Black Swans for Thanksgiving

I, for one, am glad its Thanksgiving next week. First, I love the feast! Family and friends (well, er, no friends this year) gather for dinner and conversation – no gifts, no chocolates, no decorations. Just like me: boring but predictable. Second, like everybody I could use a break from the craziness that is 2020, and Thanksgiving does allow one the opportunity to take a reality “time out” at least for a day.

But as my mind drifted to turkey, another bird edged its way into my brain. The proverbial black swan that is at the top of mind for many of us in the insurance community. An article yesterday in the London Times by Alex Wright highlights how many in our world are working to create insurance solutions for things that historically have been labeled uninsurable, like the pandemic.

As Alex outlined in his article, traditionally, companies have mitigated against risk by taking out an insurance policy. Underwriters would spend hours poring over reams of historical data to determine the likelihood of the risk occurring before giving a quote.  But black swans don’t fit this mode well, as by definition they defy historical data – at least in the linear manner we usually think of.

The burgeoning world of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning is looking to change that. The key benefit of AI in insurance is that it can quickly process large data sets and identify significant trends that mere mortals are unable to do.

Dr. Marcus Schmalbach created the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) World Risk Index, a parametric index that uses machine-learning to gather data from a range of trusted and verifiable sources, many of which aren’t considered in traditional underwriting. That data is then rigorously analyzed alongside information the technology has gathered from previous experiences to look for patterns and links between events and determine the likelihood of a major event occurring. Among the areas his group has successfully modelled is business interruption loss in the event of a pandemic based on the data they crunched.

Climate change, natural disasters, political and trade conflicts, all could be better priced in the insurance world with new AI applications. AI can also reduce paperwork and the time taken to receive a quote or claim. Using parametrics, AI can also establish if an event has happened, thereby triggering payouts and avoiding any disputes.  Captives are well poised to take advantage of such innovation.

While nobody can predict the future with 100% accuracy, AI will allow insurers to detect anomalies that will help anticipate future events, like pandemics, and maybe better prepare us for the black swans. Perhaps roast black swan instead of turkey….

Thanks, as always, for your continued support in these trying times. I look forward to hearing from you!

Rich Smith
VCIA President

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