’We are constantly challenging ourselves to enhance our processes, ensuring a focus on delivering value-added services,’ says chief underwriting officer
In the insurance industry, ongoing efforts to enhance underwriting processes have faced challenges due to antiquated technology and manual procedures.
These lengthy processes have led customers to anticipate slow turnarounds, limited communication and a lack of transparency, while underwriters are engaged in non-value-add tasks.
Nonetheless, Zurich UK’s chief underwriting officer Caroline Dunn notes that there was a notable shift that occurred in 2023, as the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has “transformed the underwriting space”.
As the insurance industry settles into 2024, Dunn believes that “the pace of AI development in the future is expected to continue, if not accelerate further”.
Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, she explains that AI has automated data collection systems to improve the efficiency of those working in underwriting and, in turn, improved the focus on customers.
Dunn notes that the ability to automate routine underwriting tasks with AI means underwriters are able to focus more of their time on high-priority tasks such as leveraging their industry expertise to customise policies for unique scenarios and build strong customer relationships.
For instance, she uses the example of new applications of AI in commercial underwriting and explains that it can “give great assistance” in extracting information from PDFs, printed documents, emails and “even handwritten documents”, which, in turn, reduces the amount of work underwriters need to complete manually.
She adds that ”AI can streamline workflows for underwriters” and that automation has proven ”successful for Zurich”, allowing underwriters to use their time to ”make decisions that focus on what Zurich can do for its customers”.
Instead of focusing on ”non-value-added areas and initial steps”, such as repetitive tasks of inputting data into systems, “the data is already populated”, says Dunn.
AI and Zurich
Since 2019, AI has played a pivotal role in Zurich’s underwriting journey.
In March that year, Zurich launched a new eTrading platform for brokers who place SME business with them, as part of a digital revamp in collaboration with Acturis.
The impetus behind this platform stemmed from a strategic goal to expand the insurer’s SME book of business, with development insights contributed by brokers familiar with the needs of the SME market.
The partnership between Acturis and Zurich achieved recognition, being unveiled as the Gold winner of Business Partner of the Year at the Insurance Times awards on 9 December 2020.
Zurich, in collaboration with Acturis, introduced products in the mid-market space. According to Dunn, this move was driven by a recognised “real opportunity” where the underwriter journey is more efficient.
She notes that this has led to increased responsiveness towards brokers and customers.
Dunn highlights that underwriters have been empowered to make decisions based on “better indicators of risks,” ultimately enhancing the quality of the insurer’s portfolio.
For instance, Zurich has utilised AI to gain a deeper understanding of risks in its SME book, assessing factors such as fire propensity based on various indicators like proximity to a fire hydrant, response time from the fire brigade and other relevant data points. This analytical approach helps evaluate the likelihood of a fire and its potential impact.
The incorporation of AI and data processing enables insurers to access real-time safety data, providing policyholders with the opportunity to proactively monitor and learn from this information.
The outcome of this AI-powered approach is mutually beneficial for both underwriters and customers, aligning interests and allowing Zurich to deliver “better solutions and maintain competitiveness,” notes Dunn.
“We are constantly challenging ourselves to enhance our processes, ensuring a focus on delivering value-added services,” she adds.
Outside the domain of AI, Dunn reflects on another notable theme for 2024 – sustainability.
Dunn highlights that, across 2023 for Zurich, sustainability took center stage in conversations. This involved both the company’s shift towards achieving net zero emissions and its efforts to comprehend and bolster customers’ paths toward sustainability.
”Sustainability has been a [predominant] theme and I consistently find myself returning to it,” says Dunn.
“Throughout , our focus extended to areas such as sustainable energy, where we strive to provide products and services that align with various renewable and sustainable technologies.”
For example, within the commercial insurance space, Zurich has dedicated resources to develop expertise, allowing the insurer to offer specialised services designed for the unique risks linked to offshore wind farms.
Dunn adds: ”We have invested in expertise to provide solutions for the construction and operation of offshore wind farms. In the first instance, we insure the property damage and liabilities associated with the construction phase of these projects. The secondary part of this is to provide insurance when the wind farms are operational.”
Underwriting offshore wind insurance involves a comprehensive evaluation of the risks associated with wind farm projects, leveraging specialised expertise to design tailored insurance solutions and continuously monitoring and adapting to changing circumstances throughout the policy period.
Offshore wind farms are large-scale installations of wind turbines located in bodies of water, such as oceans or seas.
Dunn says: “It’s rewarding to not only share our initiatives but also listen to customers’ perspectives, allowing us to develop solutions that cater to their specific needs.
“We make a conscious effort to communicate our sustainability initiatives to customers, detailing our operational transitions and engaging in conversations about their own journeys.
“We need to think more about how our industry can collaboratively develop solutions to ensure a smooth transition for everyone on the journey to net zero.”
Beyond the world of insurance, I've ventured into creative pursuits that promote inclusivity and representation.
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