Tag Archives: six things

A Way Forward on Flood Insurance?

In the mess that is flood insurance in the U.S., a bright spot emerged late last month when First Street Foundation released a major report on the issue, along with a model that will go a long way toward making assessment of flood risk more accurate and transparent.

The report serves first and foremost as a wake-up call. It says, for instance, that 70% more homes are within a “100-year” flood zone than are designated as such by the the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). That means 6 million households face flood risks they don’t anticipate, yet aren’t eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program. In Chicago, 13% of properties are at risk, according to First Street Foundation’s report, while FEMA puts that figure at less than 1%. The report says Washington, D.C., and Utah have five times the risk that FEMA sees, while Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have four times the risk.

Those sorts of figures are quite the clarion call, but First Street Foundation goes even further by providing the beginnings of a solution: data. Its model evaluates the risk for 142 million properties in the continental U.S., based on an exhaustive array of different inputs that not only are as accurate as possible for today but that project how risks will develop because of climate change. The model lets you search any address for free.

The model from First Street Foundation, a nonprofit research and technology group, should provide short-term benefits while laying the groundwork for smarter long-term policy decisions.

In the short run, potential buyers will understand their odds better and can either pass on a higher-risk property or can mitigate the risks by buying insurance or retrofitting the building. Banks will see the risks more clearly when writing mortgages — and some 30-year mortgages written today will still be in force in 2050, by which point the report projects at least 11% more properties will be at substantial risk of flooding. Insurers will price more accurately. Government — the 800-pound gorilla on flood policy — will have a better handle on what public works to undertake to protect vulnerable areas and what areas to steer clear of because the flood dangers are just too high.

(My entirely unrepresentative check on homes where I’ve lived over the decades struck me as spot on: All were ranked at the lowest level of risk, except for a condo I owned in Hoboken, N.J., that included the ground floor and that, in fact, flooded twice in the decade I owned it.)

In the long run, better information should allow flood risk to be allocated in a mostly rational manner, with homeowners and insurers mostly splitting the liability, but with government in the background to help with out-of-the-blue catastrophes.

We’ve all heard the stories about homes on the coast that get wiped out by storms, then rebuilt, only to be wiped out again, sometimes more than once. Having more accurate data should lead, in time, to underwriting decisions and government policy that reduce or even eliminate such craziness.

First Street Financial describes its report and model as a necessary but insufficient first step. That sounds right. The report is insufficient on its own because lots of other companies and groups will have to finetune the group’s data and, in general, deepen our understanding of flood risk. At ITL, we’ve long appreciated the work done by reThought and Hazard Hub, among others, but many firms will have to step up. And regulators, not known for turning on a dime, will need to become comfortable with using data that exists for each individual property, rather than thinking in broad, imprecise terms like flood plains.

But the report is a necessary, and very welcome, first step.

Stay safe.


P.S. Here is an intriguing piece from a sister publication, Risk & Insurance, on how insurance could help address systemic problems in police departments. The idea would be to require that police officers carry professional liability insurance. Police departments would cover the average cost of the insurance, but each officer deemed a high risk by actuaries (based on number and type of civilian complaints against them, for instance) would have to cover the additional premium payments. The hope would be to price bad officers out of work before they could do something that would wind up on the news.

I’m not at all sure the idea would work. Institutional forces such as police unions would resist like crazy, and there is surely enough uncertainty about how to weight risk factors that they’d be able to piece together an argument. But I found the idea innovative, so I figured I’d share the article. Maybe there’s a way to build on the idea.

P.P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

4 Post-COVID-19 Trends for Insurers

It’s not all gloom and doom. A crisis usually functions as a great breeding ground for innovation.

The Case for Paying COVID BII Claims

Is it reasonable to assume coverage for a COVID-19-related BII claim in the absence of a virus exclusion? The answer has to be, yes.

How Risk Managers Must Adapt to COVID

To modernize at the scale and speed required, ​”low-code” application development tools should be incorporated within the enterprise.

COVID: How Carriers Can Recover

Does RFP stand for “Request for Proposal” or “Really Frustrating Process?” Carriers can and must do better.

Strategic Planning in the COVID-19 Era

As insurers develop plans for 2021, the question is, where to start? Traditional processes may need to be supplemented with scenario planning.

ERM Shows Its Worth in Pandemic

Companies with sound ERM practices were better-positioned to deal with the pandemic than those with less sound or no ERM.

What to Learn From the Segway’s Failure

The original Segway, whose demise was announced last week to a chorus of chuckles about mall cops and I-told-you-so’s about the nerd factor, may be the most beautiful piece of design I’ve ever seen. Only the iPhone rivals the Segway, in my mind, in terms of how well the designs anticipated how people would use the devices and in terms of the wow factor when they debuted.

Yet the Segway flopped. Is there then any hope for the rest of us, who lack the design skills that Dean Kamen brought to the Segway?

There is, because he misunderstood or ignored an issue that is key to innovation success: the ecosystem. If you figure out how to plug into and help develop the right ecosystem, you can succeed where even the talented Dean Kamen and his magical Segway failed.

I became acquainted with the Segway shortly after its debut in late 2001. The consulting firm where I was a partner at the time was putting on an innovation-related event and had gathered enough C-suite executives at major companies that Segway sent its president to do a presentation in early 2002. He was slick: He had us set up a ramp so he could bomb down the center aisle on a Segway and up onto the stage. He did the whole talk on the device, darting to some spot on the stage, drifting back to the center and generally showing how the Segway seemed to respond to his thoughts. Just to show off, he’d occasionally do a 360.

He brought a few of the devices with him so the 70 or so of us could take turns experimenting with them in the desert near the resort in Arizona where we were holding the conference. All I had to do was start to think about heading somewhere, and the Segway would do the rest because it sensed my balance shift. Whenever I’d worry about going too fast, the device would sense my hesitation, and I’d slow down. The Segway didn’t have brakes, a throttle or a steering wheel, but it felt like an extension of my body.

I’ll always remember Dan Bricklin, who invented the electronic spreadsheet and who was a fellow with the consulting firm, repeatedly asking people to try to run him over. They couldn’t. They’d build up a head of steam, but then the user would worry as he or she got close to Dan, and the Segway would pull up.

Kamen had already developed a widely used insulin pump and other medical devices, plus a wheelchair that could climb stairs and raise the user to eye height; the Segway was to be his crowning achievement. Steve Jobs said the Segway could be bigger than the personal computer. Venture capitalist John Doerr, who put up funding, said the Segway could be bigger than the internet.


The company hoped to sell 100,000 Segways in its first 13 months but sold only 140,000 over the nearly two-decade lifetime of the product. Shutting down production next month only means laying off 21 people.

The key problem was that Kamen and his supporters convinced themselves that cities would be redesigned to adapt to the Segway — a colossally bold claim that, alas, turned out not to come true. In fact, as usual, the Segway needed to be doing the adapting, and it just wasn’t very well set up to fit into the existing ecosystem.

I happen to think that cities need some redesigning — they’re far too car-centric — and the pandemic has provided such a shock to the system that it could accelerate change, but so many trillions of dollars are invested in the current setup that rethinking will take many years, even decades. In the meantime, the Segway was going to have to either fit on the street or on the sidewalk, and it did neither well.

The sidewalk would work, in theory, but only in light traffic. In New York City, you don’t gain much advantage from a device that goes 10 mph or 15 mph if you’re dodging pedestrians who are walking at 3 mph to 4 mph (and who are telling you what you can do with your Segway, in that charming way that New Yorkers have). You also, of course, have to deal with the elements for much of the year, while you’d be protected from them if you’re in a car or taking the subway. Even under the best of circumstances, Segway riders were told to wear helmets, knee guards and elbow guards — fine if you’re a kid but not so great for professionals who aren’t willing to live with permanent hat hair.

Streets are a nonstarter. Someone on a Segway would be moving much slower than the rest of traffic and without the protection that tons of metal provide for those in vehicles. Even in a modified bike lane, the bikes and Segways could wind up going at very different speeds and getting tangled up.

There conceivably was a strategy to be had by working from the edges in. Perhaps if Kamen had seeded smaller cities, as Lime, Bird and other scooter companies are now doing (while facing their own troubles), and let popularity build in ways that would attract bigger markets. Perhaps if Segway had gone after discrete markets in controlled environments, such as warehouse workers, tourists in areas without cars and — dare I say it? — mall cops, then built from there rather than expecting cities to completely redo themselves from the get-go.

The good news is that insurers can learn from the Segway mistakes and, based on the thought leadership I see in the industry, are, in fact, beginning to pay serious attention to the demands of and opportunities in ecosystems.

There are three basic ways to do that: 1) join someone else’s ecosystem; 2) invite others into yours; 3) or participate in and foster an ecosystem that has many parts but not a clear leader.

Joining someone else’s would be, for instance, selling microinsurance through a shipping company that would offer the opportunity to bundle your coverage into the cost of carrying cargo. There would seem to be loads of such opportunities to bundle insurance distribution into car and home sales and all sorts of services supplied to businesses.

Having someone join your ecosystem would, likewise, be straightforward. You sell auto insurance, and you invite a roadside assistance provider to bundle its services into yours. You sell home insurance, and you offer security or maintenance providers the opportunity to plug into your relationship with the client.

Participating in or fostering an ecosystem without a clear leader (just yet) is less straightforward. At the moment, I’d say insurers are mostly consumers of information in these ecosystems — pulling in publicly available data to save people time when filling out forms, gathering the full history of construction work on a building, etc. — but, within the bounds of regulations, will become suppliers of information and relationships to others.

If the world of technology is any guide — and it generally is, because all industries are becoming technology industries — participating in ecosystems and forming them will become easier. That’s because business processes will increasingly be connected via software, which means that every action and decision has to be super-well defined (via an API, for application programming interface). Once processes become like software modules, they snap together at least as easily as the apps on your smartphone.

So, competition will increasingly be based on ecosystems rather than on your native competitive advantage. Perhaps your underwriting, combined with someone else’s distribution system (even from outside insurance) and a third-party claims system will compete against some other ecosystem.

The change to full-on ecosystem warfare is probably a ways off, but the change will be profound. Think back to MS-DOS, for any of you unfortunate enough to use it. It wasn’t close to the best operating system, but it had assembled the best ecosystem based on the software that ran on it and on customer relationships, so it beat IBM’s OS/2, all the flavors of Unix and even the Mac — until Jobs assembled an even better ecosystem via the iPhone.

We’ll never be as inventive as Dean Kamen, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be more successful than the Segway was, if we learn the right lessons about ecosystems.

Stay safe.


P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

5 Transformations for a Post-Pandemic World

COVID-19 may be the much-needed impetus for change for insurance organizations operating based on decades-old procedures and tactics.

Insurers Can Lead on Addressing Inequality

Apprenticeships can attract talent from among the underserved, and an industry initiative now makes the opportunity widely available.

Ready for Era of Real-Time Payments?

Consumers and service providers increasingly expect the same frictionless payment experiences they have in other sectors of the market.

Ransomware Grows More Pernicious

The emergence of the Maze variant creates a new threat, that stolen information will be released to the public on the internet.

5 Trends Changing Auto Insurance

Will insurers continue to provide traditional insurance in traditional ways until forced down a dead-end path, or will they embrace new trends?

Time to Streamline Group Benefits Quotes

Current, AI-based technology can cut response time for group benefits quotes by as much as 92%.

Want to See Social Media Genius?

Over the weekend, Korean pop made news because fans supposedly helped bait the Trump campaign into overestimating by an order of magnitude the number of people who would show up for a rally in Tulsa, Okla. No matter how big the actual effect, K-pop can serve as an exemplar for insurers and agents as we all try to figure out how to engage with clients more often and increase their affinity for our brands.

Yes, there will have to be considerable translation — and not just from Korean to English — to bring ideas from K-pop’s outreach into our industry. Insurance customers would never even want to hear from companies and agents as often as K-pop fans engage with the idols — “idol” being an official term for a K-pop group member.

But K-pop is very much an industry, with “factories” that create idol groups from among the thousands of youngsters who sign up for several years of training on how to sing and dance and on how an idol should act. And the interactions with the fan base are carefully and skillfully designed.

Now, no insurance company will ever get 750,000 fans to simultaneously do anything, as the most popular K-pop group, BTS, did with a live, pay-per-view concert last week — my daughters stayed up to watch from 2am to 4am California time. But let’s take off our insurance hats for a moment, look at the sorts of outreach BTS does and see if we can’t be a bit more creative about what insurance clients might appreciate.

The group of seven young men, ranging in age from 22 to 27, have released four albums in two years, an aggressive schedule. But it’s the steady stream of creative ways they interact with fans in between albums that stands out for me. Since my younger daughter found time to indulge her BTS fan-dom — when her law school classes went online and her side gig as a waitress in the D.C. area was put on hold — I’m sure a week hasn’t gone by without some lengthy bit of new material. Sometimes, it seems that barely a day goes by.

In their seven years as a group, BTS has produced more than 100 episodes of Run BTS, a sort of variety show where they do things like bungee jumping or competing at a water park. The videos are engaging on their own, despite the need for subtitles for those many of us who don’t speak Korean, while letting fans see the individual personalities in ways that can’t always come across in the group’s highly choreographed, elaborate shows.

Members of the group appear regularly on a live streaming app where they may, for instance, talk to the camera about what’s going on in their lives or may answer fans’ questions. There’s nothing slick about the production values. A recent one showed two members sitting in a kitchen trying to figure out how to make gimbap, a traditional dish akin to sushi rolls that their moms made for them growing up. That’s it. But fans love the videos. (An American singer learned one day that a song he had released a while ago had popped to the top of the iTunes charts in South Korea. What was going on? A BTS member had sung the song on one of the live streams. That’s all it took.)

BTS recycles old material creatively, too. For instance, the group “held” a festival in April that replayed eight of their concerts from 2014 to 2018.

The group leans into social causes, as well. For instance, BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter causes — fans almost instantly raised a matching amount, then an individual fan, pro wrestler and actor John Cena, added a further $1 million. This week, the group announced that it was donating an additional $1 million to a cause helping those whose work at concert venues has been canceled by the pandemic. BTS, and K-pop in general, have become so identified with social causes that fans in the U.S. identified hashtags associated with white supremacy and flooded them with K-pop videos to drown out expressions of hate in the wake of George Floyd’s death. (The New York Times detailed the K-pop activism this week.)

If BTS itself ever posts a photo on Twitter, well, look out: There could easily be two million likes.

The steady interactions with fans have produced unprecedented popularity for a K-pop group. They were not only invited to appear on the YouTube “graduation ceremony” in early June, alongside the Obamas and others, but were given two large blocks of time, first so each of the seven could offer thoughts to the graduates and then to perform three songs.

Of course, that sort of exposure just feeds more popularity. When BTS released a single a few days ago, called “Stay Gold,” it instantly went to the top of the iTunes charts in more than 80 countries. BTS’s last four albums have hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, a Herculean feat given that songs in Korean get so little radio play in the U.S., and radio play is such a big factor for Billboard.

How can insurers match BTS?

They can’t, not even if Greg Case, Brian Duperreault or some other executive sings and dances a whole lot better than I know. But it seems to me that there are still lessons that can be learned from the group’s outreach, about the benefits of continual (welcomed) communication, about the different possibilities presented by various media and about the lack of need for great production values, even from the industry heavyweights.

In personal lines, I imagine that health and auto insurance present the greatest opportunities.

During this pandemic, especially, there are loads of reasons for my health insurer to be keeping me updated about what’s being learned about how the coronavirus is spread, what preventive measures I can take, what therapies are showing promise, how many cases are being found in or near my ZIP code, etc. I already gather that sort of information on my own, but I’d certainly welcome an occasional email from my health insurer that promised me updates. I might well click through to a video that illustrated some key point or to a brief Ask Me Anything-style post, whether in word form or just as a Zoom-style recording of some expert sitting in her living room answering questions I might have. Nothing fancy needed: just some good information delivered periodically.

Al Lewis delivers through Quizzify the sorts of updates I’m imagining; his employer clients send monthly trivia quizzes that educate employees about COVID and other current topics, as well as broader healthcare issues, both to help employees and to keep them from undergoing unnecessary care that can cost employers dearly. But, as far as I can tell, health insurers could be doing a lot more.

My auto insurer has kept me updated about premium credits as long as mileage plunged for months, but why not also tell me about how quickly driving is picking up, what the new version of rush hour looks like and is likely to look like, etc.? Auto insurers might run out of topics much faster than health insurers, but there are still event-based communications that I’d welcome. For instance, I relied on personal experience when teaching my daughters to drive, but surely there is a host of collected wisdom that an insurer knows about and that could have been flagged to me as soon as a teen showed up on my insurance. Again, the advice could have taken a variety of forms, many of them low-cost, along the lines of an Ask Me Anything — perhaps augmented by a slick video designed to scare the bejeezus out of kids about all the bad things that their phones can suck them into doing.

The same sort of email/social/video outreach could work in small commercial lines, too, especially at a time of so much uncertainty. Think a pizza parlor or small retailer wouldn’t welcome a stream of advice, with the promise of additional resources, on how to reopen while protecting customers and employers? Think they wouldn’t welcome help thinking through all the workers’ compensation issues that are floating around?

The really good agents and brokers are, of course, pulling together all sorts of advice and providing it to clients in our current health and economic crisis. But it seems to me that the advice outreach could be much more systematic, could be organized more by the insurers so that more agents can provide top-notch service and should be set to extend long after the crisis passes.

So, think BTS. You’ll never be as popular as they are. But think about the language barriers they overcame while establishing links straight into the hearts and minds of so many, and take heart.

As the latest single says in its opening:

In a world where you feel cold
You gotta stay gold

Stay safe. And stay gold.


P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

We Are Open for Business; Now What?

Expectations for success continue to rise as more businesses reopen with safety as a top priority.

Keys to ‘Intelligent Automation’

Combining robotic process automation and machine learning, IA accomplishes the end-to-end automation of business processes.

Insurance Innovation — Alive and Kicking

An abundance of startups shows the industry adopting a two-speed strategy, around speed of operation and speed of innovation.

3-Step Framework to Manage COVID Risk

Insurers need a comprehensive yet customizable approach to assess operational risk quickly and dynamically and chart responses to COVID-19.

Epic Policy Failure on Contractors

California is making a mess as courts, the legislature and possibly voters sort out who qualifies as an employee and who as a contractor.

Loss Prevention or a Trojan Horse?

“Ecospheres of prevention” sound great, but they may just be a way for insurers to use, say, leak detection devices to gain leverage on clients.

What Happens When Cameras Are Everywhere?

A truism in Silicon Valley is that you must never confuse a clear view with a short distance — yet I still do, far too often.

I’m thinking, today, of cameras. I laid out a clear view in a book seven years ago of how the ubiquity of cameras would, among other things, rein in police officers. But the distance certainly hasn’t been short. We’re just now seeing, based on footage from officers’ body cams and from bystanders, the beginnings of the sort of effects I thought would come quickly.

Therein lies a lesson, I think, not just for how slow technology adoption can be but also for the sorts of implications that having cameras everywhere will cause for insurers.

When Chunka Mui and I published “The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups,” in 2013, we said cameras were among six technologies that created the potential for a “perfect storm of innovation.” (The others were mobile devices, social media, sensors, the cloud and what is generally referred to as big data, though we call it “emergent knowledge.”) We said that, while it was surprising that someone had a camera available to film the Los Angeles police beating Rodney King in 1991, cameras would soon be wildly abundant as they shrank from the size of a brick to a dot on the back of a smartphone or other device and as the cost disappeared along with the bulk. So, filming of any abuses should become the rule, not the exception.

We assumed that police would become more careful. But many police departments moved slowly on outfitting officers with body cams and dashboard cams. Then some officers didn’t turn their cameras on. Even when there was footage, some police departments tried to hide it (as Chicago did for more than a year following the 2014 death of teenager Laquon McDonald, shot 16 times after walking away from a police officer). Some acted as though there wasn’t ample video from bystanders (the approach the Minneapolis police department took in its initial report on George Floyd, even though he was killed in broad daylight in the middle of a crowd). Only now, after a rash of killings of blacks by white officers, on camera, does there seem to be a recognition that cameras are everywhere, that footage will quickly become public and that officers and departments will be held to account for any abuses. And it remains to be seen how much the proliferation of cameras will change police behavior in the long run.

Based on how cameras have played out in police work, I have a clear view of what will happen with insurance as they shrink, decline in cost even further and show up everywhere — but also a little more humility about claiming to know how short the distance will be.

We’re already seeing cameras show up in security systems through doorbells such as Ring, and that opportunity should continue to develop. In addition, I see two major trends developing for insurers from tiny, ubiquitous cameras: 1) There can be a permanent record of just about anything (not merely interactions involving police), and 2) almost all inspections can have a do-it-yourself component — with the client walking around, using his or her cameraphone at the direction of an insurance professional on the other end of the call.

I’d love to say that I came up with the idea about a permanent record, but it actually traces back to a project that the great Gordon Bell did for a book, “Total Recall,” that he published in 2009. Gordon, who developed the first minicomputer and has numbered among computing’s visionaries for six decades, had begun digitizing his life in 1998. He scanned all his letters, photos and memorabilia and captured everything he did on his computer. He layered on other capabilities, including an armband that tracked his vital signs and a camera recorder that took regular snapshots of what was in front of him and recorded everything he said.

While his sort of approach raises enormous issues related to the privacy of those he interacted with, the fact is that the technological capability will be there, and everyone, including insurers, will increasingly need to be prepared. Lots of good could come. Disputes about who said or did what when could mostly go away — you just consult the video. Questions about the maintenance of a building or whether a floor was wet before someone fell might likewise just be a couple of clicks away from being settled. All sorts of fraudulent schemes would be easier to catch. But those privacy issues will be nasty, and loads of other complexities will surely arise.

Cameras will also speed inspection processes and take out a chunk of cost. A homeowner won’t have to schedule an inspection with an insurer, wait a week for the inspector to arrive and arrange to stay home for a morning to show the inspector around. The homeowner will just walk around the house and video everything, guided by some combination of an AI and a person — asking, perhaps, for the homeowner to zoom in on potential damage or on belongings that might be especially valuable. (I’m assuming a drone has already flown around the house to get the exact dimensions and inspect the yard.) The insurer would wind up with an exact record of what was in the house and could thus price more precisely, rather than just assuming that belongings amounted to some percentage of the total value of the house. The insurer could also easily request occasional mini-inspections, to stay current on the home’s condition and on belongings.

The possibilities of improved security, permanent records and DIY inspections are just the beginning. Cameras cost next to nothing and don’t even have to be connected to anything to be able to transmit pictures to you — just include a Wi-Fi or cellular antenna in the chip that controls the camera and attach a tiny solar cell and battery, and you can put a camera anywhere. (Again, within privacy constraints. I am most decidedly against anything devious; I’m just sketching the technical possibilities.)

You don’t need to stay earthbound, either. Toaster-sized satellites are now blanketing the Earth, creating ways to capture just about any image from above that you might like. Want to see how the roof on a house is faring? Done. Want to check on the financial health of a business you’re considering insuring? Just use satellite images to count the cars in the parking lot at various times of the day. Want to keep an eye out for erosion that might put a property at risk? No sweat.

Again, with cameras, cameras and cameras come privacy, privacy and privacy issues. But the view is clear: The world will be blanketed with cameras, and they’ll change the dynamics for many aspects of insurance. It’s not at all clear, at least to me, how short the distance to those changes will be, but it never hurts to start thinking about the possibilities now.

Stay safe.


P.S. A personal note that makes me wonder how long we will be dealing with the health issues caused by the coronavirus:

A longtime colleague from the Wall Street Journal, Rich Regis, died this past week at age 67 of complications from illnesses he contracted when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11. Yes, going on 19 years ago.

It was clear quickly that Rich had been stricken by the toxic cloud that enveloped the WSJ offices, which were diagonally across the street from the South Tower. As his wife testified before a Senate committee in 2007, “Within 3 weeks… [Rich] succumbed to an autoimmune attack, which… led to kidney failure, shock liver, bowel perforations, sepsis and life support…. Doctors opened him up twice, vacuumed him out, replaced his blood, dialyzed his kidneys and re-sectioned his intestines three times.”

Rich not only made it back to the WSJ but, before retiring four years ago after 35 years at the paper, cemented his status as a behind-the-scenes legend — erudite and a pro’s pro as an editor but capable of a remarkable variety of profanity, kind but commanding, easy-going but get the hell out of his way as deadline approached. “A gruff mensch,” one colleague called him. The WSJ editor-in-chief lionized Rich in a memo Monday that described him as “the sort of character that many of us went into journalism to meet.” RIP, Rich.

As a longtime observer of technology, I’m familiar with the concept of the “long tail” — those Earthlink customers who still have dial-up internet connections decades after the rest of us moved on. As a devotee of the Civil War, I know that Joshua Chamberlain (hero of Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg) became the last casualty of the war when he died in 1914 — of a wound he suffered 50 years earlier. As a student of insurance, I’m well aware of the tens of billions of dollars that were paid in claims related to asbestos installed decades earlier. But I really thought we were about done with 9/11 deaths.

Now I wonder how long COVID-19 will be with us, given that so many of those who have officially recovered and been discharged from the hospital suffer from myriad, mysterious, debilitating problems.

P.P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

A Quarantine Dispatch on the Insurtech Trio

Let’s be frank. Of Lemonade, Root and Metromile, only the latest figures from Root show the trajectory expected for a startup in growth phase.

Step 1 to Your After-COVID Future

Even before implementing return-to-office plans, get clear on your brand’s purpose. Why you exist. Why you matter to the world.

4 Stages to Recovery and ‘Future of Work’

COVID-19 has shown how fast disruption can occur — but also that people can adapt quickly and overcome global business challenges.

Should Insurers Use Amazon Model?

The short answer is: No. Insurance is very different from the business of Amazon (and Netflix) and must be approached differently.

The End of Auto Insurance

The greatest threat may be auto insurers’ continued 100-plus-year-old view of auto insurance as a policy transaction.

7 Biases Customers Have About Risks

To provide insurance services based on consumers’ needs, we should pause and try to understand deeply how they measure risks.

COVID-19: ‘The End of the Beginning’?

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve watched the developments in the pandemic and its repercussions in the global economy, I keep coming back to one of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes. It came in November 1942, after the Allies had won the Second Battle of El Alamein, setting them up to sweep German troops out of North Africa and starting to reverse the tide that had run so hard against the Allies for more than three years. Putting the victory in context, Churchill said, in his blunt way: “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

That’s about where I think we are now. We certainly aren’t at the end of devastation from the pandemic and can’t even see the beginning of the end from here, but we may have reached the end of the beginning.

The danger of the pandemic itself isn’t even remotely gone, and we need to be very careful that it doesn’t come sweeping back. But I suspect that we’re entering a new stretch that will last six months or so, until we either learn that we have a vaccine or learn that we don’t. During that stretch, I think the insurance industry will need to adopt a sort of hybrid approach both for how companies view internal operations and for how they view customers, many of which will be open for business — but only cautiously.

The best news is that the lockdowns seem to have worked. A study just published in the journal Nature estimated that they prevented 60 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. — some 30 times the roughly 2 million that have been diagnosed — and 285 million cases in China. Another study published in Nature took a different approach but found a similar effect in 11 European countries: The study estimated that lockdowns saved 3.1 million lives, including 500,000 in the U.K., and reduced infection rates by 82%.

We’re also learning things about this mysterious killer that could help us manage its dangers. For instance, it now seems that we’re unlikely to pick up the virus by touching surfaces and that we’re much less likely to contract it from people with whom we interact outdoors. Though no magic drug or other treatment has appeared, doctors are learning a great deal about how COVID-19 kills and are fine-tuning their approaches. For example, we’ve learned that this coronavirus doesn’t just attack the lungs, as other coronaviruses do; ventilators aren’t as crucial as once thought, while treatments for blood clots and “cytokine storms” can be important.

Still, the pandemic continues to expand globally, with more than 7 million cases now reported and over 400,000 people dying. Even in the U.S., where the curve has been bent well downward, there isn’t the sort of straight-up, straight-down path seen in some countries that acted earlier or were stricter about their lockdowns. Here is the latest count of daily deaths from the Washington Post:

When you break the count down by state, the slow decline looks even weaker. You see that the vast majority of the improvement nationally has come because hot spots, especially in the Northeast, have been extinguished. Much of the rest of the country has been flat or even seen increases in the daily count of new cases and in deaths. While dire predictions about Florida and Georgia don’t seem to have been borne out despite relatively lax lockdowns, Arizona and Texas, both of which reopened early, have seen surges in cases and hospitalizations.

National capability for testing has steadily improved but still isn’t where health authorities have said it needs to be. In the face of massive complexity, government officials seem to have given up on even trying to build massive networks for contact tracing. So the tools aren’t even in place yet to deal quickly and decisively with new outbreaks.

Yet the country seems to have decided to move on. So, move on we will, in however halting a fashion (at least unless there is a dramatic resurgence in COVID-19 cases).

What will this world look like in what seems likely to be several months of limbo, and how should we manage our businesses during this stretch?

From an internal standpoint for insurers, I’m not sure that much will change. Some people will return to some offices, but much of the work will continue to be done remotely. As much as possible, sales will still be handled remotely. So will claims. Companies will continue to take this opportunity to accelerate their move to digital and become more efficient — this McKinsey article lays out an aggressive agenda for the next 90 days and says companies have a rare opportunity to shape the behavior of their customers; insurers should note that 35% of their customers now interact with them online, up from 27% just since the start of the pandemic.

How the rest of the economy functions is much harder to predict. Restaurants and hotels are reopening, but at maybe half-speed or even quarter-speed. Offices will reopen — sort of. The healthcare system will head back toward normal, as those who deferred care will return to their doctors; there will likely be pent-up demand for a while. Stores will re-emerge, especially if no evidence contradicts the current thinking about the lack of transmissibility from brief contact with surfaces, but restrictions will apply. (So, yes, Jeff Bezos will still win.) In the fall, it seems that schools will have to reopen, because distance learning didn’t work.

And so on. From a business standpoint, the only answer I know of for uncertainty is agility, so I think insurers will have to be unusually agile for the next several months. You don’t want to zag when your customers zig. I suspect that workers’ comp carriers will face particular pressure, as we see just how many COVID-19 claims are filed against employers and how regulators and courts treat defenses. Auto insurers will also be flying somewhat blind for a while because driving patterns will be in flux. Yes, traffic will pick up, but it likely won’t be the same — you get lots of fender benders in rush-hour traffic, so what happens if rush hour goes away, or at least changes because fewer people go to the office and go at staggered times to minimize clustering that might lead to infections?

There seems to be some optimism about how quickly the economic recovery will happen, especially if you trust stock markets. (Here is a piece from Fortune that takes a much more sophisticated look at the various scenarios for recovery.) But I don’t see a firm recovery until the virus is vanquished, whether through a vaccine, a treatment or some other huge diminution of the danger. The hope seems to be that lifting the lockdowns will make the economy snap back, but we learned this week that the U.S. recession actually began in February, before the lockdowns. People won’t act a certain way just because we tell them they can; they have to feel safe doing so, and I don’t think we’re there yet.

While it’s not entirely clear what comes next, even if we really are at the end of the beginning, it’s safe to say that we’re in a phase where rapid change is happening and big opportunities are in front of us. Although I’m far more likely to quote Churchill than Lenin, I think a Lenin quote pretty well summarizes what we’re going through: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

“Weeks” is too strong, but I’d say we’re in a stretch of months where decades may happen.

Stay safe.


P.S. Here are the six articles I’d like to highlight from the past week:

10 Tips for Moving Online in COVID World

As cyberattacks on small to mid-size businesses escalate, cyber insurance presents an opportunity to rebuild an agency book of business.

How to Train Remote Workers as Teams

While we may not be playing golf or having an office party for a while, let your team bond over a virtual activity on Zoom or Skype.

How to Fight Rise in Cyber Criminals

IT security standards have sometimes been lowered or suspended for work at home in the pandemic, resulting in cyber security exposures.

BCPP Proposal: Summary, Key Risks

The industry’s proposal for a Business Continuity Protection Program raises risks related to compensating businesses during pandemic lockdowns.

Addressing the Rise in Topical Prescriptions

Insurers must help injured workers on topical prescriptions and compounds with the ultimate goal of returning them to work and more productive lives.

Tech Lets Freight Adjust to Pandemic

Freight carriers face extraordinary pressure to rush essential goods to market. Traditional human- and phone-driven processes can’t keep up.