As virtual assistants become ever more embedded in our daily lives, Sam Barrett looks at the insurers taking tentative steps to utilise this technology
From weather updates and music requests to online factchecking, virtual assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are becoming commonplace in the UK. Set to outnumber humans by 2023, questions still remain over how insurers should embrace this technology.
Although these devices first appeared 10 years ago, insurance sector interest has been relatively muted. But, with LV= launching the first car insurance voice skill for Alexa and Google Assistant in January, this could be about to change.
Through its application, LV= customers can get answers to the most commonly asked questions about their motor policy and, since launch, it has recorded nearly 500 sessions across Amazon and Google smart devices. "Car insurance is our largest product so we thought it was logical to start where we could have the most significant impact, while at the same time test and learn this new technology," explains Jon Mansley, sales and marketing director at LV= general insurance.
Although it claims the title of first UK motor insurer to use the technology, LV= is not the first insurer to get into bed with Alexa. Aviva launched a pension skill in August 2018, allowing customers to ask the virtual assistant how much was in their pension pot, while DAS launched a legal expenses voice skill in January 2018, following it with a cybersecurity one later the same year. Robin Stagg, head of propositions and marketing at DAS UK Group, says it is important for insurers to use these platforms and that providing content on virtual assistants is a great way to raise awareness. "Everyone knows how motor insurance works but as soon as you veer off this, awareness can start to drop," he explains. "Using Alexa can help to raise consumer awareness and understanding of other areas of insurance that might be of benefit."
As an example, although legal risks are increasing, there is little awareness of how a legal expenses product could provide protection. Drawing consumers' attention to this could benefit them, but also the insurance sector.
While some insurers are using virtual assistants to answer simple policy-related questions, others are taking a slightly different approach. Health insurer Vitality offers a voice skill that focuses on health and fitness, enabling users to access recipes, workouts and healthy living tips. This supports its philosophy on health risk reduction, but it also means that its customers can interact with it on a more regular basis, potentially creating a deeper relationship.
Using Alexa can help to raise consumer awareness and understanding of other areas of insurance that might be of benefit
Although insurers are taking their first tentative steps with virtual assistants, many are already considering what the future holds. For some, the leap from answering simple policy questions to taking out cover and making claims could be a little too far. "Virtual assistants do not yet lend themselves to long interactions that are multi-layered," says Mr Stagg. "There are too many nuances with a quotation: Alexa isn't about to take a broker's lunch."
Paul Yates, product strategy director at life insurance technology company iPipeline, agrees. "I certainly cannot see it being used to take out protection: it is too complex," he says. "But it might be an option for simpler products such as travel insurance or to renew a motor insurance policy. It could also be part of an omnichannel approach, with the customer completing the application online or over the phone and buying it through a voice assistant."
These potential applications are on LV='s Mr Mansley's radar too. "We are keen to test and learn from the technology early," he says. "Using Alexa for more complex areas such as claims or quotations is on our roadmap of future development, along with introducing all of our other general insurance products."
TOP FIVE MOTOR INSURANCE QUESTIONS
These are the top questions asked on LV='s voice assistant.These are the top questions asked on LV='s voice assistant.
- Can I drive another car on my policy?
- Can I drive abroad?
- Are my windows covered?
- Am I covered for fire?
- When do I have to pay an excess?
As well as considering how consumers will take to insurance on their virtual assistants, it is also important to look at what this development means for the sector itself. Introducing voice skills does enable customers to simply 'ask Alexa' rather than contact their insurer, potentially putting call centre jobs on
While this may be the case, Mr Yates says that, rather than reducing the number of employees, he sees the emergence of virtual assistants as an enabler for different jobs. "Roles will change," he says. "Some will be working on more complex cases but insurers will also need people to design this technology."
Uncertainty around what to include or the level of demand may be deterring the insurance profession from embracing Alexa and her virtual peers, but Mr Yates believes it is a platform that insurers cannot afford to ignore. "It is another part of digital transformation," he says. "There is absolutely no doubt that usage will grow and it will become just another part of an insurer's omnichannel approach to customer service. Insurers that fail to embrace it could find themselves falling behind."
Sam Barrett is a freelance journalist