It’s been a transformative past two years for the insurance industry globally, with the pandemic kicking digital transformation into overdrive and forcing legacy system operatives to up their game. Insurance is now at the cutting-edge of innovation and traditional processes are firmly on their way out, says Tom Parsons, Head of Digital at Amwins.
With a global footprint across more than 150 counties, Amwins is the largest independent wholesale distributor of specialty insurance products in the United States and one of the largest and most successful Lloyd’s broking operations in the specialty market sector. Based in Charlotte, N.C., Amwins handles premium placements in excess of $26bn and has a reputation for delivering specialized placement solutions through its deep resources and experience across five main business verticals: Brokerage; Small Accounts; Underwriting; Global Risks; and Group Benefits.
To be part of such an organisation, requires a specific skillset as well as a passion for technology and progress.
Parsons began focusing on insurance as a career during graduate school and has never been more excited by the changes in technology and innovation as he is today. “Most people in this industry say they fell into an insurance career,” he says. “Perhaps my story was a little more deliberate. At the time, I was following the crowd -- going through rounds of interviews with various investment banks. It seemed what everyone was doing, so I didn’t think about it much.”
As chance would have it, a stroll through the university careers centre cemented the decision, as Parsons stumbled upon the Lloyd’s of London market. From that moment, the suited, opulent environment of executive level insurance hooked his interest. “A few interviews later and I was struck by the differences with banking,” enthuses Parsons. “Not only did Lloyd’s seem full of larger-than-life characters, but it was also full of an incredible variety and complexity of insurance risks. I was instantly hooked and there was no looking back.”
Amwins digital strategy
Today, Parsons is a long way from the hallowed halls of Lloyd’s of London. In fact, he has been based in the U.S. for the past four years - unable to travel in the past two due to the pandemic restrictions. But it is here that he has found himself at the heart of insurance innovation, managing the internal and external digital strategies for Amwins.
He explains, “My current position has two main focuses. Internally we are focused on building and maintaining the Amwins digital strategy and ensuring we are executing this strategy effectively.
“The more external focus is working with the Amwins Ventures Fund which gives us the opportunity to look closely at and invest in technology companies that have the potential to enable and enhance how we solve retail agent problems and become easier to do business with.”
Parsons has an impressive background, having spent time in a number of roles that have prepped him for his current position, which have included working with regulators to get approval for a complex new Solvency II financial model, raising over $1bn of Insurance-Linked Security (ILS) capital from institutional investors and designing and building a new retail agent-facing portal, among others.
“I have had the unique opportunity to closely observe the problems and needs of individual participants through the insurance value chain from the retail agent, to MGA, to MGU, to the carrier, to the regulator, to the reinsurer, to the institutional investor,” he says. “I think experiencing these different perspectives helps me prioritize and focus on the aspects that matter most within my role.”
The Amwins approach to progress is a dynamic one, with well applied technology seen as an enabler rather than a disruptor of the insurance value chain.
“As such, it was natural that as part of developing Amwins’ digital strategy we interviewed hundreds of our retail agent partners so we could listen deeply to their needs,” says Parsons. “This was an extremely insightful experience, spending hours listening to and focusing on our retail agents, and it highlighted and confirmed many rich insights into what makes a best digital experience.”
The experience, he explains, led Amwins to categorise some of the main attributes of a best agent digital experience. These factors include Straight Through Processing, which where possible allows agents to move work off their desk by providing instant rate, quote, bind, and issue capabilities.
Market access is another attribute that provides flexibility and availability with good coverage options and competitive pricing.
Other attributes include self-service, which enables instant processing of mid-term adjustments and renewals, management of payment options, and access to documents, as well as supporting integration with Agency Managements Systems, allowing ‘upload’ and ‘download’ of information. Interactive Experience is also a primary consideration, and Amwins has created multi-channel communication experiences, but importantly always allowing access to a human when desired.
“We see three main enablers in helping us to fulfil these best agent experience attributes. It is important to consider all three together, rather than independently,” says Parsons, and outlines the following:
Insurance innovation enablers
- Technology: The technology available today can enable businesses in ways almost unthinkable 10 or 20 years ago. Effective and empathetic application of technology can transform the most painful retail agent experience into one that is pleasant, or at least more acceptable – this is insurance after all!
- Data: Accessing and using more data can reduce the amount of data we need to collect from our retail agents, reducing painful keystrokes, but data can also enable better risk quantification so our retail agents can offer their insureds the most competitive price possible.
- People: Constantly challenging the status quo of insurance process, ensuring the retail agent’s experience is being prioritized, is very important. To achieve this, we need to ensure we are always hiring and retaining the best people.
People as a priority
As well as placing technology at the forefront of its strategy, Amwins has a reputation for taking care of its employees, nurturing talent, and encouraging creativity. This, coupled with its dynamic attitude to innovation, is a winning combination, says Parsons.
“Amwins is a place like no other, it truly hires the best people and enables them to do exceptional work.” he says. “I enjoy coming to work each day working with outstanding people who are deeply passionate about what they do.
“The combination of a strong entrepreneurial mindset, a focus on meritocracy over hierarchy, and a 150-year vision creates a motivating and supportive work environment that brings the best out of everyone.”
This philosophy has been well born out over the pandemic, as the working processes within Amwins have shifted seamlessly to make way for a remote workforce so that the company has been able to fully serve its customers.
“As a company of individuals, we've learned to interact with each other in a more digital-led manner. In the past, a phone call probably would've been in a non-video conference manner, whereas now that's become the standard. I think that kind of communication or that new acceptance of how to communicate with each other is changing.”
Parsons believes insureds now have higher expectations around communicating with corporate entities - although, the pandemic has not been without its challenges. “Our clients have had to close down their storefronts. So, we're seeing that they're interacting with their customers in a more digital fashion and in turn, we need to then create similar digital experiences for our clients. These trends began before COVID, but has COVID increased the speed at which these trends are occurring? I think yes.”
New innovations and trends
It’s not only the customer-facing side of insurance that is seeing marked trends emerging -- P&C and underwriting are also at a transition stage. Parsons says the insurance industry is broad and diverse in its makeup, with underwriters quantifying risk for the purposes of calculating premium on a wide variety of risks daily.
From complex parametric triggers to more ‘traditional’ property risks, underwriters calculate the premium required for risk to be transferred. “However, as broad and diverse the insurance industry is, there are a number of general trends we see taking place,” he points out, including:
- Increased focus on structuring and acquiring more data (both first party and third party)
- Building more advanced capabilities to analyse data to form deeper insights on risk selection, pricing, and portfolio building
Great customer experiences
Technology is essential to the role, enabling underwriters to perform more effectively, with greater accuracy. In fact, “The combination of more cost-effective data storage and processing technology with advances in machine learning and deep learning techniques is opening new areas of development which were not available a number of years ago,” he says.
Parsons points out that the application of such developments is wide-ranging, from enabling real-time use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) to determine business industry classification, image recognition to determine the shape and standard of a property’s roof, to building sophisticated predictive models to uncover new risk quantification insights.
Well-applied technology solutions, he says, can potentially enhance and enable every aspect of the insurance industry.
Amwins future strategies
Currently, making any kind of prediction on where the insurance industry might be in a decade is fraught with complications. This is down to the destabilising times we are living in, as well as the difficulties in accurately assessing technology adoption in the marketplace.
However, it is reasonable to expect current trends to continue. Effective implementation of technology by innovators and early adopters will slowly force technology laggards to catch up or exit, says Parsons.
“We are seeing increasing pockets for homogenous risk being underwritten in a fully algorithmic straight through processed manner with digital experiences, and we expect this to increase through the industry.
“Microservices, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) are making these trends of bigger data, deeper insights, and digital experiences easier to access, which will likely speed their proliferation.”
Amwins initiatives for future-proofing insurance
There are a number of exciting initiatives Amwins is working on which to materially improve the experience of our retail agents.
- Personal Lines: Amwins is creating a seamless experience between the digital (straight through processed) and human (manually underwritten) solutions currently offered. The company is focused on creating a seamless hybrid experience for the agent that perfectly balances digital and human interaction. The solution will be able to offer instant rate, quote and issue, and where the risk needs specialist underwriting or brokerage services, via a specialist team of underwriters and brokers.
- Professional Lines: Building deep integrations with its carrier partners enables Amwins’ retail agents to price and coverage discover instantly on their desktop. This is particularly valuable with cyber liability where carrier appetite rapidly changes.
- Data Science Claims Insights: Amwins has been collecting rich claims data for many years and is starting to better unlock the rich information contained within this data through evolutionary algorithmic techniques to discover the best model performance for a given combination of predictive rating variables.
- Data Extraction: An understandable frustration for many retail agents is the unnecessary keystrokes required for a submission. Amwins is working on a number of workflow agnostic solutions which will minimise keystrokes by allowing agents to upload documentation as part of the submission process.
- Natural Language Processing (NLP): Amwins has recently partnered with a company that scrapes publicly available information and uses NLP to predict company industry classifications, all within a sub-second data call. Not only can classifying a business into an industry be painful for retail agents, it can also lead to misclassification impacting both rate and available coverage.
- Third-Party Data: Amwins has consumed third-party data for many years across its commercial and personal lines portfolios. This includes both property characteristics and hazard information. The company is constantly evaluating new data providers as they look to add convenience to their retail agents and value to their underwriting.
Ultimately, these achievements can only be realized through superior teamwork and an incredible amount of talent, acknowledges Parsons. He says that while this past 18 months has been challenging, it has also been inspiring in terms of what his team has been able to accomplish.
“This year, we have been able to rapidly experiment in building an interactive price and coverage discovery platform for our retail agents, offering some differentiating capabilities we don’t see with other platforms. I’m proud of what we achieved in a short time frame. It’s a testament to the impressive development team we have invested in and I’m excited to see what they build next!”
On a more personal level, Parsons takes an almost reverent approach to the pace at which technology is enabling things to happen in insurtech. “The insurance industry is adopting technology at an ever-faster rate. I am excited to see how advances in machine learning, natural language processing, speech recognition, and image recognition will create a paradigm shift in how insurance is placed and serviced.”
He adds, “With these rapid advances in technology, the limiting factor for industry advancement increasingly becomes our own imagination!”