In your current job, have you ever asked yourself, “Could I be replaced by a machine?” If not, you might want to pay attention to advances in robotics. There is risk, and there is hope. However, hope seems to require embracing the inevitable incursion of machine intelligence on our intellectual turf.
Who is safe, who is threatened?
A 2013 study undertaken by Deloitte and Oxford University – The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation? – developed a functional task model and normalized professional jobs which allowed for the rank ordering of 702 jobs based on the probability that the job would be computerized.
Jobs with low probability of machine replacement included recreational therapists, first-line supervisors of mechanics, occupational therapists, and healthcare social workers.
High replacement probability jobs included telemarketers, mathematical technicians, insurance processing clerks, and insurance underwriters.
Yes. According to the researchers, automobile insurance appraisers, claims adjusters and insurance agents had a better chance than underwriters. Cue the fear and loathing.
A recent article in Insurance Business reviewing this work postulated that the researchers had it wrong: “practitioners believe that the study only captured a superficial and myopic understanding of the profession.”
The editors contacted Marilyn vanGansewinkel, vice president of corporate risk at Trisura Guarantee Insurance Company, who agreed that for commodity business, statistical software can be used for underwriting.
“But I think where this isn’t the case, and where I don’t necessarily agree with the study is in specialty lines and unique coverages. Those will always need an underwriter who can understand the risk and put up the risk,” vanGansewinkel said.
Let’s get a second opinion….
I asked Mike Fitzgerald, Senior Analyst at Celent, for his thoughts. Mike has been contributing to Insurance-Canada.ca’s Technology Conference and Executive Forum for some years. His focus for the last while has been on ‘intelligent machines’ and artificial intelligence.
“There is no doubt that the impact of these technologies will be less on the specialty lines and unique coverages,” Fitzgerald said.
But this doesn’t mean that underwriting complex risks won’t be changed by the use of technology. According to Fitzgerald, “Across the board, such automation will enhance the role of the underwriter. … automation will ‘clear the desk’ of many risks and allow underwriters to concentrate on those risks on which they can add the most value.”
Machines are getting smarter and more versatile
Rust never sleeps. The 2013 report is showing some holes, drilled by the machines.
The 2013 analysis put physicians and surgeons very low on the list of probable replacement. However, a February 2015 Forbes article noted that “Surgeons already use automated systems to aid in low-invasive procedures. Right now, the doctor is in charge, but eventually machines might do simpler procedures themselves.”
And these advances are impacting financial service professionals. Forbes quotes Stefan Kip Astheimer, vice president for strategy at wealth management firm Howe & Rusling: “One trend in the investment industry over the last few years has been the advent of ‘robo-advisers, ‘” which are “replacing personal financial advisers, financial planners and stockbrokers for younger individuals and individuals who don’t have complex investment needs.”
This suggests that we will be facing more, not less, competition for our jobs from the machines.
So, is there hope?
The answer is a conditional ‘Yes’. Both Fitzgerald and vanGansewinkel are sanguine about the future of underwriters.
Beyond the risk selection and pricing roles, underwriters act as advisers. “Most brokers have a pretty good idea of what their message should be and what they should address with their client, but they appreciate having a sounding board to ask: ‘Hey, does this make sense?,’” vanGansewinkel said.
Mike Fitzgerald concurs, with one assumption. “Machine intelligence will shape the skill set of the future successful underwriter to be more technically acute and broader.”
What do you think?
Do you see machine intelligence impacting your job? If so, is it something that will help you do a better job?
I promise, no robot will respond. At least not this week.