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Time to Retire the Term ‘Insurtech’?

When I founded and edited what became known as a “new economy” magazine in 1997, to explore all the strategic possibilities created by the internet, a friend told me a curious thing.

“You know,” he said, “there were magazines with names like Popular Electricity back in the early 1900s, when it was this great new thing. Then electricity just became part of daily life, and the magazines went away.”

Sure enough, after half a dozen fine years, my magazine, Context, faded away, as did all the similar publications, including Business 2.0 and the Industry Standard, which once were so thick with ads that they looked like phone books.

It may now be time to start retiring the term “insurtech,” too.

It’s not that technology is no longer a key driver for the insurance industry. Far from it. In fact, the pace of innovation has been picking up for years as companies have become more knowledgeable about the possibilities of various technologies, about how to incorporate them and about how to innovate, in general. Now, COVID-19 is making the industry step on the accelerator because so many interactions must happen virtually.

The issue is that technology is now so ubiquitous that it’s time to stop treating it as this new, alien thing. Yes, the many technologies now at the industry’s disposal — blockchain, the various flavors of artificial intelligence, etc. — are wildly complex. But so is the laptop or phone you’re using to read this right now, yet you treat your device as a tool, a simple extension of your hand or your brain. It’s time to start thinking of insurance technology — not insurtech — the same way.

We’re solving business problems, not technology problems, as we innovate within our organizations. We want to have the most efficient operations, the smartest underwriting, the fastest and smoothest claims processes for clients. Technology will play a role almost everywhere, often a key role, but the goal isn’t simply to have the best AI or the coolest blockchain application.

The industry has been migrating toward a more balanced view of technology and innovation. You see that, for instance, as companies try to rethink the customer journey, where the focus is squarely on the customer and where technology facilitates much of what happens, but in the background.

Some technologies will still require great attention, in and of themselves. Something like blockchain, for instance, could provide a competitive advantage if you figure it out before your competitors, or it could be an expensive bust for you, so you need to develop a deep understanding of the technology. But even with something like blockchain, you’re starting with that business problem you’re trying to solve.

I suspect the term “insurtech” will play out rather as “digital strategy” did at the consulting firm that published my magazine.

When the late, great Mel Bergstein founded Diamond Management & Technology Consultants in 1994, he had the then-radical idea that digital technology could drive corporate strategy, rather than just be an afterthought. The firm did a lot to popularize that concept, especially when one of our partners, Chunka Mui, co-wrote a best-seller in 1998, “Unleashing the Killer App,” whose subtitle was “Digital Strategies for Market Dominance.”

The notion of digital strategy stayed popular through 2010 or so, I’d say, and plenty of consulting firms will still sell you one, but every strategy has a digital piece to it these days. Try to imagine a strategy that isn’t digital. So, “digital strategy” has gradually become “strategy.”

Likewise, while a few people still talk about “e-commerce,” it mostly has a simpler name: “commerce.” Amazon was treated as a technology company for the longest time even though it sold books. Now, it’s treated as what it is: a retailer (that’s extraordinarily sophisticated in its use of technology) and a provider of technology services through its AWS cloud business.

“Insurtech” hasn’t been around nearly as long as “digital strategy” or “e-commerce,” and the combination of insurance and technology in innovative ways will only pick up speed from here. But the innovation needs to happen as part of, well, the normal innovation process and not as a sort of excursion into foreign territory. So, I think “insurtech” will soon enough be referred to by a different name: “insurance.”

Why Mobile Health Must Be a Priority

Mobile has drastically changed the way we shop, travel, pay our bills and even pay each other. But there’s one area of our lives that it hasn’t changed enough: the way we manage our health.

Mobile-focused health represents one of the biggest challenges – and opportunities – facing the healthcare industry. As more consumers connect their homes and lives across devices, particularly their phones, healthcare professionals must harness mobile health technologies and move toward a complete, mobile-optimized user experience. While most insurers already offer mobile apps, they often fail to create an experience that is both functional and intuitive.

As our 2016 Digital Healthcare Survey revealed, digital health resources have been embraced by Americans of all ages, especially by younger Americans, with 82% of Gen Y and 67% of Gen X having accessed at least one digital health resource in the past 12 months. Of the digital resources offered by health insurers, mobile apps have the greatest potential to enhance Gen Y and Gen X member understanding and autonomy, but awareness of the apps and their functionality is low. Many Gen Y and Gen X members consider mobile access to their insurance a key resource, but only one-third (32%) are actually aware of whether their insurer even offers a mobile app.

This represents a significant missed opportunity, for insurers and consumers alike.

See also: A Road Map for Health Insurance  

Fortunately for insurers, creating a mobile app doesn’t need to be overly complicated. The fundamental function of a health plan app is to provide members with access to the resources that are applicable to and useful for the mobile experience. However, many apps present far more than this – plan information, including balances, claims data and ID card information as well as coverage and benefits rates for health services, profile and account management options and customer service centers. For most customers, mobile apps don’t need all the resources and attributes of full sites – customers just want a mobile health experience that is intuitive, functional and fits in with their daily routine.

So, what functionalities should insurers be looking to include in their latest mobile app versions?

Take a page from financial apps, such as PayPal and Venmo, and offer a way for consumers to pay with ease. Incorporating payment features for claims and premiums, as well as push notifications alerting members to coming bills, would likely lead to more timely payments. UnitedHealthcare is one of the few providers that allow members to pay for a claim on its app directly by entering bank account information and then pre-filling most other important information, such as amount and payment recipient.

Create visual representations, such as charts, graphs and progress meters, to help consumers better understand aspects of their plans like deductibles and coinsurance. Presenting plan balances and claims data not only improves the aesthetics of a page, but also provides members with a summary of data that may be easier to process. For example, rather than displaying how much of the plan’s deductible and out-of-pocket maximum the member has met, has remaining and has in total within a list format, use an interactive chart or graph to provide expedient summaries of data without sacrificing any detail – a particularly important feature on a mobile app given the limited space.

Integrate health data from wearables to mobile apps (and vice versa) to encourage consumers to exercise regularly or eat healthy. Health assessments and connecting fitness apps to track movement are the most commonly rewarded activities, currently recognized by a majority of insurance platforms. Some insurers, such as UnitedHealthcare and Humana, are ahead of the curve, offering separate health and wellness reward program apps that employ push notifications to remind members to keep up with goals, such as “remember to get between seven and eight hours of sleep tonight” and “you have 2,000 more steps until you reach your goal for today.”

See also: A Road Map for Health Insurance  

While the healthcare industry overall still has a long way to go, digital health companies and startups have leveraged advancements in technology to enhance the mobile health experience for consumers. As functionality continues to improve and usage increases among younger members, the need for effective member support will become critical. Insurers should take note and make mobile health a priority – including functionalities and resources to help members better manage their health. We’ll all be better off as a result.

Why More Attacks Via IoT Are Inevitable

The massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that cut consumers off from their favorite web haunts recently was the loudest warning yet that cyber criminals can be expected to take full advantage of gaping security flaws attendant to the Internet of Things (IoT).

For much of the day, on Friday, Oct. 21, it was not possible for most internet users to consistently access Twitter, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit and PayPal.

Using malware, dubbed Mirai, an attacker had assembled a sprawling network of thousands of hacked CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders, then directed this IoT botnet to swamp the marquee web properties with waves of nuisance pings, thus blocking out legitimate visitors.

See also: Insurance and the Internet of Things  

Mirai is designed to take over lightweight BusyBox software widely used to control IoT devices. The source code for Mirai can be found online and is free for anyone to use. ThirdCertainty asked Justin Harvey, security consultant at Gigamon, and John Wu, CEO of security startup Gryphon, to flesh out the wider context and discuss the implications. The text has been edited for clarity and length:

ThirdCertainty: Why do you think these attackers went after BusyBox systems?

Wu: Because Busybox is lightweight; it’s used on most IoT devices that have limited memory and processing. Busybox is a utility with lots of useful commands.

Harvey: BusyBox is very standardized. It is highly used in the field, and it also runs Linux, so the internals are very straightforward and easy to duplicate in testing systems.

3C: How did the attacker locate so many vulnerable devices?

Wu: Standard IP scanning would identify the devices, and then the attacker could use the admin interface to install the malware. These devices had weak default passwords that allowed hackers to install Mirai.

Harvey: Cross mapping manufacturers with types of devices. Then using the website Shodan to get a list of open devices. Once they had the list of devices, they could create a massively parallel script to step through each and determine whether they used the version of the OS they wanted.

3C: How many devices did they need to control to carry out three waves of attacks over the course of 12 hours?

Harvey: 300,000 to 500,000.

 Wu: Probably a few hundred thousand devices. Because it’s distributed, there is no way to simply block all the IP addresses.

3C: Are there a lot of vulnerable devices still out there, ripe for attack?

Harvey: Yes! Shodan specializes in noting which devices are out there and which are open to the world. The devices used in this attack were but a small fraction of open or insecure IoT devices.

Wu: We don’t know exactly how many devices are still out there as sleeper bots. Mirai also is actively recruiting new bots. From what I understand, these IoT devices had open channels, and the users had practiced poor password protection for root access to install additional components.

3C: What do you expect attackers to focus on next?

Wu: I would expect the attacks to get larger and more sophisticated. Mirai also is working in the background to recruit more devices. The next attack may not be as public because they’ve already shown what the botnet network is capable of.

3C: What should individual consumers be most concerned about at this point?

Harvey: Consumers need better education on changing the default access and security controls of their IoT devices. Manufacturers need to take security seriously. Period. Congress needs to step in, conduct some hearings on IoT issues and perhaps regulate these devices.

 Wu: Consumers need to be concerned if their device is one of the devices already compromised or at risk of being compromised. They should contact the manufacturer to ask if a security patch is available. A simple solution would be to take the device offline, if it’s something you can live without.

3C: What is the most important thing company decision-makers need to understand?

Wu: If you are dependent on the internet for your revenue and business, you should be planning alternative communication channels. If DNS is critical to your business, you should look at backups to just one service provider. Let people know that, if email is down, you can still get business done over the phone.

Harvey: Businesses need to understand the implications to running IoT devices within their companies and question the business need for using IoT devices versus the convenience.

See also: How the ‘Internet of Things’ Affects Strategic Planning  

This article originally appeared on ThirdCertainty.

The Incredible Impact From Superbosses

Please join me for “Path to Transformation,” an event I am putting on May 10 and 11 at the Plug and Play accelerator in Silicon Valley in conjunction with Insurance Thought Leadership. The event will not only explore technological breakthroughs but will explain how companies can test and absorb the technologies, in ways that then lead to startling (and highly profitable) innovation. My son and I have been teaching these events around the world, and I hope to see you in May. You can sign up here.

“I don’t care if you have to take drugs, you have to build it in six months,” said my boss, Khurshed Birdie, when I told him that he was on drugs if he thought my team could create a software development tool set in less than three years. This was in 1986 at Credit Suisse First Boston, one of New York City’s top investment banks. We were rebuilding the company’s trade processing systems to run on a client–server model of computing. This technology is common now, but then it was as futuristic as “Star Wars.”

My team worked day and night to build a technology that became the foundation of the company’s information systems. It gave Credit Suisse First Boston a competitive edge and led IBM to invest $20 million in a spinoff company that was formed to market the tools we had developed.

I was a lowly computer programmer, an analyst when Birdie hired me, a computer geek who didn’t own any three-piece suits, white two-ply cotton shirts or wing-tipped Oxford shoes — the uniform of investment bankers. Yet I was hired on the spot. I had some far-out ideas about how computer systems could be built but didn’t believe for a second that I could implement them. My boss did: He believed in me more than I did, and he bet a $100 million project on my vision.

He allowed me to expand my team from four to 54 people and shielded me from criticism by other teams who had to use my tools to build their systems — and who thought I was crazy. There were a lot of problems along the way, and Birdie allowed me to learn from my mistakes. And then he promoted me to vice president of information technology when I achieved success.

Birdie was what Sydney Finkelstein, a Dartmouth business professor, in his new book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent, calls a “superboss.”

As Finkelstein explains, superbosses take chances on unconventional talent. Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, hired candidates who had accomplished something genuinely difficult, rather than those with formal qualifications, because he believed they would rise to the technical challenges. Designer Ralph Lauren offered jobs to strangers whom he met while dining in New York City restaurants. Superbosses take raw talent and build self-confidence. They hire for intelligence, creativity and flexibility — and are not afraid of people who may be smarter than they are.

Under Finkelstein’s definition of superbosses, Birdie would be categorized as a “glorious bastard”: someone who cares only about winning. Deep down, he had a good heart —  but was ruthless in setting expectations and driving people to work extremely hard. I’ll never forget him telling me that “Christmas was an optional holiday.” These bosses realize that, to get the very best results, they need to drive people to perform beyond what seems reasonable and achievable.

Even though I achieved a lot, I hated working for Birdie, because I had to neglect my family for months on end. This isn’t something I would ever do to my employees. My next boss, Gene Bedell, was very different. He left his job as managing director of information technology to found Seer Technologies, the start-up that IBM had funded. Bedell convinced me to leave my high-paying investment-banking job to join him in a No. 2 role, as chief technology officer, at the low-paying, high-risk, start-up.

Bedell was what Finkelstein calls a “nurturer”: someone who coaches, inspires and mentors. These superbosses take pride in bringing others along and care deeply about the success of their protégés; they help people accomplish more than they’d ever thought they could.

Bedell managed by a method he called “outstanding success possibilities.” He challenged his executives to set ultra-ambitious goals and then find unconventional ways to achieve them. Instead of managing to what was achievable and possible, we shot for the impossible. And then did whatever it took to get there — without worrying about failure or looking back. It is amazing what you can achieve when you have a single-minded focus. We took Seer Technologies from zero to $120 million in annual revenue and an IPO in just five years — faster than any other software company of that era, including Microsoft and Oracle.

Superbosses create master–apprentice relationships. They customize their coaching to what each protégé needs and are constant fonts of practical wisdom. Bedell taught me how to sell. A year after the company was formed, he sent me to Tokyo to sell IBM-Japan on an $8.6 million deal to fund the creation of a Japanese version of our product. I didn’t think that a techie like me could do these things; he taught me that selling was an art that could be learned and perfected. I helped our salespeople close more than $200 million in software deals. And that is another skill that superbosses have, building what Finkelstein calls the “cohort effect”: teamwork and competition combined. Lorne Michaels, for example, who created “Saturday Night Live,” judged writers and performers by how much of their material actually went to air — but they had to do it with the support of their coworkers, the people they were competing with.

A common trait of superbosses is the ability to delegate work and build jobs on the strengths of their subordinates. They trust subordinates to do their jobs and are as supportive as can be. They remain intimately involved in the details of the businesses and build true friendships. Bedell often invited my family to his vacation home near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He took me to Skip Barber Racing School to learn how to race a Formula Ford and built a gym in his basement so that his executive team could lift weights together.

You will find the alumni of our project at Credit Suisse First Boston and Seer Technologies in senior leadership roles now, at companies such as IBM, PayPal, American Express and every one of the top investment banks. Many started their own companies, as I later did. There are literally hundreds of people who built successful careers because of my two superbosses. When I became an academic later in life, I was fortunate to have two superboss deans at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Kristina Johnson and Tom Katsouleas, who nurtured me. Superbosses aren’t just in corporations — they can be found everywhere.

Yes, I know that I got lucky in having good bosses; most are jerks who demotivate employees, slow their growth, backstab and take credit for others’ work. You are usually stuck with whomever you get. But there is nothing that stops you from being a superboss. As you begin to achieve success, start helping others and nurturing your colleagues and subordinates. Show the leadership qualities that you’d like your own boss to have. You will gain as much as the people you help — and build a better company.

This article first appeared at the Washington Post.

Digital Is Not Enough; Nor Is Paperless

The service of risk management within insurance companies needs to innovate. Today, a small fraction of commercial customers take advantage of risk management services provided by insurance agencies. And insurance companies are fine with this, as they have limited supply — or people — that can provide risk management services.

But what if the same high level of risk management services could be offered to all customers of an insurance company?

How would an insurance company go about offering widespread, and high-quality, risk management services?

The Solution to Better Risk Management Is Your People (Plus Technology)

Insurance agencies currently engaged in risk management services have a distinct advantage: the accumulated knowledge of its people that provide contract reviews for customers.

I had this epiphany as I was reading through a slidedeck titled “Innovation is almost impossible for older companies,” which states:

“People have acquired skills that, at moments, have given significant advantages to companies in order to prosper.”

Insurance agencies now must figure out how to harness the risk management skills of its people in new ways. The alternative is scary for my insurance professional friends, because someone else — someone with new technology and a new supply of risk management knowledge — will figure it out instead. Insurance companies could quickly be out-innovated, as occurred to the taxi industry.

For some time, the taxi industry had skills that allowed it to prosper. Taxi companies used technology and money to set up phone numbers that could be called to request a ride; these companies also stockpiled just enough cars and drivers to meet the minimum level of demand. But then Uber came along and created a better technology that connected riders to a different (and bigger) pool of drivers. The taxi industry got out-innovated.

Insurance agencies are composed of people who have acquired risk management skills. My friends in the industry can review contracts with the best of them. But each of them has a limited capacity to complete contract reviews based on hours in the day. So not all customers get risk management services (either because they don’t know about them or don’t want to pay for them).

A technology will come along that will expand the supply of risk management services. One insurance consultant thinks that technology will be a computer avatar that analyzes and predicts risks independently.

I think the idea of an independently functioning risk management avatar is misguided. I am reminded of a quote from Zero to One, written by the founder of Paypal, Peter Thiel:

“Better technology in law, medicine and education won’t replace professionals; it will allow them to do even more.”

Better Technology Will Allow Insurance Professionals to Do More

I continue to be drawn to the word “collaboration” as I envision the future of insurance technology. Recently, I spent time evaluating software solutions in the insurance industry. All of the solutions I reviewed are focused on step one, what I call “Make it Digital.” Only within the last five to 10 years have insurance carriers and agencies gone paperless, and the insurance software companies are filling this need.

Digital is not enough. Paperless is not enough. Insurance technology must connect people and the knowledge that they create. Don’t think about just connecting to your customers. Think about connecting your team.

Imagine if your entire risk management team could work as a living, breathing entity to assess and evaluate risk. When Agent Jim in Kansas City has a question about liquidated damages in Texas, he should be able to quickly identify work completed by Agent Bob in Dallas dealing with this exact issue. He can then evaluate the work and bring Bob in on any follow-up questions.

I have yet to find an insurance carrier or agency that has figured this out.

This is where the opportunity lies in insurance technology: collaboration.