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Canadians don’t think about AI – here’s why brokers should


June 14, 2019   by Adam Malik


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From left, Jamie McDougall of Gore Mutual, David Arbuthnot, of Wawanesa Insurance and Chris Reid, of Intact Insurance take part in a panel at the IBAO’s YBC in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Nearly six out of 10 Canadian employees believe artificial intelligence will have no impact on their jobs, according to a recent survey. Brokers would be wise to not side with the majority.

As AI becomes more refined, it will be a boon for the industry, a panel at the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario’s Young Broker’s Conference told attendees.

Staffing firm Robert Half interviewed futurists and staffing experts for its Jobs and AI Anxiety report. It came out just days before the panel discussion with Jamie McDougall, vice president of business intelligence and analytics at Gore Mutual, David Arbuthnot, Wawanesa Insurance‘s director of innovation outpost and Chris Reid, vice president of digital distribution at Intact Insurance on June 7 in Niagara Falls, Ont., that saw a discussion on the impact of technology on a broker’s career. Though the study wasn’t mentioned during the panel, its timing was spot on.

There’s a lot of fear around robots taking brokers’ jobs but Arbuthnot disagreed with that premise. “Our perspective on it: We think your jobs will actually evolve,” he said.

Along the lines of the 80/20 theory where you typically spend 80% of your time on 20% of your tasks, a robot can take care of the transactional work and minutiae that are low in value and that bog brokers down. Brokers can flip that theory around and do what they do best – spend more time breaking down complex situations and interact more with their clients to solidify relationships and less on the grunt work.

“So it’s more about becoming a bionic broker – using AI and other tools to assist you in what you do,” Arbuthnot said. “The nature of the job is changing and actually getting better and more interesting and more fulfilling.”

That’s backed up by the study which found that those who believe AI and automation will have a positive effect cited opportunities to focus on creativity and problem-solving, an increase in productivity and opening the door to developing new skills.

“The impact of new technologies in the workplace transcends all aspects of business, regardless of industry,” said David King, senior district president for Robert Half. “Professionals and organizations alike need to embrace and stay ahead of these inevitable changes in order to meet business demands and remain competitive.”

That fits McDougall’s line of thinking, telling attendees to “embrace all the innovation and complexity that’s coming.”

Brokers may complain when they feel policies are too complicated, but imagine how the customer feels, he said. That’s your time to shine as a broker.

“That’s perfect. That’s what you want. You want that complexity. That’s your value add. You get that complexity [and] you get the customer through that complexity – you make it easy,” McDougall said.

AI in a brokerage will require upskilling, with 90% of respondents saying it will be challenging. Employers are expected to upgrade the technological skills of employees, bring in consultants who are experts in this area and work with external service providers.

“Workers who demonstrate an eagerness to learn and ability to adapt quickly to change will be in high demand,” King said. “And companies that provide staff opportunities to experiment with new tools, while taking a proactive approach to identify and address skills gaps on their teams, will be best positioned to navigate the future.”