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The March of Technology

When Christmas recedes into a dim and somewhat distant memory, some of you may still be looking at the box-fresh Amazon Echo or Google Home units that were given as gifts. There is a debate as to whether these devices are a ‘spy’ in the home, gathering up information and data for sale or exploitation by monolithic corporations.

In all honesty, I am not qualified to say, but the respective ‘human’ personas for these units – Alexa and Siri – can be a reassuring presence and useful resource. They can even, at times, be funny: try asking Alexa what she wants to be when she grows up or a good one which gets straight to the point is always, “Alexa, are we in The Matrix?”.

Artificial Intelligence

Virtual assistant Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is developing at a tremendous pace. AI for Insurance is something that each of us will need to come to terms with over the course of this decade. It will bring changes and innovation to distribution, underwriting, fraud detection, and claims handling. For many of these functions, automation derived from AI-based cognitive models will be the ‘default setting’ with minimal manual inputs and, consequently, reduced administration costs.

Smart Canines?

Before abandoning ‘manual inputs’, you might recall the apocryphal story of the yuppie who, when parking his car in Dublin, was asked by a vagabond whether he wanted him to mind his car for a quid. The driver pointed to a ferocious-looking Rottweiler sitting on the back seat of his Porsche and said: “I don’t need anyone to mind my car, I’ve got him.” The vagrant stared at the dog and nodded his head, chuckling, “That’s all well and good mister, but tell me, can your dog put out a fire?

Changing Behaviours

Nevertheless, we should expect that Policyholders will become less and less used to dealing with actual, real-life, genuine people. As their behaviours are modified, this will, in time, result in a ‘new normal’ or ‘expected normal’. It is not unreasonable to contemplate a future where there are fewer customer-facing insurance roles and where those that remain transition to process facilitation and product education.

For those of you who are old enough, just think back to the time before the internet when we were compelled to buy airline tickets from a travel agent. Within a relatively short period of time, we have been conditioned to expect to be able to purchase airline tickets with five or six clicks on our telephones. There is no human contact in this process and, further still, it is now possible to ‘check in’ on-line before the flight and to walk through the automated passport/border control machines. In fact, you may not need to interact with anyone at the airline or airport until you bounce up against the security checks…who will still make you feel like a terrorist for having a full bottle of water in your carry-on luggage.

Consumers now expect to fulfil their every whim through accessing the connected supercomputer in their pocket. There is evidence which suggests that they tend toward a negative perception of a service when they are prevented from interacting with it seamlessly on-line – it is as if we are being conditioned to never want to talk to someone face to face. COVID19 restrictions have complicated this paradigm even further, pushing people away from one another and insisting on faceless, impersonal service.

Excellent Customer Service

We are, of course, in the service business – and we should be conscious of this trend towards lowering (or changing) consumers’ expectations as to what good service looks or feels like.

What does the approaching AI horizon mean for Policyholder Representation/Loss Assessing and, more generally, claims handling as a function – either at Broker Offices or Insurers? If we agree that we should never run away from technology or put our heads in the sand when the winds of change are blowing, then we should also agree that there will always be a need (and room) for the ‘personal touch’ in our processes.

Empathy is Key

Coming from a claims discipline, I am proud to say that the soft skills employed by Brokers, Assessors, Adjusters, and Claim Handlers often cannot be taught. They are gleaned experientially, or, for some, they might be instinctive behaviours. Empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of another, is critical to those of us in a claim facing role. It helps us to give effect to the provisions set out in the Consumer Protection Code and ensures a meaningful connection between us and the stricken policyholder.

For householders and businesses, an insurance claim might prove to be an event of enormous trauma and stress – and sometimes exaggeratingly-so when compared with the apparent subjective severity of the loss event. The Policyholder’s expectation is that they will be indemnified and, everything else being equal, returned to the position they were in before the loss. This might be true of the physical property; however, we should never lose sight of the human element. Policyholders often cannot forget the loss and their experience of insurance will not simply be represented by the receipt of a cheque or EFT.

As Loss Assessors, we have worked through countless examples. Picture this: attending at the smouldering rubble of a home that was once full of family life and happy memories. A mother, a father, and their children will be in a state of shock. Their worldly possessions, from their cherished wedding album to the kids’ toys and schoolbooks, are lost. The family dog may have perished. They have no clothes apart from those that are on their backs. They are homeless. Faced with such utter destruction, it is practically impossible – as a policyholder – to know where to begin. There is – and possibly never will be – an AI process or intervention that can be successfully employed in these instances. Instead, the policyholders can be fortified and supported by the right words and actions delivered at the right time by the best people.

The ‘Difference’

It is in times of upheaval, trauma and upset, that an empathetic, skilled, and knowledgeable insurance professional can make a difference. This ‘difference’ will be felt by the consumer, and it will colour their experience of the product, the Broker, and the Insurer alike. The opposite is also true of course. A devastated policyholder who brushes up against an indifferent Insurer when they have a claim, will never believe that their outcome was a favourable one – regardless of the size of the cheque.

Before the decade is out, we will all have come to terms with, or perhaps embraced, Artificial Intelligence (machines mimicking cognitive functions as displayed by humans), Machine Learning (learning-from and making data-driven predictions based on data and learned experiences) and Deep Learning (connection of artificial software-based calculators that approximate the function of brain neurons). We do not need to be afraid of these developments. However, we believe that the Insurance Industry must never abandon or seek to replace those points in a process where nothing less than the human touch will suffice.

Finally, and to illustrate this point, I can share a story recently told to me by a good friend, about Alexa and the way she inserted herself in his home. When putting his eight-year-old son to bed one evening, the child said: “Daddy, Alexa can read me a bed-time story – you don’t have to.” There, in one innocent sentence from a child, was a warning as to how Artificial Intelligence is becoming normalised for everyone. He was taken aback and stuttered to respond, “Well… yeah… but she can’t give you a hug and a kiss, can she?

Mark Quinn has over thirty years’ experience in the Property Industry specialising in Construction and Project Management. He is a Certified Insurance Practitioner (CIP) and joined OMC Claims in 2013 as a Senior Loss Assessor.  Mark handles claims in the Mid-West area and is based in our office in Tipperary.

Mark is an active member of the Insurance Institute and has served as Deputy President of the Limerick Insurance Institute in 2018/2019, as the President in 2019/2020 and subsequently as the Vice President since 2020.