Spies, Consultants, Sun Tzu


By William Rusteberg

Business is akin to war. There are winners and losers. War is supposedly governed by the Geneva Convention, business by ethics. Unfortunately combatants overlook the “rules” sometimes.

In the insurance business, particularly the group health insurance market, competition can be brutal. The spoils to be gained or maintained are significant. For example, a 300 life group medical plan, on a self-funded platform, can generate fees that would make Bernie Madoff blush.

Market intelligence is paramount to success. Sun Tzu wrote, “hence the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most important element in war, because upon them depends an army’s ability to move.”

Market intelligence must be accurate. When one employs spies, care must be given to the process. Misinterpretation, or worse yet,  interception of message, can lead to disaster and ruin. Thus spies who are employed are at risk of exposure and doomed, as well as the general who employed him.

Faulty analysis of information gained through spies can mean the difference between victory or defeat.  Foreknowledge of deceit (lying) always brings eventual defeat.

In the insurance business, many have found that fee-based insurance consultants have extensive market intelligence, superior to moles one may encounter during a weak moment at Happy Hour.

Spies and consultants are paid for the same reasons. Is there an ethical difference?