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I had the real fortune to head to Davos this year and the World Economic Forum and some of the other forums around blockchain, cryptocurrency, and inclusiveness.   I decided to go, mostly because this year’s theme “Sustainability” wasn’t something I hear regularly discussed in my personal or professional circles.  I wanted to see if there were themes being discussed there that we needed to discuss here.  Are overseas carriers thinking differently that gives them a competitive advantage?

Here is what I observed:

  1. There were only 3 carriers (Generali, Zurich, and Hanwa) and 1 broker (Marsh) who had a public presence in Davos.   Most were front and center around Asset Management and Hanwa was there more because they are a large Korean conglomerate.  There were only a few non-US banks present and Blackrock.  The biggest presence were technology and tech provider firms like HCL and TCS.
  2. Being at Davos is like any other conference or event.  The company attends if it believes attendance is good for their business and if their clients will be there.  Since Davos is a place for the ultra-high net worth (Bloomberg reported that over 100 billionaires were there) financial services firms are there to entertain their ‘private clients.’  There are far more press and company support staff attendees than actual members of the WEF.
  3. Technology that pushes the frontier has a place in Davos.  Cannabis tech; cryptocurrency/blockchain, anti-surveillance, Tradeshift, and Palantir to name a few.  The UN-Forum, the Ukraine, Russia, and Polish houses, plus others like the Misk Foundation and the Interfaith Alliance round out the external meetings and activities that perhaps reflect the real hope for society.   These side meetings are attended by a mix of academics, passionate people, and entrepreneurs trying to change the world or hawk their latest investments.  The conversations focus on how to solve problems and building the relationships to start to tackle the issues.
  4. I met two insurtechs: Cybercube (who provide cyber risk analytics), and Vouch for Me (who are working on a unique approach to lowering the cost of auto insurance)
  5. A Quantum computer looks nothing like any computer we currently use. The picture is of me with a real IBM quantum computer.
Quantum computing will impact insurance and insurtechs.  Davos 2020
With an IBM Quantum Computer

Here is what I learned:

To answer my question — are there things that overseas carriers are doing that will give them a competitive advantage?  Maybe, but it most likely won’t come out of attending the main political stage at Davos.  So, what did I learn? 

  • There are some amazing people and in Davos, it’s easy to meet them and learn from those interactions.  I found out that Chuck Robbins (The Cisco CEO) and I have an Atlanta connection in common.  They are taking amazing steps to develop innovative internship programs and work to ensure diversity and equality in pay and opportunities across their global footprint. Dina Powell from Goldman Sachs talked about the importance of mentoring. She pointed out that even a person first starting out in their career can mentor!
  • The cellist, YoYo Ma is a true world statesman.  He even brought in a discussion of metrics.  “Music isn’t a competition for metrics.  We haven’t developed the capacity to measure what we just experienced (listening to him perform).  He also shared how important is to have “scouts” on the edge of society.  Within Insurance, this has become synonymous with having staff devoted to tracking “Insurtechs.”
  • The monarchy in Dubai are putting their resources to ensure they become a powerhouse outside of Oil.  For example, they have created a university devoted to training students in AI.
  • There is an extreme sports athlete, Will Gadd, (a fellow Calgarian) who tackles his endeavors exactly how an insurance carrier should look at risks, underwriting, new opportunities, and even solving challenges.  This is so poignant especially in today’s Insurtech hyped world.  He calls it the “Positive Power of Negative Thinking” and in short it involves the following:
    • Use terror to your advantage to think thru the problem
    • Listen to your fear and break things down into their underlying components  
    • Freedom comes from recognizing the hazards and moving forward/mitigating the risks
    • Everyone on the team must be alert and look out for each other and speak up if they see something that seems out of the ordinary
With Will Gadd

The Biggest Lesson I Learned

For me, one thing I learned is that you can be a top 10 global insurance company with over $70B in premiums and still have the heart of an American regional carrier.  I heard Gabriele Galateri di Genola, the Chairman, and Philippe Donnet, CEO of Generali talk about the fact that they have begun to adopt the ESG sustainability goals.  They decided to stop underwriting coal production and use.  However, they also realize that they can’t arbitrarily pull out of certain markets.  Why? because of the social and economic impact it will have.  They have a responsibility to their communities that transcends dollars.  How can they then integrate their new commitment to sustainability?  By working with the local industries to help them move off coal and to more sustainable energy solutions.  That is the true essence of what it means to be an insurance carrier.  You provide a safety net.

In closing, I think Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, sums up the future of insurance so well from his presentation at Davos.

“In business, never worry about competition, never worry about the pressure. If you worry about pressure, don’t be a businessman … If you create value, there is opportunity. Today the whole world worries. That means there is great opportunity.”

Jack Ma, Alibaba

Here’s to creating great value together!

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