I was reading an interview in a business newspaper recently with Ryuichi Sakamoto, all round Japanese artist and genius behind the late 1970s Yellow Magic Orchestra.
The interviewer asked him if his composition of music could be described as monozukuri – a uniquely Japanese concept meaning ‘production’ or ‘making of things’. But the subtler, cultural, meaning of the word is more about blending of technological skills and knowledge with pride and dedication in production and the pursuit of innovation and perfection.
Monozukuri is often presumed to be the driving force behind so many Japanese business success stories over recent decades.
Mr Sakamoto’s response was surprising. “True creativity is destructive,” he told the newspaper. “You have to break things to make something new. Monozukuri is just polishing existing thinking. True creativity is making something entirely new. Something revolutionary and something destructive.”
It struck me that, in the grip of COVID-19, the insurance industry in Asia – and the rest of the world, for that matter – might be indulging in a bit of monozukiri when what was really required was a much more creative solution, even if it was more destructive.
Perhaps the pandemic and the endless cascade of effects it has had on business, behaviour, human interaction, economies, national securities et al is precisely the catalyst we need to take a fresh look at what insurance does, how it is sold, for whom and at what cost.
If true creativity, as Mr Sakamoto said, is making something entirely new - could it be done with insurance?
A cynic might argue that the past five years have seen the insurance industry feverishly try to sell old wine in new bottles – through introducing concepts like microinsurance and parametric insurance – or through trying to give insurance a new flavour through the introduction of InsurTech, AI, big data and machine learning.
But, at the end of the day, it’s still just insurance with a fancy new haircut. Have these initiatives served to reduce the size of the protection gap? Have they reduced the incidence of customers failing to understand product disclosure statements? Not so as you would notice.
What would something ‘entirely new’ look like?
Most probably it would look revolutionary and destructive. It would be available to everyone, everywhere – not just the affluent in developed societies. And it would not be provided by entities hoping to make a profit from selling it.
Who would benefit from it? Everyone would. Who would pay for it? Everyone would.
To students of history, the parallels with the establishment of the National Health Service in the UK after the Second World War might seem familiar.
The government’s chief medical officer Sir Wilson Jameson described the problems of 1947, the year before the NHS began as follows:
“The eighth year of austerity, 1947, was a testing year. Its first three months formed a winter of exceptional severity, which had to be endured by a people who in addition to rationing of food were faced with an unprecedented scarcity of fuel. These three months of snow and bitter cold were followed by the heaviest floods for 53 years, which did great damage, killed thousands of sheep and lambs, delayed spring sowing and threatened the prospect of a good harvest which was so urgently needed.
“Immediately after these four months of disastrous weather there followed a period of economic crisis with an ever-increasing dollar crisis. So acute was the crisis that restrictions more rigorous than any in the war years became necessary. Bread had to be rationed for the first time late in 1946; in September 1947, the meat ration was reduced; in October the bacon ration was halved; and in November potatoes were rationed. A steep rise in the prices of foodstuffs and cattle food followed disappointing harvests in many European countries, due to the hard winter and hot dry summer, and in certain crops, notably corn for animal food, in America. Affairs abroad were as depressing as conditions at home.”
After MeToo, after Black Lives Matter, after the coronavirus, it must be clear that the future of ‘protection products’ can no longer only be for those who can afford them – but should be made available to everyone, everywhere for all of our sakes.
Is it time for a change? A
Asia Insurance Review