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Despite COVID, Tech Investment Continues

Insurers will continue to experiment with emerging technology in 2021, despite the challenges of 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many insurers paused their 2020 innovation plans, emphasizing digital workflows and cost control at the expense of emerging technology pilots. Heading into 2021, technology priorities for many insurers, especially those in the property/casualty space, are similar to those of 2019.

The U.S. is still in the midst of the pandemic, and some insurers are anticipating lower premium revenues for the coming year. In spite of this, insurers are investing in technologies like artificial intelligence and big data, though some are narrowing the scope of their innovation efforts for the coming year.  

Understanding Emerging Technology Today

Insurers typically take a few main approaches to emerging technologies. Early adopters experiment with the technology, typically via a limited pilot. If the technology creates value, it’s moved into wider production. Insurers that have taken a “wait-and-see” approach may launch pilots of their own.

Novarica’s insights on insurers’ plans for emerging technology are drawn from our annual Research Council study, where CIOs from more than 100 insurers indicate their plans for new technologies in the coming year.

No insurer can test-drive every leading-edge technology at once, and every insurer’s priority is a result of its overall strategy and immediate pressures. Still, at a high level, several industry-wide trends are apparent:

There is big growth in RPA; chatbots continue to expand. More than half of all insurers have now deployed robotic process automation (RPA), compared with less than a quarter in 2018. Chatbots are less widely deployed but on a similar trajectory: from one in 10 in 2018 to one in four today.

AI and big data continue to receive significant investment. These technologies take time to mature, but it’s clear insurers believe in the value they can provide. More than one in five insurers have current or planned pilot programs in these areas for 2021.

Half of insurers have low-/no-code capabilities or pilots. These types of platforms are relatively new but have achieved substantial penetration in a short time. Early signs indicate they could become a durable tool for facilitating better collaboration between IT and business experts.

Despite continued tech investment, 2021 might be a more difficult year for innovation. Insurers’ technology priorities have generally reverted to the mean — more so for property/casualty than for life/annuity insurers — and technology budgets for 2021 are within historical norms. Still, some insurers are paring down pilot activity in less proven technologies, like wearables, to maintain their focus on areas like AI and big data. Technologies with substantial up-front costs, like telematics, may be harder to kick off in 2021. 

See also: Technology and the Agent of the Future

How Emerging Technology Grows

Emerging technologies have widely varying rates of experimentation, deployment and growth within the insurance sector. Their growth rates boil down to a few key related factors:

  • How easily the technology is understood.
  • How readily it can be deployed and integrated with existing processes.
  • How clearly the value it creates can be measured and communicated.

At one end of the spectrum are technologies like RPA and chatbots. These technologies create clear value, are readily added to existing processes and are relatively easy to deploy. As a result, insurers have adopted them rapidly.

Artificial intelligence and big data technologies require longer learning periods; sometimes, they require business processes to be completely reengineered. The technologies create value for insurers but have grown more slowly because they take time to understand and integrate.

Drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) and telematics can create new kinds of insurance products or collect new kinds of information. These can also create value, but their growth remains slow because developing these technologies may require orchestration across several functional areas, and they can be costly to ramp up.

On the far end of the spectrum are technologies like augmented and virtual reality, blockchain, smart assistants and wearables. Most of these technologies don’t yet have established use cases that demonstrate clear value, so it remains to be seen whether they will be adopted more widely.

Using Emerging Technology

One key insight from Novarica’s study is that technologies that integrate readily to existing processes can grow more rapidly than technologies that require new workflows to fully use. This observation comes with a few caveats for both insurers and technology vendors.

Insurers sometimes fall into the trap of “repaving the cowpath” — they adopt new technologies but integrate them into their existing (inefficient) business processes. Doing so means they can’t get maximum value from their investment. Ironically, it’s usually the shortcomings of legacy technology that have made these processes cumbersome in the first place.

It’s easy to understand the value that technology creates when it integrates with an existing process and can be measured with the same key performance indicators (KPIs). It’s much harder to create a new process enabled by new capabilities, train employees to execute it and demonstrate that the new way is better than the old way. Yet getting the most out of emerging technologies often requires rethinking how business might be done.

See also: 2021’s Key Technology Trends

For their part, vendors should focus on the value their products create and the problems they solve, aligning them to insurer needs. It’s not enough to use a new technology for its own sake, and using new tools sub-optimally may make them seem less effective. Vendors should coach their insurer clients through best practices and help them understand how their tools can ease, change or make obsolete existing processes.

At its core, insurance is a simple industry focused on connecting those exposed to risk to capital that can defray potential losses. At the center of that value chain are insurers, that continue to explore new technologies to better understand their risks, sell more and operate more efficiently. Even in uncertain times, insurers are innovating.

3 Must-Haves for a Self-Service Portal

Today, human support is steadily losing ground to self-service in the insurance industry. For one thing, clients have grown tech-savvy and self-reliant and are willing to solve issues on their own, without waiting to reach a live agent. What is more, as the pandemic interrupted the conventional face-to-face service and support delivery, even the most reluctant customers became favorable toward online channels. Against this backdrop, insurers are implementing out-of-the-box self-service portals or developing custom insurance software

Companies should prioritize the particular needs and expectations of their customer base rather than follow the examples of other self-service portals. Insurance customers, as shown by Accenture in its 2019 Global FS Consumer Study, do not feel comfortable resorting to self-service in every case. The majority would rely on digital channels for tasks like looking up information or submitting personal data. Yet, when it comes to complex financial decisions — purchasing a policy or changing the terms of a contract — over half of the respondents admitted they can’t do without human assistance. 

Given these customer behavior patterns, insurers need to invest in providing exhaustive information, features for handling non-critical issues and account management as self-service options, but refrain from trying to automate all customer interactions. Below, we explore the self-service features that suit the set tasks most.  

A knowledge base 

The idea of customer education meets skeptical attitudes from the majority of insurers. According to Deloitte, 33% of surveyed executives believe that clear product information is a decisive factor for new customers, yet only 16% see it helping retain customers. 

In fact, a detailed and consistent knowledge base is not only an essential self-service channel but also a powerful driver of customer satisfaction. Building a centralized repository of relevant insights, like policy comparisons, legal terms glossary, claims application guides and so on, you give customers an opportunity to find answers and solutions quickly and at any time. 

Through relevant and innovative content, a company can also reach a wider audience and build a reputation as a niche expert. What is more, by analyzing the knowledge base activity, insurers can discern customers’ common needs and challenges and come up with solutions.  

For such a knowledge base to prove authoritative and helpful, the content needs to be of high quality but clear and comprehensible to an average customer, free of complicated terms and industry jargon. What is more, the materials need to be reviewed and updated regularly to remain relevant in the face of your evolving service offer and changes in the insurance industry. Therefore, when choosing your knowledge base format, make certain you have sufficient resources to maintain it at a proper level. 

See also: Self-Service Portals Improve CX

AI chatbots

Conversational AI has taken the business world by storm, becoming a staple of customer relations strategy. What is more, customers have come to appreciate chatbots for their efficiency and increasingly prefer to seek their assistance first. These facts, coupled with the opportunity to cut customer service costs, make AI chatbots a self-servicing option worthy of adoption.  

Implemented in your insurance portal, chatbots can tirelessly handle numerous customer queries and come up with relevant advice in each case. Through simple message commands, users can ask the bot to describe or compare insurance plans, find policies matching certain criteria or help address any current insurance policy concern. Unlike human agents, the technology can provide answers and take actions in real time, driving customer satisfaction up. 

Beyond this, chatbots can be programmed to analyze a customer’s profile information and engagement history and supply personalized product and service recommendations or even craft bespoke insurance policies and quotes. 

Yet chatbots are not without limitations. They are not geared toward making independent decisions and can only perform actions defined by the algorithm. This means that complex issues and requests need to be escalated to human service representatives. Moreover, chatbots are still bad at gauging human emotions and expressing sentiment appropriate to the situation, which can unnerve an already distressed customer. 

Claims management

Traditionally, claims management is one of the most cumbersome and confusing journeys for the insured. The customer fills out forms, gathers a lot of paperwork and photo evidence and submits it all in person for the company to process and reach a conclusion. 

But the digital age has altered customers’ expectations in this regard. They want a simple, speedy and transparent process that can be handled remotely in real time. By integrating a claims management engine into your self-service portal, you can meet this demand. 

The solution should allow a customer to make the first notice of loss to the insurer and then fill out and submit the official claim together with all the necessary photo or video evidence. As the information is processed and checked for fraud, the damage is appraised and the settlement is offered, the policyholder has full visibility into the claim status without the need to contact company representatives.     

Inevitably, there can be complex claims that require the agent’s on-site damage assessment or the personal presence of the insured. But for many other cases where fully digital handling is possible, self-servicing offers customers the freedom to manage their claims anywhere, anytime and allows them to control the process. The solution proves beneficial to insurance companies, as well, as it frees agents’ time spent on customer communication and paperwork in favor of other tasks, while minimizing human errors in the submitted claims.   

See also: Time to Try Being an Entrepreneur?

Summing up: The balance is vital

Despite the extensive reliance on self-service, insurance customers are not yet ready to accept it as the only alternative. As long as there are people who appreciate human touch over convenience and speed, traditional customer support will remain in demand.

Therefore, a hybrid approach to customer service appears to be the most appropriate strategy for insurers. Smartly balancing self-service and human support features and ensuring intuitive access to them all, an insurance company can meet the shifting customer needs and offer an outstandingly rich and dynamic support experience.

Best AI Tech for P&C Personal Lines

Artificial intelligence technologies are everywhere. The great leap forward in AI over the past decade has come along with an explosion of new tech companies, AI deployment across almost every industry sector and AI capabilities behind the scenes in billions of intelligent devices around the world. What does all of this mean for the personal lines insurance sector? SMA answers this question in a new research report, “AI in P&C Personal Lines: Insurer Progress, Plans, and Predictions.”

The first step toward answering this question is to understand that AI is a family of related technologies, each with its own potential uses and insurance implications. The key technologies relevant for P&C insurance are machine learning, computer vision, robotic process automation, user interaction technologies, natural language processing and voice technologies. It’s a challenge to sort through all these technologies, the insurtech and incumbent providers that offer AI-based solutions and where each insurer will benefit most from applying AI.

The overall value rankings indicate that user interaction technologies fueled by AI are at the top of the list for personal lines insurers. Every insurer has activity underway, mostly by leveraging chatbots for interactions with policyholders and agents or using machine learning for guided data collection during the application process. Insurers see high potential for transformation in policy servicing, billing and claims – areas where routine interactions can be automated.

Robotic process automation is in broad use across personal lines, although the RPA technology is viewed by many as more tactical. There is high value related to streamlining operations and reducing costs, but most wouldn’t put it in the innovative category.

Machine learning and computer vision have great potential for personal lines in both underwriting and claims. The combination of computer vision and ML technologies applied to aerial imagery is already becoming a common way to provide property characteristics and risk scores for underwriting. Likewise, images from satellites, fixed-wing aircraft and drones are frequently used for NATCAT situations. And AI technologies will be increasingly applied to these images for response planning.

There are many other examples. But for the purposes of this blog, the main question – which technologies are most valuable – has been answered. AI-based user interface (UI) technologies, machine learning (ML) and computer vision demonstrate the best combination of high value today and transformation potential for the long term.

But perhaps the more important question is not which technologies are valuable, but rather where AI technologies are most valuable in the enterprise. The short answer is that there are so many potential value levers and so many unique aspects to different business areas and lines of business that it is difficult to select just a couple of high-value areas. That said, it is relatively apparent that underwriting and claims both present major opportunities, and activities are already underway there. There are great possibilities for AI in inspections, property underwriting, triage, fraud, CAT management, automated damage assessment, predictive reserving and other specific areas.

See also: Stop Being Scared of Artificial Intelligence

There is no shortage of opportunities for AI in personal lines. Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of tech solutions in the market and growing expertise in the industry involving AI technologies and how to apply them. Ultimately, we expect to see a pervasive use of AI technologies throughout the insurance industry. Some will become table stakes. Others will define the winners in the new era of insurance.  

New Digital Communications

The options for digital communications keep expanding. Insurers’ mobile interactions with prospects, producers and policyholders have become common, while methods like e-mail and web portals are extensively used. Now, there is a whole new world of messaging platforms, chatbots, business texting, voice assistants and more.

All of these methods are in widespread use in the world today, but not necessarily in insurance. Which methods should insurers employ, for which types of interactions and for which constituents? 

These are important questions because many insurers have expended considerable effort and money to implement various newer communication technologies only to find that the take-up was low. There are no magic answers, but the key to success lies in taking an outside-in approach.

Traditionally, system have been designed from an inside-out approach – taking into consideration the organization, products, IT systems and channels to reach out to external parties. These are critical factors, to be sure. But the better approach is to lead with an understanding of customer needs, customer journeys and the value that customers place on specific capabilities.

This requires more than just asking customers what they want. Whether the party receiving the communication is a prospect, producer, policyholder or even an employee, it is best to gain a more thorough understanding of segments, relationships and needs.

During our recent Digital Communications Virtual Event Experience, SMA asked insurers about their interests and objectives for digital communications, with nine possible responses. The top two choices were overwhelmingly 1) that digital communications are a vital part of the overall digital transformation strategy (83%) and 2) that digital communications will improve the customer experience (75%). Forty percent said reducing internal operational expenses was a key goal. Surprisingly, expanding capabilities for policyholders was way down the list, and expanding agent capabilities was even lower.

Incorporating new communications into the overall digital transformation and improving the customer experience are admirable goals. But it seems to me that, to achieve those goals, it is critical to provide agents and policyholders with new capabilities.

This doesn’t mean just throwing out a new option like a chatbot because others are doing it, and because it seems like a good idea. Decisions should be made in the context of an overall assessment of agent and customer needs.

Insights from three lenses should be used to inform the decisions on specific technologies and use cases. First, look at what interaction methods people are actually using today and throughout the lifecycle. This needs to be done in the context of each segment. Second, do extensive research to determine what new modes people would value for various types of transactions and interactions. Third, evaluate what others in the industry are doing – not just what capabilities they have released but what kind of success they have had (to the extent possible).

See also: The Missing Tool for Cyber Resilience

Finally, be sure to build in flexible configuration capabilities to enable individual users to customize their communication preferences. In the increasingly digital world, placing an emphasis on providing a rich set of communications options is an important ingredient in improving experiences, which leads to both top line growth and profitability.

Expanding Options for Communications

Most P&C insurers have gradually expanded their options for digitally communicating with prospects, policyholders, producers and employees. As the industry moves beyond the web, portals and email, there is a growing recognition that a whole new world of digital communications options can be applied in insurance. Messaging and collaboration platforms, business texting, chatbots, voice, personalized interactive video and even augmented/virtual reality are now on the palette. Add these communication options to the zillion different ways to make or receive a payment, and a great thing happens. These options often simultaneously improve the customer experience while reducing expenses!

Technology options and solution providers are plentiful, but the big question for insurers is how to leverage the right mix of these across the enterprise. There are three really important components for successfully leveraging the new communications options: 1) a digital communications strategy, 2) digital content capture and creation and 3) content management and e-delivery.

Digital Communications Strategy: The methods of communications have often been driven by the requirements of specific areas of the business. Marketing uses a variety of tools and approaches to reach prospects and customers. Distribution uses another set to interact with agents and other partners. Claims has many types of external participants to communicate with during the claims life cycle. Underwriting and other areas of the business have their own needs and favorite technologies. But, now that digital transformation is accelerating, a comprehensive digital communications strategy is needed to determine how and where to best leverage capabilities like chatbots, messaging platforms and other tools. The capabilities for delivering customer documents and communications via email, portals and other traditional methods will continue to be equally vital.

See also: Will COVID-19 Be Digital Tipping Point?

Digital Content Capture and Creation: Inbound communications, such as submissions or first notice of loss, benefit from intelligent capture solutions that can efficiently gather and organize the information sent to insurers. Also, the ability to create and manage forms, documents and customer correspondence is essential. Communications that are created must adhere to branding guidelines, enable regulatory compliance, provide a modern customer experience and have the flexibility to support today’s array of outbound channels (including print and digital channels).

Digital Content Management and E-Delivery: Managing the digital content used for customer communications is an important capability. Insurers must be able to efficiently create, store and (re)use content objects such as visual branding elements, signatures, text blocks and the templates that they support. Moreover, in a world of many digital delivery options, the digital communications platform must support the delivery to the recipient through any technology option or channel, including messaging platforms, business texting solutions and chatbots, as well as traditional print, email, the web or mobile.  

Traditional options for communicating (such as portals, email and even print/mail) are not going away. But establishing a digital communications strategy and implementing a platform solution for creating and managing those communications is even more important in an era where the world is more rapidly shifting to digital due to the pandemic and work-from-home environments.