June 21, 2018 by Jason Contant
Alexa, ask Excalibur Insurance for a car insurance quote.
That possibility is just around the corner, as Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company announced Thursday that it had opened an Innovation Outpost lab in Kitchener, Ont. that will connect customers with brokers through voice technology.
One of the first projects out of the lab is a new interactive technology using an Amazon Alexa voice skill to connect Wawanesa customers to their brokers for an auto or home insurance quote. Jeff Roy, CEO of brokerage Excalibur Insurance Group, helped to spearhead the work with ProNavigator (which provides an insurance AI-powered virtual assistant).
The brokerage will be the first going to market with the new technology, which will then be launched on other brokerages’ websites in the future.
David Arbuthnot, director of the Innovation Outpost lab, told Canadian Underwriter in an interview the voice assistant walks customers through six underwriting questions, which provides enough information to obtain a quote. Customers can also ask a number of insurance-related questions, such as an explanation of different insurance terms.
Location (postal code) is automatically pulled from the device location. A new user is asked for name and phone number (for returning users, this information is saved). Auto consumers are asked vehicle make and model, year, year of birth and gender; home consumers are asked year of birth, value of property, year the residence was built, and firehall distance.
The technology will also support the “new to Canada Echo Spot device,” a smart speaker with a small screen built into it. As the consumer asks about and provides information for a quote, when those quotes come back, the consumer will be able to scroll through the screen on the spot and see the snapshot of the different quotes available.
Arbuthnot said that ProNavigator spent a lot of time developing the technology behind its natural language processing engine. “It allows the consumer to ask the question in their own words and they’ve trained their artificial intelligence in the background against hundreds of thousands of similar insurance-specific questions to understand what the consumer is asking,” Arbuthnot explained. “So, it’s not based on the exact words, but it is able to decipher the intent and provide a response based on that.”
The AI system is also able to understand the natural pathways in a human conversation, Arbuthnot said. For example, if the system asks for a postal code and the consumer asks why the postal code is required, the AI system “will actually answer that question, and then bring them back to the conversation and re-ask them for the postal code in a very natural way,” Arbuthnot said.
“It handles the very normal human tendencies to diverge through a conversation,” he said. “It makes it natural for a person. It’s a very tough technical problem to solve, but they’ve done an excellent job in keeping it truly conversational.”
Roy said in a press release from Wawanesa that the solution “already answers more than 250 insurance-specific queries and continues to evolve daily. It became imperative that we tailor a voice-activated customer service solution for our broker network.”
Arbuthnot added that ProNavigator works with all of their broker customers to personalize the experience to both the content of the response and the branding. “So, the brokers have a way to establish a unique brand in the marketplace that is consistent with their other digital assets – another channel for the brokers to use.”
The lab will foster partnerships with key players – from startups to global brands, brokers and broker associations, government agencies, academic institutions, tech incubators and accelerators – to implement digital innovations, with a focus on those that benefit broker partners.
Al McLeod, Wawanesa’s vice president of innovation, told Canadian Underwriter that some of these partnerships include the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada, the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario, and Communitech (a public-private innovation hub of which the Innovation Outpost lab is a part) and the University of Waterloo, among others.