Jinman Li (bio: A business journalism student at Medill Journalism School, Northwestern University. I cover finance and technology in Chicago metropolitan area.)
Insurance companies are tapping into blockchain technology in pursuit of more efficient and secure solutions to contract creation and claim settlement in various types of insurance such as property and casualty insurance.
Blockchain is an encrypted distributed digital ledger that can store real-time data and is accessible simultaneously to different participants. The fact that blockchain generates one shared ledger as opposed to multiple ledgers simplifies the auditing and reconciliation process, which reduces costs and saves time in data management for the insurance industry, said Anudeep Chauhan, the managing director of insurance strategy at Accenture P.L.C. in North America.
Security is another advantage as blockchain is hard to tamper with because each block is connected to the blocks before and after it and is encrypted, said Chauhan. The encryption used in the blockchain is a double-layer structure where information is encrypted by an algorithm utilizing the public key owned by the sender and decrypted by the private key owned by the recipient, he said.
The Institutes RiskBlock Alliance is a blockchain insurance consortium launched in 2017 by The Institutes, a non-profit organization that provides education research services to the insurance industry. The Alliance has 27 member organizations. Patrick Schmid, vice president of the Alliance, said the alliance currently focuses on four different aspects of insurance: proof of insurance, subrogation, parametric insurance and data sharing.
Proof of insurance is the documentation that a person uses to prove the ownership of a valid insurance, which is commonly a paper card, Schmid said. With the help of blockchain, people could transmit their proof of insurance with a click on the phone so that they won’t need to carry around the paper cards anymore, he said.
Subrogation is when an insurance company pays out in claims to the insured and seeks recovery from the third party at fault in the accident, Schmid said. As a shared ledger, blockchain can enable net settlement, which means all the parties involved can calculate the collective total of all claims and settle that in a one-time transaction rather than following the traditional way of sending separate checks for each claim, he said.
Insurance companies can combine blockchain technologies with smart contracts in subrogation, which are programmable agreements that could be inserted into a blockchain and would automatically execute the claims once certain requirements are met, Schmid said.
“Let’s say Allstate and Liberty Mutual Insurance agree to net settle every two weeks. They write it into their smart contract so that every two weeks their numbers stored on the blockchain are going to be automatically calculated and then whoever owes more will owe one check to the other for that amount of money,” Schmid said.
What can be another good demonstration of a smart contract is parametric insurance, the type of insurance that does not cover the whole loss for the insured but only pays out the predefined sum, said Sandy Figurski, chief information officer at Horace Mann Educators Corp., an Illinois-based insurance holding company. It joined the Institutes RiskBlock Alliance, the industry-led consortium, in February together with 17 other risk management and insurance companies.
Before a food truck vendor goes to a fair, he or she may buy a parametric insurance for that date in case external factors such as a bad weather screws up their businesses, Figurski said. The insurance contract can be recorded on the blockchain as a smart contract so that once the weather turns out to meet some certain criteria, such as an amount of precipitation, a claim will be automatically triggered and settled between the insurer and insured through the blockchain, she said.
“It gets rid of the intermediary of having an adjuster go out and look at the situation and having people prove that the criteria were met,” said Figurski.
The Alliance’s fourth project underway is data sharing by blockchain, which is best illustrated by the first notice of loss, meaning the initial report made to the insurance provider in the claim process, Schmid said. Currently, the insurers of clients involved in an accident typically call each other for information verification and settlement, while the information can be recorded and transmitted among different parties on the blockchain, he added.
“Today the reconciliation is very expensive and time consuming and is manual completely,” said Accenture’s Chauhan. “In the future, you could potentially create a blockchain-based solution where these contracts are hosted in such a way that everybody is able to see the same copy of the contract with the same set of conditions.”
The quality of blockchain as valid and immutable will be useful for property and casualty insurers in a number of ways, including improving the overall effectiveness of claim settlement and reducing fraud, said David Uhryniak, blockchain competency leader at Crowe Horwath LLP, a Chicago-based firm that provides auditing and consulting services to financial institutions including insurance companies.
When an accident occurs, information such as pictures of the scene can be verified and confirmed onto the blockchain simultaneously by different entities for review before an adjuster comes to the scene in person, which saves the time and costs of human interaction in several steps, Uhryniak said. In terms of combating fraud, once the characteristics of an insured automobile are stored on the blockchain, the public ledger and its immutability can ensure that the repair shop is using the original parts otherwise the insurance company will be notified, he said.
Although the future is promising, the adoption of blockchain in the insurance industry has been slow. One of the reasons is that it is expensive to scale up considering the large amount of computing power required, said Chauhan.
Another big challenge lies in the difficulty of getting insurance companies to cooperate in Alliance and build up consistent cross-company infrastructures in blockchain so that data transmission in situations such as claim settlement can be more effective, Horace Mann’s Figurski said.
“Companies do not naturally work together,” said Figurski. “You can’t exchange any competitive information such as how you rate, so you have to really focus on the core technology at its base level.”
How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry
By Marga Hoek, author of The Trillion Dollar Shift
Robotics technology has the potential to disrupt industries across all sectors – but its impact on the manufacturing industry will be transformative. Not only can robots increase productivity, efficiency and profit margins but adopting this tech for good will be a key way for the manufacturing industry to transition to a more sustainable future.
Driving productivity & efficiency
Manufacturing processes are faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective when humans and robots work together. Studies show that idle time is reduced by 85% when people work collaboratively with a human-aware robot, rather than in an all-human team. Modern robotic automation is key to reshaping production processes to become more efficient and reliable. They deliver significant benefits for companies and investment is often recouped within just 18 months.
Robots in manufacturing can allow businesses to monitor the production lines from anywhere and pinpoint issues quickly, allowing for production to continue smoothly and efficiently, ensuring companies surpass consumers’ expectations of supply chain speed and reliability. Intelligent industrial service robots are an upcoming industrial tool that will amplify manufacturing capabilities and allow businesses to safely operate faster, in places humans could never go, and with cognitive and physical capabilities not yet imagined.
Transitioning to a sustainable future
Robots are a vital way to reduce pollution and emissions from manufacturing operations. For starters, they reduce our reliance on larger vehicles and machines that are harmful to the planet. Robots’ ability to be extremely accurate and minimize errors is also hugely important in sustainability efforts to reduce waste. Robots also aid businesses in their energy-saving process because they do not require as much energy to operate as humans do. Where humans need facilities with sufficient lighting and heat, robots can work under cold and dark conditions. This drastically reduces the amount of energy used in the manufacturing production process. It is estimated that for every 1C reduced in factory heat levels, there is a potential saving of up to 8%. In addition, up to 20% of energy savings can be reached if the plant turns off any unnecessary lighting.
Case Study: GE
Tech giant GE is a brilliant example of how robotics technology can both boost the bottom line and sustainability.
GE is at the forefront of robotics manufacturing technology. Their value proposition is tightly tied to productivity in field service and manufacturing and offers potential cost savings within operations. While delivering industrial-grade service robotic systems that enable automation, productivity and safety for GE and its customers, the company works closely with GE business units, GE customers and strategic partners across the globe to envision, shape and build intelligent robotic technologies from idea to commercialization.
GE’s recent $125 million investment project at its Decatur refrigerator plant boosted production capacity, added new “smart” technology and increased the site’s workforce. This includes auto guided vehicles, or AGVs, that move materials through the assembly process and more than 50 robots that perform heavy lifting operations and repetitive tasks.
The expansion project, announced in June 2018, allowed GE Appliances to increase production to meet growing demand for its freezer-refrigerators, which are top-rated in the industry for both quality and reliability. The expansion created 255 jobs, bringing total employment at the plant to 1,300. The project boosts production capacity by 25 % and ensures early compliance with 2022 refrigerant changes, making the Alabama plant a super site for GE. GE Appliances said Industry 4.0 technology additions at the Decatur facility include data visualization, 3-D scanning, rapid prototyping and other smart automation that provides the operations team with real-time data to make better and faster decisions.
Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
Utilizing robotics technology within the manufacturing industry can help to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for a healthier planet, to be met by 2030:
SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing: Collaborating with people, service robots work with shoulder-to-shoulder and over long distances, to fulfil dull, dirty and dangerous work.
SDG 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth: Presenting new growth opportunities for businesses and creating new jobs at manufacturing plants
SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure: Manufacturing value proposition of robotics ties tightly to productivity and brings potential cost savings into those operations.
SDG 12 – Responsible Production & Consumption: Providing a new and rich data source for companies to produce products responsibly
Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, in hardback and e-book. For more information go to www.margahoek.com
RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about.
By Rory Gray, Vice President of Sales at leading software automation firm, UiPath, explains what role Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play in improving the efficiency of finance and banking departments.
Pre-coronavirus, the finance and banking industries were already facing a myriad of challenges. Now, this myriad is quickly becoming ever more complicated. There is increasing pressure to react to declining business health, be flexible to changing customer behaviour and to adapt to evolving workforce dynamics.
Unfortunately, for these teams, improving agility is easier said than done. Many processes involve legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data. These processes are time-consuming and mundane, leaving finance and banking professionals hard-pressed to fit in client-centric and strategic work.
Take processing invoices. The way it’s done hasn’t changed for years in many organisations. It often involves a member or members of the finance team receiving the invoice by mail or email, approving it manually, printing, signing and submitting it to Accounts Payable. An AP Clerk then has to pick it up, read it, verify the approvals, extract the data and input it into to the accounting package. This all takes time and costs money. What’s more, it’s dull and prone to errors. People don’t want to spend their days doing it.
Imagine if processes such as invoicing, but also loan processing, credit card disputes and many more, could be automated. Finance and banking teams would spend much less time copying, pasting and printing and could refocus on business health and transformation.
RPA is the key to finding more time in the day
Robotic Process Automation or RPA, is software that can work just like a human. It can use AI capabilities to read and interpret data from both physical and digital documents. It can extract the necessary information and it can transfer this to multiple IT applications. It’s a software robot – or digital assistant.
For finance and banking professionals, RPA could help them break free from the time constraints caused by inefficient and complex legacy operations by passing rule-based repetitive tasks to software robots. This saves time and money – and allows people to focus on the tasks that can make a difference to the business.
RPA can help carry the burden of compliance
With data extracted, processed and formatted by software robots, employees will also no longer have to carry the full and heavy burden of compliance.
However accurate we aim to be, the reality is that processing data is always open to mistakes. This is exacerbated by ever shifting market regulations. Software robots, however, are programmed by finance and banking professionals to strictly follow the same steps every time and thus do not fall victim to the same blunders as all humans inevitably do.
Of course, many regulatory compliance functions will often need to involve some human validation or decision making. While the robots work around the clock without fatigue to complete tasks, professionals can still intervene if there is an inaccuracy that requires the personal touch or a loop in the workflow where a decision is needed. Therefore, time-consuming compliance tasks can be passed to software robots, but humans ultimately remain in control.
This in turn provides better risk management and compliance, higher accuracy, better cycle times and improved throughput.
RPA in practice
This may all sound very futuristic, but in practice, many firms are already using RPA to free up employee time, improve compliance and save money.
For example, a leading smart infrastructure solutions firm we work with has created a software robot affectionately named Archie, which has taken over the responsibility for processing all invoices.
Pre-Covid, the 400,000 invoices received by the firm each year were dealt with manually. With Archie this is now fully automated freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time which employees can now use to focus on value-adding activities. It also means that no employee needs to come into the office to process the invoice, nor does any paper need to be passed around the team. Thus helping to keep the workforce safe.
With all this extra time, finance and banking departments can focus on adapting to and thriving in the current crisis. Moving away from data processing and towards advisory roles where they can best use their strategic skills.
Consequently, businesses will benefit during the pandemic and beyond and employees could see their roles shifting away from the mundane and towards tasks that keep them on their toes. A rare win-win in a difficult time.
WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired
WeWALK, the smart cane designed for people who are blind or with low vision which is now in use across 37 markets, has joined Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme to accelerate WeWALK’s capability by developing and validating a human behaviour model for visually impaired users and creating a Voice Assistant designed for the visually impaired, providing the right mobility information when needed and allowing for even greater control of the WeWALK mobility experience.
Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility $25 million 5-year programme is aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities. Through grants, technology, and AI expertise, the program aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions and build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that can see, hear, speak, understand and interpret people’s needs.
WeWALK’s new Voice Assistant will be released later in 2020 and will have immediate usability benefits, improving the user’s confidence as they mobilise. The assistant will be built on clearly derived requirements and natural usage patterns and the challenge that WeWALK is seeking to overcome is to make the assistant truly ‘smart’ and dynamic, where it will effectively categorize and deliver on the user’s commands in a host of different environments.
WeWALK’s human behaviour model is due for release in 2021 and is of significant importance as currently there are no accurate models for how a person who is blind moves and how their mobility holistically evolves, especially after receiving orientation and mobility training. As a result, healthcare, government, and mobility trainers cannot effectively track how a person who is blind mobilizes and whether or not intervention has had benefit. By using WeWALK’s built-in IMU (inertial measurement unit) sensors, including the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass, as well as data collected from a connected smartphone, the model can be implemented and expanded organically through daily usage. The first stage will be rigorous data collection and user testing, followed by data manipulation and classification to ensure that optimum reliability and system usability can be achieved.
Commenting upon WeWALK’s entry into the program Jean Marc Feghali, R&D Lead at WeWALK. “By working on these two objectives, WeWALK can set the standard for visually impaired mobility for both the individual user and the organisations that support them. We are now rigorously collecting mobility data with novel experimentation, validating our work by continuously engaging our users to ensure an exceptional product powered by Microsoft’s best. Being a part of the Microsoft family truly excites us, bringing us closer to mobility trainers, researchers, and the global visually impaired community.”
Mary Bellard, principal innovation architect lead at Microsoft adds “At Microsoft, we believe AI solutions built thoughtfully by and with the disability community have incredible potential to offer meaningful independence in people’s daily lives. That’s why we’re thrilled to support WeWALK on this important assistive tool that stands to empower the millions of people around the world who use a white cane.”
With the power of Microsoft AI, WeWALK’s impact will be wide-reaching explains Kürşat Ceylan, WeWALK’s co-founder & CPO “As a blind person from birth, I know that it is very important to get the right habits of using a cane from a young age. It is amazing to see how WeWALK can enhance this aspect of our lives with high tech, making training and orientation more effective. I believe that the smart cane will be a symbol for the fully independent journey people who are blind or with low vision.”
Selected as one of the best inventions of 2019 by TIME Magazine, WeWALK is a member of YGA Ventures, which is an ecosystem of impact entrepreneurs. The team envisions WeWALK as a platform for continuous and collaborative development, putting it at the forefront of cutting-edge assistive technologies. This is exemplified through WeWALK’s collaboration with Microsoft, where WeWALK participated in Microsoft’s 2019 AI for Good in the UK.
The WeWALK smart cane is currently available on the market and can be purchased on the company website www.wewalk.io. The free WeWALK mobile app which provides various features such as VIP friendly navigation and public transport tracking capabilities is also available for immediate download on both iOS and Android devices.
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