Mohsen Rahnama, Cihan Biyikoglu and Moe Khosravy of RMS look to 2029, consider the changes the (re)insurance industry will have undergone and explain why all roads lead to a platform Over the last 30 years, catastrophe models have become an integral part of the insurance industry for portfolio risk management. During this time, the RMS model suite has evolved and expanded from the initial IRAS model — which covered California earthquake — to a comprehensive and diverse set of models covering over 100 peril-country combinations all over the world. RMS Risk Intelligence™, an open and flexible platform, was recently launched, and it was built to enable better risk management and support profitable risk selection. Since the earliest versions of catastrophe models, significant advances have been made in both technology and computing power. These advances allow for a more comprehensive application of new science in risk modeling and make it possible for modelers to address key sources of model and loss uncertainty in a more systematic way. These and other significant changes over the last decade are shaping the future of insurance. By 2029, the industry will be fully digitized, presenting even more opportunity for disruption in an era of technological advances. In what is likely to remain a highly competitive environment, market participants will need to differentiate based on the power of computing speed and the ability to mine and extract value from data to inform quick, risk-based decisions. Laying the Foundations So how did we get here? Over the past few decades we have witnessed several major natural catastrophes including Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Sandy; the Northridge, Kobe, Maule, Tōhoku and Christchurch Earthquakes; and costly hurricanes and California wildfires in 2017 and 2018. Further, human-made catastrophes have included the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and major cyberattacks, such as WannaCry and NotPetya. Each of these events has changed the landscape of risk assessment, underwriting and portfolio management. Combining the lessons learned from past events, including billions of dollars of loss data, with new technology has enhanced the risk modeling methodology, resulting in more robust models and a more effective way to quantify risk across diverse regions and perils. The sophistication of catastrophe models has increased as technology has enabled a better understanding of root causes and behavior of events, and it has improved analysis of their impact. Technology has also equipped the industry with more sophisticated tools to harness larger datasets and run more computationally intensive analytics. These new models are designed to translate finer-grained data into deeper and more detailed insights. Consequently, we are creating better models while also ensuring model users can make better use of model results through more sophisticated tools and applications. A Collaborative Approach In the last decade, the pace at which technology has advanced is compelling. Emerging technology has caused the insurance industry to question if it is responding quickly and effectively to take advantage of new opportunities. In today’s digital world, many segments of the industry are leveraging the power and capacity enabled by Cloud-computing environments to conduct intensive data analysis using robust analytics. Technology has also equipped the industry with more sophisticated tools to harness larger datasets Such an approach empowers the industry by allowing information to be accessed quickly, whenever it is needed, to make effective, fully informed decisions. The development of a standardized, open platform creates smooth workflows and allows for rapid advancement, information sharing and collaboration in growing common applications. The future of communication between various parties across the insurance value chain — insurers, brokers, reinsurers, supervisors and capital markets — will be vastly different from what it is today. By 2029, we anticipate the transfer of data, use of analytics and other collaborations will be taking place across a common platform. The benefits will include increased efficiency, more accurate data collection and improvements in underwriting workflow. A collaborative platform will also enable more robust and informed risk assessments, portfolio rollout processes and risk transfers. Further, as data is exchanged it will be enriched and augmented using new machine learning and AI techniques. An Elastic Platform We continue to see technology evolve at a very rapid pace. Infrastructure continues to improve as the cost of storage declines and computational speed increases. Across the board, the incremental cost of computing technology has come down. Software tools have evolved accordingly, with modern big data systems now capable of handling hundreds if not thousands of terabytes of data. Improved programming frameworks allow for more seamless parallel programming. User-interface components reveal data in ways that were not possible in the past. Furthermore, this collection of phenomenal advances is now available in the Cloud, with the added benefit that it is continuously self-improving to support growing commercial demands. In addition to helping avoid built-in obsolescence, the Cloud offers “elasticity.” Elasticity means accessing many machines when you need them and fewer when you don’t. It means storage that can dynamically grow and shrink, and computing capacity that can follow the ebb and flow of demand. In our world of insurance and data analytics, the macro cycles of renewal seasons and micromodeling demand bursts can both be accommodated through the elastic nature of the Cloud. In an elastic world, the actual cost of supercomputing goes down, and we can confidently guarantee fast response times. Empowering Underwriters A decade from now, the industry will look very different, not least due to changes within the workforce and the risk landscape. First-movers and fast-followers will be in a position of competitive advantage come 2029 in an industry where large incumbents are already partnering with more agile “insurtech” startups. The role of the intermediary will continue to evolve, and at every stage of risk transfer — from insured to primary insurer, reinsurer and into the capital markets — data sharing and standardization will become key success factors. Over the next 10 years, as data becomes more standardized and more widely shared, the concept of blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, will move closer to becoming a reality. This standardization, collaboration and use of advanced analytics are essential to the future of the industry. Machine learning and AI, highly sophisticated models and enhanced computational power will enable underwriters to improve their risk selection and make quick, highly informed decisions. And this ability will enhance the role of the insurance industry in society, in a changing and altogether riskier world. The tremendous protection gap can only be tackled when there is more detailed insight and differentiation around each individual risk. When there is greater insight into the underlying risk, there is less need for conservatism, risks become more accurately and competitively priced, and (re)insurers are able to innovate to provide products and solutions for new and emerging exposures. Over the coming decade, models will require advanced computing technology to fully harness the power of big data. Underwater robots are now probing previously unmapped ocean waters to detect changes in temperatures, currents, sea level and coastal flooding. Drones are surveying our built-up environment in fine detail. Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms are searching for patterns of climate change in these new datasets, and climate models are reconstructing the past and predicting the future at a resolution never before possible. These emerging technologies and datasets will help meet our industry’s insatiable demand for more robust risk assessment at the level of an individual asset. This explosion of data will fundamentally change the way we think about model execution and development, as well as the end-to-end software infrastructure. Platforms will need to be dynamic and forward-looking verses static and historic in the way they acquire, train, and execute on data. The industry has already transformed considerably over the past five years, despite traditionally being considered a laggard in terms of its technology adoption. The foundation is firmly in place for a further shift over the next decade where all roads are leading to a common, collaborative industry platform, where participants are willing to share data and insights and, as they do so, open up new markets and opportunities. RMS Risk Intelligence The analytical and computational power of the Risk Intelligence (RI) platform enables the RMS model development team to bring the latest science and research to the RMS catastrophe peril model suite and build the next generation of high-definition models. The functionality and high performance of RI allows the RMS team to assess elements of model and loss uncertainty in a more robust way than before. The framework of RI is flexible, modular and scalable, allowing the rapid integration of future knowledge with a swifter implementation and update cycle. The open modeling platform allows model users to extract more value from their claims experience to develop vulnerability functions that represent a view of risk specific to their data or to use custom-built alternatives. This enables users to perform a wide range of sensitivity tests and take ownership of their view of risk. Mohsen Rahnama is chief risk modeling officer and executive vice president, models and data, Cihan Biyikoglu is executive vice president, product and Moe Khosravy is executive vice president, software and platform at RMS
Karen White joined RMS as CEO in March 2018, followed closely by Moe Khosravy, general manager of software and platform activities. EXPOSURE talks to both, along with Mohsen Rahnama, chief risk modeling officer and one of the firm’s most long-standing team members, about their collective vision for the company, innovation, transformation and technology in risk management Karen and Moe, what was it that sparked your interest in joining RMS? Karen: What initially got me excited was the strength of the hand we have to play here and the fact that the insurance sector is at a very interesting time in its evolution. The team is fantastic — one of the most extraordinary groups of talent I have come across. At our core, we have hundreds of Ph.D.s, superb modelers and scientists, surrounded by top engineers, and computer and data scientists. I firmly believe no other modeling firm holds a candle to the quality of leadership and depth and breadth of intellectual property at RMS. We are years ahead of our competitors in terms of the products we deliver. Moe: For me, what can I say? When Karen calls with an idea it’s very hard to say no! However, when she called about the RMS opportunity, I hadn’t ever considered working in the insurance sector. My eureka moment came when I looked at the industry’s challenges and the technology available to tackle them. I realized that this wasn’t simply a cat modeling property insurance play, but was much more expansive. If you generalize the notion of risk and loss, the potential of what we are working on and the value to the insurance sector becomes much greater. I thought about the technologies entering the sector and how new developments on the AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning front could vastly expand current analytical capabilities. I also began to consider how such technologies could transform the sector’s cost base. In the end, the decision to join RMS was pretty straightforward. “Developments such as AI and machine learning are not fairy dust to sprinkle on the industry’s problems” Karen White CEO, RMS Karen: The industry itself is reaching a eureka moment, which is precisely where I love to be. It is at a transformational tipping point — the technology is available to enable this transformation and the industry is compelled to undertake it. I’ve always sought to enter markets at this critical point. When I joined Oracle in the 1990s, the business world was at a transformational point — moving from client-server computing to Internet computing. This has brought about many of the huge changes we have seen in business infrastructure since, so I had a bird’s-eye view of what was a truly extraordinary market shift coupled with a technology shift. That experience made me realize how an architectural shift coupled with a market shift can create immense forward momentum. If the technology can’t support the vision, or if the challenges or opportunities aren’t compelling enough, then you won’t see that level of change occur. Do (re)insurers recognize the need to change and are they willing to make the digital transition required? Karen: I absolutely think so. There are incredible market pressures to become more efficient, assess risks more effectively, improve loss ratios, achieve better business outcomes and introduce more beneficial ways of capitalizing risk. You also have numerous new opportunities emerging. New perils, new products and new ways of delivering those products that have huge potential to fuel growth. These can be accelerated not just by market dynamics but also by a smart embrace of new technologies and digital transformation. Mohsen: Twenty-five years ago when we began building models at RMS, practitioners simply had no effective means of assessing risk. So, the adoption of model technology was a relatively simple step. Today, the extreme levels of competition are making the ability to differentiate risk at a much more granular level a critical factor, and our model advances are enabling that. In tandem, many of the Silicon Valley technologies have the potential to greatly enhance efficiency, improve processing power, minimize cost, boost speed to market, enable the development of new products, and positively impact every part of the insurance workflow. Data is the primary asset of our industry — it is the source of every risk decision, and every risk is itself an opportunity. The amount of data is increasing exponentially, and we can now capture more information much faster than ever before, and analyze it with much greater accuracy to enable better decisions. It is clear that the potential is there to change our industry in a positive way. The industry is renowned for being risk averse. Is it ready to adopt the new technologies that this transformation requires? Karen: The risk of doing nothing given current market and technology developments is far greater than that of embracing emerging tech to enable new opportunities and improve cost structures, even though there are bound to be some bumps in the road. I understand the change management can be daunting. But many of the technologies RMS is leveraging to help clients improve price performance and model execution are not new. AI, the Cloud and machine learning are already tried and trusted, and the insurance market will benefit from the lessons other industries have learned as it integrates these technologies. “The sector is not yet attracting the kind of talent that is attracted to firms such as Google, Microsoft or Amazon — and it needs to” Moe Khosravy EVP, Software and Platform, RMS Moe: Making the necessary changes will challenge the perceived risk-averse nature of the insurance market as it will require new ground to be broken. However, if we can clearly show how these capabilities can help companies be measurably more productive and achieve demonstrable business gains, then the market will be more receptive to new user experiences. Mohsen: The performance gains that technology is introducing are immense. A few years ago, we were using computation fluid dynamics to model storm surge. We were conducting the analysis through CPU [central processing unit] microprocessors, which was taking weeks. With the advent of GPU [graphics processing unit] microprocessors, we can carry out the same level of analysis in hours. When you add the supercomputing capabilities possible in the Cloud, which has enabled us to deliver HD-resolution models to our clients — in particular for flood, which requires a high-gradient hazard model to differentiate risk effectively — it has enhanced productivity significantly and in tandem price performance. Is an industry used to incremental change able to accept the stepwise change technology can introduce? Karen: Radical change often happens in increments. The change from client-server to Internet computing did not happen overnight, but was an incremental change that came in waves and enabled powerful market shifts. Amazon is a good example of market leadership out of digital transformation. It launched in 1994 as an online bookstore in a mature, relatively sleepy industry. It evolved into broad e-commerce and again with the introduction of Cloud services when it launched AWS [Amazon Web Services] 12 years ago — now a US$17 billion business that has disrupted the computer industry and is a huge portion of its profit. Amazon has total revenue of US$178 billion from nothing over 25 years, having disrupted the retail sector. Retail consumption has changed dramatically, but I can still go shopping on London’s Oxford Street and about 90 percent of retail is still offline. My point is, things do change incrementally but standing still is not a great option when technology-fueled market dynamics are underway. Getting out in front can be enormously rewarding and create new leadership. However, we must recognize that how we introduce technology must be driven by the challenges it is being introduced to address. I am already hearing people talk about developments such as AI, machine learning and neural networks as if they are fairy dust to sprinkle on the industry’s problems. That is not how this transformation process works. How are you approaching the challenges that this transformation poses? Karen: At RMS, we start by understanding the challenges and opportunities from our customers’ perspectives and then look at what value we can bring that we have not brought before. Only then can we look at how we deliver the required solution. Moe: It’s about having an “outward-in” perspective. We have amazing technology expertise across modeling, computer science and data science, but to deploy that effectively we must listen to what the market wants. We know that many companies are operating multiple disparate systems within their networks that have simply been built upon again and again. So, we must look at harnessing technology to change that, because where you have islands of data, applications and analysis, you lose fidelity, time and insight and costs rise. Moe: While there is a commonality of purpose spanning insurers, reinsurers and brokers, every organization is different. At RMS, we must incorporate that into our software and our platforms. There is no one-size-fits-all and we can’t force everyone to go down the same analytical path. That’s why we are adopting a more modular approach in terms of our software. Whether the focus is portfolio management or underwriting decision-making, it’s about choosing those modules that best meet your needs. “Data is the primary asset of our industry — it is the source of every risk decision, and every risk is itself an opportunity” Mohsen Rahmana, PhD Chief Risk Modeling Officer, RMS Mohsen: When constructing models, we focus on how we can bring the right technology to solve the specific problems our clients have. This requires a huge amount of critical thinking to bring the best solution to market. How strong is the talent base that is helping to deliver this level of capability? Mohsen: RMS is extremely fortunate to have such a fantastic array of talent. This caliber of expertise is what helps set us apart from competitors, enabling us to push boundaries and advance our modeling capabilities at the speed we are. Recently, we have set up teams of modelers and data and computer scientists tasked with developing a range of innovations. It’s fantastic having this depth of talent, and when you create an environment in which innovative minds can thrive you quickly reap the rewards — and that is what we are seeing. In fact, I have seen more innovation at RMS in the last six months than over the past several years. Moe: I would add though that the sector is not yet attracting the kind of talent seen at firms such as Google, Microsoft or Amazon, and it needs to. These companies are either large-scale customer-service providers capitalizing on big data platforms and leading-edge machine-learning techniques to achieve the scale, simplicity and flexibility their customers demand, or enterprises actually building these core platforms themselves. When you bring new blood into an organization or industry, you generate new ideas that challenge current thinking and practices, from the user interface to the underlying platform or the cost of performance. We need to do a better PR job as a technology sector. The best and brightest people in most cases just want the greatest problems to tackle — and we have a ton of those in our industry. Karen: The critical component of any successful team is a balance of complementary skills and capabilities focused on having a high impact on an interesting set of challenges. If you get that dynamic right, then that combination of different lenses correctly aligned brings real clarity to what you are trying to achieve and how to achieve it. I firmly believe at RMS we have that balance. If you look at the skills, experience and backgrounds of Moe, Mohsen and myself, for example, they couldn’t be more different. Bringing Moe and Mohsen together, however, has quickly sparked great and different thinking. They work incredibly well together despite their vastly different technical focus and career paths. In fact, we refer to them as the “Moe-Moes” and made them matching inscribed giant chain necklaces and presented them at an all-hands meeting recently. Moe: Some of the ideas we generate during our discussions and with other members of the modeling team are incredibly powerful. What’s possible here at RMS we would never have been able to even consider before we started working together. Mohsen: Moe’s vast experience of building platforms at companies such as HP, Intel and Microsoft is a great addition to our capabilities. Karen brings a history of innovation and building market platforms with the discipline and the focus we need to deliver on the vision we are creating. If you look at the huge amount we have been able to achieve in the months that she has been at RMS, that is a testament to the clear direction we now have. Karen: While we do come from very different backgrounds, we share a very well-defined culture. We care deeply about our clients and their needs. We challenge ourselves every day to innovate to meet those needs, while at the same time maintaining a hell-bent pragmatism to ensure we deliver. Mohsen: To achieve what we have set out to achieve requires harmony. It requires a clear vision, the scientific know-how, the drive to learn more, the ability to innovate and the technology to deliver — all working in harmony. Career Highlights Karen White is an accomplished leader in the technology industry, with a 25-year track record of leading, innovating and scaling global technology businesses. She started her career in Silicon Valley in 1993 as a senior executive at Oracle. Most recently, Karen was president and COO at Addepar, a leading fintech company serving the investment management industry with data and analytics solutions. Moe Khosravy (center) has over 20 years of software innovation experience delivering enterprise-grade products and platforms differentiated by data science, powerful analytics and applied machine learning to help transform industries. Most recently he was vice president of software at HP Inc., supporting hundreds of millions of connected devices and clients. Mohsen Rahnama leads a global team of accomplished scientists, engineers and product managers responsible for the development and delivery of all RMS catastrophe models and data. During his 20 years at RMS, he has been a dedicated, hands-on leader of the largest team of catastrophe modeling professionals in the industry.