Tag Archives: policy administration

How to Use AI in Customer Service

How to manage the increase in incoming unstructured information is a key challenge in the insurance industry—we explore how Accenture’s Machine Learning Text Analyzer can achieve this using historical data.

How do you approach customer service and policy administration within your organization? In this blog post, I’ll demonstrate how artificial intelligence (AI) and a raised AIQ can help you get the most out of your data. (For the other articles in this series, click here.) To do this, I’ll discuss how insurers can use machine learning to analyze texts.

How can insurers use AI in customer service and policy administration?

The customer service and policy administration workforce can make their lives easier by using AI to:

  • Understand and act on external emails and requests.
  • Automate call center and webchat services—helping companies get on with more intricate work.
  • Enable self-service queries on policy issuance, endorsements, cancellations and renewals—using virtual assistants, for example.
  • Process unstructured data, which means fewer mistakes and better customer service.

How does AI improve customer services and policy administration?

AI enables more efficient administration processes. Insurance executives plan to invest in seven AI-related technologies in the next three years. They are: 

  • Machine learning; 
  • Deep learning; 
  • Natural language processing; 
  • Video analytics; 
  • Embedded AI solutions; 
  • Robotic process automation; 
  • Computer vision. 

See also: Policy Administration: Ripe for Modernizing  

In addition to increasing the efficiency of administration processes and enhancing analytical insights, AI technologies also benefit customer services through:

As I will show in the use case below, the customer service and policy administration workforce can use machine learning to process information faster and with greater accuracy.

Use case: Machine Learning Text Analyzer (MALTA)

Insurers today must figure out how to manage the exponential increase in incoming unstructured data. Eighty percent of data generated is unstructured, and the volume continues to grow exponentially. Forty percent of business executives complain that they have too much unstructured text data and don’t know how to interpret it.

Insurers face three main challenges:

1. Too much unstructured information

  • A large amount of information comes in through a variety of channels;
  • Incoming data is structured as well as unstructured;
  • Much of the workforce is occupied with processing unstructured information;
  • A large amount of unstructured information exists within the organization.

2. Too many communication channels

Customers use a large variety of channels to communicate with their insurance company, such as e-mail, contact forms, the service desk (e.g. ticketing), letters and applications.

3. The information is not linked to business processes

  • Workers lose a lot of time when they have to identify received information and allocate requests to the right channels;
  • They also lose time owing to inefficient processes caused by breaks in the system;
  • This prolongs the response time to clients;
  • Humans are prone to errors, which creep in at all points.

Solution: Machine Learning Text Analyzer (MALTA)

Now, insurers can automate the analysis and classification of incoming text by applying machine learning and using historical data.

How does MALTA work in customer service and policy administration?

MALTA can analyze any incoming documents, for example when customers send their policy documents via email.

These documents can be analyzed and classified using natural language processing methods and machine learning algorithms. MALTA is also trained with historical data, which enables it to classify, understand and extract information.

In the next step, MALTA links your customer’s policy document to business processes, prompting different functions to take action. Depending on the business and architecture set-up, MALTA or the output of the API triggers a process chain, a robot or an agent so that the necessary processing steps can be executed.

See also: In Age of Disruption, What Is Insurance?  

Benefits of MALTA

MALTA is flexible, customizable, independent, multilingual, state-of-the-art and end-to-end; using Accenture’s machine learning text analyzer, insurers can:

  • Increase classification accuracy and efficiency, and reduce errors.
  • Create individual learning models based on training data.
  • Deploy the solution on-premise, not only in the cloud.
  • Automate repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus on more complex work.
  • Categorize new requests immediately and send them to the relevant departments.
  • Use state-of-the-art models and tools.
  • Work on a platform-independent web service.
  • Carry out classification outside regular business hours.
  • Cleanse data and extract and evaluate features.
  • Link robotics and process automation tools to classification.
  • Set up and train employees with minimal effort.

In addition to customer services and policy administration, insurers can use MALTA across other parts of the enterprise, for example:

Are you ready to power up your business with AI? Download the report on How to boost your AIQ for more insight.

The End of Policy Admin Systems?

Will policy administration systems cease to exist as we know them? Insurance core systems have evolved from monolithic policy, billing and claims suites that were primarily for accounting functions to fully functional service offerings. Configuration capabilities were added next, reducing the size of the code base.

Solution providers are now aggressively working to offer headless (no user interface) core offerings with microservices and integration layers to address the legacy nature of the core systems. As a service-oriented architecture, microservices consist of independent, modular services that each run a unique process and communicate via a lightweight protocol. Microservices-based architectures allow for continuous delivery and deployment, and these offerings meet carriers’ needs for competitive differentiation of customer experiences, faster deployment of changes, integration with new analytics capabilities and deeper digitalization of processes.

What’s next? We see leading solution providers modernizing their systems by segmenting and extracting functionality from the remaining core components to create standalone services that can be hosted in the cloud and accessed directly from any platform. They will continue to dismantle these components and build microservices to enable more continuous change and flexibility. These services will leverage cloud capabilities and expand on demand to meet spikes in workload, then shrink to more appropriate deployment levels.

See also: Policy Administration: Ripe for Modernizing  

Orchestration of microservices for online interactions will eventually be controlled by the UI layer. Batch jobs have been modernized to background functions to increase availability. Will policy administration systems shrink into just the orchestration layer for bulk processes? Will they disappear entirely like a house built out of Lego blocks that has been dismantled? Will current solution providers adapt quickly enough, or will insurtech disrupt this market with core services built on more adapted architectural frameworks?

One thing is for sure: Carriers will need more sophisticated tools to monitor performance and manage microservices. By implementing the modern core systems of today, carriers can not only avoid needing to transform their existing systems, but can also focus on differentiation while outsourcing evolution to their solution providers. The key is to remember that the point of buying a system isn’t just for benefits today, it’s also for the value that comes tomorrow.

Commercial Insurers Face Tough Times

Beyond the secular forces we described in our “Future of Insurance” series, more immediate and cyclical issues will be shaping the insurance executive agenda in 2016. Commercial insurers (including reinsurers) face tough times ahead, with underwriting margins that are being pressured by softening prices and a potentially volatile interest rate environment.

Recently, reserve releases, generally declining frequency and severity trends, as well as lower-than-average catastrophe losses have allowed commercial insurers to report generally strong underwriting results. However, redundant reserves are being (or have been) depleted, and the odds of a continued benign catastrophe environment are low. For example, one insurance executive recently observed, “The odds of this long of a lucky streak occurring is less than 1%.”

The commercial insurance market has, in recent years, had generally strong underwriting results, but this could change—potentially, very soon.

With varying degrees of focus, commercial P&C insurers have been mitigating the risk environment by taking a variety of strategic actions. In 2016 and beyond, they will need to accelerate their strategic efforts in four key areas: 1) core systems and data quality, 2) new products, pricing discipline and terms and conditions, 3) corporate development and 4) talent management.

Core systems and data quality

93% of insurance CEOs—a higher percentage than anywhere else in financial services—see data mining and analysis as more strategically important for their business than any other digital technology. Nevertheless, many commercial insurers operate with networks of legacy systems that complicate the timely extraction and analysis of data. This is no longer deemed acceptable, and leading insurers continue to transform their system environments as a result. Significantly, these transformations do not focus solely on specific systems for policy administration, claims, finance, etc.

To ensure timely quality data across the entire commercial P&C value chain, commercial insurers also focus on how the various systems are integrated with one another.

To put this into context, when a dollar of premium is collected, it not only “floats” across time until it is paid out in claims, it also “floats” across a variety of functions and their related systems: Billing systems process premium dollars; ceded reinsurance systems process treaty and facultative transactions; policy administration systems (PAS) process endorsement changes; claims systems process indemnity and expense payments.

Actuarial systems in disconnected data environments prevent the timely and efficient extraction and analysis of internal data and also complicate the focused and efficient use of external data, especially unstructured data. “Big data” is becoming increasingly popular considering the insights that insurers and reinsurers can derive from it. However, such insights only become actionable to the extent that companies can assess the external environment in the context of the internal environment—in other words, to the extent that big data can enhance (or otherwise inform) the internal data’s findings.

If all functional and systemic codes are not rationalized on an enterprise-wide basis, it is very difficult to efficiently accumulate and analyze data.

New products, pricing discipline and terms and conditions

Commercial insurers and reinsurers are not generally known as product innovators, but they can be. For example, as the profile of cyber-related risks increases, the need for cyber-related commercial insurance grows, thereby offering numerous opportunities for product innovation.

Because cyber is a relatively new exposure, frequency and severity data are nascent, therefore both pricing and risk accumulation models are in various stages of development. As a result, prescient insurers are carefully tracking and comparing their cyber pricing practices and coverage grants with those of key competitors. To be effective, such practices should be consistent with existing price, terms and conditions and monitoring processes. For example, tracking actual-to-expected premiums and rates is a common practice, which leading insurers perform regularly (i.e., at least quarterly, with monthly tracking common).

Insights from this kind of analysis apply to both new and existing products. The underwriting cycle is inherently a pricing phenomenon, and insurers and reinsurers that have greater and more timely product and pricing insights have a competitive advantage relative to those that do not. To explain, in addition to lower rates, the “soft” parts of the underwriting cycle tend to be characterized by the loosening of policy terms and conditions, which can erode profitability as quickly as inadequate prices. Therefore, the most competitive insurers and reinsurers carefully and continuously track the adequacy of policy terms and conditions. Recurring actuarial analyses and standardized reporting can monitor changes in pricing as well as in terms and conditions. However, identifying emerging underwriting risks is inherently qualitative. Therefore, this analysis can be time-consuming, especially for insurers with suboptimal PAS environments. However, almost all companies find the analysis well worth the effort.

Corporate Development

The combination of historically low interest rates, favorable frequency and severity trends and the relative lack of severe catastrophes has resulted in record policyholder surplus across P&C commercial insurance. Executives have a number of options on how to deploy surplus, one of which is corporate development.

Commonly, “corporate development” means mergers and acquisitions, but it can also encompass book purchases/rolls, renewal rights and runoff purchases. Determining the best option depends on many factors, including purchase price, competitive implications and an assessment of how the acquired assets and any related capabilities can complement or enhance existing underwriting capabilities.

Accordingly, some insurers are beginning to augment traditional due diligence processes (such as financial diligence, tax diligence and IT diligence) with underwriting-specific diligence to help ensure value realization over time.

If a corporate development opportunity offers underwriting capabilities that at least align to—and preferably enhance—existing capabilities, it can help facilitate a smooth integration, thereby mitigating underwriting risk (a key cycle management consideration).

Talent Management

For the most part, commercial underwriting decisions cannot be fully automated because they require judgment. Therefore, it is natural for underwriting talent to be a top priority. However, insurance executives have lamented that it is a major challenge for the industry to attract and retain knowledgeable personnel.

Two trends make commercial insurance talent management particularly challenging. First, experienced underwriters are leaving the industry. According to one study, “The number of employees aged 55 and over is 30% higher than any other industry—and that, coupled with retirements, means the industry needs to fill 400,000 positions by 2020.” Second, underwriting talent is relatively difficult to attract. For example, according to the Wall Street Journal, insurance ranks near the top of the list of least-desirable industries—according to recent graduates. The image of the insurance industry is that it is generally behind the times and offers little in terms of career development. Therefore, developing a performance-driven culture that enables the recruitment, development and retention of underwriting talent is more crucial than ever.

To help accomplish this, insurers should employ and should continuously assess tools and resources that educate and empower underwriters through all phases of their careers. This is important because the expectations in commercial underwriting are high, and the nature of the job requires a diverse range of skills (e.g., analytical, relational, sales, financial and risk). Furthermore, the best commercial underwriters are entrepreneurial, which employers should highlight as they recruit and manage their underwriting staffs.

Commercial insurers face a looming talent crunch and have to find ways to present themselves as—and actually be—a place where young people can have rewarding careers.

Implications

  • The relatively strong underwriting results of recent years are likely to soften in the coming year. Accordingly, commercial underwriters will need to accelerate their strategic efforts in:
  1. Core systems and data quality,
  2. New products, pricing discipline and terms and conditions,
  3. Corporate development
  4. Talent management
  • Core systems transformations go beyond individual system competencies. To ensure timely, quality data across the entire commercial P&C value chain, insurers also are focusing on how the various systems are integrated with each another to facilitate the timely and efficient extraction and analysis of internal data and the focused and efficient use of external data (especially unstructured data).
  • There are opportunities to create new products, but, to be profitable, insurers must exercise pricing discipline and must carefully and continuously track the adequacy of policy terms and conditions.
  • Current surplus levels have enabled insurers to invest in corporate development, and some insurers have augmented traditional due diligence processes (such as financial diligence, tax diligence and IT diligence) with underwriting-specific diligence to help promote value realization over time.
  • Commercial insurers have an aging workforce and are facing an impending talent crunch. Automation cannot replace the judgment that is required for effective underwriting. Therefore, it is vital for insurers to develop a performance-driven culture that enables the recruitment, development and retention of underwriting talent over time.

E-Signatures: an Easy Tech Win

While industry analysts and thought leaders speculate on the adoption and impact of telematics, driverless cars and the Internet of Things on insurance, it is worth revisiting how we are doing with more mainstream technologies. Electronic signatures and e-apps have been around for years, yet paper-based applications remain the norm. A survey of 113 insurance professionals conducted late in 2014 by e-SignLive and PC360 revealed only 33% of respondents are using e-signatures.

Because insurance is a regulated industry, “paper” work is inevitably at the heart of all we do. For that reason, any effort to digitize the business of insurance needs to start by eliminating paper and manual signatures. From there, digital records and the data they contain can flow seamlessly through distribution, policy administration, ratings, billing, claims and other core systems. Digital insurance is not a theoretical, utopian concept. It is not only possible – it is being done with great success.

E-signatures are a relatively quick and easy technology to add to your existing core systems and workflows. Yes, it is possible to get started overnight, but don’t let the minimal investment of time and money fool you – the impact of going digital is significant for everyone involved.

BENEFITS FOR CARRIERS

Full Visibility

Digital transactions have unique advantages over paper. When your business mails out a paper package for a customer to sign, you have no control once the documents leave your hands. Similarly, if your business takes place through the agent channel, you have little control over the process. Were the proper procedures followed at every stage of the process?

The blind spot that exists with paper is eliminated online. Insurance companies gain real-time visibility into what is taking place at the time of signing. Overnight, you can monitor the status of in-progress transactions, track drop-offs and transactions about to expire and analyze trends in customer behavior.

NIGO Rates Bottom Out

In the digital world, customers go online, get quotes, choose coverage and complete an application through the channels and devices of their choice. They enter application data electronically, and workflow rules are enforced to ensure an error-free application.

Overnight, this eliminates the average 60% Not-in-Good-Order (NIGO) rate that occurs with paper-based new business applications. It saves the industry hundreds of millions of dollars, in hours that no longer have to be spent fixing documents. This is significant, considering that an error-free digital process costs a third to a fourth of what a process with errors costs.

Easily Demonstrated Compliance

Once your new business applications become completely digital, compliance teams will be one of the biggest winners. By automating, they gain the ability to:

  • Capture digital audit trails, including an active audit trail that allows you to replay any transaction exactly as the customer experienced it;
  • Minimize exposure to risk because of misplaced or lost documentation;
  • Make the process of demonstrating compliance less resource- and time-intensive.

Online transactions with strong audit trails provide a record of every action taken by customers. You know when they signed, how they signed, how much time they spent reading each page, what IP address they transacted from. Plus, audit trail data can be extracted for analytics purposes and even greater insight into your business.

Once your company has gone digital, you no longer spend weeks preparing for audits and market conduct exams, identifying paper files or getting them out of storage. How would your VP of compliance react if you told her that you could quickly pull any signed record from a database of millions of documents, guarantee it is in good order and replay the entire transaction to prove that your company followed all regulatory rules?

Virtually All Legal Disputes Defused

When carriers think about going digital, many have concerns over legal risk. Fortunately, the legal framework has been in place since 2000. Case law has shown that if the process is clear to the signer, and signer intent is properly established, the courts will accept e-signatures and e-records as evidence.

A top auto insurer can attest to the fact that e-signatures decrease the risk of legal disputes compared with paper signing. This carrier has been capturing customers’ signatures electronically for the last 10 years and has only seen one case involving e-signed records go to court – despite more than one million customer inquiries.

Costs Cut

Keeping transactions digital helps your bottom line. Gartner Research reported on a large carrier’s digital process, noting, “E-signatures saved $10 per transaction, with the potential of annual recurring savings of millions of dollars. This includes costs for mailing, postage, paper handling and processing.” There were 275 million life insurance policies in force in the U.S. in 2013. Multiply that by $10, and the potential industry-wide savings climb into the billions.

Immediacy

Across all channels, closing the deal when the customer is ready and engaged is critical. By offering e-signature capability on its website, one global insurer is able to convert visitors immediately and avoid dropoff rates that occur when the process falls to paper.

This is as advantageous for new business and renewals as it is for claims. Clearly, the immediacy of submitting a signed claim from a smartphone on the spot is a differentiator. For the customer, that means faster resolution in moments of stress – ultimately improving satisfaction and increasing retention.

BENEFITS FOR CUSTOMERS

Customers want convenience and speed and a company that is easy to do business with. McKinsey recently confirmed that, “more than 80% of insurance customers began their shopping process using direct channels. Online is increasingly the initial channel of choice even among customers who value the agent relationship.”

Clearly, expediting the process of buying insurance is important across all channels. Someone who starts insurance shopping on Google Compare may very well still appreciate having an informed agent talk him through the policy options, but not if that means dropping back to an antiquated, paper-ridden, offline process.

Keeping the transaction digital just makes it so much easier to purchase, renew or modify a policy. Carriers repeatedly find that e-signatures help lower NIGO rates, increase customer loyalty and boost referrals. In fact, one insurer experienced a 14% higher retention rate with customers who e-signed their new business policy.

BENEFITS FOR AGENTS

Both captive and independent agents spend too much time on administrative work. Insurance Journal reported that, “Only about one-third of producers spend more than half their time selling […] Instead, they are spending more time than they think they should on administration and client service.”

Even when using a modern agency management system or e-app, productivity is lost when you have to print to paper for signatures. Those applications must then be photocopied, shipped, faxed, chased down, corrected, scanned and archived. All of this creates a huge time and productivity drain. The good news is, e-signatures save as much as 90% of the time and cost of administrative labor.

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GOING DIGITAL MAKES SENSE FOR INSURANCE

Clearly, the insurance industry is moving down the path to digital. However, the pace of change is accelerating, and carriers and producers that don’t offer a fully digital process online and on mobile devices will be left behind. Analyst firm Novarica sums it up best: “The time for insurance carriers to take concerted action with an e-signature strategy is, in Novarica’s view, now. The technology, legal framework and customer expectations have all reached a point where carriers need to proceed in order to compete.”

Ceded Reinsurance Needs SaaS Model

Ceded reinsurance management is still a technology backwater at insurers that manage their reinsurance policies and claims with spreadsheet software. These manual methods are error-prone, slow and labor-intensive. Regulatory compliance is difficult, and legitimate claims can slip through.

Insurers recognize they need a better solution, and there’s progress. While quite a few insurers have implemented a ceded reinsurance system in the last few years, many more are planning to install their first system sometime soon. They want to have software that lets them manage complex facultative reinsurance and treaties and the corresponding policies and claims efficiently in one place.

Insurers looking to upgrade any kind of system have better choices today than ever about how and where to implement it. While licensing the software and running it on-premises is still an option, virtually every insurer is considering putting new systems on the cloud in some way. Nearly every insurer expects vendors to include a SaaS or hosted option in their RFPs.

That’s not surprising. A 2014 Ovum whitepaper said 52% of insurers it surveyed are currently earmarking 20% to 39% of new IT spending on SAAS, while 21% are spending 40% to 59%.

The definition of SaaS is not set in stone, but let’s try for a basic understanding. SaaS normally means that the insurer pays the vendor a monthly fee that covers everything—the use of the software, maintenance, upgrades and support. The software is hosted more often at a secure cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services that offers a sound service level agreement.

A ceded reinsurance system is an especially good candidate for a SaaS or a hybrid solution (more on that later). It’s an opportunity for insurers and IT professionals to get comfortable with SaaS on a smaller scale before putting a core system such as a policy administration system in the cloud.

SaaS is attractive for several key reasons. One is that it can save money. Instead of paying a large upfront fee for a perpetual software license, the insurer just pays a monthly, all-inclusive “rental” fee. The software vendor and the cloud-hosting vendor provide both the application and underlying software (such as Oracle or WebSphere) and servers. All the insurer needs is a solid Internet connection. And if your building is hit with a flood or earthquake and has to close, business won’t stop, because users can access the system from almost anywhere.

Having the experts run, maintain and upgrade the software is another big advantage. Instead of having internal IT people apply patches and updates, the vendor—which knows its own software better than anyone else—keeps the application going 24/7. Because it is doing the same thing for many customers, there are economies of scale.

Lower upfront costs and the ability to outsource maintenance to experts mean that even small and medium-sized insurers can afford a state-of-the-art system that might be out of reach otherwise. But even big insurers that have the money and funds to buy and staff a system can still find SaaS to be a compelling option. Whether the insurer is big, small or mid-sized, SaaS offers a platform that may never become obsolete.

Additionally, going the SaaS route can get your system up and running faster, as you won’t need to buy hardware and install the system on your servers. How long it will take depends on the amount of customization required and on the data requirements.

Scalability is another plus. When the business grows, the customer can just adjust the monthly fee instead of having to buy more hardware.

A 2014 Gartner survey of organizations in 10 countries said most are deploying SaaS for mission-critical functions. The traditional on-premises software model is expected to shrink from 34% today to 18% by 2017, Gartner said.

While these are powerful advantages, there are some real or at least perceived disadvantages with SaaS. Probably the biggest barrier is willingness to have a third party store data. A ceded system uses nearly all data from the insurance company, sometimes over many underwriting years, and executives must be comfortable that their company’s data is 100% safe when it’s stored elsewhere. That can be a big leap of faith that some companies aren’t ready to make.

A hybrid solution can be a good way around that. More common in Europe, hybrid solutions are starting to catch on in North America. With this model, the software and data reside at the insurer or reinsurer, which also owns the license. The difference is that the vendor connects to the insurer’s environment to monitor, optimize and maintain the system. As with SaaS, the insurer’s IT department has little involvement with continuing operations. All that is work is outsourced.

How much access does the vendor have to the insurer’s data and systems under a hybrid solution? There are various options, depending on the insurer’s comfort level.

What’s the right solution for a ceded reinsurance system to your company? Each company is unique, and the best answer depends on many factors. But whether you go the on-premises route, choose SaaS or use a hybrid solution, you’ll get a modern system that handles reinsurance efficiently and effectively. Your company is going to benefit greatly.