Here came Mr. Asterisk

Featured 24 Jun 2017

Let me tell you a story, a story of fishermen, a story of drunk fishermen. Ehem, that is what I think, maybe you think differently. Let’s see.

Not long time ago, in a breezy little fisherman’s town was a man named Anthony. An enterprising fellow he was indeed. Always thinking of business ideas sitting near his window overlooking the waters. One day, like a stroke of lightning, comes an idea to him.

He goes up to Martin, the owner of a small fishing vessel, and says: “Martin, I will pay your family one year’s of food supply if you die in the sea while fishing. All I want from you in return, is one rupee each month from your profits in your fishing business.”

While the thought of dying irks Martin but Anthony’s proposal isn’t bad he thinks. He feels comforted in the idea of his family being taken care of, even if he dies. Cautiously though, he says yes.

The next thing we know, one happy night, Martin gets drunk, takes out his fishing vessel and goes out fishing. While fishing he falls off the boat and dies. Oops, so much for happiness!

As you would imagine, Martin’s family comes to collect the promised food supply. Anthony says, “I shouldn’t pay, Martin was stupid and went fishing drunk!”. But Martin’s family insists that Anthony did not make this a condition in their agreement, and Anthony is forced to give in.

Anthony, not one to be discouraged easily, makes the same offer to Peter, another fisherman. But this time, he adds a condition, an ASTERISK, “Peter, if you die while fishing, because you’re drunk, I won’t pay anything to your family. Stay sober, please!”.

Tempted by the offer, Peter says yes.

One evening, this time a sad one, Peter gets totally drunk and goes out fishing. He dozes off the fishing vessel and the vessel overturns and of course, he dies. So much for sadness!

As expected, Peter’s family comes for the pay out, again Anthony protests that the agreement addressed drunkenness! This time sure of not getting trapped! But Peter’s family insists that he would have died even if he had been sober, since it was a rough sea and he could not control the boat. After series of arguments, Anthony again succumbs and is forced to pay up.

This went on for years. Anthony, undeterred in his quest to make a business model out of these kinds of proposals to people (insurance as we know it today), kept adding more conditions to his offer, with specific definitions that could be agreed by both parties. Like ‘Drunk’ got a specific defined version that included blood alcohol limits and drink-to-weight ratios. Phew, we thought drunk is drunk even if you are drunk!!!

He also went on to make offers to people for their possessions i.e. their houses, their carts, their boats etc etc… But as his business grew, so did his conditions, terms, definitions, clauses and his number of asterisks!

Before we knew, he started making money off this and for people, saying yes to him became a complicated, but necessary evil. Sometimes, people heard stories of him showing a small asterisk with a clause written somewhere down below which allowed him not to pay the money to the claimants. But people had no other choice! Despite, not being able to comprehend all the conditions he made them agree on, they at least felt more secure.

Woah! Long story, isn’t it? By the way, this was fictional (the real asterisk history is that it was used when proofreading Homeric poetry, now Google what that is!).

Coming back to 2017 reality, from stone written documents to papers and pdfs. Anthony’s business model is now called insurance.

People are different, their interpretations are different. The same dish would be too spicy for one and oh-so-bland for another. That is what makes us unique. But insurance can’t have room for two opinions. Everything needs to have just one meaning, just one interpretation. Maybe that is why it is soooo detailed, so much so that it becomes complicated.

Truth is, insurance is a legal contract which should stand up to scrutiny in the court of law from time to time, hence insurance must be incredibly detailed, sadly also becoming hard to get. Anything left to interpretation can be used against the company by unscrupulous claimants. But genuine customers, suffer due to this as they find wordings very difficult to read and comprehend even when most of the clauses will not apply to them.

So what should a company do? Think about genuine customers or be like Anthony and save its back from the biting fraudulent ones?

It is a hard call!

But Digit has taken one for itself. Here at Digit, we believe in trusting people more than watching out the ones who will cheat us. Which is why we are attempting to relook insurance with dollops of positivity. Not that our policies won’t have the required clauses, but we won’t complicate stuff, just for the sake of it. Or say, we won’t hide under fine script and asterisk to earn some moolah over the chests of genuine consumers.

It is a difficult thing to give all information, at the same time keep it simple. We know that. But maybe unlike Anthony, we won’t complicate it for profit!

For those wondering what happened to Anthony’s business, ummm… his great grandchildren are still in the same business, they have their customers, they are making money. But you know what, there is new chap in town who is simplifying the stone.?