"You know my methods Watson." Sherlock once commented to his trusty companion. In fact, he went on to say it on numerous occasions.
Clearly big fans of the famous ‘consulting detective’, IBM have created their own Watson - a super computer which is built to mirror the learning process that we all have – the power of cognition. What drives it is the same common cognitive framework that humans use to inform all our decisions: Observe, interpret, evaluate, decide.
Unlike other computing systems, IBM’s Watson takes in data from different sources; from research reports to Tweets - it soaks up all the information we produce for others to consume. But unlike us mere mortals, it has no saturation point. It can read millions of documents in seconds and then interpret the data to expose patterns, connections and insights. Like any expert in the field, Watson uses a cognitive framework to develop advanced expertise, but all at a credible scale. Through study, experience and meaningful feedback, a human can learn a body of knowledge and apply it when making decisions. Conventional computing systems operate on a framework of rules and logic. IBM’s Watson, however, is different. It actually gains value with age, getting smarter as it learns and adapts from its interactions with us. When using Watson, the ‘data set’ of the program is based on the most knowledgeable people in the industry, not just the one individual who, at times, can be influenced by emotion.
Without question, this is impressive stuff, and somewhat frightening, if you consider that this could be a definite case of life imitating art - have they never heard of Skynet? The (fictional) super artificial intelligence, that featured in the Terminator movie franchise, which ultimately gained self-awareness, where upon it concluded that all of humanity would attempt to destroy it. It then embarked on a program to exterminate the human race, using our own androids, cyborgs, mobile devices and satellites, in order to fulfil the mandates of its original coding.
Back in the real world and, on a more practical level, the super artificial intelligence that is Watson, certainly has the potential to make everyday ways we earn a living obsolete. In a recent survey called ‘will a computer steal your job?’ Underwriting was right up there in the top ten of occupations most in danger of computerisation.
‘SymbioSys Underwriting Engine’ is an insurance specific piece of software that has revolutionised the process. Tailored with the emergence and prominence of mobile phones, any insurance professional now has 24 hour access to the decision engine. E-underwriting has of course been with us for a while, but it’s rigid, unforgiving and expensive, and therefore not suitable to every application; but it’s made great inroads into the health schemes.
As we pursue new and exciting ways to work and play, the insurance industry must keep apace. Therefore, the ability to provide real product tailoring will be the deciding factor in the battle to corner a market share. A computer cannot be creative, no matter how ‘intelligent’. It’s what sets us apart from everything else. To carve yourself that niche, you need to equip yourself for the battle, so we believe that it is imperative that you take all the possible industry qualifications. This may even include the Lloyd’s and London Market Introductory Test (LLMIT). The CII offer a Certificate in Contract Wording and you could also work towards the MSc in Insurance and Risk Management. We would seriously encourage you to go the extra mile as this will pay dividends later.
Going forward, be careful not to ‘bite the hand that feeds.’ Develop good relationships with your brokers and exploit the frustrations we all feel when dealing with faceless computers. Come the revolution, you want to be their ‘go to’ insurer, having aligned yourself with a company that rewards them with healthy commissions. All too often these days, the price driven broker will base his/her relations on the bottom line. And finally, don’t be afraid to go for the ‘bigger ticket’ risks; where creativity and the personal approach will drive off even the most sophisticated main frame.
So, to protect your career in Underwriting, niche is definitely the way forward. It will provide a lucrative and, let’s face it, more interesting challenge to the insurance community, as it keeps pace with the ever-changing world. And if you take all that in to play, the rest will just be ‘elementary, my dear Watson’.