Insurance Times webinar attendees heard from industry experts what technologies they should be investing in now and for the post-coronavirus future

Insurers’ and brokers’ digital transformation journeys has been one of the silver linings of the Covid-19 pandemic; Andy Fairchild, chief executive at software firm Applied Systems Europe, said the implementation of technology during the pandemic has been a “fast pace of evolution”, while Adam Khalifa, head of EMEA financial services at Google, confirmed that the digital transformation trend is not only “here to stay”, but is also set to accelerate.

Speaking at an Insurance Times webinar on 24 June, titled Brokers and coronavirus: What challenges will brokers face post-Covid and what role will technology play this year and beyond?, Khalifa said that digital transformation is a current global trend, with firms “doubling down” on their technology innovations and implementations – he added that more has been achieved in the lockdown months compared to years in the pre-Covid era.

Although digitalisation can produce end-to-end solutions that can be accessed anywhere, Khalifa noted that digitalisation is also useful for cost reduction, a measure many firms may be exploring in light of the pandemic’s economic impact.

For Neil Grimshaw, director at Ravenhall Risk Solutions, coronavirus hasn’t necessarily led to digital innovation, but has provided “a massive jolt” for businesses to use existing technologies – such as the cloud, virtual private networks, web-based telephony and electronic filing – better.

He told webinar attendees: “I don’t know how true [the ‘new normal’] is. We’re in a situation that we’ve reacted to. Technology has always been well ahead of where we’ve been at from a cultural and societal understanding of what a working model looks like and I think what Covid’s been is a massive jolt to businesses; it’s been a jolt to how we all use technology to be better at what we would normally do physically.

“As we move back into an easing of lockdown, there’s going to be a shift back – no matter how much we like it or not – to a demand from either our clients, our staff or from insurers or from stakeholders to move back to more traditional models.

“There will be a ‘new normal’ – I just don’t think we’re in it at the moment. I think there’ll be a demand shift that will pull us slightly to how we did things before, but we will be in a different place to where we were before this all started.”

Machine learning

In terms of impactful technology trends for the future, Khalifa identified machine learning (ML) as having multifaceted uses – to improve risk and underwriting models as well as to enhance the claims management process by replacing manual processes with automation in order to speed up the claims journey from weeks or days to minutes. For example, being able to take photos of a damaged vehicle in order to progress a motor insurance claim resulting from a minor accident. The technology here is then able to estimate how much it will cost to fix the damage.

“That’s a great example of how machine learning can drive value,” he added.

Thinking with a five to 10 year forward trajectory, Khalifa said quantum computing is also making “exciting developments” and “transformational changes”. In particular, he feels this will help reinsurers to insure the uninsurable.

Amid this high-level, tech-focused jargon, Grimshaw raised the point that smaller brokers just taking their first few steps into a digital transformation journey is also a “game changer”, as many will still use physical files in cabinets and telephone lines that aren’t web-based.

He said: “I don’t think there’s any one particular piece of technology that’s going to be a game changer for brokers over the course of the next few years. But what will be a game changer for brokers is for them to take those first steps or next steps that they’re on in respect of moving forward with their digital transformation of their business.

“That might be having a website. It might be looking at the portals. It might be just basically having some level of automation in the system to pull documentation together from key fields which are already stored in their system or even storing that information in fields on their system rather than on pieces of paper in a metal box in a room.

“There’s a significant chunk of our industry that aren’t as technologically advanced as maybe people outside our industry will perceive them to be and I think what I would urge is any broker to look at how they can do things from a digital perspective and take those next steps, no matter how far back they feel they are.

“Necessity is a great motivator. That necessity that’s been created by Covid will hopefully push and jolt people towards the next stage of their digital transformation and I think that will be a massive game changer for those individual businesses. So, it’s the steps that people take rather than the specific technology that will change individual businesses.”

Carl Shuker, group chief executive at A-Plan, added that the cost of technology is coming down and that brokers don’t need to fear technology, as it actually gives firms more control. He explained that four years ago, his company had no data at all, yet now the business has its own data science team for propensity modelling.

“Has [technology] revolutionised our business? No, it hasn’t, but it’s taken us on a reasonably fast paced evolution,” he explained.

Furthermore, new technologies infiltrating businesses is not going to “come as a tidal wave” Shuker added. “It will come over time and we will all adapt and adopt,” he continued.

But what about the panel’s top picks of today’s technology? All agreed on how valuable cloud-based technology is, but Khalifa also highlighted video conferencing and document management tools as particularly useful.

Webinar Brokers & coronavirus: What challenges will brokers face post-covid and what role will technology play this year and beyond