November 3, 2017 by Emily Atkins, Editor
Insurtech, AI, drones, autonomous vehicles, the gig economy, the Internet of things, big data—this giant, swirling cloud of tech concepts can either be a vicious tornado bearing down on you or a friendly rain cloud about to soak the seeds of imagination to sprout the latest innovation.
Commonly called disruption, it’s really just the new business landscape that every industry is grappling with in 2017. Consulting firm PwC recently cautioned in an advisory on InsurTech that “now is the time for executives to think forward, put innovation at the heart of their strategies.”
Changing consumer habits, along with dramatically increasing technical capabilities are together forcing insurers and those downstream in the claims arena to figure out how—not if—they will integrate new technologies into their business.
There’s no shortage of opinion and information on the vast opportunity awaiting the brave. “Insurance is the original data-driven business,” said Andy Breen, Senior VP of Digital at Argo Group in a recent web conference. “The challenge now is how to use the vast resources available around computing technology to take the friction out.” According to Breen, the opportunity before the industry is “leveraging data to improve the customer experience”.
“Data is something we’re all talking about, but not doing,” said Donna Peeples, Chief Customer Officer at Pypestream in the webinar. “We are at the beginning of a watershed moment” with respect to the use of data in insurance.” But it has to have an intentional purpose, she said, “not tech for tech’s sake.
A recent study by Insurance Nexus revealed that 73 percent of Canadian insurers are planning for digitization, 50 percent are looking at incorporating analytics, and 34 percent are looking at better data integration, while 20 percent think the Internet of things is important. Clearly it’s on executives’ minds, so we decided to take a look at how some companies here have decided to handle the opportunities and challenges presented by new technology. In two very different examples, technology is being leveraged to make operations more efficient, improve the customer experience and drive the bottom line.
For Crawford & Company, which has just invested in a sharing economy app to facilitate inspections, the objective is streamlined operations. This is a primary objective in tech adoption, according to Jamie Yoder, PwC’s Insurance Advisory Practice Leader, who said at the insurance innovation webinar: “Digitization can radically alter the cost structure of a business.” Crawford hopes to put a network of gig-based ‘lookers’ to work to reduce the cost of claims.
For a group of small independent firms across Canada, technology is being used to create the illusion of size. Working together as the Omnia cooperative, they are able to seamlessly operate on one, thanks to the ingenuity of their founder’s data sharing system.
Time is of the essence
The ‘gig economy’ and claims handling have intersected in Canada with Crawford & Company’s majority acquisition of tech start-up WeGo Look, a mobile collaborative economy platform offering on-demand inspection services.
Oklahoma-based WeGoLook provides ‘lookers’, people who are registered with the app, to go and record photos or videos of property and perform an inspection. It’s been around since it was launched out of beta testing in 2010 after a year of development.
The company’s CEO and co-founder, Robin Smith, says the app started out with the individual consumer in mind, as a service for people who were buying goods online from remote buyers.
Think of buying a car on eBay, for example. You could use the app to post a request for a looker to go take photos or inspect the vehicle you are interested in on the other side of the country. The request goes out immediately, and a locally based looker is usually on the way in minutes. They arrive at the inspection site, take the pictures, verify that they were there, send the images and report, and the prospective buyer has confirmation of the vehicle’s condition in minutes. Payments are all taken care of online as well.
Adding to the field staff
The shift from consumer to B-to-B and into claims handling came as a result of some work WeGoLook did when they were asked to do inspections for a property developer post-hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“We actually had a FEMA certified looker that was able to go in on his bicycle and perform those property inspections,” Smith says. After that it was a natural evolution into providing corporate field services, boosted when one of the largest US insurers reached out to the company for help to augment their field force.
“So you’ve got the old way of doing things on the claims side,” Smith says. “There’s a real opportunity for us to come in and really help augment this type of labour force with our lookers that are much more cost effective. They can actually go out and perform these low-complex tasks and also what I would call low-complex inspections, and leave the more complex jobs and tasks to those who are qualified for them.”
How to become a looker
While anyone can sign up to be a looker using the app, WeGoLook carefully vets people before they are able to take any jobs. As Smith says, “there are really amazing people out there with different types of skills, but the onboarding process is rigorous, so you have to really want to be a looker to complete it.” This includes a “very robust” background check.
The company also uses pro-level lookers who are invited to take a more senior role based on their skill set and prior experience with WeGoLook. These include notaries, licensed diesel mechanics, heavy equipment operators, and independent adjusters, among others.
Pro-level lookers require an additional background check; work history and copies of all their licenses and certifications are kept on file. Smith notes that clients can chose to have a pro go out when there is policy-holder contact, or when specific expertise is required.
At the moment, approximately 30,000 lookers are registered with the app in the United States and just under 400 in Canada. Smith says that in an average month 6,500 to 8,000 of them are getting gigs.
As with Uber, and other gig apps, the lookers are dispatched on a first-response basis. And the jobs are geofenced, so that those closest to the site get the notification first. A job is pinged to the mobile map every 90 seconds until it is claimed.
Reports are geotagged and time-stamped and pass through a quality control process that checks the quality of the photos and ensures that data entries are accurate before they are sent to the client. Individual lookers get paid 40 percent of the total cost of the job, and they are usually on site for 15 to 20 minutes per inspection.
What’s in it for adjusters?
While WeGoLook is heavily invested in performing field claims handling services in the insurance industry—insurance is about 80 percent of the company’s volume at present, serving about 38 carriers—there’s a reason an independent adjusting firm like Crawford has taken an 85 percent stake.
We can “actually help the IA’s be able to produce more, because we can go out very quickly, capture the photos or the measurements or whatever kind of type of data they want,” Smith says.
Plus, WeGoLook schedules the appointment with the policy holder, so the adjuster doesn’t have to handle that task. She says the value in this is it frees up the adjuster’s time to handle more files, rather than travelling around to various sites to capture data.
“I think it’s an opportunity for IAs to not have to mess with logistics piece and just perform the piece that requires their knowledge and skill,” Smith adds.
For Crawford the acquisition is intended to “revolutionize, automate and expedite the claim handling process by using a large mobile workforce for automotive and property inspections.” CEO Harsha Agadi sees the opportunity as transformative for Crawford’s business. Its “groundbreaking technology and streamlined processes open up endless possibilities,” he said.
To that end, WeGoLook is the first majority acquisition of Crawford Innovative Ventures, an entity created to invest in strategic acquisitions and partnerships with an eye to providing better customer service.
Speed of service
Indeed, according to Smith, leveraging the WeGoLook technology can dramatically reduce the amount of time spent just dispatching someone to go look at a claim. Anecdotally she reported a difference of 12 minutes for an in-house dispatch versus four minutes for a looker. “We’re always constantly striving to improve the process by seconds,” she says.
Likewise, the mobile tech that the app uses means that new schemas for handling a specific type of call can be created and propagated to all users on the platform, literally overnight. Everyone with the app can capture the data in exactly the same way for the client.
The cost reduction in claims handling that this engenders means insurers can lower the threshold at which claims are investigated, Smith says, reducing the exposure to fraud risk.
For the adjusters working in a small firm, or one of the many who are on the cusp of retiring, there’s an additional potential upside, Smith says. The company is trying to grow its network of lookers in Canada, offering IAs the potential to leverage their expertise and join the gig economy through WeGoLook.
A new business model: Making it big
This next innovation addresses the challenges faced by small independents trying to compete with larger firms. Procurement practices increasingly make it difficult for the smaller firms to get on the contractor list with larger insurers.
“The reality was as a small firm, wherever I knocked on doors—even doors that I thought would be open to me for potential business—the doors just were not open,” says Pieter Heydenreich, partner in EECM in Halifax, Nova Scotia and founding CEO of Omnia Adjusters Cooperative. “For the most part, the only logical reason that I could find for it was that I’m just not on the list.”
Heydenreich figured that “the only way to get on the list is to be big, and I’m not big…So I wanted to be big.”
How does a small firm get bigger without adding adjusters, offices and overhead? It partners with other small adjusters, and this is what Heydenreich is leveraging with the new not-for-profit cooperative, Omnia Adjusters.
Incorporated in August 2016, Omnia is 100 percent Canadian-owned and has 20 member companies with 36 offices spread across the country. Membership is open to adjusting firms (with the exception of public adjusters) that are licensed to operate in their jurisdiction, and, Heydenreich says, “You have to not be a crook.”
Companies buy a single share in the co-op for a nominal fee. After that there are contributions for expenses, but the co-op is trying to make membership as painless as possible, and Heydenreich hopes they’ll be able to eliminate the expenses once it starts generating some work. “It’s designed to make money for its members.”
The single share per member model is one of Omnia’s unique innovations, Heydenreich says. Everybody is equal this way and it’s “more comfortable to collaborate…No single member’s got more influence or power than another, so members maintain their complete autonomy, but they get access to the structure that essentially gives them access to national, international markets,” he notes.
Once he decided to give the co-op idea a try, Heydenreich began marketing the idea to various independent adjusting firms. Once he had sufficient interest, he recruited four board members, Karen Brugger (Dawson), CIP, of Matrix Loss Adjusters Inc. in Ontario; Phil Gibbs, CIP, of Priddle Gibbs Adjusters in Alberta; Balu Naidu, FCIP, CRM, of Claimstech in Ontario (see page 16 for this issue’s CIAA member Spotlight on Balu and Claimstech); and, Torgny Vigerstad, PhD, Heydenreich’s partner at EECM Ltd. They are all dedicated volunteers, Heydenreich points out, because “none of us has actually gotten any remuneration out of this at this point.”
A single, virtual entity
Now that the co-op is incorporated, the operational infrastructure has been put in place. Heydenreich put a lot of personal effort into designing and programming the file management system that allows companies from across the country to operate as a virtual single entity.
“It makes it possible for us to combine, for example, all the files that a particular client has into one client-access portal, no matter which member firm it’s situated with, while keeping complete privacy. So no one member can see another member’s file.”
For example, if a member in Nova Scotia needs someone to take a statement or photos in Vancouver, the Vancouver member can be set up as an ‘assist’ in the system so they have access to and can work on the file, but at the end of the day the file is consolidated, and the client will see it as if they are dealing with one big company.
And when it comes time for payment, the fees are simply split across the members who worked on a file according to their level of contribution.
By using this system to create a larger virtual entity, Omnia aims to offer clients access to a seamlessly integrated collaborative team of experts for small and large projects that they would not otherwise have access to. Without access to mobile technology that allows in-the-field data gathering and instant communication, this collaboration would not be possible.
“That makes life easier for the clients. So the clients have started noticing and that seems to be where the most significant expression of interest lies at this point.”
This is designed to fit with the large insurers’ procurement strategies that require a large presence and the correct skill set. “We’re a group of small firms joining forces together into a single company. That’s the sales pitch,” Heydenreich says.
“The challenge associated with that is our challenge as small firms because our survival for the past fifty years has significantly and dramatically depended on our ability to offer a better, faster more experienced service. And that doesn’t seem to be that significant a metric anymore,” he adds.
Calls get returned
With 36 offices and 20 member-companies, Omnia has already got the critical mass to get phone calls returned, now, Heydenreich says. He points out that some of the adjusters onboard have 30, 40 or 50 years of experience and a depth of expertise that’s impossible to replicate. There’s no limit on the number of adjusting firms that can join, and they is still actively recruiting new members.
There are a few gaps in the country-wide coverage. Ottawa, Northern Ontario, and Atlantic Canada, are under-represented “because so many small firms have been squeezed out”. Omnia is not operating in Quebec, because of the language and differences in the legal system. “I’d have to duplicate every infrastructure that I have right now to operate in one province, Heydenreich notes. “It’s resource driven and will change in time.”
But for the time being the company’s motto “In Omnia Bene Parati—For all things we are well prepared” seems apt. Heydenreich recounts receiving a call for adjusters to attend Fort McMurray last May—while he was in the process of recruiting members to the Omnia project. He put the request to the group, and had “30 adjusters ready to hit Fort McMurray in less than 30 minutes after I sent the email.”
“We are ridiculously nimble and very dynamic. We can change in a moment’s notice,” Heydenreich says. “Right now we’re just a group of guys trying to make a living; we’re just applying a slightly different strategy to it.”
PwC’s DeNovo team of over 50 strategists, equity analysts, engineers and technologists provides insight into the latest in startups, technologies, trends and new market entrants related to FinTech and the Insurtech subset.
The following is their interpretation of the most important trends shaping the Insurtech landscape.
Ride and car-sharing and other sharing economy services demand new insurance solutions regarding liability and personal injury.
Newly enabled data-capture methods enable usage-and behaviour-based models in auto coverage.
Artificial intelligence is making it possible for insurance and investment advice to be doled out by machines – automated advisors.
Self-serve tools are reducing the cost of serving customers and increasing transparency and speed of fulfilment.
Developments from wearables to genomics are enabling P4 Medicine: Predictive, Preventive, Personalized and Participatory.
Connected and autonomous vehicles are changing the landscape for auto insurance. Claims severity and frequency is going to change dramatically when these come to fruition.
Non-traditional data capture techniques, including remote devices are improving risk and loss assessments.
Real-time data capture and monitoring technology allow insurers to shift from a probabilistic to a deterministic claims model.
Advancement in technology and data capture is helping to quantify risk and/or loss at a granular level.
Capabilities such as robotics and AI are allowing for the automation of core insurance functions.