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Thought Leader in Action: At Walmart

How do you manage risk when your company is the biggest employer in the U.S. other than the federal government? Very carefully — and very well, if you’re K. Max Koonce II, the senior director of risk management at Walmart, until recently, when he took a senior position at Sedgwick. You do that partly by taking advantage of an extraordinary amount of data to identify potential problems, to use outcomes analysis to greatly shrink the number of litigation firms you use, to be highly selective about doctors used for workers’ comp and even to set up a full-sized, in-house third party administrator.

But let’s begin at the beginning:

Koonce was born in Mississippi, but his family moved to Bentonville, AR, where he has lived most of his life with his wife and family. He attended Harding University, a private liberal arts university located in Searcy, AR, where he graduated with a BBA in economics. Thinking that economics was not as challenging a career as what he aspired to, Koonce attended the University of Arkansas William Bowen School of Law to obtain his J.D.

He was immediately hired by Walmart upon his graduation in the ’90s and was given the responsibility to set up Walmart’s internal legal defense system for the roughly 30,000 Walmart employees at the time. He and his in-house team of legal aides handled all of Walmart’s workers’ comp and ultimately much of its liability claims. The program worked so well that the governor of Arkansas appointed Koonce as an administrative law judge for the state workers’ comp commission in 1997, with Walmart’s blessing. With Koonce’s departure, Walmart eliminated the internal legal program and transferred its litigation to outside legal firms.

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K. Max Koonce II

By January 2000, Koonce was appointed by the governor to the Arkansas Court of Appeals. With a vacancy in the State’s Supreme Court, Koonce ran for State Supreme Court in a partisan election. During the campaign, he shared fond memories of attending all kinds of civic events, fundraisers and county fairs around the state. When he failed to get elected, Walmart brought him back to head its risk management program that same year. The program grew dramatically with his return.

Apart from the U.S. government, Walmart is the largest employer in North America. Nearly 20 million people shop at Walmart every day, and 90% of the U.S. population lives within 15 minutes of a Walmart. If Walmart were a country, it would be the 26th-largest economy in the world. Walmart manages 11,500 retail units in 28 countries; generates $482 billion in annual sales; and has 2.2 million employees (1.4 million associates in the U.S.). Koonce exclaimed that there was no other retail company to benchmark to, so his risk management department had to make up its own risk benchmarks. Interestingly, with a tightly managed work culture and such huge numbers to work with, Walmart’s risk management statistical and actuarial claim calculations have proven to be consistently accurate for many years.

Walmart’s risk management department has grown over the years to more than 40 risk management support personnel. Walmart divides its risk portfolio by working with two competing insurance brokers. Koonce said he had an incredibly talented and dedicated team of risk management professionals working at headquarters in Bentonville. “The analytics and metrics achieved by my experts,” he said, “were as good as any in the insurance industry.” He said that no relevant risk factors in Walmart’s operation went unnoticed.

Walmart’s workers’ comp program is designed to include specific doctors and medical facilities to ensure consistent care of any injured workers. Walmart manages detailed feedback from all of its employees to continue to fine tune its workers’ comp program. Koonce stated that risk management has always been a part of the Walmart culture, going back to its founding by Sam Walton in 1962; Walton wanted to help individuals and communities save money while ensuring that the company’s operations adhere to ethical decision making, good communication and responsiveness to employees and stakeholder.

Using an “outcomes-based” approach to litigation management, Walmart’s team relies on claims data analysis and metrics to choose, evaluate and consolidate the number of workers’ comp attorney firms. Max notes: “This approach forms tighter relations with a smaller number of lawyers to create a ‘one team’ approach to litigation.” In California alone, for example, the mega-retailer reduced the number of legal defense firms from more than 20 to three. The outcomes-based litigation strategy relies on a multivariate analysis using Walmart’s own claims data. Metrics are used to benchmark attorney performance and align specific lawyers with cases depending on claim facts and knowledge about an attorney’s unique skills and experience. At Walmart, claims examiners generally choose specific defense attorneys to maintain a continuing team relationship.

Besides retail store risks, Walmart also manages the largest private trucking firm in the U.S. and delivers more prescriptions than any other retailer. Asked if he had experienced any highly unusual claims during his tenure at Walmart, Koonce said that Walmart is all about awareness, control and consistency and that claims were nearly always within an expected parameter (i.e. slip-and-fall claims) and not horrific, as some employers experience. Each store location, including Sam’s Clubs, have conscientious safety response teams that sweep the stores periodically during their shifts and respond immediately to any safety hazards like floor spills.

A unique feature of Walmart is its subsidiary, a third party claims administrator (TPA) called Claims Management Inc. (CMI), at which Koonce served as president. Located in nearby Rogers, AR, CMI administers the casualty claims, including workers’ compensation, for all Walmart stores. Although most companies with national operations use insurer claims administrators (for non-self-insured operations), or multiple regional TPAs, Walmart’s CMI operation is a sizable TPA of its own with 600 employees. As Koonce explains, “CMI provides the claims oversight the company feels is desirable to maintain good control, communication and consistency.”

Unlike most national companies, Walmart has been able to maintain a highly efficient and focused risk management program through a tight-knit organization consisting of mostly local or regional employees who live and work in Benton County, AR (pop. 242, 321). Most of Walmart’s managers have been employees who have worked their way up the corporate ladder. Sam Walton once said: “We’re all working together; that’s the secret.”

Koonce left Walmart in September to serve as senior VP of client services for Sedgwick Claims Management Services. He was succeeded by Janice Van Allen, director of risk management at Walmart, who started as a store department manager in 1992. Koonce said he’s doing what he loves most at Sedgwick — helping risk managers achieve success with their internal programs.

3 Game Changers — and How to Survive

The follow-the-leader principle works on a trail that has proven to be relatively safe from perils and predators. However, when new frontiers are breached, a new kind of leadership is required for survival.

Insurers have generally been able to just follow the leader for ages, but now a new frontier has been breached. The insurance industry is vulnerable to three game changers that consumers are eager to embrace.

Drawing on remarks I made recently at a keynote for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies Annual Conference, here are the game changers:

The first big disrupter is data collection. Insurance is built on the principle of using accurate data and statistics to build underwriting financial models that serve to predict behavior and events from an actuarial or probability standpoint. London’s Edward Lloyd figured this out when he opened his coffee shop in 1688, and people started selling insurance to merchants and ship owners. His motto was fidentia, Latin for confidence. We now refer to “confidence factors” when estimating future losses.

Insurers have been notorious for using forms to collect data. But, today, a person is subjected to more new information in one day than a person in the Middle Ages saw in his entire life. If modern competitors to the insurance industry can obtain more accurate data in a faster and more in-depth manner, they may beat insurers at their own game.

With cloud computing and its infinite data storage/retrieval capability, trillions of bits of information relating to insureds are available. Data sources track things like profile patterns, such as personal Internet searches or satellite surveillance data. Relevant data can be mined and analyzed to build a risk model for every insurable consumer or business peril from property and vehicle insurance to earthquake and weather insurance.

The five biggest data collectors on the planet are Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and Amazon. These high-tech companies have the ability, financial resources and potential desire to foray into the insurance industry. Keep in mind that in 2014 the world’s top 10 insurers received $1.2 trillion in revenue, yet surveys have shown that people around the world have grown to use and trust the products and services provided by the five biggest data collectors.

Accessibility and familiarity are allowing profitable new brands to replace old brands. Consumers also prefer and use third-party validation and independent comparisons found on websites.

What does this spell for the insurance industry? Sadly, consumers have grown more uncomfortable with reliance on and interaction with agent relationships. John Maynard Keynes once said: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas, as in escaping from old ones.”

The second emerging threat to insurance is botsourcing — the replacement of human jobs by robotics. The robots haven’t just hatched in agriculture or auto assembly plants — they’re expanding in a variety of skills, moving up the corporate ladder, showing awesome productivity and retention rates and increasingly shoving aside their human counterparts.

Google won a patent recently to start building worker robots with personalities. Move over, Siri.

Author and entrepreneur Martin Ford, in his book Rise of the Robots, argues that artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics will soon overhaul our economy. Increasingly, machines will be able to take care of themselves, and fewer jobs will be necessary.

Reassessment of the way we employ our workforce is essential to cope with this new industrial revolution. The lucrative insurance realm of personal and product liability insurance lines and workers’ comp is being tempered as human risk factors — especially in high-risk areas — give way to robotics. The saying goes: “Management is doing things right, but leadership is doing the right things.”

How will the insurance industry react to the accelerating technology of bot-sourcing?

The third emerging threat to the insurance industry that has received enormous attention this past year autonomous vehicles. More than a half-dozen carmakers, as well as Google and Uber, predict that self-driving vehicles will be commonplace on our roads between 2017 and 2020. Tesla Motors CEO and general future-tech proponent Elon Musk has predicted that human drivers could someday be outlawed. Humans cannot outperform an autonomous vehicle, which can assess and react to more than 7,000 driving threats per second. There are no incidents of driver impairment, reckless driving, DUIs, road rage, driver texting, speeding or inattention.

With a plethora of electronic distractions, increased safety can only be achieved when human drivers are removed from the equation. Automakers have employed an incremental approach to safety in their current models. These new technologies are clever and helpful but do not remove the risks. There’s a phenomenon called the Peltzman Effect, based on research from an economist at the University of Chicago who studied auto accidents. He found that, when you introduce more safety features like seatbelts into cars, the number of fatalities and injuries doesn’t drop. The reason is that people compensate for it. When you have a safety net in place, people will naturally take more risks. Today, 35,000 vehicle occupants die in the U.S. because of auto accidents. Autonomous vehicles are expected to cut auto-related deaths and injuries by 80% or more.

One of the biggest revenue sources to insurers is vehicle insurance. As autonomous vehicles take over our roads and highways, you need to address all the numerous unanswered questions relating to the risk playing field. Who will own the vehicles? How can you assess the potential liability of software failure or cyberattacks? Will insurers still have a role? Where will legal liabilities fall? Who will lead the call to sort these issues out?

Clearly, the lucrative auto insurance market will change drastically. Insurance and reinsurance company leadership will be an essential ingredient to address this disruptive technology.

As I told the conference: Count on Insurance Thought Leadership to play a significant role in addressing these and other disruptive technologies facing the insurance industry. A Chinese proverb says: “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.”

Thought Leader in Action: At Starbucks

From the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up Department: Steve Legg took an important step on his path to becoming the director of risk management of Starbucks to avoid having what looked like a bad pun on his business card. He had earned his Associate in Risk Management designation, but that meant his name appeared as Legg-ARM. So, he says, he went on to earn his Chartered Property & Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation, because it is listed before ARM. His card now (safely) reads “Steve Legg, CPCU, ARM.”

But I’m jumping into the middle of the story, in this second in our series of Thought Leaders in Action. (The first, with Loren Nickel, director of risk management at Google, is here.)

To begin at the beginning, I’ll provide a summary of Legg’s background, then follow with the story of how he earned his prestigious position, some detail on Starbucks and how it manages risk and some insights from Legg for other risk managers.

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Steve Legg

His bio

Legg, who is 46 years old, has been at the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle since June 1997. His responsibilities include global corporate property and casualty insurance and risk financing for the company. Legg reports to the treasurer of Starbucks and heads a risk management team of 13 professionals, with two-thirds involved in claims management and the balance working in risk financing and risk transfer, its risk management information system (RMIS) , internal reporting and captive management. Starbucks has 22,519 stores in 66 countries, with a targeted growth rate of 1,650 net new stores during this fiscal year. Starbucks, the name inspired by Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, has one of the most recognized logos in the world. Its mission statement, developed by its founder Howard Schultz, is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

Before joining Starbucks, Legg worked as an independent insurance broker, as well as in a claims capacity for Crawford & Co. Legg served on the board of the Washington state chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society (RIMS) for seven years, serving as president of the chapter during the 2005-2006 year. He has been an active participant within National RIMS and has served as a speaker to other insurance industry groups, such as the CPCU Society, the Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) and the Marine Insurance Association of Seattle. He has a degree in political economy of industrial societies from the University of California at Berkeley.

His story

Legg grew up in Kirkland, WA, on the east side of Lake Washington. Nicknamed “the little city that could,” Kirkland is the former headquarters for the Seattle Seahawks and Costco. Kirkland Signature is still Costco’s store brand.

“I grew up interested in a lot of different things, but I wouldn’t say with any degree of certainty that I knew what I wanted to do for a living,” Legg said. “I was intrigued with going somewhere else to study, so I attended UC Berkeley. I was interested in crisis management, and I just happened to be at Cal when the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake [1989] and devastating Oakland Hills firestorm [1991] hit. From those experiences, I thought I might pursue law school.

“As things turned out, my first job was back in Washington state working as a claims adjuster for the branch manager of Crawford & Co., hired by our mutual friend and industry colleague Katrina Zitnik, who was later director of workers’ comp for Costco, 2001-2013. We handled the huge Boeing workers’ comp self-insured account. There were around 100 employees in that office alone. My specialty was working with chemical-related claims, which was really fascinating, before I moved over to liability claims. By my second year there, I started to really understand what risk management was all about.”

From that experience, Legg went on to achieve his ARM designation. “It may sound corny, but I didn’t like the way it looked on my business card as Legg-ARM, so I went on to pursue my CPCU,” Legg said.

“With that formal insurance education, I went to work for a regional insurance brokerage in Kirkland where I learned a lot about insurance and other facets of risk management.” Legg said: “I came to this realization that I didn’t want to handle claims or broker insurance. I wanted to be on the buyer’s side of all this – tending to insurance and a whole lot of other things.”

In 1997, Legg was hired by his predecessor at Starbucks, which had gone public in 1992. At the time he joined Starbucks, the company had about 1,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada and just a few new locations in Japan. Legg describes his experience at that time in risk management as more of a buyer of insurance, but his job responsibilities quickly deepened and expanded with the global spread of Starbucks. He assumed the director of risk management position in 2006 when his boss and mentor retired and became active in the management of Starbucks’ Vermont captive.

The evolving company

Legg explained that the organizational structure is set up based on three key global regions: (1) the Americas; (2) EMEA, which is Europe, Middle East and Africa; and (3) CAP, which is China, Asia Pacific. “Our biggest push is in the CAP region, especially China, which presents a lot of opportunity,” he said. Although that region has a tea-drinking tradition, Legg pointed out that Starbucks owns the tea company Tazo and more recently bought Teavana and its 300-plus stores, providing a high-end, specialty tea product that has become popular at Starbucks locations. He said Starbucks’ specialty coffee and expresso beverages have also become very popular in tea-drinking cultures.

Starbucks has also expanded its offerings in premium pastries (it bought La Boulange), food and merchandise offerings, and it recently began providing beer and wine in selected areas of the country. “Evenings at Starbucks had been under-utilized,” Legg said, “so with the rollout of beer and wine we’re able to serve additional patrons.”

How Starbucks manages risk

Serving 66 countries with various laws and customs, Starbucks has a global quality assurance organization work with business units that are immersed in foreign locations. “Risk management and legal principles are practiced with our people that understand and are sensitive to local government, culture, customs and laws,” Legg said. “Starbucks wants to provide appropriate food and beverages, and we have a global safety security organization, as well, that makes sure that we are tending to the different types of risks these different and diverse cultures hold. Safety and security are fundamental components in the initial and on-going training of our partners.”

When asked about the challenge of identifying, evaluating and treating risk in far-flung global operations, Legg noted that there is a common thread regardless of demographics that relates to keeping stores well-managed, clean, secure and hazard-free. He added that a global design team works with individual markets to address issues that mitigate any unusual risk factors, which could include something as simple as adjusting counter and stool height. Store components are designed to provide for each locale’s needs while Starbucks maintains the quality and consistency that its customers expect.

As for dealing with its insurance and reinsurance markets, Legg noted that Starbucks collects a significant amount of data on all of its locations to enable its internal team and underwriters to have the geographic information they need for modeling. North American operations are mostly self-insured via large retentions and deductibles; Legg points out that first-dollar and low-deductible insurance policies are far more common, accessible and prevalent in other parts of the world. Compulsory insurance requirements differ across jurisdictions — in many parts of the world, for instance, workers’ compensation as we know it is not available, and injuries or illnesses among employees (which Starbucks calls “partners”) are addressed in different ways.

“Regardless of the transfer or retention of risk, Starbucks feels that no one could ever care as much about our partners and our brand as we do,” Legg said. He added, “We inspire and nurture our partners and customers… through providing good products, friendly service and by contributing to our communities. It’s an important part of our culture and what makes this brand so strong.”

All eligible full- and part-time Starbucks employees receive comprehensive health coverage and equity in their company, referred to as “bean stock.” In turn, employees typically volunteer more than one million hours each year in helping their local communities. Starbucks has also set up agronomy offices in different countries around the world to help origin farmers to better manage their crops and businesses. “It’s really important all up and down the chain from the front-line stores to the source of the company’s most precious commodity to have a seamless connection,” Legg said.

His suggestions

I asked Legg what coaching suggestions he has for people entering the field of risk management.

He said, “I think to be successful in risk management that it helps to have a good understanding of a number of different disciplines like accounting, finance, law, etc. Most importantly, you need to have the ability to think critically through things to make good decisions and to then have the ability to communicate well and to influence others. Knowledge without good communication skills won’t equip you for this career.

“I find myself guiding and teaching other people in the organization every day, helping them develop their own risk assessment philosophy in what they do day in and day out. We in risk management can’t be there all the time, so our job is to train others throughout the organization to make good, sound risk management decisions.

“Be open-minded and flexible. Risk management staff needs to identify and admit their mistakes, correct things and be able to change course as needed.”

Legg added with a laugh, “You think you know in detail how things are, then you find out you really don’t know how things are.”

Thought Leader in Action: At Google

Loren Nickel, who has a major role in our profession as the director of business risk and insurance at Google, got his start without even doing a job interview.

That story begins when his mother researched careers and suggested that in college he study to become an actuary. Nickel pursued statistics and actuarial science at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and became president of the Actuary Club – with its maybe 10 members, he says.

He wanted to build interest, partly to get more prospective employers to come to UCSB, so he decided to set up a website – this was in 1994 and 1995, before Netscape exploded on the scene through its initial public offering and introduced the Internet to the public consciousness. Nickel wrote the software for the website himself and paid $35 of his own money to get the UC system to host the site. He then used his e-mail address to answer questions from students and others about the actuary program at UCSB.

The word got out, at least to one UCSB alumnus who played an important role in Nickel’s career. John Alltop, who was in charge of the actuarial services division of Fireman’s Fund, asked Nickel if he knew of anyone who would be interested in an internship. Nickel raised his hand. Alltop, who is now president of Actuarial & Risk Management at Bickmore Risk Services, asked him to visit. At his own expense, Nickel drove 365 miles up the coast to Novato, north of San Francisco, and paid for a night in a hotel. He says that the second he walked in the door he was given the internship even though “I told them I hadn’t even done anything for them yet.” Shortly thereafter, Fireman’s Fund hired Nickel full-time.

He worked on various national accounts, and Fireman’s Fund rotated Nickel every 18 to 24 months to different operating divisions, ranging from workers’ comp and property risks to general liability, enabling him to learn different facets of the insurance business. Nickel learned the “big picture” by seeing how Fireman’s Fund used the actuarial component in its underwriting of client risks. Then he became the underwriting manager.

In that capacity, Nickel was able to work with brokers and sales teams to see how actuarial projections fit in. He developed his communication, sales and people skills. That experience launched Nickel into his next career move, working for AON, a leading brokerage firm. This included an assignment in London to work with the operational risk team, designated as a center of expertise. Returning to the U.S., Nickel led AON’s actuarial division in the Western region, which included providing actuarial consulting services for Google for nearly three years.

He joined Google in the spring of 2015. Nickel, who is 41 years old, lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco, so he commutes perhaps an hour and a half each way on one of the famous Google buses, to his office a few minutes from headquarters well down the peninsula in Mountain View. The bus is comfortable enough and the Wi-Fi so good that the ride is basically an extension of his office.

Nickel says his consulting experience at AON is a good fit at Google, where his risk management responsibilities could be best described as “advisory work.” He works in consultation with various Google teams to help keep them more informed and able to make better decisions from a risk viewpoint. Perhaps the biggest change is that he’s now on the buyer’s side of transactions. This, of course, includes multiple brokers and insurers.

Google’s stated mission is to organize the world’s data and make it usable by everyone on the globe, and all new products or services relate to that vision, but Google’s renowned “moonshot program” searches for disruptive innovations – which, by changing how people do things, can change the nature of risk. Google has fewer boundaries than most business ventures, to stimulate innovative thinking, so a traditional risk management program, with all of its financial constraints, doesn’t fit the Google model of business development. (Nickel is quick to point out that Google does employ a vast number of risk management best practices to protect its employees, property, users and the general public.)

Nickel leads a risk management team of four direct reports, with an additional five Googlers who work within the risk management structure. He says Google is much less about the function where someone works (i.e., risk management) than about the right mix of individual skills. For instance, on his team, some have an insurance background while others have skills in legal, actuarial science, project management, accounting, etc. “It’s a very different mix of personnel than what you would find in a traditional corporate risk management department,” Nickel says.

Asked how he gets in tune with and integrates risk management concepts with Google’s diverse divisions around the world, he says that making strong relationships is No. 1 – knowing the right people. This ensures that Googlers are aware of the advisory and outreach team in risk management. Risk management does not serve as a policing authority but serves more as an information source. Other corporate teams, such as legal, partner with risk management as issues arise. Responsibilities are clearly assigned and managed exclusively by organizational silos, as in most organizations. Nickel says everyone is very receptive about the information that the risk management team shares – in previous jobs, he often saw posturing.

Nickel says a guiding principle at Google is that “Googlers take care of other Googlers,” so risk management is in the culture, and safety is paramount. Even the food choices are healthy. Google provides its more than 60,000 Googlers with free, very nutritional and delicious food and snacks as well as a wide variety of campus features that promote health and well-being. Google even provides onsite medical providers at its larger locations. Without sharing statistics, Nickel makes it clear that Google has “phenomenal” workers’ comp claim experience that is far better than companies of its size. He added that Googlers feel respected and appreciate how well they are treated.

Asked if Google has any official opinion about the ownership or operation of driverless cars, where its pioneering work has sparked extraordinary interest, he said the risk department does not provide opinions on the products that Google creates. He did say the department is focused on making any new Google technology safer, getting it to market faster and winning support from regulators. “We do not determine how autonomous vehicles are used,” he says. “Instead, the goal is to facilitate the creation of great technology that could improve the world.”

When asked what advice he would give to newcomers in risk management, Nickel suggests that they try to experience different roles from different perspectives – from both the insurance and user sides — with respect to the implications of risk in organizations.

“These diverse experiences provide a deeper context to the bigger picture of risk,” Loren says. “Risk managers have to have more than one style, approach or understanding of risk to truly be impactful.”

From an educational standpoint, Loren adds that a “good grounding and understanding of mathematics and statistics is extremely helpful….For me, risk management success is much less a factor of knowledge than it is to gain perspective and practical experience. You need to learn to take nebulous concepts and to organize information that can be put into a plan that other people can understand and act upon.”

4 Technologies That Are Changing Risk

This summarizes a session from RIMS that was headlined by Google Risk Manager Kelly Crowder as well as Google Global Safety Manager Erike Young. I served as the event host and moderator, teeing up the subject matter. We focused on four major areas of technology that are driving transformative change in the way we do things and, thus, changing risk. Disruptive technology, as the panel pointed out, forces risk managers and insurers to imagine and forecast how various advancements affect: safety; risk assessment; regulatory and legal parameters; and insurance implications.

Albert Einstein set the course for the future when he said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Ideas can reach beyond probable or practical restraints.

Google takes that notion to heart at Google X, a semi-secret lab located in Silicon Valley that aims via research and development to advance scientific knowledge and fuel discoveries that can change the world. “What if” abstract concepts, also known to Google as “moonshots,” are tireless experiments that often fail but that occasionally produce disruptive technology. The mantra is “fail fast, fail often, fail forward.” Learn and change. Sergey Brin, one of Google’s co-founders, and scientist Astro Teller (Captain of Moonshots) seek to improve existing technologies by a factor of 10. Google began with the self-driving car in 2010. Google X now includes a life sciences division involved in bionics.

As with the radical transportation shift to horseless carriages 130 years ago, the technologies are changing risk in profound ways, but the positive and negative impact of new technology can be hard to predict.

Starting with Botsourcing and Robotics, the panel highlighted the trend of companies to utilize robots and artificial intelligence for a wide array of service industries, manufacturers, medical providers and first responders, which seek safer, more efficient and cost-effective ways of serving clients or conducting business. While more dangerous occupational risks and blue-collar jobs are expected to be safer and more efficient, it remains uncertain whether the demand for labor will continue to grow as technology marches forward. Within 10 years, more than 40% of the workforce is expected to be affected by or replaced with robotics.

One positive sign noted in the presentation is that many American companies using robotics and 3D printing technologies, are transferring production facilities from overseas back to the U.S. and creating homeland jobs in the process. New job skills will become necessary to sustain broad-based prosperity. With respect to the highly advanced robots expected to integrate into society, the panel if their cognition will ever replace emotionally oriented skills. Will the warmth of human interaction remain a value in the future?

Another area of advancement is Surveillance and Wearable Biometrics. The Internet of Things represents the embedding of physical objects with sensors and connectivity. Devices like smart thermostats, as Google pointed out, are able to learn from our behavior patterns to anticipate our needs at home or work on a 24- hour basis. Our security and monitoring systems are tied to public safety, medical providers and our smartphones. Data collection is growing at an enormous pace, effectively tracking our every move. This, as pointed out, has created concern for privacy and for the increasing vulnerability to cyber threats.

Fixed and mobile surveillance cameras have facial identification technology. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), also known as drones, can be preprogrammed to operate autonomously, although the panel pointed out that current FAA restrictions require an operator following visual line-of sight rules below 400 feet of altitude. It’s expected that, within the next few years, there will be autonomous drone surveillance and product delivery systems.

Utilities can use drones to monitor power transmission lines at 1/10th the cost of a helicopter and with safety and efficiency impossible with helicopters. Public safety departments can use UAVs to assess damages as well as risks. Four U.S. insurers are currently using human-operated drones to assess property damage claims arising from natural disasters. The panel showed photos of UAVs that look like insects that are the size of a fingertip.

Wearable biometrics are much more sophisticated than Apple watches and Fitbits. Google explained the company’s quest to improve health monitoring systems. With 9.3% of the U.S. population alone (29 million) suffering from diabetes, Google sells a revolutionary contact lens, developed with Novartis, that monitors glucose levels and corrects vision similar to an autofocus camera. Other panel photos show tattoo-like patches thinner than a human hair that stick to the skin. Using microfluidic construction, these nearly invisible patches monitor EKG and EEG bodily functions and transmit the data 24/7 wirelessly. Similar monitors, known as smarty pants, can be sewn into underclothes and bras.

Exoskeleton Technologies are being developed by more than a dozen major manufacturers, as the panel demonstrated, and their products are expanding human capacity and endurance far beyond most expectations. These are wearable machines that combine human intelligence and machine power to achieve nearly any conceivable task without falling. Used by the military, public safety, hazmat teams and industries and for medical rehabilitation, exoskeletons let humans perform feats that would have been physically impossible a few years ago. Neuro interfaces with bio-logical signals allow paraplegics to relearn lost functions. Some patients can actually experience running a four-minute mile or play certain sports. Lifting is painless and commonplace with weights of 40 to 60 pounds, with new technology allowing a person to run without falling down with 200 pounds of weight on their back. A la “Iron Man,” exoskeleton suits are being designed into wearable fabrics with micro energy packs.

This area of technology has the greatest potential of protecting workers from soft tissue strains and back injuries. In addition, it serves a dual purpose of advancing an injured worker’s rehabilitation and recovery process without the inherent risk of getting reinjured. As pointed out, experts expect industrial injuries to be reduced as much as 70% as exoskeleton technology is woven into the workplace as personal protective equipment (PPE). Perhaps a bigger question, with an aging workforce and population, is the unknown cost and whether employers, insurers or individuals will bear the expense.

The fourth and final technology covered by the panel was Autonomous Transportation Systems and Devices. Google pioneered self-driving vehicles and leads in the development of its associated technology, but autonomous vehicles are now being produced and tested by a growing number of manufacturers. In March 2015, Delphi sent a driverless Audi SUV on a 3,400-mile trip through 15 states from San Francisco to New York City in eight days without an accident. Auto manufacturers are approaching self-driving features on an incremental basis with self-braking, self-parking and other autonomous safety-related features. Google has inspired a jump to a fully autonomous vehicle with no steering wheel or brake. These self-driving vehicles perform 7,000 safety processes per second at high speeds with far safer results than any human driver.

The impact of self-driving vehicles, including trucks, is expected to be commonplace within 20 years or sooner. A recent national survey of drivers indicated 44% are looking forward to autonomous vehicles. Respondents cited safety as their first priority. Their second reason was their expectation that they would not be paying for car insurance, which averages $820 per licensed vehicle per year in the U.S. Statisticians expected a drastic reduction of injuries as well as reduced violations like DUI, speeding and running red lights. With 35,000 motor vehicle deaths each year in the U.S., increased safety coupled with increased freeway efficiencies of ultimately more than 10 fold are issues that will make this a disruptive technology that will seem long overdue.

As the Google risk management team pointed out, insurers don’t know how to react or respond to the inevitable switch to autonomous vehicles. Even on a road test basis, auto insurance underwriters are scratching their heads trying to assess the risk implications.

As the panel pointed out to the inquisitive audience during the Q&A session, it may be relatively simple to determine the impact of new technology from a measurable, scientific basis. But the big challenge for risk managers is imagining the implications these various technological advancements will have on our organizations, workforce and insurers. Auto insurers have at least $500 billion in annual premiums at stake in the U.S. alone. What will happen to that revenue when we shed our need to get behind the wheel every day?

Google also pointed out that each of the technological areas cover a wide range of regulatory implications. While they attempt to notify every conceivable regulatory entity as they develop and test new products, it’s clear that there often aren’t clear legal or regulatory guidelines in place. How will regulators be able to promulgate new rules, regulations and laws as these science fiction-like inventions come to reality?

As Dr. Seuss said so profoundly, “Think and Wonder. Wonder and Think.”

ITL and its 400-plus thought leaders are providing the kind of wisdom and insight we will need to help bring all the parties together to solve these challenges. We welcome you to the conversation.

RIMS 2015