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Property Claims: It’s Time for Innovation

The personal and commercial property claims process has traditionally lagged well  behind other segments of P&C insurance in the adoption of technology and innovation. That officially ended in 2020, aided by a global pandemic that changed virtually everything about life and business as we knew it. Understanding the factors behind the historical lack of innovation in property claims provides insights into why and how this segment is suddenly undergoing such rapid transformation.

Auto vs. Property Claims Process Transformation

When compared with the recent impressive rate of change in auto claims, property claims appeared to be a more of a laggard than it really was – but a laggard nonetheless. To put this in perspective, U.S. auto insurance policies, premiums and claims in 2019 were approximately four times larger than property. Further, auto claims are generally more visible and more consequential to the public than property claims. And the auto claims process was broken until about 1990, with the emergence of direct repair programs enabled by internet and database technologies, so the transformation has been that much more obvious and impressive.

Industry Fragmentation

The property claims repair market is characterized by extreme fragmentation, which exceeds that in the auto insurance claims industry. This is due to several factors: 

  • the relatively large number of service providers specializing in distinctly different major damage types, especially managed repair networks, as well as independent contractors, in general
  • the complexity of property claims themselves, which involve the coordination of numerous general and specialty provider types for a given claim 
  • the proliferation of task-specific software solutions, which are generally not integrated with one another
  • the smaller influence of property insurers on the repair process as compared with the influence that auto insurers have (because of less consolidation of property insurers and because they collectively represent only about 33% of repair industry revenue while auto insurers represent almost 90% of collision repair revenue)

A high-level comparison of market fragmentation of third-party auto and property claims repair provider markets provides another important explanation of the emerging transformation in property claims. The collision repair industry has undergone significant consolidation both in terms of the numbers of repair shops and shop ownership – and consolidation continues. Since 1990, the number of U.S. repair locations has fallen roughly 50% to approximately 32,000. Moreover, consolidators have created large multi-location, multi-regional and national MSOs (multi-shop operators) and now control almost 30% of the repair industry revenue. Private equity investments and relatively inexpensive debt have provided the enormous pools of capital required to enable this consolidation.   

See also: Key Advantage in Property Underwriting

Property Claims Ecosystem

In studying the property claims, mitigation and restoration ecosystem, we identified 110 companies with material market share, which we grouped within nine distinct categories:

  • Software applications for:
    • Property estimating
    • Restoration management
    • Claim management platforms
    • Accounting/financial, measurement, documentation, communication and productivity
    • Payment solutions
    • Imaging/aerial inspection
  • Services:
    • Third-party administrators (TPAs)
    • Property claims adjusting and estimating
    • Managed property repair networks

Industry Consolidation

When we researched corporate ownership profiles for these 110 firms, we discovered that 45 – or 39% of them – are funded or controlled by private equity, venture capital or a few strategic investors. While there is some such investor activity in every one of the nine segments, it is most pronounced in managed property repair networks, claims management platforms and imaging/aerial inspection verticals.

These investors are fueling consolidation in these segments in much the same way as they are in the auto claims ecosystem, and will spur greater adoption of cost-effective and process innovation technologies. This is already evidenced by the emergence and adoption of artificial intelligence, computer vision, augmented, virtual and extended reality, machine learning and natural language processing across property claims.

Opportunities

Emerging Property Repair Market Opportunity

The property repair industry is 40% to 50% mature, while we estimate the auto claims industry is approximately 80% mature. This is partially illustrated by direct repair claims penetration of the collision repair industry, which is at or over 50% for carriers with higher market share (and more for some auto carriers) versus less than 10% on average for property repair.

Homeowners property insurance claims and ecosystem software and technologies market, viewed holistically, represent a significant and mostly unaddressed market opportunity. The situation closely parallels the auto insurance claims process and collision repair markets of 1990, which saw technology and economics drive vendor consolidation and carrier adoption of managed national repair programs, which were enabled by automated estimating software development, digital communications, imaging and end-to-end claims workflow tools.

Property Claims Solution Platforms

Property insurance carriers increasingly will be seeking technology-driven end-to-end property claims management solutions featuring;

  • connectivity between all parties from report of loss to remediation to payment and closure
  • hybrid insourced/outsourced carrier claims and repair network management capabilities, including  universal, standardized contractor onboarding, performance metrics, automated skills/needs matching, user reviews and vendor rankings.
  • integration with Guidewire’s claims platform or similar partner ecosystems

Property Claims Technologies

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA),computer vision (CV), natural language processing (NLP), aerial imagery including drones and digital payments are being aggressively adopted across the P&C insurance claims process, and specifically property.

  • Smart home technology adoption will mitigate and in some cases eliminate claims and losses; Bain Capital predicts that in just five years there will be 50 billion connected devices and a trillion by 2030. According to Statista Market Forecast, the global smart home market was valued at $55.65 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach $174.24 billion by 2025, growing at an annual rate of nearly 14%. While 32% of homes currently have a smart device, that number is expected to reach 52% by 2025.
  • The impact of these technologies to the property claims and restoration industries is already — and will become even more — significant
  • As residential policyholders become more comfortable with self-administered smartphone photo and video inspections of property damage reported directly, insurers will gain more control over the restoration assignment process, which will promote the use of national repair networks (and the claims management software that can manage the end-to-end process)
    • It is estimated that the use of photo inspection services can reduce field claims cost from an average $550 down to between $60 and $90 and the cost of technical inspections from $550 to $300
    • Technical inspections or VAIP (virtual adjusting and inspection programs) will fuse services, including the use of a licensed adjuster. Claims will offer faster cycle times and savings of 35%.
    • Providers of satellite and aerial images, including drones, are gaining in importance in the residential property damage identification, validation, damage assessment and repair estimation process.
    • Satellite and aerial imagery are increasingly being used by the property insurance industry for catastrophe planning and response, including damage evaluation and estimation.

Property insurance carriers now seek to avoid the effort and responsibility of managing restoration contractor selection or oversight but require a complete end-to-end workflow management platform to achieve their goal.

See also: How to Pursue Innovation in a Crisis

The property insurance claims and repair industries continue to move through a multi-segment structural transformation caused by prevailing market conditions, including industry fragmentation, consolidation, investments, revenue and geographic scale, end-to-end technology and software integration, emerging technology adoption and claims process improvement. Companies and investors that recognize the numerous opportunities presented by this transformation and solve for these dynamics are likely to be the future industry leaders.

Emerging Technology in Personal Lines

Personal lines insurers are investigating emerging technologies and developing strategies and plans related to individual new technologies. Technology is advancing so rapidly that it is even difficult to define what should be considered an emerging technology. For the past several years, SMA has been tracking 13 technologies that many consider to be emerging. These include technologies such as autonomous vehicles, AI, wearables and the Internet of Things. In our recent research, five of these technologies have emerged as “power players” for personal lines insurers, based on the level of insurer activity and the potential for transformation. The specific plans by insurers for these and other technologies are detailed in the SMA report, Emerging Tech in Personal Lines: Broad Implications, Significant Activity.

See also: 2018’s Top Projects in Personal Lines  

Some big themes for emerging tech in personal lines stand out:

  • Artificial Intelligence dominates. AI is often a misunderstood and misused term. However, when specific technologies that are part of the AI family are evaluated, much activity is underway – by insurers, insurtech startups and mature tech vendors. Chatbots, robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and others are the subjects of many strategies, pilots and implementations.
  • The Autonomous Vehicle frenzy is cooling.There is still an acute awareness of the potential of autonomous vehicles to dramatically alter the private passenger auto insurance market. But there is also the realization that, despite the hype, the transition is likely to be a long one, and the big implications for insurers are probably 10 or more years out.
  • The IoT is going mainstream. Discussions continue about the transformational potential of the IoT for all lines of business. But rather than just talking about the possibilities, there is now a great deal of partnering, piloting and live implementation underway. We are still in the early stages of incorporating the IoT into strategies and insurance products and services, but their use is becoming more widespread every day.
  • UI Options are dramatically expanding. The many new ways to interact with prospects, policyholders, agents, claimants and others should now be considered in omni-channel plans. Messaging platforms, voice, chatbots and more are becoming preferred ways to communicate for certain customer segments.

See also: Insurtech and Personal Lines  

Certainly, other trends and much emerging tech activity are happening outside these main themes. Wearables, new payment technologies, drones, blockchain and other technologies are being incorporated into strategies, pilots and investment plans. The next few years promise to be quite exciting as advancing technologies spark more innovation in the industry.

Emerging Tech in Commercial Lines

Historically, technology adoption within commercial lines organizations has been met with a wall of push-back, largely related to commercial lines being wrapped in a cloak of “art versus science” thinking. Because of risk and product complexity, commercial lines organizations believed that only highly trained and seasoned humans could be involved with processes and decisions.

Additionally, due to the predominance of large, enterprise-scale projects, characterized by protracted ROI exercises and IT resource allocation exercises, past technology choices generally brought out the “yeah buts.” (What are the “yeah buts”? This is the response to enterprise technology options, to which commercial lines product and underwriting heads promptly responded – “yeah, but that doesn’t work for us.”) In many cases, this was not an inappropriate response because of risk and product complexity. But, at long last, there is a change afoot, and it lies within emerging technologies.

SMA has been conducting research and surveys around emerging technology since 2010 to gain insight and understanding of insurance industry adoption and spending. In the past, results have predominantly trended across the P&C industry. However, the recent 2018 results reveal clear differences between commercial lines and personal lines organizations.  Even more exciting, commercial lines product segment and transactional differences are emerging. As the phrase goes: Vive la difference!

See also: Expanding Into Commercial Lines  

So, what does all this mean? SMA’s recent report, Emerging Tech in Commercial Lines: Ramping Up Adoption, covers eight emerging technologies that hold great promise for commercial lines organizations: artificial intelligence (AI), new user interaction technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), drones, blockchain, autonomous vehicles, new payment technologies and wearables. How are commercial lines organizations viewing these technologies? Here are some examples that show emerging technologies are being viewed uniquely by varying commercial lines segments and processes:

  • AI – This technology garners the highest percentage of implementations of all the emerging technologies by almost twice the other categories, with 26% indicating so. Investment in AI exceeds the next closest emerging technology by more than 24 percentage points. The difference: It can drive straight-through processing for small business and simple specialty lines and support complex decisions for middle market, large national/global accounts and complex specialty lines. “Art versus science” well managed!
  • New User Interaction Technologies – This is another technology that is affecting small commercial lines as this product segment goes digital. But 67% of all responders see the value in customer experience, regardless of product segment, and 50% are focused on policy servicing.
  • Blockchain – While personal lines organizations are generally assessing the applicability of blockchain, commercial lines have found use cases and pilots. 42% of survey respondents believe that policy servicing and billing are the significant value areas. Global and complex lines of business are the first target areas.

See also: Top 5 Themes in Commercial Lines  

Other emerging technology examples and spending projections can be found in SMA’s commercial lines report. But the big takeaway for me is that, happily, the “yeah buts” are disappearing across commercial lines of business and products as executives search for and find emerging technologies that can improve business outcomes. Because of the way emerging technologies are being delivered by incumbent and insurtech providers, discreet value choices can be made without having to launch enterprise-level projects. Vive la difference!!!

And the Winner Is…Artificial Intelligence!

Artificial intelligence stands out as one of the hottest technologies in the insurance industry in 2018. We are seeing more insurers identifying use cases, partnering and investing in AI. 85% of insurers are investing time, money and effort into exploring the AI family of technologies. The focus is not so much on the technology itself as on the business challenges AI is addressing.

  • For companies looking to improve internal efficiency, AI can assist through machine learning.
  • For those working to create a dynamic and collaborative customer experience, AI can assist with natural language processing and chatbots.
  • For those seeking an edge in data and analytics, AI can help to gain insights from images with the help of machine learning.

Through our annual SMA Innovation in Action Awards program, we hear many success stories from insurers throughout the industry that are innovating for advantage. AI was a key technology among this year’s submissions. The near-ubiquity of AI was even more obvious among this year’s insurer and solution provider winners, many of whom are leveraging some type of AI to solve widely variant business problems. They have provided some excellent use cases of how insurers are applying AI and how it is helping them to succeed.

Two AI technologies, machine learning and natural language processing, fuel Hi Marley’s intelligent conversational platform, which West Bend Mutual Insurance piloted in claims with outstanding results. The Marley chatbot lets West Bend’s customers text back and forth to receive updates, ask and answer questions and submit photos. Its use of SMS messaging means that communication can be asynchronous and done on a customer’s own schedule, eliminating endless rounds of phone tag.

  • Natural language processing allows Marley to communicate with customers in plain English – both to understand their needs and to respond in a way that they will understand.
  • Machine learning enables Marley to continue to improve. The platform analyzes every conversation and uses it to shape how Marley responds to specific requests, refining its insurance-specific expertise for future interactions.

See also: Strategist’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence  

Natural language processing is also a critical tool for Cake Insure, a digital workers’ comp MGA with a focus on making the quoting experience easier for direct customers. One of the hurdles that would-be customers had to overcome in obtaining workers’ comp coverage was answering a multitude of questions regarding very specific information that a layperson is unlikely to know about or understand.

  • NAIC codes, for example, are required for every workers’ comp policy, but the average small business owner would be baffled if asked about them. Cake circumvents this by asking usera to type in descriptions of their companies in their own words. Natural language processing parses this plain-language description and searches for its approximate match in the NAIC data sets. This back-end process occurs without the user’s awareness and without exposing potentially confusing content.
  • As with Hi Marley’s chatbot functionality, natural language processing is paired with machine learning to improve its ability to respond to specific phrases and content.

Machine learning can also be deployed in conjunction with other AI technologies. Image analysis and computer vision are combined with machine learning in Cape Analytics’ solution, which can automatically identify properties seen in geospatial imagery and extract property attributes relevant to insurers. The result is a continually updated database of property attributes like roof condition and geometry, building footprint and nearby hazards.

  • Computer vision helps turn the unstructured data in photos and videos from drones, satellite and aerial imagery into structured data.
  • Machine learning allows the solution to train itself on how to do that more effectively, as well as higher-level analysis like developing a risk condition score for roofs.

We are only scratching the surface of how AI can be applied across the value chain. The incredible variety of AI’s potential applications in insurance is difficult to overstate. QBE knows that well: It won a company-wide SMA Innovation in Action Award for wide-ranging activities in emerging technologies and partnerships with insurtech startups, but AI in general, and machine learning specifically, are their top priorities. In addition to partnering with dozens of insurtechs, QBE has also pushed itself to deploy each insurtech’s technology somewhere within its business – meaning QBE has dozens of different creative AI applications in play at once. For example, in partnership with HyperScience, QBE is improving data capture from paper documents through machine learning and computer vision.

These winners’ stories demonstrate the myriad ways that insurers are applying AI to improve business operations. Notably, its deployment helps them to significantly improve the customer experience – or, in the case of data capture, the internal employee experience. The need for this kind of seamless customer experience in the digital world cannot be overemphasized. AI, which struck many as a science-fictional concept, has proven its real-world worth by enabling insurers to transform their customer journeys and experience.

With full-scale implementations popping up across the insurance industry, as well as the pilots and limited rollouts that we have seen in previous years, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that we are seeing only the very tip of the iceberg in terms of how AI can transform the business of insurance. Applications of more advanced and advancing AI technologies, as well as the combination of AI with emerging technologies such as drones, new user interaction technologies, autonomous vehicles and IoT, are unexplored territory that is bright with promise.

See also: 3 Steps to Demystify Artificial Intelligence  

This much is clear: AI will change the face of the insurance industry. In fact, it’s already happening.

For more information on the SMA Innovation in Action Awards program and this year’s winners, please click here.

To download a free copy of SMA’s white paper AI in P&C Insurance: Pragmatic Approaches for Today, Promise for Tomorrow, please click here.

Future of P&C Tech Comes Into Focus

In a 2017 report titled “Drones: Reporting for Work,” Goldman Sachs estimated the addressable market opportunity for drones globally between 2016 and 2020 to be $100 billion, of which the insurance claims drone market was estimated to be $1.4 billion.

And the report did not address the wider opportunities in personal and commercial property insurance: underwriting, pricing, risk prevention, traditional and virtual claims management, fraud detection and product marketing. The report also didn’t cover the use of images from satellites and fixed-wing aircraft, including streaming video.

Whatever the actual size of the total insurance market opportunity, the impact of aerial and drone images in insurance will be enormous.

Industry observers are just beginning to recognize the transformation in property insurance underwriting and claims that is emerging through advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning tied to neural networks and integrated with data from aerial and drone images.

Property claims investigation costs the industry an average of about 11% of premiums – automated inspection can reduce that expense substantially. And automated property inspection cycle times can average two to three days, compared with 10 to 15 days using traditional methods – lowering costs and increasing customer satisfaction.

Providers will transform the property insurance industry through the convergence of these sources of better images, expanding numbers and types of connected home technologies, customer self-service and aggregated property risk data (historic and real-time).

Follow the money

Venture and private equity investment activity in emerging technologies is a good indicator of potential growth opportunities – these professionals typically engage subject matter experts and conduct deep market research and diligence in a highly disciplined and proven evaluation process prior to investing. Since 2012, almost $2 billion has been invested in more than 370 drone company deals, and the current run rate is more than $500 million in announced deals annually, according to CB Insights research, which states that ”19 of the 24 smart money venture investors have backed at least one drone company since 2012.”

See also: How Technology Drives a ‘New Normal’  

Within just the past two months, four such insurance-related transactions were announced;

  • Nationwide Ventures made an investment in Betterview, a machine learning insurtech startup focused on analyzing data from drones, satellite and other aerial imagery for commercial and residential property insurers and reinsurers. This follows a September 2017 seed round funding of $2 million.
  • DroneDeploy, the world’s largest commercial drone platform, raised $25 million of Series C venture capital, bringing total funding to $56 million.
  • Cape Analytics raised $17 million to grow its AI and aerial imagery platform for insurance companies, led by XL Innovate.
  • Clearlake Capital Group acquired a significant interest in EagleView Technologies alongside Vista Equity Partners, which had purchased EagleView in 2015. (Vista also owns the majority of Solera, parent of property and auto insurance claims services and information providers Enservio and Audatex.)

In 2017, Genpact, a global professional services and insurance claims solutions provider, acquired OnSource, which provides 24/7/365 full service on-demand drone property inspection claims and settlement services across the U.S. Earlier that year, Genpact acquired BrightClaim and National Vendor, providers of integrated claims solutions to the U.S. property insurance market

In 2016, Airware, a global enterprise drone analytics company, closed a Series C round of $30 million to bring its total funding to $110 million. Early in 2016, Verisk Analytics formed the Geomni business unit to specialize in image sourcing and analysis and has since acquired a number of U.S.-based aerial survey companies and their aircraft fleets. Verisk also owns Xactware, the dominant industry provider of property insurance claims solutions and third party products. The Geomni fleet is expected to include more than 125 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters by the end of 2018, operating from 15 hubs located throughout the U.S. Verisk expects to invest approximately $100 million in Geomni through 2018.

Competition and differentiation

The space has attracted a large number of participants in the past two years, and there are no signs of slowing. Competitors are taking innovative paths to differentiation, including: drone manufacturing, drone operating software for use by field staff and contractors, ground-based roof and wall measurement technologies and full-service, virtual property inspection and property damage reports using drones.

Insurance industry adoption and barriers

The insurance industry’s use of images from satellite and fixed-wing aircraft is fairly well-established, particularly in catastrophe response planning and claims. The North American property/casualty insurance industry has been cautious and conservative in its testing and adoption of drone use for property claims and in using aerial images for underwriting.

Until recently, FAA rules had made it onerous for carriers and industry vendors to obtain licenses and permission to use drones for property inspections. However, after extensive industry lobbying efforts, assisted by more pro-business policies, that obstacle has eased significantly, and several carriers have trained staff and hired contractors to use drones for property claims inspections. Obstacles remain, including restrictions on use near airfield perimeters and outside of operators’ line of sight.

Carriers are split into two roughly equal camps (by market share) on more recently introduced third party services that provide virtual property inspections: those that do not believe that drone image and damage identification technology is sufficiently accurate as yet to manage claims leakage as effectively as their own staff field adjusters – and those that do. Both groups acknowledge that drones are not appropriate for all property claims. Furthermore, customer satisfaction and therefore retention is thought to be higher when insurance company staff visit the property and the homeowner in person.

The future of property insurance

For claims, virtual methods of inspection will include not only drones but claims reporting that involves customers. Claim self-service, including smartphone images and video, which has seen impressive adoption and results in auto claims, is beginning to penetrate property insurance claims, particularly for reporting home interior and exterior wall damage. New, accurate 3D smartphone image measurement technology combined with higher image resolution and the expected expanded availability of much faster 5G wireless broadband will drive adoption.

See also: Secret to Finding Top Technology Talent  

Other methods of property inspection, particularly following extreme wind or hail events and catastrophes, will most certainly incorporate the use of drones, whether operated by insurance staff, managed repair network contractors or third-party inspection services. Also, autonomous drones performing roof inspections not requiring an operator on site may be expected soon.

Finally, on the property underwriting side, we expect high-resolution geospatial image data from multiple sources, artificial intelligence and machine learning to transform that process. Real-time feeds of comprehensive property attributes such as measurements and condition of roofs and other property on the target site will enable instant and more accurate pricing, quoting and binding/renewal of property insurance.

Aerial imagery, mobile technologies, artificial intelligence and computer vision will continue to transform property insurance products and processes, leading to better pricing accuracy, more profitable operations and, above all, better customer experience for policyholders.