Perspective | How Are We Underwriting for the ‘Inanity’ of Modern Life

By: | December 11, 2018 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

As my father aged, he became increasingly divorced from and antagonistic toward many aspects of modern life. It was my intention to avoid that fate when my turn came. I’d be cool, I vowed, come what may. But my turn has come, and I’ve failed.


Item: New Mexico attorney Chris Sevier has married his computer. No doubt it provides him with companionship and sex. No one has thought to lock him away in an institution for his own safety.

Item: More than 3,000 Swedish people have voluntarily — that’s voluntarily — agreed to have electronic microchips installed under their skins. This enables their employers to track them while they use the toilet or have a smoke break.

Item: Due process, the system by which one was innocent until proven guilty, has been abandoned. If you doubt that, consider the cases of Kevin Spacey * or Sir Philip Green. Neither has been charged with any offense, but both are permanently excluded from society. Both may be horrid examples of human beings, but other horrid examples live in my apartment block and people still talk to them.

Item: Unnatural selection is in vogue. Petextrians are people who walk while staring at hand-held screens. In several places around the world, lights are being embedded in sidewalks so that people won’t have to look up while crossing roads. The more obvious approach, letting them walk under large vehicles, has apparently been ruled out.

Item: A 69-year-old Dutch ‘positivity guru’ called Emile Ratelband has begun legal proceedings to have 20 years lopped off his legal age. Should he persuade a judge to allow this absurd request, he would be able to sue a mortgage company that denied him a loan on account of his actual age. He would also be able to pick up younger women, he thinks. Silly young fool.

Item: British law will soon permit people to have their gender classified in any way they wish. You could be transgender or you could be doing it on a lark — apparently it no longer matters.

I’m an old white man — pale, stale and male — which cannot be construed as my fault. But let’s say I decided to capitalize on those last two items and declare that henceforth I should be recognized as a 40-year-old woman, despite my gray-haired mustache. If you had something to say about that other than “Yes ma’am!” please keep it to yourself.

What does all this have to do with insurance, you ask.


Well, imagine you’re an underwriter or an actuary. (If you are an underwriter or an actuary, imagine you’re a different one.) You correctly base your company’s future earnings on past experience.

Think what my becoming a woman, or 20 years younger, on a whim would statistically do to my life expectancy (in reality, nothing at all, but that’s not the point). Since insurers could not ignore my peccadilloes on pain of imprisonment, their forecasting would be all at sea.

Who said that a society that abandons common sense is utterly doomed? Oh yes, it was me, lost as I am in confusion at the inanity of modern life. &

  • Editor’s note:  Felony indecent assault and battery charges were lodged against Kevin Spacey in December, (after Roger penned this column). Spacey was to be arraigned in Nantucket District Court on January 7.

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]