Distracted driving, artificial intelligence and insurers’ path to digital were among the big technology topics up for debate at the seventh annual SMA Summit conference, held Monday in Boston. Following is some expert insight.

Innovation through incubator labs

Like many insurers, Liberty Mutual divides its digital transformation efforts into four domains: partnerships, startup investments, acquisitions and in-house technology development. Chris Moss oversees the latter component of the carrier’s strategy, as head of Solaria Labs, Liberty Mutual’s innovation center.

Launched in 2015, the business unit provides an ideal environment for project building, Moss says, but was too reliant on small businesses partners to develop products for it early on.

Girish Rao, AVP of IT, Zurich North America
Girish Rao, AVP of IT, Zurich North America

“I was brought in to hire user-experience and machine-learning talent and get teams in place,” said Moss, who assumed his role last November.

His team operates in a WeWork space in Boston’s financial district, which is shared with companies such as Amazon and Google. Liberty occupies 160 seats. Aside from developing products, Solaria Labs also sponsors accelerators, including MassChallenge and Techstars, partners with local universities to fund research and collaborates with insurtechs, and has another office in Singapore, Moss said.

Notable Liberty Mutual partners include Turo, a car-sharing service where users make profit by letting customers rent their car, smart home companies Nest and Notion as well as automaker Subaru for vehicle telematics.

Applying robotics, cognitive computing in the workplace

Technology firms have used artificial intelligence on their customers for years. And insurers are now primed to do the same with their policyholders, agents and employees, according to Girish Rao, AVP of IT at Zurich North America.

Insurance carriers will encounter a series of challenges when implementing robotics and cognitive computing across their businesses, he says. For one, carriers are required to integrate core systems. Cognitive engines also do not live in isolated environments, meaning servers have to be able to communicate with one another.

Girish Rao, AVP of IT, Zurich North America“This can be costly and time consuming,” said Rao. “The complexity of the overall architecture grows as interfaces grow.”

A third issue is data input, he added. Data comes from a multitude of sources and it’s not always in a digestible form.

“If a [single] system is automated relatively easily, it was likely too stable and will give you less value,” he concluded. “There is no out-of-the-box solution yet, especially for an insurance specific domain such as property & casualty.”

Distracted driving

Google Maps, Facebook, Messenger, YouTube and Snapchat are the top five used apps by drivers in the lead up to accidents, according to TrueMotion CEO Ted Gramer.

The telematics startup, a partner of Travelers, Metlife and LexisNexis, uses its smartphone application to detect poor driving habits, including how drivers use their mobile devices while operating a vehicle.

Ted Gramer, CEO, TrueMotionAccording to the company statistics, 12% of drivers today text and drive compared to just two percent in 2012. Other societal issues such as drunk driving and seat-belt use have gone in the opposite direction, but took more than 40 years to fix. Additionally, drivers cannot afford to wait four decades with fatalities increasing over the last two years, he says.

“We believe technology is the biggest distraction to drivers, but it is also the solution,” Gramer said, adding that other methods used to rectify driver behavior such as TV advertisements have had little effect on customers.

Instead, TrueMotion is using gamification to reward customers and is teaching its users about the dangers of unsafe driving.

“Phones are the center of customers’ lives,” he said. “Distracted driving is a problem that will be solved on the phone.”

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