2017 RIMS

Blockchain Pros and Cons

If barriers to implementation are brought down, blockchain offers potential for financial institutions.
By: | April 25, 2017 • 4 min read

With hackers growing more sophisticated every day, companies and their customers could benefit from some bulked-up cyber defenses.

Blockchain technology is one innovation trying to provide a solution against hacking and fraud, but its drawbacks may stall implementation for the foreseeable future.

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“[Blockchain] is there; everyone is aware of it. It will pop one of these days, but no one knows how to insure it. It takes time for insurance to catch up because there’s no loss history,” said Jimmy Kirtland, VP, corporate risk management, Voya Financial, presenting on the topic at the RIMS 2017 conference in Philadelphia.

Currently, financial transactions are recorded through a central authority like a bank, which keeps one ledger for all parties involved. It provides a reliable record of ownership and asset flows, but it’s easily hackable. A cyber criminal only needs to gain access to that one ledger to place every party – and all of their transaction data – at risk.

Blockchain, on the other hand, is an example of a distributed ledger. There’s no central authority, and every participant has their own copy.

Brian Scarbrough, partner, Jenner & Block LLP, compared blockchain to “one giant interactive and global spreadsheet,” which displays real-time changes so every copy is identical, and which no single user controls.

The advantage of this distributed model is that it’s much harder to hack or manipulate.

In a blockchain model, transactions are organized into discrete “blocks,” which are time stamped, encrypted and linked to the previous block, creating the chain. Each block can only be added to the chain if there is consensus among participants that it has been verified.

Without consensus, no transaction is recorded.

So, if a hacker gains access to one of the local copies of the ledger and tries to retroactively change a transaction, it means he must also change every block that comes after that transaction. But that creates a split in the chain, and other participants’ copies will differ from the hacked ledger. Because consensus is required, the participants in a blockchain ledger would easily be able to identify and reject the change.

Brian Scarbrough, Partner, Jenner & Block LLP

“Cryptography is used to validate and confirm transactions,” Scarbrough said.

Through complex mathematical equations, cryptography encodes transaction data. It also acts to cut out trusted intermediaries that normally do data verification and encryption.

“Cryptography solves the threat of multiple networks being hacked,” Scarbrough said. “Instead of trusting one central party, users trust a network of participants that keep each other honest through mass collaboration because they have to vote on each transaction to be added to blockchain, and cryptography aids that process.”

Insurance Impact

Blockchain technology, through its ability to track and store data including policy applications and renewals, can potentially help to streamline the underwriting process. Records of ownership could also prove useful in insurance disputes and in claims handling.

However, running encryption and decryption software 24/7 requires a lot of energy and resources.

“Running blockchain around the clock requires massive amounts of electricity and is very capital intensive,” Kirtland said. There is also a lack of mature infrastructure, lack of scalability, the potential for fraud through collusion, and unanswered questions around regulation and legality.

There’s also uncertainty around how cyber coverage would respond to failures of a blockchain system. Some cyber policies have only just begun to incorporate language addressing bitcoin, which is an example of blockchain technology.

“Running blockchain around the clock requires massive amounts of electricity and is very capital intensive.” — Jimmy Kirtland, VP, corporate risk management, Voya Financial

Bitcoin incentivizes people to invest their resources in the data mining and hashing necessary to keep blockchain transactions going by rewarding them with bitcoins. With other blockchain applications, though, incentives are still lacking.

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As demonstrated through the number and participation of session attendees, blockchain is garnering a lot of interest, but brings up just as many questions.

Audience members had uncertainties around the technical aspects, and the technology’s exposure to hacking. But if the industry can gain clarity around those uncertainties, and if cost of implementation goes down, blockchain models could drastically change the way insurers and other financial institutions do business.

Additional stories from RIMS 2017:

Embrace the Internet of Things

Risk managers can use IoT for data analytics and other risk mitigation needs, but connected devices also offer a multitude of exposures.

Feeling Unprepared to Deal With Risks

Damage to brand and reputation ranked as the top risk concern of risk managers throughout the world.

Reviewing Medical Marijuana Claims

Liberty Mutual appears to be the first carrier to create a workflow process for evaluating medical marijuana expense reimbursement requests.

Cyber Threat Will Get More Difficult

Companies should focus on response, resiliency and recovery when it comes to cyber risks.

RIMS Conference Held in Birthplace of Insurance in US

Carriers continue their vital role of helping insureds mitigate risks and promote safety.

Resilience in Face of Cyber

New cyber model platforms will help insurers better manage aggregation risk within their books of business.

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]