This article is the first of a 3 part series covering how drones are being used in insurance, civil construction, and mining, and how it affects the people and processes within these organizations. This article has also been reposted on LinkedIn.
Drones are increasingly being used in a variety of different industries, including Insurance. PwC calculates the global market for commercial drones to be well over $127 billion. Within Insurance, drones are primarily used to perform residential roof inspections, commercial roof inspections, and roofing assessments. Travelers has used drones to inspect damaged roofs since 2015. The carrier provides insurance-specific drone pilot training to its claims teams; by May of 2016 it had trained 150 pilots and expected to train hundreds more in the next few years. This past year, Farmer’s deployed a fleet to quickly address claims following Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The French global insurer AXA reported in 2016 that it was using drones in a variety of applications in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Mexico, and Turkey.
After speaking with some of the largest insurers in the United States and hundreds of people, I’ve been able to derive the key value proposition for insurers, along with challenges they will face with using the new technology in the years ahead. In this article, I hope to explain not only how insurers are currently using drones, but the people behind the scenes and the processes they’ve implemented in their organizations today.
So where’s the value?
A simple 20 minute flight over a roof could produce 3D maps, elevation models, and calculate roof measurements at a fraction of the cost and more safely than traditional methods today.
A big part of the value proposition for insurers is the ability to quickly address and close claims on-site. To them, time is money. And that’s not just a figurative term. Overall customer satisfaction and customer churn rate is directly linked to the amount of time it takes an insurer to receive, process, and close a customer claim. Insurance companies are looking for any advantage to cut down on that time. From start to close, claims can take anywhere from a few days to a week on average. Using drones, insurance companies aim to settle claims on site, in many cases, within an hour.
“Overall customer satisfaction and customer churn rate is directly linked to the amount of time it takes an insurer to receive, process, and close a customer claim.”
Companies like Airware, DroneDeploy, and Kespry all offer insurance solutions to enable insurance providers to perform underwriting, loss prevention, and claims assessment services. The business case is simple: to assess claims, drones can go places that are risky for humans: into steep and high properties, fire damaged buildings, places where chemical toxicity is suspected, and into manufacturing plants or other areas that have been subject to natural or other disasters.
So who’s involved?
The personas that regularly interact with drone technology within insurance include in-office claims personnel, regional managers, and field adjusters. The in-office claims personnel are the people that receive the claims, validate and file the claim, assign them to a queue, and transfer them to regional managers to handle the claims. Regional managers are responsible for determining the resources and time needed to address all claims within a region. These managers are even more important during catastrophes as they need to deploy people and resources to the impacted region quickly to help address claims. The field adjusters are responsible for addressing a claim quickly, visiting the homeowner, determining the extent of the claim, and writing a check to the customer. Additional personas not described in this article but equally as important include underwriters and loss mitigation adjusters.
So what does that process look like?
Let’s take for example a claim had just been submitted by an insured customer in Kansas. The claim is then reviewed, validated, and filed in a claims management system. The in-office claims personnel will review the homeowners policy and check for validity, determine the type of property (location, steep/high roof, etc), and contact the regional manager to handle the claim. Usually, this manager would look at the list of claims within the region (in this case Kansas), and assign them to individual adjusters based on the need. Many of the large insurers have managers and adjusters as part of a Catastrophe Response team to quickly close claims, as was the case during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017.
At this point, a claims adjuster within that zipcode in Kansas would receive their list of claims, begin contacting customers to schedule appointments, and plan out their visits day by day. Once on site, an adjuster will inspect the house for damage based on information from local weather data, direction of a recent hail storm, tornado, hurricane, etc. This includes climbing on top of the roof, if necessary, to identify the extent of the hail and wind damage. Many insurers determine damage on a roof by drawing a 10×10 foot test square, determining the number of hail strikes within the square, and classifying the slope as either a repair or replace slope. Using this information, the adjuster can determine the extent of the damage, and use their internal tools to determine how much the home-owner should be paid. In certain cases, the adjuster may need to return to the property to re-assess the damage, or bring in an experience operator for a ladder-assist, to climb the roof, prolonging the claim.
With the current state of drone technology, insurers are using drones to expedite the on-site claim assessment to improve customer experience. Using a drone, an adjuster can perform a quick 20-minute flight over a roof, and automatically identify the extent of the hail and wind damage, without needing to be steep and high certified.
By integrating drones into their claims assessment workflows, insurers can avoid expensive workers compensation payouts due to injuries, can provide a more accurate risk assessment performed using a third party tool that removes individual claims adjuster bias, and increases customer confidence in the claims assessment.
So whats in our future?
While these examples provide a snapshot of the growing use of drones in P&C insurance inspections, they also highlight some of the limitations of current applications. Regulators require drone pilots to maintain line-of-sight during a flight, limiting the range of a drone’s flight. New regulations—and wider use of fixed-wing drones—could dramatically boost this range, with corresponding increases in the amount of property a single flight could cover. Technology and regulation could also conceivably enable greater autonomy for drones in the future, initially allowing a single pilot to oversee multiple drones at once, and even a fully autonomous, and decentralized traffic management system.
The next-generation of commercial drones will have built-in safeguards and compliance technology, smart accurate sensors, platform and payload interchangeability, automated safety modes, enhanced intelligent piloting models and full autonomy, and full airspace awareness. Imagine the future opportunities these drones will open up for insurers.
That’s all for today, but check back next week for the other posts in this series:
Can Drones Shape The Future Of Civil Construction
Mine Planning, Safety, And Regulations Meets Drones
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jay Mulakala has been exploring the drone industry for over 4 years, most recently as the Product Manager at Kespry, working to help build the next generation of cloud applications within Aggregates and Mining, Construction, and Insurance. Jay has also co-founded FreeSkies, a Bay-area drone startup that revolutionized consumer drones for use in professional photography and videography. He is a Part 107 certified remote pilot and offers private aerial photography and videography services through Skyfran Aerial Photography and Videography. Find out more at www.JMulakala.com.