The Spice of Insurance Work

I recently enjoyed congregating with insurers, regulators, venture capitalists, and software vendors of all sizes to tease out how big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence are causing irreversible climate change in the insurance ecosystem. The topics at Insurance Disrupted included:

  • Fun but unfalsifiable crystal ball predictions: “By 2020, autonomous software agents outside of human control will participate in five percent of all economic transactions.” (Unless it’s really 100% and the robots are covering it up.)
  • Dire warnings: Self-driving cars will destroy your business model even sooner than you think! And if not, then drones with wearable telematics will destroy your business model even sooner than that!
  • Practical advice: Here’s how to get regulators to agree with you that your new tech idea is cool and should be allowed in this state… (Hint: Know somebody.)
  • And of course, nifty new technologies: Providing early warnings for earthquakes, converting satellite images to structured underwriting data, recognizing customers’ emotions or bad driving habits, and the aforementioned smart agents. (“Alexa, is my BOP insurance coverage adequate for my growing business?”)

Yet a surprising number of us kept returning to a more philosophical topic: the future of insurance work as work — i.e., from the perspective of the employee, rather than the IT plan or the bottom line. Many pundits have wrung their hands over the looming brain drain as experienced insurance workers retire in ever-increasing numbers, leaving too much work for the overstretched employees who remain. An apparently different set of clairvoyants worry that smarter and smarter machines will take over everybody’s job, leaving us with nothing to do. Neither set seems attuned to how insurance work can, must, and will change in response to these demographic and technological forces.

My own presentation featured trenchant and profound comparisons to the science fiction classic Dune — complete with screenshots from the 1984 movie that my brother calls “the biggest cinematic disappointment of [his] life…”

Alas that I have not the space to develop my insightful analogy here, but the key point is that smart machines will actually make our experience of work more human, not less:

  • As software learns to further our goals rather than demand we serve its needs, we will be freed to refocus on our Mission: Why do we work in insurance and what do we hope to accomplish?
  • Once we define our mission, then it will become clear exactly what Information our software assistants should collate to complete it — and what should be filtered out or processed automatically because it doesn’t serve our purpose or affect our decisions.
  • Together our mission and targeted information allow us to apply our expertise, but intelligent software will also give us the Leverage to spread that expertise where most needed—for example, when an underwriter’s knowledge helps marketers and agents to target prospects whose applications won’t be rejected later.

We as an industry must admit that, despite incredible advances from the legacy mainframe days, we do not yet live in such a world. On the other hand, it is precisely by remembering these principles and applying them to insurance software design that we will get there — even sooner than you think!