Tag Archives: mortgage

Obamacare: Where Do We Stand Today?

The healthcare industry is changing – same old headline. Since we’ve been in the industry, the “unsustainable” cost increases have been the talk every year, yet somehow we have not reached a tipping point. So what’s different now? How has ACA affected the healthcare industry, and more specifically the insurance companies?

The drafters of ACA set up a perfect adverse-selection scenario: Come one, come all, with no questions asked. First objective met: 20 million individuals now have coverage.

Next objective: Provide accurate pricing for these newly insured.

Insurance companies have teams of individuals who assess risk, so they can establish an appropriate price for the insurance protection. We experience this underwriting process with every type of insurance – home, life, auto. In fact, we see this process with every financial institution, like banks, mortgage companies and credit card companies. If a financial institution is to serve (and an insurance company is a financial entity), it has to manage risks, e.g., lend money to people who can repay the loan. Without the ability to assess the risk of the 20 million individuals, should we be surprised that one national insurance carrier lost $475 million in 2015, while another lost $657 million on ACA-compliant plans?

If you’re running a business and a specific line has losses, your choices are pretty clear – either clean it up or get out.

See Also: Healthcare Quality and How to Define It

Risk selection is complex. When you add this complexity to the dynamics of network contracting tied to membership scale, there is a reason why numerous companies have decided to get out of health insurance. In 1975, there were more than 2,000 companies selling true health insurance plans, and now there are far fewer selling true health insurance to the commercial population. Among the ones that got out were some big names – MetLife, Prudential, Travelers, NYLife, Equitable, Mutual of Omaha, etc. And now we’re about to be down to a few national carriers, which is consistent with other industries – airline, telecommunications, banking, etc.

Let’s play this one out for the 20 million newly covered individuals. The insurance companies have significant losses on ACA-compliant plans. Their next step – assess the enrolled risk and determine if they can cover the expected costs. For those carriers that decide to continue offering ACA-compliant plans, they will adjust the premiums accordingly. While the first-year enrollees are lulled into the relief of coverage, they then get hit with either a large increase or a notice to find another carrier. In some markets, the newly insured may be down to only one carrier option. The reason most individuals do not opt for medical coverage is that they can’t afford it. If premiums increase 15% or more, how many of the 20 million have to drop coverage because premiums are too expensive? Do we start the uninsured cycle all over again?

Net net, ACA has enabled more people to have health insurance, but at prices that are even less sustainable than before. ACA offers a web of subsidies to low-income people, which simply means each of us, including businesses, will be paying for part or all of their premium through taxes. As companies compete globally, this additional tax burden will affect the cost of services being sold. As our individual taxes increases, we reduce our spending. While ACA has the right intention of expanded coverage, the unintended consequences of the additional cost burden on businesses and individuals will have an impact on job growth.

While it’s hard for anyone to dispute the benefits of insurance for everyone, we first need to address the drivers behind the high cost of healthcare, so we can get the health insurance prices more affordable. Unfortunately, ACA steered us further in the wrong direction. Self-insured employers are the key to lead the way in true reform of the cost and quality of healthcare.

data symmetry

Competing in an Age of Data Symmetry

For centuries, people have lived in a world where data was largely proprietary, creating asymmetry. Some had it. Others did not. Information was a currency. Some organizations held it, and profited from it. We are now entering an era of tremendous data balance — a period of data symmetry that will rewrite how companies differentiate themselves.

The factors that move the world toward data symmetry are time, markets, investment and disruption.

Consider maps and the data they contained. Not long ago, paper maps, travel books and documentaries offered the very best views of geographic locations. Today, Google allows us to cruise nearly any street in America and get a 360° view of homes, businesses and scenery. Electronic devices guide us along the roadways and calculate our ETA. A long-established map company such as Rand McNally now has to compete with GPS up-and-comers, selling “simple apps” with the same information. They all have access to the same data. When it comes to the symmetry of geographic data, the Earth is once again flat.

Data symmetry is rewriting business rules across industries and markets every day. Insurance is just one industry where it is on the rise. For insurers to overcome the new equality of data access, they will need to understand both how data is becoming symmetrical and how they can re-envision their uniqueness in the market.

It will be helpful to first understand how data is moving from asymmetrical to symmetrical.

Let’s use claims as an example. Until now, the insurer’s best claims data was found in its own stockpile of claims history and demographics. An insurer that was adept at managing this data and applied actuarial science would find itself in a better position to assess risk. Competitively, it could rise to the top of the pack by pricing appropriately and acquiring appropriately.

Today, all of that information is still very relevant. However, in the absence of that information, an insurer could also rely upon a flood of data streams coming from other sources. Risk assessment is no longer confined to historical data, nor is it confined to answers to questions and personal reports. Risk data can be found in areas as simple as cell phone location data — an example of digital exhaust.

Digital exhaust as a source of symmetry

Digital exhaust is the data trail that all of us leave on the digital landscape. Recently, the New York City Housing Authority wished to determine if the “named” renter was the one actually living in a rent-controlled apartment. A search of cell phone tower location records, cross-referenced to a renter’s information, was able to establish the validity of renter occupation. That is just one example of digital exhaust data being used as a verification tool.

Another example can be found in Google’s Waze app. Because I use Waze, Google now holds my complete driving history — a telematics treasure trove of locations, habits, schedules and preferences. The permissions language allows Waze to access my calendars and contacts. With all of this, in conjunction with other Google data sets, Google can create a fairly complete picture of me. This, too, is digital exhaust. As auto insurers are proving each day, cell phone data may be more informative to proper pricing than previous claims history. How long is it until auto insurers begin to look at location risk, such as too much time spent in a bar or frequent driving through high-crime ZIP codes? If ZIP codes matter for where a car is parked each night, why wouldn’t they matter for where it spends the day?

Data aggregators as a source of symmetry

In addition to digital exhaust, data aggregators and scoring are also flattening the market and bringing data symmetry to markets. Mortgage lenders are a good example from outside the industry. Most mortgage lenders pay far more attention to comprehensive credit scores than an individual’s performance within their own lending operation. The outside data matters more than the inside data, because the outside data gives a more complete picture of the risk, compiled from a greater number of sources.

Within insurance, we can find a dozen or more ways that data acquisition, consolidation and scoring is bringing data symmetry to the industry. Quest Diagnostics supplies scored medical histories and pharmaceutical data to life insurers — any of whom wish to pay for it. RMS, AIR Worldwide, EQECAT and others turn meteorological and geographical data into shared risk models for P&C insurers.

That kind of data transformation can happen in nearly any stream of data. Motor vehicle records are scored by several agencies. Health data streams could also be scored for life and health insurers. Combined scores could be automatically evaluated and placed into overall scores. Insurers could simply dial up or dial down their acceptance based on their risk tolerance and pricing. Data doesn’t seem to stay hidden. It has value. It wants to be collected, sold and used.

Consider all the data sources I will soon be able to tap into without asking any questions. (This assumes I have permissions, and barring changes in regulation.)

  • Real-time driving behavior.
  • Travel information.
  • Retail purchases and preferences.
  • Mobile statistics.
  • Exercise or motion metrics.
  • Household or company (internal) data coming from connected devices.
  • Household or company (external) data coming from geographic databases.

These data doors, once opened, will be opened for all. They are opening on personal lines first, but they will open on commercial lines, as well.

Now that we have established that data symmetry is real, and we see how it will place pressure upon insurers, it makes sense to look at how insurers will use data and other devices to differentiate themselves. In Part 2 of this blog, we’ll look at how this shift in data symmetry is forcing insurers to ask new questions. Are there ways they can expand their use of current data? Are there additional data streams that may be untapped? What does the organization have or do that is unique? The goal is for insurers to innovate around areas of differentiation. This will help them rise above the symmetry, embracing data’s availability to re-envision their uniqueness.

retirement

75% of People Not on Track for Retirement

A new study shows that three in four Canadians are not on track for retirement. With the recent economic turmoil, many working Canadians are struggling to make ends meet as it is. The same survey indicated that half the population is living paycheck to paycheck, and very few have any emergency savings built up. Living in the moment means that they’re not focused on retirement goals, and many expect to be working several more years as a result.

Although workplace pensions, the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), Old Age Security (OAS) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) can provide funds, it’s often not enough. Moreover, the higher your income is now, the less likely you are to have your future needs met by these types of programs. If you’re among the 75% who are not on track to retire, here are the changes you need to make now:

Take a Hard Look at the Money Coming In

You’ll need to set a budget, but long before you get to it you must have a full accounting of how much money is coming into the household. Then, you’ll need to deduct between 20% and 30% of the gross for emergency expenses and retirement. Focus on building emergency savings that will cover you for three to six months first.

Eliminate Bad Debts

Carrying a balance for a mortgage or vehicle isn’t usually a problem, but more and more Canadians are maxing out credit cards and racking up other smaller debts. These things should also be knocked out of the way first.

Say Goodbye to Luxury Spending

While the older population is much better at assessing value and affordability, the younger generation is geared toward luxury items. Expensive cars, lavish clothing and trending technology add to debt. If you aren’t on track for retirement, and you’re carrying unnecessary debts, you should get yourself back on track and only purchase essential and value-oriented products.

Reevaluate Your Investment Choices

Unfortunately, many investment firms take a chunk of payments, and they fail to deliver in returns. Do a cost-benefit analysis and see if you need to consider moving your money to another firm or program. Diversification, both on a local and international level, is essential, as it provides a kind of insurance in case the economy falters. Think beyond stocks, as well. Bonds, commodities and real estate holdings can provide extra layers of security.

Use a Budgeting Program

There are numerous options available, but they all serve the same essential function. Using software or an app to track expenses takes the brainwork out of it and enables you to stick to your budget without having to work so hard.

Incrementally Increase Retirement Savings

As you pay off your debts and eliminate your mortgage, and your children become self-sufficient, you’ll obviously have more money to spend on yourself. Many people jump into doing the things they’ve been holding off on, like vacations and home remodels, but this becomes a slippery slope. As you find yourself free of expenses and debts, it’s imperative to increase your retirement savings, as well. During your last decade or two of work, your goal should be buildings toward setting aside 60% of your income for retirement. Some of the cash should go into savings, but a fair amount should be invested into dividend-paying stocks, which will add a steady trickle of supplemental cash as your non-working days progress.

Reevaluate Your Goals and Get Expert Advice

Even though most people can benefit from visiting with a financial planner, very few people do. You don’t have to be wealthy to benefit from one, either. A financial planner can help you figure out ways to minimize debts and how to save and may be able to help you get lower interest rates on the debts you already carry. If you choose not to visit a financial planner, you should still reevaluate your budget and strategy on a regular basis. This way, you can find ways to increase your savings if you aren’t setting aside enough, or enjoy more of your income now, provided you’re on track for retirement.

There was a time when a person could outright retire at a certain age, but it’s not like that any more. Today’s workers have to contribute more on their own to be able to maintain the same standard of living, and they have to work longer to be prepared. It’s still possible to retire at about the age your parents and grandparents did, but it requires more planning on your part.

economy

3 Questions About On-Demand Economy

Last year, as Airbnb’s $25.5 billion valuation surpassed Hilton Hotels’ and Uber became the world’s most valuable privately owned company, it became clear the on-demand economy is no passing fad but is, in fact, a force to be reckoned with.

The on-demand marketplace is growing at a dizzying pace as new companies emerge daily, helping connect a diverse workforce of tradespeople, licensed professionals and unskilled laborers to a market of willing buyers through the company’s platforms. Intuit projects the population of U.S. on-demand workers will more than double by 2020, which means that, if you can’t already summon a doctor, lawyer, babysitter or dog walker right now via an on-demand app, then sit tight—they’re coming soon to a smartphone near you.

But the scale and speed of the on-demand economy’s growth also means policymakers, regulators, insurers and on-demand companies will have to huddle quickly to resolve the issues that arise with this expanding marketplace and its workforce. Here are the three key questions we need to address immediately:

  1. When the safeguards of the traditional corporation no longer exist, how do we protect the on-demand workforce?

Uber is currently appealing a case it lost against the California Labor Commissioner last summer regarding whether a driver is an independent contractor or an employee. While establishing this distinction is a critical issue, we still need to address some big questions about the vast self-employed workforce in the on-demand economy.

A good primer question: How do we get the information we need to make informed policy decisions? Independent contractors in the on-demand economy are classified as part of a larger pool of temporary, seasonal, part-time and freelance workforce called “contingent” workers. A 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office report cites this workforce as somewhere between less than 5% and more than one-third of the country’s overall labor pool. The big gap in this measurement is because it depends on how jobs are defined and on the data source; the broad definitions and lack of clear data on this workforce makes on-demand independent contractors and their needs tough to track and evaluate. How much of this workforce depends on this income for supplementary purposes as opposed to relying on this income as a full-time living?

According to Intuit’s study, contingent workers will make up 40% of the U.S. workforce by 2020. That’s a lot of people working without the safeguards provided by the traditional corporation—guaranteed minimum wage, steady income, unemployment insurance, healthcare, workers’ compensation and disability insurance. What kind of safety nets do we need to put in place to protect this workforce? And what does this growing workforce mean in terms of policy development? How does the social contract change?

  1. How should we regulate hybrid commercial/consumer activities?

A sticky issue surrounding the on-demand economy is how to regulate commercial activities that are conducted by individuals rather than by traditional businesses.

While some argue that an Airbnb property should be as heavily regulated as a hotel if a host is accepting payment for lodgings, drawing an apples-to-apples comparison between the two is a challenge. For example, treehouses, yurts, igloos and lighthouses were among the top-10 most desirable vacation destinations on Airbnb shopper’s wish lists last year, some fetching upward of $350 a night. Who exactly should you call about making sure the igloo is up to code before guests arrive?

Some of the services and products offered by the individual through on-demand platforms have never been available through traditional enterprises; they’re unique, intimate experiences and, before on-demand platforms made them accessible, were difficult to find. We’re entering a new frontier where many tourists covet a culinary experience they can book at a local’s house via apps such as Feastly or Kitchensurfing rather than a fine dining restaurant, or they prefer offbeat accommodations booked through Airbnb to a 5-star hotel. We can’t assess how to best regulate these individual commercial activities until we have more data and understand the risks. How do we collect that data? How do we ensure the safety and protection of the individuals operating and participating in these activities until we have the information necessary to adequately regulate them?

  1. How can a square peg workforce function in a round hole system?

Mortgages, loans, credit cards, leases … these are just a few of life’s niceties (or necessities) that are challenging for an on-demand independent contractor to secure. Our current financial services, systems and policies were built to work for employees who collect a regular paycheck as well as freelancers who have reliable cash flow through long-term contracts and monthly retainers. Independent contractors working through on-demand platforms tend to rely on short-term gigs often generated through multiple sources, and they have difficulty predicting their day-to-day income, never mind their annual net or gross.

This isn’t a niche workforce. If independent contractors represent 40% of the U.S. working population in 2020, they’re significant drivers of the economy. They generate income and pay taxes; they need homes, cars, work equipment and all the other stuff that keeps their businesses running and makes their lives worth living. We can’t dismiss their needs, because we are measuring their 21st century income with a 20th century yardstick. How do we retrofit our round-hole systems to include this square peg workforce?

If we want a thriving economy in which people enjoy the benefits of the on-demand economy, and doctors, lawyers, drivers, plumbers and everyone else serving the on-demand marketplace have equal opportunity to succeed, then the time to talk about these questions and issues is now.

Waves of Change in Digital Expectations

In the first of this three-part blog series, titled “Bringing Insurance Distribution Back Into Sync Part 1: What Happened to Insurance Distribution?”, we talked about the seismic shifts that have rocked traditional insurance distribution and about how insurance companies need to adopt a 2D strategy to thrive in this new environment.

There are four fundamental drivers of the seismic changes:

  • New expectations are being set by other industries—the “Amazon effect”;
  • New products are needed to meet new needs, and risks are distributed in new channels;
  • Channel options are expanding;
  • Lines are blurring between insurance and other industries.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss how the final three fundamental drivers have contributed to an environment of challenges and great opportunities. Those who adopt a 2D strategy will be better-prepared to seize the opportunities:

  • First, by optimizing the front end with a digital platform that orchestrates customer engagement across multiple channels
  • Second, by creating an optimized back end that effectively manages the growing array and complexity of multiple distribution channels beyond the traditional agent channel

New Products

Customer expectations, behaviors and risk profiles are evolving thanks to technology, social trends and other changes happening around us. These are driving the need for new insurance solutions and, consequently, new distribution methods, such as:

  • We all know about autonomous cars and increasing car safety technology. Autonomous cars have created questions about where liability lies in the event of an accident involving one of these vehicles. Volvo has laid down a challenge to the auto and insurance industries with its recent announcement that it will assume liability for crashes of its Intellisafe Autopilot cars.
  • The sharing economy—whether it’s for transportation, lodging, labor or “stuff”—has created a multitude of questions regarding coverages. People have realized they don’t need to buy and own cars or pay for hotel rooms when they can use someone else’s stuff for a cheaper price. People who own these items can monetize them when they’re not being used.
  • Cyber risk has been around for a long time, but numerous high-profile hacks have made it a hot topic again.
  • And, finally, the Internet of Things: Connected cars, homes and personal fitness trackers are generating lots of data with tremendous potential to improve pricing and create products and services, while at the same time reducing or eliminating risk.

The seismic impact has resulted in companies developing and offering new products to meet the changing needs, preferences and risks being driven by consumers. There are several relatively new peer-to-peer companies that have entered the market, such as Friendsurance, insPeer, Bought by Many and the recently announced start-up Lemonade. Metromile addresses the sharing economy trend with its product for Uber drivers, and addresses the niche market of low-mileage drivers.

Google Compare, with its focus of “being there when the customer wants it,” has rapidly expanded from credit cards (2013) to auto insurance (early 2015) and now to mortgages (December 2015), all the while expanding to new states and adding product providers to its platform with a new model that leverages customer feedback.

John Hancock is using Fitbits as part of the company’s Vitality program, which started in South Africa and which uses gamification to increase customer engagement and lead to potential discounts. Tokio Marine Nichido is using mobile (in an alliance with NTT Docomo) to distribute “one-time insurance” for auto, travel, golf and sports and leisure. HCC, which was recently acquired by Tokio Marine, has a new online portal for its agents to write artisan ontractors coverage for small artisan contractor customers.

The overarching theme in all these examples is that each company is pioneering ways of distribution, not just new products or coverages. Many companies are direct e-commerce because they are low premium, quick turnaround/short duration and potentially high volume; they are not well-suited for agent distribution.

Expanding Channel Options

Channel options and capabilities for accessing insurance are expanding rapidly. New brands are entering the market, giving customers new ways to shop for, compare and buy insurance.

Comparison sites, online agencies and brokers—such as Bolt Insurance Agency, Insureon, PolicyGenius, CoverHound, Compare.com and the Zebra—are relatively new to the market and are gaining significant market interest and penetration. There are also new brands in the U.S. selling life and commercial direct online, like Haven Life, Assurestart and Hiscox. Berkshire Hathaway will jump into the direct-to-business small commercial market in 2016, a potential game-changing move for the industry.

Finally, there are some intriguing new players that are focusing on specific parts of the insurance value chain.

  • Social Intelligence uses data from social media to develop risk scores that can be used for pricing and underwriting.
  • TROV is a “digital locker” with plans to use the detailed valuation data it collects to create more precise coverage and pricing for personal property.
  • Snapsheet is the technology platform behind many carriers’ mobile claims apps, including USAA, MetLife, National General and Country Financial.

Blurring Lines

The insurance industry is so valuable that outside companies are trying to capture a share. This has created a blurring of industry lines. Companies like Google, Costco and Wal-Mart are familiar brands that have not traditionally been associated with insurance, but they have offered insurance to their customers. The first time most people heard about these companies’ expansions into insurance, it probably struck them as unusual, but now the idea of cross-industry insurance penetration has become normal.

In addition, insurance products are blurring and blending into other products. For example, Zenefits and Intuit are considering bundling workers’ compensation with payroll offerings.

So, what does all of this mean?  There are two key implications from all of this for insurance companies.

First, multiple channels are now available to and are expected by customers. There are many ways for customers to research, shop, buy, pay for and use insurance (as well as almost all other types of products and services). Most customers demand and use multiple channels depending on what they want or need at the time. They are more ends-driven than means-driven and will pick the best channel for the task at hand.

Second, multiple channel options give customers the freedom to interact with companies anywhere, anytime, in just about any way.  But this only works if these channels are aligned and integrated. An organization can’t just add channels as new silos; they must be aligned, or they will do more harm than good.

So, while distribution transformation and digital capabilities promise an easier, better experience for customers, they actually result in increased complexity for insurers. Orchestrating all these channel options is hard work and can’t be done with legacy thinking, processes or systems. This expansion of channels requires insurers to optimize both the front end and the back end of the channel ecosystem.  In my next blog post, we’ll discuss these in more detail.