Tag Archives: tipping point

6 Technologies That Will Define 2016

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

Over the past century, the price and performance of computing has been on an exponential curve. And, as futurist Ray Kurzweil observed, once any technology becomes an information technology, its development follows the same curve. So, we are seeing exponential advances in technologies such as sensors, networks, artificial intelligence and robotics. The convergence of these technologies is making amazing things possible.

Last year was the tipping point in the global adoption of the Internet, digital medical devices, blockchain, gene editing, drones and solar energy. This year will be the beginning of an even bigger revolution, one that will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds and lead us into a jobless future. However, with every good thing, there comes a bad; wonderful things will become possible, but with them we will create new problems for mankind.

Here are six of the technologies that will make the change happen.

1. Artificial intelligence

shutterstock_272866295

There is merit to the criticism of AI—even though computers have beaten chess masters and Jeopardy players and have learned to talk to us and drive cars. AI such as Siri and Cortana is still imperfect and infuriating. Yes, those two systems crack jokes and tell us the weather, but they are nothing like the seductive digital assistant we saw in the movie “Her.” In the artificial-intelligence community, there is a common saying: “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.” People call this the “AI effect.” Skeptics discount the behavior of an artificial intelligence program by arguing that, rather than being real intelligence, it is just brute force computing and algorithms.

But this is about to change, to the point even the skeptics will say that AI has arrived. There have been major advances in “deep learning” neural networks, which learn by ingesting large amounts of data. IBM has taught its AI system, Watson, everything from cooking, to finance, to medicine and to Facebook. Google and Microsoft have made great strides in face recognition and human-like speech systems. AI-based face recognition, for example, has almost reached human capability. And IBM Watson can diagnose certain cancers better than any human doctor can.

With IBM Watson being made available to developers, Google open-sourcing its deep-learning AI software and Facebook releasing the designs of its specialized AI hardware, we can expect to see a broad variety of AI applications emerging because entrepreneurs all over the world are taking up the baton. AI will be wherever computers are, and it will seem human-like.

Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about superhuman AI yet; that is still a decade or two away.

2. Robots

shutterstock_279918557

The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge required robots to navigate over an eight-task course that simulated a disaster zone. It was almost comical to see them moving at the speed of molasses, freezing up and falling over. Forget folding laundry and serving humans; these robots could hardly walk. While we heard some three years ago that Foxconn would replace a million workers with robots in its Chinese factories, it never did so.

Breakthroughs may, however, be at hand. To begin with, a new generation of robots is being introduced by companies—such as Switzerland’s ABB, Denmark’s Universal Robots, and Boston’s Rethink Robotics—robots dextrous enough to thread a needle and sensitive enough to work alongside humans. They can assemble circuits and pack boxes. We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution.

Household robots are another matter. Household tasks may seem mundane, but they are incredibly difficult for machines to perform. Cleaning a room and folding laundry necessitate software algorithms that are more complex than those required to land a man on the moon. But there have been many breakthroughs of late, largely driven by AI, enabling robots to learn certain tasks by themselves and by teaching each other what they have learned. And with the open source robotic operating system (ROS), thousands of developers worldwide are getting close to perfecting the algorithms.

Don’t be surprised when robots start showing up in supermarkets and malls—and in our homes. Remember Rosie, the robotic housekeeper from the TV series “The Jetsons”?  I am expecting version No. 1 to begin shipping in the early 2020s.

3. Self-driving cars

shutterstock_346541690

Once considered to be in the realm of science fiction, autonomous cars made big news in 2015. Google crossed the million-mile mark with its prototypes; Tesla began releasing functionality in its cars; and major car manufacturers announced their plans for robocars. These cars are coming, whether or not we are ready. And, just as the robots will, they will learn from each other—about the landscape of our roads and the bad habits of humans.

In the next year or two, we will see fully functional robocars being tested on our highways, and then they will take over our roads. Just as the horseless carriage threw horses off the roads, these cars will displace us humans. Because they won’t crash into each other as we humans do, the robocars won’t need the bumper bars or steel cages, so they will be more comfortable and lighter. Most will be electric. We also won’t have to worry about parking spots, because they will be able to drop us where we want to go to and pick us up when we are ready. We won’t even need to own our own cars, because transportation will be available on demand through our smartphones. Best of all, we won’t need speed limits, so distance will be less of a barrier—enabling us to leave the cities and suburbs.

4. Virtual reality and holodecks

shutterstock_308823104

In March, Facebook announced the availability of its much-anticipated virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift. And Microsoft, Magic Leap and dozens of startups aren’t far behind with their new technologies. The early versions of these products will surely be expensive and clumsy and cause dizziness and other adverse reactions, but prices will fall, capabilities will increase and footprints will shrink as is the case with all exponential technologies. 2016 will mark the beginning of the virtual reality revolution.

Virtual reality will change how we learn and how we entertain ourselves. Our children’s education will become experiential, because they will be able to visit ancient Greece and journey within the human body. We will spend our lunchtimes touring far-off destinations and our evenings playing laser tag with friends who are thousands of miles away. And, rather than watching movies at IMAX theaters, we will be able to be part of the action, virtually in the back seat of every big-screen car chase.

5. Internet of Things

shutterstock_214888774

Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to create his own artificially intelligent, voice-controlled butler to help run his life at home and at work. For this, he will need appliances that can talk to his digital butler: a connected home, office and car. These are all coming, as CES, the big consumer electronics tradeshow in Las Vegas, demonstrated. From showerheads that track how much water we’ve used, to toothbrushes that watch out for cavities, to refrigerators that order food that is running out, all these items are on their way.

Starting in 2016, everything will be be connected, including our homes and appliances, our cars, street lights and medical instruments. These will be sharing information with each other (perhaps even gossiping about us) and will introduce massive security risks as well as many efficiencies. We won’t have much choice because they will be standard features—just as are the cameras on our smart TVs that stare at us and the smartphones that listen to everything we say.

6. Space

space

Rockets, satellites and spaceships were things that governments built. That is, until Elon Musk stepped into the ring in 2002 with his startup SpaceX. A decade later, he demonstrated the ability to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station and return with cargo. A year later, he launched a commercial geostationary satellite. And then, in 2015, out of the blue, came another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, whose space company Blue Origin launched a rocket 100 kilometers into space and landed its booster within five feet of its launch pad. SpaceX achieved the feat a month later.

It took a space race in the 1960s between the U.S. and the USSR to even get man to the moon. For decades after this, little more happened, because there was no one for the U.S. to compete with. Now, thanks to technology costs falling so far that space exploration can be done for millions—rather than billions—of dollars and the raging egos of two billionaires, we will see the breakthroughs in space travel that we have been waiting for. Maybe there’ll be nothing beyond some rocket launches and a few competitive tweets between Musk and Bezos in 2016, but we will be closer to having colonies on Mars.

This surely is the most innovative period in human history, an era that will be remembered as the inflection point in exponential technologies that made the impossible possible.

Insurance Disrupted: Silicon Valley’s Map

With $5 trillion in premiums, an incredibly low level of customer satisfaction, aging infrastructures, an analytically based, high-volume business model and a “wait until we have to” approach to innovation, insurance is now fully in the sights of the most disruptively innovative engine on the planet, Silicon Valley. The tipping point for insurance is here.

More than 75 digitally born companies in Silicon Valley, including Google and Apple, are redefining the rules and the infrastructure of the insurance industry.

Inside the Insurance Tipping Point – Silicon Valley | 2016

It’s one thing to listen to all of the analysts talk about the digitization of insurance and the disruptive changes it will bring. It’s quite another to immerse yourself in the amazing array of companies, technologies and trends driving those changes. This post is the first of a series that will give you an inside look at the visions, culture and disruptive innovation accelerating the digital tipping point for insurance and the opportunities that creates for companies bold enough to become part of it. (Join us at #insdisrupt.)

Venture firms are catalysts for much of Silicon Valley’s innovation, and insurance has their attention. Frank Chen of Andreessen Horowitz sees software as rewriting the insurance industry, AXA insurance has established an investment and innovation presence here. Others, including Lightspeed VenturesRibbit Capital and AutoTech Ventures, are investing in data and analytics, new insurance distribution plays and other technologies that will change the shape of insurance.

New business models: MetromileZenefitsStride HealthCollective HealthClimate Corp., Trov and Sureify, are using technologies to redefine and personalize insurance and the experience customers have with it.

Rise of the Digital Ecosystem – Expanding the Boundaries of Insurance

Digital ecosystems are innovation catalysts and accelerators with power to reshape industry value chains and the world economy. They dramatically expand the boundaries within which insurance can create value for customers and increase the corners from which new competitors can emerge.

Silicon Valley is home to companies acutely aware of how to establish themselves as a dominant and disruptive platform within digital ecosystems. That includes Google, which is investing heavily in the automobile space with Google Compare and self-driving vehicles and has acquired Nest as an anchor in the P&C/smart homes market. Fitbit is already establishing health insurance partnerships. And let’s not forget Apple. The Apple Watch already has insurance-related partners. Apple has clear plans for the smart home market and has recently launched AutoPlay, its anchor entry into the auto market. There are rumors that Apple plans to develop an iCar. And that’s just what we know about.

There are a host of other companies placing digital ecosystem bets in Silicon Valley, as well: GE, which is driving the Industrial Internet of Things; Parstream, with an analytic platform built for IoT; the IoT consortiumJawboneEvidation HealthMisfit Wearablesicontrol NetworkGM and its advanced technology labcarvi; and DriveFactor, now part of CCC Information Services.

Then there are the robotics companies, including 3D robotics, the RoboBrain project at Stanford University and Silicon Valley Robotics, an association of makers.

Customer Engagement and Experience – New Digital Rules, New Digital Playbook.

When your customer satisfaction and trust is one of the lowest in the world and companies like Apple and Google enter your market place, it’s really time to pay attention. There is a customer value-creation and design led innovation culture in the valley unrivaled in the world, and the technology to back it up. Companies like Genesys, and Vlocity are working on perfecting the omni channel expereince. Hearsaysocial and, declara, are working on next gen social media to help customers and the insurance industry create better relationships. Many of the next generation of insurance products will be context aware, opening the door to new ways of reaching and supporting customers. Companies like mCube and Ejenta, are working to provide sensor based insight and the analytics to act on it. TrunomiBeyond the Ark, and DataSkill via cognitive intelligence are developing new innovative ways to use data & analytics to better understand and engage customers. Lifestyle based insurance models are being launched like Adventure Adovcates and Givesurance, And some of digital marketing automation’s most innovative new players like Marketo, and even Oracle’s Eloqua are rewriting and enabling a new digital generation of marketing best practices.

Big Data and Analytics – Integrated Strategies for the New “Digital” Insurance Company

The techno buzz says big data and analytics are going to affect every business and every business operation. When you are a data- and analytics-driven industry like insurance that deals with massive amounts of policies and transactions, that buzz isn’t hype, it’s a promise.

The thing about big data and analytics is that when they are used in operational silos, they provide a tactical advantage. But when a common interoperable vision and roadmap are established, analytics create a huge strategic advantage. That knowledge and the capability to act on it is built into the DNA of “born digital” entries into the insurance market like Google.

The number of companies working on big data and analytics within the valley is staggering. We have already discussed a few in the Customer Engagement section above. Here are a few more, In the area of risk: RMS is building its stable of talent in the big data spaceActian is delivering lightning-fast Hadoop analytics; Metabiota is providing epidemic disease threat assessments; and Orbital Insights is providing geo-based image analysis. In the areas of claims and fraud, PalantirScoreDataTyche and SAS are adding powerful capabilities for insurance. Improved operational effectiveness is being delivered by Saama Technology, with an integrated insurance analytics suite; by Prevedere, with data-driven predictive analytics; by Volumetrix, with people analytics; and by Sparkling Logic, which helps drive faster and more effective decision making.

Insurance Digitized | Next Generation Core Systems

With insurance boundaries expanding, integration with digital ecosystems, increasing reliance on analytics and the demand for personalized and contextualized outcome- and services-based insurance models, core systems will have huge new sets of requirements placed on them. The requirement for interoperability between systems and data and analytics will grow dramatically.

Companies like GuidewireISCS and SAP are building a new generation of cloud-based systems. Scoredata and Pokitdoc are bringing new capabilities to claims. SplunkSymantec and FireEye are addressing emergent cyber risks. And companies like Automation EverywhereOcculus RiffSuitable Technologies and Humanyze are enabling the digitally blended and augmented workforce.

The latest investment wave includes artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning, which core systems will need to incorporate.

Surviving the Tipping Point – Becoming One of the Disruptive Leaders

This is a small sampling of the technologies, trends and companies just within Silicon Valley that are shaping the digital future of insurance. The changes these will drive are massive, and they are only the tip of the iceberg.

An Insurance Tech meetup group open to all the insurance-related companies within Silicon Valley was just announced by Guillaume Cabrere, CEO of AXA Labs, and already has 64 members. For established companies to survive the tipping point and thrive on the other side of it requires more than handing “digital transformation” off to the CIO or marketing team. Success requires a C-Suite that has become an integral part of the community and culture building the digital generation of insurance companies.

For technology companies and next-generation insurance companies, success requires building partnerships with established and emerging players.

This blog series is designed to inform and accelerate that dialog and partnering formation. It will include a series of interviews with disruptive leaders from industry and Silicon Valley. If you or your company would like to be a part of that series, please let me know.

Join us for the next Insurance Disrupted Conference – March 22-23, 2016 l Silicon Valley

svia

ITL readers receive a 15% discount when registering here.

‘Interactive Finance’: Meshing with Google

The insurance industry is poised to enhance its power, burnish its prestige and increase its income in the 21st century by developing interactive finance to mesh with Internet enterprises. By interactive finance, I mean rewarding institutions and individuals with financial or strategic advantage for revealing information that details risk.

Insurance industry success requires recognizing information as this century’s distinct commodity, analogous to steam in the 19th and oil in the 20th. Information also needs to be seen as an indispensable element in fresh, emerging digital currencies.

Information technologies are adequately mature, and mobile and broadband communications networks sufficiently widespread, that digital currencies like Bitcoin are beginning to emerge. Cognitive computing, big data, parallelization, search, capture, curation, storage, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization are commonplace; three-quarters of American households enjoy broadband access; and nine in 10 Americans carry mobile telephones. User-generated information now is everywhere.

Insurance industry leaders would be wise to cultivate interactive finance. It could be used to manage institutional investments with less risk and more liquidity. Interactive finance could also be used with retail consumers to create experiences, incentives and products to help manage what promises to be massive, new wealth.

A key part of interactive finance — navigating crowds and matching parties — is up and running. For instance, with Airbnb and accommodation or Uber and ride sharing, individuals reveal information voluntarily to enable counter party matching. Both are emerging as phenomenally successful simply by using information in new ways to create efficient markets.

The glimmerings of these potential gold mines are now eliciting insightful commentaries about how insurers might aggregate and parse information gathered through “crowd-sourcing.” Sharing portions of the reward with institutions and individuals through protected communications channels — also known as interactive finance — will provide the broad avenues and fastest expressways to 21st century wealth among insurers.

In two, insightful articles published here on ITL, Denise Garth discerns the key value of information. “Consider the explosion of new data that will be available and valuable in understanding the customers better so as to personalize their experience, provide insights, uncover new needs and identify new products and services that they may be unaware of,” she observes of the strategic alliance betweenFacebook and AXA. “For insurers, the coming years promise unparalleled opportunity to increase their value to their customers. Those that are best able to capitalize on the key technology influencers will reap the most in rewards,” Garth notes in an earlier article on Google.

Indeed, Facebook is poised to offer a money-transfer service in Europe. Pending regulatory approval in Ireland, Facebook would be permitted to employ user deposits in fiat currencies to become a payment services powerhouse with what seems tantalizingly close to a virtual currency. “Authorization from the central bank to become an ‘e-money’ institution would allow Facebook to issue units of stored monetary value that represent a claim against the company,” the Irish Times reported.

The company will use its acquisition of WhatsApp for access and traffic and will build on its 30% participation in revenue with Candy Crush Saga and Farmville games. Facebook will also take advantage of “‘passporting,’ which allows digital payments to be used across EU member states without having to gain regulatory approval from each one,” according to a news report.

Should Facebook succeed, AXA’s partnership with Facebook would put it well ahead of its competition in employing mobile markets to acquire and retain clients.

In an article on ITL on how Amazon could get into insurance, Sathyanarayanan Sethuraman enumerates “the convenience of on-demand buying. . . personalization of product and service delivery.” Crucially, he notes the importance of “building trust through transparency in pricing,” which provides impelling “reasons for insurers and Amazon to create a distribution model to match ever-evolving customer demands.”

Brian Cohen indicates in a thoughtful commentary on ITL that companies can collect customer feedback that is volunteered on social media and can also use new channels to provide new types of information. For instance, he says that, when inclement weather approaches, agents can caution readers to secure objects that may cause damage to their property, as a means toward generating webpage traffic and strengthening client relationships.

Joseph Sebbag cautions that technological mismatches can threaten insurance industry value. “Insurers’ numerous intricate reinsurance contracts and special pool arrangements, countless policies and arrays of transactions create a massive risk of having unintended exposure,” he notes in an intriguing essay evaluating information technology and reinsurance.

Focusing on a company with which I am very familiar, former Comptroller General David Walker says Marketcore has transformative IP in interactive finance that could provide pathways to phenomenal growth for the insurance industry and, in general, finance. The mechanism is incentives for “truth, transparency and transformation” that will make risk vehicles and markets perform more efficiently and reliably. (Walker is honorary chairman of Marketcore; I am an adviser.)

Marketcore generates liquidity by rewarding individuals and institutions for sharing information, such as the history of individual loans being bundled into residential mortgage-backed securities. The reward could be a financial advantage, say a discount on the next interval of a policy for individuals purchasing retail products. The reward could also be a strategic advantage, say foreknowledge of risk exposure for institutions dealing in structured risks like residential mortgage-backed securities or bonds, contracts, insurance policies, lines of credit, loans or securities.

Through interactive finance, Marketcore creates efficient markets for insurers and reinsurers. All do well as each does good. Risk determination permits insureds, brokers and carriers to update risks through “a transparency index. . . based. . . on the quality and quantity of the risk data records.” Component analysis of pooled securities facilitates drilling down in structured risk vehicles so insurers and reinsurers can address complex reinsurance contracts and special pool arrangements with foreknowledge of risk. Real time revaluation of contracts clarifies “the risk factors and valuation of [an] instrument” and, in so doing, “increases liquidity and tracks risks’ associated values even as derivative instruments are created.”

These interactive finance capabilities are at tipping points for insurers and reinsurers, as outlined so thoughtfully by Garth, Sethuraman and Cohen.

As those thought leaders say, large Internet enterprises like Google, Amazon and Facebook are striving for market reach and domination. Because of distributed wire line and wireless networks and the Internet, experts project that global trade will grow to $45 trillion from $6.5 trillion in less than 10 years. Global mobile transactions are projected to show more than 33% average annual growth, with 450 million users in a $720 billion market by 2017.

Only if Amazon, Facebook and Google offer new services can they exert market power in global electronic commerce analogous to late 19th century railroads, energy and steel industries. Each of them needs services like insurance no less than railroads required passengers and freight; than coal and oil required factories, homes, offices and motor vehicles; than steel required cities, railroads, trollies and cars. These Internet enterprises must have insurance, among other services associated with their brands, to remain dominant. All seek to create voluntary, de facto, walled gardens for their brands, and what better way to do so than to get users to rely on their brands to manage risks and pay bills?

None of these Internet search-and-connect giants can recoup its investments in mobile applications, drones and data centers unless it has voluminous, recurrent transactions and traffic engaging its mobile capabilities. For instance, Derek Thompson reports that the iPhone drives 60% of Apple revenue and that mobile advertising accounts for 60% of Facebook advertising revenue. John Greathousespells out the implications for advertising in a thoughtful essay on conversion rates and mobile formats. A service like insurance brings in users and encourages stickiness. In this way, insurance is the correlative to apps, drones and data centers. All these Internet giants are less without it.

Similarly, consumers and institutions are keen to participate in the value that they create with their participation in information technology and communications networks. Citizens and consumers, while resenting unremitting spying, shrug off the constant sale of metrics about their data to advertisers as inescapable and would love to turn tables on all these massive, intrusive public- and private-sector forces. People would willingly patronize a firm rewarding them for revealing risk information that they are comfortable sharing.

By rewarding institutions and individuals with financial or strategic advantage for voluntarily revealing risk-detailing information, interactive finance expressly rewards users for what they forego voluntarily with daily Internet use.

At this stage, the Internet firms have first-mover advantage when it comes to gathering and using people’s information. When I recently watched streaming video of Masterpiece Theatre’s “Mr. Selfridge,” there was the anomalous propinquity of an advertisement for an Internet tire seller in the bottom right portion of my display – within a day or so of my searching Google for motor vehicle tires. Clearly, Google, Internet ad placers and, in my case, the tire vendor are selling and purchasing access to user experiences. The sole party excluded from the value chain is the person who creates value in the information.

Earlier loyalty programs prefigure some of the notions of interactive finance. In mid-20th century America, supermarkets, gasoline stations and retailers often rewarded customer loyalty with S&H Green Stamps. Airlines, grocery chains and hotels employ loyalty programs and provide reward cards to provide incentives for recurrent patronage. In keeping with the times, Bellycard supports customer retention with a scannable card and mobile application. Each time I buy Italian bread and scan the card at the local bakery, I earn points toward a pastry.

What of insurance brokers, who reward consumers with incentives on forthcoming purchases for revealing risk information that they are comfortable sharing? Or insurer carriers, which protect asset values and boost shareholder confidence through enhanced capacities for risk detection and real-time valuation of risk exposures?

From here on out, the emphasis needs to be on rewarding customers and institutions by enabling them to create wealth with the information they are willing to reveal and by commanding information as a commodity and as the cornerstone component of emerging digital currencies. Insurers that can tap Internet industry demands for users, provide rewards for information and equip themselves to manage their risks more effectively can position themselves to dominate their sector well into the second quarter of the 21st century.

“Insurance is above all a relationship,” remarks Elise Manzi, account manager with Biddle & Company Insurance Brokers, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. “We’re devoted to continuing to provide our clients with the exceptional services they have come to expect of us through these new communications capabilities. Interactive finance sounds like a great relationship builder.”

Ernest Tedesco, head of Philadelphia-based Webesco, says, “For brokers, web services support client retention and communication. For large retail carriers like Progressive and Geico, web services enable them to reach consumers directly with service and product offerings. Anything kludgy on one of these sites will send customers scurrying to competitors.” He adds that if Google and other Internet giants get into the retail insurance space, current industry leaders need to be ready to respond aggressively with technology or will be disintermediated. “Back-office executives managing trillions in risk will find themselves at competitive disadvantage without real-time and near-real-time risk detection, which web services visualize.”

By meshing with Internet industry firms on interactive finance terms, the insurance industry will have all the strength of the Internet yet sustain more discretion to manage institutional and customer experiences on terms much more favorable than those that musicians and publishers experience with Apple.

As Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McAfee point out in The Second Machine Age, digitization both spawns vast new bounty and stimulates an increasingly drastic spread between the small fraction of winners and everyone else.

How better to build crowds and grow volumes than to provide incentives to customers by rewarding them for sharing information they are willing to reveal and to serve institutional clients with foreknowledge of oncoming risks to sustain competitive advantage and protect liquidity.

It is as straightforward as that.

For my part, I am optimistic about Marketcore because its IP enables insurance industry adopters to organize, channel and reward rich, diverse crowds of capital accumulation through interactive finance. Large, incumbent Internet firms like Amazon, Facebook and Google may still prosper from first-mover advantages based, in part, on recognition that information is the distinct commodity of the 21stcentury. But each and all now must offer more to maximize return on investments in capital-intensive operations. And that’s where any insurers, deploying Marketcore IP as sword and shield, stand most to gain for themselves and the people and institutions whose trust they hold.

 

Brain Drain: 22 Steps to Reduce the Impact of Retirement and Increase Employee Retention

Is your organization ready to lose as much as 25% of its intellectual capital in the next decade? You need to be, because more than one quarter of the U.S. working population will be old enough to retire in less than three years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This may lead to a shortfall of nearly 10 million workers. Add this flight to an average job stay of four years, where today’s employees switch to a competitor without so much as a backward glance, and businesses in America are at risk.

America is poised for a brain drain so dramatic that many companies will find themselves unprepared to face the coming talent shortage. Yet it appears few companies are taking steps to deal with the crunch. 

This article explores actions companies can take to manage looming intellectual losses. Some are straightforward; some will take more planning. Any organizational change comes from the top, and industry leaders must deal swiftly and strategically with the changes our work force will undergo in the coming years.

As companies increasingly rely on intellectual capital, the value of work force intelligence to an organization cannot be overstated. There is little doubt that the insurance industry, so reliant on intellectual capital, should be at the forefront of addressing the looming loss of intellectual capacity.

Where Did All the Experts Go?

Brain drain historically has been defined as the loss of human skills in developing nations, usually because of the migration of trained individuals to more industrialized nations or jurisdictions. However, as baby boomers begin to retire, the term is increasingly used to describe the loss of intellectual capital at U.S. organizations. Downsizing also takes its toll on work force intelligence.

The U.S. work force has changed dramatically. A baby boomer’s parents may have held one job in their entire careers; experts estimate a typical young American will hold from seven to 10 different jobs before retirement. Insurance organizations are experiencing brain drain as long-term employees retire, switch employers or change careers. There is little doubt—insurance organizations are about to see drastic changes resulting from this exodus.

Future employment demographics should sound an alarm to insurance companies in America. Over time, the lack of top talent can be devastating to an organization, especially in an industry as complex as insurance. Add an increasing dependence on technology, and future employee skill deficits are a certainty, not just a theory. While this exodus is beginning to hit the insurance industry now, it will accelerate greatly in the next few years as aging boomers, those best placed to assume senior management roles, retire. This talent shrinkage must be managed now, before organizations find themselves in crisis.

Penny-Wise, Pound Foolish?

It may seem profitable to replace an older, more costly employee with a younger person. However, organizations may lose a great deal more than they bargained for with that replacement. With the departure of these highly experienced employees, companies lose more than their individual expertise. Also lost is what psychologist Daniel Wegner calls “transactive memory.”1 Transactive memory is information a person accesses that is outside of his or her own memory, information routinely called up by using another person’s memory.2 Groups where this transactive memory is understood and valued function better than groups that lack this trait.3

Take co-workers. On a difficult property claim, an adjuster may turn to a co-worker and ask, “What is the name of that engineer we used a few years ago in Georgia on that storm-surge claim?” Our brains can store only so much information. If we have access to people around us who may be more suited to remember a particular type of information, then we don’t have to work as hard to remember items that we don’t understand, don’t recall or don’t need at the time we hear it.

Brain drain slows the work process and impairs a company’s product quality. It can result in inefficiency because of the time it takes employees to find new co-workers with the information they may need. It can also result in costly mistakes resulting in lawsuits, lost subrogation opportunities or claims paid that, with a thorough investigation, would have been denied. Probably most importantly, a work force lacking robust intellectual capital loses its strategic advantages and abilities to respond quickly to business opportunities.

Insurance professionals are concerned about brain drain, yet even a casual review of insurance literature shows that much of the focus in industry research centers on improving technology to enhance operations. Even the term “human-resource management” seems to be morphing into a robot-like term, “human-capital management.” This disembodied approach seems to negate the fact that we’re still dealing with people; yes, they may be “capital’ to a company, but most employees would be offended to hear themselves referred to in that manner. “Talent management,” the new euphemism for recruiting and retaining employees, again seems to dehumanize the worker. Few people appreciate being “managed” or referred to as “capital.”

The emphasis in insurance companies seems to have shifted away from quality toward quantity. How much faster can we complete a process, appears to be the question. Can we settle a claim in 30 days, even if we have to throw more money at it? Has customer service and quality been forgotten in the effort to improve company operations? Have we, in an effort to increase profits, driven much of our brightest talent right out the door?

The Devalued Older Worker

Insurance message boards are filled with complaints from older, highly experienced insurance professionals who cannot find work, some with two to three decades of knowledge. “I have a solution to the brain drain in the insurance industry. Hire me and all those still looking for work … and some of the people whose resumes are posted on the Broward County RIMS website, among others,”4 one frustrated professional said in a June 2007 on-line risk management discussion. If these complaints are true, the widespread reluctance by insurance organizations to hire older, experienced workers may backfire because of the lack of new talent breaking down doors to enter the industry.

Nowhere is brain drain felt more acutely, it appears, than in claims departments nationwide. According to Conning Research & Consulting,5 70% of the nation’s adjusting staff is age 40 or older. “I have found this [talent leakage] particularly true in the claims arena,” according to James Brittle, a producer in the National Accounts division of Cobbs, Allen & Hall in Birmingham, Alabama.  “Coming from the highly engineered chemical and energy field, try to find one carrier that still has experienced and knowledgeable adjusters to handle property claims. There are two options — young and inexperienced or experienced and independent. The latter group is getting smaller and smaller. It’s not real comforting.”

How can companies prevent brain drain? Here are some possible solutions.6

1. Analyze current workforce strengths and talents to determine core competencies.

If an employee’s store of knowledge is known only to a few co-workers, then it is largely useless to the organization as a whole. It becomes an information silo, a vertical information cluster that is not transmitted laterally to co-workers, usually to the detriment of the organization. Analyzing employees’ expertise and knowledge and categorizing it so that it becomes accessible by other employees and departments is critical to improving and strengthening the work force.

2. Determine, through surveys or informal meetings or email queries, where employees go for specific information.

Who are your employees’ “information agents” in given areas? Imagine this scenario—a Lloyd’s underwriter wants to issue a binding authority to an agent in Florida. Before agreeing, however, the underwriter must determine wildfire hazards in the counties where the agent wants to write business. If the underwriter can, with a few keystrokes, search a database that shows Lloyd’s experts who understand catastrophe modeling and perhaps understand wildfire exposures particularly well, the decision to issue the binding authority can be made more easily and accurately, not to mention more quickly.

Knowledge Asset Mapping, written about extensively by British researcher Bernard Marr, allows organizations to locate and diagram internal knowledge. This visualization of intellectual capital, which Marr states is the “principal basis for competitive advantage,”7 can then be used as a strategic planning tool so that organizations can predict future intelligence gaps before they occur.

Today’s organizations must be agile to compete. Classifying employee knowledge to make it more accessible to others in the organization can help companies make decisions rapidly. It goes without saying that companies like Apple have seized marketplace opportunities to catapult themselves into leadership positions. Without sufficient intellectual capital, however, a company may not be robust enough to respond to opportunities as they arise.

3. Prepare to replace exiting information agents when those employees retire.

In smaller organizations, this process may not be formal. It may be as simple as acknowledging that an employee who is an expert on a subject is leaving. Notify all employees of the loss of this person, then direct them to another employee who may not have as much knowledge, but has some knowledge in that area. The company must develop incentives and time frames so that newer information agents can become experts on specific topics as gaps arise, and even before they arise.

4. Determine which employees are potential flight risks, whether to retirement, recruitment or family pressures such as aging parents.

Talk openly with employees who are considering retirement or having home/work difficulties to determine how you can retain them. Flexibility is the key—the employee may need more time off or greater leeway to work non-core hours or to work at home. If the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is voluntary, your organization should consider allowing FMLA leave.

5. Hire retiring employees as consultants on a part-time basis to retain their expertise.

With increasing cost of medical care for retirees, many welcome a supplement to their retirement income. Adding benefit package components that appeal to older workers, such as long-term care insurance or prorated health coverage for part-time work, may help retain them, as well.

6. Provide incentives for employees to consider postponing retirement.

When an organization considers the total impact of losing a long-term employee, it is generally cheaper to retain that employee than to hire and train a replacement, especially if the employee’s knowledge routinely saves the company money. Consider the following scenario:

A claims manager will retire in two years, after working more than 30 years for just two carriers. He is one of the top arson investigators in the Midwest, taking dozens of arson claims to trial or to closure. Currently, there is no one else in his company who handles arson files without his supervision, and no one who remotely approaches his level of expertise.

What happens to this company when he leaves? How much will his departure cost the company in terms of claims payments that might have, with his expertise, been compromised or denied? Can this organization really afford to lose the employee’s expertise without a solid exit strategy?

7. Use technology to drive intra-company communications.

Intranets, videoconferencing, peer-to-peer technology and podcasts are information ways that allow workers to communicate over distance and varying time zones. Encourage disparate and divergent workers to develop virtual relationships to share ideas and solve problems using these tools. Why not take advantage of your global work force?

8. Establish “practice communities” where individuals from various departments — claims, underwriting, marketing and reinsurance — meet regularly to solve problems.

According to James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, a crowd is a group of diverse people with differing levels of intelligence and information who collectively make smart decisions. A good example of this wisdom, as many claims managers have found, is “round tabling” a claim. Allowing a group of adjusters with varying amounts of experience to determine a claim’s value or to develop a plan of action to kick a stalled claim forward often provides excellent results and acts as a learning tool for less experienced team members.

Surowiecki defines four elements that make a smart crowd. He recommends a diverse group because each person will bring a different set of experiences to the process. The crowd should have no leader, so that the group’s answer can emerge. But there must be a way to articulate the crowd’s verdict. Finally, people in the crowd must be self-confident enough to rely on their own judgment without undue influence from other group members.

With today’s sophisticated technology, organizations don’t have to rely solely on local talent. A company-wide initiative can be implemented readily with some help from your organization’s information technology department. Practice communities build virtual relationships that, in turn, make employees more connected to the organization.

9. Organize and memorialize your practice community results with wikis, a decade-old web application that allows many people to collaborate on a single document.

There are several sites dedicated to collaborative writing, including https://www.zoho.com/docs/. Visit http://www.wikipedia.org, the on-line encyclopedia written by collaboration, to view an example of wiki technology at its finest.

10. Implement a formal mentoring program.

Some insurance organizations have implemented mentoring programs. The National Association of Catastrophe Adjusters formed a mentoring program in 2005. While not online, it matches new adjusters eager to learn CAT adjusting with experienced field adjusters.

Aon Services is almost a year into an ambitious mentoring project. With 600 Aon employees in the pilot program developed with assistance from Triple Creek Associates in Colorado, Aon expects to roll out the program companywide. The program was not limited to senior manager mentors; anyone in the organization with good performance was eligible to participate. “This challenged our operational paradigms, to have a junior person mentoring a senior person,”8 according to Talethea M. Best, Aon’s director of U.S. talent development.

The results have been positive, she reports. 86% of the mentees and 62% of the mentors who responded to a recent survey felt that the process improved their own performance. 85% of the mentees and 78% of the mentors would participate again if asked.

“We encouraged a protégé-driven process,” Ms. Best said. Potential mentees used a computerized platform with specific parameters to search for what they wanted in the mentor relationship. “It was a win/win for all involved,” Ms. Best said.

“This [mentoring project] was an opportunity for us to think more strategically,” Ms. Best reported. “To retain employees, it is critical to make people feel invested and engaged. How do you make folks feel like they make a significant contribution? Mentoring is a way to address that,” at a cost of pennies per employee, Ms. Best said.

Not all managers are mentor material. To be effective, mentors must receive some training. Aon addressed this concern with initial employee development workshops.

To ensure the highest quality mentorship for your employees, it is critical that mentors are carefully selected not only for their technical skills, but for their ability to communicate effectively in an increasingly diverse work force.

11. Pool knowledge across organizations.

Your Encore, founded by Procter & Gamble and Eli Lilly, is a society of retired research scientists and engineers who “continue to provide value―at its highest level—to companies on a consulting basis,” according to its website. The insurance industry is particularly well-suited to this approach because risk pools changed the face of insurance, so the models to implement this approach are already well-accepted by our industry. Don’t be unreasonable with information, but do set some ground rules and ensure employees comprehend which information is proprietary and which can be shared.

12. Cross train employees.

“A former employer of mine combined the loss control and underwriting functions,’”9 and it worked out well, reports Mike Benisheck, director of risk management for Pacific Tomato Growers. “They had a historical loss ratio of 30–32% annually for about 15 years.” When the functions were separated, losses spiraled, Benischeck reported.

Cross training can limit employee burnout and provide new motivation for employees who feel stymied in their careers. It also strengthens an organization’s operational team.

13. Cultivate a culture that values expertise.

To prevent brain drain, an organization must provide an atmosphere that values aging workers and the knowledge they possess. Recognizing, but more importantly acknowledging, their contributions to the organization, not just the number of claims they close or the amount of new business they produce, may mean keeping employees a few years longer. Small changes in any organization, as anyone who read the book The Tipping Point knows, can mean enormous changes overall.

Younger workers should be made aware of demographic trends and what they mean to their careers. Many younger workers are eager for career advancement. The demographics pointing to a sharp talent drop are in their favor if they prepare themselves, and organizations help them prepare, to take supervisory and management positions. Few younger workers recognize this trend. Organizations that speak frankly of these developments and what they mean to each person, not just the organization itself, will build loyalty and perhaps help to cultivate patience in generations that are used to quick answers and quick solutions.

14. Encourage employees to join online insurance groups like RiskList or PRIMA-Watch.

Insurance professionals are notoriously generous with their time and information when it comes to helping their counterparts, as any insurance industry employee knows who belongs to a professional organization. Insurance server lists have been online for many years with a faithful membership. List members will respond to just about any inquiry with an impressive depth and breadth of knowledge, with some humor thrown in, as well.

15. Support employee membership in professional organizations like your local claims association, Insurance Women, RIMS or CPCU Society.

“Support” means paying dues and supporting the absences necessary for employees to both attend conferences and to hold committee positions. This gives employees a strong network to turn to for information and support. There has been a mindset in the industry that allowing employees to network outside the company increased the employee’s flight risk. More enlightened managers realize that if employees feel valued for their expertise and encouraged in their professional development, they are generally more loyal to their employers.

16. Offer incentives for obtaining professional designations. Offer greater incentives for attending classes rather than online participation.

According to the CPCU Society, in 2006, 88% of CPCUs were age 40 or older. Taking a class from an experienced instructor with students from other companies and disciplines gives students a much broader experience. It also exposes them to others with whom they can network or seek advice. Designations are a clear indicator that employees see insurance as not just a job, but a career.

17. Avoid the human resources “silo.”

An information silo is a pool of information that is not well-integrated in an organization. Human resources departments often act as “silos,” gatekeepers in the hiring process, by determining which applicants get interviewed. Forming inter-departmental hiring panels, teams that develop job descriptions, review applications and give input on general hiring and other personnel issues like employee retention, can greatly improve a company’s work force.

18. Don’t underestimate the impact that younger generations and their different work standards have on older workers.

There are four generations of workers in today’s increasingly diverse workforce. With Millennials, Gen Xers and Yers in the employment mix, many young people are either intimidated by older workers or are downright contemptuous. Older workers, in turn, often cannot comprehend their younger peers’ thinking and may be intimidated by their ease with technology.

Forming intergenerational teams can bring divergent employees together so that they can benefit from each others’ strengths, not just complain about their weaknesses. Utilizing younger workers who are good communicators and technologically proficient to train older workers in new technology can bridge two gaps—the generation gap and the technology gap. In turn, older workers can mentor younger employees and model appropriate and ethical behavior.

19. Consider the Total Cost of Jerks (TCJ) to the organization.

Verbal abuse, intimidation and bullying are widespread in the American work force.10 But some companies are taking notice. There is a growing trend in companies to consider the TCJ impact on the work force, including several organizations on Fortune’s “100 Best Places to Work.”

Robert Sutton, Ph.D., professor of management science and sngineering in the Stanford Engineering School, views “jerks” in a much more explicit light. Sutton wrote The No Asshole Rule, a business bestseller that provides steps organizations can take to quantify the cost of jerks and eliminate them.

He lists the “dirty dozen,” the top 12 actions taken by those who use organizational power against those with less power. “It just takes a few to ruin the entire organization,” Sutton writes.11

Older workers may have seen it all, but they don’t always have the patience to put up with twits. That jerk in the cubicle next to a long-term employee may be the final nudge that pushes a valued older worker out the door. Most employees who have options like retirement tolerate jerks for just so long, and then they clean out their desks.

Eliminating toxic employees can improve more than the organization’s internal structure, because if an employee treats coworkers badly, how is he treating your customers?

20. Make the most of the existing work force.

Studies have found that as much as 40% of the time spent handling a claim can be spent in administrative tasks that don’t affect the claim’s outcome significantly. It makes sense, then, to drive work down to its lowest possible level of the organization. Are adjusters still issuing checks, composing the same letters over and over and answering calls that could be delegated? According to employment consultant Peter Rousmaniere, some corporations are outsourcing their claims-support systems.  “[Outsourcing] offers the potential of injecting into the claims management process some very intelligent, well-educated people who are very motivated to perform functions [that], due to global information systems, they can do proficiently.”

21. Don’t overlook diversity.

Many employees are overlooked in the promotional process because they are of different nationalities, ethnicities or gender than the dominant makeup of an organization. Whites follow a different career path than their non-white counterparts, according to David A Thomas, author of an article on minority mentoring that appeared in the Harvard Business Review. Whites frequently get more attention from their managers and hence more opportunities.

Thomas’s research showed that the one common attribute people of color who rose to the tops of their organizations had was mentorship, but mentorship that went beyond what he termed “instructional.” They had mentors who provided a deeper relationship that increased their mentees’ confidence and did not shy away from frank discussions about race.12 If we fail in our organizations to see beyond employees’ gender, skin color or religious beliefs, we may overlook our brightest talent.

22. Address the problems of brain drain strategically.

To date, there is a great deal of discussion on brain drain in the insurance industry, but little empirical evidence to use to determine which methods might avoid this loss. Many insurance executives are talking about the problem in conferences and trade journals, but what are insurance companies doing to address it?

To create organizational change, an organization must start with a vision. What are the problems we face, and what are their consequences both short-term and long-term? Where will our work force needs and realities stand in five years?

Effective Organizational Change Begins with a Plan

Without a roadmap, even the savviest traveler occasionally gets lost. To address brain drain strategically, a company must develop a strong vision and a stronger plan. This plan can be implemented over time, but it must have clear goals and time frames to avoid becoming mired down in processes.

From top management to line supervisors, there must be a shared sense of urgency about this problem, because any critical initiative can go astray because of the competition that all organizations face in today’s highly competitive global market. To solve the coming talent crunch, organizations must commit the resources to tackle this problem strategically, while there is still time.

1 Wegner, Daniel, Paula Raymond, and Ralph Erber. “Transactive Memory in Close Relationships,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 61 (1991): 923––929.

2 Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown & Company.

 3 Ibid.

4 RiskList Users Group, June 23, 2007.

5 “Generational Talent Management for Insurers: Strategies to Attract and Engage Generation Y in the U.S. Insurance Industry,” Deloitte & Touche, 2007.

6 Private communication.

7 Marr, Bernard, and J.C. Spender. “Measuring Knowledge Assets – implications of the knowledge economy for performance measurement.” Measuring Business Excellence 8(2004): 18–27.

8 Private communication.

9 Private communication.

10 Lutgen-Sandvik, P., Tracy, S. J., & Alberts, J. K. (in-press). Burned by bullying in the American workplace: Prevalence, perception, degree, and impact. Journal of Management Studies.

11 Sutton, Robert. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. 1st. New York: Warner Business Books, 2007, p. 180.

12 Thomas, David A. “The Truth About Mentoring Minorities: Race Matters.” Harvard Business Review April 2001.