Tag Archives: six things

Budweiser’s Intriguing Stunt

Budweiser Canada garnered attention in recent days by teasing the possibility that it was entering the insurance market. How would that even work for the brewing company? What kind of insurance? How would Budweiser underwrite it? How would it process claims?

A few days later, Budweiser said it was really just setting up a raffle, with “barbeque insurance” as the prize. If something happens to cancel your barbeque — even if you messed up and ran out of propane — you can file a “claim” with Budweiser. The company will then randomly select winners, who will receive as much as $2,500 in “insurance.”

But, even once it was unmasked as a publicity stunt, the Budweiser announcement raises intriguing possibilities for “embedded insurance” and for the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) to build whole ecosystems.

I suppose the first takeaway is simply that the insurance industry should be flattered. Lots of companies engage customers with raffles of iPhones or other sleek electronics; here, a major consumer brand is enticing customers with … insurance. Who says insurance can’t be sexy?

The broader point is one I’ve been making for years now, that the best form of cross-selling known to man is, “Do you want fries with that?” In this case, Budweiser’s offer boils down to, “Do you want some insurance with your beer?” Travel insurance already embeds itself into the purchase of airplane tickets, hotel reservations, etc. — with the website scolding you for putting yourself in danger if you don’t pony up that 10% or so on top of the basic price. Warranty offers have long been embedded in product sales, and some other cross-selling possibilities are also obvious — buy a car, and be offered car insurance; buy a home and be offered homeowners insurance; etc.

And, if beer and insurance go together, then the possibilities for embedding insurance into other products are really just limited by our collective creativity. If Budweiser can offer a sort of insurance against cancellations of barbeques, why couldn’t Hallmark or some other company do something similar for family gatherings? Why couldn’t a sports team offer “insurance” for season ticket holders by raffling off some free season passes for the following year if the team has a losing record? And so on. (I’m from Pittsburgh, and I considered bragging that I wouldn’t need losing-season insurance, because my Steelers have only had one since the leagues merged in 1970, but my Pirates once had 20 straight losing seasons, so….)

APIs make this sort of cross-selling far easier, because they allow for exchanges of data in a clearly defined way between different businesses — the travel insurer and the airline, the car dealer and the car insurer, etc.

APIs also allow for opportunities well beyond simple cross-selling. Look at Budweiser. To apply for its “barbeque insurance,” you have to fill out a form on the company’s website and provide some information about yourself, including a way to contact you. (At least that’s the theory; after several minutes at the URL provided in the Budweiser announcement, I couldn’t even find a reference to insurance, let alone a way to sign up for it. As I write this, the site is just straightforward marketing.) Once Budweiser has a way to contact you, it can continue to try to sell you beer from time to time. But it can also connect into an ecosystem that might sell you even more. You need some chips and dip to go with that beer, of course. How about some hot dogs and hamburger meat, too? Wine? Don’t forget the ice. Maybe you don’t want to have to run around and get all the supplies at the last minute, so how about if we connect you to a delivery service? Maybe even a caterer?

Once you establish a software interface with another company or set of companies, you can develop any number of relationships. Homeowners insurance could become part of a whole ecosystem involving maintenance, security, warranties on appliances and more. The same with car insurance, with small-business coverage and with most other types of insurance — none live in a vacuum, even though we in the insurance industry often approach them as though they do.

Figuring out your role in an ecosystem can be tricky. The tendency is to think of yourself as the main player, controlling the relationship with the customer, a la Amazon. But there are actually lots of types of ecosystems and plenty of potential ways to participate, including by plugging into an ecosystem that some other company has already taken the time and energy to organize.

That’s a long discussion that I’ll save for another day. In the meantime, I hope I’ve given you a little food for thought as you drink your beer at that barbeque this weekend.



P.S. My Budweiser story:

When I was with the Wall Street Journal in Brussels in the mid-1980s, we ran a front-page story about a fight over trademarks between the U.S. Budweiser and a Czech beer with the same name. The Czech brewery certainly won on precedent: It was founded in 1265. The American version had even plagiarized the Czech slogan: Czech Budweiser was established by a king of Bohemia and had for centuries called itself the “beer of kings,” while American Budweiser labeled itself the “king of beers.” But the American company was claiming that it, not the Czech brewery, somehow had rights to the name.

I vowed that some day I would have a Budweiser in Prague.

I never made it while living in Brussels, but the idea kept rattling around in my head. So, following a talk I gave in Zurich three years ago, I drove the 425 miles to Prague to have a beer.

It actually took me a bit to find a Budweiser. To my surprise, pubs in Prague only serve one kind of beer, so I couldn’t go into any old bar: I had to find one dedicated to Budweiser. But after waiting more than three decades for that beer, I wasn’t going to give up easily, and soon enough I found a patio festooned with Budweiser umbrellas. The beer was glorious.

It came in a beautiful mug with “Budweiser” etched into the glass, and I just had to have it. I wasn’t going to pocket it, but I had to have it. I had zero idea how to proceed, but I have a friend who manages to get chefs and maitre d’s to give him the most remarkable souvenirs, so I texted him and asked for advice. “Ask the waiter if you can buy a mug,” he responded. “90% of the time, he’ll just give it to you.” Sure enough. I left the waiter a $5 tip for a $3 beer, and I have a lovely Budweiser mug on my book case. I’m looking at it as I type this.

Our Big Problem With ‘Noise’

A new book co-written by behavioral economist extraordinaire Daniel Kahneman points out a major problem that numerous industries, including insurance, only sort of know they have and is surely worse than they recognize. He calls the problem “noise.”

He says insurers are very aware of potential bias based on age, race, gender, etc., especially as they evaluate algorithms driven by artificial intelligence — insurers know to look for consistent favoritism toward, say, white men. But, he says, insurers tend to gloss over the problem of inconsistency, or “noise” — the fact that people come to very different conclusions based on the same set of facts, even when bias is removed from the equation.

Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 and who has driven so much of the progress on behavioral economics for decades, cites a study he did in 2015 that presented a series of cases to 48 underwriters at a large insurance company. Executives predicted that there would be roughly a 10% variance between the high and low prices that the underwriters provided after assessing the risks — but the typical variance was 55%. Many variances were even more extreme. One underwriter might set an annual premium at $9,500 and another at $16,700.

The tendency is to think that the decisions balance out, but Kahneman says such wide variance suggests that the insurer is actually making two mistakes. The $9,500 quote was likely underpricing and was either leaving money on the table or was winning unprofitable business. The $16,700 might be overpricing that costs the carrier business because competitors will offer better rates.

“Wherever there is judgment, there is noise, and more of it than you think,” according to the book, “Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment,” which Kahneman wrote with Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein and which is being released today.

The book focuses heavily on judges’ decisions on prison sentences, both because they are so consequential and because they clearly illustrate the difference between consistent bias (which many companies are becoming good at assessing) and noise (which companies tend to underestimate and thus gloss over).

A study found that a certain set of facts led judges, on average, to impose seven-year sentences. But there was an average variance of 3 1/2 years — a long time. Some of the variance relates to bias: Conservative judges tend to consistently impose longer sentences. But some is just noise. Perhaps the judge has a personal story that makes him identify more with the defendant. Perhaps the judge has had a series of cases that made her more fed up based on the crime committed. Kahneman says variance even happens based on time of day, the day of the week, the mood of the person making the decision, etc.

While he doesn’t try to quantify how much noise reduces profitability for insurers, the sheer size of the numbers involved in underwriting, designing policies, assessing claims, etc. suggests that the potential gains are enormous if decisions can be made more consistently.

Kahneman and his co-authors argue that the starting point for combatting the problem is to conduct a “noise audit.” Insurers could do the sort of test that the authors did to assess how wide the variance is among their underwriters, adjusters, agents and perhaps others, decide what the effects on profitability likely are and determine how much effort should go into reducing the noise.

The book argues that algorithms will be a big piece of the solution — while acknowledging the need to watch out for systemic bias, largely by being super careful about the reliability of the data being fed into the algorithms. Algorithms are nearly free of noise: An algorithm faced with the same information will almost always make the same decision. And, while algorithms can make bad decisions, they can always be learning, meaning that bad decisions can be gradually corrected and turned into good ones.

There will be pushback. Judges largely hated the mandatory guidelines that were established following a major study in the mid-1970s that found huge variance in sentences. Doctors object to being ordered to treat patients a certain way, even when the mandates are based on evidence.

But the evolving state of medicine could provide a solution for insurers: In the same way that AI can now offer suggestions to doctors on diagnoses and treatment — while leaving the final decision to the humans — insurers could use algorithms to generate a suggested range of actions for underwriters, adjusters and agents. The algorithms would provide some guardrails that would at least reduce the unprofitable outliers at insurance companies and would keep learning, continually narrowing the recommended range and moving the choices toward profitability

Although I rarely recommend books — even ones I’ve written — I think this book provides a road map for a relatively straightforward way to improve the accuracy of insurers’ decisions. And, once you’ve become acquainted with Kahneman’s work, you can go back and read his ground-breaking work, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” published in 2013.

While economists long based their work on the assumption of rational consumers who maximize their utility, we all know that assumption is silly — people are far from completely rational. And Kahneman has led the way in helping us understand how people actually behave, as opposed to how we might imagine they behave or hope they behave.



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

Why Open Insurance Is the Future

More are turning to “open insurance” solutions, under which insurers leverage open APIs to share data and services with third parties.

It’s Time for Next Phase of Innovation

It’s time to break through the first phase of technology adoption and move into a new phase of tech-enabled innovation.

Intersection of AI and Cyber Insurance

While AI is sure to benefit society when wielded properly, cyber carriers remain conscious that AI’s proliferation is a double-edged sword.

Achieving a ‘Logical Data Fabric’

A logical data fabric has the capacity to knit together disparate data sources in insurers’ broad, hybrid universe of data platforms.

Managing Risks for Hydrogen Industry

There is, rightly, enthusiasm around hydrogen solutions for a low-carbon economy, but projects involve complex industrial and energy risks.

The Broad Reality of Diversity

As people return to the workforce, candidates with the potential to revolutionize our industry may present themselves.

Another Rough Summer Ahead?

When I checked the weather for my town in Northern California over the weekend, I saw a “red alert.” What? Sure, it was windy and a bit warm, but a red alert? For what? It turns out that we’re already in fire season: Low humidity, high temperatures and strong winds meant severe danger for wildfires. At the beginning of May.

At the same time, all forecasts seem to be for an unusually active hurricane season in the Atlantic this summer. So, buckle up. As bad as the past few years have been, there’s no reason to think this summer will bring any relief from natural disasters in the U.S.

This forecast on hurricanes calls for not only the sixth consecutive year of more hurricanes than average — following a year when there were so many tropical storms that they ran through the entire alphabet of designated names and made it deep into the Greek alphabet — but also for more that will make landfall in the Caribbean and along the U.S. coast. The reasons for concern are that the La Nina weather pattern is expected to last into the early summer and that sea temperatures are well above average in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

While wildfires are harder to predict, this Washington Post article reports that structural changes in the weather are making California more vulnerable. The big issue is that the dry season, which lasts roughly from late spring to late fall, is expanding, according to analysis from weather stations around the state from the past 60 years. For instance, Sacramento, near where I live, has seen the onset of its rainy season delayed by three weeks just since 1979. San Francisco has had its dry season expand by 14 days.

About 4.2 million acres burned in the state last year, an area larger than Connecticut and twice as extensive as the previous worst season on record. (In a bizarre story, authorities allege that one of the major fires was set by someone who had killed a woman and wanted to hide the evidence of how she died; the fire killed two men whose homes lay in its path.)

It’s been a dry winter, so who knows how bad this year will be?

Technology is finally being deployed that uses sensors to track the progress of fires and help with deployment of resources — firefighting has been described as “100 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress” — but that seems to be a few years away from making a major difference.

For now, we seem to need to brace for a wet, stormy summer in the Caribbean and along the Atlantic coast and a long, hot summer in my neck of the woods.

Keep your fingers crossed.



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

Gateway to Claims Transformation

Claims management is a perfect use case for just how critical platforms and ecosystems can be in achieving transformation.

Nonstandard Auto Insurance’s Key Role

Customers, insurance carriers and their distribution need nonstandard auto protection for drivers now more than at any time in history.

Transformation of the Risk Landscape

Insurers of all sizes need to take note of changes in the risk landscape and continuously improve their ERM practices.

Bring Certainty to Remote Injury Claims

The reality is that injuries occur all the time in any environment, at home just as they do in a conventional workplace.

Way Beyond Comparative Raters

Distribution in commercial lines is in play. Companies are rethinking strategies to reach preferred segments and drive more profitable business.

How Well Did Agents Cope With COVID?

Both brokers and carriers give themselves high marks on retaining and servicing existing policyholders. But new business is a different story.

Heading Off Surprises

Who had “giant cargo ship” on their bingo card for possible disasters at the start of 2021? What about “derecho in Iowa” in 2020? “Global pandemic” at the outset of 2020?

Few of us foresaw any of those specific disasters. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t even know what a derecho was until the massive wind storm whacked Iowa, causing $7.5 billion of damages and some $5 billion of claims against insurers — more damage than in most hurricanes.

But some at least entertained such possibilities. And it’s time that we all broadened our thinking by returning to the too-often-neglected discipline of scenario planning.

Bill Gates warned us of the possibilities of a pandemic during a TED Talk in 2015, based on thinking akin to scenario planning — which involves developing stories about possible futures that, while not necessarily probable, are at least plausible and would require drastic action. Gates even got the contours of COVID-19 right, warning of a virus that could be spread through the air and that would have people infecting others before they knew they had contracted the disease. Gates said the world was woefully unprepared and recommended what he called “germ games,” the medical equivalent of war games, in which governments would simulate responses to a hypothetical virus and spot their vulnerabilities (in this case, their very many vulnerabilities).

Others have worried about potential disruptions to supply chains as trade has become more global, which makes something like the Suez Canal a choke point. Still others have raised concerns about the effects of climate change, such as may have contributed to the derecho.

But we keep getting caught flat-footed, with serious implications for both clients and insurers.

Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone should have predicted that a ship as long as the Empire State Building is tall would wedge itself athwart the Suez Canal for six days, holding up $10 billion of cargo a day and causing many ships to be rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope, adding weeks to their journeys.

Still, scenario planning has shown itself to be an effective tool for gaming out problems, stemming back to the pioneering work that Royal Dutch/Shell did beginning in the 1970s. According to a 2003 article in Strategy + Business, “Scenario planning alerted Shell’s managing directors (its committee of CEO equivalents) in advance about some of the most confounding events of their times: the 1973 energy crisis, the more severe price shock of 1979, the collapse of the oil market in 1986, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of [Islamic extremism] and the increasing pressure on companies to address environmental and social problems.”

That’s a pretty good set of warnings.

The article adds: “The method has since become widely popular outside Shell, not just in corporations but in some governments. In South Africa, for example, scenario planning played a major role in the peaceful transition from a system of apartheid to a stable multiracial government.”

I’m no expert on scenario planning, but I’ll try to seed the discussion with some classic articles on the topic.

Here is a Harvard Business Review article from 2013, which explains the history of the work at Royal Dutch/Shell and argues that, even when scenarios don’t play out as imagined, “a sustained scenario practice can make leaders comfortable with the ambiguity of an open future. It can counter hubris, expose assumptions that would otherwise remain implicit, contribute to shared and systemic sense-making, and foster quick adaptation in times of crisis.” 

Here is a 1995 article from the MIT Sloan Management Review that lays out the methodology in detail. The article says that scenario planning doesn’t just lay out lots of data about how the future might play out but “goes one step further. It simplifies the avalanche of data into a limited number of possible states. Each scenario tells a story of how various elements might interact under certain conditions…. A detailed and realistic narrative can direct your attention to aspects you would otherwise overlook. Thus [in a scenario developed for mountain climbers] a vivid snowdrift scenario (with low visibility) may highlight the need for skin protection, goggles, food supplies, radio, shelter, and so on.”

It seems that we should at least be laying out scenarios related to the possible effects of climate change — hurricanes, wildfires, derechos and other wind storms, surprising freezes like the one that shut down the electric grid in Texas, etc. (I encourage you to read this recent article from Francis Bouchard on other ways that we as an industry should respond.) The potential for civil unrest seems to be rising worldwide. Solar storms that could fry the grid? Weapons of mass destruction? A crisis with a natural resource — perhaps water?

There’s a lot to do. I’m hoping that we as an industry can both prepare better ourselves and can help clients at least be ready to adapt when the next bit of craziness happens.

In the meantime, we can celebrate that a whole lot of hard work, plus a “supermoon” full moon and high tide on Monday, freed the 220,000-ton ship blocking the Suez Canal.

Stay safe.


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

Pioneering Use Cases for IoT in Insurance

Several early adopters of the IoT have already concretely demonstrated the potential of using this technology in the insurance sector.

Insurance Ecosystems: Opportunity Knocks

nsurers must apply unfamiliar skills – customer intelligence, speed and coordination – but can achieve benefits of scale without asset intensity.

COVID-19 Is NOT an Occupational Disease

If workers’ comp becomes responsible for common conditions that affect millions every year, it is no longer meeting its designed purpose.

Unlocking the Power of ‘No-Code’

We’ve all seen how complex and costly enterprise software can be. “No-code” tools let non-experts quickly build the systems they need.

Key to Better CX: Think Like NTSB

Airlines are rarely held up as exemplars of customer experience, but in one important respect the industry deserves such recognition.

Tip the Sales Scale in Your Favor

Yes, relationships matter, but they’re only a tiebreaker. The key lies elsewhere. And, no, it shouldn’t take two to three years to develop a client.

Time for Optimism?

In the first full week of spring, green shoots are starting to poke through the metaphorical ground in the U.S. economy, as well. It may be time to start planning for a robust rebound late this summer or in the fall, both in terms of what needs to happen as insurance employees increasingly return to the office and in terms of what will happen for clients’ and prospective clients’ businesses.

My optimism hinges, in particular, on a survey of chief financial officers that Deloitte released last week. While straws have been in the wind for weeks now as the vaccine rollout has accelerated in the U.S., I was struck that only 13% of CFOs considered the North American economy to be bad in the first quarter, down from 26% in the fourth quarter and 60% in the third. 29% said current conditions are good, up from 18% in the fourth quarter. (Only 7% consider the European economy good; 48% view it as bad, and 1% as very bad.)

We could still take a hit if capital markets reset — 83% of CFOs consider equity markets overvalued. But 57% said they feel somewhat more optimistic about their company’s financial prospects, and 10% are significantly more optimistic. Only 3% are somewhat or significantly less optimistic.

In terms of when companies will return to normal operations — whatever “normal” turns out to be — 37% of CFOs say their company is already at or above its operating level before the pandemic. 16% of CFOs expect to hit that mark in the third quarter, and another 16% predict their companies will get there in the fourth quarter.

The new normal will likely include less travel: 73% expect travel expenses post-pandemic to be between 50% and 80% of where they were before. Just 12% see travel at 81% to 100% of pre-pandemic levels, and only 2% project an increase.

While the CFOs weren’t asked about the likely working environment for their companies, in general, they provided some feedback on their function that may be instructive for others. Only 31% expect the majority of their finance staff to work four or more days on site post-pandemic; 45% expect the on-site work week to be three days.

When you step back and look at the implications for the insurance industry, I’d say that most clients, outside of those involved in business travel, will snap back — as long as a company has managed to stay in business. The hunger is there — literally — for meals at restaurants and for other social outings. (The first thing I’m going to do when I get vaccinated is hop on a plane and fly to Pittsburgh to give my nearly 91-year-old mother a hug, having not seen her except on Zoom in 14 months.) Schools will reopen, and, while the lost year in the classroom will cause problems for a long time, the rhythms of life will return for parents with school-age kids.

But I’d guess that the office environment, both for the insurance industry and for clients, will take time to sort out. There were clearly lots of advantages to working from home — I fill up my car about every six weeks — but I miss the camaraderie, and academics argue that creativity drops when people and ideas don’t bump into each other.

I’d guess that most businesses will more or less follow what the CFOs predicted, that people will come to the office three or four days a week — perhaps coordinating so that members of a group are likely to see each other — but will have much more freedom to keep doing those Zoom meetings. Perhaps keep an eye on Microsoft, which said this week that it is starting to call employees back to the office as it rolls out a hybrid model of work in the office and at home. A recent essay in Fortune offers advice on testing hybrid models — mostly on mistakes to avoid. The author reports that employee time spent on collaboration declined to 27% in 2020 from 43% pre-pandemic and says that trend needs to be reversed for a host of reasons.

In any case, having to sort out a hybrid work environment is a nice problem to have after a year hunkered down. I’m just delighted to be finally feeling optimistic. See you soon, Mom.

Stay safe.


P.S. I was also struck by an article over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal about how Blackstone has shifted its investment focus from value-based investments to growth companies. If even Blackstone sees more opportunity in growth than in spotting undervalued companies and wringing inefficiencies out of them, that has to be a good sign, right?

I’d actually argue that it’s a good sign for the economy but not for Blackstone. If it’s switching from a tried-and-true formula that has the firm with more than $600 billion under management, then the firm is running out of opportunities to work its formula. You just don’t stop minting money unless you have to.

Expertise in hyper-efficiency and in the sort of sophisticated financial tools that private equity uses don’t relate much to success in spotting and nurturing high-growth companies, so I’ll bet anybody a nickel that within a couple of years we’ll see Blackstone retrench. But I don’t have a stake in Blackstone, so I’m simply pleased that it and its hundreds of billions of investment dollars will chase growth and encourage everyone to innovate, at least for now.

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

Transforming Auto Claims Appraisals

While the benefits of claims automation are indisputable, delivering a truly “touchless” experience will require a technological evolution.

Straight-Through Processing in 2021

Straight-through processing of claims is likely to become more common, especially in personal lines and individual life.

Analytics That Lower Spending on Claims

The secret is to unlock the potential of the large quantities of unstructured data streaming through the claims function.

Premium Leakage Due to Legacy Systems

A recent study shows that 5% to 10% of insurance premiums vanish every year due to the inefficiencies caused by legacy systems.

Geomagnetic Storm for Insurance?

A geomagnetic solar storm could create havoc; the recent freeze in the Deep South showed how disruptive a failure of the electric grid can be.

Lessons on Reaching Customers Remotely

Tech companies have mastered digital communication because they have always sold products and services to customers remotely.