Recap: Our First Hybrid Event ft. University of Amsterdam!

Earlier this month, we ran our first-ever hybrid event in our Toronto Lab space! 

We were delighted to host an in-house day on November 3rd for a large group of students from the University of Amsterdam as part of the VSAE International Study Project 2021, where Actuarial and Econometrics students visited Toronto for a week to immerse themselves in the Canadian business world. 

Our team was very excited to welcome them — check out how we prepared the Lab space for our special guests below! 

The Setup

We had fun setting up the Lab for our special guests from The Netherlands!

As we continue to grow internationally, our team has been exploring opportunities to run hybrid events that allow participants to join both in-person and virtually. In 2020, we even invited students from the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg-Schweinfurt, Germany (FHWS) to develop their own solution for a hybrid event model. Check out the cool robotic solution they came up with here

To test out our hybrid concept, our Lead Innovation Coach, Ibeth Ramos, led the day’s events remotely, while our Co-Founder Sven Roehl and our intern Niklas Bortzler were present in the Lab to greet the students and facilitate the on-ground activities. 

The Welcome

The student group arrived promptly at 9 AM and received a warm welcome from our in-house team. After they found their nametags and poured themselves a hot cup of coffee, the group settled in the main Lab space to begin their exciting day with us. 

Our Co-Founder Sven gave a brief introduction of Cookhouse Labs and msg global solutions, our parent company. Director of Cookhouse Labs Utrecht (The Netherlands), Rian de Heer, joined the introduction virtually from France to provide more insight into msg global solutions, beginning with the company’s origins in 1980 and how it grew to over 8500 employees in 28 countries today.  

Sven continued his presentation with a deeper dive into the history of the insurance industry, sharing challenges along the way and how Cookhouse Labs is playing a part to #MakeInsuranceBetter by facilitating innovation, collaboration, and co-creation. 

The Introduction

After a quick coffee break, Coach Ibeth gave the students a virtual introduction to Design Thinking, walking them through the fundamentals of the human-centered innovation methodology. The students were also introduced to her lovely puppies, who joined the session briefly as well! Then, they set off for a quick lunch break before they began to apply their learnings in a short sprint. 

The Sprint

The students were split into 4 teams and invited to tackle the challenge of how the insurance industry can help combat climate change. They began the first step of Design Thinking: Empathy, which required them to learn about current perspectives on insurance and climate change.  

During step two, Define, they mapped out their findings on a whiteboard empathy map. Using these key insights, the student teams defined a persona and created a journey map. For example, one team chose the persona of a 28-year-old salesperson who was inspired by a climate change documentary and mapped out the persona’s experience of getting in touch with their insurer to see how the organization could make a difference. 

Coach Ibeth continued to guide the teams, visiting each room virtually and interacting with the students as they moved to the next step, Design. The students ideated solutions they could develop within various timeframes, such as 1 week and 1 month.  

After voting on the top idea to develop, the teams dove into the next step, Create. Coach Ibeth had prepared special prototyping boxes for the students the day before their visit, with various fun materials to use during this stage, such as feathers, stickers, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks. She invited their inner child to come out and play, providing the space for them to express creativity and have fun. 

During the final step, Test, the teams presented their prototypes to each other, such as an information app and smartwatch to help customers monitor their carbon footprint. The presentations were creative, fun, and all unique — we were absolutely blown away!  

The Wrap-Up

As the clock struck 4:30 PM, we began to wrap up our in-house day with positive feedback and final comments. Co-Founder Sven and Coach Ibeth encouraged the students to always trust the Design Thinking process and to stay connected to our global community by joining future opportunities to co-create with insurance thought leaders. Our team then presented the students with special gifts ahead of the holiday season, and the whole group posed for a few photos before a little networking and final goodbyes. 

Before we concluded the day, we asked Michelle Mutsaers, who is a board member of the VSAE, to describe the in-house day experience: 

“During the in-house at Cookhouse Labs, our students learned to solve problems by using more creative and out-of-the-box thinking. The day was well-balanced with a short theoretical part and after that, immediately using this in practice. In short, it was a highly educational and fun day!” 

— Michelle Mutsaers, Board Member on the International Study Project Committee 2021 

A big thank-you to VSAE for spending a day in our innovation space, and to msg global solutions Canada for being the sponsor for the day! We enjoyed meeting and hosting the students and look forward to seeing all of you continue to achieve big things in the near future! 

Want to be the first to hear about our next young talent event? Join our community and receive updates directly to your inbox! 

WinterHack 2020: A Global Race to #MakeInsuranceBetter [Part 2]

WinterHack 2020 Winner Team

Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with WinterHack 2020 Winner, Team EMIL-Hannover Re. I asked Dr. Lorenz Kemper (Hannover Re) and Henrik Dittmar (EMIL Group Gmbh) to share behind-the-scenes stories and advice from their WinterHack 2020 experience — check out the full interview below!

Team EMIL-Hannover Re, congratulations on your huge success at WinterHack 2020! Before we dive into the event, let’s do a quick round of introductions first.

Lorenz: I have been working as a Data Scientist at Hannover Re for 2 years now. Just recently, I became the first member of the Hannover Re Digital Accelerator, where I am responsible for the technical aspects in a team that works with insurers, digital insurers, and InsurTechs to get them going globally.

Henrik: I am the Head of Product at EMIL Group. We’re a technology company that helps insurance companies quickly launch innovative products.

Thank you for the introductions! We’d love to know, what inspired you to join WinterHack 2020?

Lorenz: When I heard about WinterHack, I thought it was a great place to meet like-minded people and network to meet possible corporate partners from other parts of the InsurTech industry, such as a primary insurer or technology provider.

Henrik: Since we provide software for insurers and reinsurers, it’s essential for us to collaborate with them and see how they are thinking, especially when it comes to innovation. Networking, of course, is a motivator, but we really want to know how insurers and reinsurers approach innovation.

Speaking of collaboration, this was your first time meeting one another. How did you connect and how was the experience of working together?

Lorenz: We hit it off on a personal note very quickly. We actually met before the event for a quick call to get to know one another and to get on the same page. We talked about our backgrounds and our goals for the event, and in that initial call, we decided we wanted to have fun but also win the competition!

Henrik: It was a fun 2 days, which has a lot to do with the team. In our case, that meant Lorenz as our teammate! We started out on the same page and worked well from the beginning, which was really nice.

It’s always great hearing about successful collaborations! Diving into your solution now, which of the 4 challenges did you choose to tackle and what was your idea?

Lorenz: This is a funny story — the jury panel thought we were tackling the challenge of loneliness for the elderly, but what we were really focusing on was digital subscription models!

Henrik: Our solution was an app that integrates many tools and services from around the digital world and makes them accessible to senior citizens, so I understand how the confusion happened! It was all about combining these easy-to-use services in an app as an entryway into the digital world for senior citizens.

How was your experience using Design Thinking to develop this solution?

Lorenz: Design Thinking was a good way to encourage customer-centric thinking, especially because none of us are a customer group. We used Design Thinking to empathize with the customer, but we actually didn’t use all of the tools. We cherry-picked within the toolbox of Design Thinking to select the best tools that would help us reach our goal, such as the Persona, Empathy Map, and Journey Map, and decided very quickly what product we wanted to pitch.

Henrik: The target group focus in the Design Thinking approach is very essential in today’s world, especially when it comes to innovation and developing something the target group actually wants. It was very helpful for us to get into the mindset of the user group and start from there. Our general approach was to get to the prototyping stage very early, and so we chose the tools that went along with that. We wanted to create the solution quickly and test it by having the prototype ready, creating a landing page, and seeing how people would react when they saw the page, which is how we chose to validate it.

On that note, what else do you believe contributed to your overall success at WinterHack 2020?

Lorenz: Because we were a small team, we were really quick and well-coordinated. Everyone took charge of certain tasks quickly and owned them. We were very clear on who was responsible for each task and relied on them to do a great job.

Henrik: Our focus on prototyping the solution early helped us create something that in the end, when the judges saw it, conveyed the usefulness of the idea in real-life. As much of a bubble as these 2 days were, that’s what they were trying to evaluate — how much would this idea make sense outside of this context?

Looking back at the event, how would you describe your overall experience?

Lorenz: For me, it was fun and broadened my perspective in many ways. I was surprised at how much we were able to get done in 2 days. I was also quite surprised that we were able to hit a personal note even though we had never met before! This was new to me, because I felt this year that it would be difficult to really connect with other people via Zoom, but I think we were able to do that quite effectively. It was a big learning for me!

Henrik: There was a lot to do in 2 days and we worked through it quite well as a team, which made it really enjoyable. Our skillsets matched up very well with all of the tasks we had to do!

As you know, at Cookhouse Labs our mission is to #MakeInsuranceBetter for everyone! How do you think your solution and events like WinterHack 2020 help achieve this?

Lorenz: In a way, our product has the same characteristics as what makes insurance better. Our product aims to bring technology to the elderly, who typically are not the primary users of technology but could benefit from it. Technology can improve their lives and make things much easier for them. In the same way, the industry is not typically the first to take up digital ideas and technology. However, it is an industry that is predestined to make use of technology, and in this way, we can make insurance better.

Henrik: Historically, insurance has been a slow industry, especially when it comes to product innovation. It takes a very long time to launch an insurance product. Changing this mindset is one thing that events like WinterHack encourage, and this is our goal at EMIL, too. We want to make it technologically possible to launch new products, but this only works if we can bring the insurers we work with into the mindset to launch new products quickly. These types of industry events create the sensibility for innovation in a short time and make the process of quickly launching new products possible.

Team EMIL-Hannover Re, thank you for an insightful interview and congratulations once again on your big win at WinterHack 2020. We wish you the best and hope to see this collaboration continue in the future!

Curious about our next big global Ideathon in 2021? Stay updated on the details by signing up for our newsletter and following us on LinkedIn!

WinterHack 2020: A Global Race to #MakeInsuranceBetter [Part 1]

Winterhack 2020 Runner-Up

Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with WinterHack 2020 Runner-Up, Team Munich Re. I chatted with Abhishek Gupta, Calvin Choi, Joanna A., Salman Ghaffar, and Tommy Kim about the process of developing their innovative solution and invited them to reflect on their experience and success at the global ideathon.

Team Munich Re, congratulations on your big win! Before we begin, let’s start with a quick intro. What can you tell us about yourselves in 30 seconds?

Abhishek: I’m a Business Development Manager for IoT in the Applied Technology Division at HSB Canada. I focus on commercializing sensor and IoT technology here in Canada, which includes water, temp, and pipe sensors.

Calvin: I’m a Data Analyst within the Client Company Management Team at HSB Canada. My role involves assisting Client Company Managers with data to build compelling stories about why clients should work with us.

Joanna: I’m a Marketing Communications Specialist at HSB Canada with a focus on branding and digital marketing. It’s been a rewarding journey for me as a marketer, being part of a team that encourages intrapreneurship, and a company that’s innovative, technologically driven, forward thinking, and people focused.

Salman: I also work in the Applied Technology Division at HSB Canada as an IoT Operations Specialist. We bring solutions from the U.S. to implement in the Canadian market, and my responsibility is to ensure everything goes smoothly, from bringing in the solution hardware to installing it at client locations.

Tommy: I’m from Munich Re Company of Canada, which is a life, property, and casualty business. My current role is a Senior Actuarial Analyst from the Pricing team, and my day-to-day responsibilities include supporting the Reinsurance business with actuarial services.

Great, thank you for the introductions! We’d love to know, how did you come together and what inspired you to join WinterHack 2020?

Abhishek: I was looking for an amazing and super talented team with lots of brainpower! I came across one of our champions from MRoC, Tommy Kim, who is great to work with. I found more talented people from our organization: Calvin, who is a new member of HSB Canada and was very excited about the ideathon; Salman, who is our IoT Specialist and is incredibly talented; and Joanna, who brought everything together from a marketing perspective.

Calvin: What motivated me was the space for people to come together to innovate in the insurance industry. If you think about it, the industry has always been resistant to innovation and change, so if there’s an opportunity to work with like-minded people on innovative ideas and solutions that can help develop the industry, I’m all for it.

Joanna: Abhishek was putting together a team to represent Munich Re at WinterHack 2020 and he reached out. The theme “Digital Ecosystems” was a huge driver for me to join the team. As a marketer, I’m always thinking of innovative and better ways to do business, so it was a good fit.

Salman: I’ve been a part of QHacks, which is hosted by Queens University, so I understood how hackathons work. Considering WinterHack 2020 was going to be held remotely, I was a little inquisitive as well about how it would go, and that motivated me to participate.

Tommy: What inspired me to join was the passion from my colleagues. It’s always difficult for an individual to get something done, but the synergy that Abhi brought into one team was definitely a great inspiration.

That’s awesome! Let’s dive further into the event: Which of the 4 challenges did you choose to tackle and how did you decide?

Abhishek: We chose the first challenge, which was to reduce isolation and loneliness for elderly people. It was quite a deliberation process — we spent about 60% of our workday just on choosing the challenge! We created a matrix with parameters and every single team member scored the challenges from 1 to 5 based on these parameters. We used a weighted average to select the challenge we were going to work on. We realized later on that everyone on our team is very empathetic, when we all understood pain points for the elderly and how our solution can really help them.

Tommy: I really love the fact that we were able to share our thoughts and visions for each challenge. It’s fantastic that Abhi proposed the matrix we used, because at the end, we were very objective in how we selected a challenge.

Could you describe your experience using Design Thinking to develop your solution?

Abhishek: Design Thinking is a different way of thinking when creating a product, and as a team, we understood how important it was. I’d say Calvin and Salman did an incredible job creating a customer journey map that detailed each point in the journey. Salman shared with us that his mother’s age is similar to our Persona, and his understanding of her experience really helped us.

Calvin: We really focused on being empathetic to what the customer journey would look like. On the other hand, we also focused on practicality and how the company could benefit from a product like ours. We made sure to empathize with both sides when designing this product.

Joanna: Design Thinking is the way to go. You simply can’t develop a solution without empathizing with your customer, and building on that is key. Design Thinking flows in that direction. It’s logical and efficient.

Salman: My mother is a single parent who is a similar age and I’ve seen her struggles and how she feels about technology at this age, and it was really helpful in drafting our journey map. We wanted to address those needs and bring the human touch to our solution, because at the end of the day, technology cannot replace the human touch.   

What do you believe contributed to your success at WinterHack 2020?

Abhishek: The biggest factor behind our success was bringing together amazing people. Joanna brought her marketing perspective to create a credible product offering. Calvin and Salman had a streamlined approach to empathizing with the customer and creating the journey map. Tommy brought his actuarial skills, and he was very focused on the commercialization aspect and feasibility of our idea. It was all about bringing together the synergies of different talented people.

Calvin: We all tried to see things from each other’s point of view. We took the time to listen to and understand everyone’s ideas. I think that also contributed hugely to our success.

Salman: I agree completely — all the credit goes to the team. This is one of the best team experiences I’ve ever had. Everyone brought in their skillsets while remaining open-minded and respectful towards others’ ideas. If there was a difference in opinion, we used thoughtful discussions to sort through the pros and cons of each idea and to decide on the best way forward.

Tommy: What worked well was the synergy based on trust and open-mindedness. I also have to upsell the support we got from Cookhouse Labs: the templates guided us in the right direction on how to develop and present our solution in the end, so thank you!

How would you describe your overall WinterHack 2020 experience?

Abhishek: It’s been fabulous! Previously, we had an opportunity to participate in the SummerHack, which was again a wonderful experience. WinterHack, I would say, was a notch higher for us because when everyone came together, we fit like a glove. Even though we all came from different experiences and backgrounds, everyone was respectful and open-minded. I also have to say that the event was amazingly organized by Cookhouse Labs. You gave us all the design templates and guidance we needed, and I really want to thank the whole team for helping us along the way.

Calvin: It was a lot of fun for me, because we were on the same page and everyone was very encouraging. I would say, though, that at the end it got a little stressful, because we raced to get everything done on time. Cookhouse Labs did a great job making this a very seamless and smooth process, and even when we got to the Final Pitch Event, I had a great time listening to everyone’s pitches. I noticed some pitches applied cultural aspects from the region the team was in, and this international aspect was cool to see.

Salman: Spending two days together almost felt like a family! It was a wonderful experience, and we had a lot of fun. When signing up for WinterHack, I was curious about the entirely virtual experience and how it would be managed. Cookhouse Labs did an amazing job with sharing resources and guiding teams through all the steps, so thank you!

Tommy: Having judges with a lot of professional expertise and knowledge was great. Also, the event format was virtual, which was a nice experience to be part of. Before COVID-19, I would have never thought of being part of a virtual competition because I would have wanted to feel the synergy and energy within the same room and in-person. However, virtual collaboration was not a barrier for our team, which was a wonderful experience.

How do you think your solution and events like this help #MakeInsuranceBetter?

Abhishek: Using methodologies like Design Thinking promotes lateral thinking, and the time crunch fosters and accelerates the kind of thinking needed to create a viable product. At the end of the day, something we create here has the potential to become a real insurance product. We observed the judges’ interest and our organization’s enthusiasm for this idea, which means this idea could very soon become a real product offering.

Calvin: Insurance products, with respect to P&C or personal lines, are generally similar across the industry. How can companies set themselves apart from the rest? Usually, this is through value-adds that they can provide to policyholders. When companies want to compete for customers, they need to think of these creative value-adds to provide to policyholders. The product we came up with is a nice example of a value-add that a home or life insurer can provide, and this can set them apart from other insurers. This is what makes the difference between one company and another.

Joanna: Events like this open the floor for thinking outside the box and innovating, and when you combine innovation with Design Thinking and its focus on empathy, you make insurance better.

Salman: I’m a strong advocate for using technology to push the envelope further. What we see is that the insurance industry is late to adopt technological trends. An event like this helps to change this perception and helps companies in the ecosystem realize the importance of technology in improving their products for the end-user. Even further, it helps adopt these technological solutions and advance the industry as a whole.

Tommy: The perspective towards the insurance industry is that it is very reactive, not proactive. These events encourage the industry to become proactive and offering meaningful services to customers, which is progress.

Team Munich Re, thank you so much for sharing your insights with our readers and congratulations once again on your big win at WinterHack 2020. We wish you the best going forward and hope to see your solution come to life as a real product offering in the near future!

Curious about our next big global Ideathon in 2021? Stay updated on the details by signing up for our newsletter and following us on LinkedIn!

The Virtual Way Forward: Interview with Innovation Coach Ibeth Ramos

Why did the Lab decide to go virtual instead of simply closing like other work spaces?

We live in a world where technology has become part of our daily life. At Cookhouse Labs we invite our members to ideate on ways they can integrate technology into their solutions during our projects sprints. So, it makes sense that we do the same. It is currently, more than ever, easy for us to leverage technology to stay connected to our community.

How did the team come up with this solution?

We had already began our internal design thinking sprint with digitalizing the Cookhouse Labs experience since our season 4 is focused on Global Collaboration, which means we plan to run project sprints during this season in parallel with team from Asia and Europe. The current situation invited us to start now.

How will the new solution offer the same experience as being in the Lab?

For us, the Lab is not just a building where people come together and write on post its. It is intended to be a home for innovators and creative thinkers in our insurance community. That being said, as an innovation coach I personally focus on the empathy and human centric approach. We connect not because we are in the same building, when we truly empathize we connect at a deeper level, and that level of empathy does not stop because of location. The main ingredient for our experience is the “space” we create, and that is something I am great at because it comes from core values.

What are the perks/benefits that come with participating in an online training?

 There are several – learning new techniques used online – like how to share ideas on a virtual wall, remembering how to connect as a team while being in different locations, new techniques to apply for your own virtual meetings, pick up techniques on how we deliver the messages, presentations.

How does it feel to facilitate virtually?

I love it! Outside of the lab when I run my life coaching sessions they are 90% virtual. I enjoy creating a safe space where the participants are comfortable to be themselves, share and connect.

Images courtesy of our wonderful team members; Marjorie Angeles and Adys Franco.

What are some challenges that come with an online solution?

Some of the challenges include the internet sometimes dropping, family members of participants interrupting (unintentionally of course), some organizations have strict guidelines and sometimes we cannot use a tool.

What are some of your takeaways/lessons from this experience?

That as a team that shares and encourages creative thinking, solution focused approach – we are always ready to implement what we teach.

What is the Lab doing internally during this challenge?

We have watercooler breaks three times a week, where we get together before lunch and have a chat. Friday afternoon is we have after work drinks – we all bring our favorite drink on camera. We check on the team as a global entity; our CEO has scheduled weekly town hall meetings to keep us all informed on updates. We also have internal company channels (like Facebook groups).

What would you encourage businesses and employees to do/keep in mind?

 Empathize, not only with customers, also employees and just as important, yourself.

What should members expect from Cookhouse Labs as this situation progresses?

We are here to support the community. To remain connected and do our part to keep the creative minds nurtured by offering complimentary trainings and project sprints during this times of uncertainty.

On Living in China During COVID-19: Interview with CHL Partner Jason Alleyne

We want to share with you what it means and how it feels to be under quarantine in Asia. We asked our friend and partner Jason Alleyne, co-founder of ELITE and Director Asia-Pacific of Besurance Corp, how he experienced the outbreak of the pandemic in Asia. In the interview, Jason also shares his insights from an actuarial science perspective and tells us what he learned from the pandemic.

How did you become interested in COVID-19? 

The short answer is – I live in China! 

And the long story? 

I remember talking to my cousin-in-law, who is an internationally renowned Saxophonist, when the early signs of trouble began. He said, “I don’t know why everyone is making such a fuss about this. Tens of thousands of people die from the flu each year”. At that point, I didn’t really know anything about the topic. Later, a friend of mine sent me a text that read, “Be careful. I know you can’t read Chinese, but this virus is very dangerous”.  This was two days before Chinese New Year, and I was in Guangzhou then. So, of course, I began to get curious about the virus. 

What did you do next? 

Across the country, New Year festivities were greatly impacted. My family didn’t go to the temple and we avoided public gatherings voluntarily. That was when I began to pay more attention. I started to investigate data points that my cousin-in-law had pointed out: in France, the SARS cases in Hong Kong, the swine flu, and Ebola. I already knew certain data points on the Spanish flu from actuarial literature on extreme events. Shortly after the Lunar New Year Day itself, we decided to return to Hong Kong. We were able the cross the border just in time before train travel was halted on January 28th.

Wow, you were lucky! What did you do with all the data points?

I had about 8 days of reports in front of me. By simply looking at how quickly the growth numbers were changing, it became clear that the exponential growth had been disrupted. I decided to test my own hypothesis; I used those 8 data points as a proxy for the “start” of the containment of the spread, then predicted the next 5 days. To my surprise, I was correct to within 1% of the actual reported numbers. I still remember showing these figures to my wife, who is an Actuary, and she, too, was surprised to see my results.  

What did you do with these findings? 

I shared them with a few professionals from the insurance industry, other Actuaries, and some blockchain techies and investors. I received a range of responses, from cynicism to curiosity. I organized a small gathering of health insurance observers to explain what I believed was the effect of “social distancing”. As I explained, the human network that underpins the exponential spread was being disrupted in a dramatic and impactful way. Also, my understanding of the situation and intuitive analysis helped calm friends and family. 

What’s important to note is that the spread of the virus and fatality is so much lower outside Wuhan. The country did not panic; people voluntarily obeyed rules for the greater good of the community, and I feel this greatly reduced the burden on the health care system. Really, all people did was stay at home. It was as simple as that. More importantly, they all knew why they were staying away from other people. For the most part, the country had the right mindset and the human network chain was effectively cut off. This is when I took out time to build my crude 3-stage model based on human network methodology and simulation-based thinking. 

How would you explain this model to someone outside the industry?

For our pandemic, I hypothesized that there are 3 aspects in our control, and I was proven correct. The first is the exponential stage, where there is no awareness. People get infected from the source and unknowingly infect others. At this stage, there is a community-wide spread before the authorities act. In the second stage, the community responds by closing branches of the network, such as transportation, air travel, and malls. This is when “social distancing” begins. Furthermore, as the Chinese government explained the human-to-human network, I was compelled to think about how to model that concept instead of trying to fit it in an un-intelligent exponential function. This allowed me to adjust the network connectivity in real-time as it happened in China.  

The third aspect that I used is a Monte Carlo simulation to teach myself what was happening. For example, the Diamond Princess cruise ship is a perfect test case of unmitigated spread in a closed population over 45 days from a single source. By using reinforcement learning, I was able to guestimate that the transmission rate was likely 3.5% in person-to-person daily interactions. I also found the mortality rate increase per day is 1 in every 2,000 while infected, but every day recovery is still very possible. The Monte Carlo simulation helps to fill in data gaps, improves intuition about the human process, and enhances communication rather than talking about the “R0” and using emotive terms, such as “highly transmissible” and “deadly”. 

You mentioned “R0”. Could you explain what this is? 

My point exactly. There isn’t a parent that would tell their 7-year old, “Honey, you can’t play outside because there is a virus out there with an R0 of 2.3”. All these terms – “R0”, “highly transmissible”, and “deadly virus” – are from a corporate-centric mindset and are derived from an equation-centered analysis lens. To answer your question, R0 is a mathematical expression for how fast the virus is spreading, assuming that the spread is in fact exponential. The Statisticians and Actuaries I met with did not care to consider using human-centered language in their analysis and social media posts. They used terms like “R0” and unintentionally caused more panic and fear. What I tried to do within my own circle and friends and family was to share correct facts and insights from what they were seeing for themselves, and the data that was being reported. This, in my opinion, was more helpful. 

What does a human-centric fact or insight look like? 

Human-centric thinking is realizing that viral spread happens in human-to-human networks, and that every country is different. For example, the Spanish flu was spread in clusters of soldiers in cramped quarters on ships returning from WWI. In our case, Wuhan is an industrial and manufacturing city. There are typical Chinese practices; for example, a vast majority of the elderly live with their immediate family, and there are few religious gatherings, if any at all. This would be very different from what happened in Korea, Iran, and possibly Italy. Hospitals were never overcrowded in Wuhan because of their remarkable efforts to build new temporary ones quickly. However, during the Spanish flu, hospitals were overcrowded. This remains a real risk in rural America, for example, and is where Italy is possibly headed.  

Another example is how in China, very few people would ever hug or kiss one another upon meeting, but in Europe, the practice is different. So, the human-to-human network has a different frequently, closeness, and public gathering size based on unique cultures and cityscapes. Age and cohabitation norms are another big factor. There are few elderly care centers in China, so transmission from one elderly individual to another is likely to be different from transmission in European countries. These are just a few examples. 

How does this approach fit in with your work on innovation and with Cookhouse Labs? 

I’m glad you asked – this is very central to our work on innovation. There are 3 major themes that run here. 

The first lesson comes from our actuarial forefathers; they taught us that deep analysis starts with investigating the underlying human reality, rather than simply assuming that an equation will explain a phenomenon. It is this deep investigation and human-centered analysis that creates the insight that leads to the mathematics, rather than the other way around. In our recent research in the Lab, we know our customers want this type of insight from our industry.  

Secondly, we need to examine what “customer-centric” means versus “corporate-centric” language and products. In the case of our pandemic, fear of the virus, in my opinion, is deadlier. When I see experts announce in the news that their predictive models indicate 30% to 70% of the population will be infected, that is corporate-centric speak. The range is so wide and the numbers so large that, of course, this will generate fear and panic. What we’ve done in our own company is to first identify the most vulnerable (the economically vulnerable workers) and then develop a product to help them stay at home in quarantine, if infected. This is customer-centric thinking. We do understand the risk very deeply, but we also know that people want insight and actionable tips rather than big brother dictation.  

Thirdly, we need to ask as an industry, “What is innovation?” Innovation is thinking differently. I previously mentioned equation-focused analysis and the lack of a customer-centric approach. Where is the social impact that was at the origin of this industry? 

Millennials and younger generations have a passion for social impact. To become a credible voice to them, the insurance industry needs to revisit its origins in social impact. The industry exists to be a force of good in society and in communities. How can we use human-centered analysis to share insight and joy with our communities? How can we use a customer-centric and data-driven approach to develop truly impactful products and services, while making a difference to people’s lives? Innovation is magnet to our younger generation, because they want to make a social impact! 

Become an Anticipator, not just a Survivor

Unfortunately, there are companies who aren’t prepared for the changes wrought by disease, by technology or by anything unexpected. Yet, the willingness to adapt and innovate is the key to success. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels or rely upon systems and practices that may have worked well 50 years ago, but haven’t changed since. 

As the great physicist Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” 

When it comes to change, there are three types of insurers: 

  • Anticipators; 
  • Fast Followers; and 
  • Survivors. 

The industry is shaped like a period with anticipators at the top. They are rarer, but they are the keys to the future, because they are busy creating their own future based on the opportunities provided by technology. Next come fast followers. They recognize sound industry leadership and are nimble enough to adapt. At the bottom of the pyramid sit the survivors. They have no innovation strategy; instead, they focus on addressing the industry hot spots. They are hanging onto survival with their fingernails, hoping they can continue to find enough business without making major changes or creating a vision for the future. Which would you rather be? 

So, what does it take to become an anticipator in our industry? There are four key ingredients: 

  • Digitize. First of all, you need to make digital technology a priority so you can take advantage of the efficiencies it offers, along with the opportunity to bring new ideas to fruition quickly and easily. 
  • Top-down Support. If management is supportive and fosters a culture of innovation, the rest will follow. If innovation is seen as an add-on, rather than integral to the organization, you’ll fall behind and lose relevance, no matter the size of your company. 
  • Modern Workspace, Diverse Workforce. Your employees must be able to take advantage of technology and should bring a variety of backgrounds and talents to the table.  
  • Online Offerings. Products and services must be digital. Customers must be able to access them quickly and easily. 

It is easy to turn up your nose at such suggestions because they require an investment. Yet, as Herbert Rogenhofer, the Chief Digital Officer for Talanx in Germany, notes, “The reality is that 95 per cent of our investment goes into the digital transformation of our legacy systems; the rest (5 per cent) is available for innovation.” 

That’s where Cookhouse Labs (CHL) comes into play. At CHL, we believe in collaboration among industry players to find solutions to industry challenges. Collaboration and co-creation are the keys to future innovation success. When we work together, we learn from each other with a minimal investment of time, money and personnel. A diverse group of people can come together, devise a solution and test it with the customer within a short period of time. They can each take the results back to their organizations where the decision to enlarge upon it or not can be made.

Why not focus on multiple topics quickly by spreading your resources through collaboration? During our Season of Innovation at CHL, we’re delighted to share with you our thoughts about innovation in the insurance industry. Get in touch with us at to learn more. 

Insurers selling cars – why not?!

Tesla, the California-based electric car manufacturer, has recently begun selling its own automobile insurance, allowing drivers in the Golden State to purchase a vehicle and insurance together as a package.

Insurance companies can choose to view this move, like most innovative ideas, either as a threat — “They’re removing potential customers from the market” – or an opportunity – “What can we learn from this bold move?”

Here at Cookhouse Labs (CHL), we see it as a wonderful opportunity for insurers to join the game by selling cars, along with insurance. Why not?

Insurance companies, as part of the financial services industry, have the capital to explore this option. Typically, insurers invest the money paid by their clients as premiums so it reaps the largest financial reward possible. However, with markets plummeting as fears of COVID-19 spread worldwide and interest rates at historic lows, it’s time to think innovatively. Why shouldn’t an insurance company create its own business as a way of maximizing its profit?

Think about it. An insurance company could purchase vehicles from the manufacturer and sell them complete with insurance coverage as a package. For the consumer, it simplifies the purchase – there’s — no need to hunt around for auto insurers and compare their rates. Coverage is simply part of the deal.

As the insurer, you can add other perks, too, such as offering a telematics tariff by monitoring driving behaviour in exchange for lower rates. For young drivers, who generally pay high premiums, you could create an enticing special package to reduce costs.

Perks selling cars

Not only is this an innovative approach to auto insurance, it is one that puts the customer first. Most drivers will be happy to forego the inconvenience of shopping around for insurance before they put their vehicle on the road. If you lock in the insurance with the product, you’ll attract new customers and make it easy to retain them – and likely for much longer than a typical one-year policy. After all, recruiting customers is the hard part; with proper attention and service, retention shouldn’t be difficult.

This is an idea new to the insurance industry, but not a radical one. The cellular communications industry jumped on this idea years ago, once they realized that consumers found it much easier to buy their mobile devices at the same place where they obtained their data/calling plans. It’s almost a given today.

At Cookhouse Labs, we view this approach as an opportunity for insurers to retain their place in the value chain while becoming more attractive to customers.

During our Season of Innovation at CHL, we’re delighted to share with you our thoughts about innovation in the insurance industry. Solutions like these are the product of collaboration among our members, and you, too, can share in the intellectual riches. Get in touch with us at to learn more