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Life Health > Health Insurance

Could insurance go "Uber?"

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When people think of Uber, they usually think about cars taking you from place to place using a high-tech app that creates a new, better experience. Not coincidentally, the word “uber” means, in German: above all, over everything, simply the best.

They live up to the name, but not just because the experience from getting from place to place is “uber,” it’s also because the model of how they employ and deploy people and cars is “uber” too.

Twenty years ago, could you have imagined a car service company that could deliver the kind of instant, on-demand, hassle-free, smell-free experience without owning any cars or employing full-time staff? If you consider other disruptors, they follow a similar model. For example, Alibaba, the world’s most valuable retailer, owns no inventory. Airbnb, the world’s largest provider of accommodations, owns no real estate. And Facebook, media maven, owns no content.

The speed, accuracy, technology and connectivity of everything make that possible. This is part of the new sharing economy allowing nonperforming assets to be turned into cash. Cars, homes, people’s time and talent, if it’s sitting idle, someone probably needs it now, and you can find that person. The sharing economy is quickly becoming the “stuff on demand” economy.

These models have spun off all kinds of startup models that cater to the on-demand economy at the touch of a mobile app. DUFL will pack your suitcase. Washio will do your laundry. Shyp will pick up packages and mail them.

The other side of “stuff on demand” is “jobs on demand.” A recent study by KPCB indicates that the Ubers, Etsys, eBays and Airbnbs are enabling a new kind of freelancing experience. They estimate that 34 percent of the U.S. workforce freelances in some way, and the number is growing thanks to the ability to find work easier than ever before.

What might this mean for the insurance industry?

First, the definition of group and work site has to change. Is there a work site for this growing constituent? Are they even a group? Some of them work from their couches and cars. Others are on skateboards. Their boss is the mobile device. “Ding,” time to go pick someone up at the airport, or deliver a dinner. What does that mean for insurance benefits? What does it mean for payroll deduction? What does it mean for portability? Maybe none of these constructs have much meaning in the future, but insurance still does.

Second, could the insurance agent be “Uberized”? I wouldn’t have thought so until a colleague passed along a Wall Street Journal article titled “Coming Next: The On-Demand Sales Force.” Could we train people to sell insurance products in their spare time? Primerica took a lot of industry criticism for having this idea decades ago, but financial success seems to have an inverse relationship to criticism.

We’ve all complained that the present model doesn’t lend itself to agents using time and gas on a small ticket prospect miles away. While we don’t like to think about disruption of our industry, the best way to avoid it is to imagine the absurd and use it as food for innovative thinking.

Here’s an absurdity appetizer. Imagine an app to connect people contemplating insurance with local experts who are available now, and who are rated by previous customers. Those experts could be veterans or part-timers. Think of it like Uber’s app, but instead of little cars floating around on a map, it is people. They could meet them face-to-face or even over the phone if someone is contemplating their finances in the middle of the night and can find an expert with insomnia.

Of course we would need to give it a meaningful one-word name. Perhaps we should spell it incorrectly on purpose, removing or adding vowels, replacing F’s with PH’s, Z’s with S’s, C’s with K’s and I’s with Y’s.

How about “Benyphyt,” “Kuverd” or “Ovrwyth”? Hmmm.


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