In recent years, we’ve seen numerous conversations, discussions, and roundtable debates around how, in a world dominated by nations with little or no economic growth prospects, artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the biggest threats when it comes to job security.
These are relevant and sound discussions, and they should be encouraged. After all, advancing technology is a development our world cannot ignore.
The one key area across the insurance industry where technology has come in handy is underwriting. We now speak of automated underwriting, which is at an advanced stage and should be accommodated to make the claims process easier.
However, automated underwriting powered and inspired by AI still needs to be fully co-existent with human beings, as the AI still needs to be taught how to do things, until such time as it matures and can make decisions on its own.
The reality is that insurance products are constantly changing, due to the fact that they need to be bespoke for customers. It’s in this light that technology continues to advance while, at the same time, products change. The two are interlinked.
Humans and machines
Technological clouds have always brought a silver lining. Organisations and people have always chosen how to perceive the change and whether the implications are positive or negative. Some years back, video conferencing was introduced – an awesome new technology that meant multinational companies with local and international offices could save on travel costs. More recently it has been made even more efficient through apps, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. While technology has made life easier, it is used to facilitate the work of human beings, not replace them.
It would be ill-conceived to declare that AI will replace human-led underwriting. What we have observed over time is that technology learns how to do things from underwriters. Human beings are needed to empower AI. The knowledge possessed by human beings is needed by AI. Yes, machine learning helps when it comes to speed and quick decision-making, but in such instances, underwriters are still needed to supervise.
While AI is topical at the moment, it is not the only technological solution being explored within our industry. Some of these solutions are already in use and when we look at how they have been integrated into our businesses, we get a clue as to how tech such as AI might also be used. As Sasria, we continue to learn when it comes to technology. Following the July 2021 unrest, we invested in new tech, but we invested equally in staff equipped to exploit the benefits it offered – with the customer at the apex of everything we do.
We are also, consistently, looking to the future and asking ourselves what the role of underwriters will be in five to ten years’ time, as well as what technology will offer our industry in years to come.
Blockchain is a good example. With more and more concern around the protection of information, this ground-breaking technology offers a means for sensitive information to be securely stored electronically. So far, particularly here in SA, we have yet to see this rolled out in practice, but it surely is only a matter of time.
As for automation, just because a process can be automated, that doesn’t mean it should be. Underwriters can be involved in designing systems that use both humans and machines to create the best possible experience for the client.
A human future
At Sasria, we have learnt that the technology you use in your organisation is as good as your own staff and the two cannot operate in isolation. For example, despite all the technological innovations designed to help move us towards a cashless society, we still see businesses that prefer cash.
We also live in a multifaceted world, where rural areas need to be serviced with the same quality of service too often reserved for urban clients. In some instances, the technology is ready, but the people are unfortunately not.
As for intermediaries, we should bear in mind that giving advice is complex, especially when working with cases that are not straightforward. Such advice, and how it is dispensed, cannot exclusively be dealt with by technology. Sasria has in place some of the most complex policy conditions, which need to be interpreted and applied in a humane way – something AI can’t competitively deliver. Could AI handle all the July 2021 unrest claims on its own? Could AI easily handle a complex claim amounting to R100 million? These are the hard questions we ask ourselves as we journey towards a Sasria that embraces technology while making continuous investments in our human capital.
Faced with the prospect of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), the conversation has been around how most of the population will lose their jobs. Even if this is the case, different roles will be required and people will still be hired to fill them.
Our fraternity is fast becoming digitalised, but we know there is nothing that can replace the human interaction between the client, broker, and insurer.