RSM’s associate director Ian Gill discusses how businesses in the insurance industry can thrive post-lockdown and the benefits of using robotic process automation
Insurance companies that continue to thrive in the post-lockdown world will be those that are both the most operationally agile and best able to stay close to their customers whether that be physically, or increasingly, remotely.
Whilst there is no magic bullet for customer closeness, robotic process automation (RPA) can play a large role in its attainment. The benefits of RPA in increasing processing efficiency and operational flexibility, whilst eliminating the risk of human processing errors are self-evident. Sometimes less obvious are the potential benefits to human interactions.
Firstly, by removing repetitive, robotic type work, staff are freed to focus on really listening to customers, understanding their unique requirements and navigating the business to fulfil them.
Secondly, ‘attended bots’ can be designed to work in tandem with their human colleagues to provide speedy access to data and expertise and to complete tasks in the moment, enabling services to be delivered faster and with greater resolution at first point of contact (with fewer of those frustrating hand-offs and the inevitable need to repeat the nature of the request). In short, robots genuinely can make us more human.
What this means for insurance
Whether it is a brokerage, carrier, claims administrator or any of the other supporting service providers that make up the insurance industry, the typical firm is a data-intensive environment, relying on multiple data sources and systems to perform its processes. In all but the very slickest, this means significant amounts of manual (or imperfectly automated) data searching, extensive use of spreadsheets and lots of ‘copy and paste’.
Furthermore, demand is frequently prone to spikes that create further operational stress. Examples of this include binder renewal season, claims-handling following a weather event or in some lines (travel, business continuity and other specialty lines) as a direct result of the current pandemic.
These challenges present the perfect scenario for well-designed robots to bring their most value, creating more flexible and resilient capacity, reducing processing costs and most importantly allowing consistently high customer-attention at times when this is most needed and valued. Bringing processes back under control via RPA, also means that audit trails become clearer and more easily managed.
Maximising benefit is about much more than just the tech
The technology required to transfer and process data between multiple systems and platforms is impressive, but by itself will not unlock the full potential of the operation. In fact, automating a ‘bad’ process can create as many problems as it solves. It is important that processes are carefully chosen and are improved prior to, or as part of, the implementation programme. However, what is of equal if not greater importance is the integration of robots into the wider operation. Once processes have been automated, the organisation and its operating model will have changed.
With repetitive work removed, some roles will require a different skill mix and team sizes will probably alter. Also, there will be a need to provide a governance structure to organise the new team of bots. This is best done by the operation, somewhat like the management of human teams, rather than by IT.
Without careful planning and effective implementation of change the operating model will not be optimal and performance is likely to be hampered. Whilst most specialist RPA providers can select processes for automation relatively effectively, many are not experts in process improvement and organisational re-engineering and few understand the operational complexities associated with insurance.
For this reason, it is wise to consider using a consultancy with broad operational and process expertise and good industry experience as well as technical RPA capability when finding a partner.