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By Vijayamohan Keshav, Senior Principal Business Consultant, Expleo 

Insurance providers have found themselves at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, as anxious customers seek to take shelter from the economic crisis. At the same time, they’ve had to contend with the hugely complex challenge of adapting to remote working. The immense level of strain means that, unfortunately, some customers have experienced problems with delays, or waylaid claims. But whilst the level of disruption we’ve seen at the hands of the coronavirus is unprecedented, a quick look at the history of the sector raises the question as to whether it could have been better prepared.  

Crucially, the SARS pandemic of the early 2000s, should have been a wakeup call to all businesses about the importance of agility. After this event, insurance companies should have taken steps to future-proof themselves, as they did their claims, by automating vital processes, updating their digital channels, and building a digitally savvy workforce. 

Instead, concerns around time, costs and potentially just a general underestimation of upcoming challenges, meant many took a slow and steady approach to digitisation. So, when the coronavirus hit, up to 70% of providers were still relying primarily on legacy applications – applications that just weren’t prepared to deal with the unprecedented wave of activity associated with a pandemic.

Post this pandemic, insurance providers must put the lessons they learn into action and put automation at the heart of their operations. Here’s how technology will help bring the industry back on its feet.

Focus on what counts

Whilst costs will inevitably need to be cut over the next few years to make room for more capital, COVID-19 has focused the industry’s attention on what matters when it comes to digital innovation. Far from hindering technological progress, we can expect more investment, with companies focusing their resources on priority areas

Blockchain, for instance, is likely to take a backseat in the list of immediate priorities, but automating production processes – whether that be underwriting, claims or complaints – is a no-brainer. There have been far too many delays and mistakes made in recent weeks for this not to become a sector standard. We can expect investments in AI and machine learning to be primarily in the areas of Intelligent Process Automation

Implementing more robust security measures, meanwhile, is paramount. This has been low on the priority list for investment so far, but with hackers on high alert and remote working becoming the norm rather than the exception, every provider needs to make sure its infrastructure is infallible. For an industry centred around processing money and data – particularly personal data – there can be disastrous repercussions if there is a failure to implement cutting-edge security at the enterprise level. 

Earn back trust through innovation

Insurance providers are built upon security, trust and their ability to deliver upon that trust at critical times of need. But as demand for pay-outs set to sky-rocket, and public trust potentially wanes, the performance and customer usability elements of insurance businesses will come under more pressure than ever.

These usability elements include enhancing the customer experience when using digital channels, making claims processes clearer, or providing additional customer service channels through more contemporary routes, like social media – all of which can be enabled by technology. 

However, introducing any changes or new services must be underpinned by testing processes that ensure quality of service, and safeguard against technical failures. At a time of great pressure, even small errors, can shatter consumer confidence and business reputation. The critical need for quality covers both back and front-end processes and the clearest path to delivering this is through a quality assurance process that primarily uses automation tools to save insurers critical time and money whilst dramatically minimising risk.

We’ll not be the first to point out that the demands on customer-facing and performance elements of insurance business were severely underestimated before the pandemic, meaning many providers have struggled to handle high claims numbers. Insurers must remember the pressures customers face and innovate quickly to deliver a better quality of service – all of which will be underpinned by some element of digital transformation.

Vijayamohan Keshav

Vijayamohan Keshav

Transformation, consolidation, and regulation

As part of the industry-wide digital transformation process and potentially as a result of the coronavirus crisis, we can expect a higher rate of mergers and acquisitions over the coming years. Insurers of all shapes and sizes will look to digitally native firms, or insurtechs to help them grow, scale up or simply survive. 

We’ll also see a similar chain of events occur amongst the insurtech community too, with bigger players acquiring smaller players and key technologies and approaches coming to the fore. Our money is that automation will be the first and most powerful technology to help insurers on this journey.

Whether you consider the need for innovation in reaction to COVID-19, or in terms of market competition and disruption, there are few upsides to be found for insurers sticking to legacy systems and ways of serving customers.

Positively, the sector is highly likely to benefit from relaxed regulations around technology allowing insurers and technology brands alike more room for innovation, which can only be a good thing – as long as it is underpinned by security, testing and process reliability.

More change to come

With entire economies crippled by the virus, for the first time in many years, the insurance industry has had to be proactive in adapting to change. And while it may have been borne out of necessity, we should see this change in pace as an opportunity for the sector to make some much-needed improvements as long as it never takes its eye off security, performance and the quality of delivery.

The road ahead will not be easy – especially with the adjustment to remote working, and accompanying challenges around security and productivity. But if insurance providers can make sure to address and update these crucial aspects of their businesses, and embrace an automation-first mindset, they have a good chance of emerging stronger.

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