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Verizon Strike: Silver Lining and a Lesson

A strike of 40,000 Verizon employees could be the best thing that has ever happened to the telecom company’s customer experience.

That’s not because the managers filling in for the front-line workers are better at serving customers (a company executive acknowledged as much in a recent Washington Post interview).

Rather, it’s because these managers are getting a first-hand, unvarnished look at what it’s like to be on the front-line. They’re seeing, with their own eyes, the obstacles that hamper employees’ best efforts to deliver a consistently great customer experience.

Verizon managers and professional staff who normally work with spreadsheets, reports and legal briefs are instead donning call center headsets, laying fiber optic cable and installing internet service. And, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, when these organizational leaders temporarily take on a front-line role, they’re spotting a variety of improvement opportunities.

An operations head whose management reports frequently showed wide variations in TV/internet installation times suddenly saw the reasons why such variations exist, putting him in a much better position to come up with solutions.

An engineer who normally monitored Verizon’s network from an office cubicle quickly discovered how work schedules can be completely disrupted when installers don’t get the information they need (such as whether a customer’s residence has previously been wired for cable or Internet).

Front-line annoyances — things that make workers’ jobs harder than they need to be — also came to light, such as how quickly the batteries drained in field technicians’ smartphones and tablets. (A Verizon manager is now exploring supplying the company’s installers with portable battery packs for their devices.)

See also: Is Verizon About to Outmaneuver Insurers?

These examples all illustrate the inherent limitations of relying on spreadsheets, reports and other traditional management information sources to reveal workplace impediments.

The internal obstacles that undermine a company’s customer experience are frequently rooted in some of the most mundane and unglamorous activities. They involve things that often don’t make it into a management report and don’t get discussed at an executive staff meeting.

By periodically venturing “into the wild” and stepping into the shoes of employees, managers can guard against this blind spot. They can witness what’s really happening on the front lines and can gain insight that’s difficult to obtain in any other way.

When armed with this unfiltered perspective, managers are much better equipped to develop actionable improvement plans — the kind that don’t just enhance the customer experience but the employee experience, too.

Don’t wait for a worker strike or some other crisis situation before venturing out to your front line. Set aside time now and start walking a few miles in your staff’s shoes.

As Verizon’s managers are fast learning, there’s no better way to understand and start overcoming the internal impediments that can sabotage your customer experience.

This article first appeared at Watermark Consulting.

Space, Aviation Risks and Higher Education

What do you do when a group of precocious students decide to build a satellite and launch it into space? Or, when they decide to build an unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV)—more commonly known as a drone—and fly it over a busy urban market? Or, when they design and launch a few rockets October Sky-style from a training field on campus before heading to a NASA competition for a chance at $50,000 in prize money?

As a risk manager, considering the answer to these questions may cause a heart palpitation or two as you think about the potential effects of these educational opportunities on the educational institution. Not only does the institution face increased liability and property damage risks, but there is also the potential for increased risk to reputation and even regulatory compliance considerations.

Insurance was likely the last thing the students at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Arlington, VA, were thinking about when they began construction on a shoebox-sized satellite called Cubesat. According to a Washington Post article, the purpose of Cubesat, which was released from the International Space Station on Feb. 15, 2016, is to beam photos from 200 miles above the Earth back to computers in their school library. You can view pictures from the satellite here.

See Also: Should We Take This Risk?

Insurance was also, probably, the last thing students from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater were thinking about in October 2015 when they launched their drone to capture aerial images of the new Whitewater City Market. According to the University of Wisconsin News, the purpose of the project was to respond to the market organizer’s request to geographically depict the organic growth of the Whitewater City Market. A video of the aerial images has been posted to YouTube and can be viewed here.

To the 54 college teams selected by NASA for 2015-2016 NASA Launch Challenge, insurance was likely pretty low on the list of considerations as the teams worked to design, construct, test, launch and successfully recover a high-powered reusable rocket and its payloads. The purpose of the challenge is to encourage participation in STEM fields and to examine innovative solutions to potential issues that may arise during space travel. There is also $50,000 in prize money for the top three teams that complete the challenge. For 2015-16, the competing rockets will be launched on April 16, 2016.

So, what are the risks associated with these types of activities, and how can insurance assist the college in transferring some of these risks?

According to a white paper recently published by Allianz, a large commercial insurer, these types of aviation/space risks can be bifurcated into two areas: (1) ground or pre-launch risks and (2) in-orbit or post launch risks.

Ground risks include:

  • Hazard or catastrophic risk to facilities because of fire. This type of risk can be significantly increased if someone is using flammable chemicals, such as nitrogen or any of the components present in rocket fuel. Keeping these materials on campus can create additional risk for the institution, which may not be contemplated in current insurance programs.
  • Transportation risk increases the risk of property and liability losses. Moving rocket components, including flammable materials, increases the potential for losses to (1) the components themselves and (2) a third party that may be injured as a result of an incident on the road.
  • Liability loss because of launch failure may result in damage to property near the launch site or even injury to a third party, faculty member or student. Failure to take adequate safety precautions during design/construction—working with chemicals, power tools and other materials—may result in increased potential for injury to students and faculty participating in the project.

Post-launch risks:

  • Loss of the object because of malfunction, damage or equipment failure, items that represent a significant investment of time, resources, and materials. Such a loss may result in the inability to participate in a competition, a loss of grant money or additional time spent rebuilding or reworking the project.
  • Liability loss due to in-air collision, falling objects or interference with another aerial object (such as a satellite signal or an airplane’s operating equipment)—these types of incidents may result in significant bodily injury or property damage of a third-party property.

Typical insurance policies maintained by most institutions may not provide adequate coverage for space/aviation risks:

Property policy—Provides coverage for loss or damage to property, equipment and materials of the university. Coverage is generally broad but may exclude: (1) hazardous materials, (2) property in transit or off premise, (3) property not owned by the university and (4) pollution because of the release of a hazardous substance or chemical.

General liability policy—Provides coverage for the injury or property damage of a third party because of the negligence of the institution or those operating on behalf of the institution. Coverage responds to a wide range of standard risks, but there may be exclusions for: (1) aviation risks, (2) loss caused by the acts of a third party, such as a student or contractor, (3) third-party liability related to a discharge of pollutants/chemicals, (4) loss of institutional reputation or cost of a crisis management team, (5) coverage for regulatory fines and penalties for failure to obtain proper permits, etc. and (6) the liability to a third party because of the failure of a vessel to perform as expected or because of a design flaw.

Automobile liability policy—Provides coverage for liability and property damage associated with the operation of a motor vehicle. Coverage responds to a wide range of standard risks, but there may be exclusions for: (1) pollution because of the discharge of a chemical substance transported on or in the vehicle, (2) liability for use of third-party transportation, such as a rental vehicle or bus charter or the use of a personal vehicle by a faculty member or student and (3) property damage to institutional property being transported on or in the vehicle.

There are additional types of coverage that may be needed, including:

Pollution coverage—Including premises pollution (to provide coverage for the institution’s own facilities) and pollution liability coverage (to provide coverage for third-party exposure to pollutants)

Aviation/space coverage—Specialized policies can provide coverage for losses to an aerial vessel or its equipment and, also, for the most common types of liability loss (collision, crash or interference). Note: Special endorsements may be required for drones.

Inland marine rider/policy—Provides coverage for scheduled equipment and property that may not otherwise be covered by the institution’s standard property coverage. This can include coverage for property that is being transported in a vehicle

Crisis management coverage—Provides coverage for loss or damage to the institution’s reputation; this may include coverage for the costs to engage a crisis mitigation team and public relations experts or the cost to take other steps to preserve and restore the reputation of the institution.

See Also: What Is the Future for Drones?

Professional liability—Provides coverage to professionals because of the failure of the design/construction or for the failure of the devise to perform as intended. This coverage may include coverage for damages not related to injury or to property damage— including the financial loss and the costs for rework and redesign.

Not all insurance policies are created equal—individual coverage and policies may respond differently. Please consult with an expert if you if you have questions about coverage for these types of institutional activities.

The Incredible Impact From Superbosses

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 technological breakthroughs 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.

“I don’t care if you have to take drugs, you have to build it in six months,” said my boss, Khurshed Birdie, when I told him that he was on drugs if he thought my team could create a software development tool set in less than three years. This was in 1986 at Credit Suisse First Boston, one of New York City’s top investment banks. We were rebuilding the company’s trade processing systems to run on a client–server model of computing. This technology is common now, but then it was as futuristic as “Star Wars.”

My team worked day and night to build a technology that became the foundation of the company’s information systems. It gave Credit Suisse First Boston a competitive edge and led IBM to invest $20 million in a spinoff company that was formed to market the tools we had developed.

I was a lowly computer programmer, an analyst when Birdie hired me, a computer geek who didn’t own any three-piece suits, white two-ply cotton shirts or wing-tipped Oxford shoes — the uniform of investment bankers. Yet I was hired on the spot. I had some far-out ideas about how computer systems could be built but didn’t believe for a second that I could implement them. My boss did: He believed in me more than I did, and he bet a $100 million project on my vision.

He allowed me to expand my team from four to 54 people and shielded me from criticism by other teams who had to use my tools to build their systems — and who thought I was crazy. There were a lot of problems along the way, and Birdie allowed me to learn from my mistakes. And then he promoted me to vice president of information technology when I achieved success.

Birdie was what Sydney Finkelstein, a Dartmouth business professor, in his new book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent, calls a “superboss.”

As Finkelstein explains, superbosses take chances on unconventional talent. Oracle’s founder, Larry Ellison, hired candidates who had accomplished something genuinely difficult, rather than those with formal qualifications, because he believed they would rise to the technical challenges. Designer Ralph Lauren offered jobs to strangers whom he met while dining in New York City restaurants. Superbosses take raw talent and build self-confidence. They hire for intelligence, creativity and flexibility — and are not afraid of people who may be smarter than they are.

Under Finkelstein’s definition of superbosses, Birdie would be categorized as a “glorious bastard”: someone who cares only about winning. Deep down, he had a good heart —  but was ruthless in setting expectations and driving people to work extremely hard. I’ll never forget him telling me that “Christmas was an optional holiday.” These bosses realize that, to get the very best results, they need to drive people to perform beyond what seems reasonable and achievable.

Even though I achieved a lot, I hated working for Birdie, because I had to neglect my family for months on end. This isn’t something I would ever do to my employees. My next boss, Gene Bedell, was very different. He left his job as managing director of information technology to found Seer Technologies, the start-up that IBM had funded. Bedell convinced me to leave my high-paying investment-banking job to join him in a No. 2 role, as chief technology officer, at the low-paying, high-risk, start-up.

Bedell was what Finkelstein calls a “nurturer”: someone who coaches, inspires and mentors. These superbosses take pride in bringing others along and care deeply about the success of their protégés; they help people accomplish more than they’d ever thought they could.

Bedell managed by a method he called “outstanding success possibilities.” He challenged his executives to set ultra-ambitious goals and then find unconventional ways to achieve them. Instead of managing to what was achievable and possible, we shot for the impossible. And then did whatever it took to get there — without worrying about failure or looking back. It is amazing what you can achieve when you have a single-minded focus. We took Seer Technologies from zero to $120 million in annual revenue and an IPO in just five years — faster than any other software company of that era, including Microsoft and Oracle.

Superbosses create master–apprentice relationships. They customize their coaching to what each protégé needs and are constant fonts of practical wisdom. Bedell taught me how to sell. A year after the company was formed, he sent me to Tokyo to sell IBM-Japan on an $8.6 million deal to fund the creation of a Japanese version of our product. I didn’t think that a techie like me could do these things; he taught me that selling was an art that could be learned and perfected. I helped our salespeople close more than $200 million in software deals. And that is another skill that superbosses have, building what Finkelstein calls the “cohort effect”: teamwork and competition combined. Lorne Michaels, for example, who created “Saturday Night Live,” judged writers and performers by how much of their material actually went to air — but they had to do it with the support of their coworkers, the people they were competing with.

A common trait of superbosses is the ability to delegate work and build jobs on the strengths of their subordinates. They trust subordinates to do their jobs and are as supportive as can be. They remain intimately involved in the details of the businesses and build true friendships. Bedell often invited my family to his vacation home near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He took me to Skip Barber Racing School to learn how to race a Formula Ford and built a gym in his basement so that his executive team could lift weights together.

You will find the alumni of our project at Credit Suisse First Boston and Seer Technologies in senior leadership roles now, at companies such as IBM, PayPal, American Express and every one of the top investment banks. Many started their own companies, as I later did. There are literally hundreds of people who built successful careers because of my two superbosses. When I became an academic later in life, I was fortunate to have two superboss deans at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, Kristina Johnson and Tom Katsouleas, who nurtured me. Superbosses aren’t just in corporations — they can be found everywhere.

Yes, I know that I got lucky in having good bosses; most are jerks who demotivate employees, slow their growth, backstab and take credit for others’ work. You are usually stuck with whomever you get. But there is nothing that stops you from being a superboss. As you begin to achieve success, start helping others and nurturing your colleagues and subordinates. Show the leadership qualities that you’d like your own boss to have. You will gain as much as the people you help — and build a better company.

This article first appeared at the Washington Post.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Blockchain Technology and Insurance

What if there was a technological advancement so powerful that it transforms the very way the insurance industry operates?

What if there was a technology that could fundamentally alter the way that the economics, the governance systems and the business functions operate in insurance and could change the way the entire industry postulates in terms of trade, ownership and trust?

This technology is here, and it’s called the blockchain, best known as the force that drives Bitcoin.

Bitcoin has gotten a pretty bad rap over the years for good reason. From the collapse of Mt. Gox and the loss of millions –  to being the de facto currency for pedophilia peddlers, drug dealers and gun sellers on Silk Road and the darling of the anarcho-capitalist community – Bitcoin is not doing well in the public eye. Its price has also fluctuated wildly, allowing for insane speculation, and, with the majority of Bitcoins being owned by the small group that started promoting it, it ‘s sometimes been compared to a Ponzi scheme.

Vivek Wadhwa writes in the Washington Post that Chinese Bitcoin miners control more than 50% of the currency-creation capacity and are connected to the rest of the Bitcoin ecosystem through the Great Firewall of China, which slows down the entire system because it is the equivalent of a bad hotel Wi-Fi connection. And the control gives the People’s Army a strategic vantage point over a global currency.

Consequently, the Bitcoin brand has been decimated and is thought by too many to be a kind of dodgy currency on the Internet for dodgy people.

The blockchain, a core technology behind what drives Bitcoin, has been slow to enter the Zeitgeist because of this attachment to Bitcoin, the bête noire of the establishment.

But that is changing fast. Blockchain as a tool for disintermediation is simply too powerful to ignore.

People are now beginning to really look at the blockchain as an infrastructure for more than monetary transactions and what it has done for Bitcoin. Just as Bitcoin makes certain financial intermediaries unnecessary, innovations on the blockchain remove the need for gatekeepers from a number of processes, which can really grease the wheels of any business, including insurance companies.

How blockchain works and can work for the insurance industry

Because of the way it distributes consensus, the blockchain routes around many of the challenges that typically arise with distributed forms of organization and issues such as how to cooperate, scale and collectively invest in shared resources and infrastructures.

In the blockchain, all transactions are logged, including information on the date, time and participants, as well as the amount of every single transaction in an immutable record.

Each trust agent in the network owns a full copy of the blockchain, and, in the case of a private consortium blockchain (more relevant to the insurance industry), the transactions are verified using advanced cryptographic algorithms, and the “Genesis Block” sits within the control of the consortium.

The mathematical principles also ensure that these trust agents automatically and continuously agree about the current state of the blockchain and every transaction in it. If anyone attempts to corrupt a transaction, the trust agents will not arrive at a consensus and therefore will refuse to incorporate the transaction in the blockchain.

Imagine there’s a notary present at each transaction. This way, everyone has access to a shared, single source of truth. This is why we can always trust the blockchain.

Imagine a healthcare insurance policy that can only be used to pay for healthcare at certified parties. In this case, whether someone actually follows the rules is no longer verified in the bureaucratic process afterward. You simply program these rules into the blockchain.

Compliance in advance.

Automation through the use of smart contracts also leads to a considerable decrease in bureaucracy, which can save accountants, controllers and insurance organizations in general an incredible amount of time.

While the global bankers are far out of the blocks when it comes to learning, understanding and now embracing blockchain technology, the insurance industry is lagging. Between 2010 and 2015, a mere 13% of innovation investments by insurers were actually in insurance technology companies.

There are some efforts to tap innovation, as the Financial Times in the UK recently wrote. European insurers such as Axa, Aviva and Allianz, along with MassMutual and American Family in the U.S. and Ping An in Asia are setting up specialist venture capital funds dedicated to investing in start-ups that may be relevant for their core businesses.

Aviva recently announced a “digital garage’ in Singapore, a dedicated space where technical specialists, creative designers and commercial teams explore, develop and test new insurance ideas and services that make financial services more tailored and accessible for customers.

And others are sure to follow in the insurance industry, particularly because both the banking industry and capital markets are bullish on investing in innovation for their own sectors – and particularly because they are doing a lot of investment in and around blockchain.

Still, the bankers and capital markets are currently miles ahead of the insurance industry when it comes to investing in blockchain research and startups.

Competitors in the capital markets and banking industries in terms of blockchain solutions include: the Open Ledger Project, backed by Accenture, ANZ Bank, Cisco, CLS, Credits, Deutsche Börse, Digital Asset Holdings, DTCC, Fujitsu Limited, IC3, IBM, Intel, J.P. Morgan, London Stock Exchange Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), R3, State Street, SWIFT, VMware and Wells Fargo; and the R3 Blockchain Group, whose members include the likes of Barclays, BBVA, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Royal Bank of Scotland, State Street and UBS.

Then there are start-ups like Ripple and Digital Asset Holdings, led by ex-JPMorgan exec Blythe Masters, who turned down a job as head of Barclays’ investment bank to build her blockchain solution for banking.

There are others in the start-up world moving even faster in the same direction, some actually operating in the market, such as Billoncash in Poland, which is the world’s first blockchain cryptocash backed by fiat currency and which passed through the harsh EU and national regulatory systems with flying colors. Tunisia is replacing its current digital currency eDinar with a blockchain solution via a Swiss startup called Monetas.

There are both threats and opportunities for the bankers… so what about the global insurance industry?

Every insurance company’s core computer system is, at heart, a big, fat centralized transaction ledger, and if the insurance industry does not begin to learn about, evaluate, build with and eventually embrace blockchain technology, the industry will leave itself naked and open to the next Uber, Netflix,  AirBnB or wanna-be unicorn that comes along and disrupts the space completely.

Blockchain more than deserves to be evaluated by insurers as a potential replacement for today’s central database model.

Where should the insurance industry start?

Companies need to start to experiment, like the bankers and stock markets, by not only working with existing blockchain technologies out there but by beginning to experiment within their own organizations. They need to work with blockchain-focused accelerators and incubators like outlierventures.io in the UK or Digital Currency Group in the U.S. and tap into the latest start-ups and technologies. They need to think about running hackathons and start to build developer communities – to start thinking about crowdsourcing innovation rather than trying to do everything in-house.

Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter have hundreds of thousands of innovators creating products on spec via their massive developer communities. Insurance companies that don’t start lowering their walls might very well find themselves unable to innovate as quickly as emerging companies that embrace more open models in the future and therefore find themselves moot. Kodak meet Instagram.

The first step for insurance companies with blockchain technology will likely be to look at smart contracts, followed by looking for identity validation and building new structural mechanisms where parties no longer need to know or trust each other to participate in exchanges of value.

Blockchain technology, for instance, can also allow for accident or health records to be stored and recorded in a decentralized way, which can open the door for insurance companies to reduce friction in the current systems in which they operate.

Currently, the industry is highly centralized, and the introduction of new blockchain-fueled structures such as mutual insurance and peer-to-peer models based on the blockchain could fundamentally affect the status quo.

As comedian and writer Dominic Frisby once penned, “The revolution will not be televised. It will be cryptographically time stamped on the blockchain.”

Some of the many questions that the industry should explore:

  • What kind of effect will blockchain technology adoption in markets have on the the public’s perception of risk?
  • Today, the insurance industry is centralized, but what could it look like if it were decentralized?
  • How could that affect how insurance companies mutualize?
  • Can the blockchain improve customer relations and confidence?
  • Can smart contracts built on the blockchain automate parts of the process in how business is done in the insurance industry?

If you want to explore further, sign up to express interest here about our coming event in London: Chain Summit Blockchain Event for Insurance.