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Insurance companies seeking blockchain applications

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Jinman Li (bio: A business journalism student at Medill Journalism School, Northwestern University. I cover finance and technology in Chicago metropolitan area.)

Insurance companies are tapping into blockchain technology in pursuit of more efficient and secure solutions to contract creation and claim settlement in various types of insurance such as property and casualty insurance.

Blockchain is an encrypted distributed digital ledger that can store real-time data and is accessible simultaneously to different participants. The fact that blockchain generates one shared ledger as opposed to multiple ledgers simplifies the auditing and reconciliation process, which reduces costs and saves time in data management for the insurance industry, said Anudeep Chauhan, the managing director of insurance strategy at Accenture P.L.C. in North America.

Security is another advantage as blockchain is hard to tamper with because each block is connected to the blocks before and after it and is encrypted, said Chauhan. The encryption used in the blockchain is a double-layer structure where information is encrypted by an algorithm utilizing the public key owned by the sender and decrypted by the private key owned by the recipient, he said.

The Institutes RiskBlock Alliance is a blockchain insurance consortium launched in 2017 by The Institutes, a non-profit organization that provides education research services to the insurance industry. The Alliance has 27 member organizations. Patrick Schmid, vice president of the Alliance, said the alliance currently focuses on four different aspects of insurance: proof of insurance, subrogation, parametric insurance and data sharing.

Proof of insurance is the documentation that a person uses to prove the ownership of a valid insurance, which is commonly a paper card, Schmid said. With the help of blockchain, people could transmit their proof of insurance with a click on the phone so that they won’t need to carry around the paper cards anymore, he said.

Subrogation is when an insurance company pays out in claims to the insured and seeks recovery from the third party at fault in the accident, Schmid said. As a shared ledger, blockchain can enable net settlement, which means all the parties involved can calculate the collective total of all claims and settle that in a one-time transaction rather than following the traditional way of sending separate checks for each claim, he said.

Insurance companies can combine blockchain technologies with smart contracts in subrogation, which are programmable agreements that could be inserted into a blockchain and would automatically execute the claims once certain requirements are met, Schmid said.

“Let’s say Allstate and Liberty Mutual Insurance agree to net settle every two weeks. They write it into their smart contract so that every two weeks their numbers stored on the blockchain are going to be automatically calculated and then whoever owes more will owe one check to the other for that amount of money,” Schmid said.

What can be another good demonstration of a smart contract is parametric insurance, the type of insurance that does not cover the whole loss for the insured but only pays out the predefined sum, said Sandy Figurski, chief information officer at Horace Mann Educators Corp., an Illinois-based insurance holding company. It joined the Institutes RiskBlock Alliance, the industry-led consortium, in February together with 17 other risk management and insurance companies.

Before a food truck vendor goes to a fair, he or she may buy a parametric insurance for that date in case external factors such as a bad weather screws up their businesses, Figurski said. The insurance contract can be recorded on the blockchain as a smart contract so that once the weather turns out to meet some certain criteria, such as an amount of precipitation, a claim will be automatically triggered and settled between the insurer and insured through the blockchain, she said.

“It gets rid of the intermediary of having an adjuster go out and look at the situation and having people prove that the criteria were met,” said Figurski.

The Alliance’s fourth project underway is data sharing by blockchain, which is best illustrated by the first notice of loss, meaning the initial report made to the insurance provider in the claim process, Schmid said. Currently, the insurers of clients involved in an accident typically call each other for information verification and settlement, while the information can be recorded and transmitted among different parties on the blockchain, he added.

“Today the reconciliation is very expensive and time consuming and is manual completely,” said Accenture’s Chauhan. “In the future, you could potentially create a blockchain-based solution where these contracts are hosted in such a way that everybody is able to see the same copy of the contract with the same set of conditions.”

The quality of blockchain as valid and immutable will be useful for property and casualty insurers in a number of ways, including improving the overall effectiveness of claim settlement and reducing fraud, said David Uhryniak, blockchain competency leader at Crowe Horwath LLP, a Chicago-based firm that provides auditing and consulting services to financial institutions including insurance companies.

When an accident occurs, information such as pictures of the scene can be verified and confirmed onto the blockchain simultaneously by different entities for review before an adjuster comes to the scene in person, which saves the time and costs of human interaction in several steps, Uhryniak said. In terms of combating fraud, once the characteristics of an insured automobile are stored on the blockchain, the public ledger and its immutability can ensure that the repair shop is using the original parts otherwise the insurance company will be notified, he said.

Although the future is promising, the adoption of blockchain in the insurance industry has been slow. One of the reasons is that it is expensive to scale up considering the large amount of computing power required, said Chauhan.

Another big challenge lies in the difficulty of getting insurance companies to cooperate in Alliance and build up consistent cross-company infrastructures in blockchain so that data transmission in situations such as claim settlement can be more effective, Horace Mann’s Figurski said.

“Companies do not naturally work together,” said Figurski. “You can’t exchange any competitive information such as how you rate, so you have to really focus on the core technology at its base level.”


Survey of IT decision makers exposes the increased pressures IT organisations face amidst covid-19

Survey of IT decision makers exposes the increased pressures IT organisations face amidst covid-19 36

Independent Survey Uncovers the Limitations Traditional IT Infrastructure Imposes, Exacerbated by a Remote Workforce

Nebulon, Inc.®, the pioneer of Cloud-Defined Storage, released today the results of an independent survey completed by IT decision makers at 500 companies in the IT, financial services, manufacturing, retail, distribution and transport industries across the UK, US, Germany and France. Conducted in June of this year, the survey exposes the biggest challenges enterprises face in transforming their on-premises application storage environments, which have only been exacerbated during this COVID-19 era. While IT organisations cite multiple restrictions, the survey reveals limited infrastructure automation and high CAPEX as the most significant challenges for those deploying enterprise storage array technology, forcing them to re-examine IT spending and operations even more so than usual amidst the pandemic.

While increasing automation and reducing costs may seem like mainstream initiatives for any large organisation, the pandemic and resulting workforce restrictions mandate significant progress in days or weeks, versus months or quarters. The results of the survey, undertaken by Vanson Bourne, further reinforce this as respondents also highlighted their on-premises application storage environments are difficult to maintain, and reveal that they lacked the in-house expertise necessary to manage them. Even more disconcerting, respondents indicate that their traditional external storage arrays are not suited to handle new workloads, including containers and NoSQL databases. This is unsurprising as modern workloads have been architected for local versus shared storage resources.

British IT decision makers specifically ranked “expensive” highest, with 57% making this one of their top three challenges, followed by “time consuming to maintain” (50%) and “difficult to automate at scale” (49%). Respondents from smaller organisations (1,000-2,999 employees) were more likely to mark “lack of in-house expertise” highly compared to larger organisations (3,000+employees) (59% compared to 31%) while these larger companies were more likely to consider cost a top challenge (61% compared to 35%).

“The impact of the pandemic is forcing CIOs worldwide to reconsider their operations,” said Siamak Nazari, Co-Founder and CEO of Nebulon, Inc. “Reducing costs through server-based storage alternatives without the restrictions of hyperconverged infrastructure, and reducing operating cost pressure through cloud-based management of the application storage infrastructure are crucial initiatives for IT organisations looking to survive this new normal.”

For companies with a growing class of mission-critical data that cannot or should not move to the public cloud, Cloud-Defined Storage is an alternative to expensive storage arrays, offering enterprises a cloud-managed, server-based approach for mission-critical storage. By combining a cloud-based control plane, called Nebulon ON, with server-based storage that is powered by the Nebulon Services Processing Unit (SPU), Nebulon enables organisations to reduce cost for enterprise storage by up to half without compromising on enterprise data services. This is made possible by Nebulon’s unique architecture that makes use of commodity SSDs in industry standard servers, Ethernet in favour of Fibre Channel, and by eliminating operational complexities by moving management to Nebulon ON with an as-a-service model.

Nebulon ON uses AI to analyse application workloads during operations, provides actionable recommendations for IT organisations and provides a single API endpoint that greatly streamlines automation at-scale. Customisable application templates, tailored for customer’s application clusters, eliminate the guesswork in configuring infrastructure and produce repeatable, reliable infrastructure services for modern, mission-critical workloads. With the architectural and operational simplicity of Cloud-Defined Storage, application owners gain a self-service infrastructure provisioning that is unmatched with existing on-premises storage solutions.

“IT organisations have been seeking a cost-effective alternative to external storage arrays for years,” said Nazari. “With our Cloud-Defined Storage offering, they finally have the opportunity to reduce costs while also deploying a self-service solution for application owners that also reduces the operational burden.”

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Are you ‘prescribing’ the right security solution to your merchants?

Are you ‘prescribing’ the right security solution to your merchants? 37

By Sandra Higgins, Chief Marketing Officer at Sysnet Global Solutions, draws parallels between taking multivitamins for the body to keeping small businesses ‘healthy’ using an all-in-one security solution

When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, eating the right food, taking regular exercise, and maintaining a positive mindset are key. However, despite these best intentions and practices, you still might not get all the nutrients your body needs to ensure it is working as effectively as possible. To combat this, a doctor might suggest taking a daily multivitamin as an insurance policy, to guarantee the body gets all the minerals and vitamins it needs, avoiding any shortfalls. Makes sense, right?

This same logic can be applied to businesses and the importance of cybersecurity and compliance solutions, especially in the current climate and the risks associated with remote working. Like a doctor prescribing a multivitamin to help their patients’ minds and bodies function effectively, in the same way, acquirers can offer security ‘prescriptions’ to help merchants keep on top of business health. The prescription is then deployed by a security software provider, much like a pharmacy would, dispensing the multivitamin of data security services and tools to help keep businesses in good health.

Just what the doctor ordered

With a wide variety of data security and compliance solutions available, like the streams of vitamins you see on pharmacy shelves, smaller businesses can often become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of available tools and may forego sourcing their business ‘medication’ altogether.

Taking the stress out of trying to understand what the business needs, it’s an acquirer’s responsibility to prescribe one solution that allows merchants to stay security fit and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed at the choice available. That way, merchants don’t end up buying the wrong solutions or supplementary add-ons at additional cost, that they don’t actually need.

The benefits of an all-in-one solution

Like with medicine, merchants need to know the long-term benefits of prescriptions before administering it, and with an all-in-one solution, the benefits are vast. In addition to easy compliance with payments standards such as PCI DSS and access to security tools that are appropriate to business set-up, other benefits of all-in-one security solutions include;

  1. Increased energy levels. With business security taken care of, business owners will have more time to focus on what matters, giving them more energy to run other areas of the business.
  2. Reduced fatigue. If a business has to work hard to manage its security levels, or its owner is losing sleep over not managing it at all, resulting in overdrive just to perform simple tasks, being compliant with regulations, like the PCI DSS standard, becomes much harder.
  3. Long-term healthy lifestyle. By taking an all-in-one security solution, businesses will become ‘compliance and security fit’. Everything will run more efficiently, without security issues slowing things down and preventing a business from moving forward.
  4. Improved mood. Certain studies have shown that a daily multivitamin has positive effects on a person’s mood and emotional well-being. Not having to think so much about security and compliance lifts a burden and has the same effect – business owner don’t feel guilty about not paying it enough attention and there’s no need to worry about breaches or facing fees from not being PCI compliant.
  5. Reduced stress and anxiety. Similar to having an improved mood, by simply attending to security matters, businesses will have one less thing to worry about.

Strength in numbers

Not only is there a multitude of long-term benefits attached to having a fully managed data security solution prescribed by acquirers, allowing businesses to be faster, simpler and more profitable, it also means that costs are kept low. Many people buy vitamins in bulk to help share the cost with family or close friends. By buying security tools at scale, costs are kept down for merchants. This means that when a business is weighing up their budgets, they can be sure their compliance and security cost is entirely affordable.

When buying a multivitamin, customers will likely buy from a reputable brand so that you can rely on the quality and effectiveness of the daily dose, as reputable multivitamin providers undergo meticulous analysis and rigorous quality controls during the manufacturing process. In the same vein, humans wouldn’t want a substandard multivitamin for their own body, so businesses wouldn’t expect this from an acquirer’s prescription.

Easy to consume

Multivitamins can provide patients with numerous health benefits but the biggest benefit of all is having these solutions in one place. It makes it easier to ensure the body gets all it needs to stay healthy. It is the same thing for businesses. Taking a security ‘multivitamin’ will greatly take the stress out of addressing compliance and security, and provide a business with more time to focus on other pressing tasks.  If small businesses, in particular, can get into the habit of taking a regular multivitamin, a straightforward all-in-one solution, to address compliance and security at their business, they will be more open to trying other things too that may lead to an evolution of the business.

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Legal spend management technology: enabling finance and legal to reduce costs together

Legal spend management technology: enabling finance and legal to reduce costs together 38

By Timo Tscherig, Head of Customer Success at BusyLamp, a legal operations software provider.

CFOs are always under pressure to reduce costs, increase revenue and forecast accurately for the future. They can be forgiven for treating legal as a cost centre: a recent survey of chief legal officers by the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) found that one-third anticipate outsourcing more work to law firms next year. Outsourcing legal work is unavoidable and therefore one of the biggest potential expenses of any legal team.

There are three main ways legal can reduce costs when it comes to outsourcing: catching erroneous billing from law firms; improving efficiency and therefore reducing how much work is outsourced; and making data-driven decisions on which work to outsource to whom.

The same survey also found that CLOs are implementing new technologies to improve efficiency, and that more than half either plan to adopt a new technological solution or have done so recently. As outsourcing legal work is a necessity, a legal spend management technology solution that provides the ability to use granular spend data to drive more value from firms could be just one way in which legal and finance can reduce costs together. So what is it that holds finance and legal departments back from working together?

The case for a legal-specific solution

Many finance departments do not understand why legal can’t use the enterprise accounts payable (AP) system, but legal invoices are more detailed than other departments’ invoices and the way legal work is procured often differs too. In order to fully understand expenditure and therefore reduce costs in a strategic manner, corporate legal departments need to capture granular information – including detailed breakdowns of timelines, timekeepers and expenses coded against tasks, activities and expenses – than an AP system can manage.

A typical legal team will receive thousands of invoices a year. Because of their granularity, reviewing these invoices manually is time-consuming and prone to error. Different billing guidelines – what firms can and cannot invoice for – exist for different firms. Trying to remember and accurately apply these rules when manually reviewing invoices is a daunting task and mistakes, and therefore over-spend, will slip through the net. AP systems cannot manage these billing guidelines either and there are many other limitations. The answer, then, is to implement a technology that bridges the gap between legal and finance and enables each to work together.

The benefits of legal spend management technology

With the increased pressure on legal departments to improve efficiency and control costs, modern legal spend management solutions are a sensible option as they quickly generate savings that exceed the initial investment.

Legal spend management is the practice of controlling outside counsel spend such as the costs of using external law firms. Management of outside counsel spend involves having visibility of spend, identifying and actioning cost-reduction opportunities, and budgeting future spend. The level of detail provided by a legal spend management solution adds value to legal and finance, allowing legal departments to identify cost-saving measures both in the immediate term and by making use of data-driven strategies for the future. Most legal spend management systems integrate with the enterprise AP system, giving both finance and legal teams the information they need so they can work together smoothly and transparently.

This visibility of spend is especially useful in those situations where it’s not the legal team mandating the law firm. In some companies, business units can mandate firms directly, which is where a centralised legal spend management system can help provide company-wide reporting on total legal spend. This centralisation can also help the company negotiate volume discounts with the firm.

Using legal spend management to reduce costs

Legal spend management software can reduce costs for legal departments by automating invoice review and enforcing legal billing guidelines (rules such as caps on hours, total spend, expenses, overtime or staffing) through e-billing: the core feature of legal spend management solutions. By automating invoice review and guideline compliance with e-billing software, an in-house legal department can save 5% of external legal spend in year one, and 2.5% in subsequent years. It also offers real-time cost transparency, visibility and consistency of how legal bills, matter information and budgets are input, processed and centrally stored. This increased transparency makes budgeting easier and reduces unexpected costs.

As with many software tools, legal spend management dramatically improves efficiency and accuracy. With e-billing, information is automatically processed digitally and centrally with no need for manual sorting and organising. This saves a huge amount of administration time spent doing tasks which carry the risk of significant manual errors, and even makes some tasks, such as data entry, scanning and filing, redundant. With counsel no longer doing these admin tasks, they have more time to do legal work, which can reduce the volume of work being done by firms.

Having real-time, secure, accurate and consistent centralised data saves a lot of time accessing and reporting on documents, legal matters and financials. Custom reports required by the business can be scheduled for automatic creation and delivered to stakeholders in legal, finance, or elsewhere by email.

Over time, the use of legal spend management creates a database of all historic matters and their associated spend, broken down into UTBMS and LEDES codes – an industry standard for coding legal work to a fine level of detail. There will always be a need for expert legal advice from specialist firms and it’s worth paying for it on business critical matters. However, analytics can be used to gain insights into legal spend and inform data-driven decision making by using UTBMS-level codes to compare costs, savings, spending trends and budget-to-actuals across law firms, matter types, practice areas, task codes, jurisdictions, timekeeper seniority, and more. This allows the department to decide where savings can be made, but also where investment is necessary. The goal is to get more value and efficiency, rather than reducing costs for the sake of it.

Modern legal spend management solutions also include tools beyond e-billing and reporting that enable the entire lifecycle of legal work to be completed in a single system. One such feature enables counsel to submit request for proposals (RFPs) and cost estimates to law firms. Pre-structuring the requests in a consistent format ensures a fair and easily comparable response. Proposals are more likely to be competitively priced, as firms know they are competing for the work. Unlike enterprise procurement systems, these estimates also comply with the legal-standard coding that enables a more detailed evaluation of the proposal. Using data from responses and estimates can empower a legal department to make more informed resourcing and budgeting decisions faster. Throughout the course of the matter, law firms can submit Work in Progress (WIP), work completed that has not yet been billed. Unlike accruals, in a legal spend management system this is submitted with the same line item coding as the invoice itself. This gives both legal and finance visibility of upcoming invoices at a granular level and also allows invoices to be pre-approved. At the end of the legal matter, counsel can score the firm within the system and other lawyers can reference this qualitative data when mandating or negotiating with firms in the future.

Providing data to the finance department

Presenting legal spend data in a clear, concise way that gets the message across is a challenge, as different stakeholders will often want the same data presented in different formats. A legal spend management system automates invoice review so data is inputted consistently and has robust reporting tools for all stakeholder needs.

Legal spend management software empowers the legal department to make their own decisions around cost control, without blindly cutting budget in a way that may be detrimental to the business. At the same time, finance has access to the higher-level figures and KPIs that they need either through the legal spend management solution or a seamless integration between that and the AP system.

Timo Tscherig

Timo Tscherig

In order to deliver greater financial benefits to the business, finance and legal departments can put in place Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs can be presented in a dashboard within the system, or sent by email to stakeholders on a regular basis.

KPIs worth considering include:

  • Total cost of services (inside and outside)
  • Legal spend as percentage of revenue
  • Budget-to-actual total spend comparison (e.g., percent handled within budget)
  • Outside expense versus in-house
  • In-house lawyers versus revenue
  • Cost per matter
  • Cost per lawyer
  • Spend after implementing e-billing compared to spend without.

Having one source of truth ensures all relevant data is held in one place. It means higher data quality, with more data available for better analysis and more reliable reports. There is greater transparency and all the information is readily available for the finance department.

Finance and legal: working together

With the increased pressure on legal departments to improve efficiency and control costs, legal spend management software quickly generates savings that pay for the investment so is a popular software purchase for legal operations managers. The benefits of legal spend management software are directly related to reducing costs so it’s easy to prove return on investment quickly.

The best way to improve legal operations to benefit the wider business is by eliminating cost surprises, wherever possible. Given the open-ended, unpredictable and sometimes urgent nature of many legal matters, it’s unrealistic to expect that everything can be accurately forecast. But steps can be taken to minimise the variables, improve the value, and help control overall spend, including some measures available through legal e-billing.

With a legal spend management software solution in place, legal departments and finance departments no longer need to be at loggerheads. In fact, the transparency between the two can only be of benefit to the business. Legal spend management improves reporting and forecasting, helps teams make smarter and more cost-effective outsourcing decisions, provides greater spend visibility as well as facilitating the negotiation of volume discounts, highlights and reduces errors such as overcharging by outside law firms and minimises risk such as exposure or gaps in legal counsel. By working more closely together, both departments not only support each other but also bring greater financial benefits to the business. In anyone’s book, but especially in that of the CFO looking to deliver cost savings across the business, that’s a win-win.

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