The fearful Coexistence of humans & AI


Moving towards more digitally enabled underwriting in the London market


For years now, we have been using the word ‘bionic’ to describe the futuristic state where underwriter and machine work harmoniously together to assess risk and underwrite insurance. The vision being that together, they would transcend the traditional, blending the best of human expertise and relationships with the power of artificial intelligence. It’s a good vision, but progress has been slow, even with the recent advances in AI.

There have been many articles that have placed Underwriting as one of the roles to be replaced by AI & automation – a great underestimation of the value of the role! Underwriting is both analytical and human driven and it is that combination that drives successful underwriting. But people do worry and there is a real fear which causes people to jump into job preservation mode.

In a recent article produced by the Intelligent Insurer it was stated that more than 70% of underwriters believe that artificial intelligence (AI) will reduce the number of underwriters in the insurance industry in the next 12 months. What is more, 82% are concerned that technology will negatively impact the scope of their role.

The problem with terminology

Has the word bionic and the terminology we have been using accelerated this fear of automation, and has this harmed our progress in a market where people, relationships and change management are everything, and does this thereby override the very real benefits of being “augmented” by AI?

To meet the ever-increasing needs of our clients, the coexistence of humans and AI in underwriting is crucial. The AI can do the ‘number’ crunching, finding insights from the vast array of data that it’s fed. It is what is done with the insight and how it is used to drive decision-making and behavioural risk change that is the key.  AI can’t do that.

There are several compelling reasons for an AI augmented human:

  • Humans provide the moral compass that AI, while advanced, lacks. Ethical decision-making, compassion, and empathy are inherently human qualities that play a significant role in our industry, they drive product development and ensure we remain client centric.
  • The key skills of building human relationships, asking the right questions to elicit the true understanding of risk beyond the numbers, and providing experienced risk improvement advice to prevent and reduce incidents.
  • We also need to consider adaptability, resilience and creativity. Human underwriters can adapt to changing market dynamics and customer needs more readily than AI; so if we want to remain at the forefront, then we need our underwriters to continue to respond creatively to emerging risks and continually devise innovative solutions that go beyond the scope of automated algorithms.

Terminology can be a huge problem in the Insurance market, and we seem to grow frustrated quickly with the latest bandwagon or hype cycle (think Blockchain). However, Microsoft may be onto something with their new AI tool called ‘Copilot’ which seems to be a much less offensive term than ‘bionic’. Microsoft describe Copilot as an AI tool that “empowers you to create faster, complete tasks with ease and lessens your cognitive load – making once complicated tasks, simple”.

Making AI more user friendly

The term co-pilot is a clever one, positioning itself in the clear role of assistance and collaboration, the term doesn’t imply that the tech does the job better, or replace some or all the human. It implies help, support, and the execution / implementation of tasks that free up the pilot to focus on the specialist skills that qualify them as a pilot.

People are also familiar with this term and its usage, making it less likely to be interpreted negatively. When driving, many of us use co-piloting features such as auto-drive and safety features that work alongside to alert of us of danger or malfunction. In the context of decision making, it is something we are familiar with and like because we feel we are still in control. 

We have started to hear people describing AI assistants in insurance as underwriter co-pilots, and it makes sense. This allows us to preserve and augment the intuition of our subject matter experts. Yes, it is only a term, but it’s tremendously important how we badge and describe new trends in a market that hangs onto (and thrives) on tradition.

We need terminology that promotes teamwork, or at the very least implies that two individuals (including the human and a machine) are working together for a common goal, that goal is to remain relevant and competitive in a world where clients are out-innovating us.

TINtech London Market 2024 driving change in the Lloyd's and London market 

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