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Moving Beyond ‘Greed Is Good’

Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s defining essay on the role of the corporation, which concluded that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”

That conclusion has been taken to such extremes — think, “Greed is good,” the signature line from the movie “Wall Street” — that a backlash has been developing. I think the insurance industry can support what might be thought of as a “beyond greed” movement, and even ride it. Doing so would help our public image, while benefiting the customer and — dare I say it? — perhaps even increasing industry profits.

Now, there’s lots of power to Friedman’s argument. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have guided business for so long. Businesses need to generate profits to keep investing and improving in ways that benefit us, the customers — think of all the things that Amazon has been able to deliver cheaply and quickly to you since the start of the pandemic because of Jeff Bezos’ ferocious investments in his business. (Who knew I even needed eight sets of chopsticks, an air fryer and 63 plants?) Profits also provide feedback that help businesses get better at serving us. If a company is generating lots of earnings, the market is telling the company that it’s doing well. If not, the company needs to try something different.

My old friend Andy Kessler notes in a column in the Wall Street Journal this week that Friedman specified that a company focusing solely on profits must “stay within the rules of the game, which is to say, engage in open and free competition without deception fraud.” Andy says that, within the right structure, Friedman’s focus on profits produces huge benefits for society.

But cracks have been appearing in that structure. For instance, tobacco companies lied for decades about the dangers of smoking, and oil and gas companies likewise hid what they knew about greenhouse gases and climate change. Profits thrived. But did the companies show social responsibility? Not so much.

More recently, social tensions have heightened about income inequality, which can be traced in part to the laser focus on profits. That focus has certainly pushed the upper end of corporate pay far higher by creating a vicious circle (a virtuous circle if you’re one of the senior executives benefiting). The circle looks something like this:

To encourage the CEO to drive profits and nothing but profits, his or her pay is tied to the stock price — boost earnings, giving the stock price a kick, and you win big. CEOs are then evaluated against a peer group and are slotted into a quartile. They are paid like others in that grouping. Sounds fair enough, right? But who wants to tell the CEO that he or she is below average? In fact, in the chumminess of the board room, CEOs are almost all stars. That means they are paid above average — which raises the average, again and again and again, for each annual review cycle. Add in the potential for big gains on stock options, and the system looks increasingly unfair to anyone not fortunate enough to be at the high (and always getting higher) end of the scale.

Meanwhile, wages have been stagnant in the lower ranks of businesses. In the past, gains from productivity tended to be shared with workers, in the form of higher wages. In recent decades, almost all the gains have been captured by companies feeling pressure to produce maximum profits.

With the sense building that the pursuit of profits and nothing but profits has taken us too far to the greed end of the scale, the Business Roundtable released a statement in August 2019 signed by 181 CEOs “who commit to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.”

Such an approach, known as “stakeholder capitalism,” turns out to be easier to articulate than to execute. For instance, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, who was one of the champions of the Business Roundtable statement, declared a “victory for stakeholder capitalism” in late August when he reported quarterly sales exceeding $5 billion — then announced the next day that he was cutting 1,000 jobs. He argued that the cuts weren’t inconsistent with a pledge to benefit all stakeholders, but the 1,000 people losing their jobs surely felt differently.

A study looking at all the companies whose CEOs signed the “stakeholder capitalism” statement found, a year later, that they hadn’t followed through. I’m not especially surprised. You may value your employees greatly, but, if you’re Walmart, you’re not going to suddenly start paying clerks $15 or $20 an hour unless you know that your competitors will, too. Otherwise, you’d cede an advantage to them. So, I don’t think much will change until there is some kind of public pledge by all companies to do a series of very specific things for employees, communities, etc. or until government mandates something such as an increase in the minimum wage.

But the sentiment is there. There is a movement afoot to get businesses to look beyond profits and focus on broader issues, and it sounds to me a lot like what insurance is all about: We’re here to help clients reduce their risks and to recover quickly when the inevitable losses occur. We don’t sell widgets; we help people in their time of need. Who better to lead a “beyond greed” approach to business?

Back in the early days of the personal computer, when I was covering technology for the Wall Street Journal, the CEO of a successful software company told me his strategy consisted of trying to spot a parade. He didn’t have to organize the parade. He just had to put on a drum major costume, jump in front of it and lead it somewhere.

The more-than-profits movement seems like a parade that could — or even should — be led by insurers.

My suggestion would be less “stakeholder capitalism” as the starting point and more Peter Drucker. Drucker, the management guru whom I had the privilege of interviewing twice, began with the customer. Rather than the diffuse focus of “stakeholder capitalism” or the harsh emphasis on profits that Friedman advocated, Drucker argued that “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”

That focus on the customer not only fits the historic ethos of the industry but seems to be where we’re heading. I’ve never seen an industry talk so much about the customer experience or the customer journey. And I’ve started to see the industry’s focus shift to what customers really want: to avoid losses, rather than to be reimbursed after they occur. Just in the past couple of weeks, Travelers announced that it was using artificial intelligence to help clients survey their workplaces and spot ergonomic issues that could cause injuries, and CSAA announced a pilot program to provide fire retardant that Californians can spray on brush surrounding their homes as a wildfire approaches. The list could go on.

Focusing on the customer could lead as far as insurers wanted to go into the “stakeholder capitalism” movement, with its emphasis on communities, employees and suppliers, as well as customers and shareholders. After all, clients live in communities that would welcome fewer car accidents, a reduction in home invasions and theft and other benefits that insurers could facilitate. Insurers will invest in employees and relations with suppliers as part of caring for customers. And if Drucker was right — he almost always was — focusing on creating and keeping a customer will make the profits flow, keeping those shareholders happy.

In fact, I’d argue that the industry is at a point where attaching to the hip of the customer could lead in all sorts of interesting directions and new revenue streams. Why just focus on serving a client after a car accident? Why not begin the relationship way upstream, installing a camera that watches both the road and the driver and uses AI to make sure the driver is paying attention as he heads into a known danger spot like a blind intersection? Why not continue the relationship way downstream, helping a client run errands via Uber or Lyft while waiting for a car to be repaired?

When I hear complaints about capitalism, I think of the line concerning democracy that is generally attributed to Winston Churchill, that “democracy is the worst system of government — except for all the others.” I’d agree that capitalism is the worst economic system — except for all the others. Capitalism, while messy, drives an extraordinary amount of innovation and has been the engine driving the progress of civilization for centuries now.

But maybe it can be a little better. And maybe the insurance industry can help lead the way.

Stay safe.

Paul

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

A New Boom for Life Insurance?

Life insurance can move past the 250-year-old, risk-focused transaction and become a core component within a life, wealth and health ecosystem.

Keys to Limiting Litigation Liability

Risks associated with GL and AU claims can be managed, even with “social inflation,” “nuclear verdicts” and tough jurisdictions.

How Analytics Can Tame ‘Social Inflation’

Claims data within insurance companies is being increasingly seen as a key asset, not a byproduct of the claims process.

P&C Insurers Shift Course in Pandemic

In 2021, there looks to be a major increase in overall tech spending and a rapid acceleration of digital transformation plans.

Insurtechs’ Role in Transformation

Insurtechs are important for the development of the industry — but as tools. Incumbents must still get the real transformation done.

State of Diversity, Inclusion in Insurance

Organizations that adhere to a rigid hierarchy throw up roadblocks to diversity & inclusion due to preconceived notions.

Growing Risks of Social Inflation

“Social inflation,” an on-again, off-again issue for the insurance industry for more than four decades, is on again as a major factor in insurance claims and, thus, rates. The issue, related to beliefs and trends that lead people to expect ever-higher compensation and for juries to grant it, has been growing for several years and seems to have accelerated since last summer.

The pandemic and the economic crisis that resulted may exacerbate the problem for insurers — or may mute it. There are arguments on both sides. Some see social inflation being dampened as financially strapped people and businesses become more willing to settle a claim and as the logistical complications that come with less face-to-face interaction drag out negotiations and judicial proceedings. Some see social inflation increasing as people feel wronged and try to take out their anger on those that they distrust and that have enough assets to make them tempting targets — read, insurers (among others).

Me? I see the pandemic boosting social inflation.

The term goes back at least to 1977, when Warren Buffett used it in his annual letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. The issue is often described in extreme terms — like the guy who sued for $67 million over a $10 dry cleaning bill — but shows up in all sorts of more pedestrian ways. People increasingly are inclined to bring the lawyers in, rather than take the settlement offer from an insurer, and claimants insist on higher amounts. The problem builds on itself — this is the “social” part of the inflation — because who wants to take what feels like a lowball offer when others have been receiving more in similar situations? (The dry cleaning plaintiff lost his suit and had to pay court costs, but no one seems to remember that part of the story.)

The issue surfaced from time to time in the decades since Buffett used the term, then steadily increased starting five or six years ago, according to this white paper from The Institutes. The paper notes that, from 2013 through 2018, commercial auto claim losses increased at an annualized rate of 10.9%, compared with a 1.0% annualized rate in the prior six years. The trends were similar in personal auto and medical malpractice. In product liability, incurred losses grew at an annualized rate of 17% from 2014 through 2018, after decreasing at an annualized rate of 7.1% in the prior five years. 

These trends became very public last fall when Travelers added hundreds of millions of dollars to reserves and cited social inflation.

To understand where we go from here, it may help to look at what The Institutes’ white paper lists as the main drivers of social inflation. I’ll quote from the paper and address each issue, or group of issues, in turn.

“Changes in underlying beliefs about the appropriateness of filing lawsuits and expectations of higher compensation”

Although it’s hard to predict what will drive “underlying beliefs,” the white paper says that income inequality has driven many people to demand more and notes a general distrust of corporations. The result is anger.

The paper says: “In its 2019 annual report on emotional states around the world, Gallup reported that 22% of Americans reported feeling angry ‘during a lot of the day yesterday’ — the highest level of anger measured by Gallup in more than a decade.”

Although Gallup didn’t ask people to identify the source of their anger, I’m sure we can all imagine some reasons, and I’d guess that anger has risen, not dropped, in the crazy year that is 2020.

So, I suppose it’s possible that financially strapped people and businesses will be more inclined to settle, but I don’t, in general, expect that people will become less litigious or demanding of compensation.

“Rollbacks of previously enacted tort reforms intended to control costs

“Legislative actions to retroactively extend or repeal statutes of limitations”

If we project those factors forward to imagine the likely effect of the pandemic, it’s hard to see legislatures taking any actions on tort reforms or statutes of limitations that would reduce social inflation. State legislatures have been moving in the other direction, with many trying to find ways to make insurers liable for costs of the pandemic even when business interruption policies don’t cover such costs. And, if people remain angry, well, legislators who want to be reelected (as in, all of them) tend to react to anger among citizens.

“Increased attorney advertising and increased attorney involvement in liability claims

“The emergence and growth of third-party litigation financing

“Increasing numbers of very large jury verdicts, reflecting an increase in juries’ sympathy toward plaintiffs and in their willingness to punish those who cause injury to others

“Proliferation of class-action lawsuits

If people do somehow change their underlying beliefs about filing lawsuits and about seeking big awards, then, yes, these drivers of social inflation will fade. But history suggests that it’s wrong to expect society to become less litigious. When Thomas More was chancellor of England under King Henry VIII in the 1530s, he often had no cases on his docket. When John Jay was the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, he heard only four cases and resigned after six years, in 1795; he was elected governor of New York and thought that position was more important. As for litigation today….

Lawyers have made loads of money through advertising and “litigation financing” — having third parties provide funds so plaintiffs can afford to continue a court fight much longer than they could have on their own — so lawyers won’t back off unless there’s a huge change in public attitudes.

Lawyers have also become more effective at winning “nuclear verdicts” — judgments that are at least $10 million and that can reach the billions of dollars — by tapping into what is referred to as the “reptile brain” of jurors. The strategy tries to trigger the “fight or flight” response in people, using techniques to make them so scared of the defendant that they react in a highly instinctive, emotional way that overwhelms rational arguments.

If the approach is working — and it certainly seems to be producing bigger jury verdicts — why would lawyers back off?

While the pandemic has made all of us humbler about our ability to predict, I just don’t see any reason to expect social inflation to abate because I don’t see any of the pressures going away. I think that the pandemic will encourage cash-strapped people and businesses to ask for bigger settlements and that sympathetic juries will be inclined to go along.

Stay safe.

Paul

P.S. Following my own advice from last week’s Six Things about the need to find a devil’s advocate to challenge your thinking, I found a very different take on social inflation. Here is a consumer group, affiliated with a law school, arguing that insurers manufacture social inflation claims to justify rate increases.

P.P.S. Here are the six articles I’ll highlight from the past week:

The Real Disruption of Insurance

The future of insurance isn’t incremental change: Technology is enabling direct threats to carriers, not just their partners and providers.

Expanding Options for Communications

Messaging and platforms, business texting, chatbots, voice and even augmented reality can help customers–while cutting costs.

How to Thrive Using Emerging Tech

A survey finds that 75% believe AI can provide a competitive advantage through better decision-making, and early adopters report gains.

Optimizing Experience for Life Beneficiaries

Focusing on beneficiaries can not only help facilitate the claims process but also provide life insurers with opportunities for growth.

4 Keys to Agency Modernization

Agencies must modernize to survive, but where do you start? Here are four guideposts that can help.

COVID-19: Next Steps in Construction

As more projects resume, contractors can draw lessons from areas where work was never halted to reduce risks and rebuild momentum.

New Entrants Flood Into Insurance

New entrants seem to be coming out of the woodwork in insurance. The insurtech movement, the advance of emerging technologies and the appetite of the global tech titans are all contributing to new entrants, new partnerships and new business models. A few recent examples illustrate the new interest in insurance from those both inside and outside of the insurance industry.

  • WeWork partners with Lemonade. In what seems like a very natural partnership, WeWork plans to offer its WeLive members renters’ insurance through Lemonade. WeLive members rent fully furnished apartments from WeWork for short-term situations.
  • Credit Karma enters insurance. This fintech intends to build on customer relationships to expand into auto insurance. While the initial focus will be education – helping Credit Karma customers understand how credit and adverse driving affects insurance rates – the longer-term goal is to provide yet another shopping/comparison site.
  • BMW and Swiss Re partner for ADAS scores. BMW Group and Swiss Re will collect telematics data from vehicles related to the use of ADAS (Automated Driver Assistance Systems) and build scores that can be used by primary insurance companies.
  • Lending Tree buys QuoteWizard for $370 million. Fintech Lending Tree, which has been on a buying spree, moves into insurance with the acquisition of insurance comparison shopping site QuoteWizard.
  • Travelers partners with Amazon for the smart home. Travelers will set up a digital storefront on Amazon featuring smart home devices for a discount (especially security-related devices) as well as discounts on homeowners’ insurance.
  • JetBlue invests in insurtech Slice. This appears to be a pure investment play, but it is still interesting that an airline would be following insurtech and seeking investment opportunities.

Something is going on here. It is not as if there have never been new entrants or that companies from other industries have ignored insurance. But the flurry of activity and innovative partnerships, investments and market approaches may represent a bigger trend. Insurance is transforming, and, despite some of the doom and gloom warnings, a case can be made that there is more opportunity than ever for the industry. Even in the examples provided above, the emphasis is more on new opportunities than displacing incumbent insurance players. Indeed, in the Swiss Re and Travelers cases, the incumbents are part of the new partnerships – and these are just two of many examples.

See also: 5 Cs of Transformation in Insurance  

One of the main themes of the examples highlighted above is the attention on distribution and customer relationships. While insurtechs are working with insurers on many opportunities to improve underwriting, claims, and other areas, so far the new entrants from outside the industry don’t appear to have the appetite to underwrite risk and handle claims. This may change, but it is likely that there will be even more interest from outside insurance in capitalizing on customer relationships. Above all, these new entrants and innovative partnerships serve to accelerate the transformation of insurance.

New Applications for Drones

Drones are becoming widely used in a variety of industries, including insurance. As mentioned last week, millions are expected to be sold in 2017, with PwC calculating the global market for the commercial application of drones at more than $127 billion. So how are insurers using drones right now, and what opportunities are arising?

Though drones could theoretically benefit many different aspects of insurance operations, to date the most common application has been roof inspections conducted by certified insurance assessors before payment is made on claims for storm or hail damage. Traditionally, assessors use ladders to climb onto roofs and sometimes need harnesses if the roof is high or steep enough. A manual inspection can take half a day.

See also: Drones + Gig Economy = Win for Insurance  

A 20-minute drone inspection captures around 350 images of the property in question and provides data that can be used to identify moisture trapped in roofs, produce 3D models and elevation maps, calculate flood or wildfire risk and derive property measurements.

This gives insurers several good reasons to carry out these drone inspections. Here are some notable examples in the area:

  • Erie Insurance, an American traditional insurer active in the auto, home, commercial and life insurance sectors, is generally credited as the first insurer to use drones to inspect roof damage. It received approval from the American Federal Aviation Authority in the spring of 2015.
  • Betterview is an insurtech devoted to using drones for property inspections. The company announced this April that it had executed 6,000 rooftop inspections in the last two years and then signed a partnership agreement with Loss Control 360, which makes software for insurance carriers and inspectors. “We have seen insurers allocate budget dollars in 2017 to move from concept to real production use,” Betterview CEO David Lyman told the Insurance Journal. “In 2018, we expect to see a significant ramp up in the use of drones by insurers and reinsurers.”
  • Travelers has used drones to inspect damaged roofs since 2015. The carrier provides insurance-specific drone pilot training to its claims teams; by May this year, it had trained 150 pilots and expected to train hundreds more before the end of the year.

But it’s not just roof damage that drones are being used for.

Beyond roof inspection

The French global insurer AXA reported in 2016 that it was using drones in a variety of applications in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico and Turkey. The business case is simple— to assess claims, drones can go places that are risky for humans: into fire-damaged buildings, into places where chemical toxicity is suspected and into manufacturing plants or other areas that have been subject to natural or other disasters.

AXA is developing tools and platforms to use drone images more efficiently, including this new data source in its claims adjustment processes.

Coupling imaging technologies with advanced analytics is proving useful across industries. Drones are being used in disaster management, geographic mapping, crop monitoring, supply chain monitoring, storm tracking and weather forecasting, to maintain power lines, monitor traffic flows and conduct surveillance—all instances that may assist insurers to dynamically adapt and innovate on insurance products and risk cover, especially for short-term cover.

Country Financial is, for example, using drones to identify issues in fields that are hard to spot with just “boots on the ground.” It says its crop claims adjusters using drones can scout three times as many acres as an adjuster on foot. This technology also gives farmers more information to consider when choosing how much crop insurance coverage they need, the company says, and it means more insurance plans can be based on enterprise-level data rather than county numbers.

Evolving drone technology

While these examples provide a snapshot of the growing use of drones in P&C insurance inspections, they also highlight some of the limitations of current applications.

Regulators require drone pilots to maintain line-of-sight during a flight, limiting the range of a drone’s flight. New regulations—and wider use of fixed-wing drones—could dramatically boost this range, with corresponding increases in the amount of property a single flight could cover. Technology and regulation could also conceivably enable greater autonomy for drones in the future, allowing a single pilot to oversee multiple drones at once.

See also: What Is the Future for Drones?  

A recent Businessinsider.com article highlights the emergence of generation seven of the technology, with the announcement of 3DRobotics’ all-in-one drone, Solo. These next-generation smart drones have built-in safeguards and compliance tech, smart accurate sensors, platform and payload interchangeability, automated safety modes, enhanced intelligent piloting models and full autonomy, full airspace awareness, auto action (take-off, land and mission execution). Imagine the future opportunities these drones will open up for insurers.

Quick Takes From Insuretech Connect

Last week, I was excited to attend the first Insuretech Connect conference, which brought together entrepreneurs, VCs and industry insiders to focus on the innovative (and some say disruptive) developments within the industry. I wanted to get a closer view of the emerging technology and begin to hear a clearer message about how these developments are connected with the core issues facing the industry, such as: the industry in total very rarely delivers cost of capital returns; the products are complex, and structured in ways that make them not easily consumable by customers; there is aversion to new risks by the carriers given lack of credible loss information used for pricing; a third of P&C premium is absorbed in cost of sales and delivery, an unsustainable figure; etc.

With the event behind us, here are my top takeaways:

1. There are fantastic stories beginning to emerge about the engagement of millennials (notoriously uninterested in insurance products) that over time could be hugely instructive for the broader industry.

Both Trov and Lemonade are genuinely different, with an experience that is more akin to a social media exchange with your friends as opposed to the arduous image (and sometimes reality) of most insurance buying, servicing and claims interactions. Both appear to have genuinely rethought the product being delivered.

In the case of Lemonade, the company has removed the implicit contention between insured and customer with an affinity-oriented dimension: Excess premiums not used to pay claims go to a charity of the customer’s choice. These factors alone (I will cover more below) fundamentally reposition the insurance provider in the mind of the consumer.

Trov is delivering an on-demand, single-item, micro-duration coverage – a genuinely innovative product concept. The takeaway here is that true innovation in customer experience is unlikely if there isn’t innovation in the product. Trov also provides its user with an app that has real value to the consumer independent of the insurance cover — effectively the app is a a super-easy-to-use personal asset register.

The “value in use” delivered in this app is a launch point for an entirely different type of engagement. Metromile is doing the same thing with its free smart driving app, which helps you with  where you parked your car, with diagnostics and maintenance and with trip planning. The Metromile app has tremendous value to its users independent of the usage-based insurance the app provides.

So the real question for the industry is whether Lemonade and Trov are just great ingenuity to deliver renters and single-item coverage to a segment that is meaningfully under-penetrated and uninterested in insurance, or whether these fundamental innovations will be harnessed and applied by others not just elsewhere in personal lines but in commercial and specialty lines, as well.

2. Unsurprisingly, the conference was dominated with many who are endeavoring to attack the distribution part of the value chain by changing customer experience and the cost to deliver those experiences. Many of the entrepreneurs are borrowing pages from the countless other categories that have gone through dramatic changes in distribution (financial services, travel, etc.).

It is early days, but I look forward to companies such as Embroker, which is legitimately trying to re-create the entire customer-broker experience (focused on the more complex middle-market commercial risks), with technology as a critical enabler.

One far narrower example is Terrene Labs, which is a really interesting play on big data that potentially flips the application-for-insurance process for commercial insurance on its head. Effectively, the company is developing the technology that combs the public domain to create a near-completed (and far-higher-quality) insurance application based on only a handful of questions. I highlight this venture led by the ex-CIO of Great American as he is seeking to improve the customer experience in small commercial while simultaneously slashing the front-end agency cost of entering the application data to carrier’s on-line systems.

I suspect that the much-anticipated launch of Attune, the initiative backed by Hamilton-Two Sigma-AIG, will feature this sort of change in experience. I anticipate the developments next year on distribution are going to be far more robust and measurable.

3. While there is an intensifying discussion about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the exponentially increasing data that can be accessed to evaluate risk — including sensor technology that can convert risk taking into a continuously monitored, pay-as-you-go model (even in liability classes) — most of this is futurist stuff. The exceptions are usage-based insurance (UBI) in auto, some modest developments in smart home and increasingly smart machinery monitoring you find in a variety of commercial applications.

Yet one company really stood out in its ambitions. The company, Understory, has been installing micro weather stations (wireless, solar-powered, etc.) to get a far more finite view of rain, hail, wind, etc. than the National Weather Service can provide. During a panel discussion, the CEO noted that the company can put 60 of these micro weather stations in a city for the cost of a single large radar system (around $200,000).

It is difficult to cite the specific loss to the industry of straight-line wind and hail (it runs in the tens of billions of dollars in the U.S. alone each year), and hail loss is notoriously difficult given the sometimes long tail to discover it and, in certain cases, the high fraud rate and difficulty to empirically verify whether a hail storm that occurred during a specific period of insurance coverage caused the damage.

But the sort of innovation occurring at Understory was one of the few focused on a core aspect where the risk takers can improve performance and meaningfully reduce loss costs. This is not to say that the many excellent developments around machine learning and predictive analytics applied to underwriting and claims is not similarly attacking these sorts of costs, it is just that Understory is unusual in that it is a tangible quantum improvement in data that can drive improvement in loss costs.

Look out for the next wave of “Understories” and to more tangible results from the variety of vendors pushing the machine learning/big data angle for both claims and underwriting,

4. I finish with my “not so impressed” takeaway. The most obvious aspect missing at the conference was a good economic understanding of the insurance industry by many of the entrepreneurs selling their wares. In some cases, including panelists, they were flatly wrong in their assertion and some showed little regard for the facts.

Even Daniel Schreiber, the CEO of Lemonade (whom I found to be thoroughly entertaining, insightful and articulate about many things, including behavioral economics), responded to a query from the interviewer/moderator in a way that indicates that some independent research suggests that the pricing of Lemonade’s product is a fraction of competitors. Schreiber suggested that the 25% cost for distribution (I interpreted this as total commission) and 40% total operating costs for the industry, compared with the “20% management fee Lemonade charges its customers,” is a key contributor to the difference in costs.

Underlying Schreiber’s comments was an obvious point that the cost of today’s insurance product to the customer is far too high and that innovation has to drive down costs for the insurer and prices for the consumer. At least Schreiber took on the issue in a thoughtful way.

Unfortunately, though, the 25% and 40% numbers are simply wrong. I go back to the factual economics of our industry. The INDUSTRY IN TOTAL DOES NOT EARN COSTS OF CAPITAL, so the industry in total is not getting paid for the risk it is taking. In 2015, 31% of premium (not 40%) went to sales and service. In personal lines, the numbers are far lower. As a reference point, Progressive’s total expense ratio is just under 20%, and Travelers homeowners expense ratio hovers around 28% (with a large part in commissions, given their retail distribution model ).

I am not suggesting that the industry is not ripe for some disruption, but that those are seeking to disrupt (or even enable) it need to understand the macroeconomics and then follow the money (kind of what Understory is doing).

Back to Lemonade. I can imagine that the company has built its infrastructure in such a way that the investors will get an appropriate return from the 20% management fee. I can further imagine that the model may self-select a better class of renters than the wider population and that maybe the fundamental proposition reduces fraud-driven loss costs, so a far lower price could be justified. Yet only a few of those at the conference started with a good foundation of industry and value chain economics, an understanding of the unique regulatory and product attributes that will remain for the foreseeable future, and where and how underwriting and loss performance can be improved.

As these issues come into focus, I suspect that the innovations will begin to fulfill the expectations that are building in the insurtech space.