3Qs with Carlos Benfeito, our Chief Technology Officer, on his first six months at Breathe Life and how he sees the impact of emerging technologies on Breathe Life products now and going forward.
Q: At a high-level, what role do you see technology playing in the insurance business?
What is happening now in insurance is exciting! We are beginning to see the positive impact of technology on our customers, agents, and insurers.
The process of buying products has changed significantly over the past few years. Much of the technology being used today is driven by leading tech companies like Amazon. Instead of door-to-door selling, insurers are now focusing on how the customer buys products, offering insurers the opportunity to frame the customer experience for all concerned from customers to agents and insurers.
Technology is changing the mindset of insurers from ‘selling’ insurance to ‘buying’ insurance. I see it as a game-changer. While it is an interesting way of starting the buying process – driving customers to a website is obviously valuable – the real power of today’s technology is the opportunities it opens up.
To enable this new ecosystem, insurers need to make the online transaction happen quickly. We are starting to make great strides forward in this area by simplifying the buying experience to the extent that the experience can be transacted efficiently and effectively online.
Technology is an enabler. It is about two things: data and the intelligence around the data. Over the next five years or so, there is going to be an astounding acceleration in the intelligence layer of technologies. We have all heard the buzzwords: AI and machine learning.
The goal for insurers is to use these emerging technologies to underwrite products online without human intervention. At least to the point where human intervention is just a final checkpoint. However, if you think about it, online experiences mean that the underwriting function must happen in real-time.
One major benefit of the technology is that insurers can now offer innovative products that they were not able to offer before, either because the margins were too thin or the touchpoints on these products made them too expensive to sell. Technology enables insurers to offer more complex, creative products because of its ability to assist in the buying experience. There is now an opportunity to explain how products work and to educate consumers about the benefits of insurance products in general and specifically without an in-person selling situation.
Another benefit of the newly emerging technologies is the trend of selling products through a proxy. For example, if you buy a Tesla, you can get your auto insurance through Tesla with a simple click. It is a proxy experience. You do not have to end the process of buying the Tesla and then go to your insurer to buy auto coverage. You can do it all on one website, without stopping the customer’s journey to buying the Tesla.
I think there will be more of this type of experience in the insurance space. Customers already use financial apps to track investments and their portfolios. So why not use technology to enable the customer to buy life insurance through their financial apps by clicking a button through the connected experience? It is now all about the insurer meeting the customer on their buying journey, rather than pulling them out of the journey.
That is the type of customer experience we need to drive. With the technology we are putting in place now, we can help insurers change their mindset from ‘selling’ insurance to ‘buying’ it.
Q: Do you have any concrete examples about which you can talk?
The online application plays a crucial role in the online experience. Why does an underwriter really need to make an online quote? What will help the process along – and what is slowing it down? There is a wealth of external data available right now to help insurers pre-fill some of the needed underwriting information.
At Breathe Life, we focus on the applications and the questions we ask. We discovered that the way a question is asked makes a significant difference in application success rates. For example, if you ask an applicant if they have had any medical conditions in the past seven years or if, instead, you ask the applicant if they have had any of a list of specific medical conditions in the past 7 years, there is a radical change in the application completion rate. How the question is asked can increase the successful online completions or it can block somebody from buying because of the way they interpreted the question or the way the question is posed.
We evaluate the applications, pose questions, and determine where in the process people drop off. What is it about that question that is causing people to quit the app? Because this is a long, tedious process, we started building the intelligence upfront by focusing on understanding why people want to buy these life insurance products and then asking questions in the right way to increase the completion rate.
Another important aspect of the application is the customer reaction to the online process itself. By using algorithms and data intelligence, we can be proactive in asking the right questions in the right way. That is just one concrete example of how technology is helping insurers, agents, and their customers have a positive, more personalized online experience, resulting in more trust and comfort in the consumer’s attitude toward the insurer and the agent.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the art of the possible in these newly emerging technologies?
There are going to be amazing advances in this space over the next few years. One thought under evaluation is to simply add a question mark to the application, enabling the customer to click on the question and enable a pop up to explain what is needed and why. That is one of the simple ways to use today’s technology.
When you look at the advances in intelligence, however, one area stands out: natural language generation. Algorithms could enable the text to come up based on what was asked and this contextual response would be specific to what the person is asking about instead of having the hard-coded question mark.
In the end, you need to know what you need to know. Unfortunately, insurers are in a situation where they do not have the systems that can offer that right now. We are investing in these newly emerging technologies and think that over the next 5 to 10 years, it will be possible to shift the insurer paradigm from reactive selling to proactive buying. We are still at the tip of the technology iceberg, but the art of possible offers a massive opportunity for insurers to create a positive customer experience for insurance buyers.