There’s a saying which goes something along the lines of ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten’. The insurance sector is acutely aware of the disruptive nature of technology and the affect it is having in other areas of financial services.
"[AI is] helping design products and experiences which are faster, smarter and better for both customers and providers.”
For insurance it is truly a win-win situation. The right kind of application of these technologies can help customers enjoy more-personalised, efficient service – including fewer questions, forms and time spent applying for cover – alongside improved quality assurance.
On the provider side, the advanced analytics allow efficiency in underwriting with improved completion rates – without compromising the integrity of the insurance risk book.
My colleague Alexis George has written before about Moore’s Law and how the rate of technological change on all areas of business will continue to be felt.
Advances in the sector are increasingly showing the period of unprecedented innovation and change George wrote about in 2016 is finally here.
Change a thing
In my 25 years of underwriting the way things are done haven’t really changed much.
As a sector, insurance has historically not been fantastic at the deep kind of data analytics we now see from machine learning. Give or take a few key terms, we are still asking all the same questions to clients we were from over two decades ago.
Recent years have seen an odd contradiction arise in insurance; while leaders in the industry know they must move to embrace AI but have been hesitant to heavily commit to – and therefore invest in – such systems.
An IBM survey of insurance executives from 2017 found almost all – 98 per cent – said AI would play a “disruptive” role in the industry. Almost as many – 85 per cent – said it would be critical to their business’ future and 96 per cent planned to invest in “cognitive capabilities”.
When the rubber hits the road however the story changes. A 2018 O’Rielly report suggests just 1.33 per cent of companies in the sector were actively investing in AI – compared to some 30 per cent in information technology services.
Things are changing. There have been some high-profile cases of AI application and recognition in the sector which have made news around the world, offering a glimpse into how the industry may look in a machine-learning-dominated future.
Famed investor and Berkshire-Hathway CEO Warren Buffett has openly stated he expects the coming wave of autonomous vehicles will affect premiums at his automotive insurance group Geico.
In China, online-only insurance group ZhongAn has spoken of its use of AI when pricing products, underwriting and detecting fraud, among other reasons.
“Machine learning can optimise the quality of customer service, so the development of AI in the insurance industry will certainly be a big trend,” chief operating officer Wayne Xu, told the South China Morning Post.
In the UK, Neos Ventures is an insurance group which is able to offer competitively priced home insurance policies with a catch – it installs smart monitoring devices in your house. The implication being access to the data lowers customer risk profiles and therefore the price of cover.
Perhaps the quirkiest standout is US group Lapetus Life Event Solutions, an insurer which offers cover based on a selfie alone – yes, a selfie. The company’s software can use the photo to build a basic risk profile based on your face alone – taking into account factors like if you are a smoker, for instance.
At ANZ, the bank’s OnePath Life Insurance arm has had some early wins in an AI-based collaboration with the University of Technology Sydney. The pilot program has allowed OnePath to slash the time and effort required to deliver what is ultimately a better service for both consumer and provider.
As a 2017 report from Delliotte into AI states, insurers using AI to optimise existing services and processes are “already yielding tangible benefits”.