C-Suite Insurer: Zurich's Karl Helgesen on the unprecedented pace of technology


As I look out to the horizon I can't help but feel incredibly excited and perhaps a little apprehensive. We are seeing technology develop at an unprecedented pace, coupled with a sharpened focus on the customer and a reform agenda that could change the structure of the market.

Much has been written about digitalisation and telematics but the automation of knowledge work is one of the greatest opportunities - and equally disruptive threats - for the industry.

For insurers, and in fact all industries, consistent execution is a key challenge. The concept of artificial intelligence is not new but the exponential growth in technological capabilities and data suggest that we are now perhaps at a ‘tipping point'.

Imagine a world where insurers no longer receive complaints from customers because they have failed to do what they promised in a timely manner. Imagine also our efficiency improving dramatically for the benefit of the customer and every employee's decision being as smart as the smartest - together with an increased speed and objectivity within our decision-making processes.

Let's now consider the reform agenda. The proposals put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in his autumn statement not only have the potential to deliver a step change in reducing motor insurance premiums but also fundamentally transform the claims value chain as we know it.

Clearly, there is a long way to go and a very real danger of unintended consequences, given that - despite best efforts - previous measures have simply pushed cost around the system and revenue mechanisms have become even more opaque.

Having said that, we have to keep pushing if we are to improve the reputation of the industry and take a clear step towards addressing the compensation culture for the benefit of our customers.

What I'd like to see over the course of this Parliament is the resolve and a stable approach to driving through the proposed reforms. That may be wishful thinking, especially if the nation votes to leave the European Union this summer. But so much good work is already under way that will benefit our retail and commercial customers.

Fundamentally, we have to grapple with the issues and opportunities I've mentioned and never lose sight of the fact that we are here to deliver for our customers. The benefit of insurance is only really apparent at the point of a claim, and the recent storms have been a timely reminder of this value in an uncertain world.

One thing is sure: we're going to be in for an interesting ride over the next three to five years.

Karl Helgesen
Chief claims officer, Zurich UKGI

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