Great hardware, a much improved Windows 10, and Microsoft AI lured me away from my beloved MacBook Pro.

My trusty MacBook Pro has been getting extremely slow lately. I’ve tried all the tricks of the trade to fix the situation, but I still see that spinning pinwheel too often for too long.

Not wanting to invest in a new MacBook Pro so close to the release of the next model. I decided to try a Chromebook to see if it would do for web browsing and my cloud development. I decided to go with Google’s Pixelbook. It’s an attractive device with an acceptable tactile feel and a crisp screen.

The Pixelbook easily handled 95% of my daily computing needs. But the 5% it didn’t manage were essential parts of my workflow. I’m not going into the issues I had; you can easily find discussions about Chrome OS online. Google will resolve many of my problems when Linux is available without third-party apps. Not wanting to wait for that, I decided to return the Pixelbook.

Still wanting something to get work done while waiting for the next MacBook releases, I decided to give Microsoft’s Surface Pro another look. Several years ago, I gave the first Surface a try. Within a day it went back to the Microsoft Store for a refund. I don’t know which I hated more; the device itself or the abysmal version of Windows it ran.

Since Impact is a Microsoft ISV Partner and we use the Office 365 suite of tools, I decided to try the latest Surface Pro again.

I’ve lived in the Apple world so long that getting used to Windows again took a few days. It took another day to find all the apps, tools, and extensions installed so I could have a workflow like my Mac workflow. But to my surprise, once I got it setup and had a few days working on it, I’m beginning to love it.

I soured on Microsoft in the Ballmer era. Microsoft became a company I associated with arrogance and hubris. Their internal teams didn’t work well together, and their products were a mess. Microsoft under Nadella is a very different company. I see it as a Microsoft Partner, and now I’ve experienced it as a consumer.

There are many things I like about the Surface Pro. The screen is crisp and clear; I can ditch the keyboard when I want to walk around with the tablet. The pen has a good feel, and Windows 10 has an excellent tool for marking up anything you see on your screen. Reporting issues or suggestions about our web apps used to be tedious. Now I can circle or highlight an area that needs attention, scribble a note and send to our triage department or directly to the engineer in charge of the application.

Recently Microsoft added something that is a game changer. Microsoft Office apps, Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint now have dictation using Microsoft’s cognitive services. You can compose a word document, email, or build your PowerPoint using dictation. That feature is only available if you currently have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription and enable dictation in the office suite. I’ve created this entire post using Word and the dictation feature. Once I finished dictating, I’m going to tell you the number of errors so that you can get a feel for the accuracy of the dictation. I’ve been very impressed.

One thing I really like is the ability to have the tablet in my hand and walk around as I’m talking.

I think best when I’m walking around. When I’m sitting at a desk with a keyboard and a blank screen, my mind often goes blank as well. The physical process of moving around helps my brain to function more efficiently. Even though my typing speed and speaking speeds are almost the same, thinking and speaking is more comfortable for me than thinking and typing.
I’ve been able to produce this document as fast as I can think what to say. That’s quite amazing.

So far most of the mistakes in the dictation of this post are my speaking mistakes. I sometimes start a thought and change the words in the middle of the sentence. Also pausing to collect my thoughts will insert a period, and start a new sentence. That’s a bit of a problem since I’ll often hesitate in the middle of a sentence to precisely choose the right words. That’s an editing problem though, and editing is easier than writing. I must say this is a great way to go from blank page to the first draft. So far, I’m loving the Surface Pro. I may never go back to Mac again.

Two other things to note, Cortana is much more useful than Siri on the Mac. She can execute actions, and they’re usually the actions you want! Secondly, the Surface Pro and Windows 10 let you use facial recognition to log in. My iPhone X has ruined any other form of device user authentication for me. It’s not perfect on the Surface; different glasses never tripped up my iPhone but cause Surface to fail. I can live with it.

Apple’s going to have to come out with something amazing to get me back.

●●●●●●●

I had to correct 12 dictation errors. I won’t mention the number of grammar errors and if typing, I would have hit the backspace key at least 50 times.

Posted May 14, 2018 filed under Development News.

What impact have Advisors experienced since the transition period started for the DOL Fiduciary Rule? What we know today is that insurance companies and brokerage firms have already implemented changes because of the DOL Fiduciary Rule. These changes affect how an Advisor approaches a client, how an Advisor is compensated, and how an Advisor records the repeatable process.

Overview of the DOL Fiduciary Rule as of Today

In simple terms, Department or Labor (DOL) Fiduciary Rule expands fiduciaries to advisors who offer advice and recommendations on retirement plans and IRAs for a fee or other compensation. In some instances, investment clients may be advised to shift their retirement savings from one fund to another, or rollover investments between a 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, or another investment vehicle. An advisor “fiduciary” may have to justify their recommendations by showing the investment strategy is in the best interest of their client especially if the recommendation results in a higher fee or cost structure. The other side of the DOL Fiduciary Rule is the advisor’s compensation. Reasonable compensation is permitted, however a Best of Interest Compensation Exemption (BICE) is established to help the advisor avoid litigation down the road as it pertains to the recommendations to their client. This will result in the client and advisor signing a Best of Interest Contract (BIC).

On June 9, 2017, the transition period for the new Department of Labor fiduciary rules began. “The reality is as a plan advisor, if you have a conflict related to either proprietary product, forms of compensation, or limitations of access to products that you offer your clients, you need to be affirmatively disclosing those conflicts to your client now,” said Andrew Besheer, a project leader for Broadridge’s DOL Fiduciary Rule Solutions program, during a webinar hosted by the firm (source BenefitsPro). The full implementation of the DOL Fiduciary Rule must be completed by January 1, 2018. The Department of Labor is accepting feedback during the rest of 2017 from Advisors, Broker Dealers, Fund Firms and other participants in the qualified plan recommendation process. This could result in relaxing or tweaking some of the enforcement mechanisms and compensation rules. Fundamentally implementation of the rule as interpreted today is already in progress.

New Approach with Clients

Advisors must be more transparent on product fees and compensation. Will the client have more trust and confidence with his/her Advisor? Being more transparent may strengthen a new relationship between the Advisor and his/her client, however a client who has a long history with their financial advisor already assumes their Advisor is looking out for the client’s best interest and acting as fiduciary.

If you sell proprietary products, you don’t have to mention competitor products even if they have lower fees. Higher fee products like a Variable Annuity for an IRA can still be recommended to a client if you can demonstrate it is in their best interest. If you work for a big wire house for example, you may be required to push smaller accounts out because of costs to comply with the new rule. The client may then gravitate to a robo-advisor. There will be additional paperwork that will involve your client. In the case where you are required to do a Best of Interest Contract, you must explain the BIC to your client and get a signature. As a broker who is now acting as a fiduciary working with a 401(k) plan, you may approach your investment options differently to the plan sponsor (employer) focused on Best Interest not just suitability.

Not everything will change when engaging with clients because there are things not covered in the DOL Fiduciary rule. It’s not considered financial advice if a client calls a financial advisor and requests a specific product or investment. An Advisor can provide education to clients, such as general investment advice based on a person’s age or income. Taxable transactional accounts or accounts funded with after-tax dollars are not considered retirement plans, even if the funds are personally earmarked for retirement savings.

Compensation Changes

Advisors will see changes in their compensation with the DOL Fiduciary Rule. Some companies will be moving away from commissions and compensation, and moving toward a flat-fee based model. A flat fee might be a subscription or an upfront payment. An asset under management model, in which the client might be charged one percent each year on all investment assets held with the advisor could be implemented by companies and brokerage firms. As mentioned above, the rule states that all fees and commissions must be reasonable. There isn’t a lot of clarity around the term “reasonable compensation”, however the advisor’s compensation will most likely be changing on qualified plans recommended including annuities using qualified money. Fiduciaries will be required to comply with Impartial Conduct Standard. This includes providing advice which is in the best interests of their clients. Advisors must avoid making any misleading statement. As I have already stated several times above, advisors cannot charge more than reasonable compensation for services. As per a NAIFA Survey in April 2017, “The rule is already having an impact on advisors’ compensation. The survey found that 43 percent of advisors have experienced reductions in the commission compensation arrangements, while an additional 49 percent expect reductions. One of NAIFA’s major concerns about the DOL rule is that it would force financial institutions to switch clients from commission-based to fee-based accounts for those clients to remain financially viable. Approximately 77 percent of advisors said that more than half of their retirement planning clients would see increased costs if they had to switch from commission-based to fee-based accounts. Of those advisors, 41 percent said that more than 80 percent of their clients would see increased costs if forced to switch.” (Source – NAIFA.org). Bottom line compensation or other incentives by firms and leading with a specific product that may pay a higher commission will no longer be permitted or be available to Advisors.

New Automated Processes

Even though Advisors must change the way they approach clients, there are new “automated” tools for financial advisors and insurance agents that have been implemented by insurance companies and brokerage firms to streamline the process. In many cases the advisor starts from their Client Relationship Management System (CRM) and then launching into a product recommendation tool like Impact’s® PlanFacts, https://shop.planfacts.com/, which assesses the client’s financial profile and the answers provided by the client in an automated risk questionnaire (a repeatable, and documented process). This assessment is analyzed in a rules engine containing the rules supplied and approved by the compliance department of an insurance company or broker dealer. The product recommendation is included in the PlanFacts financial planning report presented to the client by the advisor. This goes from beyond suitability to best interest of the client, which results in a product type, like a Variable Annuity for example, to be recommended. Locking down the recommendation and keeping a permanent record along with the BIC document is part of the automated process enforcing the “Best Interest of the Client” as defined in the DOL Fiduciary Rule as well as being prepared to make available the evidentiary process and documentation in the future as needed. Once the product type for the best interest of the client has been established, then specific product comparison and quoting could be the next integrated step in the process. Staying with the example of a Variable Annuity recommended, then a seamless integrated pathway to an automated Annuity Order Entry (AOE) Platform such as Ebix’s AnnuityNet, Insurance Technologies’ FireLight or iPipeline’s Affirm for Annuities for submitting the annuity application as the next step in the process. The AOE includes a compliance workflow at the Broker Dealer. The data and forms are then transferred electronically to the insurance carrier by first passing through the Deposit Trust Clearing Corporation’s (DTCC) hub. DTCC transmits the annuity application and initial premium information from the distributor such as a Broker Dealer to the insurance carrier. The DTCC service provides an efficient, straight-through process for validating, formatting and submitting annuity applications and initial premium payments while incorporating same-day money settlement.

Here we are in the transition period of the new DOL Fiduciary Rule; and financial advisors, brokers and insurance agents are already experiencing a lot of change. Some of the changes for Advisors has been significant in the way they approach clients especially because of increased compliance costs. In many cases, Advisor’s compensation has taken a negative hit while there is more work involved in learning new processes. The final chapter of the DOL Fiduciary Rule has not been written yet, however we will learn about changes as we get closer to January 2018 and then adjust our course accordingly.

Posted October 30, 2017 filed under Announcement.

The life insurance industry is usually lagging and playing catch-up with technology. There are many reasons for the lag such as costs, compliance and adoption. The Life Brokerage Technology Committee (LBTC) has made it a priority to research and educate BGAs on emerging technologies. In the last two years, there have been some growing tech trends like accelerated underwriting, ePolicy Delivery, mobile apps for life insurance sales and marketing just to name a few. Today we will introduce you to two significant new technologies that are game changers!

You will first learn about Chatbots, which offer agents the ability to quote, field underwrite, get marketing information, and apply for insurance using plain conversation on a messaging app or voice assistant. We will then update you on Blockchain. In the last few years, you probably have come across a news story about Blockchain as it relates to Bitcoin, however Blockchain will affect the life insurance industry resulting in a monumental shift in the way sales, licensing, new business, underwriting, agent commissions and claims are processed. Blockchain is an industry disrupter; however, it will positively impact BGAs and agents.

 

What is a Chatbot?

A chatbot is an automated, artificial intelligence system/program that responds to speech or text input. It can be used to help you find answers, help you with tasks or organization, and it can even be used for entertainment. A simple example of this interaction is when you ask your phone’s AI about the weather. Rather than looking for the information online or through an app yourself, it will find the details and provide them to you immediately through speech and text. Chatbots are used on messaging apps and voice assistants. Text messaging, Facebook messenger, and Skype are some of the more popular messaging apps. Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana are examples of voice assistants. Other popular ways people use chatbots are for news, creating a grocery list, personal finances, scheduling, and even friendship. Chatbots are used widely for customer support. Amazon Echo (Alexa) for example, is a voice assistant with a chatbot that does tasks you request and answers questions. The artificial intelligence in the chatbot learns how you ask for information and gets smarter the more you use it. Chatbots have personalities, designed so that the conversation experience drives more engagement. The learning curve is easy because there are over 1 billion users of Facebook messenger alone for example covering all age groups. Millennials are only interested in using chat to communicate and for getting their information. This means that more than likely agents are already engaging in chat with a messenger app for personal and business purposes.

 

How Will Agents Use a Chatbot to Sell Life Insurance?

When an agent runs a term insurance quote for example, they may use a mobile app or run it from a BGA’s website. If the agent needed to look up underwriting guidelines like height and weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and tobacco use, or a malady like diabetes, then the agent would look for the information in the carrier’s underwriting guidelines in a PDF or use a field underwriting software program. The same thing applies for looking up information on a life product such as issue ages or conversion options. A chatbot is an agent’s one stop resource to have all the information he/she needs right at their fingertips.

Scenario: Agent opens-up a chatbot using a voice assistant on his/her smartphone. The agent says, “I need a quote for a 45 year old male nonsmoker for $500,000 preferred.” Instantly the annual and monthly premiums for 10, 15 and 20 year term pops up on the screen. The client tells the agent he has high blood pressure. The agent then says to the chatbot, “blood pressure is 120/90.” The voice assistant shows on the screen and verbally says, “For blood pressure 120/90 the risk class is standard plus.” The agent then says to the chatbot, “Change the risk class to standard plus.” A revised quote appears instantly on the screen.  The agent can then apply for the insurance submitting the business through a term ticket like ApplicInt’s ExpressComplete right from the same chatbot.

Impact Technologies Group, Inc., has a series of chatbots for insurance called InsureBotsTM . They are used for life insurance quoting, field underwriting, annuities, long term care, marketing and agent recruiting. There are reinsurers creating underwriting chatbots. Carriers are starting to develop internally their own chatbots for marketing. The P&C insurance world is exploding with chatbots using them as a claims advisor for example. Agents who sell insurance utilizing their website will see affordable solutions for a Web-bot that will quickly and easily educate the client answering common questions, providing media like YouTube videos, and then moving the client to a quote and a pathway to apply for insurance. The consumer experience will be much smoother and engaging using a chatbot, helping the agent generate more business.

 

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an algorithm and distributed data structure for managing electronic cash without a central administrator among people who know nothing about one another. Originally designed for the crypto-currency Bitcoin, the blockchain architecture was driven by a radical idea of a currency exchange system without any middleman, bank, country, or any other macro environmental factors.

In order to understand blockchain technology, it makes sense to first consider the “Internet.” It enabled a free, fast, and global exchange of information and ideas. The blockchain adds another dimension by making it possible to transfer and exchange value (and assets) without the involvement of intermediaries. Blockchain technology can also be used to store personal and other information in an accessible, but secure, environment.

 

How Does Blockchain Work?

Blockchain, also known as a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), was invented to support the Bitcoin cryptocurrency (Internet money). Bitcoin was motivated by an extreme rejection of government-guaranteed money and bank-controlled payments. The developer of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, envisioned people spending money without friction, intermediaries, regulation or the need to know or trust other parties.

 

How Can Blockchain Impact the Life Insurance Industry?

Imagine a world in the insurance industry where life insurance agents don’t have segregated sales and marketing, product, underwriting, new business submissions, policy servicing, claims management, and commissions systems and departments to deal with on a consistent basis. They can access, track, and transact every facet of a life of a policy (case) from inception to service within block(s) of a chain securely.

The basic principle that blockchain provides is decentralized storage of the data. Currently, at an insurer, this data is stored on a centralized network. In many cases, there are multiple databases/departments that are managing these transactions between the agent/brokers, BGAs, and the carriers. At times, the information is either disjointed or incomplete regarding customers and their transactions. Blockchain solves this problem for the life insurance industry by aggregating all the transactional, static and changed information, as well as all the data. It is processed and stored decentralized, un-editable, unidentifiable and securely.

One of the more disruptive applications of blockchain is the development of “Smart Contracts” models. Smart contracts contain self-executing protocols that work with a blockchain to enforce the performance of a contract across all counterparties. This can help with automating the verification of coverage and streamline claim settlements to improve operational efficiency and hence minimize cost.

Here are some other great benefits of blockchain that will impact agents directly:

  • Fraud Reduction: With blockchain technology, tampered documents or false billings are almost impossible to process since the data is immutable and decentralized. This will also reduce the amount of erroneous claim payments.
  • Policy Purchase and Underwriting Process: Policy issue process can be designed via a blockchain to create a combination of data providers, health exchanges, and insurers. Underwriting process can be expedited by obtaining the required information from health exchanges and data providers to expedite the underwriting and new business process with minimal customer effort.
  • Management of Agent Contracts: Blockchain can be used to instantly verify agent licensing, contracts and setup a notification system to alert agents and issue commission checks when the policy is signed.

The impending future of the life insurance industry could strengthen through an intelligent adoption of blockchain. Large insurers have the predicted possibility to greatly benefit from the many applications in digital currencies, fraud solutions and smart contracts. But the process of implementing blockchain will come with necessary tweaks to the underwriting processes and structures of policies, as well as risk underwriting.  Essentially, Blockchain reduces premiums collected by large insurance companies by allowing for cheaper and more consumer oriented products to be developed. Ideally, cooperation between blockchain startups, carriers, brokers, reinsurers and other segments of the insurance industry would lead to optimal efficiency, but those segments will be subject to disruption and may not follow suit. LIMRA’s recent announcement that is has established an advisory council to explore opportunities in the life insurance and retirement sectors to use blockchain distributed ledger technology is a good sign. It is indicative of our industry seeking the practical and collaborative solutions to use the blockchain technology in the right manner.

 

References for Blockchain:

  1. Financial Times article; Technology: Banks seek the key to blockchain: https://www.ft.com/content/eb1f8256-7b4b-11e5-a1fe-567b37f80b64 – retrieved on August 24th, 2017.
  2. Cognizant; White Paper;  Blockchain: A Potential Game-Changer for Life Insurance: https://www.cognizant.com/whitepapers/blockchain-a-potential-game-changer-for-life-insurance-codex2484.pdf – retrieved on August 26th, 2017.
  3. Team Brella; White Paper: https://teambrella.com/WhitePaper.pdf – retrieved on Aug 20th, 2017.
  4. Online article: https://medium.com/startup-grind/3-reasons-why-the-blockchain-revolution-is-finally-becoming-a-reality-63bdd90c89e2 – retrieved on August 27th, 2017.

Author’s Bio

Ken Leibow
Senior vice president, Impact Technologies Group, Inc., has enjoyed a career spanning more than 29 years, with an extensive background in distribution technology and back office systems. He previously worked for Genworth Financial, Mutual of Omaha and as vice president of operations at Diversified Underwriters Services, Inc. As COO of Integrated Insurance Technologies, Leibow built the largest life insurance data exchange hub in the industry processing over 1,000,000 policies per year and 30 billion dollars of annuities. Innovation in quoting and illustration tools, CRMs, agency management systems, eApp platforms, and ePolicy delivery are some key initiatives implemented by Ken during his career. Leibow can be reached at Impact Technologies Group, Inc., 619 S. Cedar Street, Suite J, Charlotte, NC 28202. Telephone: 704-927-3234. Email: Ken.Leibow@impact-tech.com.

Adnan Raja
is director, Underwriting R&D at John Hancock Life Insurance Company. He has more than 18 years of experience in technology and project management combined with a Masters Degree and project management title designations PMP and SDRM. As vice president of Field Technology Solutions at National Financial Partners (NFP), Raja lead the creation and administration of key business technology systems for a national network of financial advisors. In late 2015, he joined John Hancock as a director of Underwriting Research and Innovation. Raja can be reached via telephone at: 617-572-5183. Email: araja@johnhancock.com. 

Posted October 17, 2017 filed under Articles, In The News.

Posted November 10, 2016 filed under In The News, News, Uncategorized.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 makes significant changes to Social Security planning. There are many articles that go into the details of the changes (this article from Michael Kitces for example), but the legislation most affects ‘restricted application’ and ‘file and suspend’ filing.

There are millions of Americans over the age of 62 who have not yet filed for Social Security benefits who can still take advantage of restricted applications. Those who will be age 66 by April 30th can still use file-and-suspend. And, anyone thinking of filing for benefits must consider when to file.

The changes for restricted applications apply to those who attain age 62 in any calendar year after 2015. Your clients who are at least 62 years of age by the end of 2015, will still be able to utilize a restricted application.

‘File and suspend’ however, is another story. The new legislation eliminates the most common application of the ‘file and suspend’ strategy unless your clients can take advantage of it within the next 180 days (the exact date for the expiration of the ‘file and suspend’ strategy is not yet available, but will be after April 30th 2016).

From a Congress that has been stalemated for years, this legislation came out of the blue and passed with unbelievable speed. We know the urgency you have to get proposals in your client’s hands that reflect these changes. Impact plans to have its software modified and deployed on Wednesday November 4th.

Posted November 3, 2015 filed under Announcement, Articles.

Posted May 20, 2014 filed under News.

Your PlanLab and PlanFacts data is not vulnerable to the Heartbleed security flaw.
The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. Impact doesn’t use OpenSSL in our data centers.

Posted April 17, 2014 filed under News.