. More guidance will come. In the meantime, employers should approach social media issues with careful consideration and planning. This should start with the development of a written social media policy, and not a sample or template policy. The policy needs to be specifically tailored to the employer and should discusses the importance of social media, the impact that social media has on the workplace, and how employee's use of social media reflects upon the organization. The policy should also define the permitted use of technology owned by the organization and employee's expectations of privacy or lack thereof.

If an employer elects to have a policy restricting personal social media use during work hours, it should ensure that the policy is applied even-handedly to avoid claims of discrimination. Employers should also consider the pros, cons and legal issues that relate to restrictions on supervisors' social media interaction with subordinates. For most organizations, it would be advisable to inform employees that they are not required to interact with supervisors on personal social media and will not be retaliated against for refusing to interact with supervisors.

A carefully planned and well written social media policy that outlines the organization's goals and expectations of employees' use of personal social media can help ensure compliance with the new rules and prevent costly disputes with employees.