What's Happening?

Technology and people evolve new cultures together

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Tech is great, but it’s even better when it’s building personal interactions, advises Wynton Mahome, senior manager at Hollard’s Affluent Markets.

The biggest change that technology has wrought on the culture of the insurance sector has been to place individual human customers at the front and centre of what insurers do.

Far from replacing humans, technology has enabled the insurance industry to develop a broad and better-informed view of individual clients. This much more detailed picture – which one day might include real-time health and medical statistics, movement patterns and even emotional states – is equipping insurers to deliver a far greater level of care than people currently receive face-to-face from trusted human advisors.

The Tech Boost

While the South African insurance industry isn’t quite at this stage yet, technology is certainly helping us to be more in touch with our customers and to service them better. Traditionally, insurance companies operating in a competitive and highly commoditised environment weren’t always able to build strong relationships with customers. Cradle-to-grave type scenarios so often cited remain more aspiration than reality. Today, however, technology and artificial intelligence – enabling lifestyle, taste, preference, concerns, health and behaviour tracking – is bringing predictive modelling, individualised product and service tailoring much closer to reality.

In South Africa, Covid-19 gave rise to remote working. Living and buying online augmented what was already a growing demand for quicker and more interactive technology-enabled insurance offerings – especially from younger clients.

The result is that 4IR is no longer just talk. Almost all companies in South Africa use Zoom or Teams or some sort of remote, digitally delivered meeting interface. The adoption of online underwriting tools is routine across the industry. Insurers are increasingly building much more detailed and artificially enhanced views of customers while delivering digitally anticipated and supported services to a much broader segment of clients remotely.

Moreover, the impact of even simple changes, like brokers not having to drive hours to meet clients face-to-face, has freed up time. Much of this additional time is being used to better understand the unique needs of individual clients. The cumulative effect is that, while the human interface is missed, personalised service and care are improved.

Culturally, it’s unlikely that technology will ever replace humans. Few robot voice models, for instance, ever took off. People still want to interact with human beings, to be understood and related to personally. While technology can certainly enable and augment the interaction between a financial advisor and a client, robot advice will never replace real human contact.

In short, a human interface element will always need to be included in any artificial intelligence product or technology service design.

This does not mean that South African customers are anti-technology. Most embrace technology in their personal lives and expect their insurers to match this experience. While the human interface remains critical in the intermediary space and among more traditional client segments, the enhancements that technology is adding to these human relationships are also widely welcomed.

The cultural challenge for insurers is not to limit technology or increase human contact, but rather to build the personal interactions on which humans thrive into the architecture of the technology we use.

From an internal operational perspective, Covid-19 has shown us how very difficult it is to manage teams, conduct meetings or conduct company socials remotely. Sitting at home alone with our laptops, with a glass of wine, shows just how much of the nuance of communication, conversation and understanding is lost when humans are not face-to-face.

Where To From Here?

The technology challenge is how to bring as many human touchpoints into tech-enabled insurance service and delivery systems as possible so that products and services don’t lose their cultural resonance and relevance even as efficiencies improve.

Cultural adaptation, however, will need to evolve in both directions.

As insurance operators adapt to leverage the efficiencies of technology and artificial intelligence humanly, clients need to become more comfortable with a world in which personal information is shared. While protecting private information is critical, there is no doubt that the future world will be one in which all aspects of our lives have a digital existence. Becoming comfortable with sharing our digital selves with secure platforms in exchange for greatly enhanced levels of service – and new levels of care – is a significant cultural evolution that we are all part of.

In South Africa, several early adopters encouraged the insurance industry to embrace technology relatively early. As such, the local industry is certainly on par with most developed countries

in terms of technology adoption. That said, by far the biggest drivers of both technological, as well as cultural change in the industry, has been South African customers themselves.

Our customers simply want world-class service and globally comparable offerings.

This is why we build new solutions, products and systems in tandem with customers. Building and testing technology around real human beings means that people determine and guide the process. Since our own culture at Hollard places

actual human customers at the heart of what we do, we can only build human-centric technologies and people-enabling artificial intelligence systems.

That said, the handful of insurance markets that are slightly more advanced than South Africa, like the United States and Australia, provide great guides for our local industry as we anticipate trends, technologies and cultural responses. Also, as leading developed-world policy makers struggle to keep pace with technology and cultural changes, their experience and learnings inform our own policy and legislative responses in South Africa.

Most importantly from a Hollard perspective, however, technology provides a mechanism to innovate a new culture of listening and service built around a much richer and more personal view of customers’ circumstances, personal concerns and real-life intentions.

Wynton Mahome is the senior manager of Affluent Markets, a division of Hollard Life Solutions’ Fully Underwritten intermediary distribution service.