A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum

We had the opportunity to attend the NAMIC Farm Mutual Forum, which took place May 21st to the 23rd in Columbus, Ohio. And a funny thing happened on our way there. We were reading descriptions of the sessions to be conducted over the course of the Forum, and three of them, in particular, jumped out at us:

  1. Emerging Trends in Farm Technology
  2. The Benefits and Risks of Cloud Services
  3. Technology

If you’re anything like us, you realize those three sessions are topically related. In fact, from our perspective, they’re virtually inseparable. Here’s why:

Parts is Parts

To paraphrase a famous Wendy’s commercial, technology is technology. So, while Emerging Trends in Farm Technology cited the implications of GPS, smartphones, RTK positioning, and telemetrics (or telemetry) on the farming industry, we could drop farm from the title of the session and recognize that most industries are equally affected. The insurance industry is no exception.

By the same token, as a topic, The Benefits and Risks of Cloud Services is equally and broadly applicable. That’s why Forbes reported, “Cloud computing is projected to increase from $67B in 2015 to $162B in 2020.” It’s why Microsoft offers Office 365, even against sales of its own Office 2016 software. It’s why most of us use the cloud for file storage and data backup.

And the last session, Technology, included this in its description: “We’ll discuss the importance of technology … how technology applies to all generations … how to develop a technology implementation plan, a company website, social media accounts, and a paperless system.” It’s 2018, kids. If all of us aren’t doing all of those things, we’re not sure where we’ll be. But we’re sure we’ll be behind.

Accept the Inevitable

To his would-be rescuer, Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein says, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” Fortunately, technology isn’t a monster (no parts-is-parts pun intended). And it’s not chasing us; although, it is relentless in its evolution. But that evolution constitutes more inevitability than great and sudden change. We’ll either accept and embrace technology, or we won’t. If we don’t, we should lower our expectations for our own evolution accordingly.

We didn’t expect be thinking about all this on the way to the Forum. That’s a funny thing.

Chickens, Eggs, and Language

In the insurance industry, which is highly regulated but stubbornly non-standard, we seem to spend a lot of time explaining ourselves, don’t we? Do you ever wonder why? We have a theory:

We think it’s because of human nature.

As human beings, we’re not terribly interested in smallest, slowest, oldest, least capable, or most common. Give us bigger, faster, newer, most powerful, and avant-garde and we’ll be there every time. And so it is we find ourselves having to explain terms like insurtech, innovation, and disruption.

Words Matter

The insurance industry has been using technology for decades — from the mainframes of the 1940s to the databases of the 1960s, from Univac to IBM, from COBOL to Java, from client/server networks to the cloud. Insurance may not have been the first industry to adopt it. But adopt it we did. In that context, insurtech is just another term for what has always been insurance technology.

And pardon us for saying so, but — while the insurance industry is gradually adopting technologies available to all industries (AI, robotics, machine learning, and telematics) — there hasn’t been any new processing technology to speak of in insurance for at least a decade. And even if there were, we wouldn’t know what to do with it yet, given the nature of technology adoption and the (justifiably) conservative nature of the insurance industry.

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. (Amara’s Law)

Give Us Our Change

And then we have innovation and disruption. We don’t mean to make light of this war of withering words. But in circumstances like these, we have to leave room for a little humor, don’t we? If not humor, at least a little curiosity. So, here’s an experiment you can try at the next conference you attend:

Walk into the session entitled, “Disruptive Innovation in InsurTech”. Let everyone in the room off the hook by not asking them to define insurtech. Give them the benefit of the doubt and presume their perspectives on disruption are positive; that is, they generally assume disruption to have a positive outcome, rather than a calamitous one. Then ask them if they can tell you how innovation and disruption are different from change.

In the ensuring silence, tell them you’d like your change back.

We Have Work To Do

Our facetious levity notwithstanding, there’s serious work to be done in the insurance industry. So, rather than trying to decide which came first — the chicken or the egg; insurtech or constructive pragmatism; innovation or change where it’s needed; disruption or calm, shared progress — maybe we should talk about what needs doing right now.

We have no idea what tomorrow’s jargon will be. But we’re positive insurers have to do business today.

Let’s put our faith in practical experience and plain language to get it done.