Tag Archives: product liability

What Amazon’s Insurance Play Means

I’ve waited for years now to see how insurance might fit with Jeff Bezos’ quote that “your margin is my opportunity.” Amazon’s announcement last week that it will help sellers find product liability insurance through a network facilitated by Marsh may provide the answer.

Assuming the product liability offering is popular — and Amazon is relentless when pursuing new opportunities — it’s easy to imagine the company expanding into other types of insurance for small businesses. For a lot of small businesses.

Amazon currently has 1.9 million active sellers on its site, so offering product liability insurance could quickly give Amazon a massive base of small businesses that could be interested in buying other types of insurance through the company. Not all of those sellers will buy via Amazon, of course. Many don’t meet the minimum level of sales ($10,000 a month) at which Amazon requires that they carry product liability insurance. Others will buy their insurance through other channels or are already covered by general liability policies. But what Amazon is calling its Insurance Accelerator could easily become the starting point for hundreds of thousands of small businesses purchasing product liability insurance.

Those customers will find it easy to buy, because the insurance offering will be embedded in the services that Amazon already provides sellers digitally. Those buying the insurance through Amazon will also benefit from the sort of simple, intuitive interface that Amazon provides customers, as opposed to the more complex approach that most insurance companies and brokers employ.

So, why wouldn’t those small businesses perk up if Amazon offered them workers’ comp insurance for whatever warehousing and shipping operations they have? Perhaps some business interruption coverage, too? Once these small businesses start buying from Amazon, why not go all the way to a general liability policy, property insurance, key man insurance and everything else a small business might need?

Now, it’s always possible that the Amazon Insurance Accelerator is just a fancy way of handing off leads to Marsh, in which case the arrangement could turn out to not be that significant. This would just be a way for Marsh to extend its already considerable reach and not the long-anticipated move by Amazon into insurance.

But using product liability as a launching point for a broad push into small business insurance fits the Amazon model of innovation going all the way to its beginnings. Bezos always hoped to build what he called an “everything store” but knew he needed to start small and thus began merely as a bookseller in the mid-1990s. Once he had a foothold in electronic commerce, he expanded as fast as he could in every direction.

Amazon’s approach to insurance also lines up with the model it has scaled to enormous success. Amazon is providing an interface but otherwise serving as a platform, using Marsh to pull together outside resources (insurers Chubb, Harborway Insurance, Hiscox, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Markel and Travelers, as well as technology from Bold Penguin and Simply Business to help match insureds to the right coverages).

It’s even possible to imagine Amazon moving well beyond small business if this initial push succeeds as broadly as it could. Amazon doesn’t shy away from complexity, so it could keep climbing the ladder, developing expertise that would let it serve ever-larger companies. Amazon could also move into personal lines, especially because many owners of small businesses don’t see a clear demarcation between their corporate and personal lives.

“Customers are going to have other insurance needs,” says Karnina Szymanski, president of insurance at Bold Penguin, which was acquired earlier this year by American Family Insurance. “I’m not in the head of Amazon… but I think the possibilities are endless.”

Cheers,

Paul

What a Safer World Means for Brokers

On Nov. 20, 2018, Insurance Journal reported an article suggesting auto insurance premiums will decrease by $25 billion by 2025. To put that in perspective, that is approximately 5% of all U.S. P&C premiums. Think you’ve seen a soft market before? Just wait.

The article continued to state that new coverage lines will more than make up the difference, according to the report author, Accenture. It proposed that businesses in particular will buy $81 billion more in other lines. This means woe for the personal lines carriers and agents who have achieved far more personal lines premium growth in the last 10 years than commercial (an average annual rate increase of approximately 3.3% vs. -.1%, 2005-2017, inclusive).

The authors argue that driverless cars will make the roads safer but increase the need for product liability. I am not sure about this because it has been reported that some manufacturers are planning to forego product liability insurance on their driverless cars. Maybe they had a change of mind or the authors are providing insights missing from press releases the Securities and Exchange Commission might want to review. Or maybe the manufacturers’ contracts will place all liability on their vendors or others (like the owners who do not read their software agreements).

The authors suggest consumers, companies and governments will quickly buy much more cyber coverage. They probably do need to quickly buy more, but, with as many as 3,000 cyber forms floating around in the U.S. alone (according to a recent Rand Corp. study), what cyber is actually being purchased? The Rand study is important to understanding future cyber purchases because, as it suggests, some of the forms may not be intended to pay claims, some companies’ actuarial models may be shots in the dark and clearly some companies’ forms indicate they really do not know what they are doing (at least this is my impression of Rand Corp.’s conclusion). These are big issues that put into doubt what the cyber insurance market really even is, and what happens with the inevitable shakeout? If some companies do not really know what they are insuring (reading some companies’ forms suggest they really do not know what they are insuring) and are taking shots in the dark on pricing (and reserving maybe?), there may be a problem of stronger and smarter companies not achieving adequate market share until the shakeout occurs.

See also: Cybersecurity for the Insurance Industry  

Add to this confusion the fact that explaining cyber insurance, and explaining exactly what the different cyber forms are insuring, is very difficult. Agents need to try doing this to understand that increased cyber sales are not magically going to happen. Beware the agent who pretends that all cyber forms are the same or that, just because an insured has purchased a cyber policy, they now have “cyber” coverage. The insured may think it has much broader coverage than the carrier interprets (which will be interesting for those companies less sure of what they are even insuring; see the Mondelez v. Zurich suit for a great example). Also, after asking dozens and dozens of agents what they are even insuring when they sell a cyber policy, I’m often met with blank stares or statements that they do not understand cyber so they don’t sell cyber.

Product liability sales may increase. Product liability has been one of the most volatile major lines of P&C insurance over the last 20-plus years, so any prediction specific to this line seems problematic. Since 1996, NPW specific to product liability per A.M. Best (author’s calculation) has only increased 35%. Private passenger auto has increased 106%. In the last 10 years, NPW has actually declined 11%. I am not suggesting these results are rational, because the combined ratio for product liability is an abysmal 129% over the last 10 years. Its worst combined ratio was 159% in 2011, and its best was 84% in 2006. The volatility is absurd and does not really correlate well with NPW growth. This combination of volatility and lack of charging more premium for really horrible combined ratios makes predicting this line’s future problematic.

I hope experts’ predictions are correct regarding other lines taking up the slack. Even if correct, though, personal lines agents and personal lines carriers are going to suffer if they do not begin writing commercial. Small commercial will be hurt, too, because small commercial will lose the auto, clients seem reluctant to buy quality cyber coverage and they do not usually need product liability.

The winners, if the study’s authors’ predictions are correct, will be carriers and agents/brokers writing large, complex commercial accounts.

If the authors are wrong about companies and consumers purchasing a lot more insurance but of a different line, then the entire industry suffers mightily.

Another article in the same edition published a report from Minnesota’s Department of Labor that the state’s workplace injury and illness rate decreased in 2017 to its lowest rate since the state first began measuring it. I suspect Minnesota’s results are similar to other states. The significant advances in safety and the reduced need for employees to work in more dangerous environments relative to total employment support the probability that workplaces should be safer than ever, even in a booming economy. The workplace will become even safer, with more modular construction, better safety devices and monitoring and continuing emphasis on safety. A safer environment means less rate in this line, too.

See also: Leveraging AI in Commercial Insurance  

Maybe the industry needs to offer more law school scholarships to future plaintiff attorneys to take up the slack. Otherwise, most signs point strongly to the devaluation of insurance. Insurance is more important in a risky world than a safer world.

Maybe insurance companies will get desperate and begin insuring previously unthinkable, uninsurable perils and fill the gap that way. Whatever happens, though, insurance sales are going to change significantly. The industry is at an inflection point for carriers and distributors both. This is not a point of despair, but it is a time that requires true strategic thinking and planning to identify the opportunities that exist and to plan for those opportunities, without getting too far ahead and losing what one already has. This is hard work. It requires quite a balance, which is why dedicated strategic planning is truly required.

You can find the article originally published here.

3 Game Changers — and How to Survive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repetitive Stress Injury Has Become Cumulative Trauma for Employers

According to the medical dictionary, Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) is defined as an injury that occurs as a result of over or improper use. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly two-thirds of all occupational illnesses reported were caused by exposure to repeated trauma to workers’ upper body (the wrist, elbow or shoulder). While one common example of such an injury is carpal tunnel syndrome, in the workers’ compensation area RSI can also be claimed for shoulder, and back injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive strain injuries are the nation’s most common and costly occupational health problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of American workers and costing more than $20 billion a year in workers’ compensation costs.

In the past, if an injury didn’t result from an accident, there was no workers’ compensation claim. Those days are gone and now it is understood that cumulative trauma injuries and occupational injuries that develop over time are eligible for workers’ compensation. Even if an injury cannot be tied to a single event, workers’ compensation benefits can be claimed.

According to the January 2012 joint publication by WCIR and IAIABC, every state allows workers’ compensation claims for cumulative trauma with the following limited exceptions:

Arkansas — limited to rapid repetitive motion for back or neck and hearing

Hawaii — not in the statue but handling like any other claim

Louisiana — only when considered an occupational disease

Tennessee — with limits to carpal tunnel only if it is arising out of the scope of employment

Virginia — only cumulative hearing loss and carpal tunnel are covered as “ordinary diseases of life” and subject to higher “clear and convincing” evidentiary standards as opposed to the “preponderance of the evidence.”

This widespread acceptance of RSI claims is becoming traumatic in in itself for employers, especially when one considers the requirements by CMS that were established to protect Medicare from future medical expenses for workers’ compensation and general liability claims. With these new mandatory requirements that all workers’ compensation and general liability claims be reported in electronic format, CMS has the mechanism to look back and identify workers’ compensation-related medical care payments made by Medicare. When CMS/Medicare learns (and they will) that it has been paying for workers’ compensation-related medical care it will seek repayment. The insured or employer could pay the future medical cost twice; once to the claimant at settlement and later when Medicare seeks reimbursement of the medical care they paid on behalf of the claimant, i.e. the cumulative effect.

Let’s focus on a key state, California, where this has become a pressing issue. Under California Labor Code Section 5412, the date of injury in cases of occupational diseases or cumulative injuries is that date upon which the employee first suffered disability therefrom and either knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, that such disability was caused by his present or prior employment.

The wording of this statute is proving to be very problematic for employers, as there is no clear-cut timeframe to hold an injured worker accountable to report said injuries. Even more so since cumulative trauma disorders are difficult to diagnose and treat and causation plays an important factor in determining AOE/COE. The magic bullet would be to determine if the injury is AOE/COE or to be able to age the injury. One of the only tools that has been proven effective is the Electrodiagnostic Function Assessment. The EFA is the only FDA-registered device that can age and diagnose this type of injury and its definitive registration allows the monitoring of the necessary frequency response that characterizes a repetitive stress injury. Additionally, it is the only device of its kind that has changed the face of RSI litigation.*

* U.S. District Court, 980 F. Supp, 640, 64-48 (E.D.N.Y., 1997): Geressy v. Digital Equipment Corporation. The EFA changed the face of repetitive stress injury litigation when Judge Weinstein overturned what, at that time, was the largest product liability verdict ever for RSI because of the EFA.