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John Cusano Q&A:
Technology Vision
for Insurance 2017

The Accenture Technology Vision for Insurance 2017 report showcases the tech trends and innovations essential to insurance businesses’ success in the digital economy. These trends will empower people to invent and achieve more in the era of the intelligent insurer.

We spoke to John Cusano, Accenture’s Global Insurance Industry lead, about how human beings are taking control and shaping technology to fit our needs, large and small.

Q: The theme of this year’s Technology Vision is “Technology for People”—please sum up what this means for the insurance industry.

The Technology for People theme builds on last year’s report, where we voiced the idea that insurers must put People First as they accelerate their digital transformation. This year in our Tech Vison, we see that as the digital revolution takes hold, it’s bringing a new era of human empowerment.

We’re witnessing technology profoundly transforming the way we work and live, and in the process unleashing tremendous opportunity as well as difficult challenges we must address. In fact, 87 percent of the insurance respondents in our research agreed that we have entered an era of technology advancement that is no longer marked by linear progression, but by an exponential rate of change.

Technology changes are all around us, and are coming faster than ever. You might say that is not new, but what makes it different this time is that humans are taking control and shaping technology to fit our needs, large and small. No longer are we waiting and wondering how the latest digital technology innovations will change things; we’re in control and we’re adapting technology to our goals and requirements.

Q: Let’s begin with the first trend—AI is the new UI. What’s that all about?   

We’re expecting artificial intelligence, or AI, to come of age in a big way in 2017. We’re already seeing a growing list of insurers leverage AI to transform their customer- and distributor-facing channels, including the use of robo-advisors to support customers in their purchasing decisions and agents in their sales processes. As AI becomes more of the user experience, our research predicts that it will grow beyond being just an intelligent interface.

With each customer interaction becoming more personalized, powerful, and natural, AI will become the digital insurer’s ambassador. It will be common in future for agents, insurance salesforces and bots to work in partnership to optimize a quote or financial advice, with AI mining multiple datasets to offer contextual insights into the customer’s needs, the products in the market and other factors.

Because of its powerful simplicity, customers may soon spend more time engaged with a company’s AI than talking to its people. So, picture this—in the same way that a customer can be delighted or angered based on a customer service representative, an AI system will represent a company’s brand and can leave a lasting impression.

Q: The second trend, Ecosystems Power Plays, is about the power of ecosystems and platforms. Why are ecosystems becoming such an important strategic play for insurers?

Platform companies like Google, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb have broken the rules for how companies operate and compete by inventing platform models that provide a single point to access multiple services. To remain relevant in this world, insurers need a rich and robust ecosystem approach.

This builds on the work many carriers have been doing for years, leveraging platforms such as Google for marketing, online aggregators for distribution, and cloud partners for technical infrastructure or applications. Their core business functions rely heavily on a complex network of digital partners—cloud providers, security vendors, workforce platforms, sales and CRM providers, marketing platforms and more.

The challenge for insurers is to embrace a more holistic strategy that balances tactical decision-making about such platforms with strategic investment in the digital ecosystems of the future. We foresee an explosion of collaborative ventures between industry leaders. Where will insurers play in the emerging ecosystems around the connected home, the smart factory, precision agriculture, connected health, transport-on-demand and so forth?

Q: Trend number 3 is about the future of work: Workforce Marketplace. Do you foresee this trend helping insurers address some of the challenges they face as their workforces age?

Our industry is on the cusp of a skills crisis as it struggles to attract "born digital" professionals to join the industry, and as a vast part of its existing workforce retires over the next few years. What’s more, many insurers are finding that their existing workforces lack skills in customer experience, analytics, AI and other digital competencies they need to remain relevant in a changing market.

As traditional roles are automated, insurers’ workforces may shrink, but their people will need to be more tech-savvy, creative, analytic, customer-centric and entrepreneurial. The skills on demand platforms and powerful collaboration tools offer exciting new ways to access the right talent to grow insurance businesses.

These offerings enable insurers to quickly look internally or to the external labor market to meet the demand for skills. They offer efficient ways for insurers to plug gaps in their own capabilities—for example, accessing top user-experience or data science skills on-demand—and to efficiently speed new products or initiatives to market.

Q: Design for Humans, the fourth trend, seems to cut right to the heart of this year’s Tech Vision.

Design for Humans is the epitome of Technology for People. Instead of us having to learn how to use technology, we are now teaching it to enhance our lives, making them richer and more fulfilling. This is thanks to the combination of the Internet of Things, big data and AI—it enables us to gather and act on masses of data about how customers live and work, what they think, what they want, how they react….

Insurance carriers have an opportunity to move beyond simple personalization techniques towards offering their customers tailored "living services" that are aligned to their personal and workplace behaviors and goals. As a starting point, insurers can think about shifting from pooling and pricing risk based only on historical data to automatically assessing and pricing risk directly, individually and in real-time.

They can move beyond simply providing customers with insurance cover. They can offer them real-time services and risk management solutions that address their real goals—whether these are a need for safe transport, or support as they move to a new home or start a family—all driven by adaptive technologies and interfaces that interact with customers and employees in a more natural, human way.

They can also understand which incentives will motivate positive change in customers’ behavior. This opens opportunities to reduce claims while strengthening long-term relationships with customers. This is an amazing opportunity for the industry to completely change its relationship with the customer.

Q: The final trend is The Uncharted, and it focuses on the need to ensure that we have the right standards, regulations, and ethical norms to support disruptive new technologies. What role do you see insurers playing here?

Digital pioneers are creating new industries like connected transportation and connected healthcare. Insurance should take a leadership role as people, organizations and entire industries seek to understand, manage and reduce the risks of a range of disruptive trends from precision agriculture to factory robotics to the sharing and gig economies to self-driving vehicles.

These are unparalleled moves and they bring entirely new opportunities for insurers. Emerging digital ecosystems are transcending disparate markets to create new industries—but risk management must be embedded into ecosystems if they are to win support from consumers, businesses and governments.

This is an opportunity for insurers to engage in the transfer of new risks and to help spur adoption of exciting technologies that will profoundly change the world over the next decade.

With great opportunity comes great responsibility. And it’s our responsibility to apply Technology for People. We must dream big, but we must also take the actions needed to make sure that everyone participates in and benefits from the innovations we are creating.