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How a biologist could help insurers with data analytics


September 27, 2018   by Greg Meckbach


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Do insurers need to hire the brightest computer programmers and pay through the nose if they want to get the most out of data analytics?

Not according to some Insurance Analytics Summit Canada speakers.

“People from behavioural science, people from biology – different backgrounds – can form fantastic analytics teams because it’s not about the technical side,” said Fernando Moreira, senior vice president of global insurance for Scotiabank, during a panel on artificial intelligence. Instead, it’s about the ability to decide what questions should be put to the data that an insurer collects about its customer interactions.

Panelists were asked how they find employees who have hands-on experience in data mining and predictive analytics.

It turns out that hands-on experience may not be critical, and employees with backgrounds outside of information technology can nonetheless be good at predictive analytics.

“I would not say we are necessarily looking for people with years and years of hands-on experience,” said Cindy Forbes, executive vice president and chief analytics officer for Manulife Financial Corp. “We are quite open to people with some experience but who we can develop and grow.”

Forbes and Moreira spoke on a panel Tuesday titled Realizing the Promise of AI.

Insurers using advanced technologies like AI and machine learning need to make sure their teams are working on problems that benefit the company, another summit speaker suggested.

“It can’t be a fenced-off area where you let the kids play,” said Baiju Devani, vice president of enterprise analytics at Aviva Canada, during a separate presentation at the summit.  “It has to be something that you embed within your business.”

Panelists at the AI discussion were asked about retention strategies.

“As we look at some of the younger talent coming on board, compensation is fairly low down on the list [of what they are asking for],” said Steve Holder, national strategy executive of analytic ecosystems at software vendor SAS Institute.

Manulife works on giving its data analytics employees challenging assignments and opportunities to advance, Forbes said.