- Where Insurance & Technology Meet

Is the Purpose of Digital to Make Analog Better?

I own a good number of vinyl records, some going back almost five decades. I like the experience of vinyl better than any other reproduction of music. That said, much of the electronics that support playing the vinyl are fully digital.

Is there a lesson here for digital generally, and digital insurance specifically? I’d like to chat with you about it, perhaps at a birthday party in March.

Digital and the individual consumer experience

A recent article in the European Business Review commented on the use of digital in improving the customer experience.  The author, Mike Sutcliffe, cited an Accenture study which found that “more than 70 percent of shoppers now expect to be able to check in-store merchandise via a website, and half expect to be able to buy merchandise online and pick it up in the store”.

Sutcliffe noted that this is causing a digital-first strategy with many firms, the objective of which is to deliver a personal experience for each individual buyer, “something that was unthinkable and unaffordable just a few years ago, but will become an expectation.”

It used to be that the shop owner would know you and your preferences when you walked into her shop.  And this made you feel valued.  And you came back.  The principal hasn’t changed, but the enabler has.

The Watson role in insurance …

We have been following the journey of US insurance giant USAA along the IBM Watson path for some time (see, e.g., our post last July  USAA and Watson: Defining the Standard for Customer Service?).

There was a recent Webinar, moderated by’s Doug Grant, which provided an update and some interesting preliminary conclusions.

Watson is currently being used to supply information to USAA’s members (US Military personnel) during their separation from the military to civilian life.  Neff Hudson, VP Emerging Channels at USAA noted that this is a stressful time for the members (customers) and each situation has its own complexities.

In her opening remarks for the Webinar, Debra Ambrose, SVP Distribution, Aviva Canada.  Ambrose noted that “Customers will be much more in control, expecting self-service and self-solve.  They will want to be able to access data and insight, and use it to guide their own decisions.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Theory meets reality

After training Watson and supplying a library of reference material, Watson was put into action.

The member feedback from the users was intriguing:

  • Very cool technology. I think it can provide some very useful information.
  • It was useful. If it didn’t answer the question directly. It did provide a good reference.
  • Indicated that they would prefer to speak to a live person for personalized advice.

USAA’s conclusions were equally interesting

  • Content is key
  • Need to “Get Personal and have a Personality”
  • High Potential, hard work

Next steps for Watson

USAA and IBM are committed to use these leanings and move forward.  IBM’s Anwar Haneef noted that “Watson is creating a new partnership between people and computers that enhances, scales and accelerates human expertise.”

Watson represents the next generation of computing – Cognitive systems which will support the expertise of insurance professionals – agents/brokers, underwriters, claims examiners – in providing the best and most timely advice to increasingly sophisticated users.

Is there a lesson? And a Birthday Party?

As with my vinyl collection, if there is a larger lesson here, it could be that as digital improves, it is increasingly enabling analogs (AKA humans)  to be the best they can be.

I plan to test this premise at the 2015 Technology Conference, March 9-10, 2015, which will focus on “The Digital Customer Experience”.

We will have over 30 presentations on digital and its impact on insurance customers.  I’d like you to join me.

By the way, I mentioned a birthday party: This will be the 20th anniversary of  There will be cake!

Meantime, I’d appreciate your comments directly.  How do do you see digital supporting your work?  And yourself?


One Comment

Dmitry Zaharov

Doug, very wisely noted. Digital era showed humans that 99% of their routine can be automated. Many are wondering if computers will compete with humans. This is an interesting time, as it frees up us, humans, to look for that unique 1% inside ourselves.

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