Column: Roger's Soapbox

Pardon, No Disruption

By: | February 20, 2018 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Internet doubles as the Great Disruptor. Businesses and practices that have plugged along, getting the job done in any number of fields, will soon be memories overtaken by the frantic rush to embrace the shiny new future.


CDs have been outmoded by downloads. Passports, we are told, will be replaced by data held on mobile phones. Robots will henceforth provide the appalling customer service we’re used to from humans.

Not every development is necessarily beneficial. In the rush to find electronic ways to do things, important matters are being overlooked. Privacy, for example.

You want a fair and considered legal system with due process and ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as basic tenets? Sorry. No longer available, thanks to the Digital Inquisition.

How about trustworthy media with editorial standards? Laughably old-fashioned. The mantra now is online or be damned. The truth has set itself free.

You want a bank account? In the UK, an early adopter, banks are closing branches nationwide, leaving many without banking facilities other than online. No computer? Too bad.

Insurance considers itself especially threatened as robots replace humans in the front office, having already taken charge of systems and claims denials at the back end.

Not every development is necessarily beneficial. In the rush to find electronic ways to do things, important matters are being overlooked. Privacy, for example.

All may not be lost. Take motor insurance. Tech companies are testing driverless vehicles, and not too many people have died as a result. One might conclude conclude that, in the near future, no vehicle will be driven by humans, nor will an automobile ever malfunction. Thus motor insurance must go the way of hunting and gathering insurance.

It won’t.

Think for a second. Divest your mind of the hype. To allow driverless vehicles to function properly, sensors must be installed on every road, bridge, overpass, underpass, tree, building, traffic light, pedestrian and other man-made or natural structure.

Cities encircled by a ring road, such as London (the M25) or Paris (the Peripherique), might eventually be wired in this way. In rural conditions, however, there are no buildings or fixtures on which to install the necessary equipment.


Some Scandinavian countries are doing away with cash, with Sweden leading the way. My bank manager hasn’t carried cash for years, he tells me, not even other people’s. The cash and specie insurance crowd must be doomed, no?


If the currency of currency ends, only those permitted to have bank accounts will survive. Since a chunk of every country’s population would not qualify for a bank account, the end of cash, and cash insurance, would be a death sentence for significant numbers of people. It’s not going to happen.

The ‘gun murder insurance’ that Lloyd’s sells via the National Rifle Association won’t be obsolete any time soon. The U.S. has more guns than people. They’ll insist on shooting something, even if it’s only robots or family members.

Much as we might wish for technology to replace everything, just for laughs, old habits die hard, as do sensible ones. Not everything can be replaced by an algorithm — and thank God for that. &

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.


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.


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]