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New tech will drive protection (but we’ll still need a human touch)

The answer lies in combining man (and woman) with machines, but in a different way than today

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I read the recent views on the online protection revolution by Ian McKenna, director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre (blogging from Finovate Spring), and Money Marketing group editor Paul McMillan with interest.

Not least because my own firm specialises in protection advice and has been quietly investing considerable amounts in technology over the last few years.

As McMillan points out, automation has changed underwriting and will no doubt continue to – at the point of application and then on an ongoing basis through smart and/or wearable devices. Those who have really done their homework on the subject will also be aware of developments in smart implants and the $10m Qualcomm Xprize offered for a working version of Star Trek’s Tricorder (and some are close). Meanwhile Apple is hiring some of the world’s top medical experts.

All of which is impressive, but none of this will cause more people to have access to, understand and then confidently buy our products. Frankly, at the current underlying rate of year-on-year decline, most of these tools will have to be relevant for other reasons because our market will be too small to be bothered with. If ever there was an industry that should be looking to modern technology to grow through online advice, protection insurance is it.

All we have seen to date are flat-form processes, now with whizzy 3D graphics and pre-recorded videos. McKenna’s view of sites in the US is that they make the best in the UK look ‘embarrassing’. However my view of the sites referenced is that there is little difference, if any, between the best in the UK and the US and none are having a material impact on anything.

Like McKenna, I believe the answer lies in combining man (and woman) with machines, but in a different way than today. There currently aren’t enough face-to-face advisers. Those that exist don’t have a great enough reach because of inherent inefficiencies, and the online-only businesses don’t have what it takes to carry a high number of enquiries through to purchase.

Tomorrow’s online businesses will need additional solutions that build on the advantages human interaction offers, together with the efficiency and reach that technology can provide. For those wanting real-time support we have phones and chat, chat being considerably more efficient because of the number of conversations one operator can handle – the evolution of which will be onscreen avatars speaking words typed by trained advisers.

This may seem unrealistic, but much of what we see happening with technology in business today would have been thought unrealistic 10 years ago.

The protection market needs a human, or human-like, touch because while having money forces you to manage it, having a family doesn’t force you to take action financially to protect it.

Technology on its own is not compelling enough to persuade the majority of potential protection customers to buy. Many of the human skills advisers have – which influence or give confidence to consumers (people who might buy) to become customers (people who do buy) will be delivered to more people, more efficiently this way. 

The future of online protection advice, and the bridge needed to grow this market, lies in combining highly trained people with innovative technology, engaging avatars, controlled by empowered advisers using smart systems.

I leave you with this thought; research published on www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk suggests a 92 per cent probability of insurance sales agents’ jobs being computerised.  

David Thomson is chief executive of hannah.co.uk 

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