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Magical thinking: is it time for insurers to do [over]due diligence on industry services?

In the lexicon of psychiatry, magical thinking is a symptom of psychosis.

There is another kind of magical thinking. P.T. Barnum understood it very well. The skill sets for fertilizing such thinking are well honed in the domains of sales and marketing.

Thinking such as this has been known to creep in when underwriting vice presidents are besieged with evidence of the "truly remarkable" nature of ostensible assets they're egged on to deploy. The clock ticks audibly as pressing accountabilities pile up during anything-but-free lunches. The not-so-faint echo of the chief financial officer and his minions, chanting the fiscal mantra "cheapest is best," hangs heavily in the air.

"Our [fill in] is/are the best in the business. Trust me!"

See how magical thinking might creep in here?

There is a remedy at hand: due diligence (defined here as getting beyond force-fed, free-food fantasies).

When you buy a used car, you put the engine and transmission through its paces--or scuttle home to make lemonade! Reckon you'd do likewise where ceding a portion of the company's bottom line to black boxes or any other external essential elements (we call this outsourcing) are concerned.

Saving a buck is great, as long as you apprehend this rock-solid reality of the new age of underwriting: garbage in, garbage out. A fair and competitive price is one reason to buy. It should never be the only reason when mortality/morbidity gains drive profitability.

Sure, auditing invoices to avoid paying for something you didn't buy is important. However, it's just a starting point, not the sum and substance of due diligence. Fact is, if your outsourcing partner isn't a tad anxious regarding what he'll hear at that next "free" lunch, you just took up residence in his hip pocket! There are many meritorious vendor firms, and some others. There are high quality services, and imitations thereof. In the end, there are good deals, and bad calls.

Three things are clear:

* He who does not look cannot see.

* He who does not question cannot learn.

* He who does not audit cannot know.

That is, until one fateful morning when all-too-audible footfalls descend the staircase, quarterly results held in the boss's vice-like grip.

It doesn't have to end up like that.

When a client asks this underwriter what questions one must ask in this regard, my heartfelt recommendations are: How many options do you have? How many providers/products are out there to choose from? Since big does not inherently equal better, see them all and get focused feedback from peers who are users.

When the time comes, do that audit and ask questions such as: Do 90% of blood pressure readings end in 0? Are too many specimens hemolyzed? Are the drilldowns notable for their scantiness or their abundance? Does that engine hum or belch balderdash?

Alas, I'm preaching to the choir where a handful of role model carriers are concerned. For them, all of this is just business as usual.

Maybe that's why they're role models.

Hank George, a Best's Review columnist, is the principal in his own consulting and training firm, Hank George Inc. He may be reached at
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Title Annotation:Life: Underwriting Insight
Author:George, Hank
Publication:Best's Review
Date:Aug 1, 2007
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