Insurance in the Tech Age: Maximizing Benefits of Future-Focused Innovations through Self-Awareness

Jose Ramon Gonzalez, Chief Legal Officer, QBE North America
Jose Ramon Gonzalez, Chief Legal Officer, QBE North America

Jose Ramon Gonzalez, Chief Legal Officer, QBE North America

The tech revolution’s impact on society cannot be understated. You can bank at a bus stop or shop from a subway platform with just a few clicks on your smart phone. “Disrupting” outdated business models and methods has become the tech revolution’s battle cry. It seems logical, then, to think that the pace at which tech modifies society also would apply equally to the insurance industry.

Not so fast. Insurance is a highly regulated industry governed by rules and regulations developed over decades. However, change is in the air: the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) in February 2018 released its strategic plan for the coming years, titled State Ahead, to “provide the roadmap for the NAIC and state insurance regulators in our rapidly changing environment to put the states in a leadership role on key issues, position the organization ahead of the curve in developing areas, and to provide the organization and its members with the tools, talent and technology needed to effectively regulate this dynamic landscape. From analytics to technology, State Ahead aims to cement the tech revolution into the fabric of insurance regulation.

  Tech isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; rather, tech should be tailored to work within an insurer’s business model​  

Achieving State Ahead’s goals is still almost two years away. Nevertheless, insurers are actively seeking to infuse tech into their businesses. Drones have begun to play a large role in evaluating underwriting risks and processing claims, particularly claims made during the catastrophic 2017 hurricane season, during which some of the affected areas became difficult – if not impossible – to access due to storm-related damage. And arguably the biggest trends of late are leveraging technology to enhance customers’ experience, such as using bots and apps to ensure that customers are directed to appropriate points of contact when seeking to purchase coverage or report claims, as well as data and analytics that help arm underwriters to make even smarter decisions. QBE North America, for example, is leveraging innovations in data and analytics to work in tandem with our underwriters to make better decisions and achieve better, faster, and more consistent results.

Whatever benefits insurers may be able to realize from tech generally, insurers should not rush to apply tech for tech’s sake only.

For one, insurers need to be mindful of the risks posed by their adoption of technology. One concern is the fear that tech may be susceptible to being compromised. Another concern is the protection of proprietary intellectual property. Insurance “disruptor” Lemonade, for example, filed a lawsuit last year alleging that the defendants attempted to copy Lemonade’s intellectual property in order to “break into the ‘insuretech’ area quickly and with minimal effort.” Lemonade alleged that defendants gave false information in order to purchase policies under which the defendants allegedly made false claims in order to start “claims flows” for the “purpose of copying and extracting content and the arrangement of these flows.”

Tech also needs to be employed smartly. Specifically, tech should be employed against the backdrop of two overarching guideposts.

The first is that tech should be seen as a tool to solve actual problems like those discussed above relating to customer experience and claims adjustment. Otherwise, an insurer might end up being the industry’s Juicero. Insurers also should consider how tech can work to support their experts, such as underwriters, or free up employees to tackle more complex problems and create new and innovative solutions.

The second guidepost is that insurers need to make sure tech works for their business models. Lemonade can use tech to adjust and pay claims quickly because it insures against only a limited category of risks – renters’, condo, co-op, and homeowners’ risks. But the way that Lemonade uses tech in its business may not work as well for insurers which offer products covering more complex risks, such as those involving insurance for representations and warranties made in connection with large commercial transactions. In other words, tech isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; rather, tech should be tailored to work within an insurer’s business model.

Overall, tech can be a great tool for insurers to use. But doing so smartly after a careful evaluation of where and how it can best be used to promote an insurer’s business plan or model is far more important than doing so quickly.

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