Editorial: Don’t let disruptors push your buttons
As we finish up the year, I thought it worth noting one last time that we’ve been marking 110 years of covering the insurance industry. It’s been a special treat for me, because I love history. I don’t have a clue about science, but nothing shuts down silliness faster than reaching for a cherished reference volume and snapping, “Actually, Dirk…” Sorry to any Dirks out there. My fictional debating opponents invariably have vaguely preppy names like Biff, Chas or the other rich idiots in the first reel of Trading Places… or any reel of Cruel Intentions.
History. It gives perspective. Even for the so-called “disruptors” that will probably upset 2016 even more than they did 2015. I said as much when I spoke at an A.M. Best conference earlier this year where I told the following story, but I think it’s worth sharing again. You see I still believe brokers will be needed more than ever to bring their imaginations to bear on risk management and preventative measures for catastrophic scenarios.
Oh, and that world-shattering disruptor? It’s an elevator. You see in the Victorian era and previous ones, the poor people, the servants, used to live on the upper stories, not the lower ones. Nobody built anything above six floors right into the 19th century, because you couldn’t get people to climb higher than that. So along comes the elevator. Now you can build up. And the first entity to recognize what a good thing this was happened to be an insurance company: Equitable Life Assurance in New York City, right on Broadway in 1870.
And eventually, the top dogs there said in so many words, “Hey, why the hell are we on the ground floor with the dust and the car exhaust and the noise? This sucks. Let’s go upstairs.” It literally changed social hierarchies, it changed the physical urban landscapes, it changed the world.
But that’s not even the real punch line. In past centuries, people only used technology they knew how to fix. The wheel on your oxcart gets busted—no problem. Your horse goes lame—bang, technology problem solved. Look, you get into an elevator, you trust that it takes you where you want to go. You don’t know how to fix it, and if it breaks down, you only have that button with the annoying ring to ask for skilled help. But when is the last time you ever heard of anyone killed in a fallen elevator? No? Okay, then. Well, we still have commercial general liability, don’t we?
In our next issue, we’ll explore some amazing new technologies, but what won’t change is the need for the creative, dedicated authority to interpret options. So don’t let all these disruptors push your buttons. You won’t be trading places with a computer algorithm any time soon.
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the December 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine