Opportunities for Group Insurance Innovation during the Pandemic

Insurers who invested heavily in innovative technologies like artificial intelligence before the pandemic are now reaping the greatest benefits—but there remains plenty of room to grow.

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Over the months since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, the group insurance industry has moved from putting out fires towards a new “business as usual,” with remote work, redesigned business processes, and limited face-to-face meetings or business travel.

While most insurers are doing their best to ensure business continuity and maintain pre-pandemic customer-service standards, many were exposed to a sudden shockwave of evolved customer expectations and challenges in transitioning employees to a virtual work environment. Group insurance providers were particularly exposed to the unknown, including a possible reduction in revenues due to business closures, layoffs, and group plan cancellations. On the other hand, there were fewer claims as many insured employees stopped seeing their dentist, doctors, chiropractors, physiotherapists, and so on.

While the pandemic has propelled the economic conditions for serious disruption in the group benefits industry, many established insurers have discovered the benefits of innovative technologies in this “new normal.”

New opportunities exist for all insurers—big and small, new and old—to redefine themselves and augment the customer experience despite minimized social interaction and global lockdowns. Let’s dive in.

Opportunity #1: Artificial Intelligence and Big Data

“While other crises reshaped the future, COVID-19 is just making the future happen faster,” says Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University.

While not speaking directly about artificial intelligence, there are few technologies that better fit Galloway’s outlook on the future than AI. According to a recent Gartner survey of senior IT leaders across all industries, 40 percent of them plan to deploy AI solutions by the end of 2020. As remote work remains the standard for the foreseeable future and companies seek cost-reduction strategies, the hunger for “smart” technologies will rise.

In 2020, there will be several opportunities for insurers to identify quick wins in adopting artificial intelligence into their organizations. AI has helped insurers personalize customer experiences by using smart predictions, census scrubbing, automating underwriting, and streamlining claims adjusting and payment with fraud detection.

Is your organization ready for artificial intelligence? Some key questions to ask:

  • Does our team have to manually correct missing/erroneous values during data imports?
  • Does our existing technology stack have difficulty correcting quality issues?
  • Can IT operations processes and pain points be mapped to artificial intelligence solution capabilities?
  • Do we have strong project management personnel and executive sponsorship to support an AI initiative?
  • Do we have a corporate culture that is friendly to innovation and capable of managing significant change?

If your answer to most of these questions is “yes,” you should begin investigating some of the AI-powered products already available to the group insurance market to determine the right fit for your organization. From intelligently organizing and cleaning thousands of rows of data to reducing manual processes, now is the time to initiate internal discussions on where these quick wins can take place, which business units would be affected, and how the change can be managed.

Opportunity #2: Digital Self-service for Group Benefits

For both customers and group benefits providers, stay-at-home orders have accelerated the demand for user-friendly digital interfaces to streamline transactions, communicate remotely, and in many cases, allow customers to serve themselves.

Ranging from simple knowledge bases to advanced chatbots, digital self-service is rapidly becoming an area of focus for insurers as call centers reach peak volume during the pandemic and wait times further diminish the customer experience.

One of the top pain points customers have with insurers is the speed of processing claims. Claims automation is another area where artificial intelligence can facilitate self-service and improve the customer experience by simultaneously tracking thousands of data points to detect fraudulent claims.

Digital self-service in submitting claims can reduce staffing levels, speed settlement, and save human claims operators for higher-value and more complex cases.

Opportunity #3: COVID-19-inspired Group Insurance Products

COVID-19 left many individuals feeling exposed and unprotected by sudden changes in their health, social life, and work. These individuals will likely drive a spike in post-pandemic demand for a variety of insurance products that can better insulate them from future risks.

The post-pandemic group insurance market will reward insurers that can keep up with market demand. This means launching new products, quickly.

Launching COVID-19-inspired products will require extensive strategic and actuarial planning, but being first to market requires scalable technology solutions that can accelerate product delivery using automation and powerful business-rule management. Many legacy systems used by insurers will be unable to keep pace with demand for new offerings while adjusting existing lines such as disability and long-term care that have been impacted by the pandemic.

Additionally, the added complexities of having more distributed workforces across geographies and industries will require insurers to leverage technology to streamline underwriting, automate renewals, and manage business rules more effectively than before.

Opportunity #4: Digital Healthcare Services

Digital health services will also be foundational to the new group benefits landscape. In the past year, we have seen skyrocketing adoption of virtual healthcare, with telehealth visits expected to reach 1 billion by the end of 2020, according to Forrester. To keep pace with this sharp increase in virtual health and to meet on-demand expectations of customers, group benefits providers will have to integrate digital healthcare into their offerings.

One example of impressive foresight is AXA Global Coverage’s “virtual doctor” service, launched in 2018 and now available as a mobile app. After the coronavirus pandemic was declared, AXA Global Coverage extended its virtual doctor services to all members. This sign of good faith builds trust and long-term relationships with customers—something that is particularly valuable at a time where anxiety levels are high.

Opportunity #5: Wearables and Internet of Things (IoT)

As insurers adopt artificial intelligence, digital self-service, new products, and digital healthcare services, the industry is moving towards scalable and interconnected digital ecosystems with a 360-degree view of the customer at all times.

This is where wearables and IoT technology comes in. If properly implemented, these technologies (Fitbit, smartwatches, smart-home technology, etc.) can provide countless data points on customers’ health and behavior such as heart rate, activity levels, calories consumed, etc. Coupled with AI-powered applications and automated underwriting tools, this data can be used to generate more accurate quotes using more data points in seconds.

By adopting wearable technology, many insurers are enabling customers to feel a certain level of control over their premiums, resulting in greater customer experience. This is particularly true when the process is gamified through an interface like a mobile app where customers are rewarded with a new high score for walking a certain number of steps in a day, or can view their progress over time.

In many ways, the pandemic has brought out the best in the insurance industry. All across the world, we have seen insurers stepping up where they can: maintaining coverage for cross-border truck drivers, extending coverage to more customers, relaxing underwriting requirements, supporting businesses, and engaging the communities they operate in with effective communications and advice.

To make the most out of the new “business as usual,” group benefits providers must direct their organizations to continuously adapt to new customer preferences and technological innovations. As a result, many group benefits providers are turning to consolidated, end-to-end platforms that manage the entire customer lifecycle – from enrollment to claims processing and beyond.

Understandably, many insurers are reluctant to begin major digital projects due to the level of uncertainty amid a global pandemic. However, in a post-pandemic digital landscape, the insurers who are most resistant to change will have the hardest time keeping up. 2020 is the perfect time to begin your digital transformation.

Stephen Boucher // Stephen Boucher is an account executive at Global IQX, a provider of AI-driven sales and underwriting solutions for the group insurance industry in the United States and Canada. He writes about emerging technologies, digital transformation and artificial intelligence, offering strategic insights about a rapidly evolving insurance landscape. He can be reached at stephen.boucher@globaliqx.com.

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