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Insurance

 

With the aim of automating their reimbursement services, insurers have begun to set up platforms using blockchains.

Banks do not have the monopoly on blockchain technology. Insurers could even be the first to implement it on an industrial level – with an epicentre in Zurich. Indeed, it is in the offices of Trust Square that one of the most promising companies in the area resides: B3i, which stands for Blockchain insurance industry initiative. “We plan to offer our first blockchain-based smart contracts in January 2019,” Paul Meeusen, CEO of B3i, tells us proudly.

To understand the importance of this event, we need to go back to the origins of the company. Created in October 2016, B3i was initially a consortium grouping together 13 insurers, including Allianz, Munich Re, Swiss Re and Zurich Insurance Group, which joined forces to explore the potential of blockchain. In 2017, after the launch of the project, a first prototype was completed and underwent a market testing by 38 companies, including heavyweights such as the US company AIG. “Many blockchain initiatives have popped up in various sectors, but few have succeeded in bringing together such a large group,” highlights Meeusen. “This does not guarantee its success, but it does maximise its chances.”

B3i worked on developing a blockchain platform that would enable insurers to share their data in a secure and automated way. “We focused on B2B, and particularly the area of natural catastrophes. This is a sector that lends itself to experimenting, as it is significant in value with fairly low volumes of transactions and little data privacy concerns,” continued Paul Meeusen. But what can blockchain contribute to this type of transaction? According to Meeusen, “This type of contract is renewed once a year, and data is often dispersed among the different players. Blockchain will give all participants access to the same information at the same time, and thus avoid unnecessary friction, thereby accelerate transaction settlement and increase contract certainty. In other words, everyone will have the same version of the truth.”

 

Everyone will have the same version of the truth

 

The stakes are high. After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, it took several years of legal battles before an agreement could be reached between seven insurance companies, including Swiss Re, and the developer of the buildings that were destroyed, Larry Silverstein. Improved contract certainty via a distributed digital platform could have helped prevent such anomaly.

Initially, B3i tested the Hyperledger blockchain technology, before setting its sights on Corda, which according to the company is better suited to its business, due to its strength in scalability, network and privacy management. After a year of successful tests, B3i changed status, becoming a company in its own right, in April 2018. “There were several possible options”, says Meeusen. “B3i could have remained a consortium, or become a foundation. In the end we decided it would be best to operate as a commercial company, which measures its success by the adoption of its network, and generates its revenue from usage. This will fund ongoing maintenance and continued development of the network.”

The platform will thus be operational from January 2019. “We will move forward step by step. At the start, the blockchain will coexist with paper versions of the contracts,” explains Paul Meeusen. “Then, gradually we will cover different product areas from reinsurance to commercial to primary insurance. Ultimately, I think that blockchain platforms will gradually become available for end customers (B2C).”

With its platform “Fizzy”, AXA made the opposite choice, by testing blockchain technology directly with individuals. In concrete terms, when a customer buys flight delay insurance on Fizzy, this transaction is recorded in the Ethereum chain. As this smart contract is also connected to the global airline databases, as soon as a flight is delayed by more than two hours, compensation is automatically triggered. In addition to eliminating intermediaries, customer reimbursement is accelerated.

 
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