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Ian McKenna: AI – use it or lose to it

Ian McKennaAI is already changing lives daily and advice firms need to work out how to use it for their benefit as a matter of urgency

This week, I want to look at some of the ways artificial intelligence is really starting to become part of the world around us and how it can be expected to emerge further in the advice market.

To begin, though, it is worth clarifying what some of the frequently used phrases actually mean. AI is essentially any process where a machine carries out the tasks usually associated with humans.

A machine in this context could be either a physical device, such as a robot, or a virtual one, like a piece of software.

What we mean by AI tends to be a movable target. In 1940, the Turing machine that broke the Enigma code was a form of AI. Today, the mobile phones we carry are exponentially more intelligent.

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A good example is the emergence of hamburger-making machines. These machines, which have been around for a few years now, carry out the whole process, taking the patties, buns and other ingredients to assemble a burger.

The cost saving when compared to human labour is so great it can justify the use of higher-quality ingredients for the end consumer.

Machine and deep learning
Machine learning is a form of AI, where systems use large amounts of data to identify regularly repeated patterns, nuances and behaviours.

You give the machines the data and let them work things out for themselves. This has huge application in the area of compliance and it is only a matter of time before we start seeing paraplanning tools based around machine learning too.

It is also going to have a big part to play in the NHS and health industry. Last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested automating key processes could save the NHS £12.5bn a year.

This was before Amazon announced its Comprehend Medical initiative, a machine learning product with the ability to identify and process patient diagnoses, symptoms and results of tests, treatments and other relevant information from unstructured notes. As a by-product, this will almost certainly reinvent the process of life insurance underwriting.

Deep learning is a further subset of machine learning, using artificial neural networks structured similarly to the human brain.

You most likely engage with deep learning every day; it sits behind many services, like Google Home and Alexa, and even the way Netflix chooses what to recommend to you.

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Some of the most impressive presentations at the recent Technology Tools for Today conference demonstrated how Netflix-type interfaces could be used to deliver information to clients in a more consumer-friendly way. So expect to be offered something like this by your client portal provider in the near future.

Trailblazers
AI is already making significant progress into financial services. JP Morgan has created software called Contract Intelligence – aka Coin – which enables it to review in seconds contracts that would previously have taken 360,000 hours by legal staff. It is more accurate than lawyers too.

Another great example is the work being done by Intergen Data, which has demonstrated using Alexa to conduct financial planning in far more detail than is being shown by most tech providers currently.

In the UK, the insurer that really stands out from the crowd is Aviva, with its data science business Aviva Quantum. This has been the engine behind its Ask it Never initiative, which has transformed how it offers and underwrites a growing range of products. My personal experience of Ask it Never has been to cut my home contents premium from £800 per year to under £150 for genuinely comparable cover. And it remained competitive at renewal.

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It also uses AI to read and interpret complex medical reports. This now takes seconds rather than days, enabling it to provide more than 80 per cent of customers with an instant underwriting decision.

The next stage will be to apply this technology to assessing protection claims using analytics and predictive modelling, which Aviva anticipates will help process around 50 per cent of claims instantly.

This has huge potential to set market-leading standards in an area many advisers consider to be the most important part of the life insurance process.

So AI is already changing people’s lives daily. It has the power to enable firms to do so much more with far less. Advice firms need to work out how to leverage AI to improve their business as a matter of urgency.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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