Berkshire Hathaway’s Gen Re has looked to Suffolk University professors for their expertise in behavioral economics in a unique business relationship designed to benefit the reinsurer’s clients in the areas of underwriting, marketing, client engagement, customer service and more.
Behavioral economics draws from the fields of psychology and economics to better understand human behavior and decision-making when they deviate from strict rationality.
Over the past several years, Gen Re has conducted and shared results of several in-house behavioral economics studies focusing on key areas of interest to insurers. This research helped Gen Re’s reinsurance clients improve disclosure on insurance applications and personal history interviews, as well as explore other areas of interest such as policyholder communication, financial planning presentations, marketing materials and website design.
Expanding upon the Gen Re Research team’s existing efforts, the relationship with Suffolk University will provide:
• The ability for Gen Re clients to complete professor-developed and led behavioral economics training modules, extending from basic to advanced courses
• Broader outreach on the topic of behavioral economics and related applications in the insurance industry
• Speaking engagements with Suffolk University professors at Gen Re sponsored events
“Traditional economics is all about rational individuals, how they respond to prices, etc.,” explains Jonathan Haughton, professor of Economics at Suffolk University in Boston. “However, there are all sorts of cases where we don’t behave quite so rationally.”
Haughton and Suffolk Assistant Professor Lawrence De Geest both teach in the field of behavioral economics and are sharing their knowledge with Gen Re’s Research team. De Geest’s research examines the emergence of social norms and the effect of information on decision-making.
“All kinds of psychological factors outside of traditional economics play into people’s decision-making,” Haughton says. “For example, when it comes to health and medical disclosure, the way a question is framed in a questionnaire can make a big difference to what people choose to disclose. Loss aversion is another psychological factor that can affect economic decision-making. People are very averse to losing things to which they have become attached, so instead of saying, ‘Save $50 a month,’ you might say ‘Stop losing $50 a month. Don’t lose your ability to support your household.’”
Keith Brown, Senior Vice President and Head of Individual Life at Gen Re, says it’s important for insurers to pay attention to these important behavioral factors: “At a time of rapidly evolving underwriting approaches, uncertainty about future morbidity and mortality improvement, and increased insurer focus on client engagement, the behavioral economics training is being made available to Gen Re clients at an important industry inflection point.”
Suffolk University, located in the heart of downtown Boston, has a long history of partnering with industry to share relevant academic and business knowledge, research, and expertise.
“I am a big believer in faculty doing work with business, government and the non-profit sector outside of the academy,” Haughton says. “I think in the right proportion, it hugely benefits teaching and research.”
© 2022 David Mazor
Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell a stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.