Discovering Insuretech: Blockchain Disruption of the Insurance Sector

Discovering Insuretech: Blockchain Disruption of the Insurance Sector

Wide implementation of blockchain can make insurance premiums plummet

[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=“show“ ihc_mb_who=“reg“ ihc_mb_template=“1″ ]

The business of insurance is enormously complex: The process of evaluating and managing a variety of risks that individuals and organizations face every day inevitably involves coordination of the multiple parties’ efforts and reconciliation of extensive records. Both aspects make the insurance sector an appealing ground for blockchain-based optimization — and indeed, distributed ledger technology is a prominent feature of a rising tide of technological innovations, collectively known as insuretech, that seek to bring new efficiencies into the industry.

As Cointelegraph previously reported, research firm MarketsandMarkets in 2018 projected that the value of blockchain components in the insurance market will see a compound annual growth rate of 84.9%, reaching $1.4 billion by the end of 2023. A 2019 insuretech-specific report by KPMG noted that blockchain was not a “buzzword” or “future innovation” for the insurance space but that it is already operational in flight delay and lost baggage claims systems and is expected to improve other risk domains such as shipping and, somewhat more remotely, health care.

A 2018 World Insuretech Report put together by a consulting firm Capgemini and fintech industry association Efma named blockchain one of the technologies set to disrupt the insurance business, alongside artificial intelligence (AI), drones, wearables and robotic process automation. The document cited enhanced information exchange, increased trust and efficiency of smart contracts as major improvements that the technology offers.

Hartford’s Insuretech Trends report observed that insurance companies already utilize blockchain technology to “streamline processes, provide transparency, and enhance security,” as well as for data management and protection, reducing administrative costs and boosting consumer trust and loyalty. All in all, there seems to be a host of actual and potential improvements associated with blockchain implementation in the insurance industry. Here is a more detailed look at some of the major areas of optimization.

Automating processes

Verifying the authenticity of claims is a huge part of an insurance company’s workflow. Legacy systems that rely on standalone databases and paper records are slow and expensive: Manual approval of a claim may drag for days and even weeks, and the process still leaves room for error or abuse. Making these procedures fully automated — through a combination of a tamper-proof ledger and self-executing smart contracts — could dramatically lower insurers’ operational costs, resulting in lower premiums for their customers.

One example of such optimization, reported by Cointelegraph in late May 2019, is a pilot blockchain-based platform that the United States insurance powerhouse State Farm is jointly testing with the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), a military-affiliated financial services group. The solution is designed to speed up the auto claims subrogation — the last stage of a claim’s processing when the insurer retrieves the costs it had paid to its wronged customer from the at-fault party’s insurer.

Another successful optimization case is openIDL, an IBM blockchain-based network maintained by the American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS). Because insurance companies are subject to tight regulatory oversight, the paperwork related to compliance eats up a good share of companies’ resources. OpenIDL helps automate regulatory reporting, making things easier for both insurers and authorities.

Fraud prevention

Insurance fraud, facilitated by the lack of interoperability between the industry participants’ databases and general complexity of paperwork that accompanies claim settlement, is very common in developed countries. In the U.S. alone, estimates of aggregate losses from this type of offence is estimated at anywhere between $40 billion and $80 billion every year. While it is insurance companies that sustain direct losses, the burden ultimately gets equally shared between all the households that use their services, in the form of increased premiums.

According to the analysts from CB Insights, the fundamental improvement that blockchain technology could bring to the area of combating fraud lies in the potential consolidation of insurers’ databases. When all claims are stored on a distributed ledger, wrongdoers are left with a very slim chance to, for example, file multiple claims on a single insured event with different companies. A unified transparent database of claims would also enable interested parties to track claimants’ suspicious behavior and identify patterns that might suggest abuse.

While the vision of a universal distributed database accessible to everyone in the industry remains a somewhat distant one, standalone blockchain verification systems are already getting rolling. One example is the global insurance broker Marsh, which is reportedly poised to unveil its Hyperledger-based proof of insurance platform. Recently, fintech startup BlockClaim has procured 500,000 British pounds ($627,000) of venture capital toward its blockchain/AI solution designed to automate the processing of insurance claims. The firm reports faster settlements, reduced claim costs and successful implementation of AI-based features for fraud detection.

Health care

One particular domain in which the arrival of operational blockchain solutions will change the game entirely is health care insurance. Right now, efficiently managing and coordinating patient data between doctors and medical institutions while preserving patients’ confidentiality is a major stumbling block for the sector. According to a CB Insights report, sparsity of data often leads to claim denials, costing medical care providers some $262 billion each year.

Related: How Blockchain Improves Daily Health Care Routine, Explained

One of blockchain’s great promises is its potential to enable actors to exchange data securely while precisely customizing who is allowed access to which information. Once such a comprehensive distributed medical database is up and running, patients will be empowered to decide which parts of their medical history to share with a certain doctor or clinic. In turn, medical professionals and administrators will see a major efficiency boost from having instant access to their customers’ blockchain-verified health records.

Although creating a universal ledger of medical records is an enormous task that will require industry-wide cooperation, there are viable transitionary solutions capable of optimizing industry record-keeping in the short run. One of them is MedRec, an MIT Media Lab project. The Ethereum-based system is designed to store not the records themselves but hosts smart contract-enabled permissions that nodes on the network — i.e., patients or medical institutions — can configure to authorize other participants’ access to the database.

Life insurance

Health records also play a significant part in determining the premiums that holders of life insurance policies have to pay. Once all patients have their medical histories moved onto a secure medical database running on a blockchain, it will become possible for life insurers to calculate premiums and issue policies automatically.

According to Ignite Outsourcing, finding a beneficiary upon the insured’s death is sometimes problematic due to both family dynamics and flaws in record-keeping. The practical effect is that, currently, $7.4 billion of unclaimed life insurance money is sitting in carriers’ bank accounts. With smart contracts triggered automatically in the event of a policyholder’s death, this may become much less of an issue — given that the order of potential beneficiaries is spelled out clearly in the policy.

The authors of the report also note a little-known fact that nothing prevents the owners of life insurance policies from selling them to third parties. Whereas such deals are quite uncommon now, they could become more convenient when policies run on a blockchain. A startup called fidentiaX, branding itself as a marketplace for tradable insurance policies, seeks to expand this niche by offering a platform for buying and selling tokenized insurance contracts.

Property titles

Title insurance is a $15 billion market that is projected to keep growing steadily over the next few years. This type of contract is different from most “traditional” insurance areas in that it protects not from future losses but against claims on something that had allegedly happened in the past — for example, a previous owner’s tax lien. A title policy will come into play if a challenge arises to the legality of the new owner’s or lender’s property right.

Insuring title rights requires the ability to verify that these rights are well-substantiated by the appropriate records. In this sense, the disruption that blockchain will bring to the title insurance business is just another facet of a more general disruption of the entire title record-keeping process. Storing titles on an immutable ledger will minimize the risks associated with loss or forgery of records, allowing legitimate property owners to easily prove the validity of their claims.

Several months ago, two major players in the U.S. market, First American Financial and Old Republic Title Insurance, joined forces to create a blockchain-based network of title insurance underwriters designed to enable industry participants to exchange previous insurance records.

Reinsurance

Insurers also need their risks hedged. If a major disaster occurs, a company may get flooded with claims that will drain its reserves too quickly and threaten its solvency. To guard against dire scenarios like this one, insurers purchase coverage from reinsurers or participate in consortium-style intra-industry agreements.

Currently, underwriting reinsurance and negotiating policy conditions is an inefficient and lengthy process. Insurance firms typically rely on several reinsurers at once, creating the need for multiparty data exchange — fertile soil for blockchain to step in and streamline the complex web of interactions.

In October 2016, five major European insurers teamed up to form the Blockchain Insurance Industry Initiative, or B3i. They have since been joined by an additional dozen of big industry players representing Europe, Asia and North America. The global consortium has since been at work developing and testing a shared smart contract system that provides reinsurance for natural disaster insurance. The system, whose working prototype was rolled out in 2017, is capable of automatically processing data from the affected parties and determining the size of payouts. The arrival of the fully operational system is expected in 2019.

Peer-to-Peer Insurance

Peer-to-peer (P2P) insurance is a model that predates blockchain, although it is remarkably consonant with the ideology of decentralization that permeates the crypto space. The idea is that, instead of relying on a central insurer and an underwriter, a group of individuals pool their resources together to create a safety net for whoever from their ranks incurs a loss as a result of an unforeseen event. Participating in such an arrangement, usually comprised of the people whom one knows personally, is generally more affordable than purchasing a corporate-sourced policy — and arguably offers a more pleasant experience.

However, for all the transparency and convenience of such friend pools, they can only scale up to a certain point before the need for professional, centralized management arises. Here enters  blockchain to save the day. The whole P2P transactional structure of these “horizontal” risk pools closely resembles a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). As PwC analysts have it, DAOs are known for their “capacity to manage complex rules among a significant number of stakeholders,” which is a perfect recipe for projecting the peer-to-peer insurance model to a new level of efficiency and scalability.

Going forward

With all the potential efficiencies blockchain is set to bring to the table, many of the most impressive insurance-related use cases are still aspirational. The bulk of the technology’s disruptive promise resides in the domain of coordination enhancement. In order to fully capitalize on this potential, the industry will have to rally behind the idea of aligning standards of information exchange, shared data pools and broad cooperation. Initiatives like B3i will have to encompass the majority of industry stakeholders, which is a gargantuan task, given the sector’s size and inertia.

Regulation also remains a potential impediment for blockchain’s explosive expansion. Insurance companies are subject to heightened regulatory scrutiny and so is distributed ledger technology. Bringing both together will require cutting through a lot of red tape, as well as the creation of new rules to guide the symbiosis.


Zur Quelle
[/ihc-hide-content]

Wide implementation of blockchain can make insurance premiums plummet

Discovering Atlantis: Ethereum Classic Hard Fork and What Will Change

Discovering Atlantis: Ethereum Classic Hard Fork and What Will Change

Atlantis hard fork of ETC scheduled for mid-September will improve compatibility with Ethereum blockchain

[ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=“show“ ihc_mb_who=“reg“ ihc_mb_template=“1″ ]

On June 19, the Ethereum Classic (ETC) community announced that the Atlantis hard fork is now in its testing stage. As Cointelegraph previously reported, the update is scheduled for September and will take place on the block 8.75 million.

Also, as Cointelegraph reported, ETC Labs, which actively contributed to the Atlantis project, will soon introduce another solution for Ether (ETH)/ETC interoperability being part of Metronome Validator Network. This move brings transparency on certain aspects of the upcoming upgrade. 

ETC itself was introduced after the DAO attack back in 2016, when 3.6 million ETH had been stolen within the first few hours. At the time, it was equal to $70 million. To reverse the malicious transactions, Ethereum hard forked and thus gave birth to Ethereum Classic. At present, ETC is the 20th-biggest cryptocurrency, as its market capitalization of over $865 million, according to coin360.com. However, let’s take a deeper look at the motivations, technicalities and potential consequences of the hard fork. 

Ethereum Classic all-time chart

Ethereum Classic all-time chart. Source: coin360.com

Why the hard forking?

A hard fork is a radical change to a protocol of a blockchain, which can be carried out to reverse transactions, add new functionality or fix security risks. Unlike the previous time when the DAO was attacked, the hard fork is more of a beneficial renewal rather than a necessary measure. According to the blog post of Ethereum Classic Labs, the upcoming hard fork is aimed at presenting secure high-quality blockchain software while taking into account the community’s concerns. 

Atlantis is a consistent, no-rush update that would ensure compatibility of ETC with Ethereum, leading to an easier collaboration of sibling blockchains. The team also intends to improve the functionality and stability of ETC. The last point is especially relevant, as the network had experienced a “51% attack” last January. 

Who is involved? 

In order to complete the technical development of the main client, Classic Geth (which 68% of the network uses), ETC Labs has collaborated with ChainSafe Systems and cooperated with ECC, Parity and IOHK. A team of developers, ETC Labs Core, who are believed to be among the most skillful, has actively contributed to Multi-Geth preparation. As for ETC Labs’ blog post, “The ETC community has shown great attention to and support” for the hard fork. “All stakeholders have fully participated in the discussions on the details, scope, and timing of the hard fork,” the developers said.

ETC Labs and Metronome will issue a cryptocurrency named MET, which will be transferable between the blockchains. This is possible because “chainhopping” is a property of the blockchain asset and can be transferred from one chain to another. According to the blog post, “ETC Labs will support Metronome’s Validator Network to ensure reliable and secure transaction verification that guards against double-spend attacks and provides fluid cross-chain transactions.”

Reaching consensus on schedule 

On June 11, after an intermediate scheduling call, stakeholders from North America, Europe, and Asia agreed upon the hard fork’s timetable: It was decided that ETC Kotti and ETC Morden testnets would be activated at blocks number 716,617 and 4,729,274 respectively, and finally the hard fork would be implemented at block 8,500,000.

Ethereum Classic

However, bearing in mind that the chosen block would run on a Sunday, ETC Labs adjusted the schedule during Ethereum Classic Improvement Protocol (ECIP) finalization call on June 20. ETC Labs announced that the hard fork would then be set to occur on block height number 8,772,000 (which will be hit on Tuesday, Sept. 17, around noon UCT) to have more parties involved in implementation. 

The decision was unanimous, and the deadline of the release seems rock-solid, according to a statement from ETC Labs to Cointelegraph:

“The community has had a number of meetings to discuss timing, scope and involvement, and we have decided on the direction and timing of the Atlantis release. So, the decision was made and the community and stakeholders are all moving forward.” 

What do we know about Atlantis?

Atlantis is there to incorporate multiple Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIPs) that have been around on Ethereum for some years already. The mission of the hard fork is to pull ETC up to ETH’s latest protocol enabling easier interoperability between them. 

ETC Labs Core described some of the features of ECIP-1054 (Atlantis) in their blog post, explaining what exactly the community should be expecting. 

Overall, the update consists of 10 improvement proposals including improvements to stability, op-code upgrades, precompiled contracts to improve zkSNARKs, performance-related improvements and enhanced security. 

Zero-Knowledge Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge (zkSNARK) is the core of ECIP-1054. What hides behind the spooky title is a familiar zero-knowledge proof. It implies that no interaction between prover and verifier is needed, which “allows one to prove x without having to convey any information to the verifier other than they know x.” 

Сustomary encryption schemes efficiently secure data but need to be decrypted before computation. To change that, zkSNARK uses the Homomorphic Encryption technology that allows computations on encrypted data requiring no special access: The prover and verifier only share a dataset or parameters of the encryption. 

Further, by updating to zkSNARK, users obtain increased privacy necessary for data such as identity or location, which is now totally transparent on the blockchain. This feature is based on EIP-196. As for its description, zkSNARKs could in theory be implemented by Ethereum Virtual Machine, yet they would not fit the block gas limit due to the cost. 

EIP-196, for its part, suggests to adjust certain parameters of znSNARK so that the technology would perform effectively at a reduced gas cost. Meanwhile, EIP-197 ensures the verification of zkSNARK contracts on the Ethereum Classic blockchain. The EIPs make the technology flexible enough to be further improved and advanced without another hard fork.

Among the benefits that the update poses, there will be a more predictable ETC issuance rate. The current formula lacks the “uncle rate,” which will be fixed by EIP-100 (“Change difficulty adjustment to target mean block time including uncles”). Furthermore, deployment of a decentralized application (DApp) after the hard fork, as well as migration of DApps between Ethereum and Ethereum Classic, will become easier and more efficient. 

The community can also expect a better performance of Ethereum Classic, as EIP-161 will optimize it by removing empty accounts. This will “debloat” the network and speed up sync times. Another improvement proposal is to change the contract-code size limit to 24,576 bytes. 

The last proposal happened to be the stumbling block within the ETC community: Initially, co-founder of Ethereum Vitalik Buterin introduced EIP-170 to prevent an attack scenario. But, if implemented in ETC, it would put a fixed cap on the size of smart contract code that could be run in a single transaction, and this creates a point of contention among the Ethereum Classic community. Some of the developers hesitated whether it was right to include the EIP in the upgrade, as it can be applied to a transaction validation instead of a block validation, which makes it a soft fork. According to ETC developer Anthony Lusardi:

“These rules can simply be applied to transaction validation rather than block validation, making it a soft fork rather than a hard fork. […] It’s vitally important to stick to pre-agreed rules when they’re defined.” 

Chasing interoperability between two blockchains 

The Atlantis hard fork proposal on GitHub points out that “establishing and maintaining interoperable behavior between Ethereum clients is essential for developers and end-user adoption, yielding benefits for all participating chains (e.g., ETH and ETC, Ropsten and Morden, Görli and Kotti).”

Atlantis should provide wider capabilities for interoperability between the blockchains and off-chain scaling protocols. The faster interoperability is implemented, the sooner the traditional methods of payment and banking will be disrupted, and this is where cooperation matters. 

Stevan Lohja, technology coordinator at ETC Labs Core, explained in a Discord discussion why compatibility matters, while calling Ethereum Classic a “sanctuary”: 

“EF has publicly stated the intention to deprecate ETH and ETH 2.0 is not actually a 2.0. It is a separate project and EF has legal privileges to force their brand. So everything that has been invested into ETH will be deprecated or forced to move to this entirely separate network at the cost of all the users. If ETC is compatible with ETH while respecting ETC value proposition, then ETC is a sanctuary for ETH refugees.”

The teams contributing to Atlantis and Metronome are chasing a mutual goal: to enable “cross-chain transactions to quickly, easily, and securely occur between ETH and ETC.” 

To split or not to split 

Taking into consideration all of the changes that the Atlantis hard fork will bring to the ecosystem, a rather successful adoption of the update can be expected. It’s been positively accepted by the stakeholders, as the calls demonstrate. “The community found consensus, this will not split the chain,” a user named BabySocrates claimed in the Discord chat. 

Commenting on the origin of the proposed features, executive director at ETCC, Bob Summerwill, stressed that “all of the Atlantis changes are from ETH, […] rather than being anything new specific to ETC.” He also confirmed the proposed date of hard fork, Sept. 17: “Yes, the deadline is realistic.”

Ethereum Classic is on the verge of a new stage of technological advancement, and the community has big expectations regarding changes proposed by the Atlantis hard fork.


Zur Quelle
[/ihc-hide-content]

Atlantis hard fork of ETC scheduled for mid-September will improve compatibility with Ethereum blockchain