The privacy bomb and cost of personal data debt

I often hear architects talk about technical debt but it strikes me that a different debt is waiting for insurers.

Imagine a world where the regulator says that a customer owns data about the customer, regardless of where it is stored. The key observation here is the decoupling of ownership and control with storage. Most regulators have gone nearly this far and made statements about consumer ownership of consumer data, so perhaps it's not out of step with reality. This is discussion so far but perhaps the technology hasn't caught up with the intent. If we ignore the limits of technology …

There are perhaps 3 models emerging:

  • A. The data remains where it is and is controlled from there. Requires APIs…
  • B. The data moves as customer moves. Requires data standards…
  • C. Customer data is held in a shared environment. Requires APIs and data standards

Let's take a moment to really think that through for an insurer. If you hold data about a customer in your systems, that data is owned by another party. Ownership here is a complex word – it implies but is not limited to controlling access to the data, determining appropriate use of the data, revoking access to the data, determining how long that data is kept.

Scenario A
What if the storers are obliged to provide these controls to the owner of the data and actually – what if that obligation exists regardless of whether that owner is a customer?

Such a scenario may make it prohibitive for insurers to capture and store data directly. What would the world look like in such a scenario? Insurers would request access to customers data and have to disclose why they want the data, what they will do with it and perhaps the algorithms used  in order to offer products. Such a world might favour insurers with simpler pricing algorithms that are more expensive but customers understand what is being done with the data.

If we take it a step further, in theory there would be intermediaries emerge who help manage consumer data and help consumers simply share their data with trusted partners. I would suggest most people would not dig into the detail of who is sharing what so a service that says, "we've found these 15 services that only use the data in these ways and we've packaged that up for you" would be most welcome.

If however, we take existing businesses into this world then suddenly enterprises will be faced with the issue of how do they offer appropriate controls and management around the data already in place.

The standard already exists for sharing information in this way leveraging OAUTH as is used by Twitter, LinkedIn, Google and Facebook.

Scenario B
The cost for doing migration and conversion will lie with the party holding the data. A different type of debt.

This is the model the insurance industry is assuming will come to pass but it requires shared data standards which are harder to implement than API standards. There is also the issue of potentially lossy data migrations – I.e. The quality of the data is reduced in the migration – will this be 'OK' from a regulatory point of view?

Further this is more confusing for a consumer since the mechanism and means to manage access to the data will change each time there is a move. An approach intended to increase portability and movement could become an inhibitor as consumers grow concerned about retraining.

In theory though, this would allow insurers to differentiate on trust and service – a place where they already play.

Scenario C
The greatest challenge with a shared environment is who is the trusted party? Google, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn among others have made moves into authentication but they don't hold all the data and regulators in multiple countries are seeking to grasp control and this is a topic for Insurtech startups as well.

Some see Blockchain as a possible solution – the data in a shared open place, but secured and encrypted.

At this point this seems like the least likely solution, requiring the greatest cooperation and investment from the industry and governments. Regulators at this point seem to be supporting the other two.

Which will come to pass
There is a clear trend with private data becoming more valuable, but the cost of storing it is becoming more onerous. Regardless of which of the scenarios comes to pass or if some other scheme emerges – insurers must balance the cost of storing the data and the value it may bring now and in the future.

The Great Pokemon Experiment

Nintendo's latest mobile phone (and mobile) game just keeps smashing records – it's already the biggest mobile game in the US and is looking set to become a worldwide phenomenon.

It's not relevant to insurance though is it? Well it is sort of introducing new risks with players being mugged and wandering into dangerous places including Downing Street in London apparently.

What's more interesting to me though is the mix of gamification, rewards for movement and the way it is making people meet up in novel locations.

Two opportunities sprang to mind for the industry:

  • What's most interesting to me is that if we were to measure health app's impacts by how far they get people to walk Pokemon Go could be the biggest health app of 2016, despite only launching in July. I'm curious how the Vitality and similar propositions rewarding customers for healthy behaviour will respond to the sudden uptick in activity. 
  • From an advertising point of view and ability to drive foot traffic to say, an agents office, Pokemon Go has huge potential – potential not missed on the developers as hidden code in the game already points to a hook up with McDonalds. For now though, if you have a Pokemon gym at your office location it might be a great time to do a little advertising or push that recruitment drive you've been thinking about.

As a technologist the photos springing up around the world of "Squirtle" being found in toilets (be careful where you point the camera) also goes to show how augmented reality has become mainstream as well, along with the threats AR and virtual reality could pose in at least distracted walking. I love that the digital and physical world are coming together and it's actually bringing families together too.

Whilst some will marvel at this latest craze, for those insurers with investments in the real world like agencies, offices, billboards – and for those that are agile enough – this surprise trend could serve as a great marketing route to catching all the customers, as well as all the Pokemon.

How to grow your book of business

Most carriers in North America work with independent agents. Although the majority of premium for personal lines is written direct, that is largely concentrated in a few large carriers. Carriers who use independent agents know that high production from agents is correlated with strong relationships. However, beyond encouraging a strong personal relationship with an underwriter, what else can a carrier do to systematically build a stronger connection with an agent and grow their book? Celent surveyed a group of agents to understand those areas most likely to make a carrier the agents’ top choice. The report addressed the following key research questions:
  1. When it comes to placing business with carriers, what criteria are most important to an agent?
  2. How are top carriers performing on those criteria?
  3. Where should carriers prioritize their investments in order to drive growth?
Key Findings
  • It is easy to think that price is the most important factor when it comes to where an agency chooses to place business. Competitive products and price certainly are important; however, even more important than products and price is the responsiveness of the underwriter. A fast underwriting decision is also quite important with over 60% of agents stating this is a must-have.
  • Money matters to agents although the specific components are not essential to all agents. The most important component is commissions. Interestingly enough, 40% stated that the commission rate does not necessarily have to be competitive. Only 30% said incentive compensation programs were must-haves – and 40% said they were nice to have or didn’t matter at all
  • Beyond that, agents also look for support in other areas. A strong brand is important, as it is easier to sell a company where the prospect already has an emotional connection. Marketing, training, and consulting support is seen as important by more than half the agents and especially younger agents who may benefit more from these types of services than older established agents may.
  • Mobile tools and social media support are generally not seen as important items to most agents – but there is a significant generational difference here. 25% of younger agents see mobile as a must-have compared to 4% of those over 60. Generational differences will become more important to carriers as baby boomer agents increase their rate of retirement and are replaced by GenX and Millennial agents.
  • Agents want carriers to invest in those tools that are most important in helping them perform their job of writing business and providing customer service to the policyholder. Most important to agents is continuing to build out both the integration with the Agency Management System and expanding the functionality of the Portal. Least important to agents are features such as mobile apps, online certificates of insurance, online commission statements, and access to marketing materials.
Looking ahead, the industry is likely to continue to experience increasing channel complexity and increasing regulation, which means there are opportunities both to improve the agent experience and to reduce costs along the way.  Carriers who are looking to drive growth by improving the agent experience should start by looking at their technology offerings and make sure they are delivering the functionality that is most important to their agents. This report presents the results of an online survey conducted during May 2015 of independent insurance agents. It contains 13 figures and 1 table. You can find it here: Driving Growth by Optimizing the Agent Experience

Are insurers ready for the milenial and Z generation? A Latin American perspective.

At corporate level we usually conceive and refer to technology focused on the internal use and how to reach to the outside world to provide better products, have more efficient value chains and improve service.  For example insurance portals or technologies that will improve call center performance. This conception has been very useful to the insurance industry enabling evolution and innovation. Let’s take the UK insurance market for example. The auto industry started mainly as broker based but then evolved into direct insurance. It got somehow more sophisticated with the segmentation of net-worth customers. In this sense, the use of technology has been usually seen as a support to the business, but more and more it is becoming a central part of the business model for many insurers, especially for those new and disruptive players. Following the UK example, the use of telematics and “pay as you drive” and “pay how you drive” type of insurance products has lately enabled disruptive models that also integrate internet, mobile and social media to deliver products and services. These insurers recognize the fact that consumers have incorporated technology into their daily lives and that they expect from insurers the same level of engagement and user experience they have with other players in other industries such as Apple and Amazon just to mention two. Computers are everywhere, in the office, at home, in our appliances, and electronic devices; even phones are now computers, and consumers are using them to interact with people and companies by web access, e-mail or social media. Mobility is a fact that insurers need to recognize as they deploy new technology driven strategies. A usual misconception is that emerging markets are behind most mature markets in terms of internet, social media and mobile usage. You might be surprised to know that Latin America for example:
  • Had 231M internet users in December 2011 (10% of the world internet population);
  • Had 145M Facebook users in April 2012 (18% of worldwide Facebook users), and
  • Had +500M mobile connections as from March 2010 (86% of the Latin American population)
As for smartphones, clearly of more interest for deploying self service capabilities for agents and upper income consumers:
  • Brazil has more smartphone users than France or Germany
  • Brazil and Mexico together have more smartphone users than Australia has inhabitants
  • Argentina smartphone penetration (24%) is better than in Germany
Latin American countries also present above-average usage patterns in many areas:
  • 65% of Mexican smartphone users search on their phones every day, compared to 57% in the U.S.
  • 90% of Argentine smartphone users use their phones to access social networks, compared to 63% in Japan
  • 29% of Brazilian smartphone users have changed their minds about a purchase while in a store due to research conducted on their phone, compared to 15% in Canada
Mobile is changing the way Latin American consumers interact with the world…
  • 57% of Brazilian smartphone users read newspapers or magazines on their phones
  • 73% of Argentine smartphone users check email on their phones every day
  • 81% of Mexican smartphone users watch video on their phones
 …Especially when it comes to shopping
  • 26% of Mexican smartphone users have made a purchase on their mobile
  • 45% Brazilian smartphone users have purchased on their computer after researching on their mobile
  • 82% of Argentinean smartphone users have researched a product/service on their mobile
Usage data and user behavior is indicating that engaging with consumers and stakeholders through the use of internet, mobile and social media makes sense. Though, our research shows that the priorities and investments by Latin American insurers in these areas are very low. There might be some isolated efforts, but no integral approach to embrace these technologies to provide an improved customer experience which could result in growth, retention and efficiency. This seems to be the time to start acting, unless the insurance industry in the region wants to wait and see if a disruptive outsider sets the new standard. Worth the risk?

Realizing the ROI of Social Media in Insurance

A recurring finding from Celent research concerning the use of social media in insurance is the perception that the return on investment is low or nonexistent. Given that the cost of social platforms is minimal, this implies that the benefits associated with it are thought to be very low. Celent believes that insurers can increase the actual and perceived value of social media use by extending social search tools and processes beyond marketing departments and into the core operations of their organizations. Companies can realize the ROI potential of social media by applying it broadly across the enterprise, not only as part of Marketing activities. In order to test this theory, newly published research uses a search tool, Salesforce.com Marketing Cloud, to extract 380,000 consumer posts from social sites that mention any one of 14 North American P&C insurance companies. (report url = http://www.celent.com/reports/realizing-roi-social-media-insurance-listen-mirror)This creates a mirror, held up to insurers, so that they may see what their agents, customers and prospects are saying about them. This is not study of what insurance companies want us to know… their latest contest, advertisement, or antics of their beloved mascots, but, rather, what paying customers say is important to them. It is a massive, virtual insurance consumer focus group. Social Site Distribution 2 14 13 wn By analyzing social data all the way down to the source level, Celent’s research discovered opportunities to improve insurer performance in specific functional areas. The report focuses on the functions of Service, Product Management and Claims. If found numerous and diverse examples of how these areas can be improved using the output from social listening. Examples include: providing examples of best practice for catastrophe response audits (based on recent Sandy postings), identifying cases of poor communication and planning in property risk management, and detailing interactions between customers and agents that customers said were valuable and increased the benefits of an agent relationship. However, social listening is not a silver bullet which will create customer value in and of itself. In order to maximize value from social search, insurers must perform the difficult tasks of changing work processes and driving decision-making to customer contact points. Traditional assumptions about what insurance consumers (both individuals and businesses) value must be challenged. Product experiments should be undertaken based on what is heard. Making these adjustments is a leadership, not just a technology play. This research details specific examples of actionable social content and makes suggestions of how these can be used to improve insurance operations. Social data is a good source of insights, prompts and provocations, but using it blindly as an empirical source of the truth is pushing it too far. As with any new data source, the insurance industry must conduct its due diligence and respond wisely. Once insights are validated and meaningful responses are put in place, the return on investment in social tools will be realized.

How is Social Media Being Used in Insurance?

Social Media has established a foothold in many insurers in the United States. However, strategies, goals and results vary widely. In order to shed some light on why and how this new tool is being used by insurers to enhance their businesses, Celent and Locke Lord LLP are conducting a survey among their respective clients that answers the questions most often received about the use of social media by insurance companies in North America. The survey explores the benefits, barriers, plans, legal considerations and business results of social media in insurance. The data collected will provide a picture of the current state of play and will also provide a look at what insurers expect in their “social” future. To begin, just click on the link below https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Social_Media_Use_in_Insurance_2013 So that we can get the results back to you in a timely manner, the survey will close on January 31, 2013. If you have any questions, please contact Mike Fitzgerald mfitzgerald@celent.com  

Does Private Mean Secret?

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a very interesting decision which identifies, but does not resolve, the complicated issues of privacy in the digital age (U.S. v. Jones, opinion found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1259.pdf ). The case deals with the use of a GPS monitoring device to gather information about a suspect. A concurring opinion issued by Justice Sotomayor foreshadows the work that will eventually need to be done regarding the privacy conundrum in the age of smartphones, blogs, and big data mining. She recognizes that, in the past, the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure has assumed “secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy.” She points out that, in today’s society, we all provide data in public exchanges of emails, social network postings, etc., when we engage in commerce, communication, or for convenience. However, her opinion is that persons providing data in this manner may not want the data used for broader purposes. The current law of the land as interpreted through past judicial decisions does not limit the use of the data if it was voluntarily (eg. not secretly) given / obtained. She, and other justices on the court, use the Jones decision to highlight the need to bring clarity to privacy issues in the digital / mobile age.

These decisions will directly impact the use of data in insurance transactions such as claims investigations and underwriting. Not being a lawyer, I cannot weigh in with an informed prediction about which way the court will rule, but my intuition is that it is going to be difficult to establish a standard of privacy that can be applied based on the intent of the person offering the information. When and where we can expect privacy is very different in this age of digital communication and I can tell that the issue will be difficult to resolve.

SEC Busts Broker Dealer Offering Securities on LinkedIn

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced yesterday that they have brought charges against a broker dealer for offering fictitious securities for sale on social sites. There are several good messages involved with this announcement. First, the person charged was caught before completing a sale. There is no more proactive protection than that. Second, this demonstrates that the people responsible for overseeing financial transactions are active on social media and that they are “listening”. I continue to be concerned that budget constraints will negatively affect social media monitoring and enforcement. Finally, it is a chance to reinforce the regulations that FINRA already has in place for the use of social media for legitimate purposes.

The announcement is located at http://sec.gov/news/press/2012/2012-3.htm The posting also includes a useful summary of compliance issues for companies to consider regarding social media (a National Examination Risk Alert titled “Investment Adviser Use of Social Media”).

I wish the authorities all the best in continuing to be successful in these endeavors. If there is a next Bernie Madoff, let him do his damage outside the realm of social sites.

Hey Facebook and Google, why I'm Liking it and looking forward to +1ing it

Perhaps it’s because I like technology, because I was born into an age of unprecedented technological advancement, because I’m curious or simply because I’m too lazy to keep in touch with folk but I have to say I love social networks. For me they’re a tool that allow me to keep folks up to date and to keep track of what friends and acquaintances are up to. The whole thing was brought home to me recently when I was tinkering with ancestry.com and talking to my family about my extended family. On a whim I had a quick look in Facebook for my Mum’s cousin and found her, alive and well in Australia. A few messages on Facebook later and I discovered she’d had a few children and there were grandkids dotted around Australia and the US. The real value of Facebook came home to me when I was able to sit down with my 3 year old boy and show him the pictures distant family members had shared and show him where they lived. All this and I can keep them up to date without doing more than i do today – got to love Facebook for that fire and forget, status update to everyone feature. So why use the Facebook Like button? I think about the Facebook Like button in a similar way to Amazon’s suggest feature. Every now and again I go on Amazon and tell it things I would like to get, things I’ve purchased and even rate some of the things. This investment pays dividends in relevant suggestions from Amazon on books and other items genuinely of interest to me. Facebook Like allows me to share likes with my friends and allows Facebook to suggest things I might like, so recently it suggested a bunch of my friends like Terry Pratchett’s Facebook page (I’m a fan of the UK’s most prolific author) and I happily discovered a new book is due out shortly and some of the other activities Terry is up to. For me Tweeting, Updating, Liking, Following, Friending – it’s all about filtering the wealth of information out there to find the bits I’m interested in quicker. I make investments by creating content and sharing it – like this blog post, and for my very small effort I am typically rewarded ten fold. This appeals to the lazy efficient part of me. This is how many (though not all) of my friends are using social networks today. There are issues with all this though. Different groups of people are interested in different things – I know colleagues, ex-colleagues, friends, family, folks who live in my village, people from university, school – people interested in games, technology, mobile phones, insurance technology and wierdoes as Craig Weber described them. Oddly enough I don’t know anyone who is all of these things yet these networks treat them all the same. To some degree using Facebook for some things, Linkedin for others, twitter, skype, etc. kind of works but this presentation on a version 2 of a social network really spoke to me. Google have just announced Google+ – something I’m looking forward to trying out because of a few key features:
  • circles – group friends in different ways so you can share content but only send it to those who’ll be interested. I’m looking forward to creating the wierdoes circle
  • sparks – a feature that claims to go and find content for your interests and pull them together – awesome – why search when the relevant web content can come to me?
  • hangouts – 10-way video chat! Need I say more.
Google+ is in it’s infancy and the literature lacks some of the business focus but I’m sure Google+ will find it’s way into Google Apps for Enterprise in due course. What should an insurer take away from this? The hidden subtlety here, and the reason Google has been forced to respond to Facebook with Google+ lies in sparks, or Facebook like suggestions or Amazon suggest. Internet users are moving away from searching. Brands focussing solely on search engine optimisation will lose out, as will company’s focussed on search. In the future systems will suggest content, reviews, products, brands and insurers to customers based on their behaviour and social circles. Whilst today’s drive to get Likes and reviews seems shallow and immature, it points to a fundamental shift in the role of the Internet in driving the acquisition of new business. It’s hard to say where all this will fall but a few things are clear:
  1. Whether we like them or not facebook and social networks in various guises are here to stay
  2. Google has re-entered the social network space, even if it’s not successful (like orkut?) the new features will change other social networks
  3. Social networks and they’re features are changing the way we interact with the world, each other and with insurers. Like Google, the insurance industry will be forced to respond
For more look at our coverage of social, read why Craig Weber isn’t using Facebook and look out for more on the value of Facebook pages and the social internet for the insurance industry in future posts and research. I’m off to tweet, like, post and +1 this blog post.

Hey Facebook: I’m Not Liking It

I shouldn’t admit this, but Facebook makes me queasy. I recently killed my personal Facebook account that the Class of ’83 Reunion Committee begged me to create.

Maybe it’s my unwillingness to finally be found by all those weirdoes I spent most of my high school years trying to avoid. And unlike LinkedIn, which focuses on my professional resume, on Facebook I’m supposed to put personal pictures and photos up on my wall, for all to see? I don’t think so.

Or maybe it’s the Like buttons, which have transformed “Like” into an action verb.

They remind me of second grade, where clandestine notes were used to figure out if someone “liked” someone else. As a lovelorn youth, I once tried to innovate this process by folding my note into an airplane and flying it to my target in the middle of class. Only it landed instead at the feet of my teacher, Mrs. O’Brien. She unfolded my plane, read my amorous profession silently, and handed it back to me. The answer to my question—if I ever got one—is lost to history, while the shame of my failed special ops communication persists.

But now my aversion to Facebook is extending into my professional consciousness. As if sharing of personal information and capturing the cheesy Likes of millions of users weren’t bad enough, new negatives are emerging. Businesses, not just individuals, are getting into the act. Some are creating special 2-stage fan pages, where new visitors have to Like the page to see all of the content. Even worse: Some businesses are providing hard incentives to visitors who Like their content, in a cynical bid to punch up their Like count and get their messages in front of the ever-expanding networks that are forming.

Anyone who has tried to resolve the wildly conflicting opinions found on Zagat or TripAdvisor or Ebay knows that feedback from strangers is of questionable value in determining the truth about goods or services. People’s experiences are hard to compare, even simple ones. And I have found that not many people view the world exactly the way I do, valuing the things I value and discounting the things I discount. I’m also certain that competitive misinformation, spread by competitors posing as dissatisfied customers, is rampant.

Even retreating to the comfort of your hand-crafted “social network” (ugh!) does not guarantee that you’ll turn up useful, honest, actionable data. Without talking to my friends directly, I have no way of knowing why they clicked on the Like button. Was it to congratulate a vendor on a job well done? To beef up their own level of activity to make themselves more relevant? Or perhaps to get 15 percent off their next online purchase? An analytical tool of questionable value has been further devalued. I think we should all unfriend Facebook, right before Social Studies.