Julia looked out her office window, wondering if the swiss chard and tomato plants would survive nature's latest test of thirty mile an hour winds thrashing her newly planted garden.
As she pondered, her mind shifted towards whether or not she’d survive life’s latest test, the impact of COVID-19.
On the surface Julia was just another face in the crowd going through the motions of life.
However, those who knew her well knew the past few years of her life was a rollercoaster of success mixed with bitter loss.
2019 started with her having to end a two-year engagement to her emotionally unstable fiance Ryan.
This painful decision came just before the looming anniversary of a divorce that left her emotionally crippled for years before Ryan came along and gave her hope that love was possible in this lifetime. That hope was short lived.
Two emotionally draining years later, not only was depression’s whispers greeting her every morning, the fear of losing everything she had worked so hard for was filling her mind with an almost unbearable sense of hopelessness.
2020 started out with her being named by Insurance Business Magazine as one of the rising stars in commercial insurance.
Her career started out as an underwriter at Liberty Mutual, but soon she found the thrill of being a top producer much more rewarding.
She gave up a steady paycheck and predictable office hours for growing her own brokerage.
Coincidentally this career shift happened just a few months after the divorce was finalized. With no one telling her what she could and couldn’t achieve in life, she double-down on herself, refusing to let a failed marriage determine her future.
Alex and Julia’s paths oddly crossed at the DMV. They were both there to get updated driver’s licenses and the DMV computers were running even slower than normal.
Alex struck up a conversation with Julia only to find out they both lived in the quaint Colorado town of Basalt and knew mutual acquaintances.
After a few run-ins at Whole Foods, Julia became Alex’s insurance broker for a commercial property in downtown Basalt that he managed to scoop up for a deal back in 2010.
The past few months were extra stressful for Julia as clients started filing insurance claims due COVID-19.
Some carriers were partially paying, others completely denying claims, rates were increasing, and lawsuits were piling up for the courts to weed through the legalese of what’s covered in a pandemic.
So when Alex scheduled a Zoom meeting to discuss his policy, her heart sank, as this wasn’t just another client.
Alex and his wife Amy had also become good friends to Julia. Feeling incapable of helping clients was one thing, but your friends? Well that’s heart-wrenching at best.
Unexpectedly the Zoom meeting with Alex was not contentious and hostile, like her countless other calls. But then again, she wasn’t too surprised as Alex’s demeanor was always calm and positive.
All Alex wanted Julia to do was shop his policy around to see if he could capture some savings.
As they were wrapping up their conversation, Alex noticed Julia was not herself. Normally a call with her included updates about her latest road-biking trek, or a hike she took, or a charity event she’s sponsoring.
But this time it was all business and he couldn’t let that omission go unnoticed.
“So business aside, how are you Julia? Amy and I are waiting for the weather to heat up just a tad bit more, before we resume our backyard barbeques. We’d love to have you over soon.”
Julia felt a wave of tears preparing to crash along the shoreline of her eyelids, as she thought about all the stress she’s felt these past few months.
After a deep sigh to regain her composure she decided she’d share a little.
“Well, overall business is alright I guess.
The calls I have to make between my clients and their carriers are unlike anything I’ve ever had to manage.
There are days I think, Wow! Even the arguments I had with my ex’s can’t compare to the volcanic word battles I’m dealing with now.”
She slightly chuckled as she quickly imagined herself as the referee in the middle of a UFC fight.
“Then there’s the issues with commissions,” she continued, “some of my carriers have cut commission payouts heavily."
“What does that mean for you?” Alex asked.
“Well basically if you send the carrier a lot of business you’ll get paid out at one level and if you don’t, you get even less.
My issue is that before Corona I was earning roughly the same amount of commission at each carrier I represented.
This made it easy for me to focus on which carrier could meet my clients needs the best, without me having to think about who’s paying me the highest commission.
Now with all these payout restructuring plans and economic uncertainty and seeing good, hardworking everyday people crumble under all this financial and emotional pressure; I can’t help but think I’ll start to become biased when shopping for a policy for my clients. I don’t want to become that person Alex.”
A few tears rolled down her cheeks, as a wave of feeling overwhelmed passed through her like wind suddenly running through a meadow and then disappearing just as quickly as it came.
“And if all this wasn’t hard enough,” she continued, “a friend emailed a few articles from Forbes talking about the millions of jobs that will be lost to artificial intelligence and new technologies.
What’s frustrating is there’s not many industry leaders talking about what we brokers should be doing to stay relevant. Instead they keep saying cliches like ‘become stickier’ and ‘create more engagement’.
Ugh I’m sorry Alex, but that’s not helpful in the long term. Yes some clients will appreciate a high touch relationship. But let’s be honest, most clients only connect with me for a few reasons: renewals, claims, policy changes or issues.
I can’t help but feel that maybe not today, or tomorrow, or even this year, but definitely in the next three to five years, I feel like I’m going to be one of the casualties of technology. That the industry I’m in is no longer going to be the same or need me in the same capacity.
I feel like I’m going to get left, again.” Julia’s voice started shaking as she pushed through the rising emotional tidal wave to continue speaking.
“You know, the first time I was left it was by my ex-husband. I can’t describe to you the feeling of having someone tell you you are no longer needed, loved, or important to their life. It was a crushing blow that took years of counseling for me to recover from Alex.
Now I feel like getting left behind is going to happen again. Only this time it’s with my career and all these tech and economic disruptions. I don’t know what to do or even understand how it’s all going to play out.”
Alex was silent for a moment to give Julia the space to exhale, wipe her eyes, and allow the echo of her words to fade.
“You’re right Julia.” Alex said sincerely. “There’s more changes going on in the world than any of us know what to do with. I appreciate you sharing with me where you’re at.
You know, I was having a conversation with my buddy James as he too was dealing with issues of selling real estate in this new norm. Anyways I was talking to him about my journey into Bitcoin and what’s going in cryptocurrency.
I didn’t go into details about the technology powering it because it wasn’t important at the time, but when you just mentioned feeling displaced by technology, it reminded me that the technology that’s powering cryptocurrency is just one of those technologies that will indeed disrupt a lot of businesses.
Just as Julia was about to speak Alex stopped her, “But wait before you say anything, hear me out.”
“Ok, I’m listening,” Julia calmly stated although she was feeling a bit of defensiveness rising within.
She knew it was her fear of not knowing that kept her holding on with a tight grip to everything she did know. However, given the circumstances, she was willing to listen to her good friend Alex.
“So let me ask you,” Alex proceeded, “what’s the common denominator that made Google, Amazon, Netflix, and even Uber the giants they are today?”
“Well I’d have to say the internet.” Julia replied. “They all use the internet to either create new technology or make our lives easier or help businesses. Right?”
“Exactly right,” Alex confirmed. “They used the internet to innovate, to remove inefficiencies, to connect people, to share information, to collect data, to create entirely new industries and jobs that back in the 90’s wasn’t even a thing.
And now very few of us can function without access to all the tools, apps, websites, and social networks that now permeate every aspect of our lives.
So just like the invention of the internet has shifted life as we know it. The new technology powering these cryptocurrencies, it’s called blockchain technology, is doing the same thing, only at a faster pace and with even more disruption.
“So what is blockchain exactly Alex? I’ve heard about it, but I don’t know much about it. I don’t fully understand it and honestly I’m not sure why I should care or what it’ll mean to me and my business,” Julia frankly replied.
“I hear you. Most people don’t. Just like how most of us back in 1995 couldn’t fathom how the internet would change life as we know it. Blockchain is in that same category.
In its simplest form blockchain allows digital information to be permanently recorded, freely distributed, and is transparent in order to protect the integrity of the information.
The main point of blockchain is that it creates trust. It allows people to digitally share valuable data or money in a secure and tamper proof way.
Plus it tends to be decentralized, which means no middle man, government, or company owns the network. The network is powered by computers talking to other computers globally.
Now there are some blockchains that are centralized and controlled by companies and governments, and that’s for another discussion.
Are you with me so far?” Alex checked in.
“Yeah I’m with you.” Julia acknowledged “So what’s the impact of being able to share valuable information in a secure way without a middleman?”
“Ah, well that’s where the magic happens!
When you need to access your medical records, think of all the offices you have to call and forms you need to fill out to get your full medical files that are stored on a hackable database somewhere.
We all know no database is one hundred percent secure. If the casinos in Vegas can get hacked, so can the rest of us.
Now in a few years your medical records will be securely stored on the blockchain. Not only will you have 24/7 access to it, but you can allow a specialist in Sweden or London to access your files quickly and safely without having to jump through the medical hoops we have now.
Or say you’re a small business in Singapore that wants to hire a specialized service provider Utah. Well as it stands now, there’s a lot of fees involved in that purchase.
If they use a credit card, there’s 2.9% fee plus foreign transaction fee, plus the time it takes for the credit card to verify it’s not a fraudulent charge, plus the risk of a chargeback if the client is dissatisfied.
If they pay by cash, they have to pay an international wire fee, plus go through various levels of banking verification, and depending on how fast it was sent can take days to be received.
Now say that small business in Singapore uses a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin to pay for that same order. The transaction happens within minutes, not days. The fees are about as close to zero as you can get. And the blockchain manages the whole process with no bank involvement or delays.
You see the seller and the buyer are both strangers who don’t trust each other. But if they trust the tamper-proof, private, and secure technology of blockchain to store and distribute their data or money, they’re likely to use it as an alternative to the fee-driven environment we now live in.
So based on this Julia, how much money do you think goes back into the pockets of buyers and sellers when they bypass wire fees, credit cards processing fees, and choose to use blockchain to exchange funds globally?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know. Millions? Billions?” Julia guessed.
“Yeah, at least billions. My guess is trillions over time.
You know in 2018 Visa earned roughly twenty billion dollars in revenue as a combination of credit card and interest fees.
Even if credit card fees represented only twenty five of their revenue, that’s five billion dollars that could have been used by everyday businesses to expand, to hire more employees, to have extra cashflow to create new products and services. Think of how stunted we are as a global economy because of wire transfer and credit card fees.
So the magic of using cryptocurrency is that those fees go back into the pockets of everyday people like you and me.
“Interesting,” Julia replied as her mind took a moment to connect the dots.
“Honestly I’ve never thought about all the money lost to credit card and wire fees that could go back into the pockets of businesses. We all just accepted it as the cost of doing business.
Based on what you’re saying it seems like cryptocurrency significantly cuts those costs. Ok I’m starting to get a picture of the impact.
So then what about my brokerage, and what about you? How does this impact our businesses?
“Well,” Alex exhaled, “that’s where the impact of blockchain technology starts to hit home. So on the surface exchanging medical records and money is one thing. But then the technology goes deeper.
So there are those that use the blockchain technology to create and manage what are called smart contracts.
For real estate that means, some day soon people will be able to buy and sell their homes without me being as involved as I am now or at the very least without an escrow company or mortgage lender.
They can use a smart contract to manage the process, hold and transfer funds, get a loan without a credit score, validate a title, and so on.
You and I already work with digital contracts in our business.
Blockchain takes it a step further in terms of speed, security, validating information, automating human-data entry, and securely transferring the ownership of any asset, whether it’s a house, car, artwork, or anything of value to another person or company.
If you use digital ads to market your services, a blockchain company called Zilliqa used their smart contract platform to help PepsiCo become 28% more efficient in their digital ad spend.
That level of efficiency is going to have more and more businesses looking at smart contracts to save money and time.
And what’s the one thing a lot of us want? More of both.
Even the International Monetary Fund recently released a report which looks at blockchain projects like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Zilliqa.
Global leaders are looking to these projects to help them figure out monetary policy for this unstoppable tech transformation that’s happening.
Just look at history Julia. The first generation of money was based paper-based.
Remember those wild wild west movies with bankers robbing the Wells Fargo stagecoaches?
“Yes I do,” Julia chuckled, “my brothers would play Cowboys and Indians in the backyard growing up. But anyways, you were saying Alex.”
“Yeah so, back then moving money domestically and internationally took days and weeks.
The second generation of money was with computerized processing which still had to be done manually or through specialized software.
The third generation of money involves mobile payments, debit cards, and credit cards, and it still takes a few days to verify.
Now the upcoming fourth generation of money that is unfolding right now uses blockchain.
It’s faster, doesn’t require a bank or credit card company acting as a middleman, it’s global, it’s secure, and the fees are as close to zero as you can possibly get.”
Julia’s understanding started to open, as she realized the entire world and every business in existence will be disrupted by this unstoppable tech shift.
She started to wonder what happens when policy comparisons and underwriting are executed through these smart contracts, what value will she add then?
Sure there may be the relationship side to nurture, but will commissions get cut even further because of this level of automation and validation that happens through smart contracts for a fraction of a penny?
She started to realize that the innovations blockchain and smart contracts are creating in healthcare, finance, legal, marketing, entertainment, education, manufacturing, and transportation are massive.
“This is interesting, Alex. I had no idea how big of a deal this is,” Julia finally expressed. “This is a lot for me to think about. Mainly what should I be doing to either embrace this or get ahead of this? What are you doing?”
“Yeah, it took me awhile to wrap my head around the ramifications too,” Alex frankly replied.
“At first I figured, I’m safe. By the time it takes off I will have retired by then and the next generation of real estate agents can figure it out.
Then as I dug deeper into the technology I realized, just like I bought into Google and Apple’s technology through their stocks, why not get in on the good blockchain projects that are solving real-world problems and making life better?
There are projects coming from companies like Ethereum, Cardano, and Chainlink that are in serious competition to take this technology to the next level.
So why should I just sit on the sideline and let blockchain disrupt my world, just like the internet did?
Why not at least stay informed and as the industry shifts at least I can then shift my business to embrace the smart contracts and all the other blockchain-powered apps that will help me manage my business better?
Look Julia, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just a few months ahead of you in getting educated about blockchain and smart contracts and cryptocurrencies.
But what I do know is the wealth that will be generated from this tech shift and the new economy that’s being created as we speak is beyond figuring out right now. I just want to make sure Amy and I are on the right side of history when it all pans out.
I’m encouraging everyone I know to at the very least, do some research. Get educated about joining the digital wealth shift.
You don’t have to go out and buy Bitcoin. You don’t have to do anything really because this tidal wave is already crashing on the shoreline.
But as a friend, I encourage you to learn as much as you can Julia. I want to see you on the right side of history too.
The best time to reinvent yourself is during a recession. When things are going well, we all get complacent.
But with all this uncertainty, you have tech companies as I speak blending artificial intelligence with blockchain, and mark my words, from this digital transformation will arise the Amazon-killers, the Google-killers, and a new breed of businesses that will turn upside down the industrial age way of doing business.
It’s exciting times Julia! Don’t worry about the mountain we have to climb, just get focused and place one foot in front of the other.”
“You’re right Alex,” Julia replied softly. “I want to be on the right side of history too. Thanks for being such an encouragement to me. You’re one of the few optimists I trust. Is there anything you can send me to start learning more?”
“Oh for sure Julia! I’ll send you some links to a few articles that I found interesting.
Oh and there’s this webinar I watched about how to stay safe as you dive deeper into cryptocurrency.
Quite frankly most people jump into crypto and figure out the security stuff later. I’d rather you learn some of the basics of keeping your cryptocurrency safe first if you decide to buy a few coins.”
“Thanks Alex. I have to put some thought to this and sleep on it for a few nights. It’s definitely taking some of the edge off of feeling left in the dark.
Plus I’m curious to learn which of these blockchain AI projects will overthrow Amazon and Google, now that has my curiosity sparked!”
“You’re welcome Julia. I hope I didn’t scare you. I just wanted to pull back the curtain for you to see being informed is one of our greatest weapons against fear. You’re a smart woman. I know you’ll do your research and find a way to profit from this technology.”
As they waved goodbye and signed off of Zoom, Julia leaned back in her chair, looking out again at the tomato plants.
She gently smiled, as she rehearsed Alex’s last few words, “In a recession there’s no better time to reinvent yourself...being informed is one of our greatest weapons against fear.”
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