Tag Archives: P2P

The Opportunities in Blockchain

Blockchain and smart contracts have enabled the development of new approaches in the insurance industry, as they begin to replace outdated business models (with excessive paperwork, communication problems, multiple data operating systems and duplication of processes and the inability of syndicates to mine their data). By digitizing payments and assets—thus eliminating tedious paperwork—and facilitating the management of contracts, blockchain and smart contracts can help cut operational costs and improve efficiency. Smart contracts also allow for automation of insurance claims and other processes as well as privacy, security and transparency. It is estimated that roughly one-third of blockchain use cases are in the insurance industry.

How Blockchain Is Used in Insurance

How will blockchain and smart contracts transform the insurance industry?

  • Quick and efficient processing and verification of claims, automatic payments—all in a modular fashion, thus minimizing paperwork.
  • Transparency, minimizing fraud, secure and decentralized transactions, reliable tracking of asset provenance and improving the quality of data used in underwriting. Besides improving efficiency, this also reduces counterparty risks, ensuring trust and safety both from the insurer’s and customer’s perspective. By computing at a network, rather than individual, company level, the consumer is reassured that the process was completed appropriately and as agreed upon. From the perspective of the insurance company, this fosters trust, as well, and encourages consistency, as the blockchain provides transparent and permanent information about the transactions.

The insurance industry has traditionally been associated with tedious administration, paperwork and mistrust; the incorporation of blockchain, however, has the ability to transform this image by bringing operational efficiency, security, and transparency. The long-term strategic benefits of blockchain are thus clear.

Top insurance blockchain projects:

AIG (American International Group) – Smart contract insurance policies

HQ: New York

Description: AIG, in conjunction with IBM, has developed a “smart” insurance policy utilizing blockchain to manage complex international coverage.

Blockchain network: Bitcoin

Deployment: In June 2017, AIG and IBM announced the successful completion of their “smart contract” multinational policy pilot for Standard Chartered Bank. It is said to be the first such policy to employ the blockchain digital ledger technology.

Fidentiax – Marketplace for tradable insurance policies

HQ: Singapore

Description: As “the world’s first marketplace for tradable insurance policies,” Fidentiax hopes to establish a trading marketplace and repository of insurance policies for the masses through the use of blockchain technology.

Blockchain network: Ethereum

Deployment: Fidentiax succeeded in raising funds for the project through its Crowd Token Contribution (CTC, aka ICO) in December 2017.

See also: How Insurance and Blockchain Fit  

Swiss Re – Smart contract management system

HQ: Zurich, Switzerland

Description: Swiss Re, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer, has partnered with 15 of Europe’s largest insurers and reinsurers (Achmea, Aegon, Ageas, Allianz, Generali, Hannover Re, Liberty Mutual, Munich Re, RGA, SCOR, Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance, Tokio Marine Holdings, XL Catlin and the Zurich Insurance Group) to incorporate and evaluate the use of blockchain technology in the insurance industry. The Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative (B3i) hopes to educate insurers and reinsurers on the employment of the blockchain technology in the insurance market. It serves as a platform for blockchain knowledge exchange and offers access to research and information on use case experiments. As of yet, there have only been individual company use cases in the industry. B3i is working to facilitate the widespread adoption of blockchain across the entire insurance value chain by evaluating its implementation as a viable tool for the industry in general and customers in particular. The initiative envisions efficient and modern management of insurance transactions with common standards and practices. To this end, it has developed a smart contract management system to explore the potential of distributed ledger technologies as a way to improve services to clients by making them faster, more convenient and secure.

Blockchain network: Ethereum

Deployment: B3i was launched in in October 2016. On Sept. 7, 2017, B3i presented a fully functional beta version of its blockchain-run joint distributed ledger for reinsurance transactions. On March 23, 2018, the B3i Initiative incorporated B3i Services company to continue to promote the B3i Initiative’s goal of transforming the insurance industry through blockchain technology.

Sofocle – Automating claim settlement

HQ: Northern Ireland, U.K.

Description: Through smart contracts, AI and mobile apps, Sofocle employs blockchain technology to automate insurance processes. All relevant documents can be uploaded by customers via mobile app, thus minimizing paperwork. Use of smart contracts allows for a far more efficient and faster settlement process. Claims agents can verify insurance claims, which are recorded on the blockchain in real time. The smart contracts allow for verification of a predetermined condition by an external data source (trigger), following which the customer automatically receives the claims payment.

Blockchain network: Bitcoin

Dynamis – P2P Insurance

HQ: U.K.

Description: Dynamis’ Ethereum-based platform provides peer-to-peer (P2P) supplementary unemployment insurance, using the LinkedIn social network as a reputation system. When applying for a policy, the applicant’s identity and employment status is verified through LinkedIn. Claimants are also able to validate that they are seeking employment through their LinkedIn connections. Participants can acquire new policies or open new claims by exercising their social capital within their social network.

Blockchain Network: Ethereum and Bitcoin

Deployment: The goal of Dynamis is the creation of a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to restore trust and transparency in the insurance industry. Its community-based unemployment insurance employs smart contracts and runs on the Ethereum blockchain platform. Using social networking data and validation points, Dynamis verifies a claimant’s employment status among peers and colleagues. It also depends on Bitcoin-powered smart contracts to automate claims.

Conclusion

Recognizing the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts, the insurance industry has begun to explore their potential. With the traditional insurance model, validating an insurer’s claim is a lengthy, complicated process. Blockchain has the ability to combine various resources into smart contract validation. It also offers transparency, allowing the customer to play an active role in the process and to see what is being validated. This fosters trust between the insurer and the customer. Despite the obvious benefits of blockchain for insurers, reinsurers and customers, the industry has yet to adopt blockchain on a large scale. The primary reason for this is that blockchain adoption has until now required in-depth knowledge and skills in blockchain-specific programming languages. The limited number and high cost of hiring blockchain experts have rendered the technology out of reach for many businesses in the industry. Without access to the technology, exposure to blockchain and the ability to reap its benefits will remain limited for insurance companies.

How can these obstacles be overcome? The key is accessibility to enable all parties within the insurance ecosystem to reap the benefits of blockchain and smart contracts. There is a dire need for a bridge between the blockchain technology and these industry players. This is the role that the iOlite platform fulfills. iOlite provides mainstream businesses with easy access to blockchain technology. iOlite is integrated via an IDE (integrated development environment) plugin, maintaining a familiar environment for programmers and providing untrained users simple tools to work with. The iOlite platform thus enables any business to integrate blockchain into its workflow to write smart contracts and design blockchain applications using natural language.

How it works? iOlite’s open-source platform translates any natural language into smart contract code available for execution on any blockchain. The solution utilizes CI (collective intelligence), in essence a crowdsourcing of coder expertise, which is aggregated into a knowledge database, i.e. iOlite Blockchain. This knowledge is then used by the iOlite NLP grammar engine (based on Stanford UC research), the Fast Adaptation Engine (FAE), to migrate input text into the target blockchain executable code.

See also: Blockchain – What Is It Good for?  

The future of blockchain in insurance

With a clear direction of blockchain adoption for the future, insurance companies will be forced to adapt or be left behind. The adoption of blockchain by the insurance industry is no longer a question of if but how.

Shifting Balance in Risk Markets (Part 4)

In the opening segment of this series on complexity, I discussed the three network graphs that have emerged in the risk markets and which business models embody them. For quick reference:

In the second segment, I discussed the emergence of peer-to-peer insurance, which will accomplish the three core functions of the risk markets that currently exist in a “black market” unformalized state by using distributed managerial methods, which are:

  • Risk transfer;
  • Escrow of funds for a defined purpose; and
  • Management of reallocation of escrowed funds.

In the third segment, on distributed ledger technology, I looked at how it can be configured as a cohesive platform that would embody all three network graphs. I discussed how the roles of individual peers, along with carriers and agents, can work together to formalize the P2P methods in the risk markets. For a quick reference:

In this final segment, I will look at the current balance of the market share of each graph type in the risk markets, how the balance may change and what the new equilibrium state might look like in the risk markets.

Before doing that, I would like discuss an important idea that emanates from the blockchain and cryptocurrency communities: the idea that there could be “one ledger to rule them all,” or, asked another way, “Could a single ledger be an all-encompassing ledger, accounting for all value?” The simple answer here is “no.”

No single ledger, technology or network will ever be all-encompassing. That would be silly, as it would reintroduce the systemic weakness inherent in centralized system structures, namely the risk that by taking out a single central node (or ledger, in this case), the whole system could collapse.

See also: 4 Marketing Lessons for Insurtechs  

Just as was realized in the blockchain and cryptocurrency communities, the idea of a “risk ledger to rule them all” is not a desired structure; in the risk markets, a single distributed risk ledger to account for all funds escrowed against all risk types is not a desired structure. Because of the nature of risk and the diverse set of risk exposures in the world, there will need to be a diverse set of risk ledgers. We may see something materialize that looks like the following as an example of four distributed risk ledgers, each for a specific category of risk exposure.

Hold on to that thought for now….

I would like to again reference some of the work done by the Ripple team and their thought leadership toward a solution to address the concern of “one risk ledger to rule them all.” The Ripple team has introduced a protocol that will enable value to move in a cryptographically secure way between two or more distributed ledgers. It is called the Interledger Protocol, and more information can be found on their site here.

Using the Interledger Protocol, the Ripple team has articulated how various types of distributed ledgers, each engineered for a specific strength, can be networked together to create a term they have coined the “Internet of Value.” Without a single shred of doubt, it is a true statement that “finance is getting its internet,” and it is already here, albeit in a state of maturity similar to the internet circa the late 1990s. Unlike the slow pace of the internet’s growth, however, finance’s internet will not take as long to mature — mainly because it received an advantage from the preexistence of the internet itself and all that has been learned. Insurance and the risk markets of all the various financial services are the lowest-hanging fruit.

This might seem like a stretch in today’s environment, but it is not hard to imagine that by connecting many risk ledgers (each escrowing funds against a specific risk type) and using the methods outlined with Interledger protocol, that we will see the emergence of an internet of risk. Just like with the internet of value we see emerging today, the internet of risk will be made of many different distributed risk ledgers networked together.

I would define the internet of risk as a network of distributed risk ledger networks. The technical name for a “network of networks” in complexity science is a “multiplex.” Risk markets have been operating with an informal and non-digital multiplex structure for some time. Because each insurance company manages a risk ledger and because reinsurance companies function to connect insurance companies’ risk ledgers together, the reinsurance industry effectively embodies a decentralized network of insurance companies — and both graphs combine to embody a multiplex of risk ledgers.

In all likelihood, over the coming years we will observe the digitization of the existing multiplex of risk ledgers that is the risk market into a network of digitally connected distributed risk ledgers, with each individual risk ledger serving the specific needs of a specific risk exposure.

KarmaCoverage is intended to be this “multiplex of risk,” organizing the connections between the risk ledgers of all types of P2P risk sharing. And it aims toward the goal of insuring that, as the P2P segment of the risk market grows, it maintains a high degree of resilience, enabling society to transfer risk efficiently among individual peers, successfully addressing the various risk exposures of those peers. You would expect to ultimately see this play out and create an internet of P2P risk ledgers that looks something like this:

To be fair, it is not possible to know the ultimate structure (or graph) of this multiplex of risk. It will emerge by a process of self-assembly. It must employ distributed managerial methods to avoid reintroducing the fragility inherent with its centralized structure. That said, many portions of it can (and should) be centralized for efficiency purposes. Distributed systems have weaknesses, as well, one of which is the introduction of some degree of inefficiency. We would not want to act out that behavior where “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The functions that should be centralized combine a make the business case for something like KarmaCoverage.

Now, let’s take a look at how this may have an impact on the existing balance of market share where each graph serves as a percentage of total risk. Using data on the currently formalized methods of total risk and by assigning a percentage to each graph in the risk markets, you find that the graphs settled at roughly these percentages:

  • Reinsurance: 40%
  • Insurance: 60%
  • P2P coverage: 0% (This does not account for all the risk transfer activity that occurs informally in the black market of P2P risk transfer.)

There are two factors to consider when thinking about how the equilibrium state of the risk markets will balance out in the information age. To answer this, first we need to consider market growth and look at how the size of the risk markets will grow as a result of formalizing the P2P black market activity. Second, we need to consider the market share split among the three graphs, given that P2P will no longer continue to be 0% of the formalized market.

Let’s look at Uber and the taxi market for a benchmark.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, speaking at the 2015 DLD conference in Munich, said the taxi market in San Francisco was about $140 million per year, while Uber’s revenues in San Francisco were running at $500 million per year and still growing at 200% per year. Ignoring the continued growth, these numbers indicate roughly a 350% growth in market size.

See also: How to Outfox Our Brains About Risk  

Approaching this question about the growth in market size from another angle, and after reviewing various sources, the global formalized taxi market size is roughly $20 billion in revenue per year, while Uber’s annual revenue is only about $5.5 billion. These numbers would indicate roughly a 25% growth in market size.

While this is a simple and quickly obtained benchmark, it would be easy to conclude that the process of formalizing the P2P segment of the risk markets will drive somewhere between 25% and 350% growth to the size of the risk markets. This would take the roughly $5 trillion in global annual premiums of the combined insurance and reinsurance industries and, after adding the P2P industry segment, bring the size of the risk markets to somewhere between $6.35 trillion (on the low side) and $17.5 trillion (on the high side).

Reality check: There is a big difference between risk and taxi rides! Taxi rides are more prone to growth in market demand because of economic activity and population growth than the risk markets are.

Risk, on the other hand, is more prone to shrinking demand because of improved mitigation of actual risk because of safer technology and other factors driving the reduction of risk. As one example, let’s look at auto risk as we make the transition into driverless cars, which stand to make a very significant dent in auto risk exposure. We are already seeing a 40% decrease in accident rates from mere “accident-less” cars equipped with accident-avoidance technologies.

Using these benchmarks (and my crystal ball), the fact that the frequency of small loss events is much higher than large and catastrophic loss events leads me to predict that the formalizing of P2P methods in the risk markets will result in the doubling of the size of the formalized risk market at some ambiguous point in the future. I will also assume that the ratio between insurance and reinsurance shown above does not change. This would end up with risk markets growing to nearly $10 trillion, with the market share being split among the three segments like this:

  • Reinsurance: 20%
  • Insurance: 30%
  • P2P coverage: 50%

Surely these assumptions and predictions are wrong, but this is more of an exercise in trend observation, not an attempt to actually predict the state of the risk markets at some specific future point.

There will be other drivers that will have an impact on the shifting balance. One easy-to-understand but powerful and potentially market-driven force would be consumers voluntarily choosing significantly higher deductibles. This trend is already in motion. One indication of this trend on home insurance policies is that in California, on policies covering more than a million dollars, the lowest deductible that is compliant with regulatory rules is for $10,000. While that example is imposed on the industry, here in Florida, we saw the industry self-impose an increase in deductibles from hurricane losses after the 2004-05 seasons — while, at the same time, many large carriers simply pulled out of the state, leaving a vacuum to be filled by newer, smaller Florida domestic carriers.

Using formalized P2P “networked self-insurance” methods, it is possible for consumers to achieve an average of $10,000 in coverage on an annual basis for less than $100 per month and to simultaneously fill the deductible gap all the way down to the first dollar of loss, fully addressing total risk exposure. That could easily lead to enabling consumers to request $10,000 deductibles on all their insurance policies, which would have a material impact on gross premiums.

On home and auto insurance losses, more than 90% of claims are less than $10,000. If the consumer behavior of requesting ever-higher deductibles on their traditional insurance policies occurs, it becomes easy to consider that premiums on traditional insurance may currently be at or near their historical high.

See also: 4 Steps to Integrate Risk Management  

Obviously, this process of formalizing the P2P segment of the risk markets will face headwinds, but since I entered the industry with an eye on the intersection of risk markets and crowdfunding methods back in 2013, we have seen the number of P2P insurance companies grow from one to dozens all over the world. It seems like the moment for the formalization of P2P methods in the risk markets is here.

Because of the convergence of factors discussed in this series (and a few others), I believe we will see a Napster-, an Uber- or an AirBnB-type of service emerge for the risk markets in the coming years.

I have started a LinkedIn group for discussion on blockchain, complexity and P2P insurance. Feel free to join here.

The whole mini-series is available for download at KarmaCoverage.com.

Distributed Ledgers in the Risk Markets (Part 3)

In the opening segment of this series on complexity, I discussed the three network graphs that have emerged in the risk markets and which business models embody them.

For quick reference:

In the second segment, we discussed the emergence of P2P insurance, which will formalize the three core functions of the risk markets that currently exist in a “black market,” unformalized state. These functions are:

  • Risk transfer;
  • Escrow of funds for a defined purpose; and
  • Management of reallocation of escrowed funds.

This formalization will occur via the emergence of a platform that enables all of these functions to be accomplished by the users of the platform, bringing the existing P2P economic activity out of its black market state and into the light of day.

Risk is the killer app for distributed ledgers!

The focus of the blockchain community on banking has been an interesting side effect of the timing of the Bitcoin innovation that coincided with the collapse of the U.S. banking industry. The blockchain technology software went open source in January 2009, while the markets (DJIA, S&P 500 and NASDAQ) bottomed out in March 2009.

The term “distributed ledger” is synonymous with blockchain. Both refer to the technology of a shared digital ledger, upon which transactions are validated by a distributed set of servers using chronological, public and cryptographically secure methods. I prefer the term “distributed ledger” because, at its core, this technology is an accounting tool that enables a set of capabilities not previously attainable.

In a distributed ledger:

  • All transactions — or, in accounting vernacular, “ledger entries” — are validated using a distributed method, without requiring users to trust in a central authority who has control over all entries on the ledger.
  • There will be lower transaction costs — both in terms of less time and lower labor costs — because there will no longer be a need to coordinate a multitude of private, centralized corporate ledgers.
  • It will create an ability for end users to publicly escrow value on a platform that enables them to connect directly with each other, creating a P2P distributed graph and enabling both the trusted communication of and individualized control over the reallocation of their escrowed value.

I would like to introduce the idea of a “risk ledger,” which is any ledger where value is escrowed as a hedge against a risk so that the risk can be safely carried through time. Currently, insurance carriers operate risk ledgers as they escrow money against a risk over a segment of time. (I wonder if this is why insurance companies are called “carriers.”) The same goal can be easily accomplished using distributed ledger technology, albeit with some advantages over private, opaque, centrally controlled corporate ledgers.

See also: 5 Steps to Profitable Risk Taking  

Distributed ledgers enable individuals to escrow value in the light of day against a risk, carrying the risk safely through a segment of time until a loss event necessitates the reallocation to the user who experienced a loss event and the removal of that value from the distributed ledger. Risk is the killer app for distributed ledger technology; as such, I believe the timeline for adoption in the risk markets will be shorter than observed in the banking markets, where the technology itself needed time to mature.

Trust is a fundamental ingredient in all financial services, and trust is something that distributed-ledger technology has a unique ability to enable. Because all money that is escrowed on a distributed ledger as well as the movement of that money is visible to all, users can trust in the system without needing to trust any single validator, company or peer participating in the network.

It must be understood that all distributed ledgers are, inherently, a network. There are many distributed ledger networks out there, but I will use Ripple’s to exemplify how a P2P distributed risk ledger platform may look. Thankfully, Ripple spearheaded acceptance by international regulatory bodies on issues associated with distributed ledger technology. Another reason I choose to use Ripple is because of its two technical features: 1) It has built-in “trust lines,” which enable individuals to create an explicit network of other peers whom they trust, and 2) it has the built-in ability of order books, which can be used to make markets between different stores of value. There are other technical advantages of Ripple, but these two elements combine to make a powerful and open-source solution.

Trust lines function as roads upon which value can move around the ledger. If I trust you, then you can send me value. If I do not trust you, then you cannot send me value because there is no path for the value to travel upon. This capacity for individuals to control who they are willing to trust enables individual peers to self-assemble a “trust graph” mirroring and to document the reality of who is trustworthy. Because all financial services are predicated on trust, this can be thought of as the finance industry’s equivalent to Google’s link graph, Facebook’s social graph and LinkedIn’s colleague graph, etc. Whoever ends up building this “trust graph” will likely be capable of creating much more value for society than those other graph types because of the significant role that finance plays in society.

Peers can extend trust lines to other peers they personally know, trust and are willing to help. These trust line connections create a trust graph in the same way as friend connections on Facebook create the social graph. In this way, a P2P distributed trust graph can be self-assembled and emerge out of the actions of the individual peers. Building a distributed graph of roads and creating many paths upon which value can travel across the distributed risk ledger network is an example of a distributed managerial process.

To give some example of how escrowed funds would flow through this distributed trust graph, let’s look at a hypothetical loss event. When a loss event occurs, a user documents the loss, and other peers who trust that user can choose to send a small amount their own escrowed funds to help their friend. (There is a formalized financial model  I will not detail.) However, I was surprised to discover, after working out the model’s details, that the model actually existed 1,000 years before modern insurance methods came about in the mid-1600s.

Order books — and the ability to make markets — enable agents and insurance carriers to retain their relative roles as they exist in the industry today.

The platform can be set up in a way that agents can capture a fixed fee as a spread or a percentage of the money that flows through the users that trust the agent by extending the agent a trust line. This is akin to commissions.

The platform can be set up in a way that carriers can manage the funds, which users put on escrow, and can control which agents are allowed to access the carrier’s gateway. This enables carriers to essentially mirror the same function that the appointment process accomplishes today. Carriers can do this activity without invoking the regulatory burden of insurance laws; they only need to comply with MSB regulations. This would also enable carriers to earn float income on the newly escrowed balance.

Phase change innovations typically emerge to address an order of magnitude more complex than what preexisting methods could in the prior industrial age paradigm. Consider how much economic activity and the number of actors Uber can organize on a global scale versus the top-down methods of an industrial-age taxi company. In the risk markets, coming out of the industrial age, we can see many companies operating independently in each of the three graphs (which are intentionally siloed). To achieve an order of magnitude improvement, we must encompass and coordinate all three graphs structures onto a single platform.

See also: Are Portfolios Taking Too Much Risk?  

Currently, agents function as a hub of client trust. Agents enable clients to navigate the complicated insurance product space and achieve the distribution of insurance products backed up by carriers. On a Ripple ledger, the agent would be a centralized hub of trust lines, and the graph would show that many users trust the agent node.

Currently, carriers function as an access point and product provider, lifting the burden of regulatory compliance, administration and product creation from agents. Engaging with the platform, each carrier can independently escrow client money without hampering the client’s ability to connect with other peers who they trust but who may not be clients of the same insurance carrier. With order books, the carriers can trade escrowed funds to enable a user who has experienced a funded loss event to receive a single check from the carrier that that user does business with, even though many of the peers funding the coverage are not clients of that carrier and do not have funds escrowed with the carrier issuing the check. Via these order book connections, carriers’ relationships will create a decentralized graph on the platform.

Combining the peer-to-peer distributed trust line graph, the centralized graph that is the hub of trust connections surrounding the agent and the decentralized graph of carrier-to-carrier order book connections, the platform can facilitate the coordination of all three graphs within a single system — all while relinquishing ultimate control of the flow of funds to the individual peers of the platform. This achieves a distributed managerial method of the reallocation process applied to the escrowed funds. This also alleviates the cost of adjusting claims and the exposure to fraud from the participating carrier’s perspective, as well as the distribution of the costs associated with the adjusting process across the peers participating in the network.

As is explained in his book “Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order from Atoms to Economies,” MIT’s Cesar Hidalgo argues that we are at a point when firms need to network if they desire to continue to create value for society in excess of what any single firm can create alone.

Via a distributed risk ledger network, many carrier firms can run the servers that maintain the whole ledger. This gives each carrier an equal vision into the ledger and removes the need for any carrier to submit control to another carrier that is tasked with running the entire system. Most importantly, these methods function as a shared back office so that no single firm bears the burden of the costs associated with managing all of the small loss events. Additionally, the cost of the system’s management does not need to be duplicated and absorbed by each participating firm. This is essentially how Ripple is being implemented in the banking industry to reduce the costs of international payments and increase the speed of international flow of funds.

Some examples:

  • Firms in the home and auto insurance business can network to facilitate a ledger with other home and auto insurance firms, helping homeowners who experience losses that are under the deductible or excluded from the policy form.
  • Life insurance firms can facilitate their own ledger networking with other life insurance firms, enabling coverage for clients who do not meet underwriting requirements, such as those over the age of 75 or with a terminal disease.
  • Firms in health insurance can network to facilitate a ledger with other health insurance firms to better enable users to cover high deductibles, only invoking their traditional insurance contracts for unexpected, large incidents.

By networking, firms can enable the existing P2P risk transfer behavior to occur with less friction and bring this important economic activity out of its black market state and into the light of day on a formalized platform. Once the economic activity is occurring on a formalized platform, one would expect to see, like was observed with Uber and AirBnB, a resulting boom in the aggregate amount of the economic activity, growing the entire risk market’s pie and improving the risk market’s value add to society.

See also: 4 Steps to Integrate Risk Management

In the next segment of this series, I will consider possible changes to the risk market’s current equilibrium state and what that equilibrium may look like after the phase change has occurred.

The Spread of P2P Insurance

The sharing economy is not just a U.S. experience. It is truly a global phenomenon that has infiltrated and influenced multiple industries in both developed and developing countries. Even the ultra-conservative insurance industry has not been immune to these advancements.

While U.S.-based insurer Lemonade has been receiving much of the recent domestic headlines for being an innovator, the insurance sharing model, or peer-to-peer insurance, has, in fact, been in existence in several countries since as early as 2010. Companies such as Friendsurance, PeerCover, Riovic and Guevara have played key roles internationally in the disruption of the traditional insurance model in countries like Germany, South Africa, New Zealand and France — among others. While peer-to-peer insurers shift focus toward technology, automation and social networking, it is apparent that the core concepts of traditional insurance — such as sharing losses through mutual insurance arrangements, avoiding adverse selection and mitigating moral hazards — remain fundamental to its business model and, quite frankly, its survival.

Peer-to-peer insurance, much like traditional mutual insurance, is a group of “peers” who pool their premiums to insure against a risk and across both types of insurance the perils that buyers are insuring against remain homogeneous. It is, in essence, the centuries-old concept of mutual insurance being given a 21st century makeover.

This new peer-to-peer model of insurance adheres to traditional pooling and sharing of losses, but it is now combined with today’s technology, providing a product for increasingly savvy consumers who require transparency in an on-demand economy. Further, peer-to-peer and traditional insurers also group policyholders in similar ways; however, the peer-to-peer model may provide more refined classes because of advances in computer algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI).

Simply, peer-to-peer companies allow participants to insure a common deductible, while large claims are still covered by traditional insurers. When smaller claims occur that fall within the deductible, this loss is shared among a small circle of friends or similar policyholders. Traditionally, when policyholders had a good year and a favorable loss ratio, premiums would be returned in the form of a dividend. This concept has also been adopted by some peer-to-peer insurers, while others have also designated excess premiums be sent to a charity chosen by the policyholder group. So while peer-to-peer insurance may provide more refined methods of grouping policyholders or more options for distributing unused premiums, the underlying core concepts of traditional insurance are still maintained.

See also: Examining Potential of Peer-to-Peer Insurers  

Sharing economy businesses express their desire to reduce costs and increase transparency for consumers. Peer-to-peer companies are working to accomplish this by insuring self-selecting groups. Their philosophy is that they can improve the quality of the risk because of the relationship between the members. The peer-to-peer models strengthen the sense of responsibility within the group, which results in a reduction in both moral and morale hazard. As the two often get confused, we define moral hazard as a situation in which one party gets involved in a risky event knowing that it is protected against the risk and the other party will incur the cost — in other words, an intentional act. Conversely, morale hazard is an increase in the hazards presented by a risk arising from the indifference of the person insured to loss because of the existence of insurance, which, in comparison, is more unintentional behavior.

Allowing policyholders to actively choose the members of their policy group could foster a greater sense of belonging, responsibility and duty to others. Groups in which close-knit friends or family share in losses tend to manifest a stronger aversion to risk with the knowledge that your actions will have a direct impact on your family’s pocketbook. That family vacation everyone was planning — and paying for with the year-end dividend payment — could be put on hold because of a recent insurance claim. Similarly, if any proceeds from premiums were designated for a specific charity (i.e. pediatric cancer research in honor of a niece stricken with the disease), a member of a close-knit group may engage in better driving habits to avoid being the person responsible for a drag racing accident that could result in the loss of that donation. With more at stake, pooling participants are more likely to engage in responsible behavior — better for them and the insurer.

For peer-to-peer models where groups can unconditionally decide on their members, there can be even greater benefits — for both the group and insurer. One such advantage is the reduction of adverse selection. Typically, it can be very difficult for insurers to assess the full nature and habits of applicants at the time of an underwriting review. The insured is typically in a position to palliate their risk, often without making material misrepresentations. However, in peer-to-peer models that rely on referrals from other group members, the likelihood that the complete risk exposure of a potential insured is revealed is much greater. For example, perhaps several family members have decided to submit an application for shared automobile insurance with a peer-to-peer insurer. While most of the members have superior driving history and habits, they all know to never drive with Aunt Susie. She’s known to them as a speeder, tailgater and road-rage extraordinaire; however, she has been lucky enough to avoid any serious accidents, which has kept her record looking clean. Though she may appear to be a good risk for a half-sighted insurer, her relatives know better and, in preservation of their premium and potential dividend, deliberately do not ask her to join their group.

See also: An Overview of VC Investment in Insurtech  

Although peer-to-peer insurance models have promoted their new-age benefits with the introduction of digital platforms, AI and cost transparency, their business model is built on the foundation on traditional insurance, and their ability to succeed will be based on how well they can deliver the best of both worlds. Peer-to-peer insurers will continue to develop their models and philosophies on distribution channels, return-of-premium programs and scope of coverage.

While it is too early to calculate how much market share they can siphon from traditional insurance companies, it is clear they have many valuable attributes both operationally and philosophically that will assist them entrench their business among mainstream competitors.

Does Peer-to-Peer Fit in Risk Markets? (Part 2)

In the first of this series of four segments, we looked at the current state of the risk markets and the insurance industry. In this segment, we will look at how peer-to-peer (P2P) fits.

First, P2P is not mutual insurance. While the mutual insurance model is in more of the same spirit as P2P than corporate insurers are, mutuals are still operating primarily with the same business methods that corporate insurance companies use, and the financial service is still an indemnity insurance contract. The same would apply to the fraternals.

P2P is also not just a behavioral economic twist on insurance to reduce fraud. While elements of P2P methods do invoke (and should employ) behavioral economic principles, employing these principles alone will not qualify a service offering as P2P. P2P is hyped to get insureds to convert their social network into insurance leads.

When done correctly, a P2P service offering should demonstrate a level of virility in excess of existing insurance offerings. But traditional insurance already achieves some virility — I am an insurance broker, and much of our business is already generated via client referrals — so virility alone would not be a key differentiator for P2P.

P2P, today, is not actually disruptive. Rather, it is only an iteration of insurance as we know it today. To believe otherwise is a route to strategic disaster.

But there are other methods that more fully embody P2P methods and will prove to be quite disruptive to the current balance existing in the risk markets.

See also: Examining Potential of Peer-to-Peer Insurers  

Okay, so what is P2P?

In the first segment of this series on complexity, I discussed the three network graphs that have emerged in the risk markets and which business models embody them. For quick reference:

To dive into this, we first need to define the activity that the risk markets perform for society. Why did the risk markets emerge, and why does society engage with the market? There are three core societal functions that risk markets perform for society:

  • Risk transfer;
  • Escrow of funds for a defined purpose; and
  • Management of reallocation of escrowed funds.

Let’s take a look at each of these functions and the methods deployed to accomplish them.

Risk Transfer

One of the core elements required to legally define a contract as an insurance contract is indemnity. Inherent in the term “indemnity” is the idea of risk transfer. Indemnity is defined as “compensation or payment for losses or damages,” which essentially means that experienced risk from a loss event has been transferred from one party to another.

While insurance is a highly efficient method of accomplishing some portion of total risk transfer, an insurance contract is only one of many methods humans use to transfer risk around society, and the method has its limitations.

Other formal risk transfer methods include: companies that offer consumers a warranty on their products and service companies that are bonded by creating the same effect as a warranty does for consumers of their service. In the financial markets, we see options and swaps, as well as letters of credit. Formalized charity efforts also amount to risk transfer. In the public sphere, as was demonstrated in 2008, society has formalized methods for transferring risk from systemically important private companies to the public, all backed by the government’s access to taxation revenue.

Informal methods of risk transfer that can be routinely observed include families and friends compensating each other for some risk that the other has experienced. The same behavior also emerges within groups and communities, both with and without the intentional purpose of risk transfer. These methods amount to “black market” methods because they are not formalized, and the economic activity is not taxed and does not contribute to GDP. However, the economic activity does and always will occur.

Escrow of Funds

With indemnity insurance and other formalized methods, every insured has paid a premium for the legal right to transfer their risk exposure to another party. Presumably, this transfer shifts risks from individuals to a group as a whole. These premium funds are held in escrow to assure participants that the system will work. This behavior can be viewed as an “escrowing of funds for a defined purpose.”

With informal methods, we do not observe this escrow pattern. Indeed, many families and friends have received news that someone has experienced a loss that they do not have the means to bear. It is important to note that the person who has experienced the loss, in many cases, has already engaged with the available formalized methods that the risk markets have on offer — but the risk is in excess of what those methods can cover. With insurance, this uncovered risk amount can take the form of a deductible, the exclusion of a peril or a limitation of coverage on a covered peril.

See also: 3rd Wave of P2P Insurance  

Informal methods of risk transfer emerge to fill these segments of total risk, which formalized methods do not address. Because there are no funds that have been pre-paid and escrowed for the purpose of addressing these segments of risk, we observe informal methods of risk transfer employing a post-pay method of achieving coverage. This can be observed in the digital environment on crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe, where coverage for a loss is achieved after the event has occurred.

Management of Reallocation of Escrowed Funds

Formalized methods of redistributing escrowed funds, like insurance methods, employ a legal contract. In black and white, rules specify for what purpose escrowed funds will and will not be paid out by the system as coverage, and how the dollar amount of that coverage will be calculated. This legal contractual methodology creates the requirement for actuarial work.

Insurance companies employ statistical and actuarial methods to ensure that enough money is escrowed to accomplish the purpose for which the society agreed to escrow the funds but also that there are additional funds to pay for the costs of centralized managing of the reallocation process, including some additional funds for profit for the insurance company.

The degree to which these formalized methods necessitate the burning of escrowed funds is a reduction in efficiency. Internal process inefficiencies that exist in the companies managing the process effectively add to society’s realized risk from engaging with the insurance system’s methods.

Currently, informal methods obviously do not employ legal methods, as no funds have been put into escrow for any specific purpose. These informal methods for the redistribution of funds to achieve a transfer of risk unfold as individual peer decisions, directly between the two peers involved. This is an example of an emergent P2P behavior.

The Question

Now, let’s get back to the original question. What is P2P?

Whether we are taking about music files via Napster, transportation via Uber, housing via AirBnB or work via TaskRabbit, the amount of economic activity resulting from those P2P methods blossomed — but only after a platform enabled the formalization of the behavior that already existed in the world, albeit informally. In each of these markets, society built wonderful centralized organizations to accomplish the fundamental economic activity of the market.

In each of these markets, when a P2P platform was built — offering just the right degree of formalization, but not too much, to enable, but not inhibit, the connection of individual peers on the platform — economic activity grew drastically.

This is, fundamentally, an expansion of the market’s economic pie.

In the risk markets, we will see the emergence of a P2P platform that enhances the individual’s ability to network using distributed methods of management and to accomplish the process of reallocation of escrowed funds. With this platform, the three core functions driving society to engage with the risk markets will be accomplished by the individual actors without necessitating a central authority.

New technologies (such as distributed ledgers) and methods that, as it turns out, predate insurance by 1,000 years will converge, and the risk markets will see a P2P network come about. This network will be designed to accomplish a positive financial network effect that will create financial leverage, amplifying the amount of risk that individuals can cover with their own individually escrowed funds. P2P will effectively give users the option of “networked self-insurance” to better cover the gaps in total risk left by already formalized methods.

Insurance methods will not go away. The methods play an important role in how our existing financial system works.

But note what is not necessary for P2P: indemnity legal contracts, actuarial methods and a centrally controlled escrow account for processing the reallocation of those escrowed funds.

There is nothing wrong with these methods. They work quite well and systemically serve to mitigate the risk housed on lending banks’ balance sheets, albeit at the borrower’s cost. Lending activity also serves a systemically important role of enabling financial leverage for large capital purchases. However, that leverage comes with a risk. If a bank lends on a mortgage or auto loan and the underlying asset is destroyed, the loan on the bank’s balance sheet will have lost value. Indemnity insurance is likely to remain the only method of mitigating this balance sheet risk exposure that lenders will agree to accept. It would not be surprising to see the rise of insurance policies sold to banks on their loan portfolios — much like we see today occur in the process of securitization of the loan portfolios and somewhat similar to what we see with forced placed insurance.

See also: Is P2P a Realistic Alternative?  

It appears that we are observing in the risk markets that the insurance industry has been behaving in a way that can be described as: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Great, but just be sure you insure the risk exposure.

There are new tools available to the risk markets, along with new behavioral patterns, and we should not be a surprised when we see new methods — P2P and otherwise — emerge to employ these new tools for the benefit of society.

In the next section of this series, I will dive into one of those tools: blockchain, a.k.a. distributed ledger technology.