Sensor technology making more appearances across insurance

When new technologies and digital tools arrive in insurance, often the question is asked, "Where does this fit in our business?" In the case of sensorized devices -- commonly referred to as the Internet of Things, the answer is, "Pretty much everywhere."

Insurers of all sizes are deploying sensors across lines of business, but initiatives share one key attribute: The goal is to reposition the insurer-insured relationship as one of continuous risk-management support, from big commercial projects to private homes.

Travelers has partnered with Gilbane, a construction contractor, and Triax Technologies, which provides wearable technology, to explore the potential safety benefits of wearables on the job site. Bob Kreuzer, VP of construction risk control for the carrier, says the company is looking to develop a "point of view" as to the efficacy of the technology.

"There's a lot of buzz around a lot of different tech solutions that purport to improve safety and productivity on job sites, so we're trying to leverage data and get a better prediction of outcomes," he explains.

A variety of items from Triax's Spot-r line will be deployed across Gilbane jobsites. The wearable technology automatically detects worker falls and provides supervisors with real-time notification of worker location and other safety incident details. It also allows workers to report incidents directly. Machinery will be monitored for location and usage. Additionally, EvacTags will allow managers to trigger high-decibel, highly visible emergency alarms to workers via a dashboard.

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Travelers' plan is to combine the anonymized data it gets with its existing information on jobsite risk to get a fuller picture of whether the extra equipment can actually reduce claims. (An agreement with Gilbane and Triax limits the scope of what data Travelers can get access to.) Kreuzer says that all data is valuable, noting that Travelers' existing data was enough to discover that nearly of worker's compensation claims are from employees in their first year.

"We helped [customers] strengthen their onboarding" to fix that, Kreuzer says. "We see the wearable tech as one of several tools in the toolbox for a contractor or any business to reduce costs."

Staying in commercial lines, Church Mutual recently announced an expansion of its CM Sensor program with some new technology that uses Wi-Fi to transmit data rather than cellular networks. Guy Russ, AVP of risk control for the religious-organization insurer, says that the new devices will allow smaller churches to participate in the program, which uses the devices to detect water leaks that can devastate buildings.

"Once the devices are installed, they give the insured alerts if something shows up in terms of water or changes in temperature," Russ explains. "If those alerts reach a certain level, we will proactively call the policyholder to make sure they're aware."

Russ estimates that about $10 million in loss costs have been avoided from the sensors already installed. At a cost of $3 million to the insurer, the return on investment is solid. The program has also led Church Mutual to hire and train more existing employees in data science and analytics and get further insights as to what the major drivers are of these kinds of losses.

"We've added some analytical knowledge to look at data and make decisions on how we deploy," Russ says. "Out of 51 jurisdictions, 42 have been identified as the best for what we're trying to detect, for example, with the main driver being how far temperatures fluctuate."

The culture at Church Mutual is being revamped as a result of this program's success, he adds. The company recently opened an innovation lab to explore other uses for sensors and additional emerging technology.

"We believe that using technology to help our policyholders avoid losses is going to continue more into the future," he says.

Church Mutual partnered with Hartford Steam Boiler to identify the right technology to use. And a similar partnership with the same organization is also supporting Chubb in its attempts to deploy sensors with some of Chubb Private Risk Services clients, with the goal of heading off big losses associated with fine art and wine collections.

Grohe, a provider of luxury fittings for kitchens and bathrooms, will provide sensors from its Sense Guard line, which detects water leaks, alerting the homeowner and shutting off the water supply automatically. In two other programs, advanced IoT sensors that monitor temperature, vibration and humidity changes, powered by HSB’s Sensor Systems, will be installed in clients’ homes to help prevent damage.

"The concept that we've been focused on is to move from 'repair and replace' to 'predict and prevent,' a more service orientation," says Sean Ringsted, Chubb chief digital officer. "Our goal here is to be an in-your-pocket risk advisor for the customer. When you are getting real time information and insights as to what's happening. we can help prevent the loss."

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