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INNOVATION| 29.03.2021

Insurance, a social buffer during the pandemic


José Antonio Arias Bermúdez

The pandemic has disrupted our way of life and incorporated new habits and solutions into the insurance business. With a more discerning public and clients who focus on looking after themselves, innovation is no longer an option, it is a present and future fail-safe. And foresight is the most valuable principle for the insurance sector.

Very few would have imagined a year ago that humanity in all corners of the planet, almost at the same time, would experience similar feelings of perplexity, isolation, fear and concern. The COVID-19 pandemic took our everyday world by surprise, and now more than 2 million people have died and more than 100 million have been infected.

SARS-CoV-2 has shown that people are focusing their efforts today on looking after themselves. Lockdown measures have turned our homes into both shelters and operations centers. In this digital environment, (not without its shortcomings) mobile connectivity and hyper-connectedness enable a large part of the population to work, study, shop, interact and entertain themselves remotely. The data are astounding: Over the past year, 1.3 billion more people than usual have used the Internet, which has led to a 60 percent increase in digital traffic, according to a recent statement by the OECD.

The magnitude of the health emergency, uncertainty and new challenges have led insurance companies to rethink strategies, modify paradigms, and place our focus and all of our empathy—and more, if possible—on individuals and families. In the ‘new normal’ of social distancing, a local presence and safety are most highly prioritized of all considerations.

The public has called on insurance companies to be at hand during the most dramatic moments of the pandemic. Clients have sought flexibility in the payment of installments, the possibility of performing tasks online when in-person contact has been impossible, and an increasingly tailored service. Repeated demands were made not to stop urgent home repair services during the health crisis, to feel that the company was near at hand, and to speed up healthcare through telemedicine, especially when the economy ground to a halt.

In the insurance sector, we have known for many years that foresight is a virtue. We saw this throughout 2020. While experts recognize that business digitization processes have been accelerated by the pandemic, we have found that innovation and emerging technologies are much more than a sound investment for the future, rather they guarantee a better here and now for our clients. For this reason, it has been vital that our learning, mechanisms, processes, solutions and connections with third parties be prepared in advance. We had to adopt a proactive approach.

Looking back, we can better understand the huge challenge of the blight of coronavirus when it came to safeguarding our capacities as a company and keeping customer service intact. MAPFRE applied containment, mitigation and risk reduction measures from the outset, offering teleworking to its teams in record time. At the same time, the digitization of some processes, communications and services was strengthened and accelerated and we continue to automate many procedures using RPAs (software robots).

While you might expect clients to opt for strictly digital solutions—given the inability to attend our service centers and offices normally due to the state of emergency, even though these continued providing services whenever possible—in fact, the duration of calls to our contact centers increased. I dare say our clients needed to be heard all the more and listened to more attentively.

Without a doubt, the digital transformation of our business has reaped outstanding rewards in an already highly developed and mature market. Insurance companies have accelerated capabilities that would still have come into being, but at a slower pace.

The year 2020 saw the consolidation of digital skills in the insurance sector and also of our value proposition. The insurance business has acted as one of the main social buffering mechanisms. One example of this was in April and May, at the worst of the health crisis, when there were hardly any personal protective suits available on the market and MAPFRE’s homeowners and claims teams were able to enter and carry out repairs in the homes of people under quarantine with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. I can safely say that such mechanisms to mitigate incidents and distress were the most significant step-ups in innovation that were made by people for people.

The provision of remote medical services has also developed to an unprecedented degree. Telemedicine has made the doctor-patient care relationship closer and more personalized, especially for those with non-COVID-19 problems—for example, senior patients—for whom it was impossible to go to a health center. SAVIA, MAPFRE’s digital health services platform, which has seen a thousand-fold increase in video traffic, attests to this.

Demand for home services for elderly people, and for rehabilitation and mental health services increased due to the restrictions on mobility. Support systems such as CUIDEO have taken off exponentially. In the health insurance ecosystem, digitization and collaboration with startups underpin the efficacy of this care model.

As the United Nations recognizes, by 2030 the world’s population aged over 60 will reach 1.4 billion and by 2050 the population aged over 80 will exceed 400 million. With this in mind, and in view of the fact that elderly people are one of the groups most affected by the restrictions, there is a need to make progress in projects that incorporate new technological tools and devices into the strategy of the insurance sector.

Imagine being able to know if an elderly person has fallen over in their home? This is what the Canadian company Aerial Technologies is engaged in. Using artificial

intelligence, their technology uses Wi-Fi to remotely monitor the movements and well-being of an individual in their home in a completely transparent and non-intrusive way, since there is no need to carry a smartphone or use wearable tech as it’s only based on an analysis of disturbances that their movement causes to the network signal. Last September, this project was one of the winners of Restarting Together, an initiative in which MAPFRE participates with other corporations, business schools and entrepreneurial organizations to find innovation solutions that improve the lives and resilience of families and help with economic recovery.

Another of the insurance companies’ competences that have been favored are innovation projects involving a core link in the business chain: intermediaries. Digitization has been implemented across the network of agents and delegates to keep in touch with clients, make proposals easier to send and manage claims.

One thing we have learned in the age of coronavirus is that the increasingly discerning public is seeking easy, quick and personalized management of their insurance. They want a better experience. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain, big data and robotics facilitate this experience. Also in this field, MAPFRE has embarked on a project that will be rolled out in the next few weeks in several countries, in which AI can significantly reduce response times in communications, making our clients’ lives easier. In the meantime, we have decided to offer homeowners insurance that provides assistance for teleworking and remote lessons, and to offer our medical centers and facilities for the vaccination drive.

In short, at MAPFRE we are used to helping our clients protect themselves against all the risks in their physical lives. But now, in a context of digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic—in which much of our activity is moving into the digital sphere—we cannot leave them to confront this new reality alone, so we are also working to help them safeguard the most important aspects of their lives in the digital world.