Human Expertise - Power to the people

Technology and innnovation have opened doors of opportunity to today's insurance industry but David Walker explains why, even in this digital age, people will always be the key differentiator

In all sectors of the insurance market and across all product lines, the drive for innovation and technology continues apace. This could be described as the digital age, and across the market it is helping to improve performance. However, technology is at its most effective when it is used in conjunction with human skills, to complement individual talents and enable users to focus their energies on more complex tasks. Insurance is a technical business, which will always rely heavily on personal interaction between those involved.

In the claims arena, new technologies such as workflow software and personal digital devices, including digital cameras, pens and dictation machines, have been introduced. The by-product of these is that routine tasks, which do not add value to customers, are being reduced and often eliminated, freeing up practitioners and enabling them to focus on developing their skills in value-added processes.

Greater connectivity

Workflow technologies have enabled work to be broken apart and directed among offices. The advent of digitisation has allowed for greater connectivity and the easy, and secure, transfer of relatively large information files via the internet. The benefits of enabling the industry to access talent remotely, wherever it may be in the UK, and indeed around the world, cannot be understated.

The front-end of the claims process has also been revolutionised by technology, with voice-stress analysers being woven into the scripted and gated systems deployed in new call centre environments. This, therefore, leaves those with expertise time to deal with the claims that fall out of the fast-track service and to examine those claims that insurers feel require further investigation.

However, many civil liberty and consumer groups believe that there is little or no scientific evidence to support the view that existing technology is capable of consistently detecting deception, particularly when many claimants are contacting their insurers at a time of extreme distress. In an environment where treating the customer fairly is paramount, the industry must heed these warnings and act to reassure the public that technology is not seen as a substitute for human expertise.

This observation will not be lost on the Association of British Insurers' head of financial crime prevention, Chris Hannant. Mr Hannant has been quoted as saying that for all the industry's use of anti-fraud technology, the human element in the fight against insurance fraud remains irreplaceable. It is people who are best placed to fight fraud at the front line, be it the loss adjuster's instinct that something is just not right with the claim, or the broker that believes the person buying a policy is suspicious. Mr Hannant's plea is that the human factor is retained and appropriately skilled.

Technology, however, will never make human expertise obsolete as it is not just in cases of fraud where expertise is needed. This issue impacts upon every facet of the industry. Iain Saville, head of business process at Lloyds', has identified this, despite applauding the back-office automation that has progressed the placement of business and policy production. Mr Saville has made it clear that for all the technology, the real driver for change in the market will be cultural.

Technology and innovation are absolutely critical in a fast-changing market where cost, speed and efficiency are key drivers. However, technology has to be placed in context and it is critical that it is viewed as an enabler and not as a solution to the supply of expertise.

Enhancing expertise

So does this place technology and expertise in conflict? Not necessarily, as many in the loss adjusting sector have designed and deployed new systems such as data warehousing and workflow to enhance but not replace the expertise of their people. This applies to their loss adjusters and also to the managers of the business for whom the real-time flow of digital information can be a key differentiator for the company. This allows 'expert time' to be focused on delivery, customer service and value creation.

The loss-adjusting sector, like all other industries, faces market pressures in the pursuit of 'more for less'. This has driven loss adjusting to adopt an entrepreneurial response to a changing market and has spawned several technological advancements, bringing both efficiencies and added-value services to the claims arena. Loss adjusters have invested heavily in IT to satisfy the industry's demand for greater productivity.

For tangible evidence of this, look no further than GAB Robins' latest initiative - Eye Write. By deploying cutting-edge, digital-pen technology in the field, data captured on site can be transmitted back to the office in an instant, where XML is used to populate GAB Robins' systems and shortly those of its clients. Without cramping the loss adjusters' style in any way, this invisibly reduces touches, validates the data recorded, eliminates double keying and compresses the claims life cycle - all of which frees the loss adjuster up to do what they do best, apply their professional judgement to the investigation, validation and conclusion of the claim.

Promoting competency

The need to promote the industry's expertise in just this way is very much the message of the Chartered Insurance Institute. As the industry's professional body, it would be expected for the CII to take such a stance but the work it has been doing with other organisations, such as Lloyd's and the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters, underlines the collective will for higher levels of professionalism.

The FSA in its role as regulator is also applying pressure for an increase in the levels of competency. It has made it quite clear that competency, coupled with treating customers fairly, will be increasingly important in terms of the appointment of senior management in insurance entities of all sizes.

It would appear that the industry is united on this topic. Technology will always provide cost benefits for the sector but it is people that will ultimately be the differentiator. It is, therefore, vital to use technology smartly, to empower our people as well as to streamline our processes. Technology has its place - to free the human capital in the insurance business to make judgement calls and utilise their skills to the greatest effect. In the long run, the future belongs to those that evolve through the harmonisation of technology and expertise - those that do not will perish.

- David Walker is the UK client services director at GAB Robins.

GAB ROBINS PROFILE

GAB Robins provides a leading loss adjusting and claims handling service, with the depth and breadth of technical expertise to meet every aspect of a claim from beginning to end. It understands the importance of providing a transparent and effective claims service.

Proactive claims management is the key to optimising claim lifecycle and cost-effectiveness without compromising on exemplary customer service. Technology and automated workflow are essential ingredients to its approach, yet GAB Robins places technical excellence and the personal touch at the heart of its service.

GAB Robins is quick to adopt new technologies and innovative thinking, as evidenced by its development of digital-pen technology in the shape of Eye Write. GAB Robins is the first to bring to market this revolutionary yet simple low-cost system that can transmit site notes, data forms, witness statements and action lists from the field, via a mobile phone.

Eye Write was successfully launched earlier this year and has dealt with thousands of claims since its launch. Eye Write has had a major impact upon the standards for time delivery on claims by trebling the number of new claims settled within 10 days of instruction.

Eye Write is just one of many initiatives that ensures GAB Robins is always one step in front.

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