Market Spotlight: Insurance

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Despite all the technological advances of the past few years, the insurance industry is still heavily burdened with reams and reams of paper, continuing to rely on personal messengers, the post office, and the fax machine to get all that paperwork from person to person and place to place. 

“The insurance industry is so paper-driven because there are so many legal ramifications to everything they do,” explains Robin Springer, president of Computer Talk, a consulting firm specializing in speech recognition technologies. “They really should be using dictation [technologies].”

By turning to voice recognition technologies for dictation, insurance claims adjusters, underwriters, service providers, and others in the industry can quickly turn that paper into text documents that can be stored electronically. But the benefits go far beyond reducing deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions to include increased worker productivity and faster document turnaround.

While Ann Purr, second vice president of information management at LOMA, an insurance industry association based in Atlanta, recognizes the benefits of the technology, she admits it’s not being widely used today. “Years ago, when we first started using computers, there was a lot of talk about using speech recognition because people did not have the typing skills, but the technology wasn’t good enough to be widely adopted,” she says. “Now that the technology has improved, we are more proficient in our keyboarding skills.”

 The industry has also sought to end the paper chase with interactive voice response (IVR) systems that provide self-service capabilities to claims handlers, service providers, and policyholders. Through IVRs, parties can update policy information, file claims, check on the status of claims, and more. Such systems can cut claims documentation time, increase worker productivity by as much as 80 percent, and reduce costly errors, according to LOMA’s research.

Insurance companies also heavily use voice-based IVR technology to provide insurance policy quotes over the phone. This applies more to auto and home policies than it does to life insurance policies. Auto insurance, for example, is a must-have for anyone with a car, while life insurance is more of an option that really needs to be sold to the customer, Purr says.

Through the IVR, a potential customer responds to a series of questions, either with voice or touch-tone inputs. The system then uses text-to-speech to give a quote. If the customer likes the quote, the IVR can transfer the call to a live agent to close the sale and write the policy.

And whereas in the past such transactions required a copy of the relevant documents to be either faxed or mailed back and forth for the necessary signatures, call recordings and voice signatures could eliminate that step and save insurance firms a significant amount of money on document mailing and handling. Furthermore, having an audio record of a customer’s assent to a particular transaction or procedure can protect both the company and the consumer during a dispute-resolution process, according to Purr.

Voice and electronic signatures, held as legally valid as traditional signatures written in ink on paper, can have particular utility for the insurance industry, especially when accepting payments, changing account information, and underwriting policies by phone. The consumer could conceivably use an oral or voice signature to sign a text record that was required to be given to her in writing. Moreover, the person who originated the text record could authenticate it with a voice signature as well. The spoken words of the signature might be something like I, Jane Consumer, hereby sign and agree to the terms outlined in this insurance policy.

But voice signatures are still, admittedly, largely an experimental technology. Though the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act has been in effect in the United States since October 2000, experts agree that until the legality of e-signatures has truly been tested in the courts, their routine use is likely several years away. 

“Everybody is looking at and considering speech, but there are a few issues with it that go beyond doing business more easily,” Purr states. “Recording is becoming more prevalent...but with things like voice signatures, security and legality issues abound, and they will stay an issue for a while.”

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