Using Data & Technology to Streamline Life Insurance Underwriting Friction w/ SCOR’s Velogica Platform

When the topic of life insurance underwriting comes up in our podcast conversations, there is generally a lot of handwringing about the friction & complexity in the buying process (THE MEDICAL EXAMS!!!). In this episode, I spoke with Ken McNair and Al Mele of SCOR’s Velogica underwriting platform for life carriers. We discussed a bit of the history of life underwriting, when and why it got so cumbersome, and how Velogica is using available data to make this underlying underwriting easier.

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Connect:
SCOR – (homepage)
Velogica –
Ken McNair – (LinkedIn)
Al Mele – (LinkedIn)

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Transcript

Nick
And we're live. This is the Coverager podcast. My name is Nick Lamparelli. I am and podcasting headquarters in Naples, Florida. And in this particular podcast, we're going to be discussing the life (Insurance) industry and a particular platform from my two guests, and talk about the handling of friction within the life underwriting and the life distribution, and how this could be a potential solution for a lot of the carriers or so forth that are in there and dealing with life on a day to day basis. So I'd like to introduce Al Mele and Ken McNair. Al, for both of you, I usually allow the guest to have a little bit of an elevator pitch. Al Why don't you go first introduce who you are and what you do and then Ken.

Al M
Sure. Yep, Al Mele, I'm the head of underwriting innovation in the US for SCOR Global Life. And I'm a technologist by background rather than an underwriter. I'm really passionate about bringing technical solutions to business problems. SCOR is a top tier reinsurer and an innovative leader in the life insurance space.

Nick
Ken

Ken M
I'm Ken McNair, I'm responsible for business development, client implementation and business analytics within the Velogica team. I've been with SCOR & the Velogica group since 2005. Velogica is SCOR's automated underwriting platform, an algorithm based on a patented process that uses electronic data in conjunction with application data to underwrite life insurance applications in real time, using electronically available third party data in conjunction with the supplied information, supplied by the applicant, delivering recommendations and results in less than a minute.

Nick
Okay, thank you both. I want life (insurance) has a particular stereotype. It's, it's very well known for having a lot of friction points in underwriting and I think in this digital age where everyone's sort of used to being able to swipe and then have something delivered the next day, I think there's a incredible amount of frustration, especially from folks from the outside who look at insurance and say, it should not take that long. Right? So can you talk a little bit about life underwriting and talk about perhaps some of the risk factors that go into life underwriting and why the history of it has been kind of scarred, I guess, is the right word with with all of these friction points in in life underwriting?

Al M
Sure. And I'll start with that one. So in 1760s, I think is when life underwriting first became a thing in the United States, and obviously, at that time, both medical science and the idea of electronic data, not what it is today, obviously, right? So it was pretty simple. And it remained relatively simple, really, up until the 80s, the 1980s. And with the HIV epidemic, and life insurance companies had a bit of a panic, started collecting blood information, you know, requiring a medical exam for what to be collected, and that that kind of changed the picture. So it guarded against HIV, but it also introduced the complexity and benefit to the applicant of preferred classes, so rates, where we could look at the information that this medical exam provided, and understand that you're healthier than average and give you better rates, but that it really made the process complex and cumbersome. So the friction points are, you know, relatively recent in the time frame of life insurance overall.

Nick
Is it is it true then that like, before that point, it was fairly simple, like where the company is just using, like, mortality tables to kind of estimate that? It? would, I would have thought preferred classes would have been like, part of the standard process for a lot longer than those periods. Could you give us a glimpse like pre 1980s? What underwriting was like?

Al M
Yeah, sure. And so, you know, I myself in the 80s, was not in the life insurance industry yet, I'm happy to say,

Nick
but I learned Al I learned that you were playing video games with me.

Al M
I would have been playing video games at that time. Absolutely. As a teenager. Yeah, so a much simpler process where still we're going to ask questions about medical history, and it's important to understand your risk behaviors. You know, do you have a family history of cardiovascular diseases?, those sorts of things. But it wasn't really until the 80s in the HIV epidemic that the idea of collecting blood on every applicant kind of became the norm, you know, and as medical science has progressed, we've understood a lot more about what we can find out and with these various exams and so forth.

Nick
So can you can you guys talk about, I'm thinking of difficulty in acquiring data. But it sounds like a lot of that does come from the medical exam or the blood or urine sample, and talk about potentially adverse selection or moral hazard when it comes to life insurance.

Ken M
Sure, SCOR's mission with Velogica is always to help protect families by facilitating easily acquired life insurance at affordable prices, that that's our primary purpose and goal. As we're all aware, life insurance is a critical component of people's financial security. And people are inherently reluctant to address this need. You know, that was always life insurance was always a difficult but necessary conversation with customers and applicants. Historically, the life insurance buying process was perceived as confusing, boring, and sometimes even depressing. However, with the introduction of utilizing available third party data, such as prescription history, clinical lab data, electronic health records, etc, the buying process has become a lot less intrusive for the customer. Right now, data acquisition is actually fairly seamless for the customer, since all that is typically required is a valid HIPAA authorization, when the list of potential data sources that we may get to that the data may be supplied from. But with this being said, although the buying process reduces the customer friction, it does increase the risk for insurance carriers as relates to anti selection due to the realization that some customers won't be 100% truthful, it's just the nature of the beast with our industry. So from a third party data source perspective, you know, traditionally when there is information uncovered from third party, that a customer didn't disclose, there really triggers an awareness and a red flag from the insurance carriers perspective, because we look at that and say, Well, if they didn't disclose this, what other vital information they may or may not be disclosing from an underwriting perspective. So when that happens, that actually sends a red flag and usually triggers the customer to go down a traditional underwriting path. That's, as I referred to earlier, that was very intrusive, very intrusive in nature. And so it's which you know, leads to lab results, urine for just attended status, and therefore, so we don't believe that this moral hazard whatever, there's always going to be an opportunity for people to possibly not be have full disclosure. So there's always going to be a path to address those needs of it when they are encountered.

Al M
as are senior underwriters that I've worked with a long time like to say if everyone were completely truthful, the underwriters job would be really easy. You discover some things on a medical exam that a person didn't actually know about, but it'd be a rare, a rare occasion. So the power of collecting electronic evidence to have a backstop against collecting that information and making sure the applicant's truthful is really important.

Nick
Okay, so it's from what I'm hearing, it's possible that the electronic evidence could replace bits and pieces of the medical exam, but it's likely that the medical exam still will not go away.

Al M
That's my view, I think the the vision certainly is to limit the medical exam as much as possible, right, really drive it just into the corners of the process where it provides the most value. But as we get more and more data available, and available instantly, the value of that medical exam really goes down. Right. So especially with, for example, electronic health records, which we intend to incorporate into Velogica in 2021, you bring in electronic health records, which essentially, is your record of your doctor's visits that are just part of your normal self care and checkups. That goes a huge way to supplement the information that you would find on an insurance exam.

Nick
Yeah, hard to lie on those.

Al M
That's right.

Nick
So as the technologists that data comes in all various forms of notes and images. Can you can you talk a little bit about the technical challenge of trying to consume all of that information, not only your third party data, but now getting into potentially medical records, where there's text and images and stuff like that? How talk about the challenge that you and your teams had to go through to try to figure out, okay, it's there. But, you know, that's the whole point of software is we don't need a human to do this. How do we get a machine to do it?

Al M
Yeah, great question. It's a really, it really is a challenge. But it's an exciting challenge. And so I think it's important, you know, for anyone who's tackling this problem to really have a minimum viable product (MVP) mindset, what value can you get from the work that you're doing, that you can bring to market quickly, even knowing that it won't 100% of what the ultimate vision is right. 100% of the vision, maybe you're looking at 100 years of work, you know, in the 80/20 rule tell you that you probably could have gotten a lot more benefit for a lot less work. So that's that's the perspective, you take the challenge of electronic health records, go for analyzing the structured data first, save the analyzing of the unstructured where you need natural language processing, or optical character recognition, put that into a second or third phase. So that that's the that's the way that we approach it. You know, we've been at this for 15 years now. So we have a lot of history doing just that.

Nick
Yeah. Ken can you talk a little bit about an engagement for someone in the life (insurance) space? Is it first, before I move to the the main question, is it specifically carriers? Or could this be like an MGA platform, as well? Does it have to be a pure cedent that's working in Velogica?

Ken M
Okay, great question. So our typical structure is to work with the direct carrier that we have reinsurance relationship with, or would like to develop a reinsurance relationship with, you know, Velogica, kind of as a whole as it was done to build our reinsurance relationship and develop a partnership, not just to sell a widget. So it was developed in mind and the mindset of help, not only our reinsurance partners, but also expand the industry and kind of transform the industry as well as to give a different perception of life insurance as a as a whole. So Velogica has the flexibility and functionality to actually support any direct carrier as well as any broker distribution as well. So it's modular in nature to be can fit any specific need, depending upon what their needs are from an underwriting platform perspective, okay?

Nick
Because, because that's where that's where I was gonna go with. The next question was how and what an engagement looks like because another, another stereotype, which I think is fairly accurate in the insurance space, and I shared that image with you on our pre meeting conversation is with technical debt, and, you know, company and companies in the P&C and the lifespace, we have very old equipment, this is very new technology. There might be companies out there just like, oh, we're just not going to be able to fit this in. Can you talk about what engagement looks like when you get modern technology trying to shoehorn but you know, fitting fitted in where there's some legacy technology that has caused problems in the past?

Ken M
Yeah, from a evaluation and partnership perspective, we really try to engage with companies that are fully, fully immersed into making a transformation into their process that's 100% on board, not just to kind of dipping their toe in the making a transformation. So let's try this, let's try that we have this that try to put the square into a round hole. We've been on that path before. And if they're if they're not fully engaged financially, as well as from a resource perspective, it really does prolong the overall evaluation and implementation of a logical process. But a typical one is larger companies have a dedicated resource IT team, dedicated underwriting team, operational team, compliance team. And so we work directly hand in hand in a parallel perspective, to make sure that we're actually meeting all of our goals together as far as what what we're looking to do, and how our partnership can develop overall.

Al M
And I think, to add on to that a little there, there's a good part and a bad part to what Ken's just described. Right. And I'll maybe I'll start with the bad part, what he described as a very weighty process. And that's because we want to understand the complete business objective, what what is the partner trying to do as they launch this product? Are they trying to transform the customer journey? Are they trying to better control risk? What are their what are their goals? And so it requires that level of understanding and as a risk bearing partner, as a reinsurance company, it's really important that we kind of make that whole journey with them. The good part, I think, is that we've seen that there's a way that we can help the industry as a whole by making that a lighter touch right. Velogica does a tremendous amount with electronic data, bringing it together, normalizing it overcoming all of these technical challenges. And Nick that companies that are maybe sitting on some technical debt, and can't afford to take on all those tasks, we're really well positioned to take those on for them, wouldn't it be great if they could get the benefits of Velogica, But without the complete weight of that product integration? You know, what if Velogica of were a lighter weight service that gathers normalizes data and does a risk evaluation, and then lets them drop it into their underwriting process in a more natural way, without without kind of the complete reinsurance handshake that goes on with it. So that's another thing that's on our 2021 roadmap is being able to bring that sort of thing to the to the market.

Nick
Yeah, is the is the expectation that brokers and agents and financial advisors that are already working with some of these companies that end up taking the bringing on the Velogica platform, that there would be their benefits downstream to them in how they the speed at which they can get new business place, the the richness of the interaction, but also the ability to kind of is there transparency back to them on why particular decisions were made and how they can potentially communicate that back to their customers? Kind of securing them in that trusted advisor? category? Those some of the downstream applications or benefits for that?

Al M
Yeah, absolutely. So and, you know, it's probably the case that distributors are out there benefiting from Velogica today and have no idea because Velogica stays in the background, you know, their home office of their direct writer is using Velogica. And they're not aware of it. But hopefully, they're enjoying a good instant issue experience where they are right. Part of that experience is delivering back both to the agent and the home office underwriter a full explanation of why decisions were made reason codes that explain the risk factors that were detected, and give everyone in that chain, the the information, they need to have a powerful conversation with the applicant. Sometimes it'll be delivering bad news. And sometimes it'll be delivering good news. But it is not a black box. Right. It is a completely transparent underwriting decision that's fully explained.

Nick
Its parts part some of my expectations with software that I've used over the past 20 years. With at the time that it's released, it's usually using the modern technology that exists. And then you find over time that the software doesn't, isn't as good as it is this, it's almost got like a half life to it. Because it's just really difficult to keep the platform on the most modern technology without like a really big overhead. He talked a little bit about for those that are listening, talk a little bit about what you've done, thinking about the technology to make sure that it's that doesn't grow stale.

Al M
Yeah, absolutely. So you know, I think the key is modularity. And that and the fact that the software is provided as a service, lets us do a ton of these sorts of updates behind the scenes without impacting the consumer of the software, typically the direct writer, right. So we can change out the technical guts of the system. And as long as we keep that application programming interface, the API remains consistent. It doesn't have any impact to the consumers of the service. So obviously, that's really important. And version five is what just got released in September. And so that demarks, sort of the number of really big technical revisions that we've done over the years, to keep things from getting stale, but you're right, it's a kind of a constant journey. It's it's never done.

Ken M
And one of the things that we that's not the foremost as we're not in this for hourly billing, or charging customers to make changes, we're in it for the long term partnership. So as Al mention the changes we make, if a client's not ready to accept those changes, they're always backward compatible, meaning that they have an opportunity at some point in the future to make to make the changes they may have impact them on their systems to not force the changes and force different timing. So that's one of the key components that we actually came from a customer perspective that gives give them that flexibility to take advantage of any upgrades and changes that we make with not putting it's not forcing them to make changes on their side.

Al M
Yeah, I think of of the 15 years and five major revisions. We've literally had one time where we had to erase some technical debt that had some client impact and we had to go out and tell the market. Hey, if you're a Velogica customer, we need you to switch from x to y as part of what we're doing with this big upgrade.

Nick
Is that so? Is this server server based platform? Or

Al M
cloud based? cloud based? Amazon Web Services, so easy to scale up for volume and so forth.

Nick
Okay, so how does it work? When when you do so five changes in 15 years is not very much. So I congratulate you revisions. Okay. Okay. Okay. major revisions.

Al M
Yeah, we release software multiple times a week, actually.

Nick
Okay, so let's talk a little bit about that. And are there because Ken brought up the ability to sort of revert back? Right. So in terms of engagement between a cedent and SCOR, when a change gets made? Is it something like, everyone, it becomes available to everybody they were, it's almost mandatory, or they can sort of pick and choose when they transition over? How much leeway is there for for them to sort of test how a revision would actually affect what they're currently doing?

Ken M
A great question. So when we make the revisions, you know, I would say, rule of thumb, about half of our releases, our mentions, probably client specific releases, that requests that clients have asked us to make changes on their behalf specific only to them. Okay, the other half is our global changes where everybody, can take advantage of them, or it might impact everybody. So one of the things that we do is when we're making these changes, and we'll just kind of go on the side of where the global changes, we actually run that change back through our entire system to see if it had any negative impact, or we identify any impact before that change. And then we communicate the benefits in the change that we've made to all of our clients, letting them know it's available in our test environment. So whenever they're ready to test it, we can actually activate it in the test environment first, allow the test to change out, allow them to see the results. And then we'll coordinate a specific production activation on their behalf. So it's very collaborative. It's very, it's very informal, but it does allow them to plan out those changes from a implementation perspective.

Al M
And the power of that rescore process that Ken's describing really can't be overstated. It's really, really an important tool for insurers that a lot of other systems don't give them. They come to us and say, I'd like to make an underwriting change. I'd like to, you know, change my philosophy on how I'm doing with anxiety on what I'm doing with anxiety medication, for example, why it isn't a shot in the dark as to what's going to happen, we'll make the change, we'll run it through the rescore on their last six months of business and say, here are the specific cases that had this rule been in place six months ago, would have had a different outcome. And we'll talk about it together, right. From a risk perspective, from an underwriting perspective. Is this what we expected to happen? Is this changing the program in the way that we desire it to change? It's really powerful?

Nick
Yeah. For for what products is this available currently, is this the term only

Al M
we have term products, we have whole life products, we have universal products, life products, all.

Nick
So the whole cross section, the whole market,

Al M
pretty much any mortality risk, and morbidity risks, although we don't have as much experience with those, but if they still require sort of medical information as the basis of their underwriting, then we can do those as well.

Nick
Okay? Let's Let's fantasize a little bit. Right? What could? So that's a big transition, right? So we go from a basically an underwriting methodology, a distribution methodology, where there's the, you know, medical exam that could take months, literally, to get something placed. Could you peer out into the future? What's your what's your hope and vision for how a life product could be sold? Let's, I'm, I'm now seeing life products being sold on apps, I can go into an app, and and buy one and there's few options and I'm in insurance and I'm still partially confused with with the option so you know, your hopes and dreams if you're fantasizing about where you see, you know, how quickly a life product could be sold and what the underwriting might look like. Where do you think this could go?

Al M
Yeah, I would love to see us and I think it's achievable as a longer term destination to see something like 90% of the business in 20 minute process, for example, do I think that we'll be able to sell life products like $5 million dollar face products to 75 year old smokers instantly? No, not unless they're willing to hand over their life savings, but 90% in a 20 minute timeframe, I believe is achievable. You know, I think there's there's a couple things to make that happen. Electronic Health Records commonly in use. But predictive analytics, you know that the idea of machine learning and artificial intelligence, getting smarter about how we're using the data that we have is another big step in how to do that. And that's, you know, that's what we're, we've just launched with Velogica 5.0. Is the integration into our predictive modeling services.

Ken M
Just as a shameless plug, probably some of those apps that are coming up on your Facebook or whatever, it's probably powered by Velogica in the background.

Nick
Oh, there you go. Well, that explains it then. So what about the distribution side here who can't help but think Al, as you're describing, like, oh, if we can get it down to 20 minutes for, you know, a large percentage, could be a lot of agents. They're thinking, Hmm, that could cut me out like that, that could go digital and could cut me out. How do you see the distribution of it of life products? Because, as Ken said, when he started it's, it's a product where there's there's traditionally for 100 years, but a lot of salesmanship, because it's not a mandatory product. So when people think about it, and the different life events that occur, when it finally comes up, there's there's a marketing and sales element to it, that I think the agents like, Hey, we bring value here. But a lot of the technology is driving towards digital, how do you guys reconcile what distribution might look like for not only for SCOR? But your your carrier customers?

Al M
Great, great question. So a colleague of mine, Richard D'Souza, who heads up our strategic partnerships group here at SCOR. Used the phrase recently, Agent assisted, and that really resonated with me. You know, I like I said, I'm a technologist, right. So I've been a back office guy my whole life, I don't have the experience that he does in the field. But the idea that agents will always be needed to educate people through this process, explain why they have a need, explain what they can do with the product that they've just bought, I think it's going to remain, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, Oh, I want to buy life insurance today, right? That's super rare. They need someone whether it's a financial advisor, or an agent, to kind of give them a little prod and say, hey, you've just had a child or you've just gotten married, and you've just bought a house, let me educate you, but their job, we're making their job easier is my perspective on that, right? If they can sit down with someone and have an educational conversation and get them to engage in a 20 minute process, and end with a transaction haven't been made? That's fantastic.

Nick
Yeah. And Ken, this could potentially as well, sort of spearhead or at least like, turn the light bulbs on, I think in a lot of places on what the product should actually look like, like, how how the product could be changed. So that does, you know, distribute in a particular way, for our lifestyles as they change. Right.

Ken M
Absolutely. And one of the things that, you know, we've always taken feedback from our direct marketers, as well as some of our brokers and distributors, as I mentioned, Agent assisted, you know, our goal, the middle market hasn't been served for four years. And one of the things that, that it's that leverage is, you know, best $75,000 policy agents don't make a lot of money off of it. But it still doesn't take away the need for the customer to have that insurance, right. So it definitely allows us to develop products that will serve a specific need, only because again, there's you know, agents have to have to have a life have a financial interest. Because again, they're they're in it for commission base, but also they want to serve your customer. And I think that the way the Velogica system is built, it gives that automated support of allowing the agent to fulfill their customer's needs without spending a lot of time on the lower face policies.

Nick
I started want to finish off like, because I think that distribution angle is so important, because the the, I think the studies that have been put out are that as a society, we're probably extremely under insured when it comes to this because and I think it's because traditionally the products been difficult to deliver, but there's a sales element to it. And so the the marketing, you know, the financial incentive to get in front of people when they hit these critical moments, but as is so important, but like the world seems to be converging towards this digital element where it gets it's a little bit easier to get in front of people that I know for younger people were getting them comfortable with life insurance early is important. A lot of them don't end up bumping into life insurance. Until there, they get hired, right. And they're going through the benefits thing. And it's like, oh, life insurance. And it's such an easy sell. Right. And so I'm thinking of like, Ken Velogica, as well. And maybe you're doing this already can Velogica streamline that part where it can be bundled into other things to make it easier to, to naturally bump into folks as they're making as they're having these life changing events, like getting a job getting married, having a baby. It does the logic of streamline that piece of it and make it easier to bundle it into other stuff that we currently bundle it with, but maybe even stuff we haven't even thought of.

Al M
Yeah, absolutely. So you know, for example, a really natural bundling that we've had some participation with, but probably has more possibilities of mortgage, you go to get a home loan, you're buying a new house, well, you're not going to convince me to give blood pee into a cup, wait five months, you know, five weeks for a doctor's note as part of that already, you know, painful process. But will I give you an extra 20 minutes and talk a little bit about my family history? Yeah, probably. So could it be bundled with that very effectively? Absolutely. And I think you're right, I think there are a ton of natural points, where reminding someone that in the event of their untimely demise, someone is going to be, you know, financially need in financial need. makes sense to put it out there. Yeah.

Ken M
Yeah, some of our partners are very, very creative as far as driving marketing. And, you know, we'll have we had one where a lot of the online partners drive to the lower age and you know, kind of use a rule of thumb pay for the cost of a pizza, you know, for cost of a pizza per month, you can get X amount of life insurance, you 21 years old, even though you might be thinking about it, if you relate it to something that's ordinary & daily, I think that resonates with with young people, and again, making the process easy.

Nick
Yeah, absolutely. Do you foresee that this is has a lot of the same traits, you're gonna run into a lot of the same underwriting problems in long term care, and, you know, other lines that aren't, you know, directly linked to life, but have similar underwriting stuff? Have you thought about that?

Al M
Yeah, I think you're right, that the challenges are really, really similar, right? It's, everyone wants the best information they can possibly collect. And it's a negotiation with the process, how much time am I willing an effort? Am I willing to go through and collect that information? So it translates completely into other lines?

Nick
And what I want to finish off with a final question about wellness, because the idea is to make it economical as possible to have life insurance, but also have people have healthier lives. The does that is the technology and your ability to work with seasons, as they, you know, as we see them transitioning towards adding wellness elements to their life underwriting can can it can IT support that as that becomes like a thing?

Al M
Yeah, absolutely. Right. So it's almost a natural progression to me of what what happens as the underwriting process gets smoothed out, as we're collecting all this information about a person's health. You know, unfortunately, the way it works today is if they're sick, or unhealthy in some way, they have an adverse risk factor, we'll offer them maybe we're not able to make an offer at all, or they'll have to pay a premium. Well, wouldn't it be great if in addition to that, or even instead of that, we say, hey, we've noticed that you're a one sees are a little high, and you're a little overweight? If you're interested, let me introduce you to this wellness program. They'll help you get a handle on your weight, they'll help you understand how to control your diabetes through diet, we can make people live healthier, longer lives, right. And in the life insurance industry. Everyone has the exact same goal, longer, healthier lives for for their purchase, both the consumers and the providers of the product.

Nick
Yeah. So you already have seven customers, I would guess that they have account managers who know how to, they know how to get in front of but for any carriers or folks companies that are at the carriers that don't currently have a relationship with SCOR rather than connecting with you guys on LinkedIn and we will put all that information in the show notes, what's the what's the ideal way for them to learn more about Velogica.

Ken M
So I'm the primary contact and the kind of the face of Velogica. So kmcNair@SCORVelogica.com or you can go to velogica.com or even scor.com and do a search for Velogica. My contact information is there. And we have specific account reps for specific direct riders that we can link to to and start the start the conversation.

Nick
perfect. Um, given that it's a coincidental we're having a conversation on life (insurance), but I try to end every single podcast with telling people, we are still in a pandemic. And it looks like it's, we're going into wave two. So we want you to all have long and healthy lives. So it's, it's really not that much of a challenge. Wear mask, wash your hands and just be respectful of people. Not that hard to do. I think we can all do that. Al and Ken from SCOR, talking about Velogica thank you so much for coming on. I appreciate it.

Al M
Thanks for having us, Nick.

Ken M
Thanks for having us.

Nick
Good day.