Robots and Artificial Intelligence Are Powering Insurers Now—and It’s Just the Beginning

You’ve probably had regular help from a virtual assistant by phone or online, assisting you with basic tasks such as directing your call or giving you your bank balance. Helpful, right? The companies that employ them think so, too, and are applying these AI/robotic processes to more and more of their everyday business operations.

Often called out for being slow to change, the insurance industry is beginning to catch up quickly. It’s making sweeping changes across organizations and core systems due to the disruptive emergence of insurtech. Carriers like Celina and USAA are using AI in their daily operations and reaping the benefits.

As a result, insurers are now either delivering, or in the process of delivering, a great digital experience to consumers. Once complete, this transformation will entail an entirely new way of doing business and servicing customers.

Let’s take a look at what defines and differentiates a robot, artificial intelligence, and the cognitive computing technology behind them.


Robotics is the branch of technology that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots, virtual or physical. They are autonomous or semi-autonomous machines or systems that can act independently.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation. AI is software that learns and improves.

Some robots can use AI to improve their functionality by learning, but that is optional.

Cognitive Computing

Cognitive computing technologies are a subset of AI. Cognitive computing “refers to computing that is focused on reasoning and understanding at a higher level, often in a manner that is analogous to human cognition,” Lynne Parker, director of the division of Information and Intelligent Systems for the National Science Foundation, writes in Computerworld. “This is a subset of AI that deals with cognitive behaviors we associate with ‘thinking’ as opposed to perception and motor control.”

Robotic Process Automation

Insurance consultancy Celent defines robotic process automation (RPA) as a set of technologies that can automate processes that currently require human involvement. Robots replicate human behavior to conduct tasks as a human would, as well as optimize them. RPA can yield positive benefits when applied to the right roles. It does well supporting repetitive tasks in various environments where there is little change, often back-office support.

Accenture found that cost savings after deploying RPA can reach as high as 80% and time saved on tasks as high as 90%. By automating repetitive processes, activities are completed quickly with fewer errors, opening up new opportunities for employees to focus on more customer-centric tasks.

But unlike the more complex applications found with AI, RPA does not think, reason or predict. It completes simple, repetitive tasks quickly, but does not learn or self-improve. Developing an enterprise-wide strategy to determine where RPA provides the most value and to anticipate the organizational change that may result is the prudent approach.

The Future is Here

IBM’s Watson and Amazon’s Alexa are early examples. Insurers already have joined the revolution. Celina Insurance Group uses an analytics-based agency prospecting tool to appoint agents in high-potential underserved areas. USAA’s “Nina” is an AI virtual assistant that chats with customers at the USAA website. It’s designed to respond to 120 questions, from reporting stolen payment cards to changing a PIN.

There will inevitably lessons to learn from successes and failures of this first wave of robotics and AI. However, early adopters of these technologies also risk success. Investing in innovation is what will allow insurers to stay ahead of disruption, and in some cases, create it.

As robots evolve, their capabilities and applications will no doubt be vast. Just as we could not have predicted how the Internet, and now the Internet of Things, would evolve, robotics and artificial intelligence will likely follow the same course.