Tag Archives: yelp

Technology and the Economic Divide

Yelp Eat24 customer-support representative Talia Jane recently wrote a heart-wrenching blog about the difficulties she faced in living on her meager salary. “So here I am, 25 years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week,” she wrote. Her situation was so dire that, on one occasion, she could not even come up with the train fare to work.  She lived on the junk food that they provide at work.

Her message was addressed to Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman.

What did the company do? It fired her on the spot. Yes, Jane made a mistake in posting this message on Medium rather than sending an email to Stoppleman. But her situation isn’t unique. She outlined the contours of a life that are familiar to many of the people working on the lowermost rungs of technology’s corporate ladder.

After a social media backlash, Stoppleman acknowledged that the cost of living in San Francisco is too high and tweeted that there needs to be lower-cost housing.

But the problem is more complex than San Francisco’s housing costs. The problem is the growing inequality and unfair treatment of workers. And technology is about to make this much worse and create a cauldron of unrest.

Silicon Valley is a microcosm of the problems that lie ahead. Sadly, some of its residents would rather brush away the poverty than face up to its ugly consequences. This was exemplified in a letter that Justin Keller, founder of Commando.io, wrote to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr.  He complained that the “homeless and riff-raff” who live in the city are wrecking his ability to have a good time.

The Valley’s moguls do not overtly treat as inconveniences to themselves the bitter life trajectories that lead to experiences such as Keller complained of; but they have largely been in denial about the effects of technology. Other than a recent essay by Paul Graham on income inequality, there is little discussion about its negative impacts.

The fact is that automation is already decimating the global manufacturing sector, transforming a reliable mass employer providing middle-class income into a much smaller employer of people possessing higher-level educations and skills.

The growth of the “Gig Economy”—ad hoc work—is shifting businesses toward the goal of part-time, on-demand employment, with aggressive avoidance of obligations for health insurance and longer-term benefits. And the tech industry has a winner-takes-all nature, which is why only a few giant digital companies compete with each other to dominate the global economy.

A substantial part of the value they capture is concentrated at the center and mostly benefits a few shareholders, executives and employees. With technology advances and convergence, we are in the middle of a gold rush that is widening inequality.

Already, in Silicon Valley, the Google bus has become a symbol of this inequity. These ultra-luxurious, Wi-Fi–connected buses take workers from the Mission district to the GooglePlex, in Mountain View. The Google Bus is not atypical; most major tech companies offer such transport now. But so divisive are they that in usually liberal San Francisco, activists scream angrily about the buses using city streets and bus stops, completely ignoring the fact that they also take dozens of cars off the roads.

Teslas, too, have become symbols of the obnoxious techno-elite—rather than being celebrated for being environmentally game-changing electric vehicles. In short, there’s very little logic to the emotionally charged discussions—which is the same as what we are seeing at the national level with the presidential primaries.

Intellectuals are trying to build frameworks to understand why the divide, which first opened up in the 1990s, continues to worsen.

Thomas Piketty explained in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century that the economic inequality gap widens if the rate of return on invested capital is superior to the rate at which the whole economy grows. His proposed response is to redistribute income via progressive taxation.

A competing theory, by an MIT graduate student, holds that much of the wealth inequality can be attributed to real estate and scarcity. Silicon Valley has both: an explosion in wealth for investors and company founders, and a real-estate market constrained by limits on development.

We need to immediately address San Francisco’s housing crisis and raise wages for lower-skilled workers.

Both are possible; the region has enough land, and the industry has enough wealth. In the longer term, we will also need to develop safety nets, retrain workers and look into the concept of a universal basic income for everyone.

It is time to start a nationwide dialogue on how we can distribute the new prosperity that we are creating with advancing technologies.

Restoring the Agent-Client Relationship

There has been a lot of frustration in the insurance industry from both those who sell it and those who need it. Both camps are suffering financially, and both can do better if they get together on vital insurance protection, but they just can’t seem to hook up without jumping through hoops. In an era of hyper-information and instant communication, this disconnect may seem crazy, but it’s real. In a time of chaotic change, an online meetup service would be valuable to agents and consumers alike to repair that agent/client relationship and put the personal touch back into insurance.

Financially challenged agents and consumers

Incomes have stagnated for insurance agents and the general public alike, and the route to better times seems unclear for both sides. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for insurance sales agents inched up only 2% between 2010 and 2014. In 2010, it was $62,520.  In 2014, it was $63,730. Furthermore, the field has become overcrowded, with 18% more agents vying for the business in 2014 than in 2010.

The general public has fared no better. Following the Great Recession, which began in December 2007, the wealthiest Americans have done well. The “rest of us,” however, continue to struggle. The proportion of American households defined as “middle-income” remained stagnant from 2010 through 2014, at about 51%, according to a Pew Research Center study. Back in 1970, the “middle-income” percentage was 10 points higher.

The potential for pocketbook improvements

Both insurance agents and their prospects could do better financially if they could somehow get together more quickly and smoothly – through a matchmaker or intermediary.

It’s easy to see how agents could profit. With, say, a 10% to 50% increase in qualified leads per month, a corresponding jump in income could be expected. And with other efficiencies through more nuanced matchmaking, even greater income increases might be forthcoming – through enhanced referrals, for example.

It’s a little more complicated to see how connecting more smoothly could financially benefit insurance buyers. It becomes clear, though, when one goes to the heart of what insurance is for.  It’s for mitigating risk, which can be expensive. It also means personal benefits such as improved health and well-being. For example, good guidance from an agent can:

  • Make the difference between paying and not having to pay for home repairs after a type of storm damage not covered by an “economy” policy the agent advised against.
  • Preserve a family’s estate by convincing the family, early on, of the prudence of securing long-term-care insurance. This could be a financial game changer for millions of families that are now exposed. According to industry estimates, about 90% of those who could benefit from LTC insurance do not own a policy. And one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy is uncovered health expenses, especially in the later years!
  • Help keep clients safe and whole through an auto policy with safe-driving incentives. The potential benefits range from lower premiums to higher lifetime incomes because of avoiding accidents that might interrupt the ability to work.

As technology and society evolve, good guidance from an insurance agent may affect people’s pocketbooks and lives in more significant ways than ever. More and more agents can:

  • Team with financial advisers to foster sound budgeting, savings, investments and money management.
  • Influence their clients’ health by recommending policies, now starting to appear, that come with fitness incentives. The financial win here is double: lower premiums for keeping up one’s wellness routine and greater lifetime earnings through enhanced vitality and work-span.

The matchmaker solution

A good matchmaking service brings insurance agents and buyers together in very efficient, human ways. It starts with search and ends with introductions and contact.  It includes:

  • A search function to locate agents for a particular type of insurance (auto, critical illness, health, homeowners, life, long-term care, Medicare supplement) in a particular geographic area.
  • A list of agents with their pictures and names visible, for the buyer to peruse and select from.
  • Details about each agent, including:
    • Insurance lines and carriers represented.
    • Agent’s biography or background description.
    • Reviews or testimonials with ratings (usually one to five stars).
    • Link to the agent’s personal or business website.
    • Other information ranging from a location map to social media links.

Limited matching has existed for a few years. Some generic consumer rating and matching services embrace insurance agents. They include Yelp and Angie’s List. General search services, such as Google and Bing, serve as de facto matching services, but in a very spotty way. Insurance associations develop leads that are sold to agents but do not typically provide free online access to individual agents.

Robust agent-buyer matching, with all the above elements, is ready for prime time. In 2015, Agent Review, the first complete rating and matching service designed specifically for insurance agents and insurance buyers, was introduced.

Finding Actionable Provider Ratings

With the tongue-in-cheek title, “When Yelp reviews are better than hospital rating systems” Jason Beans of Rising Medical Solutions discloses the inconsistencies of standard hospital reviews. He cites a Health Affairs study that points out that traditional rating systems, those that have been relied upon in the healthcare industry for years, rarely come up with the same results for the same hospital.

Provider ratings score hospital performance in an effort to determine quality and safety in hospitals. The Health Affairs study concludes that discrepancies among provider ratings systems are likely explained by the fact that each uses its own rating methods, defines quality differently and stresses different measures of performance. Apparently, no standards for quality and safety in hospitals are available.

This raises the question of how scoring systems for rating other medical providers differ from those of hospital scoring systems. More specifically, what about those used to score provider performance in workers’ compensation?

Lest the conclusion be that all provider performance scoring systems lack credibility, it might be instructive to at least loosely compare hospital rating systems with physician scoring in workers’ compensation.

Not Similar

The conditions, methodology and approaches are significantly different. The hospital rating systems cited by Health Affairs evaluate general health in acute care settings. To measure cost, they measure an episode of care on a per diem (per day) basis for individual hospital stays, adjusted by diagnosis and procedures. Often, subjective reports are used, as well.

On the other hand, measures of quality performance in workers’ compensation are unique to the industry, and the number of measurable variables is numerous. How a medical provider acknowledges and influences distinctive industry factors along with success of the medical treatment procedures are indicators of quality performance.

Episode of Care

One major difference is that the episode of care in workers’ compensation is not per diem, but is defined by the scope of the claim. An episode of care (claim) is from the date of injury to claim closure and includes all treatment, medical providers, vendors, events and outcomes that occur during that time. An episode may or may not include hospitalization, but when it does, those costs and events are included with total claim. In other words, the episode of care is highly definable in workers’ compensation. It is broad and comprehensive.

Quality Indicators

A number of non-medical indicators found in the data reflect unique conditions in workers’ compensation that are influenced by treating providers. Measures of quality include return to work and indemnity costs, neither of which is medical treatment precisely, but is strongly influenced by the treating provider and affects the cost of the claim. Consequently, these factors must be included in evaluating performance.

Frequency and duration of treatment, as well as duration of the claim, are indicators of provider performance. Providers can contain or increase costs described by these factors. Functional outcome described in the data as disability ratings at the conclusion of the claim are also measures of treatment success.

Clinical factors and treatment processes are important quality indicators, of course, and must be included in the evaluation and scoring. Abuse of Schedule II drugs are, for example, a major cost driver in workers’ compensation. Dispensing medications is another.

Source Data

Each data-rich claim contains the information necessary to evaluate medical provider performance for workers’ compensation. Importantly, the data must be integrated from the silos of bill review, claims system and PBM (pharmacy) to achieve a comprehensive picture of the claim and medical providers’ involvement.

Workers’ compensation can be more complex than general health because it is a legal system rather than a defined benefit. Every claim has administrative aspects as well as medical assessment and treatment. It’s all in the data.

Objective Data

Scores of medical provider quality indicators can be found in workers’ compensation data. The beauty is that data describes what actually took place during the course of the claim, not what should have happened or an opinion about it. It is concrete and objective. Yelp can’t help.

The Need for Speed: It Just Keeps Intensifying

At the recent meeting of the Insurance Accounting & Systems Association, President Bill Clinton said in his keynote speech, “Share the future or fight over it.”

As an industry, we have a history of collaborating, which has benefited all of us, but we need to raise the bar to succeed in this fast-changing world. Other industries and businesses are changing all around us and seeking to encroach on and challenge insurance. So we must embrace open innovation, collaboration, crowdsourcing and ideation with new standards and at higher levels within companies, within the industry and even between industries.

The topics of innovation, change, and emerging technologies were the focus of this year’s IASA “Around the Horn” industry analyst panel. I had the pleasure of representing SMA, and as I prepared for the panel session I found myself taking a step back. I realized that when leveraging the vast base of SMA research and insights and blending that with the broader strategic business implications for the industry, a powerful story emerged. A wave of disruption and innovation has hit our industry with an intensity that we didn’t quite expect.

In the spirit of sharing, for those who did not attend, here is a summary of my rapid-fire responses to the panel questions to help inspire you, challenge you and get you to embrace collaboration as an industry to help you quickly define your future:

–Innovation is happening all around us. We are at the forefront of what is probably the greatest disruption in history: the digital revolution. And it is affecting every industry. This revolution is fueled by the breadth and depth of the new technologies that are changing customer engagement, transforming products and services, redefining business and revenue models, breaking down barriers to new entrants and more – look at the Apple iPhone, introduced 7 years ago, and the resulting destruction and construction of industries and businesses. Today, the bar is set at a new high. Operational excellence is an absolute. Innovation is necessary for future success. And the Next-Gen Insurer is being defined and shaped.

–Insurers must have a strong culture that combines the power of open innovation with an ecosystem that empowers collaboration. If we don’t define our own future as an industry, other industries may try to step in and define it for us.

–We must focus on the constantly connected customer. We all must recognize that, in this digital revolution, the customer is in control and is defining the channels that he or she wants to use – from purchasing through service. As insurers seek to become digital insurers, they must have unified digital strategies that create seamless, consistent and connected customer experiences in an omni-channel environment. Think like Google, Zappos, Apple, Nike, AT&T and others that are the new digital leaders.

–Product development and configuration are key differentiation levers. These capabilities are shaping today’s competitive landscape, with speed to market of paramount importance. The pressure to stay current, deliver new offerings and price accurately is driving many insurers to seek innovative solutions. The average new product implementation timeline is nearly 7.5 months. Less than 2% of insurers can implement in less than 30 days. But some innovative companies have found a way to implement in less than 5 days! Another emerging capability of even greater importance is the enabling of product co-creation – customers can help to configure their own products according to their wants and needs.

–Usage based insurance (UBI) is not just about product; it’s a whole new business model. UBI moves the focus from risk assessment to risk prevention. And its application is much larger than auto insurance. It is about the connected car, the connected home and the connected life. UBI is the precursor of a broader impact of sensors and the Internet of Things that will allow us to connect the dots between data for new customer products, services, outcomes and experiences – providing a real-time view of risk.

–Data is the new currency in the digital world. Data has always been seen as the lifeblood of the industry, but its strategic value is now at the forefront. And big data, business intelligence and analytics continue to take the insurance industry by storm. What is holding insurers back is the lack of a data management strategy and a deficient level of data mastery. Both strategy and mastery will be needed to unlock the full business value of data, whether transactional, unstructured, internal or external.

–Social media is a subset of digital data. Customers are sharing information about all aspects of their lives – social, pictures, online discussions, GPS, sensors, mobile technologies and more – and all this data is in the cloud. People are able to search their recorded memories and use new tools that can influence and shape their lives like never before. New companies are creating digital lockers for data that can be stored and managed by customers to be used in innovative ways. When new solutions like these form around customer logging activities, the question from customers will be: “Is the value of what I’m revealing worth the services I’m receiving in return?” The key issue will be the customers’ control of their data.

–Digitalization is happening and is dramatically destructive. A foundational change is taking place in the way all businesses are approaching value creation. In today’s hyper-connected world, companies are moving from managing value chains to managing ecosystems to power their businesses. The ubiquitous connectivity of people via the Internet and emerging technologies is disrupting traditional business assumptions about how to engage customers, the products and services offered and, ultimately, business and revenue models. Just look at these transformations: from the Yellow Pages to Yelp, hailing a cab to Uber or Lyft, booking a hotel to Airbnb and policemen managing traffic to managing traffic with crowdsourcing Waze. All of these represent the disruption happening all around insurance and point to the imminent disruption that will transpire within insurance.

–Mobile is much broader than the phone and tablet. It includes smartphones, MP3 players, e-readers, in-dash car electronics, cameras, portable consoles, home entertainment, appliances and any device or sensor that connects to the internet to share data. And there is now a continuing evolution of mobile apps from multi-purpose websites or portals to single-purpose apps. This will compel companies to design apps as a service layer within an enterprise technical architecture that will enable seamless integration and connectivity between apps – critically important with the Internet of Things.

–Cloud is increasingly mainstream because that is where the data is moving. Two years ago, it was an option in core system RFPs, whereas today it is increasingly a preferred choice. The future will be the Cloud of Things, a world of distributed data, devices, technology, intelligence, computing, etc. that is highly connected and will enable the creation of products and services.

–The issue is “customer empowerment,” not “customer-centricity.” Customer-centricity is a 1990s/early 2000s term and is only a subset of customer empowerment. We used to shape the customer experience; now it is shaped for us by the rest of the world. Customer empowerment defines new engagement models. As customers gain market power, they are increasingly comfortable with technology, have a stronger voice and use it to demand collaboration. Insurers must view all technology as touching customers, because it influences the customer experience, both directly and indirectly, ultimately shaping and defining the customer relationship.

–As an industry, we are seeing challenges to our long-held assumptions and business models coming at us every day. Technology is now super-connected, creating new experiences, new products and services, new outcomes and new business and revenue models that were not possible a few years ago. Just as the iPhone provided a platform of possibilities, core systems – integrated with an array of new technologies like mobile, social, Internet of Things, cloud, big data, analytics, driverless vehicles, biotechnology and much more – have the potential to transform our industry … and to do it on our own terms.

So be inspired. Be creative. Be collaborative. Be bold. Let’s create and share the future together!