We see endless possibilities for usage of AI in insurance: Girish Nayak, ICICI Lombard General Insurance

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Girish Nayak, Chief, Service Operations and Technology, ICICI Lombard General Insurance, tells us some of the leading technology initiatives taken in 2020, and plans for the future with respect to leveraging emerging technologies such as AI, ML and RPA

What were some of the leading technology initiatives taken in 2020?

The year 2020 has been a very challenging year and has forced everyone to adapt to new realities and to new ways of working. At ICICI Lombard, it was no different. While we had enabled channel partners and customers for digital transactions in terms of both issuance and service, we needed to ensure that our employees were enabled to start supporting business from home. Even before the lockdown began, we had moved half of our employees to support business activity from home and ramped it up in accordance with national, state and local directives. We had to modify and revamp our infrastructure security measures to ensure safe and secure access to data and applications in the enterprise. Significant investments in technology over the years has helped us to enable digital policy issuance and servicing for our customers as well as our channel partners. Prior to the pandemic, we had seen significant adoption of our digital infrastructure by channel partners and customers, however the pandemic changed everything overnight. Everyone had to move to this digital adoption and since we had all these platforms ready it became a seamless transition for all of us. Over the last 9 months, we enhanced some of these platforms to take care of the increased workload and also created robust security measures to ensure seamless and secure digital transactions.

While safety and security of applications and work-from-home enablement remained the top priorities for continuity of business, we have also been able to launch some significant new initiatives in both policy issuance and customer service this year. Through our ILTakeCare app, customers had been able to service their policies through a single app. This year, we launched our tele-consult feature “Hello Doctor” on the app. This solution gives customers 24×7 access to a doctor for consultation though video to resolve their health issues. We have seen significant usage of this feature during the lockdown. Few months ago, we also launched a unique home care service for customers in collaboration with home service providers partners. Here, doctors will prescribe a treatment through tele-consultation after diagnosing the patient. The home care service will also include remote monitoring by a medical professional. If the need arises, nurses, doctors or physiotherapists can also came and check the patients at their residence.

Another opportunity that we have tested and deployed is in the field of medical underwriting, which is one of the most crucial steps for an insurance organization that underwrites life or health policies. We were able to co-develop a medical underwriting BOT with one of our technology partners during this lockdown. Here, the customer is asked several medical questions by an interactive voice BOT and the customer’s responses are recorded immediately. Basis the voice responses given by the customer to each of the underwriting questions, the BOT then applies the underwriting lens to help segment customers. It helps decide which customers are safe risk and can be directly issued a policy versus those that need to be evaluated further by a medical professional. This medical evaluation is then done by a qualified doctor over the phone in most cases. This process has, in many cases, eliminated the need for medical tests to be done by prospective customers.

Over time, we have taken a lot of initiatives in policy issuance and customer service. We have seen them scale up significantly during this time. For example in customer service we have a video survey feature for reporting of motor claims. This eliminated the need for a surveyor to travel to a garage and do a physical survey for the damages. With a live video feed a service manager could record the damages on the car and instantly authorize the repair work. Such features have gained significant adoption during the lockdown period.

What has been the impact of these initiatives for your organization? Please explain some major benefits?

We all know that technology acts as a key enabler for any organization today, and even more so with the situation that we are currently in. At ICICI Lombard, we are leveraging various new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), in solving different business problems both on the distribution as well as the claims and customer service front. With ever-increasing customer expectations, customer centricity has become more important than ever. Moreover, organizations today no longer have years of time to experiment and get their model right in this VUCA world. We would have to design new insurance products and distribution partnerships which can suit the lifestyle of today’s generation and fit in seamlessly. So, we continue to move in the direction of helping the customers to buy an insurance policy as seamlessly as possible and in settling claims for such policies in near real-time.

While we have always focused on building digital capabilities, we are very encouraged by the digital adoption that we are seeing from all our customers and stakeholders during this pandemic. For example, on the distribution side, 97%+ of our policies are issued electronically, this number has seen a small increase during the pandemic period. On the servicing side, we are seeing increased adoption of our customer service platforms across email, chat and Whatsapp. On the motor servicing side, our motor video survey solution has seen a 2.5x more adoption during the lockdown period. We have been able to offer similar means of claims intimation in other lines of businesses as well. Our motor break-in solution for lapsed policy renewal has seen 3x more digital inspections and authorizations as compared to prior the pandemic. On the health side, our corporate health cashless authorizations using AI, have grown to ~70% from 30% earlier.

On the commercial lines business, for customers where we offer marine cargo insurance, we offer comprehensive consignment monitoring solutions which includes features such as location tracking, critical parameter monitoring (e.g. temperature, vibration, humidity etc.), excursion alerts and detailed reports for both domestic and international shipments. Last year, we had deployed various devices across several large corporates and have already diffused multiple hijacking and theft attempts. Similarly, we have prevented temperature excursion for a high value temperature sensitive pharma consignment when the truck met with an accident on road. This will become increasingly important for vaccines that require extremely low temperatures. We continue to create such solutions that will benefit our customers and stakeholders and give us a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Biggest impact of the COVID- 19 crisis on your technology initiatives? What has changed and how will this impact your technology strategy in 2021? Which technologies will grow in prominence in 2021?

The pandemic has clearly forced organizations to think of innovative solutions for catering to consumers. For an industry like insurance which happened to be physical intensive, it has brought about increased adoption of digital methods of fulfilment in the insurance life cycle. Any disruption to normal ways of working has its own set of challenges and in this case it is very important that technology is up to the task. Here are a few things that obviously were challenging for our organization and we had to find unique ways of solving them.

For ensuring business as usual, as an organization we needed to equip both our customers and our employees with tools and options to communicate with each other. Whatsapp and chat became a very important tool for customer engagement. Digital means of servicing was extremely important – customers were able to send digital copies of claims forms, use digital means for intimating claims in the case of motor through virtual surveys. In health, we added features of remote doctor consultation to help the customer during the pandemic. At the first signs of the virus spreading, even before the lockdown was imposed, we had moved half of our employees to start supporting business from home. However, it was also essential that they were equipped with the right tools and security to fulfil their work commitments. This also meant that we increase our data and information security. We had to handle confidentiality of data and work, safety and security of personal computers and access to specific applications using VPN or cloud proxies.

Obviously the movement to digital also requires significant upskilling for the organization. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change and that more than a million jobs are likely to be transformed by technology in the next decade. While it is true that there will be a larger need to develop technological and scientific skills, it is also going to be equally important to develop specialized skills in how people interact, collaborate, and create new products and solutions. The best way to learn some of these skillsets is obviously to learn this in a real-world scenario. We constantly encourage our employees to develop innovative solutions using some of these new technologies. A lot of our AI and ML solutions are developed in-house by data scientists who have learnt these skillsets on the job. We have deployed these AI/ML solutions on the cloud platform. We have worked with leading technology providers to arrange for training programs for our employees and in certain cases, company specific hackathons which has helped our employees to learn and also create solutions on these platforms.

Newer technologies on the digital front, including Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will play a major role in providing innovative solutions from a customer experience standpoint. As consumer expectations and behaviours change, we believe that the insurance industry will continue to change by embracing newer technology, be it through an AI chatbot that acts as a Virtual Insurance Advisor, or an AI detection model that acts as a Digital Claims Adjuster or a ML model that acts a smart underwriter. There will be prolific use of AI, ML and cognitive services that will help address needs such as digital adoption, customer experience management, operational efficiency, underwriting profitability, claims optimization and much more.

What are some of the major technology initiatives planned in 2021?

One thing that is clearly here to stay is the contactless and the touchless customer experience. In the past, there remained a significant portion of the customer base that wanted the physical experience of visiting a branch or a service center. This has completely changed with the advent of the pandemic. Agents and channel partners are interacting with customers over video calls, similarly cheque payments have reduced drastically and digital payments have become the norm. There is a complete paradigm shift towards digital means of engagement not only externally but internally as well. A lot of our backend processes that were paper-intensive have been digitized over the last 9 months, in fact since offices were barely open, there was no printing that was done at all during those 9 months. Hopefully that helps us in reducing usage of paper and contributing to protecting the environment. The pandemic has forced most organizations, including ours, to think on how all business processes can be digitized, and not just focus on the policy issuance and servicing aspects of the business. This will continue to benefit organizations in the long run.

The other thing that will see significant investment is going to be in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Over the last few years we have invested significantly in building up AI and ML capabilities both in terms of infrastructure and capabilities. For example almost 2 years ago, we had deployed our break-in solution for motor policies that comes up for renewal past its due date, a surveyor comes and checks the vehicle for any damages. This process is now AI enabled. The vehicle owner can take a few photographs and upload it for the AI algorithm to check for any damage. In case the vehicle has dents, spots, any kind of damage – then the AI engine decides, based on the photographs whether the policy is eligible for renewal or not. This renewal process, when done manually used to take about 72 hours depending on the availability of the customer and surveyor. Now, it happens almost instantly and at the time the customer chooses. If the motor renewal case has not qualified to be handled by AI, a detailed virtual survey is subsequently conducted by the surveyor. This gives the customer flexibility of choosing when and where to renew their lapsed motor vehicle policies. As this solution can now identify motor damages with good accuracy, we are taking this solution to the next level for processing claims for low value damages. We are currently testing these in parallel with motor surveyors and testing the accuracy of these models.

Similarly on the health side, for corporate health claims, when a customer goes in the hospital for cashless authorization, we are able to process authorization for 70% of the cases through our AI solution reducing the time for authorization from 90 minutes to 90 seconds. In this case, the policy related information, doctor’s diagnosis and the course of action recommended by the doctor is ingested in the AI algorithm, which decides the admissibility of the case. This was decided by a doctor at the our end, earlier. Based on the case admissibility, an ML program decides on the optimum claim amount to be sanctioned based on the overall policy sum insured and other parameters. The ML program sends a message to the effect to the hospital. This entire initial sanctioning process takes about 90 seconds. The same process when done manually would take a couple of hours. This also frees up our doctors time to process more complex cases.

We expect to see increased usage of AI and ML in in the insurance industry and this should help address needs across policy purchase, customer service, operations and claims optimization to name a few. Utilization of cloud platforms and services will also increase driven by the increased emphasis on big data, AI and ML. As more applications will start moving to the cloud, data security and monitoring will continue to take precedence.

Role of AI and RPA in the insurance sector. How are you using it today, and how do you see it’s role changing in the future?

With AI and ML, the possibilities are endless, we spoke about the motor damage inspection and the health claims authorization model using AI. Similarly, we are using AI and ML in fraud detection. We have been using AI and ML based fraud detection models that use extensive amounts of data to predict and highlight probable fraudulent claims. Large quantities of internal and external data is processed at the time that a claim is intimated and logged within the system. Since these models follow the continuous self-learning approach, it also helps us to implement solutions that auto-correct very quickly; reducing the time for learning and execution. Similarly, we are currently testing models in the underwriting process that will help us in increased segmentation.

One of the most important ingredients for building quality and large-scale AI and ML models is data. Given our emphasis on data collection and usage over the years, we have access to a large amount of data generated by our systems over these years. We are hoping to use that for our advantage in areas such as underwriting, claims servicing and fraud detection. What is important is how we use these technologies in conjunction with other technologies available, including robotic process automation (RPA). We use RPA significantly in certain processes including our SME policy issuance over email. The complete process from quote generation to digital payments and policy issuance is completely done through email. We don’t need a human interface for doing this. This process is completely run in the background using an RPA tool. We have had our email tool MyRA now for almost 2 years and 90% of policy issuance in specific categories in SME is done using RPA.

We will continue to invest in the latest technologies including AI/ML and RPA that help us in creating significant value for our customers and our stakeholders. Organizations that will leverage data to build such solutions will continue to hold a competitive advantage in the future. It is important that the next wave of digital transformation in the insurance industry continues to focus on efficient ways of serving the customer and is quick enough to be able to adopt new technologies and services in line with consumer expectations. It will not be long before we see a large adoption of AI, ML and cognitive services that will help in underwriting and claims, sales or even customer service. We are hopeful that this new transformation is in line with consumer expectations and helps us to serve our customers better.


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CIOGirish nayakICICI Lombard General Insuranceinsurance
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