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Paul Winston is on vacation. This commentary was originally published in March 2003.
If your office is anything like mine, the month of March means one thing: March Madness.
This year, not even the sober reality of the war in Iraq could dissuade the faithful from trying to divine the fortunes of the 64 teams in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament. According to a column in USA Today, even U.S. troops in the Middle East were hastily completing their brackets and following the tournament in the midst of the conflict.
And the march to the Final Four is not the only time when office betting on sports occurs. With April comes the start of rotisserie baseball leagues. August brings fantasy football--college and pro--contests.
Although betting money on office pools is illegal in many states, few if any district attorneys are prosecuting (probably because they are in their own office pools). That said, many management pundits have decried the diversion of workplace human resources from productive tasks to following the fortunes of fantasy teams on the office clock. I think it's a harmless distraction that tackles no more time away from the tasks at hand than the usual mindless Internet surfing taking place during working hours. I can assure you that as long as the boss' picks are still in the Final Four, he or she is not worrying that the rank-and-file are wasting time on pools.
Observing this obsession with competing against coworkers with virtual sports teams and players, and the apparent effort by online services to find new sources of competition, got me to thinking. Why not a fantasy insurance competition?
Insurance is perfectly suited to such a contest. It's a numbers-based field, with any number of benchmarks for determining winners and losers. It's an industry already familiar with the use of Monte Carlo simulations. And the entire business is founded on the concept of gambling. By that, I mean that insurers in the course of business gamble that their calculation of premiums will offset expected losses. And policyholders routinely gamble that the amount of coverage they buy will cover the size and frequency of losses they incur.
There are many organizations well suited to organizing fantasy betting on various insurance outcomes. Consider A.M. Best Co. Inc., which gathers reams of data annually. Or the Insurance Information Institute, which organizes a Groundhog Day forecast of insurer results among analysts. Creating an III March Madness competition would be a natural.
The possibilities are endless for betting in the insurance arena.
For those who favor the simple style of an office baby pool, people could enter their picks for insurance premium volume, policyholder surplus, net income or loss and combined ratio.
For people who favor the bracket style of a tournament pool, you could pick the 32 largest insurers, seed them based on factors like profitability, and then have them go head to head based on quarterly results. A No. 1 seed such as AIG, for example, might be matched up in the first round against an 8th-seeded insurer team like Ohio Casualty.
Another elimination-style contest, though admittedly one that could drag out over a few years, could involve picking insurers that will survive the pressures of consolidation. Pick the companies that will survive M&A attempts and win. Alternatively, start with a pool of reinsurers, or maybe new companies created in the fourth quarter of 2001, and pick which will still be standing a year or two from now.
For those interested in more exotic or unusual friendly wagering, bet on the outcome of such things as asbestos liability reform legislation in the U.S. Congress.
If any of the above stir your passion for competition and your craving for a new source of office competition after the NCAA tournament is over, let me know and I'll see what I can do.