Merry Apocalypse - Mayans, Gender Directive, Big Data, Zombies and an Insurance scenario
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19 December 2012Craig Beattie
With only two sleeps left until the 2012 apocalypse (has it's own Wikipedia page here) I thought it worth working through an insurance scenario regarding the end of the world as we know it. I won't go into detail but Friday the 21st of December marks the start of the 13th b'ak'tun or 22.214.171.124.0 (5126 years) of this, the fourth world. Apparently the third world failed and was destroyed on it's 13th b'ak'tun. Some argue that a galactic alignment of some sort will play havoc with the earth or that we will suffer a geo-magnetic reversal and massive solar flare. Some folks argue that this, more than the start of a new century, marks the next great epoch in human endeavors. Others suggest that it is nothing more than an occasion for a party - a new years party of sorts that only comes around every 394 years. I see that no one has noted the alignment of this date with the EU Gender Directive coming into force and the havoc that will play on insurers. This could of course align with the idea of starting a new epoch - one where insurers use usage based insurance and other schemes to greatly increase their understanding of individuals, rather than pricing on generic information and broad assumptions. Perhaps the far-sighted Mayans were in fact predicting radical shifts in attitude towards risk evaluation and perceptions on the influence of gender. So how might human civilization as we know it come to an end? A popular end of civilization scenario at the moment seems to revolve around the undead, vampires seem to get all the romantic story lines with zombies left to wipe out humanity. So how might a zombie apocalypse come about and more importantly - what would be the impact on the insurance industry? How might the zombie apocalypse come about? I think the most likely culprit we're seeing now is more likely to be a freak marketing accident rather than a freak asteroid or radiation accident. We have and are continuing to increase our understanding of the human brain, particularly tricks and ruses to dupe customers into exhibiting the behavior we want. We understand that round symbols on products tend to be associated with sweet tastes and softness, that angular symbols have a bitter taste associated. The rise of big data and predictive analytics is providing industries across the globe with new insights into how messages, images, sounds and video all influence human behavior, but we don't yet fully understand the human brain. It's conceivable therefore that in a rush to create the most viral video, to induce customers to buy more pizza/perfume/smartphones leveraging the latest tricks and wording we accidentally awaken the cannibalistic, pain resistant, brain eating behaviors we all know lie hidden deep within the limbic system of the brain. These schemes would only work on the majority of the population, not all of them. Assuming then that zombies no longer require insurance products the personal lines market would have shrunk to 20-40% of it's original size, with small business insurance likely following suit and large corporate insurance and group life schemes needing a significant re-think. I expect this would happen over a matter of months as insurers with rights to take money from the customers 'zombie account' could continue to do so until either the bank stopped the process or money ran out. For those zombies still receiving benefits payments or salary this could continue indefinitely with a very low likelihood of a claim being made - although friends and relatives could claim the funds were not taken in good faith, with the counter argument that the insurer was not informed the customer no longer wanted the policy. Clearly most insurers would need to go through a radical cost reduction exercise which would normally be associated with a mass redeployment of staff. Between 60% and 80% of staff could now be zombies by this point and therefore unlikely to contest their being made redundant - certainly many would be guilty of gross misconduct - for failing to turn up to work or attacking other employees, eating brains, etc. This leaves the significant issue of sparse insurance knowledge across the industry. This could result in a rise in outsourcing to areas less effected by the crisis that have some knowledge still in place but also a rise in the requirement for automation and straight through processing - again supporting the cost reduction exercise. Now the newly nomadic remnants of humanity would have a need for a new set of insurance products, but also would require a rethink of the distribution approach. While some agents may remain in well populated areas it seems more likely that a direct model of selling would be most appropriate. Given the focus on cost reduction and straight through processing this would likely require a self-service model driven over the Internet. Access to short range WiFi networks would be few and far between however teams of mobile maker-engineers could keep the globes cellular network going with much less effort - making mobile communications and ubiquitous smart phone and tablet technology the medium of choice, charged up regularly using solar chargers when not in areas of power. New insurance products could include:
- Shopping insurance - trips to potentially zombie-infested supermarkets and malls whilst carrying medium to heavy weaponry brings a new set of risks. Reading through online guides from insurers and using maps of safe areas from the insurer could result in discounts on the cover.
- Zombie syndrome insurance - assuming customers have a little notice of their impending induction into the zombie world they could alert the insurer who might pay out to friends and family as well as notify them that they're not coming back.
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