The March/April 2019 edition of Carrier Management features articles about the two commercial insurance lines at opposite ends of the profitability spectrum. Workers compensation is the most improved commercial line in recent years while commercial auto is now seriously ailing.
What’s in store for these lines for 2019 and beyond?
It’s probably no surprise that experts looking at the future of the line doing well are worrying about deterioration and those analyzing the problematic one are searching for bright spots on the horizon.
“Despite the positive results across the [workers comp] segment, A.M. Best believes the trend of declining rates likely will trigger profit margin compression, possibly as soon as 2019,” said the rating agency in a December 2018 report.
Reading tea leaves for the more distant future is hard. Best analysts worry, for example, about potential premium declines that could accompany a spike in unemployment down the road. Yet even in an age of high employment, some workers’ earnings fall. Consider the scenario that Safety National’s Mark Walls notes in our article about trends to watch—”the increased use of ordering kiosks in fast food restaurants”—reducing hours for human order-takers even as their wages rise.
“The self-checkout kiosk and AI concierge may soon loom as large as industrial robots as labor market disturbances,” says the Brookings Institute in a new report on automation, which puts “accommodation and food services” at the top of a list of industries ranked by automation potential. Not far behind, in the No. 3 spot, is transportation.
Yet it is precisely the increasing use of automation and connected technology that is brightening the future for commercial auto insurers in search of elusive profits, Russ Banham reported. “It’s hard to get into a collision when no ‘driver’ is screwing up,” said one source, referring to the benefit of autonomous trucks platooning on a big stretch of highway designated specifically for them.
That’s a development that also could help workers comp results, since motor vehicle accidents cause a large chunk of the “mega” multimillion-dollar claims paid by comp insurers.
But your perspective on both would be different if you were a truck driver. Commenting on an article on Trucks.com describing platooning and automation, drivers hauled out a truckload of feedback.
“As much as I love technology, when it comes to the loss of jobs, I stand strong for my brothers and sisters,” wrote one 40-year trucker. “You don’t know jack freaking nothing about trucks…I don’t write articles about the dangers of journalism, and you shouldn’t about trucking!” wrote another.
“A study that I’ve never seen is one that shows how many times per day truck drivers do something on the road that prevents a wreck involving someone not paying any attention. That number would be massively larger than the number of wrecks…because each individual truck driver has to do it multiple times per day,” wrote a third.
Clearly, the road ahead isn’t going to be easy for any of us—truck drivers spying Tesla Semis in the rearview mirror, journalists replaced by robo-reporters, or college dropouts taking jobs as fast-food workers and chauffeurs.
It’s sobering that Mike McGavick, the former CEO of XL Group profiled in this edition, received the advice that helped mold his leadership style doing a chauffeuring job that may soon disappear. Surely, he would have made it to the top anyway. But what route would he have taken if a fleet of autonomous Ubers had been around to take his place in that very first job?