AXIS Re underwriting chief recaps inaugural hackthon event

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On April 9, Axis Re hosted its inaugural “Future of Insurance” student hackathon at the Siebel Center for Design on the campus of the University of Illinois. Contestants were tasked with building data visualization tools for underwriters to assess impacts of catastrophic events using computer programming and risk modeling technologies.

The event’s organizer, Jon Colello, president and chief underwriting officer, U.S., of AXIS Re, spoke with Digital Insurance about what the company hoped to gain by creating the event and how the hackathon ties into the reinsurer’s overall recruiting strategy.

Digital Insurance: What did Axis Re hope to accomplish by hosting “The Future of Insurance” event?

Jon Colello: This event was created to help college students explore how technology impacts insurance. We anticipate that the next generation of insurance professionals will come from both traditional and non-traditional educational backgrounds, including computer science and information technologies. Through this hackathon and future events, we hope to draw more young professionals into the field while illustrating the dynamic and exciting opportunities within today’s rapidly evolving insurance industry.

DI: What specifically were students who entered the contest challenged to do?

Colello: AXIS Re provided the students with an anonymized data set from which they were challenged to build a data visualization tool for underwriters to assess the potential impact of catastrophic incidents in a particular region. The tools that the students created in just an eight-hour period were truly impressive. The winning team utilized several maps to overlay exposure data, historical storm patterns and other natural catastrophe models to create an augmented reality system that could be navigated using hand gestures and which would allow underwriters to better analyze the likely real-world outcomes associated with a particular set of risks in a specific geographic region.

DI: Why was the University of Illinois selected as the host location for the inaugural event?

Colello: AXIS Re – through the AXIS Research Center – has a long-standing partnership with the University of Illinois Office of Risk Management and Insurance Research (ORMIR). Together, we have collaborated on projects in the past; including semester-long student challenges that had students use their creativity and technology skills to develop products related to the evaluation and mitigation of risk. Last year, our project focused on predictive modeling related to class action law suits and previously, students developed a weather app that has evolved into a product used by some of our underwriters.

DI: Can we expect more hackathons like this in the future?

Colello: As part of AXIS Re’s ongoing partnership with the University of Illinois and ORMIR, we anticipate further collaborations with our university partners, including events such as student hackathons and other related activities that will help educate and develop the next generation of insurance professionals.

DI: How do these sorts of events tie into the reinsurer’s recruiting strategy?

Colello: The future of insurance requires great people. Great people make great insurance companies, and the harsh reality is that our industry faces a major talent crunch. Non-traditional events such as this student hackathon allow us to tap into an entirely new set of potential insurance professionals, many of whom won’t necessarily come from the traditional insurance training programs like actuarial science or risk management.

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