Applying Systems Engineering Methods to Risk Management and Insurance Planning

IntroductionAs an Expert Systems Engineering Professional (ESEP) with the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) who has spent over three decades working on complex engineering projects, from satellite systems, the International Space Station (ISS), ground stations, telecommunications and information technology systems, I have recently considered how systems engineering techniques that lead to successful systems development (as well as the absence of effective SE processes that lead to project failures) may be applied in an entirely different domain: risk management and insurance planning (RMIP). This article will address the generic systems engineering process, and then discuss how this can be applied when developing complex insurance plans to mitigate risk. It will be worth looking at a my previously published articles that address the specifics of buy-sell agreements, business overhead insurance, and cash value insurance vs. term insurance for additional background on product complexities that can easily occur during the planning and implementation process. The goal of this article is not to provide an exhaustive dissertation on systems engineering; rather, it’s simply designed to give the reader a sufficient, high-level understanding of the generic process, and how it can be applied to developing risk management and insurance plans.What is Systems Engineering?INCOSE defines systems engineering as “an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem.” The term “system” is important here: systems engineers typically define systems as an interactive collection of different elements that provide a capability that the individual elements alone cannot provide. The parts not only include the physical system, but also the people that use the system, the beneficiaries of the system (these can be different, for example a passenger aircraft is used by pilots and benefits the passengers), policies, documentation, and anything else needed to produce and operate the system.A consensus approach of the INCOSE Fellows provides the following iterative approach to systems engineering that goes by the acronym SIMILAR. The functions that comprise the acronym are: State, Investigate, Model, Integrate, Launch, Assess and Re-evaluate. I briefly define each one in the next section, and provide examples of how this approach is very useful in developing a successful RMIP system for clients.What is SIMILAR and How Can It Be Applied to RMIP?As listed in the previous paragraph, SIMILAR is an acronym for State, Investigate, Model, Integrate, Launch, Assess and Re-evaluate. Let’s define each one and see how we can apply this to RMIP.State: This refers to “state the problem.” In an engineering environment, we are looking for a technical solution to a systems problem, in other words, a pain point. In RMIP, we must do exactly the same thing. This problem could be a simple as “provide an estate to a decedent’s survivors,” a basic life insurance problem, to something more complex, as, provide a mechanism for protecting the financial interests of business partners in the event of the premature death of one of them to protect a business’ viability in the event the primary income generator for the business, such as an independent physician or dentist, is disabled.Investigate: This refers to “investigate alternatives.” Systems engineers will provide different solution alternatives that attempt to optimize the design based on cost, schedule, risk, and complexity. This same process is used at looking at RMIP alternatives: For example, with life insurance, we can show term products; cash value products, and hybrid solutions, as well as rider alternatives. We can look at disability products in terms of benefits vs. cost; different products form different companies, and riders.Model: Modeling refers to “model the system.” In the context of a system, modeling will refer to diagrams of different alternatives, computer simulations, mathematical modeling, and workflow diagrams, as examples. We can also apply modeling techniques to the RMIP problem: each alternative comes with a model that shows how each insurance solution will work, the different components of the solution, costs, timeframes, rates of return, and the risk of doing nothing, or what I refer to as the null solution. For example, with buy-sell agreements, we can model a cross-purchase agreement and stock redemption agreement as alternative solutions tailored to a specific company’s circumstances.Integrate: In systems engineering, many, if not all systems, are really “systems of systems.” That is, the components of the system each have an engineering solution, and then those components must be integrated to provide a capability (or capabilities) that the individual systems alone cannot provide. With RMIP, it is necessary to integrate the risk management solution into an entire financial system for the client that accounts for existing insurance, investments and savings, annuities, and hybridization of insurance products. By doing this, we can create a solution that each product alone cannot provide at the best possible cost, complexity, and risk constraints desired by the client.Launch: This is the process of implementing the desired solution. With a system, we select the best solution based on the client’s requirements and constraints, build the system, validate it, deliver it, and operating it. This is an iterative process, and the system is likely to evolve as the end users better understand it and make recommendations, processes are updated, technology evolves, and market conditions change. Similarly, the RMIP solution is constructed, validated with the client the desired requirements are met, and, finally, implemented.Assess: Assessment is defining and collecting performance metrics. With a system, these may include system performance (speed, accuracy), system problems or trouble tickets, user satisfaction, increased output, or anything else important to the organization. In engineering, it is generally assumed that if you can’t measure it, you can’t control it. With RMIP, we can measure product performance, especially with cash value insurance products, such as internal rates of return, costs, and dividends. What may be harder to measure is the peace-of-mind clients receive by mitigating financial risk to themselves, their families, and their businesses. This may boil down to a simple thing like, “Do you sleep better not worrying about a financial catastrophe?” This is a qualitative rather quantitative metric, but very useful in determining if the insurance solution is meeting a client’s requirements.Re-evaluate: Re-evaluation is building feedback mechanisms from the assessments to modify the system to changing needs. INCOSE posits that this may be the most important function in the systems engineering process. With RMIP, I accomplish this by maintaining a regular and open line of communication with clients to assess changing circumstances that may offer new risk mitigation solutions, or upgrade the solutions already in place. The feedback look takes you back to the beginning of the SIMILAR process, which is iterated as part of a continuous improvement program.ConclusionsSystems engineering is well suited for solving risk management and insurance planning problems for clients. All of the mechanisms and processes used to develop complex engineering solutions, whether it developing and software solution for a business to improve operations and gain an edge over the competition, to designing and building spacecraft to explore the planets or carry people into space, can be used to design optimal insurance solutions for clients that eliminate pain points in their lives and businesses. In this article, I presented an accepted systems engineering approach used to craft systems and repurposed it for developing RMIP solutions for clients. If you’re in the insurance, or more broadly, financial services business, the SIMILAR approach can really help you craft the best solutions for your clients. If you’re a potential or existing client, using the approach in assessing you own needs will go a long way in helping you better articulate your pain points and requirements to give your planner or agent so he or she can develop an optimal risk mitigation solution for your needs.

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